Philadelphia has a long tradition of great fried seafood sandwiches, especially in North Philly, where standbys like the Muslim fish hoagie at Sister Muhammad’s Kitchen in Germantown rank among the city’s most popular sandwiches. But when Joshua Coston decided to leave his career as an Amtrak conductor to open Gilben’s Bakery in East Mount Airy with family partners, the self-taught chef says their menu of seafood po’boys drew inspiration from New Orleans.

A cross-section of the fried shrimp and whiting po' boy at Gilben's Bakery reveals a hearty but well-built sandwich cushioned with shredded lettuce and tomatoes.
Craig LaBan
A cross-section of the fried shrimp and whiting po' boy at Gilben's Bakery reveals a hearty but well-built sandwich cushioned with shredded lettuce and tomatoes.

Hoagie? Po’boy? We’re talking regional sandwich semantics as the two are cross-country cousins from the same long-roll family tree, with the po’boy’s lighter, more delicate crust serving as the clearest distinction between the two. Yes, Coston layers a Cajun-spiced rémoulade into his sandwiches for that Louisiana spice, and the cornmeal-fried shrimp-and-whiting combo was properly dressed, with a cushion of shredded lettuce and tomatoes. But Coston has, indeed, created something unique with a couple notable touches.

The house-baked rolls get trimmed on the sides and toasted into garlic bread for the po' boy sandwiches at Gilben's Bakery.
Craig LaBan
The house-baked rolls get trimmed on the sides and toasted into garlic bread for the po' boy sandwiches at Gilben's Bakery.

First, he slices off the house-baked roll’s exterior sides and toasts it like garlic bread — a zesty riff, he says, on New England’s lobster roll. Another twist is an unusual combo I’ve never seen: fried salmon with onions and cheese. I was skeptical (fried salmon? fish with cheese?) But the cornmeal crunch on those meaty chunks of wild Alaskan salmon lent extra texture. And the drizzle of molten white cheese sauce with sautéed onions — a Philly move if there ever was one — brought extra richness and moisture to this messy, tasty handful, giving the sandwich a saucy flow of “can’t-put-it-down” momentum.

Daintier diners should try the seafood sliders, which bring scoops of fresh crab and shrimp salad in light mayo with a whiff of Old Bay on soft house buns that get their own garlic-butter crisp.

The seafood salad sliders at Gilben's Bakery come on house slider buns that get a garlic-butter crisp.
Craig LaBan
The seafood salad sliders at Gilben's Bakery come on house slider buns that get a garlic-butter crisp.

My only complaint is that Gilben’s — whose cheerful space is always packed with customers waiting patiently for sandwiches, cakes, and sweet potato pies to go (figure 20 minutes on hot food, at least) — currently has nowhere to sit and dig in. That may change soon. The partners are expanding next door, where a salad and smoothie bar (“something healthy,” says Coston) and a smokehouse for barbecue (Gilben’s Smokehouse!) are slated to open with limited seating this spring.

Fried salmon po’boy, $14.04, Gilben’s Bakery, 7405 Stenton Ave., 215-298-0879; facebook.com/cakes7405.

Gilben's Bakery in East Mount Airy is as known for its fried seafood po' boys as it is for its baked goods. Expansion plans for a smokehouse and smoothie bar are slated for spring.
Craig LaBan
Gilben's Bakery in East Mount Airy is as known for its fried seafood po' boys as it is for its baked goods. Expansion plans for a smokehouse and smoothie bar are slated for spring.