I was just a kid not even ten years old the first time I tackled a muffuletta from Central Grocery.
My parents best friends had just moved to New Orleans and we were vacationing in the city which meant eating in the city. Lots and lots of eating.
My dad is dead serious about food and had a list of places for us to try even though this was years before Al Gore invented the internet and Jane and Michael Stern turned adventurous eating into an art form.
One of those places was Central Grocery on Decatur in the heart of the French Quarter. I’m not sure how my dad had found out about the muffuletta but he had and was determined for his family to have a go at one of America’s iconic sandwiches.
That was a long time ago but I’ll never forget the rush of flavors and textures. A big fresh loaf of bread tucked full of cured meats, cheeses and a trip through the Mediterranean in the form of an olive salad which awakened my childish Kentucky taste buds like no flavor I’d ever dreamed of in my young life.
I’m sad to report that this delicacy is now on the endangered list. My recent trip to Central Grocery found the old girl to be on life support with death at the door and little hope for salvation.
Walking into the little shop the smell is divine. Fresh bread, cheeses, olives, spices… a melange of aroma that has my belly rumbling instantly.
I should’ve walked out at this point but I had no way of knowing what was to come.
The modern muffuletta is a slap in the face to Salvatore Lupo the hardworking Sicilian immigrant who came to America and opened Central Grocery in 1906.
The just under 15 dollar sandwich is big.
If you like big things then you may like this sandwich.
The loaf of bread is enormous but the fillings are paltry. Paltry is being kind. Miserly would be a better descriptor.
A tablespoon of olive salad, a couple slivers of cheese and an ounce or two of meat are the modern standard bearers of this once proud sandwich.
I eat a fourth of the pitiful muffuletta and hit upon an idea.
A day later I’m back home in Austin and execute my plan. I take a couple good heavy cast iron pans and mash the muff into a panino and place it in the oven.
I’ve never had a heated muffuletta and in fact consider it heresy but desperate measures must be implemented to breathe life into this sandwich.
As Salvatore Lupo does barrel rolls in his grave I begin to feed. While it’s not carrying me back to my childhood it eats pretty good. Once the too-big loaf is compressed it makes the ratio of fillings to bread seem less insubstantial.
It would make a fine $5 dollar sandwich from an anonymous deli in Dubuque but with a pedigree as lofty as Central Grocery it’s a failure on all counts.
923 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA 70116
About the Stars:
★★★★ Extraordinary, life changing
★★ Very good
Quality, price, service and ambiance are all taken into account when rating