For a foodie who encounters a ‘sign’ professing to be the ‘original’ – anything food related – there’s one motto to follow: “Veni, vidi, vici!” Caesar knew better and, in suit, so do those with a curious appetite.
Spotting such signage in New Orleans, I open the doors to Central Grocery, to experience the hype of their famous muffuletta. Self-proclaimed originators of this Italian sandwich, who wouldn’t want to sample a bread-encased ‘charcuterie’ spread, let alone a chance to step into the world of the “Home of the Original,” itself? Passing rows of jarred pickled veggies, dry pasta and sauces, I know I do!
Making my way to the counter, I read the menu of options – only two – for either a half portion or full, and decisively order: “One whole muffuletta, please!” And, in a flash, I’m promptly handed a food gift – a freshly made, cut and wrapped whole sandwich – also lunch for the day. Luckily, given the generous size of this rounded fare, my midday snack is to be shared though it could easily feed two to four people, dependent on hunger levels.
Ready to ‘mangia al fresco,’ I leave my side treat of Zapp’s “Kettle Style Voodoo” potato chips for later, and prepare for the main event. Quartered piece in hand, I take notice of the reveal: layers of mortadella, salami, provolone, ham, mozzarella, and a heavy topping of olive salad. As if that’s not enough, the buttery shavings of meat and savoury olive condiment are held together between a sliced round loaf of sesame crusted bread. Each component, however simple, balances one another for the making of a flavourful sandwich.
Never having tasted bad mortadella, there’s some debate to what makes a perfect sandwich. Without a doubt, the cuts of premium deli are fresh and tasty on their own. Similarly, you can’t go wrong with an untouched homemade recipe for success as seen in the marinated olive salad that’s heightened by aromatics such as celery, carrots, garlic, and oregano to name a few. All delicious, the aforementioned can easily be enjoyed together or alone. Still, to me, the bread takes the prize. Covered with toasted nutty goodness, this bread is golden: it bears a crispy exterior all the while remaining soft and chewy to the bite. Light as air, this porous loaf is sponge-like to the touch and, although less dense than a focaccia, well made. So much so, in fact, it holds its shape despite the absorption of the olive oil dressing, and the weighted addition of meat and cheese slices. Carb-praising aside, the only crumbs you’ll find are none – a muffuletta so good you’ll wish you purchased another for the road.
Evidently worth imitating, I can see why Central Grocery prides itself in being the creators of the muffuletta. In consideration of its popularity, this grocer offers delivery service for those who can’t stop by 923 Decatur Street. But for those who can, the making of your own muffuletta is as easy as ordering some deli and picking up a jar of the signature olive salad. With the necessary ingredients available in-house, this grocer has those wanting to recreate the humble meat and cheese hand-held covered. Happy to have arrived, witnessed and tasted the ‘original’, the verdict’s in: the real-deal muffuletta is a new lunch box favourite.
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