review: imitated by many, but never duplicated…
There’s a surly fellow behind the counter at Central Grocery Co., I heard.
In fact, I know someone who had such a terrible experience with him that she vowed she’d never go back (and she hasn’t).
Well, I didn’t get to the meet the muffuletta Nazi on my latest trip to New Orleans. Given all of the stories about him, my visit to Central Grocery Co., “home to the original muffuletta,” was disappointingly uneventful.
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Located in The French Quarter, Central Grocery Co. has been making this now-famous sandwich for three generations. Created by the store’s founder, Sicilian Salvatore Lupo, the muffuletta at this cluttered little deli on Decatur Street has become iconic. It has it’s own signage, its own wrapper, and even its own slogan: “Imitated by many, but never duplicated.”
Just past noon on a weekday, I walked right up to the counter without a wait and ordered a whole muffuletta (you can also order them in halves). The guy behind the counter grabbed a pre-wrapped sandwich from a stack of about a dozen, stockpiled, no doubt in preparation for the lunch rush. Making the sandwiches ahead and letting them sit also allows the dressing to seep into the bread – not so much that the bread becomes soggy, but just enough to moisten it and give it flavor. It’s my favorite part of the sandwich.
I can’t say I’m a muffuletta connoisseur, or a muffuletta expert. I’ve had them. I like them. But I don’t really know what makes a muffuletta great instead of good.
The bread was a bit dry – it hadn’t soaked up enough of the wonderful dressing from the olive-driven salad that’s layered with cold cuts and cheese. The meat-to-cheese-to-olive ratio of the filling was quite good – just enough to give you a mouthful of flavor and texture, not enough to make you feel like you’re eating an entire deli counter.
There’s Formica-topped counter seating at the rear of the deli, but I took my sandwich to go.
At twelve-and-change, this thing is huge. Two hungry people could share it, four if you’re eating judiciously, like I was. Unable to finish a whole (or even a half), I ferried the sandwich back to Stella!, where I shared it with the staff and a couple of the sous chefs, who were preparing for the B.I.R.D.S./Bocuse d’Or dinner that night.
Despite being extremely busy, Luis Ochoa, the restaurant’s director of front of the house operations,was kind enough to arrange a place setting for me at the bar. Linen-lined, I’m sure it was the first (and probably the last) time I’ve eaten a muffaletta with silverware off of fine china. It was quite a cute arrangement. (Thanks – you guys spoil me.)
The next time I’m in New Orleans, I want to try the muffuletta at Napoleon House, which I hear is also very good.
Central Grocery Co.
923 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116