There is no better sandwich in the world than the Muffaletta, the venerable working man’s lunch from the waterfront in New Orleans. I had my first Muffaletta in 1985 on my second visit to NOLA and have included a version of it in my quiver of Party Sandwiches ever since. There is debate as to the origin of the Muffaletta, with several places claiming to be the home of the “Original” but my money is on Central Grocery on 923 Decatur Street across from the French Market in The Quarter. The basics of the Muffaletta are the large round of sesame seed speckled bread which is toothy but not hard, a variety of Italian cold cuts and olive salad. It is best if it sits for at least a few hours so that the olive oil can soak into the bread and the flavors of the cold cuts can meld. The Central Grocery version is not overstuffed with meat and presents the perfect harmony of bread, meat and topping. I bought a half just a few hours ago and couldn’t even tell you how much it cost because when you come across something like the Central Grocery Muffaletta money becomes irrelevant. If you were to buy a last minute first class plane ticket to New Orleans, take a cab from the airport to Central Grocery and pay twice as much as the asking price it would be worth it.
Central Grocery is just as it sounds. It is a narrow old fashioned grocery store with some Italian specialty items and Louisiana favorites on the shelves but I am all but certain that their income is derived almost entirely from flinging sandwiches at tourists and dedicated locals. I saw 3 slicing machines that were going nonstop the whole time we were there. It gets so busy that there is an in line and an out line and the counter in the back where you can sit on stools or stand is seldom empty. You can get a whole or a half and a half is usually good enough for two, but if you are an Aaron Neville sized longshoreman on a 5000 calorie a day diet feel free to eat a whole one. The beauty of Central Grocery is that it is a one product establishment. There is no Chicken Muffaletta, Ahi Tuna Tartare Muffaletta or Southwest Blue Corn Chipotle Muffaletta. There is no vegetarian option. They perfected it in 1906, welded it in place and refuse to allow any trend to change their method or recipe.
Bobby Flay did a Throwdown with another Muffaletta shop in NOLA and lost because it is very hard to top perfection. While my version is not traditional by any stretch I think I could whip Mr. Flay.
1 large long loaf of Italian Bread – I like crusty bread but not hard bread. Using a wimpy loaf will stain your reputation for ever.
1 cup of good olives, chopped (calamata, green, greek, etc.)
1/2 cup chopped marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 lb each sliced thin but not shaved
Cut the bread in half and spread both sides with the olive salad making sure you get some of the juice on both sides. Arrange the filling no more than 2 slices thick. Too much meat and cheese will ruin the balance of meat to bread. Wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to cure. When you are serving for a party cut it into 2″ sections and secure with toothpicks. I always hide the two end pieces to assist in clean up activities the next day.
Central Market Muffaletta – Killer Delicious