Friday, March 4, 2011

Central Grocery, Home of the Original Muffuletta

Honestly, I’d never even heard of a muffuletta until I landed in New Orleans! As we were meeting up with friends who’d flown in the night before, we decided the first order of business was to eat since we were starving from our flight. Our friends told us lunch definitely had to be muffulettas at Central Grocery. When we got there, I finally found out what this meant: ginormous circular sandwiches the size of a pan pizza on circular, sesame-seeded Italian bread, filled with various Italian deli meats, Swiss & provolone cheese, and a unique olive salad. Apparently they’re the THING to get when in New Orleans!

That’s when my skepticism kicked in. It looked like a small, family run grocery store with a deli counter, the type of place that would get confused if you asked for any modifications of their traditional-style offerings. However, I was told that this was a FAMOUS family run grocery store, home of the ORIGINAL muffuletta (it even said so in big signs everywhere) and that I HAD to have one even though I don’t eat meat. Since this was a trusted friend, I let him & another friend handle the situation as he sent the rest of us off to find a table in the back.

About a minute later, the helper friend came back with a giant package:

….which apparently had a giant, meat-filled sandwich inside:

She said they were still making the vegetarian one, so our other friend was still at the counter waiting for it. A good 10 minutes later, he finally came back bearing my sandwich (sorry for the poor picture quality; the lighting was not that great inside the store, but the pictures using flash looked even worse):

Apparently the sandwich assembly line was so efficient at making regular muffulettas that it was a big disruption in the production process to tell them not to put the meat in. My friend said that the counter guy who took his order had to go back there an make it himself, hence the long delay!

The sandwiches were so big, we comfortably split the two sandwiches between four people. Honestly, though, I can’t say I was all that impressed with the sandwich; however since they had to take out a main component, I won’t blame them that my sandwich was lacking. They compensated for the lack of meat by adding extra cheese, which, being mildly lactose intolerant, would not have been my number one choice for substitutions. I definitely would have preferred more of the olive salad instead! I can tolerate a slice or two of cheese just fine, but this much cheese in my sandwich makes me a bit queasy:

However, I definitely see the appeal of those sandwiches and would be curious to see what a better approximation of a vegetarian muffuletta would taste like. My sandwich definitely would have lacked the flavor and substance of an “original” since the salty Italian meats were merely taken out rather than substituted with something similarly substantial & salty. Perhaps in a future cooking challenge, I’ll have to make this sandwich myself with the arsenal of vegetarian deli meats I have at my disposal! Of course, I would have no clue where to find muffuletta bread in Chicago, so this might actually also become a baking challenge!! And let’s not forget the the olive salad, which I felt was probably the most unique thing about the sandwich, taste-wise. I personally hate olives, but didn’t mind them at all in the sandwich.

So yeah, if I do decide to take on this muffuletta-making challenge, it looks like I’ll have my work cut out for me, as a lactose-intolerant vegetarian who doesn’t habitually eat bread and hates olives!

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