It is my intention to celebrate the sandwich this year by finding as many tasty examples as possible, with a special emphasis on fringe styles, but also presenting sandwiches that were considered more normal 30 years ago that now seem quaint. I will do this weekly and periodically present round-ups of the ones I consider best.
No sandwich, except perhaps the po’ boy, is as closely associated with the great city of New Orleans as the muffuletta. The sandwich, sometimes spelled “muffaletta,” was invented at Central Grocery in the French Quarter, which was founded in 1906 by Salvatore Lupo. He was an immigrant from Sicily during an era when Sicilian immigrants flooded the city, changing the fundamental face of the Big Easy and its cuisine.
The sandwich is made on a round loaf of bread dotted with sesame seeds, with the seeds testifying to the proximity of Sicily to North Africa. The round shape, meanwhile, is typical of the bread found throughout Italy, of which focaccia is only one. The sandwich is pre-made, and sold as a whole or a half.
Not too different from what might be found on a cold hero here, Central Grocery’s version of the sandwich includes a roster of cold cuts (salami, ham, and mortadella), with two types of cheese, provolone and emmenthaler. The inclusion of the latter cheese from Switzerland is something of a mystery, though maybe it’s just something a deli at the time would be likely to have on hand. The sandwich is brilliantly garnished with a tart olive salad and the pickled veggies known as giardiniera.
The original muffuletta is a sandwich masterpiece, and a decade ago I went on an extended search to see if I could find a good one here. There didn’t seem to be any, for similar reasons to why there are no good Chicago dogs here: The formula might be too complicated, and the ingredients sometimes obscure. But one has recently appeared, not in a restaurant but in a basement food court stall. Ends Meat is a butcher and cold cut purveyor in the newly opened Market Line.
The ingredients in its muffuletta diverge slightly from the original, though the use of a housemade mortadella knocks the sandwich for a home run. The cheeses are provolone and mozzarella, and the sandwich is sold by the quarter ($12). It almost tastes as good as the original, and a quarter sandwich is more than enough for anyone. 115 Delancey St, at Essex Street, Lower East Side