Wednesday June 2, 2021: 923 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA
Until getting an allowance and access to the school snack bar in seventh grade, far and away my most common school lunch was a simple salami and cheese sandwich. We’d buy loaves of sliced bread (was it Oroweat? didn’t Oroweat have an “H”?! am I suffering the Mandela Effect?), a cheap sleeve of pre-sliced provolone rounds, and a “hard” salami that I don’t think was Oscar Mayer? In about forty-five seconds before leaving for either the school bus stop (grades 1, 2, 3, and 6) or walking over to Rio Vista Elementary (grades 4-5), I could whip together two slices of bread squirted with French’s, overlaid with 4-6 slices of salami, and two cheese rounds. Done. (Hey, in junior high, lunch was a sleeve of crumb donettes and a cherry coke. I’ve come a way.)
Sometimes when I was in a hurry, my mom would make a sandwich for me. Once, my step-dad even made the sandwich. I got to school, took a bite, and … gagged. Each piece of bread had been clearly spread with mayonnaise, the Moriarty to my Sherlock, the very thing that repulsed me most from ages 3-43 (growing up takes time). It was simply butter, I learned later, but I didn’t care: you don’t, I told him, mess with a perfect sandwich.
Well, about that—here’s a poor segue. TODAY WE WENT TO NEW ORLEANS!!! Via a Gold Belly birthday gift certificate from some very excellent relatives. We ordered two (!) of one of the famousest sandwiches in all the national land: the Central Grocery muffuletta, named either for resembling a mushroom or the fact that its bread used to get moldy. This guy is the original, dating back to 1906 (pretending not to see you, Progress Grocery), the granddaddy and baddaddy of them all, featuring olive salad (chopped olives and giardiniera), salami, ham, Swiss cheese, provolone, and mortadella, all carefully layered on a muffuletta loaf, a round type of Sicilian sesame-seed studded bread.
How is it? The bread is a perfect delivery system (a round tightly packed brick, you could roll this sandwich to a friend a few blocks away); but, too, and acknowledging that this was shipped in a cold pack from New Orleans, the bread lacks a bit of its own flavor. The provolone is your standard funky provolone. The Swiss, salami, and ham are fine, though the mortadella quality is a little disappointing. The olive salad is the star, by far. Does the muffuletta flavor-singe itself into the halls of your mind palace? As I ate it, it occurred to me that I’d eaten one eight years before, at the actual Central Grocery, which I’d entirely forgotten. So, not really. Would I mess with this perfect national sandwich? Sure. I’d rather just eat the olive salad by itself on the bread. Or even with a spoon. Taken together, though, the muffuletta does attain a plane of existence higher than a certain nine-year-old’s salami and cheese.
The more important thing is the sandwich lesson to be learned, as we’re starting to slowly make our way toward a Unified Sandwich Theory©, and the Central Grocery muffuletta’s contribution is: that amazing olive salad. A good sandwich will have a good pickled element, a briny tang to cut through the savory proteins. It’s one of the Sandwich Musts©. We know that now, at least—and we hope we won’t be forgetting.
- Overall Balance/Taste: +1 point
- Quality of Ingredients: 0
- Bread: 0
- Integrity: +1
- X-factor: it’s old and famous!: 0
+2 points, or a perfectly tasty Pat’s Philly Cheesesteak (wit)