Central Grocery is home of the muffuletta, one of New Orleans’ great sandwiches. Muffulettas are now available in many restaurants around town (and around the nation), and there are some who like other restaurants’ versions better, but we’re quite happy dining at the source, for Central Grocery meakes a beauty. A circular loaf of soft Italian bread is sliced horizontally and piled with salami, ham, and provolone, which are in turn topped with a wickedly spicy melange of chopped green and black olives fragrant with anchovies and garlic. The hefty hunk of lunch is quartered and wrapped and sold ready to go … or to unwrap immediately and eat along the counters that have been installed at the back of the store. In our opinion, this mighty muffuletta (available as a half sandwich for puny appetites) is definitive. Yes, other restaurants now make fatter ones on artisan breads with more exotic cold cuts and fancier ingredients in the olive salad, but this big fella has a classic dignity that simply cannot be bettered.
And the store, while a smidgen less quaint then it used to be, and no longer a full-service sandwich shop (muffulettas are the only meal you can get), is still a fine place to shop. It is the same well-weathered, creaky-floored emporium it has been for decades, its grocery shelves a wonderland for all who like pickles, olives, peppers, and spice. What has not changed one bit is Central Grocery’s distinct aroma: an irresistibly appetizing perfume of salamis, cheeses, garlic, and oil.