Can you believe it? MUFFULETTA restaurant is 40 years old!
What better occasion, then, to take a look at the sandwich that inspired Parasole’s first property?
It all started in New Orleans. Joanne and I and our three kids were on vacation in the Crescent City, hitting all of the iconic restaurants – ANTOINE’S, ARNAUD’S, COMMANDER’S PALACE, and of course GALATOIRE’S, as well as a half dozen oyster bars.
One day, while strolling the edges of the French Quarter about lunchtime, we happened upon THE CENTRAL GROCERY STORE on Decatur Street and saw its sign that said “HOME OF THE ORIGINAL MUFFULETTA.” I said to Joanne, “What the hell do you suppose a MUFFULETTA is?”
She said, “Let’s have lunch and give it a shot.”
Once inside, we saw that Central Grocery Store was, in fact, a grocery store – but with an important distinction: It featured a small counter (no seats) on top of which was a huge bowl of what appeared to be some sort of a marinated olive salad. Alongside that were stacks of 9 or 10 inch round loaves of bread. As we moved down the line of 20 or so people, we saw the sandwiches being assembled with layers of salami, provolone cheese, and mortadella, topped off with a generous scoop of the chunky, garlicky olive salad. The “counter man” would slice the round loaf into quarters and serve up the wedges.
We inhaled them.
We learned subsequently that the MUFFULETTA has its roots in SICILY. Which makes sense…the FOCACCIA- like bread, crispy outside, soft inside; the olives and salumi; and of course provolone cheese and marinated veggies.
Upon returning to Minneapolis, my partner Pete and I resumed our “POWER TAILGATING” with our families at the Vikings Games. At the same time, we were in the middle of purchasing the space that would eventually become MUFFULETTA. By sheer coincidence, I brought the “fixin’s” for MUFFULETTA SANDWICHES to the tailgate one Sunday.
And after a little (or perhaps a lot) of gin, Pete and I decided to call our first restaurant MUFFULETTA.
We opened with the Central Grocery Store’s ORIGINAL RECIPE for the MUFFULETTA sandwich, served properly at room temperature. The only difference was that we served ours on a bun, not a wedge.
It became a hit! For our regulars, it was almost a “narcotic.” And then the “FUN” began. We started messing around with the sandwich. We were well-intentioned, but probably stupid.
Well, during the past 40 years, our thinking went something like this…
“Minnesota winters are cold, so let’s serve the Muffuletta hot.” With the camel’s nose now under the tent, we asked ourselves: What about Muffuletta Wraps? Muffuletta Pinwheels? Muffuletta Pizza? How about a hot Muffuletta pressed Panini? Come summer, a Muffuletta Salad sure sounded refreshing. Skewers? They’re so pretty. And finally: the Muffuletta Taco. Ye gads, WTF was I thinking. I’m reminded of Elaine on Seinfeld, who, when working for J. Peterman and his catalog, came up with the hare-brained idea of THE URBAN SOMBRERO!!
Time to reboot? OMG yes. YES, YES, YES!!!
So it was back to our roots. The Muffuletta sandwich is once again as pure as the wind-driven snow – EXACTLY as it was 40 years ago, honoring the exact recipe from The Central Grocery Store, only this time served up in WEDGES on sesame focaccia bread. And once again, it’s served at ROOM TEMPERATURE just as it always has been down in New Orleans.
Now this is where the “whore” in me surfaces. Due to numerous requests, we’re also serving it HOT – with melty cheese oozing and dripping. I’m really not a total sellout; just messing around a little. And by the way: The HOT MUFF is really GOOD.
So there you have it: The original MUFFULETTA rides again!