I visited New Orleans solely for a one-of-a-kind foodie experience so naturally Central Grocery was on my must eat list. This place is famous for (supposedly) inventing the muffuletta sandwich and I would say it classifies as a "diner, drive-in or dive" so it was right up my alley.
I thought the surly service and questionable sanitation added to the overall "Italian charm" of the joint. Don't come in here expecting it to be all puppies and kitties and rainbows, you'll get that Jersey-Italian style attitude: no smiles, I'd-rather-be-anywhere-but-here, hurryitupwouldya type of greeting.
Once you overcome the initial shock, you can grab an empty seat (stools at the ample counter) and start chowing down on your muffuletta. Note that a half muffuletta was plenty for 2 of us to share (but full disclosure: we had been eating our way around town the entire afternoon so we had already pigged out on so much food). The muffulettas are premade and just sitting out behind the counter without refrigeration. This grossed enough people out that we saw several parties turn around and leave. We ate it and neither of us suffered any gastric distress later.
You have to at least try one of these famous New Orleans Italian sandwiches. The slightly crispy seeded bread was loaded with an olive spread and Italian meats. I'm not a fan of Italian sandwiches but the flavors here were good. The olive oil was soaked into the bread, making it much more palatable. I did not like the bread at all. The Italian deli meat was of good quality and there was plenty on my sandwich. The olive spread was the star. We added a bottle of cold beer and some Zapp's Voodoo Chips to make a well-rounded meal.
This wasn't one of the best things I ever ate but at least the whole experience was memorable. Central Grocery deserves a spot on any serious foodie's tour of New Orleans.
Pro tip: don't even THINK about trying to snap a photo of whatever is behind the high wall / counter in the "kitchen." There are signs posted everywhere warning you not to do it. I tried to stealthily sneak a snap and let's just say I should NOT have given it a shot. I don't know what it is they are hiding back there but it must be something serious, LOL.
Another sandwich that is typical of New Orleans is the muffuletta, a delicious combination of cold cuts, cheese and - the key ingredient - Sicilian olive salad served on a soft, round bread. The sandwich was created at the Central Grocery, which has been around since 1906, by its original owner Salvatore Lupo. Although most restaurants around town feature muffulettas on their menu, I thought it would be interesting to try the original one. Located in the French Quarter, Central Grocery is now owned by Lupo's grandson, so the business has been in the family for over 100 years. On top of their sandwich counter, they sell all sorts of products, including different brands of olive salad that you can buy to make your own muffulettas at home. A whole muffuletta ($14.50) will easily feed two people. You can order it to go or eat on the premises - nothing too fancy, but it makes for a fun, old-fashioned atmosphere. There usually is a bit of a line-up to get your sandwich but I honestly thought it was worth the wait, especially since I got to shop for products while standing in line :o)
When you see a place with a line out the door, you know it's gotta be good. This place is known for it's muffuletta, which is pretty much a huge ass sandwich with a circular loaf of Italian bread stuffed with salami, ham, and chopped green and black olives. I recommend half a muffuletta which is equal to two normal sandwiches and costs about $7. The whole muffuletta is equal to four normal sandwiches and cost about $13. Only get this if you're starving. Although there was a line out the door, it moved relatively quickly. It's actually a grocery store, but the only thing people bought while I was there were the muffulettas. There is a small area in the back to eat, but chances are you'll have to take it to go.
This is the place every guide book and person tells you to go to. So I went there right off the plane basically. It’s a small Italian deli, known for their giant muffaletta sandwich. It’s 2 thick pieces of bread filled with Italian meets and an olive salad that gives it it’s zing. I had a half a sandwich, about $7, it did taste very good, and was rather filling. It’s the only one I had here, so can’t compare it to anything else. Try one, good, but didn’t knock my socks off—I prefer the po’boy. I was there about 2pm, they have them made up beforehand, and wrapped up and sitting on the shelf. If they didn’t, the line would be out the door and down the block. There is a small seating area here, but I took mine and went across the street and found a park bench. Bring plenty of napkins.
They also have other Italian cookies, biscuits, etc…..no pavesini though.
Favorite Dish You have to try a muffaletta.
They claim to be the originator of the muffuletta sandwich, with its delicious chopped olive dressing. The best thing to do here is get it to go and eat it sitting down at Jackson Square or overlooking the river.
When visiting New Orleans, if you do not have a muffalata you have failed to complete your culinary mission.
Central Grocery is a cluttered food boutique on the Moonwalk that caters to local tastes in comestables, but they make the best muffalata on Earth and they are THE definitive muffalata makers in NOLA.
The Italian-style store also has plenty of unique oils, pastas, sauces and coffees you might want to take home with you.
Favorite Dish Their muffalata has the most delectable olive relish- which anyone will tell you is the heart of the sandwich. The bread is fresh and soft and soaks up the olive oil without leaking through (much).
Plan on sharing yours because a whole one is as big as your head.
I always order an extra one on the day I plan to leave. It's a heavenly way to remember my trip when I get home to San Antonio.
Asking a New Orleanean where the best muffaletta is quite possibly worse than asking a New Yorker where the best pie is. However, I've had PLENTY of muffalettas in my time and must say that the best muffaletta in New Orleans is at the Central Grocery Store near the French Market. It's located on 23 Decatur Street on the left hand side as you walk away from Canal Street.
Favorite Dish The mufalletta
You've got to try a muffeletta and Central Grocery has the very best. Be prepared for the overcrowded space and the somewhat rude service. It's worth it. It's a large round bun loaded with Italian cold cuts, cheese and a delicious, oily olive salad. The olive oil and spice soaks into the bread and seasons the whole sandwich. A bit of heaven. One muffeletta feeds two or three people.
Down on Decatur St., a must stop in for any lovers of the classic Muffaletta sandwich. This is said to be the original home in NOLA. Half is more than enough for one. Wash it down with a couple Abita beers and take home some fun cajun/creole spices, mustard, etc.
Favorite Dish Muffaletta and Abita. What a combo...