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Monday, February 14, 2011

Muffuletta, Muffoletta, Muffaletta… I’ll Take All Three!

This article has been published in the February 2011 issue of Town Favorites Magazine. You can visit the Town Favorites website at http://www.townfavorites.com/, follow them on Twitter @TownFavorites, "Like" them at Facebook.com/TownFavorites, and find their magazines at over 150 restaurants and businesses around Baton Rouge! Pick up a copy today!


Muffuletta, Muffoletta, Muffaletta… I’ll Take All Three!
By Jay D. Ducote

While there may not be a lot of agreement about the spelling of the famous sandwich’s name, there is hardly any argument about the greatness of the muffuletta. Many suggest that the New Orleans specialty is one of the best sandwiches in the world, and I wouldn’t care to disagree. The muffuletta gets its name from the Sicilian bread loaf of the same name, but it was Central Grocery in the French Quarter that gets credit for first turning the bread into the sandwich that it is today. Combining the flat, round loaf with a unique olive dressing, ham, salami, and other meats and cheeses, the muffuletta has become a staple of New Orleans cuisine. Though it is hard to find them anywhere other than the Big Easy, Baton Rouge has its fair share of delis and restaurants that serve their own version of the classic Italian-style sandwich.


Anthony's Italian Deli's Muffoletta
The Red Stick’s most famous spot for a muffuletta is Anthony’s Italian Deli on Florida Boulevard. Home to the “best muffoletta since 1978,” Anthony’s version resembles its New Orleans counterparts closer than most. Anthony’s wife Maria and son Marco run the hole-in-the-wall, authentic Italian deli, which is actually the oldest in Baton Rouge. The muffoletta itself combines homemade olive dressing with mortadella, ham, genoa salami, capicola, and provolone cheese. The deli still uses the same recipes that Anthony started with in 1978. The bread is baked to his specifications and the olive dressing remains unchanged over the years. Anthony’s muffoletta is plenty to feed two people, though I’m tempted to try to tackle it by myself one day. The sandwich is loaded with substantial amounts of fine meats and cheese to give it a true Italian flavor. The muffoletta is then placed on a sandwich press and toasted to warm the provolone and slightly crisp the bread. It is deliciously and texturally magnificent.

A muffoletta wedge at Anthony's

There is no doubt about the passion and authenticity inside Anthony’s Italian Deli. The tiny restaurant also plays home to an Italian grocery store. It is impossible to fit much more imported ingredients inside the building, and customers often find little room to sit down, but that is part of the special appeal of Anthony’s which has clearly built a loyal clientele. The atmosphere is like stepping back in time, and nobody seems to mind. Every customer in the restaurant when I was there bragged about the muffolettas. Every single person claimed that not only is it the best muffuletta in Baton Rouge, but that Anthony’s also triumphs over New Orleans’ Central Grocery. That’s a bold statement, but having had both in the past couple months, I have to agree!

Maria, Marco, and Jay at Anthony's Italian Deli
Anthony’s might be a local favorite for muffulettas, but it is far from the only place to grab the exceptional sandwich in town. Monjuni’s has two locations in Baton Rouge, and I stopped by the Highland Road spot to sample their muffaletta with General Manager and Executive Chef Blair Kornegay. The Monjuni’s original muffaletta varies from the more traditional versions, but is exceptional in its own right. The Monjuni’s muffaletta is first highlighted by the bread. The roll is shaped like other muffuletta breads, but the Monjuni’s version is sweeter, softer, and downright delicious. On top of the bread Chef Kornegay piles ham, salami, provolone, Roma tomatoes, and porcini peppers then cooks the sandwich open-faced in the oven before adding their own olive mix. While the tomatoes and peppers aren’t quite the norm, they still help make the Monjuni’s muffaletta different, unique and pretty freaking tasty.


Monjuni's muffaletta

Monjuni’s also gives their customers an interesting twist on muffulettas. The turkey and vegetarian versions are rather enjoyable in their own right. The turkey muff replaces the ham with turkey. They will also remove the salami if you don’t want any pork products at all. The vegetarian version would be vegan if you removed the cheese. Instead of ham and salami, it features Portobello mushrooms, roasted artichoke hearts, and red bell pepper. The veggie muffaletta is certainly different from other varieties, but it is also a really delicious sandwich. I can see myself ordering more in the future and I certainly recommend it to any vegetarians out there.


The veggie muffaletta at Monjuni's
I also checked out the muffaletta at George’s under the Perkins Road Overpass. Unlike other muffulettas, George’s scraps the traditional bread and just makes theirs on poboy style French bread. George’s keeps it simple with plenty of ham, salami, Swiss cheese, and their homemade olive spread. While a far cry from the original New Orleans style sandwich, the poboy (interestingly enough, also a famous New Orleans sandwich) still packs plenty of that well known flavor.


George's Muffaletta Poboy
Baton Rouge has quite a few other places to choose from when it comes to muffulettas. Several other Italian delis serve their own, and quite a few restaurants run one on their sandwich menu or as a special. No matter where you find one, the saltiness of that olive dressing will keep licking your lips and going back for another bite. There’s a reason that the muffuletta is considered to be one of the great sandwiches of the world, and we should feel fortunate that we have so many to choose from right here in our great city! 

Jay D. Ducote is the author of the blog Bite and Booze, which chronicles his culinary and indulgent cultural experiences around Baton Rouge, south Louisiana, and the world. It can be found at www.biteandbooze.com. You can also reach him by email at jay@biteandbooze.com, like the Bite and Booze fan page on facebook.com/biteandbooze, and follow him on Twitter @biteandbooze.

Thanks to Eric Ducote of BRBeerScene.com for taking pictures for this article.

George's Original on Urbanspoon

Anthony's Italian Deli on UrbanspoonMonjunis Highland Cafe & Grocery on Urbanspoon