Whereas in New York, we can't seem to knock down our cultural landmarks fast enough, in New Orleans even a hurricane like Katrina won't kill a classic restaurant or bar. Most of the famous French Quarter destinations have bounded back, with only a few going down for the count. During my stay there, I paid a call of such irreplaceable treasures as Mother's, Commander's Palace, Acme Oyster Bar, Tipitina's music club, Vaughan's Lounge, The Olde Absinthe House and others.
One place I visited for the first time was Central Grocery on Decatur Street, not far from the French Market. This is an old Italian grocery with an atmosphere of circu 1940. It has many of the products you find in a grocery in any Little Italy in New York, as well as the requisite Cajun products and about 108 different kinds of hot sauce. What's it's really known for, however, is something you definitely can't get on Arthur Avenue or in Bensonhurst: the muffuletta sandwich.
The muffuletta is a killer sandwich, both in the sense that it's a great sandwich and that it's so big it could conceivably kill you if one fell on your head from a great height. The bread is a whole Italian, seeded round about one foot in diameter. Inside are layers of procuitto, salami, and provolone, topped with—the key ingredient—a generous layer of spicy olive salad. The creation is then cut four ways, in the manner of a pizza.
You can buy these sandwiches as a "whole" or a "half," and, unless you're part of a big, hungry group, or a fool, you want a half. One person can't eat a whole. It's a very satisfying feast, and best if you sit and one of the Central Grocery counters and munch it down there, soaking in the workaday, aged character of the place.
The place next door, Progress Grocery, another old-time Italian place, also claims to have invented the muffuletta, but most people seem to except that Central Grocery is the author.