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Where Y’Eat: Famous for Muffulettas, an Italian Deli Plans its Return

Central Grocery muffuletta in New Orleans
Ian McNulty
Central Grocery muffuletta in New Orleans

It’s been almost two years since damage from Hurricane Ida shut down Central Grocery, the Italian deli in the French Quarter famous for its muffulettas. When it returns, the intent is to have the market look like time has stood still.

With rebuilding entering a new stage, Central Grocery should be ready to reopen this fall, with a new target date of October or November.

This is good news, and it goes beyond just another place for a sandwich.

Central Grocery dates to 1906 and an era when the French Quarter was home to so many Italian immigrants that it was sometimes known as Little Palermo. The neighborhood was dotted with Italian groceries serving the microcosms of local life that developed here. Much of Central Grocery's business came from the French Market when it was a vital local food hub.

Most of those old groceries are gone now, but Central Grocery endured, in large part because of its muffuletta.

It became synonymous with the meaty, olive salad-stacked sandwich. Before Ida, tourists would make a beeline to its door to experience one, and it has a special place in the hearts of many locals, despite the wide availability of muffulettas made elsewhere across the area.

Through it all, though, Central Grocery remained an Italian deli filled with imported food and specialty items. To walk in was to be greeted by a wafting aroma at the threshold, spun from garlic and herbs and baccalà, the Sicilian-style dried cod that hung in the air.

Just how Central Grocery would return has been an important question. The damage to the building was catastrophic, it required a complete rebuild. That means it was essentially a blank slate. News that it will indeed return as a market, aiming to fulfill its traditional role, is a win in a city where the fragility of beloved old spaces has never been more clear.

In the meantime, those muffulettas are still available at a small network of other retail outlets. That even includes a shop at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

If you need to arrive somewhere with an edible souvenir, this is a clutch move.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.