Young and Hungry

Beware the Sandwich That Dares to Call Itself a Muffaletta

muffaletta at nicaro

For reasons that I can't fully explain, I ordered the muffaletta at Nicaro, which recently reopened under chef Luis Martinez, who has tons of experience opening and running restaurants of all sizes, from Cubano's in Silver Spring to Cheesecake Factories here and in California.

I think I was feeling nostalgic for New Orleans after reading Martinez's menu, which dabbles in some Crescent City favorites, including this iconic sandwich, which I've enjoyed at one of the finest places to ever stake its name on this righteous sammie with the Italian origins: Napoleon House in the French Quarter.

Rule No. 1 about eating muffalettas: never compare the one in front of you to the heated muffaletta served at Napoleon House unless you enjoy wallowing in disappointment. (I know, I know, some of you will argue that a muffaletta should never be served hot, but this is an argument for another day, all right?)

Let me say this from the start: Nicaro's sandwich wasn't bad, at least after the first few bites, which is what I told the bartender when he asked me about it. It just wasn't a muffaletta. A genuine muffaletta has certain elements that cannot be shortchanged, the bread for starters. It needs to be a big round of seeded Sicilian bread, not a toasty baguette like Martinez uses at Nicaro. The olive salad is just as important; no matter what ingredients a chef decides to include in his particular salad, it must be slathered on thick, not applied as if you're a French country peasant trying to make butter last through the winter.

Martinez even futzed with the line-up of meats and cheeses. His version included salami and capicola (good start), house-cured ham (very nice), smoked turkey (wtf?), and a Danish Havarti cheese (all right, it's time to turn in your card).

Provolone, my man. You need provolone!

All that said, Martinez's sandwich was satisfying enough — until the collective sodium content from all the cured meats caught up with me after about the fourth bite. That's when this "muffaletta" turned into one giant salty meat bomb.

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