Food + Drink

I was re­cently asked about Ital­ian food in New Or­leans: “When did Ital­ians come here? What’s the story with the muf­fuletta sand­wich? Why is the red sauce here so sweet?” Time for a pic­colo (lit­tle) primer on New Or­leans Ital­ian cui­sine and St. Joseph’s Da

Where New Orleans - - CONTENTS -

Talk­ing (and eat­ing) Ital­ian, hot restau­rant dish and pasta you can pack in your suit­case.

A great num­ber of Si­cil­ians set­tled here dur­ing the 1800s. Many worked on the docks, sold pro­duce at the French Mar­ket or opened cor­ner-store mar­kets and cafés. In the early 1900s came busi­nesses like Taormina’s, a pasta fac­tory/gro­cery/restau­rant in the build­ing that is now Muriel’s (p. 25), Cen­tral Gro­cery (p. 24) and many, many more.

The most log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion for the ge­n­e­sis of the muf­fuletta sug­gests Ital­ian work­ers on break from the docks cob­bled to­gether bits of this (meats and cheeses) and that (olive salad and bread) to form a meal, of sorts. As for style, the on­go­ing de­bate is whether to eat a muf­fuletta hot or cold. De­cide for your­self at Cen­tral Gro­cery (cold), Napoleon House (warm; p. 25), Stein’s (cold; p. 28) and Co­chon Butcher (warm; p. 20).

New Or­leans’ red sauce—com­monly called “red gravy”—is in­deed sweet, and there are a large num­ber of restau­rants where sweet sauce is sig­na­ture. To taste, check out the spinach-stuffed can­nel­loni at Vin­cent’s (p. 29) or Man­d­ina’s (p. 28) Ital­ian sausage and spaghetti. For a brighter, more tart red sauce, there’s Ital­ian Barrel (p. 25) for fam­ily-recipe lasagna, the handmade pasta and meat­balls at Red Gravy (p. 21) or the “Ri­cotta Gnoc­chi Bolog­nese” at Al­ta­mura (p. 27).

St. Joseph’s Day, a Catholic food-cen­tric tra­di­tion hon­or­ing the pa­tron saint of famine, is cel­e­brated with pri­vate and pub­lic al­tars adorned with pas­tas, casseroles, cakes and baked goods of­fered in ex­change for mon­e­tary do­na­tion. Re­tail and travel-friendly, 100-plus year-old Bro­cato’s (p. 28) has fresh-baked and pack­aged St. Joseph’s cook­ies.

New Or­leans Ital­ian cui­sine is a unique feast all it’s own. Man­gia, man­gia. Noth­ing could be sweeter. —Lorin Gaudin

Co­chon Butcher

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