It's no secret that we are big fans of J. P. Graziano's in the West Loop. Actually, it's probably more accurate to call us obsessed with just about everything on its very limited menu, from the Italian sub and the Mr. G to the piadina and seasonal gelato. So when Jim Graziano reached out to me to let me know about a muffuletta sandwich special available now through Fat Tuesday (March 4th), I was beyond intrigued. Though he offered to send a picture, I had no interest in looking at the offering—I wanted to eat it.
Why was I so intrigued? Muffulettas are one of New Orleans's iconic sandwiches, but if you stop to think about it, the components are actually are pretty similar to Chicago's Italian sub. Both feature a stack of thinly sliced cured Italian deli meats on bread. Each is also topped with pickled vegetables (here we go with a chili-heavy giardiniera, while in New Orleans the mix favors olives). Of course, there are differences, the biggest being the bread. Unlike the regular rolls used here, muffulettas are served on large round loaves, making it basically impossible to finish a whole one off by yourself. That explains why the sandwich is usually constructed in batches.
Jim is adamant that each sandwich be prepared to order, so I got to watch him make one from scratch. This version starts with round sesame-crusted bread from D'Amato's, which is similar to focaccia. On top he adds paper thin slices of Volpi Genova salami, Krakus ham, imported sharp provolone, and mortadella made by nearby Butcher & Larder. For the olive salad, Graziano finely chops its house brand Victoria mild giardiniera, before mixing in fruity Sicilian Castelvetrano olives.
At first glance, everything appears to be completely off balance, with way too much bread for the amount of meat. But even though the bread has a nicely crisp exterior, the interior is shockingly light, compressing easily. As with all the sandwiches here, the proportions end up being spot on. All the meats are top-notch, but Butcher & Larder's mortadella is particularly noteworthy. (Fun fact: the mortadella is studded with pistachios imported by Graziano.) Thanks to the fruity olives, the olive salad is not nearly as briny as you'd expect.
A full one goes for $13, which is more than enough for two hungry people. Once again, the special starts today and runs through next Tuesday, March 4th.
Editor's Note: Since Jim invited me to try the sandwich, I was not anonymous and did not pay for the sandwich. Still, I figured it was worth knowing about.