While I was on vacation, Mike Seely started slinging some nonsense about the newly reopened Virginia Inn making the city's best muffuletta. He repeated the claim to me this week, when I countered that new Pioneer Square restaurant Marcela's Cookery, which advertises authentic New Orleans cuisine, makes a durn good one.
There was some trash talking, I admit, and chests puffed out so far they almost came flush with bellies. An honest, old-fashioned muff off was in order.
Ground rules: Muffaletta is a sandwich of cold cuts, cheese, and olive relish that an Italian grocern invented at New Orleans' Central Grocery about 100 years ago. (Not that this makes me more qualified than Seely to judge, but I have eaten Central Grocery's ur-muffuletta -- oh, wait, I am saying that I'm more qualified than him. But, this is Seattle, where the prevailing dismissal is "to each his own.")
In looks alone, Marcela's definitely wins, since it's served on a plate-sized, foccacia-like bread sold in quarters, halves (this one cost $17.50), and wholes:
Heretically, some would argue, Virginia Inn serves its muffuletta on a crisp, fresh chunk of baguette, but it has all the appropriate elements:
Virginia's muffuletta scores big on lots of meat, lots of cheese, and a black-olive-and-onion relish that I would professionally describe as "kicky" (the bar also does a veggie version with cheese, olive relish, and marinated artichoke pesto, which is satisfying as long as you don't eat pork).
Marcela's is thin on the ham and salami layers, I was forced to admit, which means the meat comes close to being overwhelmed by the bread. And while I'd prefer a little more garlic and spice in the green olive relish, Mike was forced to admit that it was fresher and more nuanced than the vinegary Virginia Inn stuff.
Mike says he's too much of a carnivore to give up his ground. I'm too much of a purist. Who wins if neither side concedes?
Whoever got stuck writing up the debate.
Marcela's Cookery, 106 James Street, 206-223-0042.