Muffaletta at J.P. Graziano & Sons

I had to be in the West Loop for an interview for an upcoming piece, so I thought the logical thing to do for lunch was to go to Nonna’s to try this thing that Mike Sula wrote about Monday. But that was before I saw the Twitter exchange between Jim Graziano, of the much-loved J.P. Graziano, and Jim Behymer, cofounder of the admirable Sandwich Tribunal blog, discussing Graziano’s special of the month: a muffaletta.

Two sandwiches diverged in a Tweet and I took. . . I never used to pay attention to anything of that name (I remember them sitting plastic-wrapped at Moe’s Deli, a long-gone sandwich place behind Michigan Avenue) but a couple of years ago I finally had the archetypal one, from Central Grocery in New Orleans, and it lived up to what all the guidebooks said: a spice-filled assembly of Italian meats, cheeses, and olive spread, made by people who were bored with cranking out the goddamn things for tourists by about 1965. It wasn’t great, yet it was still pretty good. So it seemed worth trying one made by someone who didn’t hate the very sight of them already.

And Jim Graziano is that guy; as I came in and placed my order at the front counter, someone shouted back to him, simply, “Another one.” As he assembled my sandwich on the EP-sized sesame roll, he explained that he started one year by making them only for Fat Tuesday, but they did well enough that the next year he made them all week, and now they’re a February special. Central Grocery’s was dominated by a salami taste and the black olive spread, which had a slightly flat (but not unpleasing) canned taste, but the Graziano model is more delicate, dominated by the pink porchetta that he imports from Italy. Cured only with pepper and rosemary and sliced feather-thin, it’s a terrific meat which he accents with a mortadella from the Butcher & Larder, a hearty imported provolone, and his own olive spread, which is mainly green olives and a little oily giardiniera kick.

All that goes on the roll from Damato’s; I asked if that was something special they made for him, as a fellow survivor of the old pretrendy Italian West Loop/West Town area and era. He said no; he thinks they offer it year round, but he goes through so many that he has to order in advance to ensure that they’ll deliver them in sufficient quantity each morning. The muffaletta will be on the menu all month, but he’s taken enough with the porchetta that in March, he plans to create a sandwich that will showcase it more simply, with less in the way of dressing—and a lighter, more ethereal bread from Damato’s than he usually orders for the subs he sells.

Anyway, it’s delicious and it’s enormous; I have another half waiting for me today, so that tripe sandwich from Nonna’s gets pushed back another day. If you’re not full from reading about it yet, be sure to check out the commentary at Sandwich Tribunal, too—we missed each other by minutes on Fat Tuesday.