Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we will offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems).
Growing up, my grandmother would host dinner parties to celebrate a variety of holidays — even ones that didn’t apply to us, like Chinese New Year — to help my family learn about different cultures and cuisines. During Mardi Gras, we’d scarf down muffulettas, which is where my love for this singular sandwich originated. (And follow it up with a slice of king cake.)
A muffuletta (pronounced muh-fuh-leh-tuh) is an Italian sandwich created by Sicilian immigrants in a New Orleans Italian deli called Central Grocery in 1906. It is typically made with ham, Genoa salami, mortadella, swiss and provolone, as well as (the best part) olive tapenade, a marinated, chopped olive salad — all served up on a round Italian semolina bread loaf.
Soon after moving to Denver in 2019, I found the perfect muffuletta, at Culture Meat & Cheese within RiNo’s Denver Central Market, at 2669 Larimer St.
Culture Meat & Cheese, which opened in 2016 and has another location at Denver International Airport, serves classic sandwiches like grilled cheese and pastrami, as well as charcuterie boards, soups and salads.
“I love cheese, I love salami, and I wanted to do something that was a little more European style in a marketplace where people can come grab a breakfast sandwich in the morning, a sandwich for lunch and a charcuterie board before dinner,” owner Justin Brunson said.
Brunson previously owned Masterpiece Delicatessen in LoHi, which closed at the end of 2019. There, he was able to experiment with a longer menu of creative sandwiches, like the popular truffle egg-salad sandwich. He also owned the butcher-focused restaurant Old Major, which closed in 2020 during the pandemic, and was co-owner of River Bear American Meats, which he sold in February to focus on a new project he has in the pipeline.
Culture Meat & Cheese’s muffuletta isn’t as traditional as the one I grew up eating. Instead of a round Italian loaf, it’s served on a French baguette. But Brunson said that’s not his fault.
“I tried to find semolina bread here, but it doesn’t exist,” he said. “You can’t buy any in Denver, and no one would custom-make me some.”
Brunson’s muffuletta has a tasty addition of homemade basil pesto, red wine vinaigrette and fresh mozzarella, and comes with the usual salami, ham and olive tapenade.
While it’s a pretty stacked sub, it doesn’t pour out when you bite into it, which is hard to do with most Italian sandwiches. The bread forms perfectly with each bite, and the fresh mozzarella tastes like it’s straight out of an old-school Italian deli that you’d find in the French Quarter.
“I love Central Grocery in New Orleans,” Brunson said. “I finally had a real muffuletta from there and wanted to re-create it, and I could do everything except the bread. The one at Central Grocery is the king of the muffuletta. That sandwich is good the day of, after it sits on the counter for 12 hours or in a suitcase for two days.”
There’s no question that I’ll be making a trip to Culture Meat & Cheese during Mardi Gras in February, and any time I’m searching for a classic sandwich. And if you’re in need of a sweet treat after, head over to High Point Creamery inside Denver Central Market.
Culture Meat & Cheese is located at 2669 Larimer St. in Denver Central Market. Call 303-292-2222 or visit culturemeatandcheese.com to order ahead of time.
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