NEW ORLEANS, LOUSIANA — Two days before I arrive in New Orleans, I receive an email urging me to go to a convenience store for “the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life.” When you travel, words like that always grab your interest, even more so when you’re a travel writer and you sense the potential for a story. Still, you have to remain skeptical about such claims. The email was written from a contact who went to university in New Orleans and was now at Berkeley, so it’s more than possible he was a victim of a hallucination. So when I arrived, I asked around town.
“The All That Jazz — delicious,” said Nick Ruggiero, a waiter who moved from Washington, D.C. to the Big Easy about six years ago. “It’s awesome. Gooey, cheesy. You’ll love it.”
Ruggiero knows his stuff. He works at Arnaud’s, one of the city’s finer restaurants, and recommended particular dishes around town. He was the third person to verify that the All That Jazz sandwich at the Verti-Marte was, indeed, deserving of the hype.
“You’re getting the All That Jazz,” said a fourth endorser, who happened to be the nephew of former Raptors forward Sherell Ford. He was standing in line with me at the little 24-hour grocery store in the French Quarter and his eyes lit up when he spoke about the sandwich. “That’s delicious. It’s messy, but amazing.”
The Verti-Marte is across from the La Laurie Mansion, Nicolas Cage’s former home known for its gruesome 19th-century murders and mutilations, and its reputed ghosts. For all of the visitors who come to this town fascinated by its spooky history, the store’s location may be the only thing notable about it. Inside, it looks like your typical U.S. mini-market, with overpriced snack foods, a freezer full of ice cream, long refrigerators stocked with soft drinks, milk and beer, and a cash register that guards the liquor and cigarettes behind it. At the rear, though, is a deli that churns out dozens of items, ranging from rich desserts like bread pudding to entrees like Creole Chicken and, of course, its po-boy sandwiches, of which the $10.25 All That Jazz is the most popular.
“We’ll serve 20 of those a day, sometimes a hundred,” says Ken behind the counter after he takes my order at 11 p.m. “We normally get a lot of people coming in here at four in the morning after all of the drinking and they’re looking for that sandwich.”
While the All That Jazz may be a good hangover cure, you really should enjoy it sober. The ingredients include sautéed shrimp, turkey, ham, cheese and the Verti-Marte’s special “Wow” sauce, which Ken says is “kind of like a tartar sauce.” The sandwich is as advertised: delicious, satisfying and not as messy as I expected. It’s a foot long and comes on soft French bread. Sliced in half, you can take a portion with you for later, which I’d recommend, because eating it all at once may be impossible for anyone who’s not a football player. It may not be the best sandwich I’ve ever had (the finger sandwiches at Zum Schwarzen Kameel in Vienna are pretty fine), but it’s definitely in the top five. The flavours blend perfectly, one doesn’t stand out from the other, and you still get the taste of the turkey, ham and shrimp.
“It’s been served from the beginning,” Ken says of the sandwich. The Verti-Marte has had it on the menu for about four decades and its popularity continued even after the store had to close for several months following a May 2010 fire.
In one of those ironies that you encounter so often around New Orleans, Ken has never eaten the All That Jazz. Turns out, the guy who serves up dozens of these local favourites a day is a vegetarian.
NOTE: The Verti-Marte is at 1201 Royal Street and it delivers (504-525-4767).