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Written By Scott Joseph On February 16, 2010

Well, here it is Mardi Gras — or Tuesday Fat, as they call it — and those of us in Central Florida might as well begin our fast early. (Not that I have ever, once, in my entire life, considered fasting or giving up something for Lent or Easter or Arbor Day, but I’m trying to make a point here, so stay with me.)

Why is it that Central Florida is unable to sustain a decent restaurant that can manage to serve good New Orleans-style food? The last one was Jockamo’s, and it’s been gone a few years now. There are a couple of places that claim to serve New Orleans favorites, but I’ve not found anything that I could easily recommend as a good enough proximation.

So what was I thinking when I ordered the muffaletta at Palmano’s, the little coffee shop that recently got bigger? I guess I was just hoping against hope that I would find a little taste of the Big Easy without having to endure a flight on Southwest.

The muffaletta was offered as a special one day last week when I met a friend for coffee. I thought the charge, which was around $9, was a bit steep, but the sign on the counter said it came with a pasta salad, so I went for it.

First off, I have to say it was a good sandwich. It was not, however, a muffaletta. And it was nowhere near worth the price. I’m guessing a couple of bucks have been added on to the more appropriate price to cover the higher rent for the coffee shop, which recently expanded to a storefront on Park Avenue. And, no, the pasta salad did nothing to raise the price-worthiness of the offering — it was a laughably small serving of pasta tubes that had not quite been cooked long enough to qualify as al dente. They were almost crunchy.

But back to the sandwich. It had many of the ingredients one might expect in a muffaletta. There was your salami, your ham, your cheese and, in a rather minor role, the olive salad that lends the appropriate tang to the muff. And it was even prepared on a round loaf of Italian bread in the style of a muffaletta, although it appeared to be a smaller round than traditional and the serving was a quarter round.

But what had me shaking my head and asking “why?” when it was handed to me was that it had been put into a press and ironed flat like a Cuban sandwich. So it was a warm, crusty little wedge that I noshed on, with an occasional tooth-challenging bite of pasta, instead of a room temperature, tall, nonflattened sandwich the way God intended a muffaletta to be.

The rest of my Palmono’s experience was fine. The coffee was hot and so was the Internet connection; no need to demand any more from a coffee shop these days.

But the point of all this is to tell you I have no place to recommend to those of you who would like a taste of New Orleans today. You have a better chance of celebrating the other big event of this date: It’s National Pancake Day.

Palmano’s is at 333 Park Ave. S., Winter Park. It’s open daily for breakfast and lunch hours. The phone number is 407-647-7520.

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