- Photo by Cheryl Gerber
- Mickey Michalik carries on the family tradition at Tag's.
Order the Papa Tag's burger and the person working the lunch counter at Tag's Meat Market & Deli might pause to ask if you're sure. Other customers may spy the thing cooking on the open griddle, ask what it could be, then shake their heads and chuckle when they hear the answer.
The Papa Tag's looks like a burger for Paul Bunyan. It's made with a pound and a half of beef and, despite the absurd portion, actually isn't gross, provided you share it. Formed into a wide patty, it's proportionally correct and completely occupies the whole crusty, seeded muffuletta loaf on which it's served.
Tag's is a combination restaurant and market, and it's proof that when a sandwich shop is attached to a butcher shop, good things are bound to happen. Papa Tag's little brother is called the butcher boy burger, which weighs in at a half-pound. But the star of the show here in any portion is Tag's sausage, especially the hot version seething with red pepper and the Italian, a chunky, juicy link brightly strung with parsley and caraway. Order one of these in a po-boy and the links get broken open on the griddle and seared into broad sausage patties that are stacked in double layers on dense, chewy French bread.
One of the better dining trends of the past few years has been the proliferation of house-made sausage and other charcuterie at new restaurants. Tag's is the kind of place where the handmade, rustic style has always been the default, and the recipes date back generations. It all started in 1948 when butcher Alphonse Taglialavore opened a stall in the French Market, then the grocery hub for the French Quarter. The business moved downriver to Chalmette, where the founder's son Gene Taglialavore ran the shop and shortened the commercial name to Tag's. Gene's son-in-law Mickey Michalik now runs the business, and he produces sausage using the same family recipes.
Tag's once held down a corner of a golden triangle for hog's head cheese in St. Bernard Parish, along with competitors Taaffe's and Treitler's. But the former closed and the latter moved to Picayune, Miss., leaving Tag's firmly in charge of the territory. The Tag's product is meaty, with a mild spicy heat and a lemony tinge. When run through the deli slicer, it makes thin but sturdy sheets to drape into your mouth. The head cheese isn't on the lunch menu, but you can buy a bit from the deli case and eat it in the dining room while waiting on your sandwich order. Consider it a do-it-yourself appetizer.
Po-boy sizes start at 11 inches, uniformly priced at $6.29, and quickly grow from there. Whole po-boys are a specialty, and these massive, 33-inch loafs are typically cut into segments for a group lunch. They're wrapped in enough butcher paper and masking tape to mummify a coffee table, and most go for around $17.
Everything here is done big. When I ordered a whole muffuletta to go, the olive salad was thoughtfully packed in a separate container so as not to make the sandwich soggy in transit. This being Tag's, home of eclipsed expectations, I was impressed but not surprised to find that olive salad filling a 12-oz. foam cup to the brim.