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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ode to the Maine Italian Sandwich

Since it is universally accepted that the Maine Italian sandwich's origins are in Portland, ME and Giovanni Amato, I've included a link to Amato's website, which has a great picture of the sandwich (you can leave the olives off mine, thank you) on the front page and a link to the history of the sandwich. So I won't bother to repeat it here; but it's called an Italian more because it was invented by an Italian than what's in it, which wouldn't necessarily strike you as Italian food.
My purpose here though is to baptize the uninitiated and to swap stories with the choir about our favorite version of the Italian and where we fondly remember getting the "best one around." It is true that you'd be hard pressed to go anywhere in Maine and not be able to find a very good one on the menu of any "corner store," as we tend to refer to mom & pop and general stores here in Maine; but we all have our favorite place, usually one near where we grew up. It is one of those things when we're away from Maine that make us think fondly and eagerly about returning.

A couple of childhood memories: I can remember my Aunt Polly in the '60s making dozens of Italians that seemed like they were going to a store for sale. I couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 years old and that's my first memory of the Italian. I will have to do some research and find out what that was all about. The other memory is as an adolescent and teenager. I used to bowl in youth leagues in Pittsfield at Frenchy's and then at Pittsfield Bowling Center after school, and whenever I had the money I'd be over at Richie's getting a bite to eat, quite often an Italian. A couple of other places that may bring back memories is Sonny's and Whipper's in the Waterville Area.
Currently my favorite place is Franchetti's here in Livermore Falls (amazing how many places don't have websites!) -- it's actually just across the town line in Jay, and I have to say I've always been impressed with how fresh and abundant and tasty their food is, at the top of my list of great corner stores, right below The Maine Store in my hometown of Detroit.
Finally, for those who are unfamiliar, I'll tell you what ingredients you'll need to make an Italian of your own. Having just made one a few days ago, I wish I'd taken a picture to include here but alas that sandwich is long gone. You'll need a 12 inch soft sub roll sliced about 2/3 deep to stuff the ingredients in. Layer generous helpings of sliced ham or salami (or both), then American cheese, chopped onions and bell peppers, tomato slices, dill pickles (optional Greek olives) and then drizzle some oil on top, add salt and pepper. That's the traditional "recipe" but I'd love to hear about your favorite version.
Enjoy! Anyone want to suggest a favorite beer to wash that down with?


AaronN said...

After growing up in Maine and having spent many subsequent years in the Boston area, i'm convinced me that no one south of Kittery knows what the hell they're doing when it comes to making a truly great Italian. My "Gold Standard" will forever be The Godfather from the old Mill Pond Market on Somerset Ave. in Pittsfield, but even most lousy attempts in Maine are still pretty tasty.
My own personal preference is using provolone cheese instead of American, a sprinkling of black olives to accompany the pickles/onions (thinly sliced only, please)/peppers, and olive oil only. Most places around Boston use an oil and vinegar combo which is too disgusting for me to even talk about. I also am not averse to mixing up the meats for a little variety - salami, capicola, and mortadella are all acceptably welcome options.
Finally... always hold the tomatoes!

Anonymous said...

Growing up in Burnham Maine, the local place to get an Italian (sandwich, that is)was indeed the corner store in Burnham Village...Ermal's (sp?) or across the street to the other store and, gosh, the name escapes me today! But anyway, since I've "grown up" I've never had an Italian sandwich so good! I've tried to copy them to no avail. Maybe things like that can't be copied, maybe it's more of a memory,or a memory of a taste than actually getting the recipe right. The chain restaurant attempts at Italian sandwiches fall short, but in Bangor, on the Hogan Road is Swett's Service station...they make an awesome sandwich! Not sure what they do, what they put on it...seems like all the same ingredients Ham, American cheese, onions, peppers, tomatoes, extra pickles please! Oh yeah, and WHITE bread/roll. If I'm going to splurge on a sandwich...I don't want whole wheat! The beer definitely has to be Sam Adams Summer Ale. :) Alisa

Anonymous said...

Ah gee, now you've made me homesick Zeb! I'll have to go out and buy the ingredients and make some. Linda Pringle

deb said...

I so agree with Alisa... the other store across from Ermal's made the best Italian sandwiches. I miss them... there's nothing like that here, and even if I try to duplicate it at home the ingredients are just not the same. It's certainly one thing I'll be indulging in when I'm home in November :)

Anonymous said...

I agree Richie's and the Maine Store for Italians. The story on the Pike family Italians - Your Grammie Pike made them to sell to some area stores for a couple of years. Then your Aunt Polly had a sandwish shop in downtown Pittsfield. It was on the West side of the street, possibley the building that now has the barber shop. Has had Italians with lettuce and/or mayo and no thanks!! Gotta have the olive oil. Mom

Zebster said...

Alisa and Deb, are you talking about the store on the corner, on the same side of the street as the post office that hasn't been there for a very long time?
Mom, thanks for filling in the hole in my story. I sent Polly an email invite.
A tip to you all: When you leave a comment, click the button that sends email alerts for follow-up comments. That way you know if someone has commented on your comment without having to check back

ocbananagirl said...

Ok living in South Jersey now, I cannot comment on the Italian, first because I never ate them growing up and second I now am from the Italin or as commonly referred to "hoagie" capital. This area between NYC & Philadelphia has the best rolls, the best cold cuts, the best cheese and I totally agree it should have a little olive oil, provolone cheese, imported ham, salami, lettuce, tomato, onion and hot peppers. The sandwich I remember the most from Richies is the Grinder and I believe it was ham & cheese and tomatoe sauce on a roll and baked in the oven. That I have never had anywhere else and miss it dearly. Does any one else remember that and did I miss any ingredients?

Zebster said...

Heidi, reading your post, I just had a Richie's hot ham, cheese and bacon flashback and now I want one. That's the other sandwich that makes me think of Maine. And Mary happened to mention whoopie pies and since my wife makes THE BEST, I'm gonna have to get her to help me write a whoopie pie ode.

Anonymous said...

You canna beat a hot ham bacon piece . we would call that a toasty. a piece is what us scotts call a sandwich. the kids used to shout up at the tenement windows Maw can we ha a jeely piece. that would be a sandwich with Jam .
I do love an Italian sandwich from Subway.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Zeb, The little store on the same side of the street as the PO was Ermal Holt's was one of my favorite places. She had lots of "penny candy"! across the street from her store was the other store the name still escapes me.
Speaking of sandwiches and Whoopie pies .... Big G's anyone?

Zebster said...

Oh man, I haven't been to Big G's since I moved from Wtvl 15 yrs ago, though never had an Italian there. I would think they make a good one.
I smell another food-related post coming!

Anonymous said...

OK... so I like tuna italians with extra cheese and pickles no onions or green peppers and I'm in for Big G's but will have a Ruben, their's are the best!


Nuzpeg said...

Growing up in Rumford, it was Ted's or Milligan's. Make mine salami with provolone, no pickles, light on the peppers, and just a dash of oil.

Zebster said...

And recently, when ordering an "Italian," I've been having roastbeef instea.d of ham and wondering why I spent all these years not eating it that way

Anonymous said...

Giguere's Market in Oakland Maine had the best for me. I remember the highlight of a summers afternoon was stopping in. The memory still makes me drool.