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?