Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another Local Food Treat, "Italians"

He started it all

The 'old days'

One of the shops today.

Making one at Amato's today.

"Italian" in the making.

The finished product.

At the foot of 'our hill' is the place on L/H side of photo with 'Pepsi" sign. This is Franchetti's, our usual supplier. It's about 100 yards(91.5 m) away.

In a world of hoagies, heroes, grinders,submarines, and similar fare, Portland, Maine is known as the birthplace of the Italian sandwich. It is considered Maine’s signature sandwich. Simply known as “Italians” to the people living in Maine.

During the beginning of the 20th century, Italians were emigrating to New England in large numbers to lay paving stones on streets, extend railway lines, and work as longshoremen on the waterfront. Giovanni Amato, an Italian immigrant, started selling fresh baked rolls from a pushcart to his fellow Italian immigrants working on the docks of Portland, Maine. At the workers' request, Giovanni added a little meat, cheese, and fresh vegetables, and the "Italian Sandwich" was born. Nobody knows the precise date of the first Italian Sandwich, but Amato's sandwich historians say it had happened by 1903. By the 1920s, Amato had opened a sandwich shop on India Street. In the 1950s, people would line up outside the shop to get their Italians, and Amato's would sell 5,000 sandwiches on Sundays. Amato's has several shops around Portland and surrounding areas. They don't extend up here where we live though, the closest is about a 1.5 hour drive in summer, but we have loads of alternatives.

Others may lay claim to inventing the Italian Sandwich, and there are now dozens of imitators selling them. Today, almost every corner grocery store in Maine makes their own version of this regional delight. According to most Italian Sandwich aficionados, the best Italian's in Maine are ALWAYS made in little Mom & Pop grocery stores. And the size of the sandwich making area relative to the rest of the store is a very good indication of the quality of product. Little place, GREAT Italians!!

The present day sandwich, unlike most sandwiches, doesn't have lettuce. Neither does it have mayo or mustard. Instead, it's topped with salt and pepper, and a squirt of oil. The freshly baked buns are soft, not crunchy (the sour pickles and soft rolls are what makes the Maine Italian Sandwich unique), and filled with veggies aplenty. The meat is ham or salami or both(boiled ham was introduced somewhere in the 1960’s and is as popular today as the original with only salami), and white American cheese. The sandwich is also a bit messy. The oil on the traditional Italian makes the sandwich a challenge to eat. They're also pretty inexpensive, a Mom & Pop store usually charges $3-$5.50 for a large, made to order treat.

The sandwich is typically made with a one-foot-long soft roll (not the hard sub roll), sliced 2/3 of the way through lengthwise (like a hot dog roll) and pulled open for ingredient insertion. Wrapped in white waxed paper, unwrap one end and eat directly from the wrap. As it is made today, it usually has:

White American cheese slices
Boiled ham slices and salami(originally was only salami)
Onions (chopped large)
Green pepper
Sour pickles (hand-sliced long and thin or now at times sliced round)
Black (Greek) olive halves
Olive Oil (or sometimes mixed olive and vegetable oils)
Salt & pepper
(you can generally custom order them with other veggie stuff and meats in them too)

I personnally love to make them myself and wrap in them plastic wrap, put in the refrigerator overnight so the pickle juice and oil mix together and that melts/partly disolves(?) the cheese so it permeates the sandwich, but doesn't make the roll soggy. Off to find something to munch. Until next time, take care.


Sandy's Notes said...

You made me hungry and I just ate. Time to go make an italian grinder as we call it in Connecticut.

The Guy Who Writes This said...

I could use a Canoli

Syd said...

Now I'm starving.

I never would have associated Maine with Italian sandwiches. Interesting.

Mike S said...

Maine population is probably tied to the European culture more strongly than many states. Our population is mainly, in decending order: French, Italian, Irish, Scot, English, Polish, Slavic, Scandanavian, Greek, and other(us Indians, even Hispanics & Asians outnumber us). Being sorta at the end of the world, (before Canada & Europe) many have held tightly onto their cultural roots which is mostly reflected in the wide variety of foods available.

Deanna said...

I'd sure like the soft roll. And the pickles! Have to come to Maine and get one, sometime. :o)

George said...

Here in Spokane we have Sparkys Firehouse Subs. They had 5 stores once, but only one now & I pass it on my way home from work, After reading this I'm going to stop for a Haz-Mat, a 12" with everything but the kitchen sink. Thanks Mike for making me go off my diet.

patricia said...


annette said...

Now I'm hungry. Where's my salami...?

reeflightning said...

soft rolls sound like an excellent idea to me. those crunchy ones always stab my palate!

Brother Tim said...

Roscoe says, "They're da bomb with a coupla cans of Moxie". <;)>

Mike S said...

Reeflightning, thanks for visiting:)

Bro Tim, has Roscoe been sent on his 'pilgrimage' to the hinterlands yet?? I noticed a few dozen 'whoopie pies' missing after he left. Seem to be short a case of 'Moxie' too!

To All, the soft, fresh bun definitely makes a huge difference. And never use super strong onions.

Cherie said...

Deeee licious!!

Thanks for the interesting tidbits and the mouth-watering photos.

I'm going to have to alter my grocery shopping list...hmmm.