There’s nothing like Italian sandwiches elsewhere in the country — not to be confused with subs, grinders or hoagies — Portland, Maine’s unsung contribution to the gastronomic world.
One of the advantages of living in Maine’s largest city is that you have such a wide number of choices of places to get your Italian sandwiches, Portland’s unsung contribution to the gastronomic world. There is nothing like an Italian sandwich elsewhere in the country. My daughter, now in her last year of college in Baltimore, discovered that other states have pretenders — called “subs” — but they are not the same.
Invented in Portland (local lore has it) in 1899 by an Italian baker named Giovanni Amato as a portable and inexpensive lunch for road construction workers, the Italian sandwich has become a staple of every corner variety store and takeout sandwich shop. If you ‘re casual about Italian sandwiches or loyal to local businesses, you might easily gravitate to the place nearest to wherever you live or work. Connoisseurs, though, are more than willing to drive across town.
At Corsetti’s Variety on Brighton Avenue, they still talk about the phone order placed a few months ago by a woman in Colorado. Two dozen regular Italians, she said — no oil.
But my favorite place is Amato’s at the corner of Washington and Allen avenues. I like to watch the sandwiches being assembled. It is a highly specialized culinary art, like making crepes. Some of the standard ingredients — the ham, the cheese, the pickles, often the onions — are cut into thin slices ahead of time. The rest — the tomatoes, the peppers, the black olives — are deftly slivered and sliced during the last moments of creation. As I watch, a woman with nimble fingers and a scalpel-sharp paring knife turns the tomato in her hand into perfect wedges that fall precisely into place atop the onion. Then, a second tomato. Next, a green pepper. Finally, a couple of olives. On a typical day here, she and other sandwich makers will assemble as many as 800 Italians.
She slides the new sandwich onto a sheet of waxed paper. “Salt, pepper, and oil?” I nod. She squirts olive and vegetable oil over it all, adds the salt/ pepper from a single shaker, and wraps it up. Perfect.
Find a location near you at: Amatos.com
Do you love Italian sandwiches? If so, tell us about your favorite place to order them.
Yankee Classic: “The Italians at Amato’s,” Yankee Magazine, March 1996.