Real Italians: A follow-up
By Will Honan on Thursday, April 14th, 2016
Our January 16 Highland Green Lifestyle Blog post titled Real Italians Are Only Found in Maine caused quite a stir. I’m not sure if the buzz qualified as “going viral,” but the post garnered much comment online and a huge spike in traffic to our website.
When Real Italians Are Only Found in Maine was posted to our Facebook page, it reached nearly 6,000 people, compared to between 500 and 1,000 for a typical post. Our analytics show that we normally have between 3,000 and 4,000 unique visitors to our website each week. In just the three day period surrounding the Real Italians Are Only Found in Maine posting, this number jumped to over 59,000!
Most commenters agreed that the Maine Italian is completely unique as compared to the many variations of cold cut sandwiches from around the country. Many weighed in with their favorites.
In Real Italians Are Only Found in Maine, I lamented the loss of the truly authentic Italian sandwich experience with the demise of the small shops in the India Street-Cumberland Avenue-Munjoy Hill area of Portland, the original epicenter of the delicacy. I especially mourned the closing of DiPietro’s after 62 years of business.
One commenter “schooled’ me further in the history of the authentic Italian experience. My aunt Patty Schools grew up on Munjoy Hill along with Dominic Reali, the owner of the original Amato’s shop on India Street founded in 1902 and the famed Amato’s Italian sandwich chain. She recalls other long gone shops, such as George’s and Reggie’s.
Says Aunt Patty: “Sorry but what we get today is NOT the real Italian… they’ve completely changed the old Italian into the newer “open face” sandwich, spreading the meat & cheese across the whole roll, rather than lining it all up on one side so you can smoosh the whole thing together and get a taste of everything in one bite. I have to keep reminding the staffs how to create the real one, ha ha…..”
“They also forget the ‘original secret,’ adding the tomato slices first,” says Patty. “You need to slice the tomatoes on the bread , add the salt, pepper and oil, and ‘squish’ the bread and let it set for a few minutes so that the tomatoes “bleed” into the bread. Then you open it up and add the rest so that you can easily ‘close’ the sandwich and taste all ingredients at the same time. And the type of olives and pickles can make or break the whole deal.”
Authenticity aside, there are some fairly tasty versions of the Maine Italian around the state, Sam’s being one. Sam’s Italian Sandwich Shops were founded by the Clements family in 1939. Gerald “Jerry” Clements inherited the business from his uncle and ran it for decades before handing it to his nephews. In 2015 he and his wife Polly signed an agreement to build a new home at Highland Green and it will be complete this May.
Seven days after the original posting of our Real Italians Are Only Found in Maine, the Portland Press Herald published an article titled That Was Amore: When Portland was known for Italian Sandwiches. Just two weeks ago, a sign went up just one-half mile from Highland Green announcing the upcoming opening of a Sam’s Italian Foods shop.
You can read our January 19, 2016 Highland Green lifestyle Blog post here: Real Italians Are Only Found in Maine