Ham Italian (Dipietro’s Italian Sandwiches)

Today’s sandwich is the “Ham Italian” from DiPietro’s Italian Sandwiches. It combines ham, American cheese, raw diced onion, green peppers, tomatoes, Sicilian olives, pickles, salt, pepper, and oil on a soft hero roll.

Location: 171 Cumberland Avenue
Price: $4.25 (Large)
Notes: DiPietro’s is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Italian sandwich shop, with a long-standing family history in Portland reaching back to Portland’s great bloody “Italian Sandwich Wars” of the early 17th century. The tiny shop, which consistently enters most discussions of Portland’s “Best” Italians, has been cranking out Italian sandwiches and pizzas for generations, as well as the usual complement of Humpty Dumpty potato chips, soda, and creme horns. The service was super fast, if not a tiny bit standoffish.

The Italian sandwiches at DiPietro’s are served on the customary soft white Italian loaves, that are almost like giant, oversized hot dog buns. The rolls are flayed open wide, with the ingredients stacked on top, open-face style. Our bun was a little on the stale side, and slightly dried out. The tomatoes were pretty crunchy an unappealing, but I blame that more on the time of year than on the sandwich itself. We really liked the long, thick slices of sour-ish pickles, as well as the thick shards of green pepper. The ham and cheese played as little a role as it ever does in this classic Maine sandwich. The real wildcards in DiPietro’s version were the olives. Instead of the sliced Kalamata we have had elsewhere, DiPietro’s seems to use oil-cured Sicilian black olives. These little shriveled bombs of flavor aren’t my favorite thing when eaten alone, providing much stronger, saltier flavor than I am used to with brined olives, and taking a little bit away from the overall “freshness” that I associate with an Italian. When combined with the rest of the sandwich, though, these olives provide a muskier, pruney addition that I quite enjoyed.

Overall, DiPietro’s is cranking out delicious, wildly inexpensive sandwiches, the way they have been for at least 60 years. While not our favorite version of this sandwich to be found in Portland, they are much, much better than many chains, and their unusual choice of olives makes DiPietro’s worth sampling.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed “Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road,” as well as the taco-centric blog “Eat More Tacos,” and the junk food-centric “Spork & Barrel.” His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, “‘Wich, Please,” was named “Hottest Restaurant in Maine” for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.


  1. Dipietro’s is closed! This is tragic for me. My mother is from Portland, she lived there until she was 17 when her family moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts (where I was born). The catholic high school she attended was across the street from Dipietro’s and she would go there regularly to get lunch. As a kid in Massachusetts, mom would make us grinders for dinner when it was hot or she didn’t feel like cooking. Really, they were italians. And when we visited Maine, we ALWAYS stopped at Dipietro’s to get italians. When mom went to Maine by herself, we would all be prowling around the house waiting for her to come home with the bag full of (slightly soggy) italians. They were SO good. We picked off the olives as kids, but the pickles were a hot commodity. There was no sharing!

    I’m an “adult” now, and people in California don’t even know what a grinder or italian is. I still make them for dinner when it’s hot or I don’t feel like cooking, and my 5 year old calls them grinders. Mom just returned from a visit to Maine yesterday (10/1/13) with the news that Dipietro’s has closed. I’m so sad that I won’t ever have another Dipietro’s italian, and that my son won’t ever get to try one.

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    1. I too am sorry, I grew up eating those, even vworked there….I think even the store on corner of congress n north, also closed down….there is amato’s, they may be open still….I am in ky. Once in awhile I will make a couple (live alone), but just isnt the same, I miss maine….

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