Ham Italian (Warmings Market)

Today’s sandwich is the “Ham Italian” from Warmings Market in Brunswick. It combines ham, American cheese, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, pickles, black olives and oil on a sub roll.

Location: 294 Maine Street, Brunswick
Price: $4.75 (Large)
Notes: Enter the ham Italian, one of Portland, Maine’s greatest contributions to the culinary world. On its worst days, it can be one of the most depressing lunches on the planet. A thin layer of only one or two slices of boiled ham, lifeless American cheese, and soggy vegetables on an oversized, glorified split-top hot dog bun. Hit the formula exactly right, however, and it’s the ultimate in Maine junk food, a footlong portion of salty, crunchy, and sweet that will carry you right through supper and into the next day. It’s a sandwich that can’t be altered too significantly without changing what it essentially is. Add capicola or sopressata, for example, and it ceases being a Maine Italian. The only way to influence the quality of this sandwich, is by the care with which you choose your ingredients.

Warmings Market in Brunswick is the kind of ideal Maine convenience store that you start to believe only exists in your imagination, after you’ve been away for a while. Instead of the tight, cramped feel of many small markets, Warmings is wide open, inviting, spotlessly clean, with none of the clutter and dusty chaos found in many mom-and-pop establishments. It’s a business that makes its living not just on their wide selection of local beer, kettle potato chips, and prepackaged creme horns, but on a huge sandwich counter and self-serve pizza bar, which, incidentally, slings some perfectly respectable cheese slices. Serving both the geniuses at Bowdoin college and the staff at Parkview Hospital, the menu leans heavily on sandwiches, salads, and pizza, all at budget prices.

The ham Italian was no different, at least on paper, than the sandwich I have eaten hundreds of times across Maine. The immediate difference with the Italian at Warmings was that every single ingredient was perfect, the vegetables selected at the height of freshness. A massive, puffy soft sandwich roll, filled with thin layers of salty ham and melty-at-room-temperature cheese, all set off by the crunchy snap of sliced vegetables, black olives, and a sensible pour of oil. It was one of the best possible examples of the heights this sandwich can reach, when prepared with care and attention. When an Italian sandwich is bad, it’s terrible: soul-sucking, depressing stuff. When it’s great, though, it’s day-changing, craving-inducing stuff. I can’t wait to go back and get another one.

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. I showed my German wife the beloved “Ham Eye-talian” and she was totally grossed out and did not understand what the sandwich is all about! Neither did I, but it was a staple at school lunches, I can totally taste it by just looking at that horrendous (and awesome) photo of processed ham, pickles and hot dog bun. Ah, the memories!

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  2. The other thing they get right is vertical ingredients so you don’t have to dump the whole sandwich out and reassemble it before you eat. Vertical also keeps the proportions correct.

    Also try George’s in downtown Biddeford. Same idea. Everything fresh, proportions right, correct pickle, correct black olives. And vertical ingredients.

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