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.