Today’s sandwich is the “Big Whip” from Whippers Pizza in Augusta. It combines ham, salami, Genoa salami, bacon, American cheese, provolone cheese, onions, tomatoes, pickles, and mayonnaise on a gigantic loaf of Italian bread.
Location: 9 Bangor Street, Augusta
Notes: I wish I could say it was the first time I had sat in the car for two hours to search out a $15 sandwich. But at least this was the first time I’d done it in Augusta. Since 1960, Whippers Pizza has been the home of the “Big Whip,” a monster of a sandwich served out of the side of an otherwise nondescript pizza place, just off the Eastern rotary. There are a few red formica tables inside for dining in, a couple of soda cases, and a shelf full of cream horns and no-bake cookies, those twin pillars of Maine gas station dining. Though the shop may have “pizza” in its name, all of the hand-drawn signs point you to a very special sandwich: The “Big Whip,” available in “whole” or “half” sizes fr $14.95 and $8.25, respectively.
The ingredients will be immediately familiar to anyone well-versed in Maine-style Italian sandwiches, featuring a few different slices of boiled cold cuts, some raw vegetables, and the creamy layer of American cheese that has melted from sitting mingling with the other ingredients in a refrigerator for a while. Combined, the different elements of the sandwich taste exactly like the comfort of a Maine grammar school cafeteria, a description the I intend only to be entirely complimentary and sincere.
The real star here, however, is the bread, a freshly-baked Italian loaf that is dusted with cornmeal, and is ever-so-slightly chewy around the outside, and soft and pillowy in the middle. It’s a loaf that would be well suited to hold nearly any ingredients, a loaf that finally makes me understand why some of our readers have such a fit when I compare an Italian sandwich loaf to an oversized hot dog bun. This ain’t that. These loaves are baked nearby especially for the shop, and are served proudly in a white paper Italian bread loaf sleeve emblazoned with the Whipper’s logo.
And boy, are these some big sandwiches. Each is served in a full-sized brown paper grocery bag, which the staff helpfully crumples into a handle so that you can carry it like a briefcase full of sandwich, which sounds like you must be going to the best job of all time. The full-sized version is enough food for three or four people; we couldn’t even finish half, and we are fairly accomplished semi-professional sandwich-eaters.
The “Big Whip” is a sandwich so perfectly suited to its place and time, that eating one belongs on the to-do list of everyone in Maine, visiting or otherwise. It’s Maine-on-a-bun; the kind of sandwich on which institutions are made. It’s not going to be for everyone; the bread wasn’t made from hand-milled artisinal wheat flour ground between stones foraged at the base of Mount Katahdin, and I don’t think anyone is tracing the ancestry of the pig that lent itself to the boiled ham. However, if you’re someone with a soft spot for Maine-style Italian sandwiches, if you devour them in a junk food-fueled frenzy and celebrate them for what they are, you’ll find a lot to love here.
Whipper’s Pizza: 9 Bangor Street, Augusta, Maine 04330; (207) 622-1471; www.WhippersPizza.com