Sandwich of the Week: Amato's Original Real Italian

A sandwich from Amato's in Bridgton, Maine

Amato's Real Italian

Amato's "Real Italian" looks like the results of a produce truck and a deli counter crashing into an overgrown lobster-roll bun. In fact, it's a combination of cooked ham and traditional, no-apologies American cheese, enhanced with big slices of green pepper, tomato, and onion, with chopped Greek olives and pickles and an olive oil-based dressing, stuffed into a soft roll cut open from the top. It's a big mouthful (the photo shows the "small" size; you can imagine what the large looks like), crunchy and salty and bright. Locals have adopted it as the "Maine Italian."

The sandwich dates its origins to 1902, when a young Italian immigrant named Giovanni Amato started selling rolls stuffed with meats and cheeses and a garden's worth of raw vegetables from a pushcart to his fellow immigrants working on the docks in Portland, Maine. He was successful enough to open a sandwich shop on Portland's India Street the same year, and today there are a dozen Amato-owned stores and a number of franchise locations throughout Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire (plus one in New York State), a number of them in Maplefield's and Irving Oil/Circle K gas stations.

In 1972, a seven-year veteran of the original location, Dominic Reali, bought the business from the Amato family. He added Greek olives to the sandwich, introduced a more strongly brined pickle, and developed his own dressing. The rolls, however, are made — along with a full range of other bread products available for retail sale — by Amato's bakery, said to be the oldest in Maine, which is run by Giovanni's great-grandsons, John and Anthony.

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