After this spring's ultimate cookie championship left us hungering for a more savory and substantive source of sustenance, we set our sights on sandwiches. Specifically, the Italian sandwich. If you're not from Maine, you may not have heard of the Italian, or you might confuse it for any old sub or hoagie. But in Vacationland, the home of the original—and the only "real"—Italian, the formula goes like this: take one white sub roll, line it with American cheese, pack it with ham, top with a very specific blend of veggies (bell and pepperoncini peppers, onions, olives, tomatoes, pickles), dress with oil—or vinaigrette, if you're fancy—and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap in wax paper and cut through the middle. From Kittery to Fort Kent, Italians are standard fare at every convenience store, market and gas station.
We sampled seven Italian sandwiches from a range of high and low-end markets within a 3 mile radius of our office to find the best Italian for our [4 to 7] bucks. The standard recipe made it easy to compare; we ranked each sandwich's taste, appearance, construction, meat, veggies, cheese, bread, and overall value, on a scale from 1 to 5.
Some sandwiches were ruined by flavorless oil. Others were foiled by "foamy" bread or "way too many olives." One's "Italianness" was overshadowed by a delicious smoky ham. Some were too small, some were soggy, some had "weird pickles," and after tasting seven sandwiches in four days, only one stacked up in all ten categories:
Amongst our sample, Punky's Market, on Brighton Ave. was the ultimate Italian by a long shot: the sandwich was the largest we found—especially impressive given its quality ingredients and low price point at under $5—and well-built, with the perfect combo of good (but not overly fancy) ham, creamy rich cheese, a balanced assortment of veggies, and flavorful oil, on a chewy but soft bread.
Punky's is off-peninsula and only open on weekdays—but we recommend that the next time you have an Italian craving, you skip out on work and take a little detour to Brighton Ave. to experience the very best that Portland has to offer. Believe us, it's worth it!