A devotee of my birthplace who left in the late ’50s, I note with much nostalgia and great disappointment the passing of the great “Eye-talian sandwich,” as we then and now affectionately called it.

I was overcome by a warm and fuzzy flood of wonderful times and long-lost associations. You can go home again!

My son, my gentle giant, has just bought a home in Cape and taken a post at Maine Medical Center, steps away from my humble birthplace at the old Maine Eye and Ear Infirmary.

With great joy, I have been pointing out much Portland lore, my old haunts and our family history in town. My grandpop was a studio photographer in Monument Square who shot pictures of the GIs off to World War II and gathered them and their children for years after their return. My kin are still in the local hills, and my uncle retired after many years at the Portland Press Herald.

So many fleeting images — the summer beaches, the Deering Oaks rink in winter, stolen first frozen kisses, historic people and places among ordinary folks, all the great family picnics at lakeside — and the food, clamcakes and softshells fresh from the traps at the Cape and of course, the Eye-talian! (Accent on the first syllable.)

That’s where the real storied sandwich begins. Only in Maine did you find the correct version, not the subs, grinders and hoagies of New York, Connecticut or Massachusetts. And in Portland, for my money, there was only one Numero Uno — Terroni’s.

There were the pretenders to the original, but no one matched our favorite, the premium Terroni Special: long bread with provolone, ham and capicola, hard Genoa salami, black Italian olives, juicy tomatoes, crisp green peppers, onions, virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, oregano and the hallmark — sour pickles (careful, there are lesser ones. A pickle so characteristic of this sandwich that my wife drove me to purchase a case for her first pregnancy!).

As for the rest: DiPietro’s came a close second only on a rainy day. Trailing was a place we called Bruni’s, spread salad-like, and lastly Amato’s, the Kmart rung of the ladder! Sorry. No contest.

So in pursuit of Numero Uno, my son and I headed for the long-awaited lunch! But after all these years, Terroni’s had been closed for more than a year. Though the sun was still out, we pushed on to the only considered substitute: No. 2, DiPietro’s. We got there to find they had just closed shop for good merely six days before. Bring on the rain!

Nonetheless undeterred, I’m out to show my son the rest of the best the town has to offer. Our roots run deep and wide, and my long-term memory is still pretty vibrant. However, this trip has reminded this writer: Yes, you can go home again, only don’t wait too long!

Garfield Litton, a Portland native, is a retired artist and industrial designer who lives in Glen Rock, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.