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Best thing since sliced bread

There is an elegant simplicity in sandwiches. A sandwich can be a slice of cheese between pieces of bread, or it can be an extraordinary combination of flavors that make you swoon and it can be both at the same time. Sandwiches are comfort food. Soul food. Lunch food.

Sandwiches have been around in some form since Biblical times. Bitter herbs were placed between two pieces of unleavened bread at Passover by Hillel the Elder. More recently, there's the anecdote about the Earl of Sandwich, who asked for his meat to be served between two slices of bread so he could eat and continue to play cards. After that, everyone was asking for 'the same as Sandwich.'

Now, everyone seems to have a favorite sandwich shop and a favorite sandwich. For some, nothing will displace the grilled cheese Mom used to make when they were kids. Sandwiches inspire loyalty, conjure memories of comforting good times and are good for any occasion. Hot sandwiches paired with a hearty soup can beat back the winter blues with a vengeance. And nothing beats a cold sammy on a hot summer's day. They're always in season and are as simple or as complicated as you wish.

But as simple as the concept is, there is actual debate (if the internet counts as 'actual') about what is a sandwich and what just wishes it was a sandwich. On the sprawling site of Reddit, there is a subreddit called r/eatsandwiches featuring an incredibly long thread debating whether or not an open-faced sandwich can be called a sandwich. The site tackles the pros and cons of calzones, burritos, gyros, tacos, Cornish pasties and even sushi as possible sandwich roles. For the sake of brevity, we're sticking with two slices of bread with various combinations of meats, cheeses and vegetables. We'll save the debate about ice cream sandwiches for a later date feel free to write in.

There are many places in Maine where you can get a sublime sandwich, and we focused on three: Giacomo's in Bangor, Cleonice at The Maine Grind in Ellsworth and Harvest Moon in Orono. There are many, many, many more places to get an epic sandwich, and we'll see how many we can list later on. Here they are in alphabetical order:

Cleonice at the Maine Grind
192 Main Street, Ellsworth

For Rich Hansen, co-owner of Cleonice, which recently merged with The Maine Grind, a sandwich is about blending and balancing quality ingredients.

'In my experience, more isn't necessarily better. It's not a matter of taking three-quarters of a pound of mixed meats; you can't differentiate the flavor. It's kind of a mess where you're masking inferior product with volume,' he said. 'Here, we have flavor balanced with quality ingredients. There's care and love that goes into the sandwich.'

And that's not just hyperbole. Much of the food is either made in-house or sourced locally. The Reuben is a deceptively simple sandwich: corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye. The staff brines their own corned beef, the sauerkraut is made at 30 Acres Farm in Aroostook County, they make their own Russian Dressing and import quality Swiss, grilled and paired with chips and their own homemade pickles (which are amazing all by themselves, I might add). It is warm, and the subtle brined saltiness of the meat mingles with the tangy 'kraut and smooth dressing. It's like a security blanket for your tummy.

'There's so much feeling attached to food,' said Hansen. 'When someone eats a melted cheese sandwich, they're transported back to Mom taking care of them.'

And all the sandwiches on the menu follow suit. Hansen said it's part of his passion to get people as close to 'farm to table' as possible with his menu. And it shows. You'll taste food from a veritable road map of farms, and his menu changes seasonally, with only a small selection of items imported from abroad. Hansen said he and his staff are proud to be part of the 'slow food' movement that encourages people to think about where their food is coming from.

'A lot of people [who eat at Cleonice at The Maine Grind] didn't realize they were part of a movement - they're just used to buying their food here,' he said.

1 Central Street, Bangor

This hopping shop at the intersection of State and Main in downtown Bangor is renowned for its Panini sandwiches and fresh pizza.

'We use Boarshead meats and cheeses and slice daily what we're going to use,' said Kimberly Gleason, general manager of Giacomo's in Bangor.

Fresh food, interesting combinations of flavors and artesian bread are part of the signature food here.

'When [we make a sandwich], we want you to get a little of everything in every single bite,' said Gleason. 'Our vegetarian options are excellent and we have unusual combinations that I haven't seen in other places.'

The vegetable antipasto (number six on the menu) is piled with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, fresh basil, tomato, lettuce and red onion and topped with fontina cheese on asiago focaccia. Just in case you were thinking a veggie sandwich could be boring this is a flavor party. The smoky red peppers are offset by the tang of the artichoke hearts, and considering it's about the size of the head of a small child, you won't walk away hungry.

'Sandwiches are the staple of American cuisine. They're just so good,' said Gleeson. 'And nearly any sandwich is better as a Panini. They're perfect for this time of year.'

Harvest Moon Deli
18 Mill Street, Orono

Voted Best Sandwich Shop in Greater Bangor three years running, Harvest Moon Deli uses quality ingredients to set their sandwiches apart. The deli meat is sliced fresh daily, many of their condiments are made in-house, and their sliced bread is made locally from Daily Bread in Levant.

'I didn't realize there was a different in types of meat [before working at Harvest Moon],' said Laurie Merrill, general manager at Harvest Moon. 'Then I tasted the turkey here. Meat doesn't have to have all the gels in preservatives. And the homemade ingredients and condiments make a huge difference.'

She said one of their biggest sellers was the Bobby Zimmerman (anyone new to Harvest Moon will notice a pattern in sandwich titles, all of which are the names of incredible musicians), which boasts a peppered turkey, crispy bacon (cooked daily), Swiss cheese, avocado ranch dressing and spinach greens. She served mine on Panini pressed jalapeo Cheddar bread from Daily Bread. The avocado ranch is really the star of the show, but the warm, soft bread wakes you up with the sizzle of jalapeo.

When creating new sandwiches for the menu or specials, a lot of taste-testing goes into it to make sure the flavors meld together properly.

'Our ingredients are fresh, natural and organic. We buy things from the Farmer's Market,' said Merrill. 'People like [Harvest Moon] for the freshness and the quality. We get the college kids who want things fresh and homemade. And [residents] respect us for being fresh.'

Your favorite place

I only had room to write about three sandwich shops. Believe me when I say I know there are more places out there with great sandwiches. I've been to them. But I put the question to our Facebook fans and within five hours, I had more than 50 responses. Here are a few - check out what others are noshing on by visiting The Maine Edge's facebook page. Posters' names are initialed below.

  • KF Court Street Market, Bangor: Italian salami
  • PB The Cityside, Brewer: Bacon cheeseburger club
  • SR Fairmount Street Market, Bangor: Ham Italian
  • MC Mt. Hope Sandwiches, Bangor: Roast beef, turkey and ham, with pickles, tomatoes, green peppers, onion and banana peppers
  • WC Gambino's, Bangor: The Godfather
  • TL Frank's Dockside Restaurant: Tony Soprano (ham, roast beef, pastrami, Swiss)
  • RH Big G's, Winslow: Wishbone
  • RP Geaghan's Pub, Bangor: Reuben
  • JG Center Street Market, Bangor: Footlong hotdog on a sub roll
  • ED Bagel Central, Bangor: Pesto turkey sandwich on rye
  • CR Friar's Bakehouse, Bangor: Meatloaf on roast beef and Swiss
  • DR Darby's, Belfast: Open-face crabmeat sandwich.

Other folks enjoy Amato's, Tozier's Market in Bucksport, Moe's Original Barbeque in Bangor - and many people had love for the Coffee Pot and its newer incarnations at different restaurants. Don't forget to add your favorites to the list.


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