The “Big Whip” (Whippers Pizza)
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