581 Benton Ave., Winslow
The loquacious among us might be advised that when the reticent speak, their words carry added weight, due to the assumption that when people aren’t talking, they’re thinking. I knew a guy who said virtually nothing, and when he did speak, the first couple words were unintelligible, because he didn’t clear his throat. So when he said something about hot dogs and bologna being the same thing, just differently sized, I treasured this knowledge like a gem.
Soon after, bolognas the size of neck bolsters came on sale at Save-A-Lot. My dream of a giant hot dog came to life during an underwhelming, yet still memorable, dinner party. It was during my search for giant buns that I first heard about Big G’s, in Winslow. The deli-style restaurant is a single-story box that’s been expanded five times. The “G” stands for Gerry.
Big G’s is busy and loud. The phone is constantly ringing and the counter people and customers speak at a volume normally used to be heard over the rumble of a generator.
The “Big” refers to the bread. They bake giant loaves that are then cut into slabs to make sandwiches named after celebrities (Dr. Ruth, Bruce Lee) and local heroes (Ex-Governor McKernan, Cindy Blodgett), or bad puns (Miles Standwich, Tina Tuna) and esoteric references (The Elders, Justice Served). Most of these sandwiches contain a seemingly random combination of ham, turkey, liverwurst, cream cheese, cheddar, salami, tomatoes, hot pepper relish (not terribly hot, but recommended for oomph), roast beef, shredded carrots, sprouts (recommended for texture), muenster, mozzarella, pineapple, and tuna salad. The Egg McMahon has both ham salad and egg salad. There is no other place like this.
You can order your sandwich as a half (cut in half) or a whole (cut in quarters). Each segment is roughly the size of a sandwich made on regular supermarket bread. They generously pile on the meat and cheese, and the veggies are fresh (especially the sprouts). A whole sandwich is very reasonably priced at $10 or $11, as is a half, at about $7.50.
We ordered the Willy [sic] Nelson (sliced turkey, sauerkraut, onions, hot pepper relish, sweet peppers and cheddar), a Sammy Davis Jr. (corned beef, hot pepper relish, cream cheese and tomatoes on pumpernickel), and the William Kunstler (cream cheese, olive, lettuce, tomato and sprouts). These choices were mainly the result of decision fatigue, but in the case of the Kunstler, where else can one find a sandwich named after Abbie Hoffman’s lawyer? You can also make up your own sandwich. Next time I might order chicken salad, hot pepper relish, avocado and sprouts.
Big G’s also has whoopie pies the diameter of a 45 r.p.m. single ($4.25), and you can purchase whole loaves, as I did for my big hot dog. They sell the bread ends in big bags for $4. One could start a French toast business on their off-cuts alone or, to my taste, a bread pudding concern.
In France, bakeries recycle their unsold goods into a pouding au pain. Bread pudding is very easy to make. In fact, the trick is to keep it basic. Big G’s heels and assorted flours (white, wheat, rye and pumpernickel, although they all taste pretty much the same) are ideal for giving the pudding its desirable textural variation. Rip up the bread into chunks and let it sit out to get a little dry. Moisten with milk, cream and/or concentrated apple juice. Add enough eggs to get it to the consistency of uncooked French toast; add sweetener(s), like sugar, maple syrup and jam, and perhaps some cinnamon. Place in a baking dish that’s been buttered or lined with parchment paper. The surface of the pudding should be as bumpy as a Maine beach. Bake at 350 until a fork comes out clean.
The best thing we had at Big G’s that day was butter cake ($3.05), a gooey sheet cake whose taste and texture is a cross between a blondie and a pecan pie (minus the pecans). The menu also includes pastas and fried foods and salads. We didn’t try any of that. I’m sure it’s all pretty good.
The leftovers cook up as perfectly as grilled sandwiches. Weigh them down with a cast-iron pan and a brick. Instead of butter, spread mayonnaise on the outside of the bread for a big finish.