Customers wear pandemic masks while waiting to order at Red's Eats, a popular lobster roll stand, Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Wiscasset. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Mainers defended their claim that the whoopie pie was invented here and not in Pennsylvania when it was named the state “treat” in  a 2011 compromise that also saw wild blueberry pie deemed the official “dessert.”

A new battle may be brewing as the No. 2 Democrat in the Maine Senate launches an effort to establish the lobster roll as the state sandwich. It stirs several issues, including that the lobster roll was invented in Connecticut in 1929. One potential contender, the Italian sandwich, was invented in Portland in 1899 by Italian baker Giovanni Amato as a staple sold to construction workers and now at convenience stores and sandwich shops bearing Amato’s name.

Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, proposed the sandwich bill at the request of a constituent who felt it worthy of discussion given the challenges the lobster industry has experienced this year, a spokesperson said. The Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library found no similar attempt to establish a state sandwich since 1985. A student-backed bill naming the lobster the “state crustacean” passed in 2016.

Amato’s owner was not immediately available for comment, but both sandwiches are sold at Leavitt & Sons Deli locations in Portland and Falmouth. While owner Pete Leavitt sees the Italian as a success story, ham, cheese, tomatoes and other ingredients aren’t traditional Maine foods.

Customers wait in line at Amato’s Sandwich Shop in Portland in this 2002 file photo. Amato’s is home of the Italian sandwich, which is made with ham, cheese, tomatoes, pickles, onions, olives, green peppers, olive oil and salt and pepper. Credit: Joel Page / AP

“Lobster is known as a Maine good. This is where the quality comes from,” Leavitt said. “No one ever advertises ‘lobster from Connecticut.’”

The lobster meat on the Connecticut version is served warm compared with being served cold in Maine, which Leavitt finds “sort of weird.” He serves cold chunks of lobster with high-quality mayonnaise on a toasted bun.

Dore Douty, co-owner of Douty Brothers Seafood, a wholesale and processing company in Portland, said she sees how the lobster roll-Italian debate could be a tossup, but given that job and another as a manager at McLoons Lobster Shack in South Thomaston, she has to pick the lobster roll.

“It’s the most popular item in the summer for tourists, so it makes sense,” she said.

McLoons, like other lobster roll sellers, saw record prices this year at $24.95 per sandwich, up from $16.95 last year. For Douty, meat is the key to the best roll. McLoons uses fresh tail, knuckle and claw meat from new-shell lobsters. It swipes a split top roll inside with a little bit of mayonnaise, fills it with steamed lobster and then drizzles some butter on top. While others may add celery or other ingredients, McLoons stays with the basics.

Deborah Gagnon, owner of Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, said naming the lobster roll the state sandwich will support fishermen and women, like those in her family. 

Vitelli’s proposal must be approved by a 10-member panel of legislative leaders to advance to the 2022 legislative session. She sits on the Legislative Council alongside five other Democrats and four Republicans. The panel will meet on Oct. 25 to consider 330 proposals from lawmakers.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Democrats on the Legislative Council.

Watch more: