Monte’s Fine Foods in Portland began selling vegan Italian sandwiches in 2019. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

Steve Quattrucci grew up in Portland eating and making Maine Italian sandwiches. It’s fitting, then, that he should be the first entrepreneur to take this local food classic in a very 21st-century culinary direction and sell a vegan Maine Italian.

Quattrucci is part of a large Italian-American family with extensive roots in the city’s restaurant culture. Ray Quattrucci, his father, owned Quattrucci’s Hilltop Superette at the corner of Congress and North streets from 1975 until 1983, and his paternal grandparents, Guy and Assunta Quattrucci, owned Balboa Cafe on India Street, near Miccuci’s, from the 1920s through the 1940s.

Quattrucci spent a lot of time at the superette, which, like the Italian corner markets of its day, did a brisk trade in Italian sandwiches. Quattrucci’s Hilltop Superette sold both ham and veggie versions (the latter came with either American cheese or provolone).

Alongside its pillowy sub roll, the Maine Italian sandwich’s defining characteristic is its combination of vegetable toppings: sour pickles, sliced white onions, green bell pepper strips, tomato slices and black olives dressed in olive oil, salt and black pepper. In my opinion, it’s the bread and vegetable combination that dominates the sandwich’s taste, texture and visual appeal.

Quattrucci remembers a few customers ordering the sandwiches at the superette in the 1970s and 1980s without ham or cheese, just those signature vegetables. Those “just vegetable” orders stuck with him, and when he opened Monte’s Fine Foods on outer Washington Avenue in 2019, “it only made sense to move with the times,” he said. “It’s the 21st century. It was time for a vegan Italian to make its debut in town.”

I’ve been making vegan Maine Italians at home for decades, as have other local vegans, but Monte’s was the first commercial establishment to sell the sandwiches.


Since then, other spots have added vegan Italian sandwiches. In 2022, Tim Holland of Midcoast Vegan in Brunswick began making a vegan Italian with the company’s smoked, plant-based ham. Using the Italian sandwich bread from Botto’s Bakery in Westbrook, the Midcoast Vegan Italian also features vegan provolone, and the usual pickles, onions, green peppers, tomatoes and olives. Once Holland began producing vegan pastrami, he added it to his Italians as well.

When Holland offers his vegan Italians at the Crystal Spring farmers market in Brunswick, the Woodfords Corner Farmers Market in Portland (which opens May 30) and at pop-up events, the sandwiches sell out quickly, he said.

“There’s so much demand for it,” Holland said.

At Monte’s, “the first iteration of the vegan Italian had toasted Lalibela Tempeh,” said Quattrucci, who was the founding chef and owner of former fine dining restaurant Back Bay Grill. “When Lalibela shut down (in 2020), we pivoted to using our vegan pepperoni that we make in-house.”

Monte’s vegan Italian is served on the restaurant’s pinsa flatbread with vegan mozzarella. For a few months in 2023, a menu revamp saw the vegan Italian’s traditional vegetable toppings switched to a cherry tomato salad with cornichons and arugula. But the salad created extra work for the busy kitchen, and “we then went back to the standard vegetables.”

Early this year, the Portland Public Schools added a vegan cheese Italian to its elementary school menus. Photo by Lori Beatham

Since February, the Portland Public Schools have been serving vegan cheese Italians in its 10 elementary school cafeterias.


“Here at central kitchen, we put the vegan cheese in the sub roll and send it to the elementary schools,” said Lori Beatham, Portland’s food service director. “On the salad bar, we offer the options of green peppers, sliced tomatoes and pickles. This way, the children can decide what they would like to eat on their own.”

Beatham and her team omit the traditional raw onions and black olives from the schools’ salad bars (clearly familiar with the taste preferences of many young students). Portland schools, national leaders in offering vegan lunch choices, serve the vegan Italians as an alternative to the turkey Italians on the menu.

The Midcoast Vegan Italian sandwich was first sold in 2022, and today is in high demand. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

Across Maine, many schools have served veggie Italians for years. Holland, who went to school in Portland, embraced vegetarianism at age 11 and grew up eating veggie Italian sandwiches.

“We lived on the hill and I probably ate an Italian every day in the summer,” Holland recalled. Sometimes he added potato chips to the cheese and vegetable sandwiches “so they would be more substantial.”

About a decade ago, his mom visited him and his wife in Denver, where they were living at the time. By then, Holland was vegan, and his mom scouted all the ingredients to make veganized Maine Italians.  “The vegan meat was a revelation,” Holland said.

When he moved back to Maine, Holland, who is also known by his indie hip-hop stage name Sole, used to buy takeout plain Italians with vegetables from Amato’s, supplementing the sandwiches at home with Chao cheese and Tofurky. “I didn’t know then that they had whey (which is not vegan) in the buns,” Holland said. These experiences motivated him to sell his own vegan Maine Italians.


Amato’s does not sell vegan Maine Italians. But Peter Koffler, head of quality assurance, told me recently that vegan Italians are something “we’ll have to talk about with our research and development team and bakery team.” Maybe, he said, Amato’s “could try a sandwich like that and see what the response is.”

Quattrucci, at any rate, has had good luck with the item. Adding vegan menu items has benefited Monte’s bottom line, he said.

“As a business person, it just makes sense to sell a vegan Italian nowadays,” Quattrucci said, “because there are more and more people who are eating vegan and interested in the lifestyle.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. Reach her at

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