CALL IT a sub, call it hero, call it a stuckie, but don’t call it a grinder.
“Hoagies! We do hoagies! I’m from Philly, and grinders are for New Englanders,” playfully scoffs Maine-ly Dawgs Café co-owner Rick Passio of the meat-and-cheese sandwich he’s carefully assembling behind the counter.
As he stacks layers of prosciutto, capicola and Genoa salami on a soft roll, Passio also opines on the white American cheese he adds to the pile.
“We don’t use the yellow kind, no. Where I come from that carries a stigma,” he says with a grin, referring to the fake, processed “government cheese” issued to charities in the 1970s.
At Maine-ly Dawgs, it’s all about the genuine article. The eponymous hot dogs are all beef, made locally by the Ogeechee Meat Market and served with relish and onions underneath, never on top.
And while Passio may hail from Philadelphia, his business partner Jolene Buchina does indeed come from New England—Maine, you may have guessed—and that means the lobster rolls ($15) had bettah be savage.
“We overnight the lobster from Maine,” assures Passio. “In season, we’ve got knuckle and claw, out of season, we get a little tail in there.”
Passio met Buchina last December while he and his other business partner, Cheryl Reigner, were shopping for a bakery to buy in Savannah. He and Reigner already own Jasper’s Porch, the bustling lakefront restaurant in Ridgeland, SC, and they wanted to open “a little place for sweet treats.” They found Buchina, who had opened her lobstah-roll-and-hot dog concept in the former Café 37 building at 37th Street and Abercorn.
“She was struggling on her own, so we decided to merge the two ideas,” explains Reigner, who has since added her fluff-filled whoopee pies and Oreo-flecked truffles to the menu.
The team also brought with them the award-winning she-crab soup from Jasper’s Porch ($6) to round out the offerings, and there are plans to expand into Passio’s home territory.
“I’d like to get a good Philly cheesesteak going in here,” he muses. “Flatbreads, too.”
In the meantime, Passio’s thick hoagies ($9) also come in ham and turkey varieties, and the lunch special is currently two hot dogs, chips and a drink out of the stocked cooler for $6.50. Everything is made to order, just like it ought to be.
“We don’t even cut the tomatoes until you say the word,” vows Passio. “This isn’t fast food, it’s good food.”
Tucked away in the back parking lot behind the grand yellow mansion that houses antiques emporium 37th & Abercorn, Maine-ly Dawgs fills a casual lunch spot niche in the Thomas Square neighborhood. It’s open 11am to 6pm, and during peak hours Passio cranks out the to-go orders (you’ll get it faster if you call ahead.)
But feel free to stick around: The indoor décor is cozy and charming with a special tiny table for the pre-schoolers on their lunch hour. If you don’t have to hurry back to work, you can while away an hour or two at the tables in the oak-shaded garden.
And what’s the story with this brick lodged into the front counter? Reigner explains it was the tool of a would-be burglar who threw it through the plate glass door a few months back. The perp took off when the alarm began to blare, but the brick stayed put.
“We tried to pull it out, but it’s really jammed in there,” she laughs. “So we left it as a conversation piece!”
Aside from that incident, the sandwich-and-snack purveyors have been welcomed whole-heartedly to the neighborhood. Business grows steadily every week as the trio continues to carry on their shared dreams.
“So far, it’s been mostly word of mouth, SCAD students and such,” says Passio, putting the final touch on his classic Italian hoagie, a splash of extra virgin olive oil.
“We’re going to be here for a long time, so we’re going for the slow build. That’s the best way.”
205 E. 37th St., (912)417-2219