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To be fair, grinders—the local dialect for a sandwich on an oblong Italian roll, the type known as hoagies and po’boys elsewhere around the country—are really a New England thing, attributed to the region’s Italian immigrants at the turn of the century. The name may have come from the Italian-American slang word for those shipyard workers who ground rivets off of warships, or it may reference the once-hard rolls commonly used, through which one would have to grind their teeth (the etymology and definition of this sandwich have actually been hotly debated). One restaurant in Portland, Maine, called Amato’s, claims to have first served “fresh baked rolls filled with meat, cheese and fresh vegetables to [Italian immigrant and restaurant founder Giovanni Amato’s] fellow countrymen working the docks” (although the restaurant stops short of naming this sandwich a grinder).
In any case, Rhode Island is a big fan of these sandwiches, particularly those with ingredients that reflect the state’s Italian or Portuguese heritage. Since classic Italian grinders—filled with Italian cold cuts, sliced lettuce, and tomato, and drenched with olive oil and vinegar—are so popular elsewhere in the larger New England region, we found the Portuguese ones to be the more interesting, Rhody-centric option.
Where: East Providence’s low-key Red Bridge Tavern (22 Waterman Ave., map) has a great Portuguese-inflected linguiça-and-peppers grinder on its sandwich menu. Linguiça (“lin-gwee-sah”) is a sweet Portuguese pork sausage commonly used around here in everything from soups to steamed clams.
When: Daily, 11:30am-10pm; open till 11:30pm on Fridays
Order: The linguiça and peppers grinder ($9.99), which combines the locally preferred sausage with sauteed red peppers, onions, garlic, and hot pepper on a soft Italian roll. Juicy and spicy, served with your choice of fries (we went with eggplant), a pickle, and a side of tomato sauce, this is a very satisfying sandwich. Also try the excellent stuffies here.
Alternatively: A popular spot for classic cold grinders is Dee’s Deli (401-942-0151; 1296 Cranston St., map), in Cranston—expect a line out the door at lunchtime—or you might try The Sandwich Hut (1253 N. Main St., map) in Providence, for both hot and cold grinders. For a typical hot Italian grinder—packed with meat and veggies, topped with cheese, and baked to melty perfection—swing by Uncle Tony’s Pizza & Pasta (multiple locations including 141 Newport Ave., map) in East Providence.
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