A few minutes after I finished my meal, I texted a friend who grew up in Winslow to tell him I had just experienced Big G’s.
His reply summed up the situation well. “I bet you’re not hungry.”
Nope, not then and not for hours to come, maybe days.
Big G’s, a working class deli, has been open in Winslow since the mid-1980s, back when Scott Paper provided good jobs and big appetites for a loyal and steady crowd of diners who came for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has a very Maine reputation for its lack of pretension, and it’s still one of those places where you don’t have to worry if you have mud on your boots, but you’d better carry cash. It does not take credit cards.
Then and now, the deli has maintained a reputation for the size of its sandwiches and portions overall, as well as the quality of its meats. It goes without saying, the deli outlasted the mill.
I stopped in for lunch following meetings at Colby College. I lived in Winslow back in the ’80s when Big G’s opened, but we didn’t overlap by much and somehow I missed its charm until my recent experience. I now better understand its reputation. I couldn’t believe how big my lunch was, how many people were there and how much I felt like herded cattle moving through lines.
Having never been, I felt overwhelmed immediately – by the size of the menu, the lack of organization and just the general sense of not really knowing what I wanted and facing way too many choices while having to fall in line with everyone else waiting to move to the counter to order. It wasn’t quite chaos, but it felt complicated to me. There was too much information too fast, and I would have preferred sitting at a table and taking my time.
I ordered the large haddock basket for $13.35. The fried food coming out of the kitchen looked appealing on a chilly and rainy day. So did everything else, for that matter. The sandwich menu includes ham, poultry (and mostly turkey), roast beef, corned beef, seafood and veggie, as well as an array of specialties like the Gov. King (ham, turkey, bacon, onions, Muenster and coleslaw) or the Gobblin Gourmet with chicken salad, cranberry sauce, lettuce and cheddar. All good choices, all priced between $6 and $11.
I was impressed with the friendly nature of the cashier and the efficiency of the transaction. Within less than a minute, I had my change, a paper receipt and a buzzer to alert me when my order was ready. I grabbed a seat at a table in a stark and kind of sad-looking dining area with bead board walls on one side and stucco on the other. Later, I realized that was one of three large dining areas in the cavernous establishment. I chose a table under a framed black-and-white photo of the Beatles, which seemed out of place. Much of the wall space throughout the restaurant was covered by menus and food promotions.
There looked to be a few Colby students among the many people who were taking their lunch to go, as well as a construction crew or two, but I sensed most of the people there were locals for whom Big G’s was a regular habit.
It took about 10 minutes for my buzzer to buzz. When I picked up the food, my first thought was I had been served canoe paddles. The fish fillets – two of them – were huge. I measured them at about 8 inches. Underneath was a bed of perfectly fried french fries, along with plastic cups of coleslaw, tartar sauce and ketchup.
The fish was tender, fresh and not at all greasy. I could have picked it up at one end and it would have held together in one piece, thus my sense of it as a canoe paddle. I ate with a fork, but debated picking it up with my fingers and dipping it in the tartar sauce. When I looked at my notes a week later, I saw that I wrote, “perfect coleslaw, tangy and juicy.”
I couldn’t take this food to go and dislike wasting food, so I managed to eat two fillets and the full basket of fries.
That’s why I could only laugh when I got the text from my friend. Locals always know best.
WHERE: 581 Benton Ave., Winslow
INFO: 207-873-7808 or big-g-s-deli.com
HOURS: 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily
WAIT: About 10 minutes at peak lunch
PARKING: Plenty of parking in a large lot