Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hungry For More

Some may know that my brother-in-law, David (yes, that David with the new Ph.D and new sweater) and I are working, very slowly, on a film about grinders.

It started as kind of a joke playing off the fact that I have a video camera and am not afraid to use it and he has a seemingly unlimited amount of knowledge, insight and interest in the topic. I won't insult you with a link or define what grinders are because I know that you know that they are sandwiches made on long bread and filled with (usually) cold cuts and provolone cheese, shredded lettuce and oil and vinegar, among other things. Some places call them subs or submarine sandwiches, some places call them hoagies, some even call them torpedoes (I mean, whatever). In southern Rhode Island and parts of southeastern Connecticut, they are called grinders because they were sandwiches made by Italian immigrants who worked in the shipyards as, yes, grinders. But you knew that, right?

This is Dan with a grinder-like sandwich purchased in Quebec City.  
Pas mal, Quebec, but keep trying.

Work on the film has been sporadic in the way you might expect for two people with rather busy lives but we certainly like to talk about the project and there have been some efforts to commit our passion to film. We even held a GrinderFest back in 2005 in which four grinder shops in Westerly, RI and Norwich, CT participated. Ok, it was really that we purchased grinders from each of the shops and had an official taste test competition involving David and his family, which to our credit, is rather large and could possibly constitute a majority vote in certain circumstances in Rhode Island.

Also, we made t-shirts.

We have actually filmed at three grinder shops: Ritacco's (the winner of the GrinderFest taste tests, btw) and Reale's in Westerly and Antonio's in Pawcatuck, CT. And we have done a fair bit of research into other places in the US where the term grinder is in use. Much to our surprise, parts of the greater Los Angeles area also use the term grinder, as do places in Michigan, western Massachusetts, and rumour has it, part of Ohio. Our dream is to go to all these places to film and really take this topic to the next level. It's not really a dream we ever do much about but, as I mentioned, we do like to talk about doing it.

The other thing we imagine is expanding on GrinderFest by convincing Westerly to host a larger competition involving many of the local and not-so-local grinder shops in beautiful Wilcox Park, which is right in the center of town. In the evening, we could screen our movie that now has the working title, Grinder Sutra. David actually contacted the Westerly town offices with this proposal in mind but got, shall we say, minimal interest.

There is so much to do to bring this important project to fruition and to fully realize the important part grinders play in local, mostly Rhode Island, culture. For our research shows that it is residents of Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut who have travelled abroad to places such as Orange County, CA, bringing with them the grinder recipe and name. Yes, there is so much to do.

It is with this in mind that I cracked open the newspaper this morning and found this article about how New Orleans is preserving po'boy culture with a large festival that expects thousands.

Surely the grinder is as important to Rhode Island's social, economic and gastronomic culture as the po'boy is to New Orleans. C'mon Westerly! We can do this!

5 comments:

OfTroy said...

RE: Also, we made t-shirts.

well that's it. If you've made the T-shirt, you must make the movie.

PBS has has a series of special about sandwich shops, and Hot dogs, and iceream and wacky building (it was interesting how many i knew, or had been to or in... (like be big duck of LI)

there are so many detail to explore.. the bread, the coldcuts, the salad components..

i look forward to seeing this..
(and his phd is in (a related subject? or philosophy? modern day philosophers are so interesting..

David said...

This is David, Robyn's brother-in-law and collaborator on Grinder Sutra, joining her in the call for Westerly, New Orleans, Philadelphia and all communities that hold their local long sandwiches dear to protect their traditional eats against the D'Angelos, Quiznos, Subways and other pretenders that threaten this vital (and yummy) American tradition.

Patti Blaine said...

Doesn't New Orleans po'boy have the whole Hurricane sympathy going for it though? Not that I'm wishing a whopper of a Nor'easter on RI or anything! But perhaps some sort of natural disaster could work in your favor? Emphasis on "natural" there... good thing you two are busy or you'd cook something up, I'm sure of it.

And I'm with Helen. You made t-shirts? Say no more. What are the proponents of grinders waiting for? Or is the name grinder something slightly shameful for them and not a source of civic pride after all?

Cannot wait to see this film at our local art theatre! :)

Jan said...

Sell the Grinder Sutra t-shirts to raise money for the production. I'll buy one!

Patti Blaine said...

oh me too on what Jan said!