Yesterday after I left Rusty at the vet and swung by the polls to vote, I decided to stop and have lunch instead of going right home. I’d had a bagel with cream cheese for two consecutive meals and other junk that wasn’t fueling me very well. I thought about various options and decided to go to LaRosa’s. I know technically pizza and hoagies still qualify as junk food, but the pizzas I like at least get a few vegetables into my system.
At the last minute, for old times’ sake, I decided to order a tuna hoagy. For decades, my special treat if I was alone on a Sunday or out shopping, especially at Christmas, was to swing by my local LaRosa’s and have the tuna hoagy platter. I was first introduced to those tuna hoagies in the fall of 1972 when I was a freshman at the College of Mt. St. Joseph. The girls in the dorm sometimes phoned in a group order to LaRosa’s for delivery and everyone would eat in the lounge together. I’d never had one of their tuna hoagies before, and at the suggestion of a fellow student, I tried one.
I was in love. The tuna was flavorful and creamy, mixed with chunks of hard-boiled egg and topped with tomato slices and lettuce on a sensational bun sprinkled with poppy seeds. The texture was as delightful as the taste: initial crunch top and bottom, then the soft bun, then the tuna salad with its several subtle variations of flavor.
When I started going to LaRosa’s for sit-down meals, I usually ordered a tuna hoagy platter, which provided sides of cole slaw and French fries. Years later, when I visited Diamondqueen after she married That Poor Man, for dinner we’d order out, and I rarely got anything but a tuna hoagy.
Along the way, though, things changed. They stopped offering the platter, so cole slaw was out, and a full side of fries was just too much. Something tasted different about the tuna salad, too. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was still an overloaded sandwich, almost too generous with tuna salad that slopped all over the place when I bit into the bun. Ah, but the bun was the same, both crunchy and soft, still peppered with poppyseeds.
Now I live with my mother, who delights in whipping up delicious meals that usually keep me out of the fast food joints. I don’t have supper at Diamondqueen’s any longer because I live so close by, so I’m never part of their LaRosa’s meals. The last few times I had LaRosa’s, it was their focaccia Florentine pizza, which I also really like. I guess I haven’t had a tuna hoagy in well over a year.
I knew at first bite my hoagy just wasn’t going to capture the magic of the old days. Possibly they’re using albacore tuna now; a healthier choice, but it doesn’t have the same flavor. There were huge chunks of it in the salad rather than everything mixed together in a savory spread. Maybe that’s better suited to elevated palates, but I just didn’t like chewing through the tuna, especially since it was kind of bland.
I know they still put hard-boiled egg in the salad, because I saw it in the mounds of salad that had spilled onto my plate. The tomato was hard and sliced too thick, so it fought the sandwich rather than complemented it. The melding of flavors and textures in my mouth wasn’t the same; I wasn’t sure I even liked it very much. Although, ah, the bun is still wonderful, still crunchy and soft. The fries were really good as well, crisp on the outside, tender, almost airy on the inside, but I left at least half of the order on the table because there were too many.
Everything changes, including our favorite foods. I often think of other meals I can no longer have, either because the items aren’t available or the restaurants have gone out of business. Where have you gone, black bean burrito with saffron rice? Sauteed chicken and artichokes over a bagel with sesame oil vinaigrette? The Big Boy sandwiches of my youth? (Oh, believe me, they were different then.) Reasonable facsimiles just don’t taste the same.
NUDGE: Write about a meal you can no longer have. It doesn’t have to be a restaurant meal. Maybe a long-gone family member grilled steaks in a way no one else could duplicate. Maybe an old friend used to make the best chili. Describe the meal, all the sensuous details of the food itself, what made it all so irresistible to you. If it still exists, but in an altered form, describe why it no longer appeals to you. Include memories you associate with the original meal.