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Unforgettable hoagies got a thumbs-up – hopefully not literally


By Charlie Sacchetti

I guess it’s safe to say that all of us, at one time or another, have experienced some good luck. Whether it be finding some money, being at the right place at the right time or any other thing along those lines, we generally know when lady luck has touched our lives. That was the case when two of my buddies, Joe and Nicky Montagna, got hungry and walked across the street and entered the Boulevard Steak Shop. Joe and Nick, both high school students in 1965, were helping their Dad, Gabe on one of his moonlighting house painting jobs just across the street from the shop on Mac Dade Boulevard in Darby, Pa.

When the phantom lunch whistle went off in their heads, they figured they’d go to the nearest place to get a bite. What followed proved to be a culinary experience that they would gladly pass on to their pals who hung on the corner of 64th and Garman streets.

That evening, as we all gathered to share the events of the day, the brothers couldn’t wait to describe the fantastic hoagies and cheesesteaks served at the shop, just a 20-minute scooter or car ride from our corner. Even though we had just finished dinner, our collective mouths watered as the boys described Italian hoagies, loaded with provolone, prosciutto, Genoa salami, lettuce, onions and hot peppers. The cheese steaks were cooked to perfection and served with fried onions on a crisp Italian roll. So impressed were we five, that we decided to digest our dinners for an hour or so and then take a ride to the shop to taste these beauties for ourselves. So, at 8:30 p.m. on this warm summer evening, I hopped onto my Vespa motor scooter with one of my buddies on the back and we headed for the steak shop. Joe had warned us that the guy behind the counter didn’t speak a whole bunch of English and we certainly didn’t speak Greek so we anticipated a mild communication problem that we would gladly live with in order to sit on the corner and enjoy these masterpieces that seemed more desirable with every mile.

When we walked into the store we saw the husky guy behind the counter.
“Well … ’’ he said.
“Three Italian hoagies and two cheese steaks please,” was my reply.
My buddy whispered to me, “What the hell is Hoonyans?”

“Oh!” I said. “ONIONS! Yes, please, we want Hoonyans!”

We paid the going rate in those days, 45 cents for each and went back to our home base. A quick trip to Mrs. Fagan’s for Cokes and we were ready to go. The sandwiches were great. Joe and Nicky became instant heroes. The only problem was that the guy at the store forgot to put hot peppers on the hoagies but that was a minor crime given the overall level of pleasure the food provided. Two subsequent trips to Mac Dade Boulevard followed in two weeks with the same great results except that each time the guy messed up something with the order. One time he forgot the cheese in one of the cheese steaks. One time he put mayo on a hoagie instead of oil. This was becoming a problem and since we didn’t know the guy’s name we started calling him “The Bungler.” In fact, the hoagie shop was itself now known by us and everyone who used to gape at us as we wolfed down the sandwiches on the corner as “The Bungler’s.”

As the summer progressed, the trips to The Bungler’s continued on a weekly basis. By now, we had about seven regulars who sat on the corner for the late-night meal. One of them was the son of the owners of the cold-cut store on the corner adjacent to ours. How about that for a silent testimonial! Our pal could make his own hoagie out of anything in his store, yet he preferred a hoagie from The Bugler. This was not heresy, it was simply acknowledging the obvious. We had also gotten smarter as the summer progressed. We double checked the orders so as to make sure the sandwiches were made as requested. The mistakes started to disappear. Cheese steaks contained cheese every time. Hot peppers, sweet peppers and onions were supplied as requested. It seemed “The Bungler” had bungled no more!

Or so we thought.

It was a beautiful Saturday evening in September. This crisp, clear night would afford the perfect atmosphere for the bunch of us to enjoy our hoagies. As the three of us entered the store we noticed our guy cleaning the counter but he was doing so with his left hand. His right hand was dropped at his side. After he said “Hoonyans” he turned to reveal his right hand that had an enormous bandage around the thumb. It looked like an oversized, white Tootsie Roll pop.

My two buddies ran out of the store, stifling laughter as I just stood there trying to act cool while thinking to myself what my buddies must be thinking … even though the hoagies were now correctly prepared to order, the poor guy had found something else to bungle.

I just hoped my hoagie wouldn’t include the tip of his one of his other fingers.

Charlie Sacchetti is the author of three books, “It’s All Good: Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change;” “Knowing He’s There: True Stories of God’s Subtle Yet Unmistakable Touch,” and his newest, “Savoring the Moments: True Stories of Happiness, Sadness and Everything in Between.” Contact him at worthwhilewords21@gmail.com.

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