The preeminent sandwich of my lifetime, could be found just three
blocks from my parents' house. Several years ago the sub-shop
inexplicably shutdown. I was devastated.
I roamed the San Fernando Valley in search of something that could take it's place. I'd find the right pickles (chopped dill), but the seasoning would be off. I'd find the right seasoning, but the bread would be off (thick sesame roll.) I found good sandwiches, but never my sandwich.
In high school I introduced a friend, to the sandwich. He shared the same yearning for Turkey Breast, Pickles, Onions, Provolone, Oil, Salt & Pepper (hold the Tomatoes.) Using "Web 2.0 skills" he asked if anyone knew where to find a spot-on replica of this sandwich.
Within an hour, he got a response. A user claimed that the sandwich existed somewhere in the depths of the West Valley.
Skepticism arose from deep inside my belly.
The San Fernando Valley has half-a-dozen "Giamela's Submarine Sandwiches." The restaurants were ostensibly founded by an Italian family. Somewhere in history, probably during the late-1980s, Signor Giamela sold his North Hollywood branch to a Chinese family.
This family made their sandwiches differently than the namesakes.
Their family loved mine. They knew our names, we did not know theirs. They used to give us Chinese beer calendars and disgusting lychee candy. It was that they cared, that counted. That same care was what went into those sandwiches.
On Sunday, we investigated the mimetic nature of this sandwich in Chatsworth. Could a sandwich in the wastelands of the West Valley, be the one I had been looking for?
The parking lot of the Lamplighter on Nordhoff had a sign that proclaimed "We now serve Giamela's Sandwiches!" The Lamplighter is a depressing coffeeshop, which serves overpriced overcooked blue-plate specials to overweight people. And, we hoped, two delicious sandwiches to two overly eager nostalgists.
After reading through the various renditions of the lunch specials (which look conspicuously like the dinner specials) we were given the Giamela's page. Promptly, I ordered the usual, then sat back and waited nervously.
The minutes moved slowly, as butterflies accumulated around my kidneys. My mind was temporarily put at ease when they offered to refill our gigantic Cokes. Then, the sandwiches arrived.
I gazed into the sandwich, and that sandwich gazed back into me.
In one bite, it became evident. This was not my sandwich.
There was too much 'submarine sandwich dressing.' The bread was floppy. The meat was cut too thick. The sandwich was decent. But as you know, it's hard to make a bad sandwich, and exponentially harder to make a great one.
The journey into the bleakness of that place, was only worthwhile because I knew that I never needed to return. But, I still have faith that my sandwich is out there, and I will find it.
Joshua Heller is a writer who travels, a lot. His favorite food is tacos. Check out his blog: http://hellerscorner.blogspot.com