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In high school, my kid brother, Bobby, was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid.

That explained how he could consume his body weight in food every day and not gain an ounce. In addition to medication, his treatment was to eat — as much and as often as he wished.

“If he wants six full meals a day, feed him six full meals a day,” his doctor told our mom.

Bobby was on the Pittston Area swim team. I’m eleven years older than he and so was in my late 20s then. I never missed a meet and regularly took him out for a meal afterwards. One night he ordered a large pizza just for himself.

About six slices in, he paused and said, “This is how I like to feel when I first sit down to eat.”

Then he polished off the remaining six slices. And ordered dessert.

Bobby’s swim coach, Sal Licata, who’s battled his weight seemingly from the moment his college football career ended, used to say to him, “You’re so lucky, Bobby. I probably don’t even have a thyroid.”

He was joking, of course. No one with thyroid disease is lucky. But as the Pittston Tomato Festival again rolls around, I can identify with Sal’s lament. Oh, to have Bobby’s old appetite and capacity, along with his 30-inch waistline.

My problem at the Pittston Tomato Festival is that my stomach, ample as it is these days, is full long before my taste buds are satisfied. Do I have to tell you who wins this battle? Is that a roll of Tums in my pocket?

I know I should pace myself at the festival. Or perhaps curb myself is the more accurate term. But with so many people working against me, I’m doomed. And these folks are my friends.

Take Jane and Jason Sabatelle. Regular readers of this column know that in an ideal world I would begin, and perhaps end, every trip to the Tomato Festival with a sopressata sandwich at Sabatelle’s stand. Jane’s smile is like a magnet pulling me there. Try a sopressata and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I recommend ordering it with “the works,” which means fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers. The only downside of this sandwich, if you can call it that, is that it is quite filling. One of these should do me for the night. But it won’t.

See, there’s a similar sandwich of Italian meats around the corner at Michael Valenti’s booth. This one looks fabulous but I must admit I have never tasted it. That’s because Michael also serves up this Italian seasoned pork sandwich with a slice of provolone cheese and a healthy portion of broccoli rabe. I’ve often said when God invented apples he immediately invented cinnamon. The same is true, I believe, of broccoli rabe and provolone.

That pork sandwich melts in your mouth which is also true of a devil of a sandwich available at a booth just a few steps away from Michael Valenti’s. Victor Guiliano, of Tony’s Pizza, created the “Hot Sloppy Tony” a few years back and in doing so, won my wife’s heart. Think “Sloppy Joe,” only with crumbled hot sausage. Underline the hot. Mary Kay can handle heat and this baby packs plenty. Fortunately for me there’s also a mild version.

Funny, but every year I must eat a slice of pizza or two at Tony’s booth. Funny because I can eat Tony’s pizza all year long at their permanent location. Still, like a ballpark hot dog, it seems to taste even better at the Tomato Festival.

But I’m not done talking about sandwiches. Michael Callahan makes this pesto chicken sandwich that’s hard to describe and harder to resist.

And there are other sandwiches too — a sausage and peppers here, a London broil there. All wrapped around raviolis (meat or cheese), shells with broccoli, eggplant rollatini, potato pancakes, jerk chicken, stuffed grape leaves, meatballs and chicken scampi.

There’s a tasty little item from Grico’s Restaurant called sweet tomato pie. It’s more of a tart though.

If it’s pie you’re looking for, allow me to introduce you to Patti Marianacci at Patti’s Pies. She tells me she is adding an apple/walnut/caramel/crumb — with ice cream, of course — to the usual line-up of banana cream, cannoli cream and chocolate/peanut butter. She’ll also tempt you with strawberry cheesecake.

And whatever you do, don’t forget Patti’s blueberry lasagna. In the same way that Grico’s tomato pie is not a pie, this little number is not lasagna. The only similarity is its layers, which include vanilla pudding, whipped cream and blueberries. Topped off with — are you ready? — shavings of white chocolate.

Shavings of white chocolate!

My brother Bobby lives in Tennessee now and rarely makes it home. But he’ll be with me this week. I will be trying to channel his old high school metabolism.


Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at