Haiku is a Japanese form of poem which has three lines. The first and third lines use five syllables across their language-throwing, while the second line uses seven syllables in total. These poems are typically very imagery-driven. They are also just straight-up plain fun. These brief poems are always shared at the end of features, before the eye-scenes.
Mario’s Pizza at 159 South Reading Avenue in Boyertown opened in 1985, and while it’s a go-to place for dough-ready slices, hoagies are understandably a big seller there as well as literally big, too.
Joe Romano opened the restaurant more than three decades ago; born in Sicily, he first moved to our country from Italy in 1970, living in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island before the family opened a pizza shop in Allentown. Into the mid-1980s, he found his way to Boyertown, calling our area his home since then. My family sometimes meets at Mario’s Pizza for meals after a long day of work, and in recent years, I’ve come to understand just how hardworking and caring of a soul Joe is—and how well he means for our community from the good of his heart. And the same for his employee Oscar whose first name is all I know, but he is one of the kindest people who I am happy to see by the smile he always offers.
During one of my traveling poetry classes, we read Richard Blanco’s poems as well as our own inside Mario’s Pizza, and my student Sam Traten ordered a hoagie. I used this as an opportunity to find out his food-thoughts to share here from an outside perspective. I tend to be a bit pickier when it comes to what goes on a hoagie, anyway.
Here is Sam-Speak in the world of Hoagieland, followed by one of my haiku-children:
In our region, a few foods stand out as favorites known only to us. It’s not so much we take pride in them, more as though they are us.
In Philly and its surrounding towns and suburbs, one standout example is the hoagie. Here in Boyertown, you can find a version that represents the Philadelphia Hoagie and is very close to its original meaning—a large, tasty, filling, meal for a worker that uses their body in a physical way. Hard work requiring strength, calories meant to be burnt to keep that strength up, nutrition for health and stamina, portable enough carry to work and not require cooking or special handling.
I found exactly that at Mario’s. The Hog Island ship-builders, iron-workers, longshoreman’s legendary hoagie. Not fancy, not trendy, not suburbanite expensive, just real. My upbringing in an old North Philadelphia neighborhood full of working-class, blue-collar Italians but also Irish, Polish, and German families should give me some authority to speak. Most of us had someone in our row-house home, a grandmother or uncle that still spoke mostly in the mother tongue.
I ordered a medium Italian hoagie. Joe smiled and replied, “It’s very big.”
I thought about that, then told him, “OK, I’ll take some home with me.”
Joe was right. It was two feet long. Hefting and pumping it in my hands, judging the weight (that’s how we did it when I was a kid), I knew I was in for a treat. Made with ham and Italian salami, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onions plus my requested pickled hot peppers, it was everything I had wanted and dreamed about. At our table was the best assortment of condiments and spices a trencherman could dress with. A salt-black pepper mix, powdered garlic, dried oregano, and all the usual stuff, like catsup and others I don’t remember. My mind was on my hoagie and diet Pepsi. Rudely, I even forgot for the moment that I was with friends.
And once at home and into leftovers mode days later, I skillet-toasted the naked bread, then reinserting the contents, wrapping it in tinfoil, and heating it up lid-covered for five or ten minutes. My, My.
two feet to eat, one
lengthy hoagie full of meat—
a meal for the week
(The final two eye-scenes here are by Sam Traten when he moved into leftovers mode with his hoagie.)