Memories Pressed between the pages of my mind Memories Sweetened through the ages just like wine Quiet thoughts come floating down and settle softly to the ground Like golden autumn leaves around my feet I touch them and they burst apart with sweet memories
- The Lettermen, 1969
Memory–our ability to recall information, personal experiences and processes–isn’t always reliable or necessarily as sweet as The Lettermen might have you believe. Memory has, in fact, been shown to be very fallible. Studies have concluded that memories are often constructed after the fact and that they’re often based as much, if not more, on our emotional state at the time as they are the actual experience being committed to memory.
While stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base, I had so many tuna grinders (what New Englanders call subs) from Steve’s House of Pizza in nearby Bedford, Massachusetts, that my great friend Paul Venne told me I’d soon grow gills. While my friends and colleagues were bingeing on Big Macs and wolfing down Whoppers, weekly (at least) visits to Steve’s sustained me.
Leaving Massachusetts I pined for those grinders for more than twenty-years. Could a simple grinder really have been as good as my taste buds remembered it to be? In 1999, I had the great fortune to re-visit Steve’s and confirmed the tuna grinders were as good as my memories told me they were. Best of all, I shared Steve’s wonderful tuna grinders with my Kim who was nearly equally captivated by the amazing things the Greek proprietors could do in transforming simple tuna to the realm of sublime.
Upon returning to Albuquerque, we called Steve’s crew and asked for the recipe for those superb subs. My tale of woe and of love unrequited by any tuna sub other than Steve’s must have impressed them because I didn’t have to beg, plead, cajole or even bribe them for the recipe.
Alas, there is a triumvirate of things Steve’s couldn’t give us–the heavy duty, high volume, fast recovery Blodgett pizza oven in which the grinder rolls are heated; the cloud-like grinder rolls unique to the East Coast and most importantly, the tuna which tantalized my taste buds for two years. As such, we were unable to duplicate the magic though we have made better tuna grinders than we used to.
Even though Steve’s House of Pizza has had three different owners since the restaurant opened just a few years before I landed in Massachusetts in 1977, it has also had amazing continuity. The recipes were handed down with every change of ownership and are still in use today. The current owner (pictured above), like the original owner, is Greek and has the same gregarious nature. He was thrilled when I recounted my experiences at Steve’s some thirty years previous and even happier when the tuna grinder he personally prepared for me met my expectations and then some.
So what makes this the best tuna grinder in the world, at least in my estimation? It’s not only the aforementioned Blodgett oven or the fact that it toasts each grinder roll to absolute perfection so that the outside crust is just discernibly hard and the inside is delicate and light. It’s not only the oil packed tuna adorned only with salt and pepper and with just enough mayo to bind it all. It’s not only the shredded lettuce and white onion embellishment that dressed every grinder I ever had. It’s a combination of the above and more.
Tuna is a rich and meaty fish with a nice amount of fat for flavor. It is very high in protein as well as in Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids. It’s no wonder flocks of seagulls follow the tuna boats as they came near shore in Gloucester, one of my favorite haunts for fresh seafood.
Though the name on the marquee is Steve’s House of Pizza, a high volume of the walk-in or call-in traffic is for excellent grinders. Steve’s introduced me to pastrami, another of my life’s passions. It introduced me to scrambled egg grinders (available with pepper, ham, and pepperoni) which are available for lunch and dinner, too. More than any other restaurant in Massachusetts, Steve’s allayed my longing for green chile…though I often fantasize about having one of those tuna grinders with New Mexico’s favorite fruit.
Having grown up in the remote mountains of Northern New Mexico, I was essentially a culinary virgin. Until my years in Massachusetts, the only only pizza I had ever eaten outside of Pizza Hut was out of the box, a wafer thin Chef Boyardee product with a cardboard-like crust. Is it any wonder Pizza Hut was my baseline for good pizza?
Steve’s House of Pizza also introduced me to very good pizza Greek style. Greek style means a drizzle of olive oil across the top. Add pepperoni and its grease might make the pizza a bit, shall we say…moist. Steve’s serves a thin crust pizza with a generous portion of cheese and a sweet-savory tomato sauce with a nice application of garlic. The crust is crunchy around the edges and doesn’t fold over in the style of New York pizza. Alas, I didn’t sample it during either of our two September, 2009 visits, but Kim did and she liked it, though she kept reaching over for bites of my tuna sub.
Those visits in 2009 validated that memories can indeed be sweet, accurate and absolutely delicious.
Steve’s House of Pizza
30 Shawsheen Avenue, Suite 11
1st VISIT: 22 September 2009
LATEST VISIT: 25 September 2009
# OF VISITS: 2
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Tuna Sub, Pastrami Sub, Italian Sub, Pizza