Once a month, I go to lunch with my Summer Camp buddies, George and Mary, to a sandwich shop in town called Peppi’s. It is two blocks from where we work, tucked into a city that heavily sighs at the dawn each overcast morning. Yet when I am there, in that particular restaurant with those particular people, we’re instantly transported to a grinder shop far, far away; somewhere where no one cares about where we’ve been and what we do– a place where no one knows your name yet treats you like you go back as far as time– a harmonious relationship where they can always count on you to come back with a smile and where you can always count on the cooks to chime in with you as you sing along to the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” as it blasts from the old radio behind the grill.

George is some type of celebrity at Peppi’s, as he has a sandwich named after him, “The Santucci,” which is described as “a delectably messy sandwich.” The only other people that the sandwiches are named for are Pittsburgh Steelers, so to be on the menu with the likes of Big Ben and other local celebs means that you’ve truly arrived.

I’ve asked him a few times how he came to be a hometown-sandwich-shop legend, to which he responds to me in what I can only ascertain to be half-truths. He is withholding bits and pieces of the epic hoagie-namesake story from me, but I have to assume it’s for good reason. So for now, I will let him be the man whose sandwich legacy is shrouded in mystery–for now.

One of the most interesting things I have witnessed since I’ve been dining with Mary and George is the transformation of Mary. The simple fact that she’ll even go to Peppi’s for lunch is amazing to me. Mary, as I mentioned in a previous blog, is a clean eater to the extreme. Yet somehow, she has managed to be swept up in the moment; whisked away to what feels like the set of an improv sit-com, completely unscripted and unpredictable–or, maybe she’s just star-struck to be eating with George, the Peppi’s legend.

Regardless of her reasoning, Mary has decided to let her hair down and run wild. She orders a tuna salad salad at Peppi’s, complete with ranch dressing. And if she’s feeling especially madcap, she eats the whole damn thing without one ounce of guilt. (It’s a behemoth of a salad, so this is no small feat.) During our most recent trip, George’s celebrity status warranted a heaping pile of Cajun fries to be delivered to our table on the house. And wouldn’t you know it, without batting an eye, Mary dove right in with the rest of us, sopping up ranch dressing and nacho cheese with each greasy dip of a fry.

Times are good at Peppi’s with Mary and George, undoubtedly the kind of say anything/anything goes moments that I have been missing since other friends have drifted in and out of my life. This delicious little sandwich shop, with its mismatched banquet hall chairs, hometown memorabilia decking the walls and narrow entryway that forces people to actually interact with each other (oh, the horror!) has become an escape from the unimportant 9-5 details that deface my third eye. It’s the place that I go with no script or expectations when I’m having a horrible day resulting from a gradual building of pressure from a series of hum-drum days. Sit me between Mary and George and slap a cheese steak down in front of me on wax paper, and that’s all the therapy I need.

*Please note–My face in this picture is a result of my unborn son kicking me unbelievably hard at the exact moment the photographer (the bicycle delivery guy for Peppi’s) took our picture. It’s also what happens when you eat an entire cheese steak, Cajun fries and onion rings.