On the Beach With Tuna on Rye

Alan Richman reminisces about his childhood visits to the beach at Atlantic City, and the lunches his mom packed.

Atlantic City was the best place on earth for me when I was a kid. (The only drawback was that my very thrifty parents never took a motel, and we always came and went from Philly on the same day.) We showed up in the morning, took a locker in one of those public changing areas that were perfectly respectable for middle-class families way back then, went to the beach, got horrifically burned, returned to shower and change, finally walked the Boardwalk.

My mother would always bring sandwiches for lunch on the beach—I told you we were thrifty—and it was always tuna. To this day, I can’t be sitting on sand without thinking of Atlantic City and wanting tuna, lettuce and mayo on rye. I can be on a beach in Southeast Asia being offered skewered langoustines grilled over an open fire, and I’m thinking, “Wish this was canned tuna.”

At night, on the Boardwalk, we’d eat sliced roast beef sandwiches, so juicy, at a place whose name I forget, and my pleas for a Taylor Pork Roll sandwich would be refused, us being Jewish and my father practically kosher. (Not until much later did I finally taste Taylor Pork Roll, and it was just awful.)

When I was a sportswriter for the evening Bulletin in Philly, Atlantic City and Chef Vola’s was a perfect dinner-date destination. No woman could resist such an exotic proposition—secret destination, down by the sea. When I did that, I was Philadelphia’s Porfirio Rubirosa. I don’t remember the food being greatly different from that at most Italian restaurants, but the venue and the sense of adventure was unparalleled. And, after dinner, I would suggest a walk on the beach. It was the best.

When I went back there recently, I was alone, so I was able to concentrate on the food, not the woman with me. That was probably all for the best. The food has sure gotten better, but I certainly have not.

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