By John Morton
It was in the spring of 1973 when Ozark Airlines first brought me to Siesta Key.
As my family checked into the Palm Bay Club, the usual “Can you suggest some things to do?” question was directed at the clerk at the front desk.
As a revved-up 8-year-old making his first visit to Florida and still shaking off the Wisconsin frost, I eagerly awaited hearing ideas like parasailing, deep-sea fishing, body surfing, seagull feeding, or sand-castle sculpting.
Instead, we got this: “Have you been to Anna’s yet?”
And thus began an arguably ridiculous love affair between my family and a delicatessen.
That may sound weird to most, but for those who have chowed down a Surfer – well, I know you get it. In fact, you very well may soon be wiping off your chin with this very article.
Folks, no matter how you slice it, Anna’s is a Siesta Key institution.
And in this issue of the Siesta Sand, I’m delighted to have the honor to tell part of its 50-year story. I’m 56 – yes, both in age and certainly pounds heavier – so I’m as qualified to do so as most anyone. Not only do I make the cut, I’d like to think I make the cold cut.
After all, my allegiance to the place is undeniable. For example, I won’t visit New Delhi because I feel I’d be cheating.
And in New York City, I want nothing to do with the Subway.
Ah, yes, such fun with sandwich jokes.
Anyway, Anna’s and I go way back.
But there were growing pains. At first, I ordered plain turkey with no sauce on white bread. Anna herself would cringe but grin, patting me on the head. A few years later, after I finally put on my big-boy bib, I was ordering my sandwiches with these stern rules: “Don’t skimp on the sauce.”
I would also graduate to rye, pumpernickel and marble. Even cucumbers would find their way into my life.
Anna, I know you’re proud of me.
Speaking of the sauce, I asked the Anna’s crew during my interview for any saucy stories, and the owner’s daughter spoke of a guy named Hank who used to always order a 16-ounce container of sauce on the side for takeout. I feigned disbelief, actually well aware she was referring to my former brother-in-law. Back home with our order, we’d all competitively dip our sandwiches and chips in the heavenly concoction, worried that one of us could break down at any moment and guzzle it outright.
This is the same family that in 1981 scolded me after generously making an Anna’s run consisting of a dozen orders. The story, which is still rubbed in my face at most every family gathering, goes like this:
I return with the food, and someone notices there’s uncharacteristically no sandwich for me. It’s then that I admit I ate mine at the shop.
Well, from their reaction, you’d thought I committed a federal crime. The nerve, they cried, to do so as they sat and rotted with starvation.
For the record, I inhaled the sandwich like always. My selfish act may have cost them all of three minutes. But apparently, when you’re awaiting your Anna’s, every second counts.
All these years later, when I volunteer to pick up an order, there is trepidation among my kin. “Come right back” is typically someone’s sarcastic insistence as I walk out the door.
Then there was my nephew’s beach wedding in 2010. I jokingly suggested it be catered by Anna’s and I’ll be darned if 75 sandwiches didn’t arrive just in time for the reception.
I’ve seen people hit the sauce at a wedding or two in my day, but not like this.
I also laugh at the fact I have sat outside Anna’s on countless occasions before they opened, trying to not make eye contact with the hustling workers as they prepped for the day.
“Hang in there, big guy!” were the words I’d like to think they were saying.
Truth is, I might as well have had my face pressed against the glass. And yes, this is disturbing behavior at 10:29 and 50-some seconds in the morning.
But, in my defense, I always felt entitled. After all, the gals always called out my name when I’d walk in. Incredibly, despite sometimes going an entire year between visits, they remembered me. It’s as if I owned the joint.
On one visit, I recall a girlfriend saying “I’m not sure if I’m impressed or worried,” followed by a friendly pinch of my belly.
“Anyway, order me a pastrami with the works,” she continued to my relief.
Finally, in 2000, I suggested my soon-to-be-born daughter be named Anna. The wife just shook her head.
(By the way, by no means were my two sons named Jimmy or John. OK, no more sandwich jokes).
In closing, I’ve never sent those nasty “I’m here and you’re not” postcards back to friends in Wisconsin. You know the ones – babes on the beach vs. cars in the snowbanks.
No, I’m much more vicious. I send the standard photo of me in front of Anna’s, pointing obnoxiously toward the door. I tell them I’ll soon be eating liverwurst while they eat their heart out.
But such is life when you are slave to a slicer. It’s cutthroat out there.
(John Morton is managing editor of Siesta Sand.)