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The editor takes you on a taste tour of the Pittston Tomato Festival

Kristen Killian of Wilkes-Barre, left, and Ron Dietrick of Pittston enjoy ice cream sundaes at last year’s Pittston Tomato Festival.

File photo by BILL TARUTIS

Mary Jane Hakim of Wilkes-Barre sinks her teeth into a potato pancake at a last year’s Pittston Tomato Festival.

file photo by bill tarutis

As this photo illustrates, there’s food for young and old at the Pittston Tomato Festival. Here, Brandy Hannick of Pittston, left, watches her niece Amelia Smith, 2, of Old Forge, enjoy a goodie at last year’s festival.

File photo by BILL TARUTIS

You could call it “self control.” Some psychologists call it “impulse control.” Some even say it’s linked to intelligence.

I’m talking about “delayed gratification” and I don’t care what it’s linked to, I just call it smart. Expecially where a Sabatelle’s Market sopressata sandwich is concerned.

Because of delayed gratification, a Sabatelle’s sopressata sandwich remains one of my all time favorite things to eat. But it takes work, or better said, will power.

See, I can walk into Sabatelle’s on South Main Street in Pittston and order a sopressata sandwich any time I want. They’ll make it the way I like it too, with what they call “the works.” That means they’ll add a slice of tangy provolone cheese and a juicy roasted red pepper to the homemade salami-type delicacy.

If I listen to my taste buds, I can gobble up one of these babies at least once a week.

But I don’t.

Instead, I delay my gratification. I delay it and delay it and delay it.

I delay it, in fact, for nearly a year until the next Pittston Tomato Festival rolls around.

See, it is only at the Tomato Festival that I will allow myself a sopressata sandwich from Sabatelle’s booth. And that makes it and keeps it oh, so special.

For the record, I don’t allow myself just one sopressata sandwich at the Festival. I allow myself one each night, and the Festival runs four nights, from August 18 through August 21 this year. I begin the Tomato Festival eating one and I end it eating one. And then it’s nothing but delayed gratification for 51-and-a-half weeks.

The Sabatelle’s booth at the festival being located almost right across from the Sunday Dispatch booth makes things rather convenient but hardly necessary. I’d search them out wherever they were.

So, of course, I heartily recommend having one – or more – during this year’s festival. You might tell them Ed Ackerman sent you. And if you have trouble pronouncing sopressata, try saying it the way my friends of Italian descent do: super-sot. Or just say “I’ll have a super.” They’ll know what you mean.

I’m warning you right up front, these sandwich are filling, so you might need to pace yourself afterwards. But over-eating is what the Pittston Tomato Festival is all about. For these four nights, delayed gratification be damned.

Two Approaches

There are two ways to approach your eating spree at the festival. One is the “a straight line is the shortest distance between two points” approach, which means simply going right down the string of booths from Giovanni’s on the Go (booth 27) where a little bruschetta or perhaps a meatball on a stick (yes, on a stick) makes a nice appetizer for your “super-sot” at Sabatelle’s (booth 28) to booth number 37 on the far end.

Carmella’s Italian Deli and Pastries at booth 29 and Nico’s Pizza, occupying two booths at 30 and 31, come up right after Sabatelle’s. There will be a line at Nico’s which just tells you how good it is and you might want to save the pastries at Carmella’s for later or even to take home.

Paluck’s BBQ is right next door to Nico’s at 32 serving pork barbecues, hot dogs, chili con carne and even kielbasa dogs, lest you think everything at the festival is Italian. That notion is dispelled even further with Notis the Gyro King at booth 33 offering traditional gyros, shish-kebobs, and Greek salads. And next to him, Dan Figura (booth 34) will be filling the air with the mouth-watering aroma of London broil sizzling on the grill.

If you are still standing, Rice’s Concessions (booths 35, 36, 37) offer pie a la mode and Pennsylvania Dutch funnel cakes.

Take a deep breath and a couple of Tums because you’ve only just begun.

As I said, the “straight line” approach is just one strategy for eating your way though the Tomato Festival. Another is the “random sampling” approach. This is probably for the more experienced festival-goers, who know what they are after and where to find it.

For example, the straight-liners, especially the determined ones, might go from their pie a la mode right to Two Gentlemen Catering (booths 1 and 2, but just to the right to the aforementioned Murder’s Row) for eggplant rollantini, perhaps my second favorite item at the festival. I, however, go there right after Sabatelle’s and double back later for the booths in between, but to each his (or her) own.

Next to Two Gentlemen is where you will find homemade French fries at JR’s booth (number 3) and next to that potato pancakes at Mr. P’s (booth 4). You’ll also find some fresh squeezed lemonade in this area.

I tend to by-pass all of this and head to the very end of this row where you’ll find Victor Guiliano manning the oven at Tony’s Pizza (booth 9). I eat Tony’s pizza all year around and have since Tony himself (Tony Martorana) opened the place in 1967, but still I have to have a slice at the Tomato Festival. Victor serves up another item I recommend called a “Hot Sloppy Tony”. It’s kind of a Sloppy Joe but far better. But I’m warning you, it’s hot.

On the way to Tony’s booth, I pass by John Argento and the family at IV Guys Catering (booth 5). I tell them I’ll be back and they know I mean it. This is where you can acquire the best sausage and peppers sandwich you ever tasted. The proud tradition of this family goes back to the very first Pittston Tomato Festival and the sausage making skills of John’s brother, the late Tony Argento. The Tomato Festival is a time for missing those no longer with us, and Tony Argento is one who will be talked about with fondness.

Here’s a tip: I often get my sausage and peppers sandwiches “to go” at the end of the night. After all, a guy needs something for tomorrow’s lunch, doesn’t he?

Ever eat shells and broccoli? If not, you need to tidy that up and the sooner the better. That can be taken care of at Tony Thomas’s booth (number 6), where you can also find ziti and meatballs, chicken parmesan sandwiches and portabella mushroom sandwiches.

I suggest hopping over booth number 7 (I’ll tell you why in a minute) and going to number 8 where you will find Chef Michael Valenti and, if you are in luck, polenta. Never tasted it? Now’s the time. He’ll also have eggplant rollantini served with vodka sauce, and other Italian dishes. Don’t miss this place.

Now, back to number 6. That’s Ben and George’s Ice Cream and by now, you should be good and ready for dessert. Hope you saved room for one of those sinful Belgian waffles.

We’re not finished with the “real” food – not by a long shot – but since we mentioned ice cream, perhaps this is a good time to get into some of the other desserts since these booths are located nearby. Since man does not live on ice cream alone – sometimes there needs to be an apple dumpling or homemade fudge brownie under it – the Tomato Festival presents Crazy Cow Ice Cream at booth 12.

Two booths later (number 15) is Bindi Desserts. “Bindi” is probably not Italian for “decadent” but it should be. Here you will find imported cakes and cheese cakes along with gelato in an assortment of flavors. Some festival-goers may want to start here first and who can blame them?

Sweet tooth still not satisfied? Just keep going. Sprinkles and Shakes Ice Cream (booth 24) has homemade ice cream cakes that you’ll wind up telling all your friends about and right next door at booth 25 is Downhome Rice Pudding with pudding in cones, pudding to take home and pudding parfaits.

And if you see a booth between Bindi and Sprinkles with someone scooping out Blue Ribbon ice cream, stop and have some. You deserve it.

But let’s go back to Tony’s Pizza (booth 9) and hit the spots we missed.

A gal named Lisa Ann will be in booth 10 serving chicken spiedis, London broil hoagies, piggies in the blanket, and strawberry or blueberry shortcake. You really could spend your whole festival right here.

At booth 11 is the Greenroom Catering with something different: Caribbean jerk chicken wraps, jerk on a stick, and red beans and seasoned rice. Wear your flowered shirt.

A change of pace comes up at booths 13 and 14: Webby’s Middle Eastern foods with stuffed grape leaves (another of my favorites), hummus, and refreshing tabouleh. In the adjacent booth, Webby’s offers funnel cakes, pizza fritta and fried veggies.

Webby’s neighbor Yogi (booth 16 and 17) usually draws a crowd with potato pancakes, pierogies, noodles and cabbage, crab bisque, chicken bites and another of my favorites, sweet potato fries.

The next thing I am about to share you may find hard to believe but there are four booths I have yet to mention (all in a row at 19, 20, 21 and 22) that are so spectacular they could be a festival in themselves. I’m not kidding.

First is Gramma Aita’s Kitchen. Have the ravioli (meat or cheese) and then send me a thank you note. They also offer gnocchi and porketta sandwiches. Everything is homemade and delicious.

Next is Komensky’s Market whose kielbasa has been a favorite of generations around here. They’ll make a sandwich out of it if you like, or just serve you a generous piece on a stick. They’ve also been known to offer incredible rum cake.

Then you come to Grico’s Restaurant with Chef Pat Greenfield at the helm.

This is often one of my earliest stops, especially if she is serving her sweet tomato pie, which is really a kind of tart. You can get a great steak sandwich here, too, some friend calamari or a chicken scampi melt to die for.

And the quartet ends with La Rosa Italiana serving gnocchi, lasagna and eggplant parmesan all topped off with cannoli for dessert.

If this all sounds overwhelming the solution is simple: attend the Pittston Tomato Festival more than once. I personally suggest all four nights (or include Saturday or Sunday afternoon if you prefer).

The ice cold beer, by the way, is served in the adjacent firehouse as a fundraiser for the hose company. They offer live entertainment each night and no one stops you from bringing in your festival food. What a way to wind up your taste tour.

The next thing I am about to share you may find hard to believe but there are four booths I have yet to mention (all in a row at 19, 20, 21 and 22) that are so spectacular they could be a festival in themselves. I’m not kidding.

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