When subs first invaded Milton

March 26, 2023

It was sometime in the early 1960s, I believe, when subs first came to Milton! And I mean the sandwich, not the underwater ship. This celestial event occurred when Norma Jean Fleming opened Norma's Restaurant. I was probably around 13 or 14 years old. Sometimes we'd go there (my mother, grandmother and I) to celebrate a small event. This usually occurred between after school and dinner, an occurrence rarer than a syzygy, an infrequent alignment of planets.

I had never before encountered subs or even pizza, although I was well acquainted with crab imperial from the long-ago Avenue Restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue, one of the best restaurants ever! I had to ask my Philadelphia cousins what pizza was. "A tomato pie," they said, looking at their country cousin like I was from Mars. They were different from me. They said, "Yo," and "churry" instead of cherry, and called subs "hoagies." They were "city-smart."

Norma's is long gone, but now Milton even has a Subway, it's so cosmopolitan. Jeff is more of a fan than I am, but it's still pretty good, and healthier if you pick the right ingredients. I particularly like the vegetarian sub with sliced black olives, which are not usually available at traditional sub shops. On a recent visit, the unknowing young man behind the counter asked Jeff if he wanted his sub toasted. Jeff had experienced a hard day since his usual barber girl/stylist had abandoned her salon without notice, and her replacement proved not to his liking. "No, no, never!" he screamed in a stage whisper. "No. Toasting. Ever!" Jeff added, "Also, please put oil on the roll first," as the young worker opened two footlong loaves for us on the counter.

"Never mayonnaise," Jeff warned. "Never, never, never mayonnaise!" The sub creator gave him a mischievous look with the arching of an eyebrow. "I like Miracle Whip myself," he said, risking rebuke. Jeff said, "No comment," fearing the remaining construction of his sub could be sabotaged. The whole scene was like a conductor facing a cacophonous orchestra. I looked at Jeff and told him to calm down, giving the brave worker a sympathetic look. I was the good guy for once. I told the Subway guy, "My husband had a hard day."

A prospective worker sat filling out an employment application at a nearby table; he was oblivious to us all. I didn't know they even did applications that way anymore! He had Ronald McDonald flaming-red hair gathered in bunches like a field of rainbow-hued wheat. This lent itself to the otherworldly feel of the evening.

It was almost closing time, not the best hour to be there, since the metal pan meant for housing my much-desired sliced black olives was empty except for a few stragglers. "Fish them out!" I pleaded. Because I had been the good guy, the server accommodated me and managed to net a few from the blackish juice. Thank goodness they had sweet peppers this time. They didn't the last time, and I thought they never would again. Now, to wrap it all up tight! We are really particular about this step. I don't like it when the sub is presented all splayed open in a styrofoam box like an unmade bed, and you end up pressing your face into it like a wildebeest.

We finally bid our adieus to the patient lad. I know, I've said, "No takeout ever!" before, but this was still easier than cooking, and it was just a rainy Monday night in March after all.

As long as I'm writing about Milton restaurants both new and old, I thought I’d like to reminisce about some more old favorites long gone. There was Roxie’s, attached to the Milton Theatre, which sported a snack bar and a few booths manned by Ed Scott, his wife Helen, and his mother Roxie after whom the restaurant was named. On movie nights at the theatre in the early 1960s, you could get a Coke float with a dip of vanilla ice cream for probably less than a quarter.

Then there was the legendary M&H, a place where grown men sat (or tried to) at authentic school desks to eat breakfast or lunch. I first made my entrance there in a floor-length embroidered Nordic coat and was looked at askance until the most revered patron, Wayne Hudson, announced that I was "from here!" From then, on it seemed that I was OK and accepted as a true Milton native, which I am.

  • Pam Bounds is a well-known artist living in Milton who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art. She will be sharing humorous and thoughtful observations about life in Sussex County and beyond.

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