Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sam's Opening Weekend is about more than pizza


Hey, don't let that headline fool ya - we're coming for the PIZZA!

This time tomorrow, Sam's Pizza Palace will be jam-packed. From the moment the front door opens at 10:30 a.m., waves of hungry revelers will fill the dining room.

The crew, courtesy of Johh Lynch
In many ways, the scene will resemble that of a midsummer afternoon at the beloved boardwalk pizzeria, nestled under the Shore Plaza Beach Resort. Except, of course, for all the winter coats draped over the backs of the chairs.

But, what really makes the event special is the more intimate, "local" flavor of the day.

I'm old enough to remember when Wildwood was an absolute ghost town in February. And by that, I mean there was next to nothing open, and seemingly no one around. You could walk right onto the amusement piers then, which sat like frozen museums of curiosity; oh, it was neat, but the warmth and fun of summertime seemed impossibly distant.

It's funny to recall now, but I remember wondering if anyone lived on the island during the winter. My dad, who would pile us into the car for those frigid day trips from Philly, used to joke that we were the only ones there. And our quiet strolls on the deserted boards seemed to back that claim up.

Today, comparably, things are much livlier. In town, more shops and restaurants are open during the "offseason" months. There are at least a few stores on the Boardwalk that operate year round, or that will open on weekends if the weather is agreeable. And the machine that is Morey's Piers hums along without pause, always in visible prep for the season to come.

Easter Weekend still heralds the "unofficial opening" of the Boardwalk, but we no longer have to wait that long to turn the corner into Spring.

Just beyond the midpoint of winter, on the Friday leading into Presidents Day Weekend to be precise, the community gathers at Sam's Pizza Palace. It's like one big family reunion, and the celebration continues into the weekend.

Local residents, city employees, business owners, first responders, teachers, staff from Morey's and the Wildwoods Convention Center, along with an ever-growing stream of out-of-towners on pilgrimage (more of the latter on Saturday & Sunday) converge to signal a vibrant "Welcome Back!"

(I had the opportunity to write about my experience in The Sun-by-the-Sea Magazine two years ago.)

You won't find this happening on any of the island's official tourism calendars, but it has become a treasured annual tradition. One I would highly recommend to any of our readers within driving distance.

From this point on, Sam's will be open on weekends. This communal event, fittingly, signals the beginning. Soon, it will be joined by other businesses as the Boardwalk slowly begins to awaken from its long slumber.

So, yes, this is about more than "just" pizza.

But... have I mentioned the PIZZA?

Expect to see a photo (or 50) of the First Slices of Summer tomorrow...

- Al Alven, Wildwood 365

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