At Savarino's in Hillsboro Village, the front tables are usually taken up by some permutation of the Sandwich Gang--the longtime customers who, by dint of respect, affection, or complaining long enough, have a sandwich named in their honor on Corrado Savarino's blackboard. In essence, they're a family. They eat together. They make and taste wine together. They celebrate together, kid together, share long, luxuriant meals together.
Today, they grieve together.
Ed Pontieri, the breezy raconteur and avuncular regular who frequently greeted Savarino's patrons as if he were the maitre d', died unexpectedly this morning of a heart attack. He is survived by his wife, Angel, and family in Pittsburgh. He was 56 years old.
The news stunned his friends, who had seen him at Savarino's just last night.
"Everybody's numb," says Corrado Savarino, who spent much of today helping with his friend's funeral arrangements. "I'm in shock."
Pontieri was a Southeastern sales rep for O'Reilly Auto Parts. But that's what he did, not who he was. Savarino's patrons knew him as a lively conversationalist, a guy who could find out a stranger's birthplace in five minutes. Not for nothing was perhaps the best sandwich in the city--a fist-thick roll heaped with mortadella, hot sopressata, hot capicola, hot cherry peppers, lettuce, tomato and bomba calabrese--named for him. You wanted to come back to see if he might serve it to you himself, as happened on many occasions.
He'd been a loyal customer of Corrado's since his old place out Nolensville Road. They were so close that Ed even taught Corrado's wife, Carmela, who can be found most days in Savarino's kitchen, how to drive.
Today, Savarino's closed for the weekend. The restaurant will remain closed Monday afternoon for Pontieri's funeral, but it will reopen Monday evening at 6 p.m. for a wake in his honor. There's no word on whether Savarino's will be serving up the Ed Pontieri sandwich that night in his memory, but we should all be remembered so fittingly--for something that gives other people comfort, for something that sustains us in time of need, for something that sends no one away hungry or unfulfilled.
"There's nobody like Ed," Corrado Savarino says. "I never met anybody like him before, and I'll never meet anyone like him again."