The middle of July always reminds me of two things about growing up at Lista’s in Brockport NY. First, was the Fireman’s Parade and Carnival that was the highlight of every local kid’s summer. The parade was one of the best around and marched right down Main Street in front of Lista’s. Since my brothers, sisters and I would be hanging around we sometimes got asked by one of the parade vendors to sell balloons or popcorn to the crowd (I think we got paid like 2¢ for every box of popcorn). As a 12 year old kid, it was pretty cool walking up and down the crowded street “hawking” these goods to the onlookers.
The second thing I remember about mid-July is the Downtown Merchant Association Annual Sidewalk Sale. This was truly the big event of the summer in Brockport. The street was blocked off and all the stores up and down Main Street would bring their wares out onto the sidewalk and sell at a discounted price. It was really something to see — crowds of people milling around the tables and racks of clothing, books, toys, knick knacks, household goods… you name it and someone was selling it. And there were the local organizations, churches and the like, with baked goods, crafts, and more. Then there were the food vendors selling hot dogs & burgers, ice cream, pizza slices, beef on weck sandwiches, french fries with malt vinegar, steamed clams… and everyone’s favorite Lista’s Italian Sausage Sandwiches!
Lista’s Italian sausage sandwiches were a fixture at the sidewalk sale and other local events including the 1979 International Special Olympics held at SUNY College at Brockport. The 5th International Special Olympics saw some 3,500 athletes with special needs participate and hosted celebrities including members of the Kennedy family, Phil Donahue, Marlo Thomas, Sally Struthers, Christopher Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger and famous athletes including Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Rafer Johnson, Hank Aaron and “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali. And Lista’s was right in the thick of it selling sausage sandwiches by the hundreds.
At Lista’s we used exclusively Tobin’s First Prize sausage made right here in Rochester, NY. (Tobin’s left Rochester in the 1970’s and moved to Albany and was later sold to John Morrell & Co.) I remember how the sausage would come in long ropes, spiral packed into round tubs. We would cut the sausage into pudgy 4 oz. portions and gently roll them under our palms on the worktable until they became narrower and about 7 inches long. These long, thin sausage links were then lined up on sheet trays and baked in the oven until cooked through and ready for the grill. We served the grilled sausages on Di Paolo rolls (also made in Rochester) and topped them with our signature fried peppers, onions, and tomatoes.
By the late 70’s Lista’s sausage sandwiches became so popular that Dad decided to build a small enclosure near the back entrance of the restaurant which we called “The Sausage Shed.” There was a walk up window so we could sell sausage sandwiches to passersby throughout the whole summer.
Next time you fire up the grill why not make some Sidewalk Sale Sausage & Pepper Sandwiches and remember the fun of parades, carnivals, and summertime.
Lista’s Sidewalk Sale Sausage & Peppers
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6 sandwiches
1 1/2 lbs. Good Quality Italian Sausage (6 links)
2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 large Green Bell Pepper — seeded and cut into 1/2″ strips
1 large Red Bell Pepper — seeded and cut into 1/2″ strips
1 medium Spanish Onion — cut in half and sliced into 1/2″ strips
1 tsp Lista’s Seasoned Salt (or too taste)
1 (16 oz) can Whole Peeled Tomatoes — broken up with a spoon or by hand
6 Bakery Sausage Rolls — split and toasted if desired
1. If needed, gently roll each sausage link until it is about 7″ long. Place sausage links in a heavy skillet and add about 1/2 cup water. Simmer sausages covered over medium heat until no longer pink inside — about 10 minutes. Remove sausages to a plate and let cool until ready to grill.
2. Using the same heavy skillet, empty remaining water and add the olive oil, heat over med-high heat until oil is shimmering. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the peppers and season with seasoned salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until peppers and onions are quite tender — about 15 minutes. Add in the tomatoes (broken up) and stir until warmed through. Remove from heat, cover and keep warm.
3. Heat outdoor grill (or grill pan) to med-high heat. Grill the pre-cooked sausages until browned all over and hot throughout — about 15 minutes.
4. Serve grilled sausages in rolls topped with generous amounts of peppers & onions.
There you have it… Lista’s Sidewalk Sale Sausage & Peppers. I hope it brings back memories of summer carnivals and parades — but if not, try eating one while walking down the sidewalk of your hometown, and maybe that will create new memories.
Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”