personal essay

My Wawa Ritual with My Dad Is the Bright Spot in Our Complicated Relationship

published Jun 16, 2024
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collage of wawa, camaro, writer and dad and baseball
Credit: Photos: Wawa, Shutterstock, Mackenzie Filson; Design: The Kitchn

A cheesesteak, to my dad, is not just a sandwich, but a journey that requires no less than three grocery stops. While some might find this excessive, these car rides to the store, I now realize, were key to our unwieldy relationship. As sacred a practice as anything, the ritual hardly ever wavered.

We’d first head to Roy Tweedy’s meat market for the requisite steak, thin marbled slices of rib eye. Then came ACME for the half pound of provolone, the freshly sliced rounds layered in between the deli paper, which helped to hide how many cheese slices I’d secretly eaten. If it was cheesesteaks for a crowd, he’d also add a trip to the great, sales tax-less state of Delaware to pick up beers before the backyard hang.

The ultimate stop was always WaWa for hoagie rolls. While truck drivers and road-trippers often visit WaWa just for snacks and pee breaks, my dad and I entered the store with another mission in mind: these particularly perfect hoagie rolls made by Amoroso’s. 

As he traveled from store to store in his turquoise green Camaro, his words couldn’t sting; the road quieted them to a lull. 

With their quintessential split, golden brown top, and doughy innards, more cheesesteak and hoagie shops in Philadelphia use Amoroso’s than any other baker in the region (and yes, you can even get them on Goldbelly). When our family was still intact and my dad still lived with us in Florida, my grandmother would often fly with a carry-on bag of hoagie rolls from his native Philadelphia when she visited.

Credit: Mackenzie Filson


There was truly not a distance my dad wouldn’t drive to find a good deal or ingredients up to his stringent standards. This was actually to my benefit. These car rides were the only quality time we’d spend together — entire afternoons on the open road, not behind a batting cage or a baseball diamond where I’d otherwise sit and watch my father, a retired professional baseball player, teach my baseball-playing brother how to pitch.

Even though they were errands, the quest for cheesesteak supplies was always less fraught, a bit more peaceful than my home life. My dad is not a skilled conversationalist, bless him, and when he did speak, his words were barbed and sharp. As he traveled from store to store in his turquoise green Camaro, his words couldn’t sting; the road quieted them to a lull. 

Instead, we shared a goal and, with the radio turned way up, a companionable silence.

In college, I eventually chose to sever my relationship with my dad — a difficult decision I made to preserve what scant good memories we had together and to heal from the bad ones. Like with post-trial Gwyneth Paltrow, the best thing I could do for myself and my complicated dad is to simply wish him well from afar. 

Like with post-trial Gwyneth Paltrow, the best thing I could do for myself and my complicated dad is to simply wish him well from afar.


As an adult, I wasn’t anticipating the difficulty of reconciling that most of my childhood food memories are still inextricable from Dad’s recipe playbook: homemade meatballs, chicken fettuccine, stuffed manicotti, ribs right off the grill, and, when we were within the city limits of his favorite grocers, those cheesesteaks. Sometimes I’ll slightly overcook a meatball and it’ll take me right back to 1998, the radio blasting Bruce Springsteen while my dad, hard at work, making magic with the fruits of his multi-stop grocery tour.

I know deep down, even through our distance, my dad and I are bonded as the two family members who care deeply about the foods we eat and where we buy them. Our hours-long journey for a sandwich is proof this apple didn’t fall too far from his tree. I have my egg lady and my produce guy at the local farmer’s market, a bread guy down the road, and a few industry friends who always make sure I’m never too far from a good steak. 

Call it nature or nurture, but that clear lineage still heartens me. I was always going to be my father’s daughter, taking with me all the good I could gather.