The Wow Wow Tuna sandwich is a Santa Cruz cult favorite. Built on two fluffy slices of conventional whole wheat or white bread, the kind that’s so soft that it sticks to your teeth, its generous scoop of tuna salad blends canned tuna, mayo, diced red onion, celery and sweet pickle relish. Iceberg lettuce and a slice of white or yellow American cheese protects the delicate bread from getting soggy as the plastic-wrapped sandwich waits, in an open cooler in the back corner of Seabright’s Day’s Market Liquors & Deli, to be picked up by some hungry soul for $2.69. Below it is a sign that reads: “Wow Wow Tuna / Since 1985.”
I had eaten my first Wow Wow the week before, after receiving a cryptic text message from a friend: “Hot Tip: Day’s Market has been sold and there will no longer be tuna wow-wow sandwiches. The end of an era is nigh.” I had never heard of the sandwich, but was surprised to hear that Day’s Market was changing hands.
Within a few days, I was back for my second Wow Wow. I woke up craving it, and even though I brought a lunch from home to work, I nonetheless found myself standing in line on my break holding the sandwich and a bag of Zapp’s Voodoo potato chips. The couple in front of me at the register looked like they had seen better times as they dug wadded bills and coins from their pockets to pay for their groceries. As they finished, the woman sent her companion back to grab one more forgotten thing. When he returned, he tossed a tuna sandwich on the counter.
In my car with the windows rolled down on the cliff over Seabright Beach, I assessed my humble lunch. As I ate, my mind wandered, thinking of all of the places that I used to go in Santa Cruz that aren’t there anymore, iced mochas with fresh whipped cream on the porch of Cafe Pergolesi, aimless afternoons spent reading cookbooks in Logos.
To my pleasant surprise, the sandwich was perfect. Fresh, crunchy and not at all soggy. It’s the ideal meal for the busy, the broke and the beach-going, an artifact of changing times in Santa Cruz, a meal worth experiencing before it’s gone.