I’m a bit like Brian Wilson – except for the ingenious part. Which is to say, I’ve always been fascinated by surfing. Like Wilson, I tried surfing. Once. Subsequently, I have admired the artistic and athletic nuances and natural beauty of coastal safety.
A particularly peaceful (no pun) thing about surfing and surfers that I have learned to appreciate is the hypnotic, abstract, but very real idea of ”endless waves” and the majestic but vaguely attacking implication of an incessant sequence of them long after we’re gone.
Lately, reluctantly, annoyingly, and perhaps inevitably, my imagination has taken up these pleasurable associations of rhythmic surfing, and now I’m thinking of endless, sequential waves … of COVID. COVID is the Beach Boys of the Disease. Catch a wave!
And then, with Omicron, my wife Eileen and I shift down from our recent, shockingly confident entry into restaurants and pubs, returning to a “take-away / delivery” mindset. Are we too careful? Optionally.
Nevertheless! Yes, takeaway!
We have always been the perhaps unwelcome new Londoners who travel across the Gold Star Bridge to Mystic to take advantage of McQuade’s Marketplace and their perhaps underrated Galley Restaurant. The galley shares space with prepared food / delicatessen counter, hard for a large dining area with booths and tables at a good distance that protrude to one side of the grocery store. It’s actually quite nice, with a fireplace, great views, nautical-themed art, and a comforting soft blue and cream color scheme. I’m not sure many people know it’s there.
Each day, a blackboard shows diner-style breakfast and lunch options coming out of the grill, respectively. The latter generally offers burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, fish and chips and such. You order and can even stroll through the actual grocery store and pick up a few necessary items until the food is ready – in a typically quick way.
There are also two buffet lines where you can pack up for $ 8.99 per person. pound. One offers a variety of salads and side dishes; the other has steam tables with rotating daily options. On a recent Tuesday, there was baked fish, sweet chili chicken thighs, casserole, fried pork, chicken tenderloin, mashed potatoes, a vegetable mixture, white rice and two soups (corn juice, New England mussel soup).
Finally, there is the deli counter itself with a large selection of prepared dishes, grinders, pizzas and salads.
Any or all of these options mean that it’s pretty easy to stop by McQuade’s and leave with enough tasty food for several days – and you do not have to do anything or exchange breaths with Reaper!
Here are some selected items that we have recently tried and will do again.
Roasted vegetable soup ($ 8.99 / 22 ounces) – A long favorite among Eileen, this roasted vegetable soup manages to be creamy without cream, presumably because the vegetables decompose during frying and then simmer. And of course, the frying also gives a little sweetness. Dice of carrots and potatoes bubble happily among an almost velvety soft blend of corn, red peppers, green chili peppers, poblano peppers, tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, celery, basil and parsley. Delicious all year round, but a perfect winter soup!
Eggplant Cutlet ($ 8.99 / pound, a single chop is a cheap $ 1.62) – Some people like thicker slices of eggplant, but the McQ version is wonderfully thin, crispy and not very rubbery or hard. It is also breaded in an herbal-braided crust. It would be a good base for sandwiches, salads or entrees, but we decided to pair it as it is with McQuade’s Zesty Bowtie Pasta Salad ($ 5.99 / pound on sale). We both warmed up lightly; the pasta was al dente, with lightly topped onions, red pepper and carrot giving extra texture, all topped with a sour, perhaps chili-colored vinaigrette. The vinaigrette also provided enough sauce for the aubergine, and we do it again.
From the prepared bowls at the deli counter, we tried three other different salads, which contain a lot of overlapping ingredients, but which are still so deftly combined that they give distinct flavors and textures – and all were good. A half pound serving of each can easily yield three lunches.
Quinoa pilaf ($ 7.99 / pound) – Quinoa, corn, small cubes of red pepper and feta, generous cubes of green onion and some fresh baby spinach leaves. Lightly dressed.
Mediterranean chickpea salad ($ 7.99 / pound) – Equal portions of chickpeas, feta cubes, red onion and red peppers; full grape tomatoes; large leaves of dark spinach. Minimal, if any, dressing.
Greek couscous ($ 7.99 / pound) – Couscous (medium in size), grape tomatoes, carrots, peas, chickpeas, multi-colored peppers, kalamata olives and feta. Lightly dressed.
Grilled Reuben ($ 8.99 with french fries and pickle) – I saw the chef cook this in front of my eyes and it’s a nice, hearty version. A lot of butter seeps beautifully into the bread, and the Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing provide a smooth counterpoint to the heap of lean, home-made beef and the biting crunch of sauerkraut.
Meatloaf Panini ($ 6.99 with french fries and pickle) – This bread is very finely ground with a tough crust and a touch of ketchup flavor. Each triangle of the sliced, grilled panini bread could barely hold up to the large cuts of meat. It was a bit of a mess to eat, especially with a rhythm section of sautéed onions and soft mozzarella. It reminds me of something I would get in a nice college cafeteria, which only sounds negative until you think that if my college had had this, I would have eaten it several days a week.
Fish & Chips fad ($ 12.95) – Two lightly fried fillets, each the size of a support bar, are draped over a pile of long, thick french fries. The taste of the dough is subtle and could have been in the fryer a few seconds more. At the same time, the lack of crunch seemed in a way given the scale of the tasty fish. It all flowed together instead of contrast. Served with a slice of fresh lemon and a usable tub of coleslaw, the dish probably does not equal many of the more sophisticated fish & chips plates you’ll find in Mystic. But again, as a convenient solution, I enjoyed it.
Note: according to Kosterian Paranoia, which inspired this renewed commitment to “take out”, we avoided the buffet steam tables. The food looked good and lots of people stood in line to try. Hopefully we will feel confident enough in the near future to do the same. Meanwhile, while we do not necessarily fly from our home in New London all the way to McQuade’s, every time we are hungry, we bought in bulk and it is a very good option and reasonably priced – pandemic or not.