It's day four of my southeastern Connecticut grinder tour, which is due to wrap up the day of The Grinder is King Festival in New London on Saturday.
After receiving multiple recommendations from readers and a colleague, today's stop was at Pasta Fresca in Mystic.
I have to say I didn't know what to expect as I headed down CT-27 into Mystic. Pasta Fresca doesn't sound like the name of a grinder shop, right? And would a place in Mystic just be geared toward tourists and the young upwardly mobile professional person? Would the grinders come in Starbucks' sizes tall, grande and venti with sides of spring mix and couscous?
But when I walked into the Lincoln Avenue grinder shop, there was no doubt in my mind that I was entering a real-deal authentic grinder joint. Pasta Fresca is a no frills place focused solely on the nitty-gritty. The shop is a cash register and a deli case at the front, sodas on the left wall, chips on the right wall, some posters of Italian scenery, a metal fan in the front and another fan in the back where sandwiches are made.
When I went in at noon, Pasta Fresca struck me as a real working man's place. Most of the customers wore construction boots and works shirts. There was a pick-up truck and van with a ladder in the parking area.
Now, I may be more of the pencil-pusher variety, hunched over in front of my computer screen, picking at my fingernails, but I too enjoy a nice overstuffed grinder. And Pasta Fresca certainly delivered.
Columnist David Collins told me great things about Pasta Fresca's chicken salad grinder. Chicken salad didn't strike me as something you see everyday at a grinder shop so I went with that.
Over the past few days, I've come to realize "small grinder" is a bit of an oxymoron. That was true of my small chicken salad. The chicken, provolone, tomato, lettuce and black pepper seemed to leap out of the soft, yet crusty grinder bread. The chicken salad was tender and done in the shredded chicken style. I'd say Pasta Fresca now joins the Thames River Greenery in my top spot for chicken salads in the area.
One other noteworthy observation about Pasta Fresca was how quick the service was (A nice thing to know when you're on a quick lunch break). I put in my order, and then looked around the room briefly before going to the refrigerator to find a soda that suited my meal. Perhaps I stumbled onto some space/time continuum while looking in that refrigerator but it felt like it was only moments later that my order was being called.
As I trek the region in search of the ultimate grinder experience, I've decided to hold off on ranking the grinder shops just yet. But when I do, Pasta Fresca will certainly have a place near the top.