North End Deli returns to downtown Mystic food festival for 28th year
In the back of the North End Deli kitchen stands a walk-in freezer. Inside, the walls and walkway are lined with boxed stacks of frozen dough balls, clam fritters and Italian sausage. The sight isn’t typical to the freezer during the other 11 months of the year, owner Maurice Beebe says. It has only been over the past month that the stacks have been steadily growing in preparation for the Mystic Eats festival taking place in downtown Mystic this weekend.
“The employees hate this time of year because they have to jog around the stacks,” Beebe says, laughing. “We’ve been prepping for the festival for about a month now, buying and storing as much of the food needed before hand.”
Mystic Eats is one of the handful of local food festivals that Beebe attends every year.
Beebe has been attending food festivals held in early September on Cottrell Street in Mystic for 28 years — first, when the festival was the Taste of Mystic and then, in 2014, when Mystic Eats took over that location and timeframe. (Taste of Mystic now takes place every June at Olde Mistick Village.)
By the end of this weekend, this mountain of food — 300 pounds of Italian sausage, several thousand fried dough balls and 14 five-gallon buckets of clam fritters — will be depleted in their entirety.
Beebe’s menu list for the festival will include clam fritters with tartar sauce; fried dough that can be served with powder and cinnamon sugar, or “pizza frite” style with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese; and an Italian sausage and pepper grinder.
Each plate is topped with their own special “North End Deli touches.” The marinara sauce is homemade. The tartar sauce is also homemade and modified with dill pickle relish instead of a sweet pickle relish (a European take on the condiment). The sausage grinder features local-made Italian sausage, sautéed onions and peppers served on a Philadelphia Amoroso roll. Each plate will be sold for $5.
“We’ve been one of the restaurants who has been participating the longest in the festival, and it’s been great seeing how the festival has developed over the years. It’s really a great community event and a great way to promote ourselves,” he says.
Beebe, 55, grew up in the city of Groton and opened the first rendition of North End Deli in 1989. The restaurant, originally located a few spaces down from his current spot next to the Big Y grocery store, started as a “basic deli selling meat and grinders,” he says.
In years since, it has expanded to what it is now, a sit-down restaurant offering full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. And while the original Italian charm has slipped away, the Deli still stands as a well-known Groton establishment.
The weekend, Beebe says, isn’t as easy as just showing up and selling food, however. “There is really a lot of planning that goes into it,” he says.
Aside from toting the three fryers and a flat top griddle needed to cook all the food on the spot, countless commercial fishing sized coolers are also needed to keep all the food at a reasonable temperature.
“And besides all that, I have to keep track of time and get what needs to be defrosted for the next day out of the freezer at a certain time every day. So, I’ll be calling the restaurant and telling them to take out stacks of dough balls while in the middle of grilling,” Beebe says.
Preparing to bring the right amount of food each year has come down to something of a science.
“I know that for this weekend I will need 20 cases of dough, for example. That just comes with years of experience,” he says.
But even with those years of experience, the unexpected is bound to happen.
“Sometimes we do better than we expect, and we have to call up the local delis to get us more meat,” he says. “And sometimes it rains, and we sell less.
Beebe says that he is lucky though, because if this were the case, he can just use his remaining food at the Garlic Festival held at the Olde Mystick Village the weekend after.
“But no matter what happens, it’s worth it … We have a great time. The people are just happy to be there. They come hang out and talk with us, and that’s really the best part,” he says.
Mystic Eats, 5-9:45 p.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-9:45 p.m. Sat., and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun., Cottrell Street, Mystic; mysticeats.com.
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