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    Thursday, February 02, 2023

    7 Napkins in East Lyme hits the right notes

    The Ozark Howler at 7 Napkins in East Lyme (Peter Huoppi for The Day)
    Rocko the Dog at 7 Napkins. Rick Koster

    I remember reading an interview with a comedian once, many years ago. It wasn’t Larry the Cable Guy or Gallagher because, at the time, they were working on a secret collaborative routine of their finest material. What they didn’t realize is that their jokes were going to be played on a loop to torture suspected terrorists at the Salt Pit — the clandestine CIA black site in Afghanistan.

    As for the interview, it was with someone a little more, ah, thoughtful. I’m thinking Woody Allen or maybe Albert Brooks.

    Anyway, the comic was talking about the rhythm of comedy — how certain syllabic combinations work better than others — and certain numbers are funnier than others. For whatever reason, “seven” resonates in a big way.

    Magic number

    The “seven” thing extends beyond humor across the creative world. “7 Nation Army” by the White Stripes and “Seven Year Ache” by Roseanne Cash. Hawthorne’s “The House of Seven Gables” and “Seven Days in May” by Fletcher Knebel. Oh! And the light comedy “Se7en,” where Gwyneth Paltrow’s head gets sent to Brad Pitt in a box.

    Around here?

    Well, big props to the tiny but excellent 7 Napkins breakfast and sandwich shop located in the site of a former hair salon on Flanders Road in East Lyme. The place came to my attention when someone told me they had steamed cheeseburgers — which I’d heard about from Louis’ Lunch in New Haven and Ted’s Restaurant in Meriden. But this was the first time they’d surfaced in our part of the world.

    I tried one of the 7 Napkins steamed cheeseburgers and, yes, chef/proprietor Mark Vecchitto offers a version that’s great fun. And, on greater caloric study, the whole place is very good.

    What’s in a napkin?

    As for why the joint is called 7 Napkins, well, as divulged in a recent column by The Day’s Mike DiMauro, Vecchitto was in New York City and saw a restaurant advertisement touting a five-napkin burger. When Vecchitto’s son taunted his old man — a culinary school grad and veteran of fine dining kitchens across the country as well as regular appearances on the Food Network with his pal Guy Fieri — that he couldn’t make a seven-napkin burger, well … let’s just say the kid was wrong.

    In that spirit, and weary of fine-dining culture, Vecchitto relished the idea of creative sandwiches and breakfasts in a casual, small-town atmosphere. A Meriden native who has worked locally — most recently as a consulting chef at the Lighthouse Inn — Vecchitto is happy to be back in Connecticut.

    The atmosphere at 7 Napkins is welcoming and fun. There are corrugated metal and wood panel walls, and L-shaped, tile dining counter, and a few tall-top and regular tables spaced around the narrow perimeter. Strings of lights, shelving with all sorts of souvenirs and gewgaws and framed photos from Vecchitto’s career provide pleasant décor. Vecchetto is a congenial and cheery host with more than a few stories to tell. He’s also deft in the kitchen, single-handedly and quickly turning out orders.

    Imaginative spin

    The menu is small but cleverly curated. There are breakfast sandwiches and bagels along with platters, designer sandwiches and wraps, steamed burgers and “Sasquatch dogs” and sides such as mac and cheese, chili and daily soups.

    Before I knew there’d be a review of 7 Napkins, my wife Eileen and I dropped by so I could experience the steamed cheeseburger, which turned out to be a tasty blob of moist beef blanketed with bubbling cheese on a soft bun that soaks up the grease in a beautiful and messy fashion ($10.95, $12.95 with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle — and bring on a few of those napkins!). Of course, there IS a 7 Napkin Burger ($14.95), on which the steamed ground meat is topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, bacon, mac and cheese, chili and 7 Napkins Sauce (which is a creamy concoction slightly similar to honey mustard sauce but with a bit more torque and piquancy).

    Eileen mentioned she was a vegetarian, and Vecchitto said, “Trust me,” and delivered a wrap full of all sorts of tantalizing and contrasting veggies as well as mac and cheese. We weren’t working and didn’t take notes, but the chef delivered in a big way. He’s happy to create as per vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diets.

    On a breakfast stop, I tried a Dublin Burrito ($11.95), which is a giant flour tortilla crammed with crisp hash browns, cheddar and (as per my request) ultra-lean and delicious corned beef. The creation is also doused with 7 Napkins Sauce. Highly recommended. Eileen was similarly pleased by the Crash Site ($7.95), which fused standard ingredients of scramble eggs, onions, jalapenos and cheese with the clever twist of Christmas Sauce — a mixture of red and green salsa.

    My pal and co-worker Pete Huoppi also dropped by for lunch recently; he’d independently visited 7 Napkins and raved about the Philadelphia Experiment ($14.95), a variation of a Philly cheesesteak as doctored with 7 Napkins Sauce. On our visit, Pete dug into an Ozark Howler ($13.95), which is rather like a happy explosion at a barbecue shack. The sesame seed encrusted hoagie roll comes piled with base layer of smoked gouda mac and cheese under a mound of pulled pork.

    “The savory sauce on the penne noodles mixes with the sweet BBQ glaze of the pork and soaks into the bun,” Pete reports. “Jalapenos provide some heat as a counterpoint to the meat's sweetness, and lettuce and onion round out the otherwise soft construction with a crunch. And eat it before the bread loses its structure, but make sure the sauces ooze onto the paper-covered tray and not your clothes.” Seven napkins, indeed!

    From the Sasquatch Dogs section of the menu — which boasts half-pound. 14-inch wieners — I went with the Rocko the Dog ($7.95) recipe that includes chili and shredded cheddar. The dog has a firm pop with each bite and a savory flavor that works well with mild, tangy chili and the sharp cheese.

    The menu is something fans will want to explore, and not just because Vecchitto IS clever with spinning the basics in refreshing fashion. He also names his menu items in a way that makes me thing the chef is fascinated by UFOs, apocryphal creatures and other interesting lore from the weird side of nature. Drop by and ask him about it. You won’t be bored or hungry!

    7 Napkins

    310 Flanders Road, East Lyme

    (860) 850-4092, www.7napkins.com

    Cuisine: Breakfast, burgers, dogs, sandwiches and wraps

    Atmosphere: Very casual and appealing

    Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.-Sun., occasionally closed while the chef is filming Food Networking programming. Seriously.

    Prices: $4.95-$14.95

    Credit cards: Yes

    Handicapped access: Steps from parking lot and narrow aisles

    Reservations: Call ahead for takeout

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