McQuade's in Mystic provides tasty options in a COVID world
I'm sort of like Brian Wilson — except for the genius part. Which is to say, I've always been fascinated from afar by surfing. Like Wilson, I tried to surf. Once. Subsequently, I've admired the artistic and athletic nuances and natural beauty from the safety of the shore.
A particularly pacific (no pun intended) thing about surfing and surfers I've learned to appreciate is the hypnotic, abstract but very real idea of "endless waves" and the majestic but vaguely foreboding implication of a ceaseless succession thereof long after we're gone.
Lately, unwillingly, irritatingly and perhaps inevitably, my imagination has co-opted these pleasant associations of rhythmic surf and now I think of endless, sequential waves ... of COVID. COVID is the Beach Boys of disease. Catch a wave!
And so, with Omicron, my wife Eileen and I downshift from our recent, shakily confident forays into restaurants and pubs and get back into a "takeout/delivery" mindset. Are we overly cautious? Possibly.
Anyway! Yes, takeout!
We've always been those perhaps unwelcome New Londoners who travel across the Gold Star Bridge to Mystic to avail ourselves of McQuade's Marketplace and their perhaps underknown Galley Restaurant. The Galley shares space with the prepared foods/deli counter, hard to a large dining area with booths and well-spaced tables that juts off to one side of the grocery store. It's pretty nice, actually, with a fireplace, nice views, nautically themed art and a comforting soft blue and cream color scheme. I'm not sure many people know it's there.
Each day, a chalkboard lists, respectively, breakfast and then lunch options that come off the griddle, diner-style. The latter generally featuring burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, fish and chips and such. One orders and can even meander through the grocery proper, picking up a few necessary items, until the food is ready — in typically quick fashion.
There are also two buffet lines where you box-up to go for $8.99 per pound. One features a variety of salads and fixings; the other has steam tables with rotating daily options. On a recent Tuesday, there was baked fish, sweet chili chicken thighs, pot roast, roast pork belly, chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, a vegetable medley, white rice, and two soups (corn chowder, New England clam chowder).
Finally, there's the deli counter itself with a vast array of prepared dishes, grinders, pizza and salads.
Any or all of these possibilities mean it's pretty easy to swing by McQuade's and leave with enough tasty food for several days — and you don't have to cook anything or exchange respirations with the Reaper!
Here are some choice items we recently tried and will do so again.
Roasted Vegetable Soup ($8.99/22 ounces) — A longtime fave of Eileen's, this roasted vegetable soup manages to be creamy with no cream, presumably from the vegetables breaking down while roasting, then simmering. And, of course, the roasting puts forward a slight sweetness, too. Cubes of carrots and potatoes bob happily among an almost velvety amalgamation of corn, red peppers, green chili peppers, poblano peppers, tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, celery, basil and parsley. Delightful all year round, but a perfect winter soup!
Eggplant Cutlet ($8.99/pound, a single cutlet is a cheap $1.62) — Some folks like thicker slices of eggplant, but the McQ version is wonderfully thin, crispy and not remotely rubbery or tough. It's also breaded in an herb-flecked crust. It would be a great base for sandwich, salad or entree, but we decided to pair it as is with McQuade's Zesty Bowtie Pasta Salad ($5.99/pound on sale). We lightly warmed both; the pasta was al dente, with lightly applied onions, red pepper and carrot providing extra texture, all dressed with a tangy, maybe chili-tinged vinaigrette. The vinaigrette provided enough of a sauce for the eggplant, too, and we'll do this again.
From the prepared bowls at the deli counter, we tried three other different salads that contain a lot of overlapping ingredients but still are so deftly combined as to provide separately distinct flavors and textures — and all were good. A half pound serving of each can easily provide three lunches.
Quinoa Pilaf ($7.99/pound) — Quinoa, corn, small dices of red pepper and feta, generous dices of green onion, and some fresh baby spinach leaves. Lightly dressed.
Mediterranean Chickpea Salad ($7.99/pound) — Equal parts chickpeas, feta cubes, red onions and red peppers; full grape tomatoes; big leaves of dark spinach. Minimal, if any, dressing.
Greek Couscous ($7.99/pound) — Couscous (medium in size), grape tomatoes, carrots, peas, chickpeas, several colors of bell pepper, kalamata olives and feta. Lightly dressed.
Grilled Reuben ($8.99 with fries and pickle) — I watched the chef prepare 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 smooth counterpoint to the heap of lean, house-crafted beef and the biting crunch of sauerkraut.
Meatloaf Panini ($6.99 with fries and pickle) — This loaf is very finely ground, with a chewy crust and a hint of ketchup flavor. Each triangle of the sliced, grill-marked panini bread could barely hold the large carvings of meat. It was a bit of a mess to eat, particularly with a rhythm section of sauteed onions and mellow Mozzarella. It reminds me of something I'd get in a nice college dorm cafeteria, which only sounds negative until you consider that, if my dorm had featured this, I'd have eaten it several days a week.
Fish & Chips Platter ($12.95) — Two lightly fried filets, each the size of a support beam, are draped across a mound of long, thick fries. The taste of the batter is subtle and could have been in the frier a few more seconds. At the same time, the lack of crunch sort of worked given the girth of the tasty fish. It all flowed together rather than contrasted. Served with a slice of fresh lemon and a serviceable tub of coleslaw, the dish probably isn't equal to a lot of the more high-end fish & chips platters you'll find in Mystic. But, again, as a convenient solution, I enjoyed it.
Note: as per the Kosterian Paranoia that inspired this renewed commitment to "take out," we avoided the buffet steam tables. The food looked good, and plenty of folks were queued up to sample. Hopefully, we'll feel sufficiently safe in the near future to do the same. In the meantime, while we won't necessarily dash from our home in New London all the way to McQuade's each time we're hungry, we did buy in bulk and it's a very nice option and fair prices — pandemic or not.
McQuade's Marketplace Mystic Gallery and Deli Counter
14 Clara Drive, Mystic
(860) 536-2385, https://mcquadesmarket.com/the-galley-restaurant
Cuisine: On-site and made to order breakfast and lunches in Gallery Restaurant, along with prepared meals, sandwiches, pizza, salads and more in the deli
Service: Quick and efficient
Atmosphere: For one thing, McQuade's offers a bit of a more comfortable grocery shopping experience; that they have a large, comfortable dining room with fireplace, window views and spacious seating is a pleasant surprise.
Hours: Gallery breakfast 7 a.m.-11 a.m. daily, lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. daily, deli 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
Prices: Very reasonable
Reservations: Call ahead for pick up or to go
Credit cards: Yes
Handicapped access: Very negotiable and roomy