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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    You’ll be glad you stopped at Pasta Fresca & Piadina

    The Pulled Pork Cuban with Swiss, Ham, Pickle and Mustard grinder at Pasta Fresca & Piadina (Ann Baldelli)
    Cheeseburger Soup at Pasta Fresca & Piadina (Ann Baldelli)
    The Seafood Salad grinder at Pasta Fresca & Piadina (Ann Baldelli)
    The exterior of Pasta Fresca & Piadina (Ann Baldelli)

    My advice is to go hungry. At Pasta Fresca & Piadina, the sandwiches and salads are monster-sized and the soups so hearty that even if you share, it will be a challenge to finish whatever you’ve ordered.

    My lunch buddy and I visited the little Mystic gem on a recent Friday afternoon, and rather than the usual takeout, we ate in and enjoyed the easy banter with staff and a steady stream of customers who came in one after another to pick up their food to go.

    The place used to be primarily takeout, but owner Tia Bettencourt expanded to the space next door, took down a wall, and added four small tables with chairs for diners who want to eat in. It was delicious food and entertainment, as the staff talked with us across the counter about everything from the glorious early fall weather, to the expansion, and for a time, the secret ingredient in the Cheeseburger Soup.

    For $5, we got a small tub of the daily special Cheeseburger Soup to share, and it was chockablock full with hamburger, potatoes, red peppers, onions, herbs, and a delicious broth that we suspect included cheese. We asked about the ingredients and preparation, and Bettencourt just smiled and told us it was a secret recipe.

    There was a guy seated next to us who had a taste of the soup – they were offering samples of the Cheddar Cheese or Rhode Island Clam Chowder, another special that day – and he guessed it was seasoned with the sauce mix that goes in Hamburger Helper.

    “My kids love Hamburger Helper,” he told us. But an employee wrinkled her forehead, frowned, and gave him an unequivocal, “Absolutely not.”

    We asked whether Bettencourt makes cheeseburgers and chops them up for the soup, which caused the owner to laugh out loud. We never got an answer, but the soup was hearty and flavorful and the perfect starter on a crisp, early autumn day. It could have been a meal in itself. But we soldiered on.

    My lunch pal opted for the small Pulled Pork Cuban with Swiss, Ham, Pickle and Mustard grinder, $10.50, and it was a behemoth. It was also a daily special, and in addition to the small size, was available as a large, $12, or the mini version, which sells for $10.99 and includes chips and a can of soda or a small soup. All of the sandwiches are offered in the varying sizes or as sandwiches, and come with lettuce or cabbage, tomato and provolone cheese. There are also optional additional toppings like onions, black olives, jalapenos, banana or sweet peppers, pickles, and cucumbers, for another 50 or 75 cents. And by request, you can swap out the provolone for American or Swiss cheese.

    But just let Tia Bettencourt do what she does best – make you her version of a delicious grinder. That pulled pork one was loaded with meat, cheese and pickles on a toasted roll. Our one complaint, and it is miniscule, is that we asked for the pickles on the side, but the sandwich came loaded. It was easy enough to pick them off.

    The pulled pork was melt-in-your mouth tender, flavorful and nestled in the ham, on the bread, with all that gooey cheese. It was greasy, but what the heck, it was so, so good.

    Even better was the Seafood Salad Grinder. We ordered the small for $10.50, and it was ridiculously stuffed with seafood salad, cheese, lettuce and tomato to the point that when you put your hands around it, much of the excess tumbled out. We needed forks, and even with two of us attacking it, we took a big piece home for another meal afterwards.

    Pasta Fresca has been in business for almost 35 years, and Bettencourt has run it since 2016. The name, she said, came with the business when she bought it, and she never considered changing it because why would she want to mess with success?

    Under her tutelage, the business has grown and the food gotten even better, if that’s possible. In addition to the grinders, salads and soups, they offer fresh pasta to take home from Tony D’s in New London, and the incredible daily specials, which are noted on the website. Depending on the day, there are options like the Mystic Muffuletta, Autumn Veggie Chili, Pasta Fagioli, and Portuguese Kale with chorizo and linguica, and dinners to go, like Pappardelle Pasta with Chicken in Vodka Sauce or Eggplant Parmesan with a side salad.

    The Friday afternoon we were there, we watched a steady stream of men and women come in the door to pick up their orders. Many were contractors, tradesmen, officer workers, moms with kids, or regulars leaving the gym or out running errands. The staff knew their customers, and what they wanted and how they liked it. It was an easy, comfortable atmosphere and the food, incredibly good. Next time you visit Mystic, stop at Pasta Fresca & Piadina. I promise, you will be glad you did.

    Pasta Fresca & Piadina

    2 Lincoln Ave., Mystic

    (860) 572-1245

    Visit their website at pastafrescamystic.com

    Atmosphere: Bright and cheery with seasonal décor and a busy service counter. There are four tables inside, two seats each, with most customers stopping by to pick up sandwiches, salads and soups for takeout.

    Alcohol: No

    Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday

    Service: Friendly and efficient with a lot of chatter back and forth between staff and customers.

    Prices: Fair

    Credit cards: Yes

    Handicapped accessible: There are three steps up to get inside the door.

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