New London - The mother and son team of Rick and Mary Ann Pascale, who have been operating the Italian Express food truck in Norwich for only a few months, offered four different grinders Saturday in the second annual Grinder is King Festival on the Waterfront Park.
Meatball, Italian beef, sausage and peppers, and chicken Parmesan sandwiches were scarfed down almost as quickly as the Pascales could pile the fillings on a crispy loaf of bread and cut them up.
"We're honored to be down here in New London,'' said Rick Pascale as he sliced up sausages and stirred a frying pan of steaming sausage and peppers.
The Pascales, who are in negotiations to open a small restaurant in New London near Shaw's Cover, were part of a small but tasty event sponsored by the city to find the best grinder around.
For $5, participants could sample grinders from Sweetie's and Mr. G's, both New London restaurants; Giuliano Bakery of Niantic; Post Road Market from East Lyme, and Italian Express. Tasters then voted for their favorite.
By 3 p.m., the Pascales had used up 150 loaves of bread and had distributed about 480 sandwiches.
"It's all in the core of Italian cooking,'' Rich Pascale said. "Olive oil, onion and sometimes garlic. Everything else is added to that."
His meatball recipe is handed down from his great-grandfather, who he said got it from his grandfather. The family recipes go back to around 1865, he said.
"We're just traditional home-schooled fat Italians who like to cook,'' he said.
At the end of a row of tents on the pier, Jack Giuliano was overseeing his brood as they prepared "traditional salami" grinders.
"It's the basic ingredients that make a good grinder,'' he said as he carried around the fifth generation of Giulianos, his grandson Jack, who he called Jackie Noodle. Crispy bread, fresh meat, lettuce shredded just the right way, thin slices of tomato and good olive oil are basics, he said.
The crispy Italian bread he makes at his bakery in Niantic was used by all but one of the restaurants Saturday.
There was a little consonance going on among the five vendors vying for bragging rights for "favorite grinder."
How are the meatballs, two tents down? What's that flavor in their steak grinder? Are they out of meat? Already? It's rigged, I know who's going to win.
Sweetie's, a Bank Street eatery that came with its own rolls, ran out of meatballs at 2 p.m. They were offering slices of bread dipped in "Nana's gravy," also known as red sauce.
Mr. G's restaurant offered a roast beef sandwich with creamy garlic dressing. Peter Gianakos said while he does not make any money at the event, he does get a lot of exposure.
"There are people here who said they've never heard of Mr. G.s,'' said Gianakos, the third generation of family working in the Hodges Square restaurant. "They said they've been driving by the restaurant for 30 years and never stopped in."
Don Foster, owner of Post Road Market, laid out hunks of turkey grinder and provided the condiments on the side. He made the longest grinder of the day, a 6-footer that was gone almost immediately, he said.
"It's been a good crowd for an afternoon event,'' said Barbara Neff of Neff Productions, who put on the event for the city. About 350 tickets had been sold by about 3 p.m., she said.
Kelly's on Bank and Captain's Pizza bowed out at the last minute because of staffing problems, but the five vendors that showed up did an excellent job, Neff said.
The winner of the event was Giuliano's Bakery for the second year in a row. Italian Express came in second, losing by only six votes.
Giuliano, as he did last year, said he would donate the $100 prize to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.