George

Winthrop’s Full Court Deli is much more than a place that serves creative and delicious food. It’s a community gathering place, where local folks hang out, visit, laugh and enjoy life. Of course, the great food makes that all the better.

Owner and chef Rick Lough (he will cringe at the word chef, but the man can cook!) has created an exceptionally good menu and, equally important, a restaurant that features the endorsement of my dad, Ezra Smith.

When you visit, be sure to check out Dad’s painting of the deli, just behind the counter. Dad was the second person Rick met when he and his wife moved to Winthrop. The first person he met was my mom, who arrived at their house to welcome them with a box of cookies. They were neighbors and became very good friends. I didn’t know this, but Rick said Dad would deliver a big box of chocolates to the deli staff every Christmas.

We would give Dad a gift certificate every Christmas, and again on his May 1 birthday, for coffee at the Deli. That tradition began at Ned’s on Main Street, where Ned Crockett offered the same kind of community hangout until he closed it to follow his life’s calling as a pastor. Dad then moved on to Rick’s for his morning coffee.

I made up the certificate, a sheet of coffee cups, and Rick would cross off a cup each time Dad visited. Actually, Rick would try to fake that, but Dad always made sure he crossed off a cup. I found all those certificates, with all the cups crossed off, at Dad’s house after he died.

It must be said that the staff here is among the most friendly you will ever find in a restaurant. When Dad was in the Hospice Unit at Togus, brother-in-law Ed Webber made up a collage of photos of the staff and customers, and they all wrote messages and signed the collage on the back, and Ed delivered it to Dad. It meant a great deal to him.

Rick’s deli features New York- style sandwiches, something he missed when he moved to Maine to help his father in the egg business. The deli’s sandwiches feature lots of meat and cheese. And boy, are they good.

As he settled into Maine, Rick didn’t see any Reubens on restaurant menus, nor pastrami nor sauerkraut. When he opened the deli in 2002, customers actually asked, “What’s a Reuben? What is sauerkraut?”

Well, now they know, and the Reuben is a favorite of deli customers along with the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich.

I asked Rick if he ever tried serving some food more familiar to Mainers, like beans and hot dogs, and he said he did. “Beanies and weenies” were not a big seller. Go figure!

Having enjoyed their delicious Reuben ($7.49) on my two previous lunches there, I ordered the Philly Cheese Steak ($7.49) this time. Linda tried to talk me into another customer favorite — the Ravishing Rachel. And while I admit the name is enticing, the turkey breast featured in the sandwich made me look elsewhere — Thanksgiving was the next day!

Rick is a big basketball fan, hence the deli’s name and the many basketball photos in the restaurant. I was attracted to sandwiches named the “Bob Cousy” and the “Bill Russell” (and I feel sorry for you if you are too young to have seen those guys play).

But I really never considered anything beyond the Philly Cheese Steak, once Rick said it was very popular. It’s always been a favorite sandwich of mine — and I’ve eaten it in lots of places, including Philadelphia. Rick’s is now right at the top of my list, loaded with thinly sliced tender Boar’s Head steak, dripping in melted American cheese, offering a bit of sweetness thanks to the caramelized onions (Linda explained this to me after she took a bite).

On my next visit, though, I’m going to have the “Foul Shot.” Linda gave me just a small sample of hers and it was really really tasty. Plus, back in the day, growing up in Winthrop, which has always been a basketball town, I was really good at making foul shots.

The day-before-Thanksgiving blizzard was just starting, and the American flag outside the window next to our table was flying straight out, when I dipped my spoon into the piping hot delicious Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup, and thought about what a comfortable place this is.

If I still lived in Winthrop, I’d be here daily, hanging with the “rowdies” in the side room to the left, some of whom I went to school with. On the way out, I spied some delicious cookies and muffins, all made fresh right here. Breakfast at the deli beckons!

Linda

Every small town needs a community gathering place and Rick’s deli fills that need for Winthrop. I think it is a second home for many — a place where they can not only share a cup of coffee with friends, but also get a nice breakfast or lunch. This was the case for George’s dad and still is for my brother, Ed Webber.

As we sat at a window-side table, the snow coming down in earnest the day before Thanksgiving, we saw many people coming in despite the messy weather. Lots of food went out in to-go orders while others chose to come in out of the cold and dine inside.

We lingered at our table, having a nice conversation with Rick. This seems like the perfect job for him. You immediately sense that he genuinely cares about people and loves to visit with them. He remarked a couple of times, “I sure wish I had grown up in Winthrop.” He was eager to hear what the town was like years ago.

Rick proudly informed us that Kim Bor was the one responsible for the homemade soups here. Kim is from Mount Vernon, attended the school where I teach and clearly has a knack for cooking. Cheddar Broccoli is one of their most popular soups and as luck would have it, was on the menu that day. We sampled a cup of this delectable thick, creamy soup and were so happy we did. You can really taste the cheddar cheese, unlike most versions I’ve tried. On a snowy day, this soup tasted like a warm hug.

The specialty sandwiches on the chalkboard grabbed my eye — a total of 15 options. I actually recognized the three named after famous basketball players, so you know they have to be really famous.

Just when I had finally settled on a lunch choice and placed our order, I turned over the menu and found 11 varieties of subs — order a small under $6, or a large, $7-8. These come with many choices of veggies and four choices of cheese. Then there were 14 more kinds of deli- style sandwiches! You could eat here a long, long time and never suffer from boredom.

George loves the Reuben here, and let Rick know we’d love a picture of one if anyone ordered one. And wouldn’t you know out comes a Reuben to our table prior to our sandwiches arriving. Yes, we got the picture and shared half of the sandwich.

I ordered the Foul Shot — grilled chicken breast with BLT toppings served on a bulky roll. Instead of mayo, this one comes with ranch dressing which made it super delicious. The other thing that put this over the top of ordinary was that the bulky roll had been heated, giving it enough crispness to stand up to its generous fillings. I suspect I’d order the same exact sandwich the next time I visit.

The Philly steak was remarkably good due to the care taken with the sub roll, the melted American cheese and those perfectly caramelized onions atop the steak. And yes, I had to explain all this to George.

Breakfast is served from 6-11 a.m. They are known for the breakfast sandwiches which come on a choice of English muffin, bulky roll, toasted bread, croissant or wrap. It’s a hearty sandwich of two eggs and cheese, with a choice of meats if desired. Of course there are omelets, full egg plates and bagels as well. Choice is the name of the game here.

As I looked across the countertop into the kitchen I could see five girls and Rick moving in synchrony to churn out the orders quickly. You could see that they are a team and one Rick is very proud of. “I treat them like my daughters,” Rick says. They are lucky to have a boss like Rick, and Winthrop is lucky to have a deli like the Full Court.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.

NEW COOKBOOK

“Adventures in Comfort Food,” published by Page Street Publishing Company, is a new cookbook by Kerry Altiero, owner of Cafe Miranda, our favorite restaurant in Rockland. When I think of the cafe, I think of Kerry’s incredible wood-fire oven-roasted foods. The focaccia bread alone will give you cravings that you can’t ignore.

So when the cookbook arrived, I whipped it open to find two memorable foods that I adore at the cafe included in the cookbook. The first was his recipe for Reuben’s Long-Lost Cousin. His Reuben version is made with pastrami and includes both ranch dressing and hot mustard. Mmmmmmm! He also includes his recipe for focaccia with the forward recommending, “When a recipe is this simple, every ingredient and every step matters.” I, for one, will enjoy trying this recipe and taking every bit of the advice he offers.

Kerry treats vegetables like the stars of the show, and I certainly will be trying out many of his side dishes and salads. When Kerry prepares these foods they are anything but boring! He includes the tastes of Mexican, Middle Eastern, Thai and Italian cuisine in addition to American.

I really appreciate his recipe introductions and all of the chef’s tips. I’ll be reading this one cover to cover this winter beside the wood fire. Comfort food indeed.

If someone on your Christmas list loves to cook, this cookbook would be a great gift choice.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.