People typically don’t go out of their way for “so-so” or spend their money on “inferior,” “humdrum” or “second rate.” Not even the really hungry ones.
So opening a deli on a well-trafficked Maine thoroughfare with a large, very legible sign out front that reads “Mediocre Deli” seems like a shot in the foot. Or at least a humbleness that errs into a disservice.
But if the food is well above mediocre, as it is at Mediocre Deli in Standish, it’s possible the sign isn’t an actual description of the place — it’s a badge of deli confidence, eye-catching and ironic.
And it’s a word that gets attention. I noticed it while driving down Ossipee Trail a few weeks back, and I thought what everyone driving by probably thinks: “Why would someone name their deli Mediocre?”
So I asked the man behind the counter, co-owner Aaron Plourde, who said it was the result of simple silliness. He and his buddies thought the idea was funny — and it sure beat alternative suggestions like Roadkill Deli.
But the owners’ perplexing senses of humor aren’t the deli’s real draw. Instead, it’s the thick breads, sliced meats and the pizza with a beer crust (Shipyard).
You might not suspect, after a quick glance at the seen-better-days exterior of the place, that the owners were keen on fresh vegetables, just-baked bread and turkey roasted in-house.
But then, you’re not one to judge a book by its cover, so you wouldn’t be surprised by the heartiness of the sandwiches, the lightness of the pizza (or, as my colleague said, “not like those really heavy, greasy pizzas”) or even the good nature of the people inside.
Aforementioned sandwiches are offered in small and large to suit different appetites or budgets.
The selection includes all the deli classics, like the BLT ($5.99/$7.99), chicken salad ($4.99/$6.99), steak and cheese ($5.99/$8.99), Reuben ($5.79/$7.99), Rachel ($5.79/$7.99), ham and cheese ($4.99/$7.49) and pastrami ($5.79/$7.79).
The grilled chicken sandwiches ($5.99/$7.99) come in such combinations as honey mustard ham, barbecue onion, bacon ranch, and bleu cheese and peppers.
Mediocre Deli has a large selection of salads (with equally ironically ho-hum names), including the Everyday Garden ($5.59), Ordinary Chicken Caesar ($5.99), So-So Cobb ($5.99), Average Chef ($6.49) and the Mediocre ($5.59).
Signature pizzas come in 10-inch ($8.19) or 16-inch ($14.99). The Priscilla consists of bleu-cheese dressing, buffalo chicken smothered in Red Hot and cheese. The Edward boasts red sauce, fresh spinach, red peppers, cheese and fresh hamburger.
Diners are welcome to build their own as well, with a 10-inch cheese pizza costing $5.95; more for additional toppings.
But Mediocre isn’t just for lunch and dinner. The hungry people of Standish can start their day with something unexceptional, like the egg, cheese and meat breakfast sandwiches that run between $1.99 and $2.99, depending on the match-up. A monster muffin top is only $1.39, and berries and yogurt is available for $2.35.
There are half a dozen tables for dining in the shop (and a menu board displayed on a flat-screen television rather than one of those old-school chalkboards), as well as a few picnic tables out front for days when the weather is accommodating.
But Mediocre Deli makes it easy to grab your food and bolt, thanks to an online ordering system at mediocredeli.com and a smartphone app.
The app and the website both feature specials, such as four Maine Italians for $15 or adding a pound of fries to any order for only $1.49.
Locals with a hankering for a turkey club and a side of onion rings can order them up without ever uttering a word — and the meal will be waiting when they cruise by on their way to wherever.
And while the meal may only be mediocre, I’d say that mediocre is pretty darn good these days.
The features staff of The Portland Press Herald anonymously samples meals for about $7.