LITCHFIELD — A hummingbird flits into The Ripe Tomato Deli on busy Route 202 in Litchfield, bringing with her a sense of energy and constant motion. The customers and staff smile.
But this hummingbird isn’t the feathery type we see at our feeders and patrolling beds of impatiens during the summer months. She’s deli owner Hilary Towne, who is fresh off her other job as a director of a Lasik surgery center in Cheshire and checking in on the affairs of her eatery, celebrating its 10th anniversary this August.
“That’s what the staff calls me, the hummingbird,” says Towne, a member of the famous “Towne corn” family of Morris. “I’m always doing something or other. I grew up on a farm and that means I got up early to do chores. I’m not afraid to get dirty.”
Towne, who attended Wamogo Regional High School and graduated from Florida’s Lynn University with a degree in hospitality management, opened her first Ripe Tomato in her hometown, 16 years before making a move into Litchfield a decade ago.
“I sold the Morris deli six years ago. I would always pass by the former deli that was in this location and noticed that there weren’t as many cars as I thought there should be, for such a great location and heavily traveled road. So, when the owners decided to sell and spend their time traveling, I made a move to open a second location.”
Towne was bit worried, or perhaps her customers in Morris were, that she was abandoning them after enjoying her first deli for 10 years. But many of those foodies have followed her to Litchfield, which, after all, is only a few miles away and a pretty and easy drive.
The Ripe Tomato has indeed developed a strong following for its sumptuous sandwiches and other offerings. The sandwich meat is of the highest quality (Boar’s Head) and the deli roasts its own beef. Towne is in the kitchen working up new recipes and making the customers smile with cheerful greetings.
“My mother is an amazing Italian cook,” Towne says of her mom, Virginia Fitch. “She can make something out of nothing. I guess when I was young I wasn’t aware of how much her cooking rubbed off on me.” Her father, Bob Towne, is known far and wide for the delicious corn he produced at his scenic farm in Morris. He has since sold the farm and is enjoying retirement.
“I have a great customer base,” Hilary Towne says, as customers chat with staff members, who are busy making sandwiches to go. “They become family after a while. Our business is mostly word of mouth and our customers continue to grow in number.”
The Ripe Tomato has a number of delectable hot and cold sandwich offerings, some vegetarian, as well as fresh salads, chili, soups, and an all-day breakfast menu. “We let people design their own sandwiches if they wish,” Towne says of the sort of, a la cart deli where pretty much anything goes.
Towne credits much of her business’ success to a dedicated, skilled and empowered staff of four.
“They are wonderful. We all get along and are on the same page. I trust them with the operation of the deli and I have to because I’m not here all the time. They make it all work smoothly. They come up with some great ideas for the business to keep it fresh and interesting, and always interact positively with the customers.”
Did I tell you that The Ripe Tomato is a fun place, “where everyone knows your name, like in Cheers,” says the owner.
“We like to keep it light and have fun. We are always talking with customers and some of the names of the menus items are, well, a little risqué. But we are serious about providing good food and that always comes first.”
Yes, the menu items have amusing, witty and sometimes bawdy names.
“The Star Spangled Slammer” is an American combo of roast beef, turkey, ham, American cheese, smoked gouda, mixed greens, tomato, pickles, and mayo mustard on a fresh hard roll.
How about “Wyatt’s Wicked Wedgie Wrap” — breaded eggplant pieces paired with black olives, lettuce, red onions, tomato, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil and parmesan peppercorn dressing rolled inside a black bean wrap.
The “One Smokin’ Hot Chick” is a hot sandwich that features a breaded chicken cutlet topped with melted smoked gouda, lettuce, caramelized onion, roasted corn, hot banana peppers, BBQ sauce, and a dab of chipotle mayo stacked on a grilled Portuguese roll.
“Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ Big Piggy” is a breakfast sandwich of bacon, sausage, ham, American and provolone cheese, two fried eggs, and hot sauce on a grilled hard roll.
And just in time for the 10-year anniversary celebration is a list of Greatest Hits that includes the “Mother Clucker” — sliced chicken, mozzarella, mixed greens, artichokes, roasted red peppers, and sun dried tomato pesto mayo on a toasted croissant.
And did I mention the “Porked…, um, or the “Hot Cra...”... well we’ll have to leave those out as this is a family publication.
The sandwiches can be made into grinders if the customer so desires. Prices are very reasonable, especially for the size of the sandwich/grinder, the quality and amount of ingredients, and the effort put into designing them. Oh yes, there’s outdoor and indoor seating for those who want to hang around and enjoy their meal in a relaxed, merry atmosphere.
The Ripe Tomato, which also caters small events, is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 3:30/4 p.m., Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and is closed on Sunday “for sanity.”
Call 860-567-8002, or visit www.RipeTomatoDeli.com for more information or to order.