By Brian Swartz
Weekly Staff Editor
ORONO — When voters select the Harvest Moon Deli as serving the best sandwich in southern Penobscot County for four years in a row, the 18 Mill St. eatery must be doing something right.
Keith Manaker opened the “high-quality, reasonably priced sandwich shop” in 2008 inside a former Subway in the heart of Orono’s downtown business district. From the moment Manaker opened the door, diners realized that Harvest Moon Deli was not a typical restaurant.
“Orono has a very down-to-earth feel to it. A lot of people here are health-conscious. They don’t want the processed foods. That’s why everything that goes on our sandwiches is prepped here,” he said.
“We were going for something that really fits in Orono. That’s why we picked the [interior] colors, the music theme,” Manaker said.
The interior shades evoke the earthy hues from the American Southwest; the business’s name recalls a famous music artist. “‘Harvest Moon’ is a classic Neil Young album,” Manaker said. “We named all our sandwiches after classic rock artists; our daily specials are named after contemporary artists.”
Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., daily, Harvest Moon Deli specializes in sandwiches, soups and salads, but the specialty sandwiches carry the day. They bear such names as B.B. King, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, George Harrison, Jefferson Airplane and Taj Mahal. All are available on various breads.
Based on customer demand, the most popular “rock artist” specialty sandwich is the Bobby Zimmerman (the pre-Bob Dylan), a panini served hot with cracked pepper turkey, crisp bacon, Swiss cheese, spinach and homemade avocado ranch dressing. Manaker is not sure why this particular sandwich is so popular.
But he would not be surprised if it was the reason why Penobscot County residents participating in the Bangor Metro’s “Best Restaurant” survey have named Harvest Moon Deli as the best sandwich shop in the greater Bangor area for 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
“There’s a lot of competition in the area,” Manaker said. “We are honored that so many of our customers say we’re the best every year.
“If you can make a sandwich memorable, then you’ve done something amazing,” he said.
Besides its specialty sandwiches served with meat, Harvest Moon Deli offers vegetarian sandwiches such as the Eric Clapton, John Hendrix and John Lennon. The menu includes “The Classics,” such as the “salads” (chicken, egg and tuna), a BLT and a turkey club.
Or diners can order “customized” sandwiches made with a choice of cheeses, condiments, meats and vegetables. Available breads are rye, white and wheat, plus focaccia and wraps. All sandwiches can be ordered with chips and drinks to create “a combo,” according to Manaker.
The Harvest Moon Deli serves soups and salads, with the latter “a meal by itself,” he said.
The sandwich shop does “a pretty good amount of takeout,” even to delivering sandwiches to sports teams competing at the University of Maine. “We can make some beautiful platters” that feature sandwiches or wraps, Manaker said; such platters are often ordered by local organizations to serve during their meetings.
Diners at Harvest Moon Deli are “from across boundaries,” he said. “We get a lot of college kids, local people that work in the area, stay-at-home people, some older people. They’re all coming here to experience a good sandwich.”
“Our sandwiches are very unique,” Manaker said.
To learn more about the Harvest Moon Deli, call 866-3354 or go to www.harvestmoondeli.com. The Web site lists the menu and provides links to either place an order or contact the sandwich shop.