I stopped by Carmel Cafe and Wine Bar the other evening for a peek at some of the new fall menu items, and, not incidentally, a preview of what the Supper Club menu will offer on Tuesday. I enjoyed it, and I know you will, too.
I also had a chance to chat with Brian Waggoner, operating partner for the Winter Park restaurant. As I’ve mentioned before, Carmel Cafe is out of Tampa and has only six locations, just one outside of Florida (in Wayne, PA). With so few locations, and the attention of separate operating partners, Carmel Cafe is able to maintain a certain individuality.
The chef at the Winter Park Carmel Cafe is Adam DuCharme, a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, so that should tell you something about how serious CC is about its food.
We started our dinner with arancini paired with a not-too-sweet prosecco from Enza, a winemaker in Veneto, Italy. The rice balls had parmesan, fontina and asiago cheeses blended in. Delicious little two-bite appetizers.
The butternut squash soup’s debut on the menu is perfectly timed with the cooler weather. It’s the ideal comfort food for fall, and the dollop of creme fraiche added to its already rich texture. This was paired with the Protea chenin blanc from South Africa, a light wine with subtle fruit.
Actually I liked the Protea even more with the pumpkin ravioli that followed. The little pillows of pasta were packed with pumpkin puree and decorated with toasted walnuts. (Pecans would have added too many p’s to the previous sentence.) A subtle sage cream accompanied.
There wasn’t anything subtle about the bolognese, a boldly flavored sauce tossed with pappardelle tinged with smoked red pepper. With so much to taste during the dinner, I was just nibbling most of the items, but I’ll admit to eating all of the bolognese; it was wonderful.
Other items from the autumn menu include bacon and artichoke flatbread (bacon is always in season), filet medallions with portabella mushrooms, and seared tuna with a red wine reduction and wilted kale. (In case you haven’t noticed, kale is quite trendy right now. I’m not complaining.)
During the dinner it occurred to me that everything felt so comfortable. The decor of Carmel Cafe is warm and moody, with flashes of colorful art and thoughtfully placed lighting. The atmosphere can be convivial or romantic, it’s up to you.
It’s clear that Waggoner aims to make his CC a neighborhood destination. To that end, he has initiated a roster of almost-nightly specials and events. One of the more popular ones, he told me, is the Wednesday half-price bottle of wine offering, which is just what it says: any bottle on the wine list is half off the regular price. And as you may have gathered from the above pairings, the wine list is extensive and, more important, appropriate for the food, which is best described as modern Mediterranean.
There are also happy hour specials each weeknight with four featured wines, four select appetizers and four specialty drinks, each priced at $4. (Did you spot the trend there?) On Tuesdays the number is three, with a trilogy of wine flights (3-ounce pours, of course) for $10. Each week a different varietal is featured, so it’s a great chance to try some different wines.
Carmel Cafe has also started offering weekend brunch -- on Saturdays AND Sundays -- with such things as eggs Benedict crab cakes and french toast a l’orange, and prices are a very reasonable $7.99 to $13.99.
But how about something free? Click this link to find out how to get a free flatbread (hello, bacon and artichoke!).
Also, Waggoner and his crew have authorized me to make a few more seats available for our Supper Club on Tuesday, Oct. 29. Click this link to go to the reservations page and secure your seat. And I’m telling you right now, anyone who doesn’t finish the bolognese can just pass it down to where I’ll be sitting.
Carmel Café & Wine Bar is at 140 N. Orlando Ave. in Winter Park. It is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday- Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Sunday.
For information or reservations, call 407-513-4912.
Oh, I almost forgot. If wine's not your thing you may want to try one of the cocktails that have been added to the fall menu. The Grapefruit Basil Twist was especially tasty. I didn't think I was going to like the basil in the drink, which is made with Hendrick's gin, but it was just a nuance and actually added a nice grace note. Go to Carmel Cafe to try one, then go here to get the recipe and give it a go yourself.