Tampa has been buzzing about Carmel Café & Wine Bar in the Northwood Plaza in Countryside, and for good reason.
Taking inspiration from the casual eateries on the California coast, the convivial ambiance at Carmel Café features a large bar with communal tables, a lounge in the center of the restaurant and an open dining room. Our party of four instantly felt at home.
The Carmel Café concept is spot-on for those looking for value and a place to eat health-conscious food. Offering many small plates and wines by the glass, we enjoyed our evening, sharing lots of different dishes in the restaurant’s vibrant atmosphere.
The best part? We didn’t have to worry about pairing wines with our food! Carmel Café utilizes an iPad application that allows you to see what wines pair well with your food or which foods would be complemented with the glass of wine that you may have started at the bar waiting for your table.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Steve Cook, Carmel Café’s Director of Culinary Operations, who told me that Carmel Café is phasing in a project to offer an iPad for each table to not only assist with wine pairing, but to also send their orders to the kitchen. Chef Cook said that, “We will always offer our customers a menu to order traditionally, but the iPad application allows diners to order courses as they want it, which works well with our casual, spontaneous concept.” During lunchtime, the restaurant is already set up for customers to order their food from the iPad bar at the front of the restaurant. Diners are seated, and minutes later, their order is brought to their table.
The Carmel Café menu has something to please everyone’s palate, including vegetarians. Our group thoroughly enjoyed our first selection, a Mezze platter that featured a fresh twist on Mediterranean standards including edamame hummus, crispy fried feta cheese and Muhammarra (a spicy dip with roasted red peppers, walnuts and and usually, pomegranate molasses). We were equally impressed with how fast the next courses came to the table, only a few minutes from when we ordered. The crab cakes contained very little filler that allowed the sweet and succulent meat to shine alongside the avocado salad. The lamb lollipops served with a zesty tzatziki dipping sauce were juicy and perfectly seasoned. Next time, I want to try the seasonal sangria served in a French press and to sample the chickpea fries and the steak frites that Chef Cook says are his favorite items on the menu.
The wine selection is top notch at Carmel Café. And, since all the wines by the glass are offered in 3, 6 and 9 oz pours, I was able to sample three different zinfandels and felt comfortable enough to drive home.
Carmel Café is ideal for a drink and an appetizer with friends, for a weekend date night to enjoy the live music they offer, or for lunch during the week since the food is served quickly after ordering at the iPad bar. 2548 McMullen Booth Road , Clearwater, FL, 33761. Tel: (727) 724-4228.