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By Michael Newcomer, Tarpon Springs High
Marketed as serving “mod Mediterranean cuisine,” Carmel Café in Clearwater goes more mod than other mod restaurants, and you can know this at first glance. The menus are iPads.
At first I found myself a little distracted, because I wanted to play with my menu rather than actually look at food. Once I got over my temporary bout of ADD, picking out food and sending it to the kitchen was easy. Swipe through appetizers, meals and desserts, click on an item and a description pops up with an option to add it to your order. Click on your order, and you have the option of sending it to the kitchen, with the total displayed on your screen before you even get the check.
Not only was I impressed by the iPad menu’s ease of use, but also by the level of service Carmel provides, even though, technically, no waiter is needed. There is someone there to explain how to use the menu, and if you order water, they bring it out in a large wine bottle for you to refill your glass whenever needed. Our table was checked on every five to 10 minutes, and I didn’t find the experience impersonal in the slightest.
Now on to the food. Surprising to me: For a restaurant that had to purchase more than 30 iPads, the food is quite affordable for the luxury offered. I was able to get a bowl of soup, a Caesar salad, chickpea fries, spinach and artichoke dip, a plate of pasta and two cannolis for under $30. To say I didn’t leave hungry would be an understatement.
Not only was this the best bowl of minestrone I’ve ever eaten, it also beat some of the best Italian restaurants I know. It was savory and full flavored, not watered down as I’ve experienced at other restaurants. It was full of substance, not just broth, and left me feeling satisfied.
Olive Caesar salad
This salad was flavorful and light but without the kalamata olives, it would have been quite plain. However, as an appetizer, it served its purpose and I still had plenty of room for the rest of the meal.
I wasn’t crazy about these, mostly because I’m not a big chickpea fan. A heaping pile of thick “fries” come on your plate, and the mushy first bite caught me by surprise. Even though they’re not at the top of my craving list, this was a decent way to consume chickpeas.
Spinach and artichoke dip
This is one of my favorite appetizers of all time, and I knew for this restaurant to win me over, this dish had to impress. Disappoint it did not, and Carmel added its own flare as well. The dip comes with crispy thin salted cracker chips instead of tortilla chips, and the milder flavor lets you appreciate the dip more.
Cheese filled pasta satchels
Of all of the dishes I tasted, I have to admit this was my least favorite. It is with sadness that I say this, because I adore pasta and other Italian foods, and I was especially excited about this. The pasta came out lukewarm, and the cheese was too mild to give justice to the rest of the dish when mixed with the tomato sauce.
Served in a pair, this was the perfect way to end a great meal. Stuffed with a seasonal pumpkin filling, they definitely wowed with taste. The shell was flaky and firm. And because they were small, I didn’t have to loosen my belt when I was done.
Michael Newcomer is a senior at Tarpon Springs High.