Friday, June 22, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: At Carmel Kitchen & Wine Bar, sit and sip outside

As I'm writing this, Florida weather is nearly as good as it gets. I'm sure this will be no more than a brief interlude, causing sweat-drenched and/or rain-drenched readers to scoff at my enthusiasm, but right now it's great. This is true day-drinking weather.

The cool breeze and mild humidity has inspired me to seek out a few new (to me) places to have a nice afternoon snack and cocktail. Of course, an outdoor component is a must. My first pick on the list is Carmel Kitchen & Wine Bar, a small chain with seven locations in Florida and Pennsylvania.

Let me start by acknowledging that the chain designation might give you a preconceived notion, as it did me. Drop that. Carmel belongs in the same chain category as World of Beer and Brass Tap: highly competent, worthwhile small chains that are quite far from feeling bland or corporate.

Carmel has Florida locations in Winter Park, Sarasota, Carrollwood, Tampa and Clearwater; I stopped by the Clearwater restaurant. Located in a large shopping plaza near the Countryside area, Carmel occupies a nondescript spot near the corner of the plaza, which turns out to be a nice advantage.

The slightly offset space stays pretty quiet relative to the other side of the plaza, making the patio a nice place to relax without exhaust fumes, loud cars and other congested parking lot woes.

The concept here is straightforward: casual but smart Mediterranean fare paired with an intercontinental wine list and seasonal cocktails. There are around 40 wines on the menu, and most are available in three serving sizes, encouraging guests to explore the selection a bit more than would be possible at your average restaurant.

The interior dining area is dark and intimate, with bright splashes of color — paintings and photos of laid-back countryside (Mediterranean, not Clearwater) life, a bright-blue backdrop behind the bar — serving as lively contrast. Out front is a breezy, covered patio lined by potted plants and populated by cafe two-seaters and plush red sofas, cooled from above by ceiling fans.

The ordering process is a new one for me. Carmel uses a tablet running MenuPad software as its ordering interface, which allows guests to order at any time without having to flag down a server. As usual, I had a lot of questions about the menu (sorry, restaurants!), so I had more interaction with our server than was strictly necessary, but the fact that she was always nearby and attentive despite the automated ordering system dispelled any concerns I had about the MenuPad setup creating an impersonal dining experience.

The MenuPad comes with a full menu, including descriptions of wines with accompanying pairing suggestions, as well as pictures of the various dishes and specialty cocktails. The wine selection is pretty diverse, ranging from regions as far apart as Napa Valley and New Zealand, and there's also a house-made sangria. Most wines are available in 3-ounce 6-ounce and 9-ounce ("big pour") serving sizes.

The varied serving size concept cleverly complements the menu, which features many shared plates. It's all about sampling a few things: small servings of several dishes and small servings of several wines.

The spirit selection hits all the marks, and the specialty cocktail list is well-chosen. There are six options, which change seasonally. (Yes, there's a Pumpkin Spice Martini.) The Lavender Lemonade is an ideal sidewalk-sipper, as is the Peachberry Cobbler, which muddles peaches, blueberries and strawberries with cinnamon, Amarena cherry simple, Sobieski and triple sec. For a real taste of fall, you need to order the Harvest. Buffalo Trace with muddled clove, orange and cinnamon, finished with simple syrup and cranberry. Fall is my favorite season, hence the preoccupation with what limited seasonally appropriate weather we receive around here!

Get out there and enjoying some day-drinking weather of your own. [email protected]

Comments
See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

When Alicia Wolding joined Datz as the new executive pastry chef last year her hair was rainbow — pretty much the whole ROY G BIV spectrum in cascading tresses. More recently, it’s bright purple, somewhere between iris and lilac. This is the color yo...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Enjoy Israeli Couscous, Swiss Chard and Peppers warm or at room temperature

Enjoy Israeli Couscous, Swiss Chard and Peppers warm or at room temperature

By Katie WorkmanIsraeli or Mediterranean couscous are tiny balls of toasted semolina pasta that plump up when cooked into toothsome, slightly less tiny balls of pasta. They make a great base for a side or salad. You can make the couscous according to...
Published: 06/22/18
Bar review: St. Pete’s Garage is a dive with Pride

Bar review: St. Pete’s Garage is a dive with Pride

Last year’s St. Pete Pride went smoothly, despite some behind-the-scenes drama involving the decision to relocate the parade to the downtown waterfront, rather than the Grand Central District, where it had traditionally been held. After all, the Gran...
Published: 06/21/18
Local craft beer of the week: Beach Slap Piña Colada Wheat Ale from Mad Beach Craft Brewing Company

Local craft beer of the week: Beach Slap Piña Colada Wheat Ale from Mad Beach Craft Brewing Company

"Hooray, it’s summer!" exclaimed no Floridians. But if it’s summer proper and not just the usual year-round weather, you might as well embrace the heat and humidity with a trip to the beach, accompanied by some suitably refreshing beers. While you’r...
Published: 06/21/18
Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

FILIPINO FOOD: WELCOME CHISMISHave you been to the Heights Public Market at the 73,000-square-foot Armature Works yet? It’s the buzzy food market in Tampa Heights with more than a dozen vendors offering up everything from rolled ice cream to Cuban sa...
Published: 06/20/18
Here’s the skinny on the ketogenic diet: What it is, how to follow it properly

Here’s the skinny on the ketogenic diet: What it is, how to follow it properly

It started with jugs of olive oil and cans of tuna, lots of it, which my husband hauled in one day and plunked on the counter. "That’s my lunch!"That was about three months ago, and every day since there has been a new entity in our house to consider...
Published: 06/20/18
Five ideas for rainbow-themed foods to serve at your Pride party

Five ideas for rainbow-themed foods to serve at your Pride party

More than 50,000 people are estimated to attend Pride weekend in St. Petersburg, which runs Friday to Sunday. (June is LGBTQ Pride Month.) Whether you plan to march in the parade or host your own smaller gathering, we’ve selected five rainbow-themed ...
Published: 06/20/18
My husband has been on the ketogenic diet for three months. Here’s how he does it.

My husband has been on the ketogenic diet for three months. Here’s how he does it.

This week I wrote about something with which I have become very familiar: the ketogenic diet. If you’re like, "Huh?" you are where I was three months ago, before my husband, Phil, embarked on the weight-loss regimen. The keto diet is a high-fat, low-...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
A perfect pick for dessert

A perfect pick for dessert

America’s Test KitchenIt might seem impossible to improve on a perfect peach, but we decided to try. We wanted a simple, warm dessert that amplified the peaches’ flavor. To achieve tender, flavorful peaches with a lightly sweet glaze, we began by tos...
Published: 06/19/18
Everything you need to know about marinating meat

Everything you need to know about marinating meat

For a lot of home cooks, marinating meat is almost as automatic as cooking the meat itself. Douse the meat in some kind of flavored liquid, pop it in the refrigerator overnight and cook it the next day.Seems straightforward enough, but there are reas...
Published: 06/19/18