I had a $130 gift certificate to Carol’s Cafe that I had been hoarding for a while. And recently, when I read an article in the Staten Island Advance describing an upcoming renovation of the restaurant, with what seemed like a very loose and potentially very long timeline… I panicked. I needed to use the certificate before it was possibly too late. But fear not: upon my visit to Carol’s I learned that the newspaper had really done a disservice to the restaurant with its unclear and confusing description of the renovation.
Let me clarify: Carol’s will be closing at some point in early 2015 for one week of dinner service only. Since they do cooking classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, and serve dinner Thursdays through Sunday’s, this means the restaurant will only be closed for four nights. And the renovation will simply involve superficial upgrades and moving their bar from the adjacent storefront into their current dining area, which to me, makes a hell of a lot more sense, anyways. Panic over.
I’ve been to Carol’s before, and I’m a little bit obsessed with both the place and the person. Carol herself is an interesting and impressive chef who patrols her dining room, chit chatting with patrons. She is real and approachable with just a hint of bitchy – but the good kind of bitchy. Who doesn’t love that. And her food is outrageous. Some may consider it overly seasoned, spiced, or flavored. But to me, I don’t mind a hunk of garlic or ginger or sage leaves everywhere. Her food is authentic, consistent, and just tastes like really really good home cooking. Carol’s has earned a four star Baconboozer rating, and I am certain that it will continue to do so over the course of their long run on Staten Island.
So I’ve been there before and have tasted some incredible things that I did not order on this visit, but I feel deserve mentioning. Like the gnocchi, broccoli rabe (please order this), beef Wellington, and grilled octopus. A warning in advance: do not waste time or valuable stomach space on bread and butter at the start of your meal. Carol’s sauces are the single most outrageous and perfectly executed sauces I have ever tasted and you will be scooping them up with your bread long after the actual proteins of the dishes are gone. Trust me on this one.
On this visit, Justin and I went with the following stuff:
We each did a dirty martini, which came out perfectly but was also brought with some extra olive brine to adjust to our filthiness preference.
For an appetizer, we went with our absolute favorite must have dish of the restaurant, the caramel shrimp. I didn’t snap a photo because it was devoured too quickly, and honestly a picture would not do this dish justice. It looks a little messy: a plate of brownish sauce with four shrimp arranged on top and lumps (huh? what are those lumps?) sitting in the sauce. But please, please trust me. If you like ginger and you like garlic, get a straw ready to drink this juice. The lumps are heavenly delicious garlic and ginger, powerful but not overpowering. Save your bread for dipping and seriously don’t skip this plate… It is a flavor explosion directly from heaven and everyone has to try it.
We also ordered a half size of the mussels in white sauce, another excellent dish, with a perfectly flavored winey buttery sauce.
For entrees, I went with a special: ribeye with a wine and mushroom sauce.
And Justin went with a classic: Vienna Schnitzel.
Do you see those sauces? Stop it. So glorious.
The sides of mashed potatoes and carrots, also, are really so crazily good.
Last, dessert. I love dessert here. Carol makes homemade everything and the menu changes often based on season and, I think, whatever she’s in the mood to make. We went with her crumb cake. I love crumb cake.
The ambiance in the place is a little outdated and a little odd, but warm and cozy and, to me, perfect for the food that is being served there. The staff is great, helpful and friendly – I have had the same waitress every time I’ve gone and she now remembers me and some of the things I’ve ordered in the past. Diners are welcomed to walk into the kitchen and check out what’s going on. I’ve never done a cooking class with Carol, but they sound great and something I’m definitely looking forward to trying in the future.
The first time I went to Carol’s was probably about two years ago, after a lifetime of driving past the unimpressive exterior and thinking it was a crappy diner or something. I regret all of the years that I missed out on this food: so local and so perfect, and am happy that Carol’s is staying around for a while more. Carol’s earned four stars for making some of the best preparations of my favorite classic foods. She missed out on the five stars only for not offering more unusual options. I’d love to try something I’ve never had before in this restaurant because I am certain it would be amazing. Congratulations, Carol, on your impressive career, and best of luck with the renovation and your continued success. Your food makes me happy.