The recently opened Carmel Café is a mold-breaker. The food is “modern Mediterranean” — a fusion of favorites from countries including Italy, Spain, France, Morocco and Greece. The décor is modern moderation — clean lines and neutral backgrounds with handsome color from red couches and large-scale artworks by architect Albert Alfonso, who is also a painter. What makes the place unique is the way that customers order from the menu.
It is called a MenuPad, and it is an iPad loaded with software developed by NetStar in Australia in collaboration with Carmel Café founders and owners Chris Sullivan, Nancy Schneid and Alexander Sullivan. It is an intuitive app for the increasingly ubiquitous tablet; you launch it by tapping an icon on the home screen and selecting a category for food or wine. When you make your selections, they go instantly to the kitchen or the bar. Other restaurants are experimenting with iPad systems, but, to the best of our knowledge, Carmel Café is the only one that’s up and running with one right now.
The MenuPad is fun to use. It delivers all the information a diner could possibly want; it is non-intimidating; and it is accessible to virtually any level of computer savvy — all reasons it is quickly finding acceptance.
Carmel Café has paper menus available, but Terry Ryan, also a founder and owner, reports, “We haven’t put any out. As soon as they see the pix, that’s it. Sarasota has been even more receptive than our Tampa location.” Not incidentally, the food looks appetizing on the screen.
The MenuPad has far-ranging implications. You order dishes a course at a time in whatever sequence you want. You put your own modifications on your order — “dressing on the side,” for example. There is no chance of miscommunication between the customer and the kitchen because the order goes straight from the diner’s fingertips to the chef’s hands. Instantaneous ordering should result in faster service. The system really gives the diner much more control and a new and different restaurant experience.
The food at Carmel Café is every bit as promising as the ordering system. The aptly named Steve Cook, executive chef, reports that the steak frites are a big seller. It is a culotte steak (“the top of the top sirloin”) served with Béarnaise aioli and Carmel fries seasoned with the Mediterranean signature blend of sumac, herbs and sesame, called za’atar.
Basil-grilled salmon comes with quinoa and kalamata olive tapenade and, like many offerings, is available as either a small or large plate. There are vegetarian options and some nifty desserts, including a toasted strawberry pound cake deemed “luscious” by a foodie friend and a no-wait chocolate lava cake invented by Cook. The café stocks some 60 wines, all available in three-, six- or nine-ounce pours, and the MenuPad identifies suggested pairings.
Carmel Café is an intriguing new option for a casual dinner or just cocktails and appetizers with a group of friends, and it will open for lunch July 9 and brunch July 14. There is indoor-and-outdoor seating plus an informal lounge area with couches. The restaurant is in the sometimes-hard-to-navigate Shoppes at University Center directly south of BJ’s and across from Leroy Selmon’s.
N.B.: The MenuPad is also a functioning iPad and gives diners access to the Internet and games as well as that intriguing, modern Mediterranean menu.
RUSTIC GRILLED CHICKEN SKEWERS
Start to finish: 30 to 40 minutes (plus two hours marinating time)Yield: 6-8 servings
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 3/4-inch by 4-inch strips
1 cup balsamic vinaigrette (can substitute Italian dressing)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced finely
1 large eggplant, peeled and diced 1 inch
2 cups red pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut (roast your own or buy canned; cut into large pieces)
2 cups plum tomatoes, diced 2 inches
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon za’atar seasoning
2 teaspoons salt
• Run a skewer through each chicken strip lengthwise.
• Combine dressing, sugar and rosemary.
• Pour over the chicken skewers and marinate, refrigerated, for at least two hours.
• Grill over medium fire or broil four to six inches from element until firm to the touch turning once (about three to four minutes per side).
• Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
• Combine the cut vegetables in a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes.
• Remove from oven and toss in a mixing bowl with olive oil, salt and seasoning.
• Serve hot or chilled. Makes a great summer salad option.
IF YOU GO
Address: 8433 Cooper Creek Blvd. in University Town Center
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday
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