Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

TWIS Happy Hour Guide: Carmel Café and Wine Bar

  • By
  • | 8:33 a.m. January 13, 2014
  • Arts + Entertainment
  • Eat + Drink
  • Share

What makes a great happy hour?

For me, it’s a fun and relaxed atmosphere that allows me to escape the stresses of the day, food that is delicious and unique, friendly and efficient service and a fantastic deal.

With those factors in mind, I present to you: the TWIS happy hour guide. My first stop: Carmel Café and Wine Bar.

The atmosphere: Warm and friendly; nice, but not too nice. As in, you’ll be comfortable in whatever you wore to work, but maybe not what you wore to the beach. Though the happy hour is billed as only being available in the bar and lounge, the host said we could order from its menu anywhere in the restaurant. We chose a high-top table in the lounge.

I would have preferred the beautiful bar, but it was occupied when we arrived around 6 p.m. If we weren’t planning to order food, I might have gone for the cozy-looking red couches.

The food: Carmel’s food is “mod med.” Sophisticated, modern plates with a Mediterranean flair. Their happy hour is called “After 4 @ Carmel.” Weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m., Carmel features four glasses of wine, four specialty drinks and four “shareables” (appetizers) for $4 each. Not listed on the menu, according to our server, Sophie, there’s a special on wine during these hours — $1 off a 3 oz. pour, $2 off a 6 oz. pour and $3 off a 9 oz. pour. And, if you come in for “Wine & Unwind Wednesday,” you’ll find half-price bottles of wine. But, back to that “After 4 @ Carmel” deal ... here’s that menu:

4 wines ...

Caposaldo – Pinot Grigio, Veneto Italy

Indaba – Chardonnay, Western Cape South Africa

Stella – Merlot, Veneto Italy

Excelsior – Cabernet, Robertson South Africa

4 shareables ...

Mini Mezze Platter – edamame hummus, Muhamarra, Nan’s Goat Cheese, roasted garlic and pita chips

Chickpea Fries – tomato jam and curry aioli

Tomato Margherita Flatbread – ripe plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, parmesan reggiano and fresh basil

Calamari Frites – zesty aioli

4 drinks ...

Featured monthly specialty cocktail – this month’s was the “Guava Ginger Splash” – tequila reposado, fresh chopped ginger, guava juice and a splash of lime

House infused cocktail – this is listed online, but I didn’t see one on the menu

Skinny poma-tini

Featured beer – on the menu, this was Sessions Lager

Picks: I started with the Excelsior cab, which was nice. Kind of woodsy, but easy to drink. My boyfriend, Ethan, went for the Guava Ginger Splash, which was the favorite drink of the night. The sweetness of the guava juice paired nicely with the tang of the tequila. We ordered all four “shareables.” Our favorite was the tomato margherita flatbread — light, refreshing and delicious. The calamari was a surprise – it came as long tentacles rather than the usual rings. But, they were tasty, especially with the spicy dipping sauce. I was surprised I enjoyed the mezze platter, which was comprised of flavors I don’t usually go for. Its three spreads were unique, distinctly mediterranean and unlike anything I’ve seen at other happy hours, which was refreshing. I’m not a fan of chickpeas, so the chickpea fries were not my favorite, though the tomato jam was so good I almost had second thoughts.

Service: If you’ve ever been to Carmel, you know their gimmick – you can order on iPads. I was excited by the prospect, and it worked out well to start. I received my wine almost instantly after submitting my order, and the appetizers soon after that. But, Ethan’s drink was missed and we had to remind our server. It went downhill from there as the restaurant got more and more crowded. We ended up waiting much longer than we would have liked for our check. Sometimes ideas are better in theory than in practice.

The deal: You won’t find much lower prices than $4 appetizers, and the $4 drinks are half-off their usual price. Also, the duration of the happy hour, from 4 to 7 p.m., is longer than most in town. My take – the unique offerings and great prices at Carmel Café and Wine Bar make this happy hour worth the trip. But maybe get there on the earlier side to snag a seat a the bar, just in case the iPad’s performance is less than perfect.

Carmel Café and Wine Bar is located at 8433 Cooper Creek Blvd., Sarasota.