As a snowbird, I come to Ocala often. Arrived recently and heard a lot about how good Carmine's Cafe was supposed to be. Last week I went alone for lunch, returned last night with friends for supper.
There's absolutely nothing about the exterior of Carmine's to suggest anything exceptional about the food inside: the place is in a 50's strip mall along the highway, sandwiched in among several very ordinary establishments.The inside is a little more inviting, although there has been minimal effort in giving the place an appealing look. Through an open door in the back of the room, customers can see planks and scraps of wood that do little to inspire a relaxed dining experience. Already, there is a marked difference with restaurants in Sicily, where the aesthetic aspects are taken very seriously
For lunch, I had the eggplant parmigiana along with a salad and house dressing. The parmigiana was quite good, although a little salty, and the house dressing a little sweet for my taste. Overall, the experience was positive and the price reasonable, so I planned a return visit to try the supper menu.
For supper, two of us ordered the veal marsala, and another friend tried the chicken parmigiana. Not particularly wanting the house dressing on my salad, I asked the waitress to simply bring me the oil and vinegar and I would dress the salad myself.
The waitress did a poor job, bringing the chicken parmigiana and two chicken marsala plates. My salad came with the house dressing in spite of my request.
After sending back the chicken marsala, I finally got my veal marsala, and was not impressed. The meat was not of the highest quality, cut too thick, and overcooked. The sauce with mushrooms was, on the other hand, outstanding. The pasta underneath was overcooked and tasteless. With the meal, I ordered a glass of chianti, which turned out to be of average quality, a generous quantity, but a little too warm. A lot of restaurant owners are starting to understand that red wine is better served a little cooler than room temperature: the owner of Carmine's should give this a try.
On their website, Carmine's proudly invites: Come and taste the best that Sicily, and now Ocala, has to offer! After numerous exceptional experiences in Sicilian restaurants, I have to say that I was disappointed in Carmine's.
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