Last Tuesday after another 12.5 hour OR shift, I once again changed out of my scrubs quickly and made my way to my old stomping grounds in Southside. Tuesday night can typically be a very good night for tacos thanks to alliteration (taco Tuesday!), so I was excited to hit up a place that I’ve been meaning to check out for awhile. I had Carmella’s Plates and Pints in mind located at 1908 East Carson Street.
I met my friend Dan after work at Carmella’s. Dan and I were both lucky enough to be in the Burgh over the years to see this place grow from just a bar with craft cocktails in the front to a full blown upscale restaurant with an ever changing menu focusing on high quality comfort cuisine. I knew Carmella’s had an impressive drink menu over the years with focus on craft cocktails, whiskey, tequila and craft beers so I always thought of Carmella’s as a great place to meet up with friends. The mature, relaxed ambiance and cozy atmosphere is something you don’t typically find in Southside.
Dan and I were seated in the back room not too far from the open fire pit table (which I love). Carmella’s does take reservations but it was not needed for our night. Once seated, I took out the menu, but I didn’t really look at it. I knew I was going to get tacos. Carmella’s has specials Monday-Thursday. On Tuesdays, the special includes 2 gourmet tacos (same kind) with Spanish rice and paired with a house-infused margarita (strawberry-jalapeno, mango-habanero, or roasted pineapple mezcal). I remember looking at this menu prior to coming to see that the tacos on the menu change based on the chef’s weekly feature. Prior to the visit, I was going to call ahead and check what tacos were going to be featured but I completely forgot and I was anxiously waiting to ask the waitress.
I told Dan that I hope they were not all going to be seafood tacos and then I started thinking “what if they were all seafood? No it can’t be.” He found my thought process amusing but I was internally freaking out. Dan has ruefully identified me as having the “palate of a peasant”, and I will admit that a classy establishment such as Carmella’s can be a little intimidating. We asked the waitress as soon as she returned and boy was I getting myself into some uncharted territory. The options on this particular Tuesday evening included the following:
- Pan seared mako shark with basil pesto, sundried and heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, and greens. (Yikes!)
- Blackened shrimp with pineapple pico, serrano crema, and cilantro. (No way!)
- Ground elk with cotija cheese, scallions, raspberry salsa, and cilantro. (Sounds weird??)
By process of elimination, I chose the elk tacos paired with the roasted pineapple mezcal margarita while Dan chose the blackened shrimp tacos paired with the mango-habanero margarita. Unfortunately, I could not do a classic taco swap with Dan, because I was not ready to commit to an entire shrimp taco. (He did make me try a bite of the shrimp later on and I still couldn’t get into the taste and texture).
As we waited for the tacos, we sipped on our margaritas in pure bliss. I loved the pineapple margarita. The house-infused margarita was definitely the smoothest margarita I have ever had and I enjoyed the frothy layer on the top. Dan’s margarita had a spicy kick to it but he thoroughly enjoyed it even though he is not usually a margarita fan.
After catching up and sipping on our margs, the fancy tacos arrived. The presentation was elegant with tacos rich in color and served on slate trays. As I looked at the plate, I was internally bracing myself for the elk tacos. I had an initial taste of ground beef and tart raspberry. After a few more bites, I noticed a slight gamey taste to the elk and potent taste of the cotija cheese. There was a lot of cilantro placed on top of this tacos and it stood out only in the bites closer to the outside rim of the cornshell. You could really taste all the individual ingredients of this taco versus other tacos where flavors more so complement each other and blend in more together. I am glad I gave this taco a try and went outside my comfort zone, but it is not my favorite fancy taco. The slight gamey taste and potent flavors just did not do it for me. However, I did LOVE the Spanish rice. It had a ton of veggies with peas and carrots, black beans, and in general just had a great light bounce to it.
Although I may have not found my favorite fancy taco here, Dan really liked his blackened shrimp taco. He doesn’t eat a lot of shrimp, but this was easily the best shrimp he had ever tasted. Dan thought the pineapple chunks were “fire”! His only complaint was that the taco was heavy on cilantro and it was a little unbalanced because of that.
After tacos, we splurged and split a plate of made to order chocolate chip cookies with milk. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND these cookies. Warm milk chocolate melted in the thick dough was just heart warming and added to the coziness that permeates throughout Carmella’s.
All in all, I would definitely go back to Carmella’s Plates and Pints and would love to try other items on the menu. If I want to try tacos here again, I would probably call ahead to see what the special feature of the day is as I would probably pass on the elk tacos.
Price: 2 fancy tacos, Spanish rice, and a classy house-infused margarita for $15. If you’re into fancy tacos, this really is a terrific deal. The quality and freshness of the ingredients, the upscale vibe to Carmella’s, and the primo marg would normally run you a lot higher than 15 bucks.