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Food for Thought: Carne ChopHouse

Carne ChopHouse (1536 E. 7th Ave., Tampa) is one of my favorite places to eat in the Ybor City district. I was first introduced to Carne when I took advantage of their weekly prime rib special, which I found to be superb. I knew even more people needed to know about their top-notch food. I called ahead to let the management at Carne ChopHouse (“Carne” for short) know that I was interested in writing a food feature on their beautiful restaurant. I let Jason Fernandez, the owner, know it was my birthday. He insisted that I should let him throw a birthday dinner for me and two friends. Little did I know that I would have such a memorable birthday, and I have the staff at Carne to thank.

We arrived at Carne, which is housed in the former El Centro Español, once the hub of Spanish-American social activity in Ybor City. After being seated, Jason Fernandez introduced himself to my friends and I and waxed nostalgic about the building. His parents had met for the very first time in El Centro Español, so the restaurant holds a special place in his heart, one that transcends a typical bond between restaurateur and restaurant. We dined in the main room, but there is also a private dining room, a bar and a wine cellar on the property.

After greeting us and getting to know us a little bit, Jason introduced us to Stone Pilkenton, the general manager of Carne, who would be taking care of our dining experience. He decided that we would get to sample some of the best dishes Carne had to offer. The staff selected the dishes, and we were told that if there were any dishes that caught our eye on the menu, we could give them a try as well.

Stone started us out with an appetizer sampler, consisting of deviled eggs ($5.99 for a half-dozen), fried onion strings, and tuna sashimi ($11.99), which consists of seared rare tuna, citrus jicama slaw, and wasabi aioli. The tuna sashimi had so many dynamic flavor profiles and was instantly addictive. My friend Melissa loved the deviled eggs, noting that they were seasoned very well and that the addition of crumbled bacon on the top was genius.

The appetizer round wasn’t over yet, though; Stone insisted we try the cheese fries poutine ($7.99): Yukon gold potatoes are smothered in cheddar sauce, brown veal gravy, bacon, scallions, and topped with a fried egg. I could write an entire book just on the poutine; the taste was absolutely heavenly, and is a perfect appetizer for a special occasion if you feel like splurging, calorie-wise. The addition of the fried egg yolk with the cheese and the gravy was akin to the cherry on top of a grand dessert. The appetizers were served with a 2012 bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé. I don’t normally drink but since it was my birthday, I made an exception. The dry white wine paired perfectly with the tuna and the poutine in particular.

As we waited for dinner, the three of us shared their signature Caesar salad ($6.99), which consists of an entire Romaine heart, Parmesan crisps and seasoned croutons, and a homemade roasted garlic Caesar dressing. The salad is fairly large and delicious, so make a note accordingly if you want to continue on to dinner (and dessert!).

Then it came time for dinner! We were served a number of entrees so we could get an idea of Carne’s full menu and what each dish has to offer. First was the churrasco steak ($18.99), a marinated skirt steak topped with caramelized onions, served with red beans and rice and a parmesan-crusted Roma tomato. This was one of my favorites; my friends could barely get a taste! The steak is paired well with the red beans and rice and is a wonderful nod to Ybor’s Spanish heritage. Then we were served the New York strip (14 oz., $26.99) with a loaded baked potato. I immediately attacked the potato while my friends tried the steak, which they thought was cooked wonderfully and seasoned to perfection. The steak was served with a hearty red wine, a 2012 Luigi Righetti Amarone.

One of my favorites came next: a dinner-sized portion of the comfort food favorite, chicken pot pie ($14.99). The golden brown crust was thick and flaky, and the chicken in creamy velouté was to die for. I would have ordered another if I thought I could complete it! Finally, I knew I had to try one more entree after I saw a neighboring table enjoy it: the Pallos Brothers Chicken and Waffles ($16.99). A special South Tampa recipe, the chicken is served with Belgian waffles, butter and maple syrup. The only person who can cook better chicken is my mother. The seasoning was divine and the partnership of chicken and waffles with the maple syrup…I now have an all-time favorite dish at Carne.

Then the dessert tray came. I had to rely on my friends to do the heavy lifting with this task, because I’d eaten so much already! Out of all the desserts, which included tres leches ($5.99), caramel flan ($5.99), and red velvet cake ($7.99), my favorite was the delightfully decadent chocolate creme pie ($5.99), which included Godiva whipped cream and an Oreo crust. There is something sweet for every taste at Carne. Believe me, I know!

My friends and I were all smiles when we left Carne. I had a great birthday and everyone had a great feast. You should dine at Carne and let them make your evening a special one!

Carne ChopHouse is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday and for dinner on Sundays. For more information, visit carnechophouse.com or call (813) 341-9555.

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