Sometimes people get lucky and do things right. That's exactly what happened with Carolyn's Gourmet Cafe. The charming renovated space's worn brick and cozy, dark wood tables and chairs revive the eternal dilemma: Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn? Randy McCray opened the restaurant in honor of his mother Carolyn's "love and positive thinking." That explains why most entrees bear names that seem better suited to a Successories store: Victory, Positive Attitude, Build Your Future. But let's not be cynical. His positive vibes are paying off.
Service: The mostly walk-up Midtown business-casual crowd has made this little spot a destination. On one visit, the line near the door seemed daunting, but it moved at a steady clip. You order at one register, then slide down, pay and pick up a number at another. Table service is brisk and friendly, but you can also call in an order to speed things up a bit.
Sandwiches: "I'd like Motivation, please." It may sound like a personal wish, but it's really the hot turkey sandwich ($4.99 half/$6.49 whole) with melted Swiss, coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing on pumpernickel bread. The rest of the sandwiches bear similar self-help goals. The Conqueror ($4.49/$5.99) is a classic Reuben -- toasted rye with corned beef, pastrami, Swiss, sauerkraut, spicy mustard and Thousand Island dressing. And if you need a little midday Inspiration, here it is: grilled cheese with Swiss, cheddar and provolone on white bread ($4.99/$6.49). The sandwiches are a little on the skimpy side, so go ahead and spend the extra $1.50 for a whole. All sandwiches come with a side of coleslaw, a choice of potato, pasta or fruit salad, and a pickle. The sides are uninspiring, and you can replace them with a bag of chips for the same price.
Pizza, etc.: Eight-inch personal pan pizzas take a little longer to prepare, but they're worth the wait. The chicken Florentine ($6.99) is covered with grilled chicken, spinach, mushrooms and fresh garlic, all in an Alfredo sauce with gooey mozzarella and parm. Yum. Daily specials supplement the menu with extra pizza choices and salads. One of the specials, the Ultimate Wedge ($5.99), was a lazy man's salad that would be at home at any Southern dive -- a quarter-head of iceberg lettuce served with gobs of blue cheese dressing and bacon bits. Forget about the diet.
Out back: A leafy patio provides a great refuge from the hullabaloo inside. It's also where the few parking spaces are located.
Coming next: The garage doors facing the street are just aching to be cranked open so the crowd can spill onto the front patio. And it's gonna happen once the restaurant's liquor license is approved. A happy hour is planned at the now-vacant bar, along with an additional menu of burgers, quesadillas, chips, queso and stuffed mushrooms.
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