On the weekends, breakfast or brunch is an extremely important meal for me. I generally allow myself to have a meal larger than a 6 oz Chobani Greek yogurt and usually eat enough to hold myself over to dinner with minimal snacking.
Carmen’s Cafe is located at 198 1st Street in a fairly desolate part of Troy, NY; there just doesn’t seem to be much around there for a few blocks. A number of people on twitter have recommended this location for a cozy and quality brunch experience, so I had to check it out. The place is easy to find, and parking at 9am on Sunday morning posed no obstacle.
As I entered the restaurant, I had a millisecond to admire some of the artsy things that people more interested in art than I am would admire before I was greeted by a lady who I am going to wager was Carmen. She indicated that the food would be ready promptly. I was dining with Cassie that morning, so we gave each other a perplexed look, and the lady noticed. She clarified that she was rolling out a new brunch buffet that was happening once a month on Sundays.
We made the decision to stay, because doesn’t a place bring out their A game for a dining experience in which a new customer can be acclimated to the cuisine?
If you picked up on any tone in that previous statement, you know where this is going.
There was a decent spread of stuff on this buffet. Yogurt parfaits, fruit and cheese platters, sweet fried plantains, rice and beans, savory porridge, bacon, pancakes, scrambled eggs with and without chorizo, miso soup…yes, miso soup.
I tried a sampling of things.
They were doing the toast to order because who wants to eat buttered toast sitting over a hot water bath?
The toast was pretty good. The bacon was decent; the white rice and black beans really didn’t wow me; the hash browns were bland and under cooked. The sweet plantains were pretty awesome, but I always love plantains, especially the sweet ones. The scrambled eggs with chorizo was disappointing. Since I was able to get mine the moment the tray was brought out of the kitchen, the eggs were cooked well, but there was barely any chorizo in my sizable portion. The multigrain blueberry pancakes had no flavor and seemed to be made with dried blueberries.
I was really confused. This place gets such high praise, and I don’t understand how they could have dropped the ball on the buffet like that. For one, as I said earlier, shouldn’t you be bringing your A game since people will get exposed to a wide range of your food? Second, since the food is gonna sit on the buffet for a while, you’d think the food is at the peak the minute it comes out of the kitchen, which is when I got mine. In the 35 minutes we were there, only one other pair of diners came to eat.
Then the explanation came. A man walked in and sat at the counter attached to the bar/buffet. He was clearly a regular because the waitress knew to pour him a decaf coffee, but he didn’t get food from the buffet. Instead, he sat there, sipping his decaf and talking with the older lady. The lady disclosed a fairly convoluted story about how she had to fire her chef; it’s definitely something a new customer doesn’t want to hear.
We got the check: $12 per person for the buffet. I dunno. To me, its seems a bit high for the spread.
The good news is that I think I’ll have to go back to get a handle on what people like about Carmen’s. I didn’t hate everything I had; I just didn’t feel the character and mood you get when you walk into the place in the food.
This (which was staring at me for the whole meal) just about sums up the experience: