Carmen’s spices up local cuisine with Cuban-Spanish flavor

Like a hidden gem, Carmen’s appears unassumingly on First Street in downtown Troy. I wouldn’t even have heard about this place if it weren’t for a mention from a couple of friends. On the corner of First and Adams Streets, this Cuban-Spanish café boasts a rich selection of high quality tapas and entrées, made from locally grown ingredients.

I went last Sunday, at 2 pm, with a particular hunger for empanadas. With their spiced meat insides and crispy outer shell, yet soft and doughy mantle, empanadas make the perfect dish to reinvigorate those that perhaps wanted to sleep in a bit more on Sunday mornings. I couldn’t wait as I briskly paced towards Carmen’s front step. Quaint, but in an appealing way, is the only way I can describe the outside. Light tan bricks with marine blue windows, the restaurant stands out from the surrounding buildings. As I walked in, I was greeted by a unique, yellowish bar with dim, navy blue lights hanging over it and a brick fireplace. Photographs lined the walls and the counter space behind the bar looked neat, uncluttered by bottles or glassware. I don’t know anyone that owns a restaurant, but this felt like I was at a friend’s house enjoying some weekend brunch.

I sat down at a bar height table and ordered huevos flamenco and an empanada. The huevos flamenco were two sunny side up eggs on top of a rich tomato based stew of peppers, chorizo, onions, and potatoes. Now, what typically happens with most people when they eat is that the first bite is the most memorable. The rest of the meal is uneventful. But when I say that this stew was so packed with hearty chorizo and full-bodied spicy flavor, I remember every single spoonful. I honestly haven’t had a meal like that in months. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had real Hispanic cuisine or maybe it’s because all the ingredients are local. But the whole meal was a sensory rollercoaster for my tastebuds. As for the empanadas, it’s all I could have asked for. When I cut the empanada in half, the sweet, comforting smell of paprika and chili meat gently nuzzled my nose, begging me to taste it. Obliging, I spread a small bit of creamy chipotle sauce atop the steaming open pocket. I blinked and suddenly, the small, doughy delight was gone. Words can’t even describe. Needless to say, I’m going back sometime soon.

How I haven’t discovered Carmen’s sooner is beyond me. It’s probably the far out location and lack of information. But the whole experience and quality of food assures that I’ll be taking my family here the next time they come up. Carmen’s gives that comforting resolve that I don’t get from modern food anymore.