I have occasionally ventured into the realm of almost-vegetarian eating. But if any restaurant is going to pull me off that track, it’ll be Carmona’s BBQ Deli.
While exploring the East Lake Village Shopping Center for a new food adventure, I spied a sign in the shape of a large pig in a chef’s toque, wearing shades and surrounded by flames. I thought I should check it out.
How can you pass up a menu that lists an Oozy Suzie Burger, a Negative Nancy and a Back Stabber with Naked Fries?
Carmona’s interior features a sports and pig theme with a touch of nostalgia. Decorated with framed football jerseys, photos of baseball greats and both male and female boxing champs, it’s clear that the owners have a passion for sports. Various pig sculptures—there’s a pig in a football uniform on the front counter—and other images also reveal the owners’ wacky sense of humor.
Specials and “Meal Deals” are written on three blackboards suspended above the front counter. Big wooden tables and chairs give the dining room a comfortable, substantial feel, and large-screen TVs keep customers up-to-date on sports. One screen was turned to a cartoon show for the kids—not surprising, as Carmona’s prides itself on its “family approach.”
The servers were friendly and well-informed. I just had to try the Negative Nancy (a hot sandwich), and my friend ordered a grilled veggie sandwich. We also chose a large serving of beer-battered onion rings.
While waiting for our food, we explored the condiment table, which featured peppers, onions and relish, along with sauerkraut and a tempting variety of sauces: guava chipotle BBQ, spicy mayo and shabu shabu. On our table there were more condiments, including one of my favorites: Sriracha hot chili sauce. We were glad to learn that drink refills are free.
The beer-battered onion rings were just about as perfect as onion rings can be: The crisply fried batter contained a hint of yeasty beer flavor. It’s easy to overcook or undercook the onions, but these were exactly right—cooked just well enough to enable you to bite right through the sweet onion.
My friend’s grilled veggie sandwich—containing grilled onions, mushrooms, bell peppers and cheese—was flavorful and only mildly spicy, despite the pepper-jack cheese. He was happy to have the wheat bread option.
My hot sandwich, the Negative Nancy, contained fried chicken strips and bacon in a spicy sauce, topped with blue cheese dressing, lettuce and onions in a ciabatta roll. The strongly flavored cheese combined with the spicy sauce provided quite a kick; as my friend suggested, its taste is "not for the timid.” While I was first challenged by the flavor, I soon found it absolutely delicious.
Carmona’s BBQ Deli is owned by Johnny and Juanita Carmona (who also run Carmona's Catering). Along with award-winning clam chowder, beer and wine, BBQ meats, salads and hot and cold deli sandwiches, Carmona’s features an interesting selection of burgers. Try the Oozy Suzie Burger with havarti cheese, carmelized onions and grilled mushrooms, or perhaps the BBQ Bacon Burger with guava chipotle BBQ sauce, bacon and American cheese. The latter seems an odd combination, but with Carmona’s skill at combining traditional and edgy flavors, I have no doubt that the chefs can pull it off.
1040 E. Lake Ave. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon-8 p.m. Closed Monday. Deli: 831-761-9160. Mobile: 831-840-2209.