Finished a juice cleanse last Friday. Second one this year, in fact. And, despite the hippy-dippy sound of it, it's actually a not-at-all unpleasant few days of consuming mostly nothing but delicious cold-pressed juices made from everything from apples and oranges to carrots, beets and celery. Although I cheat and have salads and fresh fruit in between, it's part of a commitment to more mindful, plant-based eating and exercise that has yours truly down 11 pounds since the day after the Super Bowl.
So why am I boring you with the minutiae of my dietary details?
Because when I hop off the herbivore wagon, I hit the sauce -- Buffalo, Barbecue, Bolognese, Hollandaise -- hard, brother. Recent relapses have resulted in burger benders that caused the ground chuck commodities market to panic. I fear that some day I'll end up in a grainy cell phone video a la Rob Ford, spastic while in the throes of gravy withdrawal.
But this most recent juice cleanse was a very tolerable three days, so I wasn't exactly trying to cop a nacho cheese score on the corners. Rather I broke my meat and dairy fast with heaping helpings of wholesome, hearty and heavy soul food from the Carmi Family Restaurant in Allegheny West. It sounds like it should be an Italian joint, but the name comes from the husband and wife pair that make it go: Carleen and chef Michael King.
The restaurant's interior is clean but dated while the food is the opposite: a bit messy (in a good way) and classic. The menu is a sampling of simple Southern standards from fried chicken to ribs and grits and nothing in the place is more than $15 and every entrée yields a ton of well-prepared food, served with two side orders, a sponge of terrific cornbread and choice of soup or salad. Quite the deal.
Dining with a co-worker, we split an order of shrimp and grits as an appetizer ($9.69). Although my personal experience with this dish is on par with that of Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, I can say that this was richer than Croesus, and served almost like a stew -- in a bowl with the moist grits at the bottom, spicy shrimp and sauce in the middle, a ton of fresh cheddar on top, and some cornbread to soak up the grease. This was terrific, even if I had to pop a Tagamet immediately afterward.
We skipped the salad and instead each tried the fish stew for our soup course, which had a ton of flavor, bringing some heavy heat and serious saltiness.
My co-worker had the ribs ($14.19), which according to the menu are smoked daily and when they're gone, that's it. The ribs were nicely cooked, moist with a mildly sweet sauce that nicely complimented the smoky pork.
I had the house specialty, the fried chicken ($12.69). Served piping hot, it was juicy with a deliciously seasoned, lightly crispy skin.
For sides, we both loved the macaroni and cheese, and he paid them the ultimate compliment: it tastes exactly like his mother's. He also opted for a side of cornbread stuffing, covered in gravy and I was jealous because it was delicious -- sweet and salty with a little bite. And despite my temporary vegetable abstention, I had the mixed greens as a side, which had a nice bit of flavor from cooking in a meaty broth.
Other menu items include meat loaf, chicken or pork and waffles and pork chops. All food is made to order, so it can take a while, but there's a sign near the front advising you as such. The service was friendly and pleasant. Carmi Family is BYOB, with a $3 corkage fee.
For the good of your waistline, this isn't food I'd recommend eating every day, but any day that you eat it, it's probably going to be good. Especially after a few days of kale juice.
Carmi Family Restaurant is at 917 Western Ave., Allegheny West; 412-231-0100, carmirestaurant.com.
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