CARTHAGE — When I asked a friend to go on a review with me in Carthage, he said, "What's in Carthage?"
It's true; the list for decent dining there is short. But a little over a year ago, ownership changed at a little pub called Keddy's. What was a basic menu of bar food has been kicked up to include sandwiches, burgers and wraps, homemade soups and Texas chili, salads with bacon-chive-buttermilk dressing and homemade lemon vinaigrette. There's taco night on Tuesdays and wing night on Thursdays.
But on Fridays and Saturdays, talented chef/owner Jose Alvarado gets a chance to show what he can really do in the kitchen. He offers a diverse, constantly changing dinner menu with things like Thai chicken and noodle salad, grilled hanger steak with eggplant/tomato/olive caponata, linguini and clams, pork schnitzel and seared duck breast over soba noodles.
Mr. Alvarado is a native of Mexico. He made his way to Northern New York after gaining cooking experience in Texas and at high-end restaurants in New York City. At Keddy's, his goal is to offer an accessible menu that will appeal to their loyal customers (Keddy's has been around for quite some time) as well as an upscale weekend dinner menu and a few creative daily specials to fill a void in the village.
For a Friday evening, the bar was relatively quiet when we got there. We headed directly to the dining room, a separate area that takes up about two-thirds of the total floor space. Tables were nicely spaced, set with cloth placemats and napkins, wine and water glasses at each place setting, lighted candles on every table. Classic jazz played on the house sound system at the right volume.
The menu is quite compact. There are five starters that include three salads, a soup of the night and shrimp cocktail. There are five mains: three meats, a pasta dish, a fish of the night and, in addition, a feature of the evening. Four homemade desserts round out the menu choices.
With four in our party, we got to try just about everything.
Homemade, crusty dinner rolls with coarse salt on top hit the table first, made each day from Jose's starter dough. They had a unique, delicious flavor. Imagine if they had been served warmed. Very light olive oil with just a suggestion of garlic was provided for dipping.
The only real appetizer on the menu is shrimp cocktail ($12.50). Noting the price, we expected something extra special. Seven medium-sized shrimp were presented hanging from a small glass dish, served with standard cocktail sauce that didn't have much zing to it at all. It was quite undistinguished, we all agreed.
Soup of the night was tomato basil ($6.50), a substantial portion, dark and rich (almost rust colored) with a flavor that suggested there might be some roasted red pepper in there. Chiffonade of basil and shredded parm on top added a pleasing texture. A thin crostini completed the garnish.
Antipasto salad ($9), enough for us to each get a taste, consisted of torn iceberg lettuce, sliced white onion, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, pepperoncini, salami and provolone. I'd have to say, it was a little sparse on the meat and cheese. It was dressed with very nice house balsamic vinaigrette.
We were very impressed with our entrées.
New York strip steak au poivre ($18.50) was a lovely piece of meat, lightly seasoned and char-grilled, done exactly to our call of medium-rare, juices flowing onto the plate as we cut into it. Fresh and tasty grilled asparagus came with it, along with whipped mashed potatoes with a just a hint of horseradish.
Rigatoni Bolognese ($15.50) sounded so ordinary, but proved to be extraordinary.
Tubular rigatoni noodles were covered with a thick, full-bodied meat sauce full of complex flavors. This sauce was a winner, made by a master.
Masterful, too, was Jose's pork barbecue ($17), pork butt that's house-smoked for hours in several stages and doused with a marvelous homemade barbecue sauce.
A side of tasty coleslaw had the addition of clove and celery seed. The dish also came with a small bowl of freshly cooked red beans and bacon mixed with a salsa of tomato, onion and cilantro — tantalizing flavors.
Fish of the night was battered cod, but we instead chose the evening feature, seared scallops over pea and mint risotto with beurre blanc ($22). This was a knockout. Eight large scallops were beautifully seared, placed on top of a fantastic, buttery risotto and served on an oval platter. If this was permanently on the menu, we'd be back every week.
Desserts ($6 each) are all made right in Keddy's kitchen.
Chocolate molten cake is not your everyday out-of-a-box-and-into-a-microwave dessert. This one is baked right in its own dish, the outer layer cooked just enough to have a cake-like texture while the center was warm and molten, a rich, dark chocolate with and a hint of coffee flavor. A small scoop of vanilla ice cream helped mellow the intense chocolate. "One of the best chocolate desserts I've ever encountered, " according to one of my guests.
Rice pudding was sweet and creamy, avoiding the pasty consistency of many rice puddings. This was a delicious realization of a classic dessert, served with a light dusting of cinnamon.
How often do you see cherry fritters on a dessert menu? Pitted whole cherries were mixed into a batter and deep-fried, served with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped topping. A great dish for those who love fried dough.
Cheesecake was another classic, light and creamy with a hint of lemon, drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Coffee, which sometimes can be nothing more than an apology at the end of a meal, was noticeably special, a fitting ending to a very pleasant eating experience.
Our bill came to $138.79. We noticed some very nice wines on display at the bar, but were never offered a wine list at the table.
Our waitress was a little eager at the start, stopping by often for our order, until she finally caught on to our pace. In her defense, she was probably trying to get our order in before the party of 24-plus in the center of the room. All in all, she provided timely service with enthusiasm for the food she was serving, and always properly served the lady at our table first.
Chef Jose visited several tables in the room. He talked freely with us about the food and its preparation. He will be changing the menu often, perhaps even weekly, depending on what the summer market makes available to him. We hope he'll develop a clientele that will appreciate his culinary talent and encourage him to expand his weekend menu.
One final note: The name of the restaurant will be changing sometime this summer, due to a contractual agreement when the new owners took over. But no matter what the sign says outside, with Jose Alvarado cooking inside, you can be sure the food will be worth a trip to 15 Bridge St. in Carthage.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
15 Bridge St.
Upscale pub grub during the week; a compact, well-prepared dinner menu on the weekend.
HOURS: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday
Dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Bar menu 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
ENTRÉE PICKS: Seared sea scallops over pea and mint risotto, rigatoni Bolognese, Jose's pork barbecue
DESSERT PICKS: Chocolate molten cake, cherry fritters, rice pudding