By Sarina Deacon
A new Italian restaurant has opened in Niagara Falls. Located at 1701 Pine Ave., Carmine's offers hearty and homemade Italian meals. That selection was too good to pass up on a recent snowy night.
Walking into Carmine's, my guest and I were greeted by a large bar area. The shelves were stocked with plenty of options of alcohol to choose from, and there was a space off to the side where local bands come to play on the weekends.
Since we visited on one of the first snowy nights of the season, the bar wasn't full. We were led into the dining area and I instantly felt a feeling of comfort - a sense of family at Carmine's. The walls are painted a cranberry red with family photos scattered about. Those walls complimented the wood paneling very nicely, and I noticed the clean and well-kept dining area. The dim lighting provided a sense of coziness; the twinkling strands of white lights circling the room further strengthened this sensation.
My guest and I sat at a booth and I spotted a small box that carried a few "Trivial Pursuit" cards. I enjoyed that added touch, because one can become antsy while waiting for food to arrive.
We looked over the menu and quickly picked out our fare. I decided on the chicken parmesan, while my guest went with the rigatoni with meatball. Before our meals were brought out, we were served local DiCamillo Bakery bread slices with butter - an area favorite.
My dinner option included a salad. If there's one thing I hate, it's when chefs prepare salads with iceberg lettuce and a dash of dressing. Thankfully, this salad was plentiful with color, taste and presentation. I loved the leafy romaine and spinach greens used in the dish. They were complemented with slices of cucumber, cherry tomatoes and a toss of grated mozzarella cheese. I was given a few choices for my dressing, and I chose the homemade Italian. The salad was well-sized and I nearly ate the whole thing.
When our main dishes arrived to the table, my guest and I were shocked at the portion sizes. Carmine's did not disappoint in this area.
With fork and knife in hand, I dove in. My spaghetti was thick, almost too thick to wrap around my fork. The sauce was definitely homemade, yet a little heavy - I could barely find my chicken. When I spotted it, I noticed the chicken was cooked well and breaded nicely. The flavors were present, but not overpowering. The cheese, my favorite part, was bubbly - a sign of deliciousness.
My guest enjoyed her rigatoni, although she didn't appreciate the heaviness of the sauce. Her meatball was rather large and was cooked thoroughly. It only took a few bites until we exclaimed, "We're full."
Our waiter for the night was the owner's brother. He was warm and hospitable. He answered my questions about the menu and was quick to refill our beverages and bread basket. He was hopeful the restaurant would endure the cold, as winter can be a bit of a drag for dining establishments.
Speaking of winter, he was unable to get the heat going throughout the building. This resulted in my guest leaving her coat on through the meal.
What I greatly enjoyed about Carmine's was the sense of family. Our waiter laughed with us and we honestly felt very welcomed. Despite the bitter cold outside, we left with full bellies and happy demeanors. I will gladly return to this dining establishment. I encourage all to visit Carmine's - even on a wintry day.
Overall, I give Carmine's 4 out of 5 stars. Hopefully, the weather does not keep patrons away from enjoying these homemade Italian dishes.