November 10, 2005

A Ride in the Carriage House

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Iam usually an efficient critic of restaurants: I judge an atmosphere in 30 seconds, the service in one minute and the menu from the first bite of each course. One meal is sufficient enough for me to write a restaurant review. This is not the case with the Carriage House Cafe. True, within the first 30 seconds, I fell in love with the charming, picturesque atmosphere. The exterior of the restaurant resembles a lush garden – during certain times of the day, the sun reflects beautifully from the ivy overhang. The interior of the Carriage House Cafe, originally a horse stable, has been converted into a cozy cottage with stone and wood accents. Also, within the first minute, I decided that the service was friendly and efficient. Customers order and pay for food at the counter and are served by wait staff for the remainder of the meal. This technique facilitates the homey feel of the restaurant while maintaining the level of class that such an amazing menu deserves.

However, I could not decide whether or not I liked the food at the Carriage House after one meal. The Carriage House joins the famous Moosewood as the only two Ithaca restaurants that alter their menus daily. Yet unlike Moosewood, this Stewart Avenue nook offers an extensive breakfast menu and includes red meat dishes in dinner fare. I have spoken with some who swear by brunch at the Carriage House on Sundays and others who can’t live without their killer scone-and-latte combination. So rather than dining at the Carriage House once or twice, I felt obligated to go on three different occasions in preparation for this article.

My first experience at the Carriage House was a bit haphazard. I walked in expecting to order dessert and coffee and ended up ordering every dessert in the display case. Though the selection is a fraction of that offered by Collegetown Bagels, the quality of each Carriage House dessert reaches peaks of perfection. All pastries and cookies are baked in-house daily. I can personally vouch for the moist, yet softly sweet stuffed scone; the tender, flaky apricot ruggleh; and the warm, gooey pecan cinnamon bun. The cookies are sinful enough to make any grown man cry. Dense chocolate chip-cherry cookies sport chunks of bittersweet chocolate in a burst of chocolate-cherry fusion and the mudslide cookie, with its fudgy, hazelnut interior, melts in your mouth like a half-baked brownie. Imagine all of these amazing treats accompanied by a smooth, creamy latte, finished perfectly with a piece of latte art.

Breakfast was on my mind during my second round at the Carriage House. Though the brie stuffed French toast with berry coulis looked appealing, I ordered the steel cut oats instead. My expectations of sticky, overcooked oatmeal were blown away when a large dish filled with smooth, milky oats and swirls of jam reached my table. Looks were not deceiving the first bite was truly amazing as I discovered the pool of maple syrup hidden beneath the creamy depths of grain. Trip number two was officially a success. Would dinner hold up to the dessert and breakfast standard? I was in luck tonight when I stepped into the Carriage House to order dinner – the menu recently expanded from three appetizers and one entree to four appetizers and five entrees. Of the appetizers, I fell in love with the pumpkin soup. Never before have I encountered such a rich, satisfying soup. The spicy smoothness of the bisque mingled with crunchy roasted pumpkins seeds and a cool ginger cream, it was an experience literally worthy of licking the bowl.

The entrees were no less amazing. In an out-of-character move, I ordered the cheeseburger. But this was not an average cheeseburger: it was dry-rubbed with seductively complex spices and grilled to juicy perfection while topped with grilled onions, sun dried tomato and a thick slice of cheese (I chose Swiss) all served on grilled ciabatta. This burger ascends the ranks of all other, less dressed burgers into “burger heaven.”

Alternatively, my friend ordered the lamb entree. Rather than being served a hunk of lamb, she was presented with a perfectly balanced lamb and lentil stew accompanied by chunks of carrot and a side of garlic grits. The flavors in this inventive preparation melded well on my palate, and the meat literally melted on my tongue. Visit number three to the Carriage House also combined cozy atmosphere with friendly service and high quality food – this restaurant wins the consistency award as well.

If you’re interested in trying a meal at the Carriage House, check out their website for hours and events ( But beware if you are already devoted to Collegetown Bagels, Stella’s, ABC Cafe or the Matte Factor: once you step into the Carriage House Cafe, it will probably become your new favorite.

Archived article by Anna Fishman
Sun Staff Writer