|8901 Hamilton Pool Rd.
Dripping Springs, TX 78620
The area out by Hamilton Pool Road is not exactly what one would call a hotbed of restaurant activity. Up until just recently, driving south on Hamilton Pool Road, once you passed Verdes, about two miles down from Highway 71 there was, well, nothing! That has finally changed with the addition of Carmela’s Pizzeria, Café and Deli. Sisters JoJo and Diana are at the helm of this family-owned restaurant at the corner of Highway 12 and Hamilton Pool Road. It’s got an Italian theme and as Richard Farnsworth famously said in “The Natural,” the food “eats pretty darn good.”
This is a family-style restaurant. Nothing fancy about it, but don’t let the strip mall location next to the gas station fool you. This place is worth checking out.
Now let’s consider the appetizers. Not every item is a home run but there are some that really stand out. The Toasted Ravioli is a nice take on a Sicilian classic that some say made its American debut in St. Louis. The ravioli is just a little crispy (too much and it kills the flavor) and works well with the house-made marinara sauce along with Parmesan cheese. Nice sensibilities to this dish. And there is much to like about the Shrimp Italiano. The breading works because it doesn’t overwhelm the shrimp, and the artichoke cream sauce is smooth and very tasty. The result: a dish that really showcases the shrimp and complements it with nuanced flavors from the sauce (which makes the whole thing sizzle). And they do a really nice Greek salad at Carmela’s. You’ll find all your favorites here: Kalamata olives, feta cheese, red onions and a zesty lemon vinaigrette. Get the large for $6.49. You’ll want more if you only order the small one. The Creamy Tomato Basil Soup is another good choice. This is Carmela’s version of Italian Penicillin and it’s got that kind of feel-good vibe to it: that’s evident on the first sip and on each subsequent sip for that matter.
The entrees at Carmela’s are not complicated, but rooted in the solid fundamentals of family-style Italian cuisine. The Eggplant Parmesan is a good place to start. This dish gets ruined by lots of restaurants because they try to trick it up. But Carmela’s sticks to the basics: dip the sliced eggplant in an egg wash and coat with a light batter. Fry until golden brown, and anoint with marinara sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. Add linguine, or not (if you’re watching carbs) and you have a really tasty dish. The Fish Limon is another nice addition to the menu. This is another exercise in simplicity: a fresh filet sauteed in a delicate lemon butter and white wine sauce. The end product is especially tender with a lovely, nuanced flavor and the subtle hint of lemon. The Lasagna al Forno (which means from the oven) is one of those dishes where the pasta is boiled and then baked. I’m glad they chose to use sausage instead of ground beef (a disturbing trend in Lasagna) for this dish. The sheets of pasta are layered and coated with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses along with the sausage, and then baked. There’s nothing better than a good lasagna and Carmela’s has a good one. Another good pasta choice is the Fettuccini Alfredo with shrimp. The pasta is nicely al dente and although I would prefer this dish with a penne or fusilli pasta or even a tagliatelle, the fettuccini works well. The sauce has authenticity and is appropriately mellow without being overly creamy.
As we said, this is a place that’s designed for comfortable family dining. It works well on that level and is a welcome addition to the dining “scene” out in this area!