All the Way (to Carthage), Jose

I haven’t done a review from the North Country in ages, Big Hungries! I am so sorry, but it has been a summer and fall of frantic travel. In fact, in addition to this week’s examination of West Carthage’s most recent belle of the ball, I still have New York City and Boston restaurants to tell you about, plus New Haven, CT, a mini-review of a Syracuse breakfast jackpot, and half of an opinion formed on Binghamton’s newest brew pub. I’m excited to announce that I’ll also be dining at Skewed Brewing, The Hops Spot’s newest Mall-based venture, which is being helmed by Gabe Aubertine’s longtime partner-in-crime Andy Werhle, at Christmastime, so it won’t be long before I have a write-up ready on that deliciousness.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Jose O’Connors, in West Carthage, is what happens when an Irish girl and a Latino guy fall in love and make wonderful little bouncing baby restaurants. While I was hoping for a few more Mexican delights on the casual, eclectic menu, the array of burgers, housemade appetizers and snacks, and tons of specials didn’t disappoint. We beered up, and Dad assumed the position of the Most Interesting Man in West Carthage:

I started with the French onion soup, simply due to a general, persistent hankering for cheesy, salty, goodness. Jose’s FOS was a particularly luscious example, topped with extraordinarily gooey Swiss cheese. The broth was subtle compared to the usually au jus-adjacent beefy consommĂ©, but it was still complex, with lots of deep vegetable flavor. I would not have been surprised to learn that this was a vegetarian iteration of the classic. Also nice: the onions in the soup, while caramelized, were not total mush. The overall effect was much more of a vegetable soup with a tangy, sharp Swiss accent than the mellow, rich feel you get from most FOSs.

My Dad got the sirloin steak special, which overall was a tad on the salty side, but brought it screaming into the winner’s circle with its side dish of Brussels sprouts roasted with cippolini onions, lardon and tiny new potatoes. The big chunks of lardon (slab bacon) and roasted down onions and garlic translated into an utterly unctuous, autumnal festival of flavor. If this happens to grace the specials when you visit, go for it. Match the steak with bites of the sprouts, and you will be a happy camper. I tried to talk the patriarch of the table next to us into this dish, though his Brussels sprout protests were mighty. He refused, and the lack of gorgeous, nutty, tiny green veggies to hit his table were his own damn fault. Of course, when his little family, including two 20-somethings, began to do shots of brown liquor at the dinner table a few moments later, I remembered I was in Carthage, not Philadelphia, and cut him some slack. Some people just never grown up to want to eat their vegetables, which is dumb because Pinterest just told me that Brussels sprouts are in the top 10 list of super foods.

Mom got the pub burger and fries, and while I didn’t taste her burger, she reported that it was a bit over-seasoned, but juicy even ordered medium-well. The shoestring fries were fabulous. Again, very thoroughly seasoned, AKA salted, but crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, like homemade fries should be.

I went for the Tuscan pizza, on the specials menu that evening. It was adorned with black olives, artichokes, and onions; it was supposed to have sausage, which was one of my motivations for ordering it, but there was not a morsel of detectable sausage on that pie. I don’t know if they forgot the sausage, or if the person making the menu board that night smoked something weird before work, or what, but it was a little annoying. The real kalamata olives were a welcome surprise, however, and I liked the airy, thin crust. One other oddity, seemingly a connecting thread through all our meals, was a sprinkle of sea salt around the edge of that crust. At first, I was delighted by this addition – I love salt! But honestly, the salty olives and the brined artichokes with the saline crust was just too much, even for me. My advice would be to skip the pizza here if you’re sensitive to salt, even though the toppings were great and the crust was pleasingly thin and crunchy.
I very much appreciated the craftsmanship in all of the food brought to our table at Jose O’Connors, but I do think there’s a basic taste level difference between whoever was cooking there the night we visited and my family. Our taste buds disagree. Again, I’m a girl who puts grey salt in my hot cocoa and makes oatmeal with garlic salt and white pepper, but most of our food tasted overtly salty to me, though the textures and other flavors were good. We scored Jose’s a six on the BHS scale, though I will say that I would definitely go back here, and would very much like to explore some of the specials they’ve been posting recently to their Facebook page, like a poutine burger and fried mac and cheese bites.

It’s a good spot to hit if you’ve worked up an appetite in Carthage, and have no fear about your attire - in jeans and non-logo t-shirts, we were the most dressed up people in the room. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

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