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Holly Jean’s Cuisine: comfort food in Carthage

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CARTHAGE — There’s a delightful little place in Carthage serving food with a flair for breakfast and lunch —and dinner on Fridays.

Holly Jean’s Cuisine is housed in an unassuming little free-standing building on the outskirts of downtown Carthage. Except for the nicely lettered sign out front that seemed to assure a visitor-friendly establishment, the exterior was generally unremarkable.

But while it doesn’t look like much from the outside, there’s a whole different world waiting on the inside. It’s cozy and a bit crowded, with every square inch put to use. There’s a small counter with stools and right next to it a compact dining area with small tables.

This neat and clean little eatery is a dream come true for Holly Yousey. After decades of working in the insurance business, she decided to “retire” and “do something fun.”

Holly’s version of fun is getting up well before dawn seven days a week to bake fresh bread for her recently opened café. Being around food has been a love of hers most of her life, she says. Her passion for cooking and for people became obvious within minutes of our arrival.

There’s Holly, a bespectacled middle-aged lady in her comfort zone behind the small counter. On the other side of the counter, there’s a young guy in a sleeveless Hooters T-shirt talking to her about eating rattlesnake out West somewhere. There’s an older guy talking about doing some plumbing repairs in his house.

All of a sudden, I join in the conversation because I’m working on a plumbing project at home as well. I didn’t have much to say to the rattlesnake guy. In the middle of this whole mess is Cat, the sharp and eager new waitress just off a lifelong career in construction, doubling as moderator for the whole bunch of us.

When we finally get around to ordering food, Cat is ready for us, pen and pad in hand. While most people don’t have questions about diner food preparation, my lunch buddy and I had a few — if nothing more than to test Cat’s first day on the new job and her sense of humor.

With each question, Cat would shout from our table across the room to Holly behind the counter.

We asked if the meatloaf was homemade. “Is the meatloaf homemade?” Cat shouted.

“Yes, but I’m out of it today” Holly hollered back.

We asked how spicy the sauce was on the Buffalo chicken sandwich. “How spicy is the wing sauce?” Cat shouted to Holly.

“It’s hot, but I can tone it down for you” Holly replied.

Cat obviously missed the training session. But it didn’t matter. We all enjoyed some good-natured back-and-forth bantering throughout our visit.

After getting a feel for the place it was time for lunch, beginning with soup of the day, corn chowder. It came in a large glass mug, a rich and thick chowder nicely appointed with tasty bacon and crunchy corn along with chunks of potato.

Since meatloaf was not available, we went with a tantalizing sandwich from the daily specials board, a pot roast beef sandwich with french fries and gravy.

Not plain old roast beef, but pot roast — probably one of the best hot sandwiches we’ve ever eaten. You could tell the meat was browned and slow-roasted. It fell apart and melted in your mouth, nestled between two thick slices of homemade bread.

The fries, good quality commercial ones, were enhanced by Holly’s excellent dark and rich gravy, just like grandma used to make. Only better.

The tasty and tangy Buffalo chicken sandwich consisted of shredded chicken, not-too-spicy hot wing sauce, blue cheese and ranch dressing all on a toasted quality bun. It was like eating chicken wings without the hassle of the bones.

Holly actually took the time to mellow out the hot sauce for us. I asked her how she did it (I knew how but just wanted to see what she’d say) and she replied, “I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.”

Glad I knew.

We also tried one of her deli meat sandwiches, turkey breast on thick whole-wheat bread, provolone cheese (which you’d never expect in a small place like this) and a leaf of romaine lettuce (which you’d never expect either) and just a touch of mayo.

It was a substantial sandwich, easily as good as you’d get at a big-city delicatessen, served with potato chips. A side of homemade cole slaw was excellent, the perfect balance of sweet and sour.

Hot fudge sundae came in a huge bowl and was more than we could eat after a filling lunch. We also sampled a slice of blueberry cake smothered in whipped topping.

Lunch for two — but really enough food for three — came to $29.03 before tip.

Our experience at Holly Jean’s Cuisine was one of good, hard-working, honest people creating great comfort food at reasonable prices.

We plan to stop back and hope you get a chance to visit Holly Jean’s as well.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.

Holly Jean’s Cuisine

560 West End Ave.

Carthage, N.Y.

523-9109

A cozy little café/diner serving great homemade comfort food at reasonable prices

HOURS: 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday

Open till 8 p.m. Friday for dinner

7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

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