Big Hungry Shelby
Fill up your day at
The Church Street Diner in Carthage
PUBLISHED: SUNDAY, JUNE 21, 2015 AT 12:30 AM
CARTHAGE — “Never too late for breakfast and never too early for lunch” is a motto I can get behind. It reflects the attitude that greets you on the Church Street Diner’s website, as well as in the restaurant’s tiny, eight-table dining room in Carthage. If you leave the Church Street Diner hungry, that’s on you, buddy, because these people’s mission seems to befilling up the stomachs of its patrons.
The brick storefront on Church Street is so diminutive that it could be the neighborhood diner adjacent to a girl’s dollhouse. It leads to a homey, light-filled dining room decked out with a jam-jar wallpaper border and wall-mounted saw blades painted with pastoral scenes.
The kitchen is open, so you can watch your server, plus two cooks, hustle to churn out all the handcrafted grub into which you’re about to tuck. The tiny size helps with the speedy service, and the fact that the tables around us were all as jovial as we were proved to me that my feelings about the place
Let’s start with the appetizer. That’s right, we had an appetizer before our breakfast — hot-from-the-fryer yeast doughnuts, just $1.25 for three! You choose from powdered sugar or cinnamon, or a combo. They were piping hot, with a good crust and an airy but chewy texture. Some yeast doughnuts collapse and disintegrate in your mouth as soon as you bite into them, but these babies are more substantial, the glutens in the flour developed a bit more to achieve a more complex texture.
The cinnamon is good quality, so the cinnamon sugar doughnuts don’t taste just of sweetness, but also that mouth-tingling spice. I could have easily put down all three of these myself, and for $1.25, that would be some affordable gluttony.
French toast ($5.29) is made with store-bought sandwich bread, but the batter elevates it above the ordinary. There seemed to be more milk than egg in this preparation, so the flavor and texture were more creamy than anything else. Doused in locally made maple syrup, it was a large portion, tender, rich and sweet.
Pancakes ($7.28) were huge; two were more than enough for this hungry lady, though you can order more. You’ll find that nearly every dish at Church Street is customizable. These were, unfortunately, a little tough for me, as if the batter had been overmixed. Developing glutens is good for doughnuts, but a pancake batter should be just brought together without too much beating.
The bacon served with them was good, though — crispy without losing its chew, not too salty or fatty, just porky and good. It was absolutely perfectly cooked.
Papa’s breakfast ($7.49) came with wheat toast made with bread I suspect was baked next door at the Bombay Duck Pickle Café, which is on my list to visit soon. It was terrific — grainy, chewy and packed with a dense, deep, almost fermented wheat flavor.
The corned beef hash originated from a can, which made me sad, but at least it was treated with respect in Church Street’s petite kitchen — flat-top griddled, as the diner gods intended. You can order your home fries with or without onions here, and they cook them to order. Our home fries, with onions, could have even been a bit greasier for my taste, but I loved watching them prepared fresh, and they made an excellent receptacle for ketchup, which is a huge compliment in the breakfast potato genre.
Poached eggs in this dish were cooked exactly to order — this was a massive platter of good food for less than $8.
Our waitress kept our coffee mugs full, despite handling all six of the occupied tables herself and helping out in the kitchen. It was good, strong coffee, and fresh, too. Breakfast for three came to $28.56, although you’ll probably want a couple of orders of fresh doughnuts when you go, so bring an extra dollar and a quarter!
I haven’t tried lunch at Church Street, though I could have, as both breakfast and lunch are served all day. The cafe’s burgers are made with Angus beef, and while the menu items are pretty standard diner fare, there is a note that special orders are welcome. Also, the soups and potato chips are homemade — which earns points. Unfortunately, the canned hash and tough pancakes subtracts them. Reviewing math is a complex discipline, you guys.
I award the Church Street Diner a seven on the Big Hungry Shelby scale. Those doughnuts and the convivial atmosphere in this lovely little locale comprise much of that score, but I also appreciated the graciousness with which our waitress handled my inadvertent spilling of some water, and the straight-up hustle of the entire staff. Well, and the bacon. Chewy AND crispy gets me every time.
It could very well be that the mission of the Church Street Diner isn’t just to fill up your stomach, but to fill up your day. That’s what a great meal can do, am I right? I don’t know what the north country is trying to do to me with this bonanza of wonderful, housemade doughnuts lately, but I need to spend some quality time with my treadmill to figure it all out.
Big Hungry Shelby — aka Shelby Cohen — wants to hear from you. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BigHungryShel by and on Facebook: Big Hungry Shelby group or http://wdt.me/shelby.
BHS recommends: doughnuts, wheat toast, French toast
Mon - Thurs: 6am - 2pm
Fri: 6am - 6pm
Sat & Sun: 7am - 2pm
"Where you're never too late for breakfast or too early for lunch."