The opening of Carmen's Lunch Bar in 2012 was the result of a convergence of dreams and opportunity, when Owner Mari Carmen Josephs brought her idea of a neighborhood restaurant with eclectic cuisine to a local competition.
"I wanted to create a neighborhood restaurant that focused on delicious, from-scratch cuisine that would maximize the limited space. The concept of a lunch bar allows us to seat the most people possible and serve guests with the greatest efficiency," she recalls. Winning the the Pensacola Business Challenge gave her the opportunity to utilize the the small space located on Palafox Street, in the heart of downtown Pensacola.
The prize was one year of free rent plus partial funding to help with the build out of the space, and so Carmen's Lunch Bar was born. By day it's the friendly neighborhood place serving food inspired by international and southern cuisines, and in the evenings it transforms into a tapas bar with intimate lighting and a social atmosphere.
The setting is cozy and friendly, says Josephs: "The centerpiece of Carmen's is an 18-seat U-shaped bar. We have an additional four seats in the window where guests can watch the world go by. Four tables on our front patio also allow us to have an outside dining area. The bar has a very intimate and cozy atmosphere."
Favorites from the lunch menu are the soda bread, kale salad, soup of the day and the Spanish Crab Melt Sandwich. From the Tapas menu, the popular favorites are the Spanish Lump Crab Toasts, cheese plate, and sliders, both the Stracotto Slow-Roasted Beef Slider and the Ciabatta Cubana Slider. Josephs' favorite item is the Spanish Crab Melt Sandwich: "hands-down our best-selling item and my favorite! This sandwich is served open face on ciabatta bread and has jumbo lump crab, manchego cheese & chorizo sausage. It's rich, creamy & decadent!"
The food is eclectic and farm fresh. Josephs says that "We strive to make consistently delicious and unique food that is fresh and full of flavor. My travels, especially to Spain, influenced the design and menu at Carmen's." There are dishes with a unique twist on Spanish, Italian, Indian, Thai, Moroccan and Southern recipes. Josephs does not have a culinary degree but learned her craft in the best ways possible - through work, travel and her mother's recipes.
All items are made from scratch, Josephs says, including chicken stock: "We roast chicken on the bone for our chicken salad and our chicken tikka masala. We then use all of the leftover bones to make the homemade chicken stock, which is the base for all of our soups. We also make all of our desserts in house." The two dessert selections are changed everyday and may include a one-cup bake like Chocolate Guinness Cake, Hummingbird Cake, Carrot Cake or Apple-Cranberry-Walnut Cake, and a gluten free dessert selection, which is typically a crustless cheesecake, with flavors like Butterscotch, Blackberry, Cappuccino or Pistachio-Lime-Ginger.
Carmen's is open Monday-Saturday and serves lunch from 11-4 and tapas from 4-8.