Never has the notion of home been more malleable than in 2016. Many baby boomers recall home life anchored by shared meals — daily breakfasts and dinners with the family — while scores of millennials know little of such ritualized eating habits.
So how does a restaurant calling itself Home Sweet Home cover enough bases to satisfy customers with widely varying concepts of what that is?
The new Carytown spot in the former Mezzanine space casts a wide net with a menu built around the homiest of sandwiches, the grilled cheese. It colors in the rest of the picture with the trappings of a neighborhood bar: sports on television, open-mic nights, karaoke and dart tournaments. Happy hour runs 4-8 p.m. during the week, ensuring a scarcity of bar stools and the elevated din of happy drinkers.
Home to me means my family’s traditions — fried chicken Sundays, fish Fridays — and always grilled cheese and tomato soup on Halloween. By those standards, it’s Halloween every day at Home Sweet Home, where each of the specialty grilled cheeses is served with a side of house-made tomato soup — not that lackluster Campbell’s variety my mother foisted on us — but a thick, chicken-stock-based soup with notes of fire-roasted tomatoes. Ramekins leave the table licked clean.
Forget panini makers, these grilled cheese sandwiches kick it old school, originating on the grill and arriving gloriously golden brown and oozing. If you’ve planned a restaurant around a simple sandwich, they’d better deliver. The ones I try rock.
The kitchen all but dares you not to pay attention to the Upstate ($8), one of those beautifully balanced hits of sweet and salty, which teams the tang of super-sharp Vermont cheddar with bacon and gala apple slices on honey-wheat bread, the kicker being a side of maple syrup for dipping.
Creamy and delicately flavored, the Chesapeake ($10) is a standout, pulling crab dip from the appetizer menu and marrying it with spinach and white cheddar on white bread for a distinctive sandwich that left us feeling as if we’d overindulged at the food table of a party. No regrets here.
Bigger appetites and acronym fans find sustenance in the rib-sticking WTF ($10) of house-smoked brisket, fontina, caramelized onions and fried sage leaves on sourdough. If brisket’s your thing, you can also savor its distinctive smokiness without cheese in a sandwich ($12) made wicked with crunchy pickled Napa cabbage and zesty homemade steak sauce inside a sturdy roll.
Whether you’re looking to launch a meal or just craving bar food, Home Sweet Home dishes up abundant crowd-pleasers. Those who don’t do well with heat but still crave wings ($9) won’t be left out of the fun given the sticky pleasures of a sauce charged with nonthreatening notes of cider vinegar, chili sauce and brown sugar.
Next to the kitchen I spot a bucket of water-covered potatoes destined to become crispy hand-cut fries ($4-$6), with options of spiced ketchup, barbecue sauce, mayo or house dressing riding shotgun.
I can just about guarantee you that Tatooine ($9) — besides being the grooviest name for a poutine riff ever — won’t stick around long. The bliss of meaty tasting gravy and cheese curds over — that’s right, Tater Tots — is just this side of toe-curlingly fabulous.
All’s right with the world when we stop by for brunch on an unseasonably warm day to find the patio open to a view of Carytown’s colorful street theater. Easy to fall for and hearty enough to handle a hangover, Buenos Dias ($10) sports a fried egg atop a mound of pulled pork, black beans, house-made pico de gallo and queso fresco on a flour tortilla base.
The biggest misstep is the Good Morning ($9), three thick slices of brioche french toast dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg, and crowned with butter-sautéed apples. The brioche isn’t up to the task and comes across like the blandest of milk toast, and not in the way food writer M.F.K. Fisher celebrated, but more like pap. Take a pass.
Service over three visits is sunny and casual, if a tad distracted during happy hour when the bar crowd dominates. But with ’80s pop playing, as it usually is, and your server dancing the moves to Hall and Oates’ “Say It Isn’t So” past your table, you may flash back to a showboating sibling at the family dinner table. Sounds like home to me. S
Home Sweet Home
Mondays-Fridays 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
3433 W. Cary St.