Joan “Carolyn” Thomas is all set and ready to fry. The second incarnation of her soul-food restaurant, Carolyn’s Southern Comfort Cuisine, had its grand opening Saturday and she is determined to make Carolyn’s 2.0 a success.
In her spotless kitchen, Thomas attends to the fryer — actually three dedicated fryers: one for chicken, one for fish and one for shellfish so that no customer’s order is compromised by the “wrong” oil. Instead of pork, Thomas uses smoked turkey legs for dishes, like collards, that need a smoky, savory backbone, but she also makes a vegan version for those trying to avoid meat entirely.
The menu is straight-ahead soul: fried chicken (with or without waffles), grilled honey-BBQ chicken, fried whiting and catfish and shrimp, chicken-fried steak, grits, collards, mac & cheese, fried okra, hush puppies, yam pudding. Among the rotating daily soups are Southern bean (Monday), seafood gumbo (Thursday) and chicken-dumpling (Friday). There are also burgers, salads and desserts, including banana pudding and peach cobbler. Entree prices hover in the low-to-mid teens — and each one comes with two sides and cornbread.
Thomas operated Carolyn’s Cuisine in Amityville from 2014 to 2017 and was “devastated” when she had to close for lack of business. In the interim three years, she earned a MWBE (Minority-Woman-Owned Business Enterprise) certification and honed her cooking chops by catering. “It has always been my dream to own a restaurant,” she said. “I like catering, but when you have a restaurant you interact with so many people from all walks of life who just come in and want to eat. A customer might come in the worst mood. And then he eats something I made that warms his belly, warms his soul. I can see him smile.”
Thomas credits her aunt and grandmother for instilling in her the passion for cooking. She grew up in Uniondale, but would spend her summers at their house in Great Neck. “The other kids were playing outside,” she recalled, “and I was inside with two old ladies, peeling potatoes, making apple pie.” (Although they lived in Great Neck, the family’s roots were in the Carolinas.)
Her first career was in nursing, then she owned a day-care facility so she could work and take care of her young children at the same time. It was after a divorce that she decided to finally realize the dream of opening a restaurant.
The simple dining room accommodates about 30 diners at tables and a bar. A beer-and-wine license is in the works so that patrons “can enjoy a beer or a glass of wine just like they were at home.” Takeout is also available.
Carolyn’s takes over what used to be Gyro Factory in the same Hempstead Avenue Service Road stretch as Pastrami Plus. It’s open for lunch and dinner every day but Sunday.
Carolyn’s Southern Comfort Cuisine is at 2564 Hempstead Tpke., East Meadow, 516-396-0660.