UPDATE: Carolyn is now at Clarkie's Diner in Calimesa, 13661 Calimesa Blvd. 

The Cuisine Scene
Brenda Hill

Carolyn's Cafe
Redlands, CA

Since I’m not a California native, I’m still discovering places to visit in the area. I love when people tell me about a good restaurant, and it doesn’t matter if it’s an elegant establishment with linen tablecloths or a smaller place where you order at the counter. What does matter is the food: Does it taste good? And do you get good value for your money?

While other people rave over a decorated plate with colorful swirls surrounding a miniscule food item, I tend to shy away from such places. When I see, for instance, three spears of asparagus artistically arranged in a starburst formation around a sliver of potato propped over two bites of meat, alarms go off and I instantly think I’m getting very little food at a very high price. My feeling is, save the decorations and give me good value.

I recognize the need for such places, however, especially for impressing a new boss or a spouse’s parents, but that’s not what I’m looking for at this particular time.

Now when I try a new restaurant, I want to know what is special about it. Why would I want to return? Do they have at least one dish that I especially like?

That’s the way it was with Carolyn’s Café near the Citrus Plaza. I didn’t even know it was there, but Kathryn, who doesn’t normally eat sweets, raved about their coffee cake. When she said she wanted to go back and have another piece, I knew I had to check it out.
Located across Lugonia from J.C. Penny’s at the Citrus Plaza, Carolyn’s has been open over a year and doing a brisk business by word of mouth. Sitting a few doors West of the DMV, I’d never noticed it, and I love investigating small, out-of-the-way places. But, as I'm a night owl just getting to sleep when she opens at six in the morning, it was easy for me to miss.

Inside, I was struck by the muted greens and yellows. ‘Soothing,’ Kathryn commented. Housing about eight booths, the cafe also offers seating at the counter. In addition to a four-page menu, daily soup and dessert specials were listed on an eraser board.

Monday: navy bean
Tuesday: creamy broccoli potato
Wednesday: corn chowder
Thursday: chicken & rice
Friday: clam chowder
Daily: vegetable Beef
A cup for $2.00, Bowl for $3.20
Peach cobbler dessert

We were there on a Thursday, so their homemade soup was chicken and rice plus their daily vegetable beef. I love homemade chicken soup, but they were out by early afternoon, so I tried the vegetable beef. Many restaurants make it, but I haven’t found many where I’d return simply to have their soup. Carolyn’s is the exception. The broth was rich with flavor, thick with beef, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and other vegetables. I only tried a cup, but next time I’ll have a bowl.

Carolyn Strickland, the owner, said she’ll have heartier soups for the winter such as split pea, and plans dishes like chicken and dumplings and grilled cheese with tomato soup.

No stranger to the restaurant business, she began in 1975 with Sambos in Claremont, where she met her husband who was cooking at the time. Together, they worked several chains, including the Country Kitchen in Phoenix. She was with Kays Café in Highland for over eleven years, then, with the development around Citrus Plaza, she saw the opportunity to open her own café. She recruited her twin sons and daughter in law to help. Bradley, one of the twins, enjoys learning the business between repairing Harley-Davidsons.

(Bradley & mother, Carolyn Strickland)

Since they open at 6am, they serve several breakfasts including their three-egg Scramblers for $7.95. The Veggie is scrambled with mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes and onions, and they offer four others ranging from The Denver, the chili-cheese with homemade steak chili, the Spanish with Ortega chilies, cheeses, and all are served with country-fried potatoes or a cup of fruit, and choice of toast, English muffin, biscuit & gravy, or coffee cake.

They also offer the standard breakfasts of eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits & gravy, country fried steak and eggs and corned beef hash. Pancakes are popular, especially the pecan or chocolate chip stacks, $4.74 for four pancakes, or a short stack of two pancakes, for $3.75. They also have waffles and French toast.

Some of the sides are oatmeal, bagels, and biscuits & gravy.

Their lunch sandwiches and burgers for $7.75 include the club, a triple-decker with turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, the French dip on a toasted French roll, and the melts-patty, tuna, beef or turkey, and the Reuben, with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread. Burgers come in about four varieties, the avocado cheese, Ortega cheese, bacon or mushroom cheese. The above are served with choice of French fries, onion rings, salad, cup of soup or fruit.

House Specialties are the Western Chicken sandwich and a Frisco Burger of a beef patty, bacon, lettuce, cheese, 1000 Island dressing, all on grilled parmesan sourdough bread for $8.50.

Other specialties include country fried steak with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy for $7.95, chicken strips, hot meatloaf sandwich as well as hot turkey and hot beef.

Lunch-size salads are $7.00 and served with cheesy garlic bread. They have Asian chicken salad with poppy seed dressing, and tuna salad, spinach and bacon salad, plus several other chicken choices.

Kathryn ordered the chicken Caesar with the dressing on the side.

And I had the fried chicken salad with blu cheese.

But what Kathryn loved was their homemade coffee cake. Carolyn said it's more of a cinnamon-streusel and it’s heated and topped with real butter.

I tasted it and found it good, but like a true Southerner, I went for the peach cobbler. Made with pie crust instead of a crumbly crust, I felt I was in heaven. I declined ice cream and happily poured cream over it. Remember, Southerners are the ones who dunked crusty skillet cornbread in buttermilk. I guess my grandfather wasn’t the only one who loved weird things.

Open 7 days
6am-2pm Monday through Saturday
7am-2pm Sunday
1711 Lugonia Ave
Redlands, CA  92374