SweeTea Bakery Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sweet Tea Bakery Cafe on San Mateo

In some metropolitan areas, legions of restaurant bloggers dissect and report on every facet of the area’s dining scene. These bloggers have a significant impact on the restaurant choices diners make. That fact isn’t lost on savvy restaurateurs—particularly young entrepreneurs active in social media–who solicit feedback on their restaurants from the dynamic food blogger community. Some restaurateurs who understand the power of online reviews even engage in “food blogger outreach campaigns” and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with food bloggers. Alas, this doesn’t often happen in Albuquerque—maybe because you can count on one hand (with at least two fingers left over) the number of active food bloggers with staying power and brand recognition.  There is anecdotal evidence that Duke City restaurant review bloggers have some impact, but it hasn’t been quantified.

You can also count on one hand the number of restaurateurs who have actually invited me to experience their new restaurant ventures. On the rare occasion in which a restaurateur does invite me, it reaffirms for me that the restaurateur: (1) recognizes food bloggers as a legitimate, credible and influential medium; and (2) understands the power of blog-based reviews to amplify a positive dining experience. So, when Anh and Tammie, the vivacious owners of the SweeTea (the expected “t” is redundant) Bakery Café on San Mateo, invited me to “come sample and review our new sandwich bakery” and expressed their “excitement to get feedback from food experts like you,” I leaped at the opportunity…though careful as always to remain as inconspicuous as my linebacker size and “real” camera will allow.

Owners Tammie Nguyen (left) and Any Nguyen

It didn’t immediately dawn on me that I may have “outed” myself when ordering a durian-coconut smoothie. Durian, as regular readers may recognize, is considered “the world’s smelliest fruit.” Its odoriferous emanations have been likened to body odor, smelly feet, rotten onions, garbage and worse. Our server’s reaction—a shock and awe mix of “you are kidding, aren’t you?” and “do you really know what you’re ordering?”–is typical. Perhaps sensing the server’s trepidation, Anh Nguyen stepped out to confirm the sheer madness or foolhardiness of my beverage order. She laughed when I told her I was Vietnamese in my previous life, acknowledged that durian is an acquired taste which very few people acquire then proceeded to give us a guided tour of the bakery-café’s pastry case.

This wasn’t some special treatment accorded to a food blogger who could perhaps influence venturesome Duke City diners (remember, Anh didn’t yet know who I was). This is how SweeTea’s staff treats everyone who walks into the premises for the first time. With the pride of a young parent, Anh practically beamed as she aptly described each pulchritudinous pastry, a phalanx of sweet and savory treasures displayed under glass. It’s a wonder drool tracks don’t obscure your view; many a museum’s most cherished masterpieces pale in comparison to these pastries. Their appeal is heightened by Anh’s enthusiastic descriptions.

View of the Pastry Case and Order Counter

After our meal had been delivered to our table, Anh stopped by to see how we were enjoying it…and “caught me” carefully photographing our bounty. Surmising my gig was up, I proceeded to reveal my identity as a mild-mannered food blogger who can eat tall banh mi in a single (well, maybe ten) bite(s). She reproved me for having paid for the meal myself, indicating that having invited me she had intended to treat us to our meal. Noting our table was brimming with savory fare, she excused herself, returning scant minutes later with a trove of baked goods—eight enticing delicacies as dainty and beautiful as those baked by a Parisian patisserie.

Ahn then summoned her partner and long-time friend Tammie Nguyen to join us. If you’ve ever admired those framed portraits of statuesque Vietnamese women which adorn the walls at some Vietnamese restaurants, in Anh and Tammie you’ll see vivid confirmation that such elegant beauty does exist. Theirs is an easy friendship borne of shared years and experiences. Before launching SweeTea, Ahn worked as a pharmacist while Tammie toiled as a software engineer.  As restaurateurs they’re naturals with an ambassadorial flair all good restaurateurs have.  They’re passionate about giving their guests a memorable and delicious experience.

Meatball Banh Mi

If you ever visited the defunct House of Pho, the location’s previous occupant at Montgomery Plaza, you’ll be amazed at the wholesale transformation the 1,800 square-foot space has undergone. A complete make-over has converted a nondescript restaurant venue into one which bespeaks of both modernity and hominess. A mural depicting Singapore’s high-rise dominated skyline covers an entire wall. It’s eye-catching, but the true cynosure of the attractive milieu is the pastry case with its enticing fare. Seating is more functional than it is comfortable unless you manage to snag the comfortable red sectional sofa where you can stretch out. Anh expects a robust take-out business so the dozen or so seats should be just about right for those of us who want to eat in.

SweeTea is patterned after 85 °C Bakery Café, a Taiwanese chain of coffee shops and self-serve bakeries with a huge presence in California. Guests employ tongs to extricate their favorite (or soon-to-be favorite) pastries from self-serve pastry cases then pile them onto a tray and ferry them to the counter. In other pastry cases, you’ll see such delicacies as cheesecake and fruit-filled tarts. Above the counter you’ll espy a menu showcasing an appealing selection of delicious Vietnamese sandwiches, small bites, special entree dishes, unique specialty drinks and bubble tea. It’s an ambitious menu considering the relatively Lilliputian size of the bakery-cafe, but it’s not exclusively Vietnamese.

Bulgogi Banh Mi

Anh explained that contemporary Vietnamese food has been heavily influenced by nearly a century of French colonialism. The influx of French flavors, ingredients and techniques essentially revolutionized traditional Vietnamese food. One of the most visible aspects of modern French-inspired Vietnamese food is the crusty baguette, the basis for banh mi, the widely popular Vietnamese sandwich. Sweet and savory pastries, sweet breads, chocolate-filled croissants and other tantalizing baked goods may now be ubiquitous in Vietnam, but their origin is French.

“In Vietnam,” Anh told me “it takes a lot more work to make a banh mi.” That’s because ovens are still relatively scarce within family homes. Throughout Ho Chi Minh City where she was born, banh mi are a featured fare of the makeshift street markets in which “kitchens” are ad-libbed by inventive cooks. The fragrant bouquet of ambrosial street foods being prepared on small, sometimes homemade, charcoal braziers wafts throughout the alleyways and side streets in which these, mostly uncovered, markets are located. Though she can’t hope to recreate the incomparable experience of preparing banh mi in the street food style of her birthplace, she certainly knows what it takes to create the best to be found in Albuquerque.

Egg Rolls

Before launching SweeTea, Anh and Tammie returned to Vietnam to study baking techniques then spent time refining recipes to adapt to Albuquerque’s high altitude, high alkaline water and arid climate.  These challenges have baffled transplanted bakers for years, but with lots of practice, water-softening technology and a determination to treat Duke City diners to the very and most authentic best banh mi in New Mexico, they’ve got it down pat.  The authenticity is immediately obvious in that the baguettes (baked on the premises, not purchased at Costco) have a perfect balance of pillowy softness inside and crustiness of the exterior.  Moreover, Anh explained, banh mi sandwiches are supposed to be at least twelve-inches long as they are at SweeTea.

In our first two visits, we enjoyed five banh mi, each one dressed with picked carrots, daikon relish, cilantro, jalapeño, cucumbers and SweeTea mayo.  Banh mi aren’t ungashtupt (that’s Yiddish for overstuffed) in the manner of American sandwiches.  There’s just enough meat in each of the five sandwiches we enjoyed to complement the accompanying vegetables without obscuring the freshness and deliciousness of the baguette.  Each banh mi is a balance of flavors in perfect proportion to one another.  My early favorite is the meatball banh mi.  If you’re picturing golf ball-sized meatballs as you’d find in an Italian meatball sandwich, you won’t find them here, but you will find them addictively delicious.  These “meatballs” have neither the texture nor orb-like shape of Italian meatballs.  They are instead more akin to a very moist, very well-seasoned ground pork simmered in tomato sauce.

Chicken Dumplings

My Kim enjoyed the bulgogi banh mi most.  Bulgogi is certainly not Vietnamese.  It is instead the signature dish of Korea,  what many Americans refer to as Korean barbecue–thin strips of marinated lean beef imbued with a harmonious marriage of sweet, savory and spicy tastes.  The fusion of signature elements from Korean and Vietnamese culinary cultures is a winner, but in terms of flavor profile, it’s not significantly different than the grilled pork banh mi.  For more distinctive, savory flavors try the grilled sausage banh mi, a pork-based sausage redolent with the flavors of fish sauce and garlic.  If “cold-cut” sandwiches are your preference, you’ll love the #1 Special Banh Mi made with Vietnamese ham, pork roll, headcheese and pate (yet another delicacy for which Vietnam can thank France).  Don’t let the term “headcheese” scare you off.  There’s not enough of it to overwhelm the sandwich.  Besides, it’s a nice complement to the other ingredients.

But I digress.  Before you get to the banh mi, you’ll want to enjoy at least two of the four listed “small bites” on the menu.  Make one of them the deep-fried, golden-hued egg rolls.  Come to think of it, you may want two orders of these cigar-shaped beauties lest you risk fighting over who gets the third one (being a gentleman, I always let my Kim have it then stew over it later).  Served with a sweet-savory and slightly tart sauce of thick viscosity, these egg rolls are generously stuffed and perfectly fried.  They’re absolutely delicious.

Vermicelli with Grilled Pork

For those of us who dine with a spouse or partner, the matter of appetizers served in odd-numbered quantities can be confounding.  Exempli gratia, the pan-fried chicken dumplings which are served five to an order.  You’ll probably covet all five of these crescent-shaped beauties for yourself.  Who can blame you?  They’re tender and plump, filled with fresh, tasty minced chicken fried to a crispy (but not greasy) golden-hue.  There’s only one thing missing–and that’s the elusive sixth dumpling to make it an even-numbered starter so neither you or your partner will feel short-changed. 

While not a compendium-like menu (such as the 145-items at nearby Saigon Restaurant), SweeTea offers more than enough entrees to make it not just your favorite pastry provider, but a very viable lunch or dinner option.  In thirty or forty visits, for example, you might  want to deviate from the banh mi menu.  There to sate and likely hook you are seven vermicelli options, each made with the same familiar proteins you love on the bahn mi.  The grilled pork vermicelli is a resplendent swimming pool-sized bowl crammed with vermicelli noodles, cucumber, bean sprouts, cilantro, lettuce, pickled carrot and daikon, scallion and roasted peanuts served with SweeTea fish sauce.  If freshness has a flavor, it’s exemplified by this dish in which a melange of ingredients and flavors coalesce into a palate-pleasing, tongue-titillating bowl of pure gustatory enjoyment.

Assorted Vietnamese Pastries

Now for the pastries!  Trays of these artisanal delicacies are baked twice daily so you’ll always have fresh pastries on hand. That is until the bakery runs out…and if you get to SweeTea late in the day, you just might find slim pickings. Not that a limited selection is a bad thing. It’s how we discovered the cinnamon rose buns, (not pictured) cinnamon rolls shaped like roses.  Unlike those overly-glazed grocery store pretenders, the prevalent flavor here is sweet cinnamon in perfect proportion to the soft bread dough which unravels easily.  After two visits and nine different pastries, these may be my favorite…at least until I try another new one.  

For years the Coconut Craisins Butterfly at Banh Mi Coda has been my favorite of all Vietnamese pastries.  Though somewhat smaller, SweeTea’s version is better…more of the coconut-raising marriage we love.  For my Kim, the nutella buns reign supreme.  She’s fiendishly addicted to the sweetened hazelnut cocoa spread and smiles broadly with every bite of the soft buns.  We both love the “not your traditional banana nut bread” which is baked with fresh rum-soaked bananas and is topped with walnuts.  This is not your mother’s dry, tasteless banana nut bread.  It’s rich, moist and utterly decadent.  SweeTea’s signature pastry is the Kim Sa Bun, a soft bun filled with egg custard and with a cookie crust top.  Anh described the painstaking process of brining the egg yolks to prepare the custard, a labor of love for a pastry you will love.  

More Pastry Deliciousness

24 December 2016: It stands to reason that innovative and avant-garde restaurateurs such as Anh and Tammie wouldn’t subject their guests to the de rigueur Coke or Pepsi product offerings.  Though soft drinks are available, adventurous diners will gravitate to the exceptional teas or smoothies (truly intrepid souls will try the coconut-durian smoothie).  If you’re of a more healthful bent, Anh (remember she was a pharmacist) might recommend Thai basil seed with Malva nut which has properties conducive to good health. 

The childlike among us (okay, me) might instead opt for a colorful, multi-layered “rainbow” drink.  From bottom to top, this beverage is layered with chestnuts, mung bean, agar, coconut and crushed ice.  Use your straw to blend it all together and you’ll enjoy one of the more unique flavor-texture experiences you’ll have in the Duke City.

Nhu Holding “Rainbow” Drink

There are many things to love about the SweeTea Bakery Cafe, a magical fusion of Vietnamese and French ingenuity.  With Anh and Tammie turning out the best pastries this side of Ho Chi Minh City, it promises to be a very welcome and exciting addition to the Duke City dining scene.  Tell them Gil sent you.

SweeTea Bakery Cafe
4565 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 582-2592
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 December 2016
1st VISIT: 4 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Meatball Banh Mi, Bulgogi Banh Mi, Special (Vietnamese ham, pork roll, headcheese and pate) Banh Mi, Grilled Sausage Banh Mi, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Chicken Dumplings, Egg Rolls, Vermicelli with Grilled Pork, “Not Your Traditional Banana Nut Bread,” Kim Sa Bun, Egg Custard Bun, Nutella Bun, Coconut Craisins Butterfly, Cinnamon Rose Bun

Sweet Tea Bakery Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Award-Winning Chocolate Maven in Santa Fe

In the polytheistic world of the Mesoamerican cultures (which include the Aztecs and Mayans), Quetzalcoatl was revered as the creator deity and patron of priests, merchants and rulers. Known as the “feathered serpent,” Quetzalcoatl was also associated with the cocoa bean and with chocolate. Great temples were erected in his honor and chocolate was offered to him. Montezuma, the 16th century Aztec ruler revered him.  In Montezuma’s great city of Tenochtitlan (which the Spaniards later renamed Mexico City), chocolate was considered a luxury drink reserved exclusively for gods and the ruler class. It is believed that Montezuma’s daily constitution included 50 goblets of a finely ground, foamy red dyed chocolate flavored with chili peppers, vanilla, wild bee honey and aromatic flowers.

Today, chocolate is no longer considered exclusive to a privileged class and the celebrity-worshiping modern world no longer holds Quetzalcoatl, the “god of chocolate” in reverence. No longer are temples built in his honor or sacrifices of chocolate made in his name.  Modern temples celebrating chocolate are ubiquitous in the modern world. One of New Mexico’s most renown and revered chocolate temples is the Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe, situated in an edifice which, from the exterior, more closely resembles a warehouse than a bakery and cafe.

Chocolate Maven’s Magnificent Baked Goods

In November, 2006, a modern-day goddess visited this revered chocolate temple and paid it homage for a larger audience than ever worshiped Quetzalcoatl.  Giada Delaurentis, the pulchritudinous Food Network star of the television series Giada’s Weekend Getaway made the Chocolate Maven one her several stops during a late autumn visit to the City Different.  While we braved the frosty air standing in line waiting for the restaurant to open for Sunday brunch, it was amusing (but not at all surprising) to listen to several in the queue practically gush with anticipation over dining at a restaurant once visited by the celebrated Ms. Delaurentis. One particularly awe-struck woman credited Giada with “teaching me how to cook.” Others, including some Santa Fe residents, had never heard of the Chocolate Maven until having watched Giada’s Weekend Getaway on the Food Network.

That surprised me because the Santa Fe Reporter, a very well written alternative newsweekly has named the Chocolate Maven one of Santa Fe’s top 40 restaurants every year since 2002. It also saddened me a bit because those people have been deprived the sheer pleasure of perusing the weekly musings of Gwyneth Doland, whose goddess-like talents in writing about food I have long admired.

The Chocolate Maven, by the way, was on my ever-expanding “must try” list for years, long before Giada Delaurentis made it a “happening place” for devotees of her show.  Unlike Giada, we were unable to finagle a table by the windows which provide a view of the bakery where all the creativity really takes place. Giada remarked that the bakers “look like they can do this in their sleep,” “this” meaning turning out “award winning homemade pastries and succulent desserts.”

The best view from the first floor dining room

Our table was on the second floor in one of the restaurant’s three dining areas. To get there, we had to ascend one of two of Santa Fe’s miraculous circular, winding staircases (the other being in the Loretto Chapel). The miracle here is how the restaurant, in Giada’s words, “smells like home.” The fragrant bouquet of baking breads and pastries permeates every square inch of this distinct bakery and cafe (by the way, the Chocolate Maven started off as a bakery then in time added a cafe which explains why it is situated in the warehouse district).

While the restaurant’s name might conjure up images of decadent chocolate, you can also indulge in fabulous breakfast, brunch and lunch fare. No matter what your pleasures be, a great way to start is with a glass of Aztec hot chocolate laced with red chile. In the 15th century, Montezuma drank goblets of chocolate before visiting his concubines as it was believed to have stamina enhancing properties.  The hot chocolate didn’t make me feel particularly vigorous, but this smooth semi-sweet treat certainly provided an endorphin “feel good” rush, especially when the red chile warmed the back of my throat.

Two Goblets of Aztec Hot Chocolate with a Cinnamon Roll

Another warming sensation is provided by the Chocolate Maven’s Chilaquiles, layers of yellow and blue corn tortillas sautéed in a red chile and tomato sauce then topped with two eggs any style. Chilaquiles is considered the quintessential Mexican breakfast dish and in New Mexico, we’ve had none better.  The Chilaquiles dish (pictured below) also includes skillet potatoes, but these are certainly not the “run-of-the-mill” boring skillet potatoes for which a template seems to exist at lesser restaurants. These are tender red potatoes fried to perfection and imbued with the savory sweetness of white onion and carrots.

Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles

No matter what you order for yourself, ask for a short-stack of pancakes to share with a dining companion. Griddled to a golden hue and sprinkled with just a tad of powdered sugar, these fluffy orbs are absolutely delicious.  The Chocolate Maven does commit one cardinal sin by serving these pancake treasures with hard butter in packets. We can live with unheated syrup, but when you can’t slather melting butter on steamy pancakes, it’s a definite downer. Next time we might sneak in our own melted butter.

Light, fluffy eggs are certainly an integral part of the restaurant’s breakfast burrito, but it is the red chile that steals the show. While not especially piquant, the chile is seasoned with just a hint of Mexican oregano and tastes like chile which hasn’t had much shelf life. It’s got a wonderfully earthy taste that doesn’t come across in every red chile served in the Land of Enchantment.

The Chocolate Maven's breakfast burrito

The Chocolate Maven’s breakfast burrito

A slight departure from New Mexico can be had with a breakfast order of migas, a traditional Tex-Mex breakfast dish originally crafted as a meatless dish for Lent. Migas consist of scrambled eggs with torn ribbons of tortilla chips, sliced chiles, diced tomatoes and cheese plus sour cream and salsa. The Maven’s version would please the most persnickety of Texans.

While the lunch portion of brunch is often short-changed in many restaurants, the menu at the Chocolate Maven includes several lunch-type entrees such as salads and sandwiches. Vegans will definitely not feel left out thanks to a generous number of meatless entrees.

On your contented way out, a stop at the bakery case is in order. It’s a wonder this bakery case isn’t covered in drool or tongue trails because the chocolate display under glass is replete with decadent temptation in the form of frosted cakes, unfrosted brownies of several varieties and formed chocolate.  The Belgian chocolate brownie has the rich taste of semi-sweet cocoa and includes walnuts. It is one of the bakery’s most popular offerings, but my preference is actually for the chocolate and orange truffle brownie which adds a zesty citrus taste that complements the cocoa wonderfully.

Cinnamon Roll and Chocolate Croissant

Yet another bakery case showcases fruity pastries that would make for an excellent breakfast treat. Shelves of cookies in white paper bags also beckon. The chocolate piñon cookies have a prominent cocoa taste and are so good, you may just polish off an entire bag in one sitting.

Montezuma would have loved the Chocolate Maven. So will every chocolate fanatic. It is truly a bakery and cafe worthy of the gods!

Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe
West San Mateo Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 984-1980
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 22 October 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bistro Sandwich, Pancakes, Chilaquiles, Belgian Chocolate Brownie, Orange Truffle Brownie, Aztec Hot Chocolate, Migas

Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rude Boy Cookies – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rude Boy For Wonderful Cookies and Ice Cream in Albuquerque

Sometimes me thinks ‘what is a friend.’
And then me say
“Friend is someone to share the last cookie with.”
~The Cookie Monster

With whom would you share your last cookie?  For me the answer is easy.  I’d share my last cookie with my friend Darren, the delightful younger brother of Dazzling Deanell.  During Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick‘s most recent 39th birthday celebration, there were party favors galore on every table including biscochitos from Celina’s Biscochitos (review upcoming).  While all eyes were turned to the dance floor where Larry gaovtted with a lovely lady, someone stealthily sneaked all the biscochitos at our table onto Darren’s plate and even under his hat.  Darren denied culpability, but the trail of crumbs to his plate may have given him away. 

Who can blame anyone for wanting more cookies?  A 2015 article on The Daily Mail reported that the average American adult consumes some 19,000 cookies (roughly one cookie every day from age of 18 to 70) in their lifetime with chocolate chip being the favorite.  This staggering figure does not account for all the cookies consumed in childhood.  More than twenty-percent of respondents to a cookie poll indicated they consume upwards of ten cookies a week.  The most interesting revelation is that 31 per cent of millennials say they love cookies more than alcohol.  Why do we love cookies so much?  78 percent declare cookies can definitely make them feel happy or content, while 61 percent believe a good cookie gives them a sense of comfort, and 33 percent say cookies can calm and relax them.

One of the most welcoming sights in town

If indeed millennials prefer cookies to alcohol, Rude Boy Cookies on the fringes of the University of New Mexico should be a goldmine.  Instead of keg parties, perhaps cookie parties could become the norm at frat and sorority houses.  Instead of sneaking flasks, students and faculty alike could more brazenly eat cookies.   Binge cookie consumption could replace binge drinking.  Perhaps some enterprise collegiate could even figure out how to make “cookie pong” more sanitary and prevent cookies from breaking apart when they’re bounced.

Contrary to what some of you may be thinking, the appellation “Rude Boy” doesn’t have a thing to do with the male millennial attitude.  Instead the name rude boy speaks to founding owner Mike Silva having played in ska and reggae bands for years.  Rude boy is a street slang term which originated in Jamaica back in the 60s.  The term describes youth who are dedicated members of the ska scene  More recently a song titled “Rude Boy” by the Barbadian artist Rihanna spent several weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 list.  Unfortunately the song’s rather ribald lyrics prevent me from sharing them on this PG blog.

A view to where the magic happens

Located on Harvard Drive next door to the Brickyard Dive, Rude Boy Cookies does project an ambiance which pays tribute to the ska movement of the ’50s and ’60s.  The dulcet tones of ska and reggae music help set the mood for a cookie consumption experience you won’t soon forget.  Rude Boy Cookies launched in July, 2014 and within eighteen months was New Mexico’s sole representative on FlipKey’s (a TripAdvisor vacation rental site) list of “Best Local Bakeries Worth Traveling For.”  Being singled out as the “best local bakery” in the Land of Enchantment was quite a coup for the nascent cookie shop.

Few things in life are as welcoming as the aroma of freshly baked cookies just out of the oven.  Rude Boy Cookies is a welcome milieu.  Step in and your eyes will fixate pretty quickly on the glass case under which some fourteen different cookies will command your attention.  Selections include gluten-free and vegan cookies as well as monthly specials such as the aptly named “Freshman 15” (crafted with a loaded bar, peanut butter, a chocolate chip cookie, cinnamon marshmallow fluff, pretzels, M&Ms, whipped cream, chocolate sauce and rainbow sprinkles.   A few of these and the freshmen fifteen (the amount of weight gained during a student’s first year at college) could easily turn into a sophomore sixty.

Cookies Galore

In addition to cookies, Rude Boy boasts of Albuquerque’s only milk bar.  Yes, a milk bar.  On-tap milk choices include mighty mighty milk (whole milk) checkerboard chocolate (chocolate whole milk), two-percent milk, skim milk, almond milk (for my friend John Colangelo) and soy milk.  Jazz up your milk with one or more syrups locally-produced bottled exclusively for Rude Boy by Joliesse Chocolates.  Naturally-flavored syrup shot flavors include banana, cappuccino, mint, peanut butter, raspberry, salted butter caramel, strawberry and vanilla bean.  Aside from burgers and fries, there may be no more beloved and comforting a food combination than milk and cookies.

Seating at Rude Boy is somewhat limited.  Get there early and head straight for the small table with a view to the kitchen in which cookie baking magic transpires daily.  Watching the perpetually in-motion whirring mixer is mesmerizing though your eyes might also train on the large tray of M&Ms in all their multi-hued glory.  In addition to a handful of small tables, the bakery offers seating on bar stools and on a comfortable lounge area.  Though only 1,200 square-feet in size, Rude Boy’s aromas and flavors are gargantuan.

Ice Cream Sandwich: Oatmeal Toffee Cookie Top, Chocolate Cookie Bottom with Chocolate Ice Cream

In addition to the cavalcade of cookies, Rude Boy offers a variety of Creamland ice cream flavors.  Creamland, a New Mexico tradition with which many of us grew up, continues to make great ice cream for generations of New Mexicans.  Rude Boy invites you to sample cookies warmed a la mode with a scoop of ice cream, or better yet to try a decadent cookie ice cream sandwich.  Several years ago while visiting San Diego, we ran across the Baked Bear,  a restaurant specializing in “customized” ice cream sandwiches.  Several (though not as many as offered at Rude Boy) cookie flavors were available.

 My inaugural Rude Boy experience was a chocoholic’s dream: an oatmeal toffee cookie top, chocolate cookie bottom with chocolate ice cream in the middle.  If do-overs were possible, both top and bottom would be chocolate.  The oatmeal-toffee cookie should be eaten on its own so that proper reverence and appreciation can be payed to this masterpiece.  My grandma Andreita made the best oatmeal cookies I’ve ever had in my 39 years on this planet.  Unfortunately she took the recipe with her.  The one ingredient that’s a certainty in her recipe was love, an ingredient you can taste also in Rude Boy Cookies.

Cinnamon Roll Cookie

Among the inventive cookie collection under glass is one fittingly called a cinnamon roll cookie.  Essentially it’s a thick and fluffy cinnamon cookie topped with cream cheese icing and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  It’s best served warm.  Though a bit too sweet for me, it’s a cookie nearly as sweet as my Kim who enjoyed it immensely.  She notes that it’s far more cinnamony than many cinnamon rolls served around the Duke City and that it does indeed taste like a cinnamon roll.  Now if only Rude Boy could create a cookie which tastes like the fabulous and famous Frontier roll. 

Pensive contemplation is a good idea in deciding what cookie and ice cream combinations go well together.  Some pairings don’t work as well as others.  Take for example an ice cream sandwich constructed with a chocolate cookie on top and a mint-chocolate cookie in the bottom with pistachio ice cream in the middle.  Minty freshness is the foremost flavor of this sandwich.  That’s entirely too bad because the pistachio ice cream, a lighter, more delicate flavor is quite delicious.  This ice cream sandwich is better “deconstructed” meaning you should eat the mint-chocolate cookie first, the chocolate cookie second and the now melted pistachio ice cream last.

Ice Cream Sandwich: Chocolate Cookie Top, Mint Chocolate Cookie Bottom, Pistachio Ice Cream

My friend Darren might not be able to sneak away with all the cookies under the display case, but if he could it’s a good bet that if he could, he’d want to share them.  These are cookies meant to be shared with friends and family.

Rude Boy Cookies
115 Harvard, S.E., #7
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 200-2235
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 August 2016
1st VISIT: 29 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Ice Cream Sandwich, Double Chocolate Cookie, Oatmeal Toffee Cookie, Cinnamon Roll Cookie

Rude Boy Cookies Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Golden Crown Panaderia – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Golden Crown Panaderia, one of Albuquerque’s premier dining destinations

Although we pride ourselves on keeping a pulse on the local dining scene, it took a nationally syndicated Food Network cable program called Food Finds to introduce us in 2003 to the Golden Crown Panaderia, an Albuquerque fixture for nearly three decades.  In an episode entitled Viewer’s Choice filmed entirely in New Mexico, hostess Sandra Pinckney visited several small-town shops, mom-and-pop stores and local vendors that pride themselves in creating specialty foods the old-fashioned way.

The Golden Crown Panaderia is an exemplar of dichotomy, a highly successful operation in which old-fashioned meets state-of-the-art and father and son proprietors rely on both technology and tradition to create one of New Mexico’s most unique and beloved dining experiences.   The Panaderia crafts its magnum opuses on equipment that is positively ancient by modern automation standards, but it uses avant-garde technology to grow the herbs and vegetables for its salads, sandwiches and pizzas.

View from the Patio

Old-fashioned might also describe the relationship between senior proprietor Pratt Morales and his son Chris.  It’s an old-fashioned father and son relationship in the tradition of Andy and Opie. On Food Finds, Pratt recounted having helped deliver his son, calling it the beginning of a life-long love affair.  Pratt also demonstrated his unique craft–bread sculpting. He can literally prepare bread in any shape and form as chronicled in a photo album replete with pictures of the artistic bread creations. Although the Food Network made larger than life celebrities out of father and son, they are both as friendly and accommodating as possible.

I probably wouldn’t be writing about Golden Crown, however, if the end product wasn’t good. Make that outstanding! Make that “the very best bakery in Albuquerque” outstanding!”  Situated in a ramshackle old building just outside Old Town, it’s far enough off the beaten path as to be relatively inconspicuous.  Inconspicuous, however, doesn’t mean diners aren’t finding it.  This humble Panaderia has been consistently ranked by TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel community, as one of the top five out of 1,235 restaurants in the Duke City.   Golden Crown receives similar praise from Yelp while Lonely Planet, a French publication calls Golden Crown “Albuquerque’s best place to eat.”

A rare sight–no queue

The Panaderia’s crown jewel (no pun intended) is the original New Mexico green chile bread on which is sculpted a Santa Fe style coyote baying at the moon. Aside from green chile, this staff of life is fashioned with onions, fresh tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and cilantro.  The bread is baked slowly to seal in the flavor and aroma of all the fresh ingredients.  Toast it with butter and (if you can get it) New Mexican chokecherry jelly and you’ve got a mouth-watering breakfast.

All artisan breads are baked fresh daily and are out of the oven at regular intervals between 10:30AM and 2PM.  There may be no more pleasing bouquet in the Duke City than the aroma of fresh bread baking in one of the Golden Crown’s ovens: honey whole wheat, cinnamon raisin honey whole wheat, cinnamon pecan honey whole wheat, Appaloosa bread (a dark and light swirled rye), black rye and even seven-grain bread.  They’re all great!

One of the most beautiful pastry cases in New Mexico

The Appaloosa bread is edible artwork.  Swirling patterns of visually appealing dark brown pumpernickel ornament the bread like a beautiful Rorschach ink blot.  This is a full-bodied bread, the type of which makes outstanding delicatessen style sandwiches thickly smeared with a fine mustard or with sauerkraut piled on generously.  It’s also excellent toasted which enhances the vibrancy and flavors of the bread.

Also beyond reproach are the biscochitos, New Mexico’s official state cookie which is mildly sweet with a light taste of anise and a hint of cinnamon. These orb-shaped treats are melt-in-your-mouth delicious!  The minute you step into the bakery, a complementary biscochito is handed to “children of all ages,” a gift from the bakery gods.  You’ll probably leave with a dozen or more biscochitos courtesy of that warm cookie welcome.  In January, 2016, Spoon University named those bizcochitos New Mexico’s best dessert.  Spoon described them as “sweet, cinnamony cookies” that became the “official state cookie almost 20 years ago” and “deserve to graduate onto the official dessert.”

Blueberry Empanada and the World’s Greatest Coffee Shake

You might think it heretical, but the Moraleses also feature a chocolate biscochito made from a strong, slightly bitter dark chocolate and sprinkled liberally with anise.  If you like your chocolate dark, you certainly won’t care that New Mexico’s official state cookie has been altered such. A more recent addition to the biscochito family is a unique cappuccino biscochito. It’s like dunking a biscochito into strong coffee.  Abuelitas everywhere (or at least in New Mexico) marvel at the fact that Golden Crown even bakes biscochitos from blue corn flour. 

How good are the Golden Crown’s biscochitos? The October, 2005 edition of Gourmet magazine indicated the Golden Crown’s handmade version of biscochitos “make a delightful holiday accompaniment to red or white wine.” Wine, by the way, is how biscochitos were originally served in Spain. With or without wine, biscochitos are an absolute treat in which New Mexicans delight.  The Golden Crown’s biscochitos were also celebrated in the July-August edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine.  An article entitled “five American desserts worth the trip” describes them as “fragrant, infused with anise, this flaky shortbread coated with cinnamon.”  A more succinct way to describe them is absolutely wonderful!

Combination Pizza on Green Chile Bread Crust

Another pastry favorite are the flautas (flutes). No, not the corn tortillas rolled around a filling of shredded chicken or beef then fried until crisp. These flautas are filled with glorious lemon or apricot filling and dusted with white powdered sugar. Not too sweet and not too tart, they are absolutely delicious.  The Golden Crown’s empanadas are nonpareil, absolutely the very best in New Mexico–whether pumpkin, sweet potato, apple, blueberry, strawberry, apricot, lemon or raspberry.  The crust is reminiscent of the biscochitos in both texture and flavor. 

The menu purports to offer the “creamiest latte in town,” its creaminess attributed to”the freshest milk in town–straight from the cow.”  Espresso, latte and mocha coffee drinks are all available if indeed you wish to dunk your biscochito into excellent coffee.  The coffee-flavored milk shake also has the flavor of strong coffee (courtesy of two shots of espresso) without the cloying flavor of coffee that’s been over-sweetened.  It’s an adult coffee shake and it’s served cold thanks to nearly a full pound of vanilla ice cream out of the freezer.  This is my very favorite shake in Albuquerque and the very best coffee-flavored shake I’ve ever had anywhere.  Obviously, both the proprietors and legions of fans agree with me as this shake has earned the designation of “the world’s greatest coffee shake.”  That’s how it’s listed on the menu.

Make Your Own Pizza: Sausage, Canadian Bacon, Extra Cheese on Peasant Bread Crust

The Morales family goal is to serve products which are delicious, nutritious and beautiful. In keeping with that lofty aspiration, Pratt has figured out how to bake breads that are free of trans-fats, oils and fat without losing absolutely nothing taste-wise.  Still, it’s the artistic nature of his bread sculpture that continues to induce awe among visitors, including Guy Fieri who visited the Golden Crown Panaderia for a 2013 airing of an episode titled “All kinds of Gobble, Gobble” celebrating restaurants who specialize in Thanksgiving offerings.  Pratt Morales demonstrated his technique for sculpting a bread turkey.

By popular demand, the Golden Crown Panaderia also serves bakery-style pizza that starts with your choice of three innovative crusts: blue corn dough, peasant dough or the famous New Mexico green chile dough.  Doesn’t it stand to reason that no one knows bread (or pizza) crust as well as a baker?  While Albuquerque The Magazine‘s staff didn’t give this pizza enough love to place it among their top five pizzas in their annual Food & Wine issue for 2010, it was rated the best pizza along Route 66 by a Roadfood crew rating the “best of the best” from among the dozens of restaurants they sampled in a 5,250-mile excursion along the route.  The pizza which captured the Roadfood crew’s affection was a green chile and roasted chicken pizza on a blue corn crust.  Golden Crown’s pizza is among my top three in Albuquerque and top five in New Mexico.

Roast Beef Sandwich with Chips and Queso

24 July 2016: This hand-tossed, thin-crust pizza features a housemade pizza sauce, mozzarella and your choice of ingredients in sizes ranging from personal to extra large (30% larger than the regular large). Gourmet toppings include anchovies, oven roasted chicken, artichoke and more.  Each pizza is baked to order in about fifteen minutes baking time per pizza.  Each pizza comes with a biscochito, an amuse bouche you don’t often see.  The personal-sized combination pizza (tasty pepperoni, hearty Italian sausage, black olives, crisp bell  peppers, red onions and mozzarella) is my favorite, an artisan-style pie that isn’t nearly as circular as what you might find at a chain, nor is the crusty rim of equal thickness throughout the circumference of the pie.  Not that it matters much because every morsel of the pie is an adventure in deliciousness.  At eight-inches, the personal-sized pizza is probably right-sized, but it’s so delicious you’ll want a larger sized pie to sate your pizza cravings.

The ingredients are of the highest quality and are absolutely terrific, but it’s the crust that will absolutely blow you away.  If you love your pizza crust imbued with the memory-inducing, olfactory arousing aroma of fresh bread just out of the oven, this is the pizza for you.  You won’t be leaving behind any of the crust from around the rim, nor will you be sharing it with the annoying pigeons scavenging around the outdoor seating areas waiting for a hand-out.  When it comes to olfactory arousing, the green chile crust is absolutely for you with just enough piquancy to get your attention, but moreover, the bouquet of roasted green chile.  The green chile crust includes some 18 ingredients while more than 20 ingredients go into both the blue corn and peasant crusts.

Blueberry, Cherry and Lemon Empanadas with Biscochitos

24 July 2016:  The housemade sauce is slathered on thickly and is quite good, a perfectly seasoned tomato sauce that complements other ingredients well.  The Italian sausage is not that benign sausage which tastes like so much hamburger meat; it’s sausage with a bit of attitude and a pronounced smokiness.  The pepperoni is nicely spiced; several thinly-sliced orbs generously applied throughout the pie.  The black olives and green peppers are fresh and delicious and the mozzarella is creamy and chewy.  My Kim’s favorite pizza is a make-your-own topped with sausage, Canadian bacon and extra cheese on a peasant crust.  It’s an outstanding pizza!

A sandwich board features six sandwiches built on the panaderia’s fresh-baked bread and uses only high quality meats, cheeses and fresh vegetables. Your sandwich can be built on sliced bread (including the fabled green chile bread) or sub sandwich bread.

Turkey sandwich adorned with fresh from the garden lettuce, tomatoes and more

in the November, 2010 edition of New Mexico Magazine I was asked to write an article showcasing the use of turkey for breakfast, lunch and dinner in  three Albuquerque restaurants.  My featured lunch selection was Golden Crown’s Turkey & Swiss sandwich (served with mayonnaise, Italian dressing, deli mustard, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and a kosher pickle).  It is an outstanding sandwich–and thankfully NOT named the “Albuquerque Turkey” as so many turkey sandwiches (particularly those offered by chains) seem to be.  Crafted on the Panaderia’s fabulous bread and adorned with vegetables grown on the premises on a hydroponic (a method of growing plants in water using mineral nutrient solutions with no soil) garden, the sandwich is accompanied by a biscochito and chips.

I also had the opportunity to introduce the world to Golden Crown in an article entitled “America’s Best Food Regions” published on the May, 2011 edition of Frommer’s Budget Travel Magazine. Along with bloggers from other storied American food regions, I was given 500 words to explain why New Mexico’s “Chile Country” reigns supreme over other culinary regions. Naturally the Golden Crown was one of six purveyors of America’s most incendiary regional cuisine I wrote about.

Ham and Swiss toasted with avocado on the famous New Mexico Green Chile bread

Ham and Swiss toasted with avocado on the famous New Mexico Green Chile bread

It’s no surprise this humble bakery was also featured in the Unique Boutique section of the November, 2005 edition of New Mexico Magazine. In May, 2007, the magazine published a lengthier article profiling Pratt and his passion for baking. It’s no longer a surprise when the Golden Crown Panaderia receives national accolades….such as a designation as the “best place for a book stop” from Southwest Airlines’ Spirit magazine. The magazine extolled the green chile bread and urged readers to “buy a loaf and snack away during an extended session.”

The Golden Crown Panaderia leaves no stone unturned in providing the highest possible in quality products and produce. In 2010, the Morales family began cultivating its own herbs and vegetables for use on its salads, sandwiches and pizzas. In a temperature controlled indoor environment, utilize state-of-the-art aquaponic techniques to grow several varieties of lettuce as well as fresh basil which resonates with flavor on pizza. The garden is somewhat of an anomaly in that so much of the equipment throughout the bakery is an anachronism, veritable antiques which function under the master bakers to create culinary masterpieces.

Chris Morales proudly shows off the Golden Crown’s herb and vegetable garden from which they craft fresh salads.

Before the advent of propane-powered chile roasters, New Mexicans either roasted chile themselves or they took it to their favorite baker.  With advance arrangements, the Moraleses will still provide this service for loyal customers.  Under the skillful hands of the Duke City’s very best bakers, the chile is roasted far more evenly than it is on a gigantic rotating drum–and without the abuse to which the chile is subjected in the tumbling process.

At 81 years young (as of this writing on July 24, 2016), Pratt Morales still has the energy of a man half his age.  He bikes distances that would tire out people generations younger if they drove those distances.  His youthful exuberance and energy are resultant from having a passion for what he does.  He loves being a baker so much that he often wakes up at three in the morning and walks to work so he can get started on his next sculpting project or bread innovation.  We should all love our jobs as much as he does.

My friends and frequent dining companions Sr. Plata, Bill Resnik and Paul Lilly with Pratt Morales, a baker’s baker.

The Golden Crown Panaderia is a rarity–a bakery-slash-restaurant that does both well.  Pratt and Chris Morales have made this panaderia an Albuquerque institution and in the process, have become part of the fabric of the Duke City’s unique cuisine culture themselves.

Golden Crown Panaderia
1103 Mountain Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-243-2424
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 13
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Bread, Tres Leche Cake, Biscochitos (Traditional, Chocolate and Cappuccino), Specialty Pizza, Turkey & Swiss Sandwich, Combination Pizza, Blueberry Empanada, Cherry Empanada, Lemon Empanada, Roast Beef Sandwich

Golden Crown Panaderia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chez Mamou – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Chez Mamou on Palace Avenue in Santa Fe

When she asked me to repeat the name of the French restaurant where we were dining one slightly breezy Sunday morning, I knew my clever bride had something in mind.  Relaying that we were dining at Chez (pronounced “shay”) Mamou, she retorted “are you sure it’s not called “Shame on you.”  That was her reaction to a server having deposited a stale, probably older than day-old baguette on our table.  She followed up with “no self-respecting French restaurant, especially one claiming to be a bakery would serve bread baked by Napoleon’s baker.”  Whether or not the fossilized (her term) bread was indicative of Chez Mamou’s daily performance, it was enough to rile my usually saintly patient wife.

By this point, she had already dissed the coffee, an Allegro Coffee blend, which she found entirely too strong and “more bitter than supporters of England wanting to remain in the European Union.”   (In the interest of full-disclosure, she finds coffee too strong if it can’t be “cured” by five or six packets of Splenda.”)  She would later repeat her “what’s the name of this restaurant” comment while eating some of the restaurant’s highly-touted pastries and croissants, reputedly baked by a master baker (and I won’t repeat how she twisted that term). That, my friends, is why she leaves the reviewing to me…and lest you think she’s nit-picky, the only time she’s ever compromised on her exceedingly high standards is when she said “yes” to me.

Dining Room at Chez Mamou

You should certainly set your expectations high when visiting a restaurant as highly touted as Chez Mamou.  Never mind that it earned rave reviews from both the Albuquerque Journal and Santa Fe Reporter, where it really earned its creds with me is from a Facebook post by Daniela Bouneou, erstwhile owner of the fabulous  Torinos @ Home.  When Daniela posts about a restaurant, you’re well advised to heed her recommendation.  Chez Mamou also earned a 3.5 rating (out of 4) from Yelp, 4.5 (out of 5) from Trip Advisor  and 3.9 (out of 5) from Zomato. Interspersed among mostly glowing comments in these three crowd-sourced review forums are a few opinions which would make excellent roast material.  At least our experience wasn’t an outlier.

Chez Mamou is one of several French restaurants serving the City Different, not really a surprise considering the long and storied history of French people in New Mexico.  Launched in 2012, its East Palace Avenue location is scant blocks away from the Santa Fe Plaza, but in ways it seems almost an ocean away…as far away as a Paris sidewalk cafe.  That’s especially true on a Santa Fe summer morning if you’re trying to escape the sweltering heat of Albuquerque as was the case during our inaugural visit.  A light, cool breeze and the courtyard’s sun-shielding shade transported us to a better time and place.  Had we known Chez Mamou was so pet-friendly, we might have brought our four-legged children Tim and The Dude.

Al Fresco Dining at its Finest

Weather-permitted, the courtyard is definitely preferred seating.  If the courtyard is full, there are a few tables preceding the front entrance that’ll give you a great view of the street activity.  The space which houses Chez Mamou is bisected into two halves, one occupied by Noëlla Jewelry Couture.  Decor is tasteful and homey.  Step up into the cafe and your eyes will immediately gravitate toward the pastry case with its colorful display of pastries, breads, croissant and other French baked delicacies.  Few display cases in New Mexico are as lovely.  You’ll want to order the chocolate croissants the minute you walk in or you risk the cafe running out entirely.

From among the baked goods we shared, the chocolate croissants stand out.  While no croissant will ever have enough chocolate to sate this chocoholic, the chocolate chunks on these beauties are strategically placed so that you’ll experience sweet and savory tastes in virtually every bite.  The croissants are buttery, light and flaky, but they’re served with a hard butter which is a challenge to spread.  Fortunately a housemade strawberry jam accompanied our croissants.  The jam, nearly pureed in texture, was very reminiscent of fresh strawberries plucked at their optimum ripeness, neither too sweet nor too tart.

Mussels Mamou

Where Chez Mamou really stands out is in the large variety of its menu, particularly its brunch offerings.  While many restaurants feature an abbreviated brunch menu usually short on lunch-type offerings, Chez Mamou’s brunch menu is staggering in its variety.  Like me, the cafe doesn’t believe 7:30 in the morning is too early for Frog Legs, Escargots, Fettuccini Carbonara or any number of sandwiches on a canvas of freshly baked bread.  If you’re more of a traditionalist, the menu also includes a number of omelets (made with eggs produced by local, happy, free-range, Nambe hens) as well as sweet and savory crepes and even a Croque Madame…all because sometimes you feel like breakfast and sometimes you feel like lunch.

In England, as in much of Northern Europe, mussels are so readily available and relatively inexpensive that they’re often dismissed as a poor man’s shellfish.  During our years in England, we enjoyed mussels by the bushel, but we never contemplated the possibility of incorporating New Mexico flavors (not that we had red or green chile readily available) into either the wine- or cream-based broths we regularly prepared.  Thankfully restaurants in New Mexico, regardless of genre, know their patrons practically expect a little red or green in virtually every menu, even on dessert items…and as we all know, chile improves the overall flavor of everything it touches.

Steak Frites

In an inspired example of France meets New Mexico, Chez Mamou offers an eponymous appetizer called Mussels Mamou which showcases the lively flavor of red chile paired with the incomparable flavor of applewood smoked bacon in a light wine sauce punctuated by shallots and parsley.  Although comprised of only a paltry six mussels, everyone knows that more than half of the enjoyment of mussels is in sopping up the broth with a good bread.  Because the bread we were provided lacked the dredging qualities of great broth sopping bread (hence my Kim’s dissatisfaction described above), we had to spoon up the broth instead.  While still good, the sensory–tactile, olfactory and taste–experiences were diminished somewhat.

Because she missed the French fries often served with mussels (who doesn’t love moules frites?), my Kim’s choice of entree was the Steak Frites, a flank steak served with a pile of French fries and assorted vegetables.  After recent encounters with sinewy, tough ribeye steaks, we were delighted to find the flank steak tender and absolutely delicious (in Kim’s estimation, better than a much more expensive steak at Ruth’s Chris).  Prepared and seasoned to her exacting specifications, it didn’t even need the delectable mushrooms in gravy (not quite duxelles style) though they, too, were mouth-watering.  So were the vegetables (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower) which were so good even avowed vegetable-haters of all ages would enjoy them.  Alas, the frites were strictly out-of-a-bag quality, a far cry from the twice-fried frites we enjoyed in Europe and now in La Quiche Parisienne in Albuquerque.

Duck Confit

One of the more challenging decisions we faced during our inaugural visit was how to enjoy the duck which is prepared three different ways: duck confit, duck confit pasta and duck confit salad.  The duck confit (red wine demi glace over slowly cooked duck) served with fresh roasted tomato, seasonal vegetables and potatoes au gratin had me at au gratin, a potato dish served often at French restaurants bur almost nowhere else.  A layer of Gruyere blanketed the perfectly prepared potatoes, imparting a creamy texture, richness and saltiness.  As with the aforementioned mussels, the superb red wine demi glace beckoned for bread so as not to leave a single drop on the plate.  It was one of the best demi glace preparations we’ve had at any French restaurant in New Mexico.  The duck, too, was well prepared and nicely seasoned with dark meat qualities showcased in every bite.

As beautiful as the pastries under glass appeared to be, we must have ordered the wrong ones because their appearance was certainly deceiving.  Kim opted for the cherry tart, the most redeeming quality of which was that real, whole cherries were used, not some gloppy gelatinous mix.  Alas, the thickness and plenitude of the breading was off-putting.  Such was the case as well with the almond tart of my choosing.  Topped with almond slivers and walnut pieces, it would have been far more enjoyable had there not been so much breading.

Pastry Tray

As with virtually all restaurants we visit, our experience was a mix of good and not-so-good.  That’s not surprising.  What is surprising is the delta between the good and not-so-good.  Our entrees were outstanding, as good as prepared at any French restaurant in the Land of Enchantment, but the baked goods (save for croissants) were lacking.  It’s quite possible this was an anomaly, but it’ll take additional visits to know for sure.  That’s something this gastronome and his oft-fussy better-half are happy to do.

Chez Mamou
217 East Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 216-1845
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 June 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Duck Confit, Steak Frites, Mussels Mamou

Chez Mamou French Cafe & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Savory Fare – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Savory Fare Cafe, Bakery and Catering in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights

Back in the mid 70s, anyone in Albuquerque’s southeast quadrant who wanted privacy knew they could find it at the Burger Chef restaurant in the Gibson and San Mateo area. It was the place seemingly designated for undisturbed break-ups (this was in the dark ages before texting and email were the preferred mediums for breaking-up). Once a burgeoning franchise second only to McDonald’s in the fast food arena, Burger Chef was in a state of rapid decline and even during lunch hours, few diners patronized it.

Our inaugural dining experience at Savory Fare rekindled memories of a long-ago visit to Burger Chef when I was one of only two diners in the whole place and one of us was soon-to-be on the receiving side of bad news (the “Dear Gil” kind). While cavalcades of cars were driving up for their Egg McBorings and whatever breakfast banality Burger King offers, my Kim and I were–for nearly twenty minutes–the only diners at Savory Fare. Though I was fairly certain my bride of thirty years wasn’t breaking up with me, I wondered why this cafe-bakery wasn’t overflowing with patrons. Surely the savory fare for which the restaurant is named wasn’t as uninspired as Burger Chef’s forgettable food.

One of the

One of the most beautiful counters of any restaurant in Albuquerque

For sheer visual appeal, very few restaurants in Albuquerque rival Savory Fare where gloriously arrayed behind glass pastry cases are some of the most sumptuous creations you’ll find anywhere: lavish pastries, captivating cakes, photogenic pies, enticing eclairs and so much more (be still, my heart). Surely all this edible art would have the same Pavlovian effect on other discerning diners as it did on us. Moreover, Savory Fare is immaculate, as spotless as a hospital operating room while retaining an air of whimsy and fun. Unframed prints of anthropomorphic vegetables would bring a smile even to Scrooge’s craggy countenance.

Perhaps, we pondered, the menu doesn’t offer much beyond pulchritudinous pastries. After all, man and woman cannot live on cake and pie alone (though some of us would like to try). Savory Fare’s Web site lists only four items (breakfast torte, quiche Lorraine, breakfast burrito and an omelet), but we found out we could also order from a very intriguing cold sandwich menu as well as from soup and salad menus and a number of scrumptious daily specials. Take your time perusing the slate boards perched over the counter and by the door. For sheer volume and diversity, there’s something (maybe many things) there for everyone.

The Alexander

Crossing off deliciousness and diversity, we next ruminated on three things that are often the bane of many a restaurant: location, location and location. Savory Fare is ensconced within the Mossman Center on Montgomery and while the café doesn’t have a street-facing storefront, there’s plenty of parking and it’s easy to get to. There could be only one reason this gem wasn’t beset by throngs of hungry diners–my blogging brethren and  I haven’t done our jobs well. We haven’t climbed onto our virtual rooftops and shouted out “bring your hungry masses yearning to eat well to Savory Fare.”

As if to confirm that self-serving contention, I went online and found only one review of the cafe from a credentialed source. My friend and fellow Souperbowl judge Gail Guengerich had written a glowing review of Savory Fare for The Alibi some eighteen months prior to my visit yet despite her persuasiveness, we didn’t drive over immediately (fearing we’d be subjected to long lines of hungry hordes).

Chicken Apricot Salad Sandwich

Gail’s observations expanded on some of mine: “There’s a framed award on the wall of Savory Fare Café & Bakery that reads “Best Undiscovered Restaurant”—issued by Albuquerque The Magazine in the year 2006. That was seven years ago, and greater Albuquerque still hasn’t beaten a path to its door. Most people I talk to have never heard of Savory Fare, and it rarely receives any press. Strange, when you consider how elusive a good pastry case is in this town.”

21 May 2016: It brought me great comfort to read further that unlike breakfast “every lunch hour, the café is packed to the rafters.” That’s the way it should be and not just for lunch. Packed to the rafters is exactly what Savory Fare was during our second visit (which transpired at lunchtime on a Saturday).  Perhaps  that’s indicative of Albuquerque not being a breakfast or brunch town, but more than likely it just means we have to visit more frequently to know for sure.

Muffaletta

Savory Fare is family-owned and operated, serving home-style food with attention to freshness, nutrition, taste and quality. Specials change daily with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Every evening, the cafe offers a freshly prepared take-home dinner as well as a selection of soups and deli salads for take-out. Then there’s that dessert case which probably has to be cleaned frequently to remove drool stains. There’s a lot to love about a cafe-bakery like this one!

1 August 2015: You’ll certainly love The Alexander (grilled ham, turkey, provolone, green chile and Dijonnaise on grilled sourdough), an archetypal sandwich unlike any we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The green chile and dijonnaise combination has probably been attempted before, not not as memorably as at Savory Fare.  It blends the piquancy and roasted deliciousness of green chile with Dijonnaise, a sharp Dijon mustard blended with creamy mayonnaise. It’s two types of heat coming together to create a cohesive flavor profile that will blow you away. The sourdough has a perceptible tang that makes it a perfect canvas for generously piled-on meats and cheese. The only way in which The Alexander is short-changed is its name. It really should be called “Alexander The Great!”

Strawberry salad

1 August 2015: We weren’t quite as enamored of the Chicken Apricot Salad Sandwich (diced chicken breast, apricots, walnuts, scallions, mayonnaise on whole wheat).  That’s primarily because apricot and its musky, tart uniqueness wasn’t as prominent a presence on the sandwich as it should have been.  Apricots are a difference-maker, the separation between merely very good and great.  Without a strong apricot presence, this sandwich is still a very good chicken sandwich, but you can find those elsewhere. 

21 May 2016: You probably wouldn’t order a green chile cheeseburger in New Orleans.  There’s no telling what passes for green chile in the Crescent City.  Similarly, most savvy diners wouldn’t order a muffaletta in Albuquerque.  So what does that say about your humble blogger that every time a restaurant offers a muffaletta, it’s destined for our table?  Perhaps it says is that I really miss muffalettas which we enjoyed for eight years during our time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.   Savory Fare’s rendition looks nothing like a traditional New Orleans muffaletta (some of which are roughly the size of the extraterrestrial craft which landed in Roswell a few decades ago).  While a “real” muffaletta would kick sand in the face of this one, if it was called something else, it would be a more enjoyable sandwich.  While the olive spread, meats, ,cheese and bread go very well together, this (to paraphrase Dan Quayle) is no muffaletta.

Turtle Bread Pudding

21 May 2016: The salad special of the day during our second visit was an ingredient-laden paragon of leafy green deliciousness.  Picture if you will fresh spinach leaves, candied pecans, goat cheese, grilled chicken and tangy strawberries all drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette.  This salad is an exemplar of complementary flavor and texture profiles–from the pungent and sharp goat cheese to the tangy-sweet strawberries and the sweet-savory candied pecans.  it’s a thoroughly enjoyable salad which should grace the daily menu.  It’s too special to be solely an occasional special-of-the-day.

1 August 2015: It’s been a while since I’ve uncovered a great bread pudding to recommend to my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate. For years, Larry has scoured the Land of Enchantment for bread pudding worthy of inclusion into his Bread Pudding Hall of Fame. There’s a very good chance Savory Fare’s turtle bread pudding will make the list should Larry visit (there’s an invitation implied here, Larry).  It’s an outstanding bread pudding with all the turtle elements sweet-toothed diners enjoy so much.  That means plenty of warm, gooey caramel and meaty walnuts atop a texturally perfect bread pudding that would be delicious on its own.  

Sour Cherry Pie

1 August 2015: My friend and colleague Elaine Ascending and her husband recently celebrated his birthday with a sour cherry pie from Savory Fare.  What a great wife and what an outstanding pie!  It’s the antithesis of the cloying, filler-rich cherry pie you normally find at bakeries.  True to their name, the cherries are indeed sour–not as lip-pursing as lemons, but certainly tangy and rife with personality.  The crust enveloping the cherries is every bit as good as a high-quality bakery should aspire to.  One slice isn’t enough, however.  You’ll want to take a whole pie home with you.

Perhaps fate intervened in making sure we had Savory Fare all to ourselves during our inaugural visit. It allowed us to ask more questions of the staff, walk around and browse more closely and to savor each and every bite slowly of cafe-bakery fare even more savory than is implied by the establishment’s name.

Savory Fare Cafe
7400 Montgomery Blvd, Suite 1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-8514
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 May 2016
1st VISIT: 1 August 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sour Cherry Pie, Turtle Bread Pudding, The Alexander,  Chicken Apricot Salad Sandwich, Lemonade, Strawberry Salad, Muffaletta

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La Quiche Parisienne Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexican

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro in the Mountain Run Shopping Center on Eubank

Who can ever forget Fred the Baker, the haggard, perpetually exhausted Dunkin Donuts baker and his iconic lament, “time to make the donuts?” Every morning an annoying alarm clock would rouse Fred from his deep slumber and he would wearily utter his trademarked catch phrase as he prepared for the rigor of the day. For fifteen years—from 1982 to 1997—Fred the Baker let America know it was time to make the donuts, reminding them that while he was doing so, the guys who make the supermarket donuts were still in bed. The Fred the Baker commercials became ingrained in American pop culture, but they also had a ring of truth.

Being a baker means rising very early and working during hours in which most people are sleeping. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “bakers work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays” and “the work can be stressful because bakers often work under strict deadlines and critical, time-sensitive baking requirements.”

Deliciousness Abounds at La Quiche Parisienne

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro is an exemplar of every story you’ve ever heard about how hard bakers work. Master baker Bruno Barachin and his better half Sabine Pasco, the on-site pastry chef, put in the type of hours which would exhaust most nine-to-fivers. Hard work is a way of life with which they are very familiar, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Similar to Fred the Baker, any sour disposition with which Bruno and Sabine might wake up, dissipates when they greet customers at their sprawling new location.

From its launch in 2006 through May, 2013, La Quiche Parisienne Bistro held court in a delightful Lilliputian café in Albuquerque’s downtown area. It wasn’t exactly an ideal location. Not only is parking downtown an adventure, ingress and egress for folks who don’t work downtown is a time-consuming exercise in patience. The cafe, ensconced in a pedestrian mall, was a bit cramped (to say the least), but its diminution could be viewed as a positive because diners were surrounded by the wondrous aromas emanating from the bread ovens.

One of the most Pulchritudinous Pastry Cases in Town

In its new location, the space which previously housed Glazed Hams & More in the Mountain Run Shopping Center, there’s plenty of parking and seating is no longer in personal space proximity. Because the new location is much larger, however, those alluring aromas dissipate across a larger area and you won’t imbibe them quite as much. The new location boasts of more counter space for pastries and breads. Showcased in glass pastry cases is a larger assortment of even more colorful and delicious pastries. It’s a wonder drool tracks don’t run down those pastry cases from customers studying their contents carefully.

Among the indulgences, you’ll find loaves of country bread, sourdough bread, fruit tarts, fresh-baked baguettes, quiches, artisan cakes, pain au chocolate (chocolate croissants), and so much more, all tempting treats which bear witness to Bruno’s Master Baker certification and Sabine’s genius. The bistro’s beauteous breads and pulchritudinous pastries will be available, in season, at the Nob Hill Growers’ Market every Thursday from 3PM to 6:30PM. On Saturdays, also in season, La Quiche’s products will be available at the Albuquerque Downtown Growers’ Market. It’s the closest thing you’ll find in Albuquerque to the experience of al fresco noshing on bread and pastries in France.

Croissant Sandwich with Ham, Butter and Cheese

The breakfast menu is somewhat limited if all you’re perusing are the seven items categorized as “Breakfast.” Expand your perusal to include the “Viennoiseries” section of the menu and you’ll reach the mother lode. Viennoiseries are baked goods made from a yeast-leavened dough in a manner similar to bread or from puff pastry, but with ingredients which impart a richer, sweeter character similar to that of pastry. The dough is often “laminated” with a bright oily sheen. The Viennoiseries menu includes flaky croissants, apple turnovers, cinnamon rolls, Danish, brioche and more.

The lunch (or early dinner) menu includes three soups, four salads, an array of sandwiches in which the bistro’s bread shines, tartines (open-faced sandwiches), appetizers and entrees. Entrees are served with your choice of side: salad, Ratatouille, endives braises or French fries. It’s a surprisingly ambitious menu if you’re of the mind that bakery menus are limited. It’s also surprising that the menu isn’t strictly a vehicle for showcasing the bistro’s baked goods (take the steak frites, for example).

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Strasbourg Sandwich

9 June 2013: A bowl of the onion soup Gratinee is a great way to start your dining experience.  If you don’t share that bowl with two or six of your best friends, you may not have room for anything else.  The soup is served in a swimming pool-sized bowl similar to the bowls of pho served in Vietnamese restaurants.  As with many French onion soups, this one is topped with bread and cheese though the cheese doesn’t drape over the entire bowl as some French onion soup does.  Also unlike so many served in Albuquerque’s French restaurants, this is a vegetarian soup made with a vegetarian stock.  It’s not quite as rich as French onion soup made with beef broth, but is quite good in its own right.

9 June 2013: The French country pate from the tartines section of the menu is another excellent starter.  Served as an open-faced “sandwich,” the pate is sliced into quarter-inch thick slices and placed atop a slice of French country bread then topped with shaved carrots, lettuce and red onions.  Cornichons, those delectable small pickled gherkins, olives and an incendiary French mustard complete this plate.  The pate is somewhat on the coarse side (so much better than the mousse variety) and doesn’t have that strong liver flavor of some pate.

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Steak Frites

9 June 2013: The sandwich menu is comprised of seven sandwiches, all made with the bistro’s amazing homemade breads. All sandwiches are served with French fries, though you can substitute fruit or a spring mix salad for a pittance more. Extra cornichons and French fries are other options. Named for the capital city of the Alsace region in eastern France is the Strasborg Sandwich which is constructed from pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and 1000 Island dressing on toasted Levian bread. The pastrami is the ubiquitous Boar’s Head brand, but it’s sliced on the premises. The sauerkraut has just enough fermentation to make it pleasantly sour; it won’t purse your lips. The Levian bread (bread of a wild yeast) is outstanding with a nice elasticity and texture.

9 June 2013: My Chicago born-and-bred Kim is much more carnivorous than I and would have steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner if she could. She often laments the inability of Duke City chefs to season steaks well. For her to compliment the seasoning of a steak means the chef is a bona fide genius. The steak at La Quiche was perfectly seasoned for her with the amounts of kosher salt, cracked black pepper and garlic she enjoys. It’s an eight-ounce Angus cut prepared to your exacting specifications and is served with French fries and parsley butter. Slather the butter on the steak for a moist, creamy glaze and rich flavor.

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Ratatouille

9 June 2013: The 2007 animated film Ratatouille probably did more for the consumption of vegetables than all the food pyramids put together. Ratatouille, a traditional French stewed vegetable dish, is popular among dieters because it’s low in fat and calories while being rich in nutrients. There are many ways to prepare ratatouille and most are passable. La Quiche’s rendition is wonderful, a medley of red, green and yellow peppers, onions and endive tossed in olive oil and grilled to perfection.

9 June 2013: Our first life-altering experience with the pain chocolate (chocolate croissants) baked at La Quiche was at Limonada, the popular Nob Hill restaurant. It was an experience we duplicated at the bakery where this delicious treasure was created. The croissant is delicate, light and flaky with a buttery essence. The chocolate is an “adult” chocolate, not the cloying milk chocolate stuff kids enjoy. There’s a Goldilocks quantity of chocolate—not too much, not too little…just enough. This is probably the very best pain chocolate in New Mexico!

Chocolate Croissant, the very best in Albuquerque

One of the many highlights of my friend Larry McGoldrick‘s 80th birthday gala was a chocolate-pumpkin birthday cake lovingly fashioned by Sabine.  It was a delicious demonstration of exceptional artistic talents, a picture of which you can see in the November section of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food.  After the event Larry, the professor with the perspicacious palate, reminded me I was overdue for a second visit to La Quiche Parisienne.  That return visit took place on a blustery December day experiencing the trifecta of wintry woes: wind, rain-snow and cold.

Cinnamon Roll

12 December 2015: Though not nearly as artistic, Sabine’s cinnamon rolls are in rarefied company as some of the very best in the Land of Enchantment.  You might be challenged to list more than three cinnamon rolls worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of true cinnamon roll greatness.  My list would include the cinnamon rolls at the San Marcos Cafe, the pumpkin-cinnamon rolls at Saratori D Tully and now perhaps the best and certainly the most worthy of the name, the cinnamon rolls at La Quiche Parisienne.  Unlike the icing-laden bricks some restaurants try to pass off as cinnamon rolls, these beauties are infused with aromatic cinnamon and go light on the icing.  Even better, the spiral roll is flaky and light, each pull-apart strand as buttery and delicious as could be.  These cinnamon rolls are what other cinnamon rolls should aspire to.

Moules Frites L’indienne

12 December 2015:  Motivational speaker Robert Toru Kiyosaki once declared that “French fries kill more people than guns and sharks, yet nobody’s afraid of French fries.”  The average American eats about thirty pounds of fries per year.  For the most part, French fries in New Mexico’s restaurants tend to be of the out-of-a-bag variety whose culinary contribution is empty calories.  They’re filling, but not fulfilling.  Enter the frites at La Quiche Parisienne, some of the very best in New Mexico.  Texturally, they benefit from being double-fried, a preparation technique which renders them moist and firm, not flaccid and dry.  They’re also seasoned to perfection, meaning lots of salt, a little pepper and a hint of garlic. 

One of the most enjoyable ways to enjoy the frites at la Quiche is with one of the three Moules Frites entrees.  Two of the moules (mussels)–Marinieres and Provencale–are steamed in white wine.  The third and most aromatic (and delicious) of the three moules entrees features a bowlful of steamed mussels in a creamy Indian curry.  The L’indienne mussels are terrific, all telltale signs of freshness and flavor prominent in every bite, but the curry broth is what you’ll long remember.  You’ll relish each morsel of the baguettes provided as you sop up as much curry as it will hold.  When the bread is gone, you might even enjoy the broth in soup-fashion.  It’s absolutely delicious!!

Beef Bourguignon

12 December 2015: Once considered a “peasant” dish, Beef Bourguignon was elevated in the culinary community because it was enjoyed so much by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier.  Today, it’s one of the most popular and beloved of French dishes, a comfort food favorite that seems especially wonderful when wintry weather is at its worse.  Preparation techniques for this traditional French stew involve a rather lengthy braising in red wine with onions, garlic, carrots and an herb bouquet.  The end result is very tender, very flavorful dish you’ll love any time of year.  La Quiche Parisienne serves it with fluffy rice, a baguette and a green bean-carrot medley which validates no one does vegetables as well as the French. 

12 December 2015: Just when you think you’ve tried every type possible of  French cuisine, you run into a dish that’s wholly unlike other French dishes you’ve had before.  The Boudin Blanc a l’Alsacienne or white sausage in the style of Alsace (once a part of the German Empire) provided that “aha” moment for me.  Having had similar dishes in German restaurants, it surprised me to find it in a French restaurant especially considering the historical enmity between Germany and France.  A pho-bowl sized portion of white sausage, bacon, sauerkraut and steamed potatoes proved addictive. The sauerkraut is lip-pursing in its tartness, providing a delightful contrast to the sausage and bacon. The steamed potatoes resemble log-sized Texas fries in appearance only. Texturally and from a flavor perspective, they’re so much better.

Boudin Blanc a l’Alsacienne

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro is a sleek, elegant escape to baked bread deliciousness, but there’s so much more to this paradise of pan. For instance, there are some nine quiche dishes on the menu, each one an invitation to swoon-inspiring flavors. There are decadent desserts a plenty sure to wear down your willpower. Make a run to the Mountain run shopping center soon.

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro
5500 Eubank Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-2808
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 5 July 2016
1st VISIT: 9 June 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: French Country Pate, Ratatouille, Steak Frite, Onion Soup Gratinee, Strasbourg Sandwich

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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