The first time my friends and I visited the Calico Cafe at its original Corrales location, we wondered if the restaurant suffered from an identity crisis. Exterior signage read “Calico Cafe” but the menus indicated we were dining at “Cowgirl’s.” Apparently the restaurant was initially christened Cowgirl’s, but a name change was court-ordered after a naming dispute with Santa Fe’s long-established Cowgirls BBQ restaurant.
On December 2nd, 2004, the popular and intimate lunch and breakfast restaurant owned by Corrales residents Vernon and Angel Garcia, was consumed by fire. In 2006, the Calico Cantina & Cafe launched in a new and much expanded location, the 19,000 square foot Village Shops at Los Ranchos–in the heart of the original Route 66. Coupled with outdoor seating in a spacious patio, the Cafe now accommodates as many as 189 diners.
The Village Shops at Los Ranchos is a burgeoning complex usually beset by the parking woes of popular destinations. The Calico Cantina & Cafe is an anchor tenant along with its sister restaurant Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse, located directly behind the Cafe’s bakery. Vernon’s, patterned after a probation era speakeasy, can be accessed through the Los Ranchos Liquors store.
Thematically, the Calico Cantina & Cafe could be described as “Southwestern with an emphasis on Western.” Peeled knotted pine vigas on the ceiling support copper burnished light fixtures. A waxy plaster finish on the walls hosts several western watercolor paintings, most by popular Corrales artist Doreman Burns.
Burns’ watercolor compositions juxtapose the American cowgirl against multi-hued sunsets, azure skies and other romantic settings that portray a spirit of independence and beauty. The cowgirls’ eyes are always shaded, making the viewer wonder what the windows to the soul are transfixed upon.
I’m getting ahead of myself in describing the restaurant. The very first thing you see when you step into the restaurant is a bakery case perhaps unlike any other in any Albuquerque dining establishment. You’ll wonder how drool stains and tongue trails don’t cover the glass under which some of the very best cakes and cookies in town are displayed.
The German Chocolate Cake is certainly one of the very best of its kind we’ve sampled in the Duke City. Rich and delicious, it is served slab-sized and is easily big enough for two to share, not that you’d want to. The cookies are the size of a motorcycle tire. Oatmeal, chocolate chip, sugar cookies–they’re all there under glass and all beckoning you to abandon the diet du jour.
The menu is replete with all the comfort food favorites Americans love in huge portions: chicken-fried steak, pot roast, meat loaf and more all with mashed potatoes and gravy and buttered corn. A mom-and-pop restaurant to the nth degree, the Calico Cantino & Cafe also specializes in New Mexican food favorites.
The prime rib sandwich provides the type of comfort you might want wrapped around you like a cocoon. This sandwich features tender prime rib-style beef shaved thin and piled high on a warm, crusty ciabatta roll. It is available with either Swiss or Cheddar cheese and is served with a seasoned au jus and a small tub of horseradish. The au jus is hot and delicious, served in a cup big enough for sandwich dipping. The horseradish has the distinctive taste of well, horseradish with just enough bite to get your attention.
Breakfast at the Calico Cantina & Cafe is a popular family event, especially on weekends when traditional American and New Mexican breakfast entrees are served.
The restaurant has a unique twist on the quesadilla, most of which are served elsewhere as wafer thin and oozing cheese. The Calico’s breakfast quesadilla is engorged with scrambled eggs; your choice of bacon, sausage or ham (or carne adovada for a bit more) and country potatoes.
The Calico Cafe’s version is a far cry from the Nicole Ritchie thin quesadillas you may have had elsewhere. The quesadilla is easily three-quarters of an inch thick and bulging with ingredients. Alas, it’s served with a chunky tomato salsa served just-out-of-the-refrigerator cold. It would be better with a hot and piquant green chile.
“Vernon’s Favorite,” an eye-opening breakfast of three eggs prepared any style, a rasher (three) plus one of bacon, country style potatoes and a short-stack (what a misnomer) of pancakes. The pancakes are about six-inches around and served with a hot syrup. The country-style potatoes are cubed and baked. The bacon is crisp and thick-sliced. It’s a day’s worth of delicious calories in one meal.
The wait staff at the Calico Cafe is on-the-spot with free coffee or soft-drink refills. It’s a courteous staff prone to folksiness that seems more sincere than rehearsed.
Fourth Street in historic Los Ranchos De Albuquerque houses some of the area’s most popular restaurants (Sadie’s, Sophia’s Place, Cafe Benavidez, Garduno’s). With the Calico Cafe joining the fray, diners have yet another great dining destination not too far from anywhere else in the Albuquerque area.
6855 4th Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 20 July 2009
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: German Chocolate Cake, Prime Rib Sandwich, Breakfast Quesadilla