Marble Brewery – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Marble Brewery on First Street just north of downtown

During a recent visit to The Grill restaurant on Menaul, my friend and fellow culinary sensuist Larry McGoldrick received a very warm greeting from proprietor Phil Chavez who mistook Larry for me (not that Phil wouldn’t otherwise have welcomed Larry warmly as he does all his guests).  My good-natured friend didn’t return Phil’s warm welcome with a frosty retort as some people might have done.  It was, after all, an honest case of mistaken identity.  Larry and I are practically doppelgangers for one another–at least in terms of our passion for mom-and-pop restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment.

In a karmic example of “turnabout is fair play,” my Kim and I were looking for a downtown area restaurant to visit whose doors we hadn’t previously darkened.  When we espied the Marble Brewery on First Street, I commented, “Larry really likes this place.  We should try it.”  Another case of mistaken identity.  The brewery Larry holds in such high regard is the Nexus Brewery though we didn’t figure that out until perusing the Marble Brewery’s menu and not seeing any of the dishes Larry recommended so highly.

The comfy confines of the Marble Brewery

Situated on the northwest intersection of Marble and First Streets, the Marble Brewery will never be mistaken for a restaurant which also happens to produce award-winning beers.  It was never intended as such.  Its stated mission is “to provide bold, hand-crafted ales and lagers to New Mexico.”  Sounds simple enough, but the proof is in the imbibing. In 2010, Draft Magazine listed the Brewery’s “From the Wood” as one of the “top 25 beers of 2010.”  That’s high praise for a brewery plying its craft only since 2008.

The Brewery’s line-up includes seven house beers and a variety of seasonal draft and bottled beers, all self-distributed throughout the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas.  Distribution to other parts of the Land of Enchantment is handled by the National Distributing Company of New Mexico, a business partner.  You’ll find Marble Brewery’s best on tap and in the bottle in hundreds of restaurants, bars and retail locations throughout New Mexico. 

Chama Chili Texas-style chili made with cubes of sirloin simmered with pinto beans and red chile and served with homemade tortilla chips.

The Marble Brewery is located in the former Starco Industrial Supply Building in the McClellan Park Industrial neighborhood.  Among the visionaries who recognized the area’s potential as a re-purposed warehouse arts district and magnet for locals were the scions of Santa Fe entrepreneur Gerald Peters who also owns the Duke City’s Chama River Brewing Company.  The Peters brothers oversaw the remarkable conversion of the 6,700-square-foot building circa 1950s.  Few vestiges remain of its previous life.  Instead you’ll find a welcoming pub with distressed wooden plank floors and an outdoor beer garden.

Even though we found the Marble Brewery through a classic case of mistaken identity,  dozens of patrons frequently make their  to this popular watering hold–and not just locals.  The New York Times Travel Magazine also managed to find the marble Brewery.  In October, 2011, during 36 hours in Albuquerque, the travel magazine described the brewery as “a consummate New Mexican bar: benches, banjo players or salsa drummers, and lots of dogs and advised visitors to “rehydrate, after dancing, with a goblet of barrel-aged ale.”  In a February, 2012 post on her Tasting NM blog, scintillating author Cheryl Jamison wrote about not having developed a taste for beer until a tasting event at Marble Brewery’s Albuquerque headquarters “shocked me with the number of their well-crafted beers that I found appealing.” 

Turkey, Bacon and Green Chile Smoked turkey: Apple wood smoked bacon, cheddar and jack cheeses with green chile on sourdough bread.

In a scant four years, the brewery has expanded its brewing capacity from 2,500 barrels a year to 10,000 barrels.  The pub’s menu has not grown similarly, but as the online menu emphasizes, “Marble Brewery is not a restaurant, as there is no kitchen on site. All of our food has been prepared by Chef Steven Shook at the Chama River Brewing Co. Feel free to bring your own food to enjoy here, we just ask that you clean up after yourself. Marble Brewery also affords our loyal clientele the liberty of ordering deliverable food from a number of quality restaurants located in the Downtown Albuquerque area. Ask your bartender for more information.”

One of the Chama River Brewing Company’s most popular appetizers, Chama Chili is but one of three “snacks” available on the pub menu.  Along with the whopping total of three grilled sandwiches, it may not seem like a formidable menu, but then most patrons don’t visit the Marble Brewery for its food. Soft drink aficionados won’t find much variety either.  The only soft drink available is IBC brand root beer.  The Chama Chili isn’t our beloved piquant New Mexico-style chile (as in spelled correctly with an “e” at the end).  It’s a Texas-style chili (there goes my spell-checker again) made with cubes of sirloin simmered with pinto beans and red chili served with homemade tortilla chips.  As Texas-style chile goes, this is actually quite good.

Cuban: Pulled pork, ham, pickles and chipotle mayo on a telera roll.

One good thing about a limited menu is that it won’t take you long to decide what you want to have.  One very nice sandwich option is a turkey, bacon and green chile smoked turkey made with applewood smoked bacon, Cheddar and Jack cheeses with green chile on sourdough bread. Frankly it’s a better sandwich than you’ll find in many a sandwich shop. The green chile isn’t especially piquant as perhaps it should be for the quantity of melting cheese, but the blending of flavors and ingredients makes for a good pub-quality sandwich reminiscent of many of the sandwiches we had when we lived in England. All sandwich orders include salsa and chips.  If you like Gil-sized scoops of salsa for your chips, you’re out of luck because there’s just not much salsa in your order.

One sandwich we didn’t see in England is one which seems to have become almost de rigueur in Albuquerque sandwich restaurants.  That’s the Cuban.  The Marble Brewery’s version is fairly standard with pulled pork, ham and pickles with a little twist–chipotle mayo–on a pressed Telera roll.  It’s also a good sandwich (probably even better if you’ve quaffed a few pints), albeit not one which might make your “best of” sandwich list.  That’s not the objective here.  The point is you can have good pub quality food in an award-winning brewery.

Marble Brewery
111 Marble, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 243-2739
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 29 January 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: IBC Root Beer; Chama Chili; Cuban; Turkey, Bacon and Green Chile Smoked turkey

Marble Brewery on Urbanspoon

Los Cuates – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Los Cuates New Mexican Restaurant launched in 1989

Of the five variations of twins that occur commonly throughout the world, the most common fraternal (non-identical) occurrence is male-female twins which transpire in about 40% of all twins born. Fraternal twins may share up to 50% of their genes and generally are no more similar or dissimilar than any other two siblings.  Although technically not twins because they were “born” four years apart, the Duke City’s most famous twins are the Los Cuates restaurants (cuates being the Spanish word for twins), named for Antoinette and Marcus, the fraternal male-female twins of founder Frank R. Barela, an inspiration for all of us who started at the bottom and worked our way up. 

Barela got his start in the restaurant business in 1971 as a busboy at Silvano’s, a legendary Duke City purveyor of New Mexican food.  In 1985, he bought Silviano’s and renamed it Los Cuates after his newborn children.  In 1989, he took over another Albuquerque landmark of the era, Cocina De Carlos Mexican Restaurant, across the street from his first eatery. Because of the two restaurant’s twin-like proximity, he also named it Los Cuates…not Los Cuates I and Los Cuates II, just Los Cuates.

The famous salsa and chips at Los Cuates

From the very beginning, Los Cuates has been one of the most popular New Mexican restaurants in the city.  In its halcyon days, diners lined up before opening while late-comers waited for a table to come open. The restaurant’s logo of a little boy and girl twins astride a burro has been, for years, a very familiar landmark to Albuquerque diners who certify their love of the diner’s food on the Alibi’s annual “best of” poll. One category Los Cuates has practically owned since the inception of the poll is best chips and salsa.

The salsa is indeed unique–wholly unlike the traditional New Mexican salsa of tomatoes, onions, garlic and either green chile or jalapenos. Los Cuates salsa is based on ancho chiles (known as chile pasilla in the Michoacan area and in California), an aromatic, brownish red chile that smells somewhat like prunes and has a mild, rich and almost sweet taste with just a hint of residual bitterness. It’s an “either you love it or you don’t” type of salsa with plenty of fans and detractors. Count me among those who love the uniqueness of this pre-prandial treat though I don’t quite love it as much in its bottled state–in part because the ingredient list reads like it belongs in a chemistry lab.

An enchilada trio–carne adovada, chicken and ground beef–served Christmas style on blue corn tortillas

A basket of chips and a small plastic bowl with the dark red salsa is placed on your table shortly after you’re seated. The complementary sweet and piquant salsa is satiny smooth, not at all chunky like most restaurants serve. It’s not the most piquant salsa in Albuquerque, but definitely leaves a pleasant, capsaicin-kissed impression on your tongue and taste buds. The chips are unfailingly crisp and faithfully replenished.

In Albuquerque, a New Mexican restaurant won’t survive on its salsa alone, no matter how storied that salsa may be. Fortunately Los Cuates’ menu is replete with traditional favorites prepared from recipes passed on through generations. When your entree arrives at your table, it’s steaming hot with no evidence of pre-made, pre-heated dryness that’s become all too common in other restaurants. There’s a freshness to everything at Los Cuates.

The famous Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVLR) enjoys huevos rancheros at Los Cuates

One of the entrees Los Cuates does exceptionally well is enchiladas (beef, chicken or cheese) crafted with blue corn tortillas. These aren’t your gloppy, boring enchiladas. Not only are the beef and chicken seasoned well and absolutely delicious on their own, the accompanying red or green chile lends a rich savoriness. The chile isn’t the sinus-clearing, eye-watering stuff I like, but at least the chile is discernible in its flavor profile and not corn-starchy.  During a visit to the Los Cuates on Albuquerque’s Northwest side, I happened upon a special of the day that included a trio of enchiladas–carne adovada, chicken and ground beef.  They were quite good.

Anything with chicken is a good bet at Los Cuates. That includes the stuffed sopaipillas. Deep pockets are formed in pillow-like sopaipillas then those pockets are generously engorged with flavorful and moist chicken which is then topped with melted cheddar cheese and your choice of red or green chile.  The chicken is so fresh and moist, it’s reminiscent of stewed chicken.  A platter includes refried beans and rice. Portions are enormous.


Many entrees include complementary sopaipillas which arrive at your table steamy warm. Intrepid diners risk burning their fingers and the roof of their mouths so they can attack these puffy pillows of goodness with honey. There’s no need for dessert when you’ve got these gems though Los Cuates does a nice job with natillas, the smooth, sweet custard dish.

Note: While walking the La Luz Trail in July, 2002, Frank Barella collapsed and died of a heart attack at age 50. His restaurant was placed in a trust for several months until purchased by two well-established Duke City restaurateurs–Larry Gutierrez of Little Anita’s and George Daskalos of Milly’s Restaurant. The new ownership vowed “everything would stay the same–recipes and staff. Shortly after this changing of the guard, a few long-time Los Cuates staffers launched their own restaurant, Mis Amigos which has since closed.

Sopaipillas at Los Cuates

There are some who say Los Cuates just isn’t the same restaurant it once was–and in fact, in 2005, the twins became triplets with the launch of yet a third restaurant.  The third in the Los Cuates line (8700 Menaul Blvd, N.E.) opened in 2005 at the former site of the city’s only Godfather’s Pizza restaurant.  Five years later, the original Los Cuates at 5016 Lomas, N.E., closed, eventually to be replaced by Silvano’s, a full-circle turn few would have expected. 

2011 was a year of major expansion for Los Cuates which launched a Santa Fe restaurant in May within the confines of the Lodge of Santa Fe Hotel.  In November, Los Cuates found a home within the Albuquerque International Airport.  Located immediately before the security checkpoint, the Sunport’s Los Cuates makes it possible for your first meal when you land or your last meal before you take off to be New Mexican food.  Cheryl Jamison, one of America’s most lauded food authors and a frequent flying bon-vivant praised the restaurant on her Tasting NM blog.  Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos, who has enjoyed the huevos rancheros at the Sunport Los Cuates also sees it as a boon to travelers.

Los Cuates in Albuquerque’s Northwest side (10051 Coors Blvd, N.W.)

In January, 2012, Los Cuates expaned to Albuquerque’s sprawling far Northwest side within one mile of Corrales and two miles of Rio Rancho. Situated in the nearly 8,000 square-foot edifice which previously housed Copeland’s on the West side’s “restaurant row,” it is the most ostentatious of all the Los Cuates restaurants. Whether the twins, now quintuplets, will continue to expand remains to be seen. The restaurant’s popularity shows no sign of decline in its popularity and remains a formidable and favorite presence for New Mexican food.

Los Cuates
4901 Lomas, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
505 255-5079
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 25 January 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, Sopaipillas, Stuffed Sopaipillas (chicken), Blue Corn Enchiladas (chicken), Carnitas

Los Cuates (Original) on Urbanspoon

Roper’s Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Roper’s Restaurant on Central Avenue just east of Wyoming

Since the early 1980s when I was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, every vehicle I’ve owned has seemingly had a built-in auto-pilot with the destination 8810 Central, S.E. hard-coded. For years that was the address of the junior-most of two Albuquerque Milton’s restaurants, a classic American diner which consistently serves some of the very best diner entrees in the city. Milton’s was for me and my barracks-dwelling friends what Monk’s Cafe was to Jerry Seinfeld and his friends and what the Central Perk Coffee House was to the Friends cast. It’s where we commiserated with one another after a stressful day and it was where we celebrated good times.

When I returned to New Mexico after three years in England, one of the first destinations on my agenda was that familiar address on Old Route 66.  Instead of friends who were no longer stationed at Kirtland, my dining companion was Kim, my bride of two years.  As with many people who grew up in the “Hog butcher for the world,” (one of several nicknames for Chicago in Carl Sandburg’s 1916 poem “Chicago”), Kim is an unabashed meat and potatoes lover.  The menu, an array of hearty and homespun comfort foods and blue-plate favorites was tailor-made for her Midwestern constitution.  Mine, too, thanks to a selection of traditional New Mexican dishes.

Western themed Roper's Restaurant

Over time the Northeast Heights version of Milton’s which had long been my sanctuary and home away from home became Kap’s then the Acropolis Cafe and Kap’s again.  In 2004, yet another transformation ensued with Kap’s metamorphosing into a Cowboy themed restaurant named Roper’s. Alas, that makeover met with an inauspicious beginning thanks to a less than favorable review from the then Albuquerque Journal food critic, the brilliant rhapsodist Kelly Koepke.  Luckily my car’s auto-pilot doesn’t read restaurant reviews and has continued to find its way to Roper’s with us in tow.

Roper’s ambiance is definitely all cowboy–from barb wire framed prints of old west scenes to faux cow hides on the walls.  Both types of music–country and western– are played on the sound system.  Only a couple of the cheerful waitresses remain who over the years became part of the ambiance at whatever restaurant existed at the Wyoming and Central location.  Some of them moved on after more than 20 years in the same location but the current staff is very accommodating and attentive, seemingly tending to dozens of tables simultaneously. 

Con queso with chips

Roper’s menu continues the restaurant’s thematic paean to the Old West with “fancified cowboy grub” (thank you, Kelly)–or at least entrees named for Old West terms and places.  American and new Mexican entrees still rule the roost, though you’re not likely to find them sans sobriquet.  The eggs burrito breakfast I’ve ordered countless times over the past 25 years, for example, is now called the “Broken Arrow” and you can now ask for bacon, ham, sausage or cottage potatoes inside that burrito.  The burrito is smothered by green or red chili (or both).  It’s not quite  the same wonderful chile taste that captured my affection so many years ago (it probably has something to do with the menu’s atrocious Texas spelling of “chili”), but the Broken Arrow remains one of my favorite breakfast burritos in town.

Whether topped with red or green chili, Roper’s New Mexican entrees are still a good way to start a morning or end the day.   Despite the spelling “chili” (which my spellchecker tells me is so wrong) Roper’s chili bears no resemblance to the beef and cumin laden Texas chili.  It’s unadulterated New Mexican chile prepared as well as many New Mexican restaurants prepare it.  The menu even offers an extra hot green chile that actually got the attention of this chile masochist (in New Mexico pain is a flavor).  You can also have a green chile country gravy that goes very well with biscuits and chicken fried steak.

The Broken Arrow

Breakfast is served all day long and remains my favorite meal at Roper’s where an evening entree might well be pigs in a blanket (link sausages wrapped in pancakes and doused with syrup) or a Broken Arrow breakfast burrito.  A favorite appetizer over the years has been the con queso, a bowlful of hot melted cheese punctuated with a pleasantly piquant green chile and topped with chopped green onions and tomatoes.  Served with crispy chips, the con queso is rich and gooey, usually too rich to finish during the same meal in which it’s ordered. 

The marquee in front of Roper’s during a January, 2012 visit invited diners to try the restaurant’s green chile cheeseburger omelet.  For someone endeavoring to sample every one of the 66 green chile cheeseburgers on the 2011 edition of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, the marquee was an invitation to sample a creative variation on the beatified burger.  A multi-egg omelet is engorged with cheese and a large beef patty more akin to a hamburger steak than a burger patty then ladled with a generous dousing of green chile.  The beef is well seasoned and moist, legions superior to the previously frozen patties adorning too many green chile cheeseburgers throughout New Mexico.  This omelet is served with homestyle potatoes which you’ll enjoy most when you cover them with green chile.

Green Chile Cheeseburger Omelet with Home Fries

Roper’s features some of the most unique pancakes we’ve ever had including the “Mexican griddle cheese cakes” in which green chile, cheddar cheese and ham are baked right into the pancakes.  This unlikely combination of contrasting tastes is a great waker-upper. In its annual food and wine issue for 2011, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Roper’s Mexican Griddle Pancakes a “Hot Plate Award” as the “Hot Breakfast”  Albuquerque can’t live without.  If “gussied up” pancakes aren’t your style, you can still order a short stack–two fluffy pancakes just waiting for butter and syrup.  Short stack is a bit of a misnomer.  Even though these pancakes are stacked only three high, each golden orb is about six inches in diameter.  They’re also served warm in a winter weather comforting way. 

If anything, a short stack will short-change you from the enjoyment of pancakes optimized for creativity and flavor.  You’ll want as much of the Santa Fe pancakes as you can get.  These bounteous blue corn pancakes are made with green chile, sausage and Cheddar-Jack cheese.  “Not on my pancakes,” you say.  That’s what my Kim first thought before being playfully goaded into trying them.  She then proceeded to eat more than her share of the too-short-stack.  Most pancakes with syrup cross the border into cloying.  The combination of green chile, sausage and Cheddar-Jack add flavor dimensions of piquancy, savoriness and tangy-sharpness.  These pancakes are a winner.

The “Santa Fe” pancakes–green chile, Cheddar-Jack cheese, sausage and green chile

Roper’s lunch and dinner menu features many homestyle (particularly in Texas) favorites including pork chops, meatloaf, chicken fried steak and even liver and onions.  Sandwiches and salads are also available including an intriguing fried catfish salad which you don’t have to be from Texas to appreciate.

You don’t have to have a car set on auto-pilot to find Roper’s.  If you ever visited Milton’s on the Northeast Heights, you’re there.  Don’t expect Milton’s because that’s a tall order Roper’s doesn’t quite fill.  Still, it’s a nice diner that serves generous portions of hearty food.

Roper’s Restaurant
8810 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 15 January 2012
COST: $$
LATEST VISIT: Broken Arrow, Mexican Griddle Cheese Cakes, Enchiladas, Tamales, Con Queso, Green Chile Cheeseburger Omelet

Roper's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Whoo’s Donuts – Santa Fe, New Mexico


When my corporate group had its employees, a high-performing contingent of information technology professionals, take a strengths assessment, the results were contrary to the stereotypes often painted about techno-geeks. None of us, for example, were profiled as Megadeath tee-shirt-wearing introverts who live in our mother’s basement and play World of Warcraft online against disembodied “friends.” Most of us were correctly pegged as being high achievers with healthy interpersonal skills and altruistic inclinations.

The employee who defied the IT stereotype most was my friend and fellow Peñasquero Antonette whom the assessment categorized as a “Woo” for her naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior. Even though Antonette was a cheerleader in high school, Woo in this case, is not a cheer or an onomatopoeia of excitement. Woo is an acronym for “winning others over.” In the world of a Woo, there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met–lots of them. Woos relish the challenge of meeting new people and derive satisfaction from making personal connections.

Twin display cases of donut deliciousness

Woo fits Antonette to a tee, but it’s admittedly not a characterization one would ascribe to me, a pretty plebeian guy. To me, woo (or woot as my friend Andrea Lin has been known to say) remains an expression of excitement, albeit one uttered in my usual Ben Stein deadpan and stoic manner. It’s something I say upon receipt of exciting news–such as the launch of a promising new restaurant. If my restaurant ratings were to be expressed as utterances of excitement, I would rate restaurants on a scale of one to four woos. Whoo’s Donuts in Santa Fe would earn four woos (and certainly more than one “mmm donuts” from Homer Simpson) and not just because of the obvious alliterative similarities between the words. It’s simply one of the most exciting donut restaurants in New Mexico. Woo!

Until the September 30, 2011 launch of Whoo’s Donuts, Santa Fe was surprisingly lacking in a high quality non-chain donut shop to complement all the highly regarded gourmet restaurants which make the City Different one of America’s premier dining destinations. The recognition of this niche opportunity makes it only fitting therefore that this denizen of donut deliciousness be named for the wise owl. Whoo’s Donuts is the brainchild of Jeff and Kari Keenan, owners of The ChocolateSmith which gained national prominence when featured in the Food Network’s “Road Tested” program. Whoo’s Donuts is situated next door to the ChocolateSmith.

Top: Maple bacon with dark chocolate glaze and chili brown sugar; Bottom: Pistachio cake with white chocolate lemon ganache and Dark Chocolate Toffee Donut

The notion of a donut shop taking pride in its use of “organic” and “locally sourced” ingredients may seem antithetical in a market dominated by caloric and processed sugar overachievers, but Whoo’s Donuts pulls it off with absolutely no sacrifice in the flavor and decadence departments, not to mention in imagination. Where the chain donut shops have become predictably banal, Whoo’s is an exciting breath of olfactory arousing air with an inventive array of über-delicious donuts showcased under glass in twin cases. A wooden plank sunburst behind the counter seems to herald the dawn of a new era–an era Whoo’s time has come.

While much of the shop’s business is of the take-out variety, Whoo’s does offer seating (around wooden barrels) for patrons who aren’t in a hurry. Make it a point to stick around where you can also enjoy a custom blend from Fat Boy Roasters of Cedar Crest. You’re bound, as we did, to run into other Homer Simpsonesque donut aficionados happily regaling one another with tales of donuts past and to come. We ran into a couple from Portland who eschewed hometown pride to declare Whoo’s Donuts better than the legendary Voodoo Donuts. That’s high praise indeed.

Cinnamon Roll at top; Dulce de Leche with chocolate and sea salt at bottom

If Portland’s Voodoo Donuts didn’t invent the maple bacon bar, they sure did popularize it. Whoo’s Donuts one-ups Voodoo with a bit of New Mexican alchemy–a maple bacon bar with dark chocolate glaze and chili (sic) brown sugar. Sliced into tiny strips, the bacon is a crispy and savory complement to the adult dark chocolate glaze and the discernibly and very pleasantly piquant chili brown sugar. Great tastes that taste great together! Another terrific triumvirate can be enjoyed in the pistachio cake with white chocolate lemon ganache. The toasted pistachios with their salty underpinnings form a wonderful marriage with the tangy and tart lemon ganache.

Toffee chunks of all sizes punctuate dark chocolate in the dark chocolate toffee donut which just might answer the question as to what a Heath bar might taste like in donut form. It would taste like a delectable bit of paradise. The ChocolateSmith is famous for its chocolate-covered caramels with sea salt, a combination which also works well in a dulce de leche (a sweet cream caramel) donut with chocolate and sea salt. Sea salt both complements and contrasts the sweetness of the caramel and the ecstasy eliciting flavor of dark chocolate. It’s a magical combination. Whoo’s cinnamon rolls are gooey, rich and very cinnamony, better if heated with a pad of melted butter for contrast.

Whatever your expression of excitement might be, Whoo’s Donuts certainly warrants it be expressed loudly. This is a true woo if there ever was one!

Whoo’s Donuts
851-B Cerillos Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 629-1678
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 7 January 2012
BEST BET: Dulce de Leche, Cinnamon Roll, Maple bacon with dark chocolate glaze and chili brown sugar, Pistachio cake with white chocolate lemon ganache, Dark Chocolate Toffee Donut

Whoo's Donuts on Urbanspoon

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery – Taos, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery in Taos, New Mexico

In 1989, the tarantula hawk wasp was designated the official state insect of New Mexico, joining the roadrunner (state bird), whiptail lizard (state reptile),  spadefoot (state amphibian), Sandia Hairstreak (state butterfly),  Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (state fish) and the black bear (state animal) as official symbols of our great state.  Ostensibly the state legislature put aside partisan politics and selected these symbols after carefully weighing all options.  A case could certainly have been made for the dragonfly to represent New Mexico.

 Not only is the dragonfly a ubiquitous presence–flitting fluidly and gracefully like tiny fairies attired in wardrobes of many colors–they are omnipresent in local lore and legend.  In The Boy Who Made Dragonfly A Zuni Myth retold by New Mexico’s eminent author Tony Hillerman, the dragonfly represents a messenger between children and the gods.  The Zuni consider the dragonfly a shamanistic creature with supernatural powers while to the Navajo, the dragonfly represents pure water.

The front dining room at Dragonfly

Anyone who’s ever observed these multi-colored frequent fliers as they perform such spectacular aerial feats as loop-the-loops and flying backwards can’t help but be held spellbound by their grace and beauty.  It’s no wonder so many birdwatchers have  become dragonfly watchers that dragonflies have come to be known as “the birders’ insect.”  Spellbound is a good term for describing the Dragonfly Cafe And Bakery in Taos about which Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate advises, “don’t even think about eating breakfast/brunch anywhere else.”

The Dragonfly Cafe and Bakery was founded in 1998 by Karen Todd, a transplanted Chicagoan with decades of experience in restaurants and bakeries.  A world traveler and culinary student, Karen is intimately acquainted with the cuisine of many cultures, influences of which are apparent in her restaurant’s eclectic menu.  On Monday nights, the Dragonfly offers an East Indian menu while on Wednesdays, tapas and wine flights are featured fare. She calls her delightful slice of gustatory heaven a “European-style cafe and bakery.”   That’s especially accurate in that the Dragonfly is the type of community gathering place in which friends congregate for good food, good conversation and good times.  In the winter they cozy up next to the adobe fireplace in the front dining room and in the summer, they enjoy the verdant flora, bubbling fountains and occasional dragonfly in the courtyard.

A steaming bowl of kale and potato soup

The Dragonfly prides itself in using the highest quality ingredients–procured locally and grown organically when available–and hormone- and antibiotic-free dairy and non-cured meats.  Seasonal produce is picked fresh from the chef’s garden or is produced by small, local growers.  In the off-season, produce is preserved and pickled for year-round use.  Included among the restaurant’s diverse staples are kimchee, smoked fish, mushrooms, eggplant, corned beef buffalo and an award-winning granola.  The Dragonfly has a full-service coffee bar with an assortment of gourmet Mighty Leaf teas, organic soy milk and house-made chai tea. 

As with other Taos restaurants, the Bohemian spirit is alive and well at the Dragonfly, a cafe which is both homey and unconventional.  It’s relaxed and informal with a “laissez faire” element that appeals to the counter-culturalist remnants of the 60s but won’t turn off the corporate suits–or my old-fashioned 82-year-young mom who managed to find something to love amidst a menu she found a bit strange.  Most will enjoy the colorful confines of the 1920s bungalow style adobe which originally served as a family home complete with gardens, livestock and an orchard on the back of the property.  

Bibimbop: Two eggs over easy with brown rice, vegetables, kim chee, scallions and garlic chili sauce

In May, 2002, it wasn’t the Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery’s culinary diversity which was on display, but its mastery of Southwest-inspired dishes.  The event was the Food Network’s Food Nation program hosted by chef glitterati Bobby Flay who was in town to celebrate northern New Mexico culture.   Chef-owner Karen Dodd feted the superstar chef with an hors d’oeuvres menu which included such savory starters as tiny calabacitas cups bulging with green chile and roasted red peppers; fresh yellow corn and oregano goat cheese and red chile mousse daubed on garlic crostini; lamb and green onion brochettes partnered to a red chile yogurt dipping sauce and smoked trout dotted with watercress and aïoli on white corn tortillas.  Sumptuous sweets included cornmeal-piñon-orange shortbread; red chile-infused chocolate truffles; and apricot brown butter bars. Flay was effusive in his appreciation.

The daily menu may not be quite as Southwest-centric, but it is no less exciting.  On the date of our inaugural visit, the lunch menu was wonderfully multifarious, a deliciously diverse melange of Korean, Greek, New Mexican, Moroccan and Cajun dishes.  The dinner menu we perused is even more exciting, not a carbon copy of the lunch menu albeit with higher prices and slightly bigger portions.  The breakfast and brunch menus are highly regarded by my friend Larry McGoldrick whose recommendation you can trust.

Gyros: Marinated lamb with tzatziki sauce, hummus, tomato, red onion, cucumber, olives, feta and pita bread

Because our inaugural visit was on a blustery winter day, a comforting bowl of soup was in order.  The soup of the day was a kale and potato soup, a variation on the traditional Portuguese caldo verde.  Our server apprised us that the soup was spicy in a manner reminiscent of garam masala, a spice blend that’s really the heart of many Indian dishes.  A brimming bowl arrived at our table steaming hot with tangles of kale floating atop a fragrant vegetable broth redolent with a bouquet of exotic spices.  The soup’s fragrance foretold the deliciousness of the heart-warming soup.

One of the most intriguing items on the menu was a unique interpretation of a dish which made my top ten list of dishes I had in 2011–bibimbap, a Korean dish which literally translates to “mixed meal” in part because it’s constructed from sundry items often already prepared. As with Korean bibimbap, Dragonfly’s version starts with a large bowl of brown rice at the bottom of the bowl.  Atop the rice are sundry vegetables–zucchini, broccoli, julienned carrots, scallions and more as well as a generous dollop of pleasantly piquant garlic chili sauce.  Two eggs prepared to your exacting specifications cover much of the dish.  Mixing the melange is not only fun, but introduces all the elements to each other, forming a wondrous deliciousness in every bite.  You can add chicken, tofu or steak to the bibimbap if you wish, but they’re wholly unnecessary.

Organic Chicken Pot Pie

Another well interpreted dish worthy of its Greek origin are gyros, marinated lamb nestled in a warm pita and served with tzatziki sauce, hummus, tomato, red onion, cucumber, feta cheese and olives.  Unlike that served on gyros at many a Greek restaurant, the lamb is not shaved from a vertical spit nor is it an amalgam of lamb and beef.  It’s wonderfully seasoned and marinated lamb reminiscent of the shawarma offered at the magnificent San Pedro Middle East Restaurant.  The garlicky hummus and tzatziki are excellent as well.

Somewhat less exotic, but very good “mom” food is the organic chicken pot pie.  Atop the crust is a dragonfly shaped cut-out also made of crust.  Puncture the crust and you’re greeted with wisps of fragrant steam enticing you further.  Fill your forks with a bit of crust and as creamy a pot pie concoction as you’ll find anywhere.  It’s resplendent with vegetables and not just the conventional carrots and potatoes.  Dragonfly’s pot pie includes sweet potatoes and other delicious surprises.  The organic chicken is plentiful and it’s cut into bite-size pieces so you’re not left wondering where the poultry went.

The dessert platter, a bevy of bakery deliciousness

Even if you’re left full from the generously portioned entrees, you’ve got to make room for one of the Dragonfly’s award-winning (“Best of Taos” in 2006, 2008 and 2009 according to the Taos News).  The bakery goods are fresh, homemade, healthy and made in-house using local organic flour, sweet cream butter and natural sweeteners.  No corn syrup or hydrogenated oils are used.  Your server will bring by a platter brimming with some of the bakery treasures: fruit galettes, tarts, brownies, cookies, chocolate eclairs, cheesecakes, bread pudding, coconut macaroons and truffles. Deciding what to have is nearly as challenging as some of the Taos Ski Valley’s exhilarating runs.

One of the most exciting is a white chocolate and cherry bread pudding, the best I’ve had in Taos county other than my mom’s caprirotada.  The warm gooeyness of the melting white chocolate, the tart-sweet cherries and the custard-like texture elevate this humble, moist dessert into an excellent rendition of my favorite dessert.  

The Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery is right at home in an area replete with art galleries and Karen Todd is every bit the artist as are  the much celebrated Taos art colony denizens.  Instead of a gallery, she creates her art in the kitchen.  Her restaurant and bakery are not to be missed.

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery
402 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte
Taos, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 29 December 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bibimbop, Lamb Gyros, Organic Chicken Pot Pie, Macaroon, Cherry & White Chocolate Bread Pudding, Dulce de Leche Tart

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