Limonata Italian Street Food Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico
While contemplating a name for their second Duke City restaurant venture, Maxime and Daniela Bouneou wanted to convey the feeling of a refreshing and invigorating venue in which their patrons could relax and enjoy themselves. After deliberating several options, they ultimately decided on Limonata, the Italian word for lemonade. When Daniela proudly told her friends in Italy what the new restaurant would be named, they laughed, reminding her that Limonata is an Italian slang term for “French kiss.”
Though Maxime and Daniela may have become a bit more “Americanized” by having lived in the United States for more than a decade, Limonata has the look, feel and most importantly, tastes of a true Italian trattoria. Limonata was launched as the more informal and sassy younger sibling of Torinos @ Home, the sensational Italian ristorante many of the cognoscenti consider one of, if not the Land of Enchantment’s best for Italian cuisine. Limonata’s menu focuses on simple fare–Italian street food–at relatively low prices in a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere and as the Bouneous envisioned, it’s a refreshing change of pace.
Limonata is located in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district, one block south of Central Avenue on Silver. There’s a bit of delicious irony in that its next door neighbor is a French kiss of deliciousness, the second instantiation of P’Tit Louis Bistro. Limonata is the eastern-most cornerstone in a contiguous complex that includes ‘Tit Louis and Ajiaco Colombian Bistro. Save for the Spanish tiled roof, the wider-than-it-is-deep building is wholly antithetical to the abobe hued stereotype of Duke City architecture. Limonata actually more closely resembles its residential neighbors than it does other area restaurants.
Step inside the welcoming edifice and you’ll be enveloped in a swath of warm colors and the architecture of a bygone era. You’ll also be welcomed by a very courteous and professional staff, perhaps even Bill and (or) Brenda Ennis who acquired Limonata early in 2015. With with experience in restaurants and baking, the Ennis family hasn’t skipped a beat. Standards are still exceedingly high. The front room, where you place your order invites browsing through the slate board on which the menu is scrawled in chalk. You’ll want to carefully study the glass display cases and their treasures. It’s a wonder there aren’t drool tracks on the glass because the tortas (Italian-style quiches) and pastries are mouth-watering.
The best part of waking up may just be breakfast at Limonata which offers cappuccino, espresso, lattes and cioccolata calda all’Italiana (Italian hot chocolate) as well as such breakfast favorites as granola, pastries, waffles and the New Mexican breakfast standard, the breakfast burrito. Fresh lavender lemonade, fresh-squeezed orange juice and an array of San Pellegrino Italian fruit beverages are also available. One of the welcome additions brought in by the new owners is an alluring assortment of sweet and savory crepes. If it sometimes feels as if crepes are priced like gold, you’ll appreciate the reasonable prices of Limonata’s crepes.
Limonata’s goal is twofold–“make you happy” and “make you feel you are in Italy.” Mission accomplished…or at least as much as it’s possible to do so in the desert Southwest. A sun-bathed east-facing patio is the perfect venue for meeting up with friends and family for great conversation and (perhaps even better) food. In the spirit of the true and authentic Italian trattoria, Limonata’s menu focuses on housemade pastas, fresh and locally sourced vegetables and produce, fine cheeses and delicious antipastos. Because the menu offers such variety and deliciousness, repeat visits are a certainty.
Launched on June 26th, 2012, Limonata–open from 7AM to 5PM Monday through Friday and 8AM to 5PM on Sunday–has something for all tastes, including one of the most vegetarian-friendly menus in town. Best of all, breakfast and lunch are available all day long. Whether it’s a loaded breakfast burrito, a bowl of granola and yogurt or something as simple as toast and jam, you can’t help but start your day off in a good mood. You’ll sustain that good mood all day long if you take home as many of Limonata’s macaroons as you can carry.
It’s been my experience (Gutiz comes to mind) that when a restaurant offers an outstanding chocolate croissant (also known as pain au chocolat), you’d better order one before they’re all gone. Don’t wait to decide if you want dessert or not. Order the chocolate croissant and don’t worry about saving the best for last. This is a life-altering chocolate croissant, on par with those at the aforementioned Gutiz. The croissant itself is very delicate and flaky. It’s also buttery, but not overly so. The chocolate is an adult chocolate, not the cloying kid stuff and there’s just enough of it.
During a May, 2016 visit to Limonata, I had the pleasure of meeting up with my good friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, the dazzling Deanell Collins and that culinary bon-vivant Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver. It was the inaugural visit for all three of them and the first time Larry and Deanell got to meet Sr. Plata. It’s been my experience that great food is made even better by great company and sparkling conversation. That’s an unbeatable combination. So were the unbeatable combination of dishes we ordered, dishes which quickly won over our little gastronomic group.
31 May 2016: One of the many not-to-be-missed entrees at Limonata is the antipasto platter, a beautifully plated wooden cutting board piled generously with diverse ingredients, each one seemingly titillating different taste buds. The grilled vegetables–red peppers, grilled zucchini and eggplant–are nicely pickled so that their natural flavors are accentuated, not masked. One of the platter’s many highlights are the pickled cipolline onions. Cipolline onions are saucer-shaped Italian pearl onions with a uniquely sweet and mild flavor. They are positively addictive. So is the goat cheese which Deanell found delightful on or independent of the focaccia, half a loaf of which is served with each antipasto platter. The meats–mortadella and prosciutto–on the antipasto platter are an excellent foil for the vegetables. The mortadella, a generously sliced pork sausage, will remind you that to ever equate it to American baloney is an insult. The thinly-sliced, salt-cured prosciutto is nicely marbled for flavor richness.
31 May 2016: It’s a given that if a menu features something this gastronome has never previously tried, it’ll be crossing my lips in short order. Limonata’s dessert case included one such item–marionberry pie which I jokingly referred to as “Marion Barry,” for the disgraced former mayor of Washington, D.C. Marrionberry is a cross between Chehalem blackberry and Olallieberry blackberry. If that doesn’t help much, think of it as sweeter and not as tangy as blackberries. At any regard, it’s a delicious pie, densely packed with berries sandwiched between a flaky crust (alas rendered somewhat flaccid by being microwaved).
31 May 2016: According to The Kitchn, one of the ten food items which defined the 1970s was salad bars with Green Goddess and Ranch dressings. We’ve come a long way since the disco era. Salads are much more diverse and imaginative while retaining many of the healthful properties that have long made salad a dietary staple. Limonata’s large house salad is a bounty of the garden, a plate brimming with organic baby green mix, grilled zucchini and eggplant, red bell pepper, tomatoes, chicken mix, cipollini onions and a shallot vinaigrette. It’s a far cry from the relatively plain, iceberg lettuce-laden salads of yesteryear. Best of all, it’s both good for you and delicious to eat.
Limonata is a fabulous Italian trattoria with an inspired menu served in the European fashion. Though separated from Route 66 by one mere block, a visit may transport you to Italy.
3222 Silver Street, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 31 May 2016
1st VISIT: 3 November 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Chocolate Croissant, Antipasto Platter, Lavender Lemonade, Large House Salad