“Although the skills aren’t hard to learn,
finding the happiness and finding the satisfaction
and finding fulfillment in continuously serving somebody else something good to eat,
is what makes a really good restaurant.”
In 1948, just three years removed from the second “war to end all wars” Santa Fe was hardly the sophisticated and cosmopolitan tourist haven Conde Naste Traveler magazine readers have named one of their favorite travel destinations for 21 consecutive years. With a population of around 25,000 citizens, Santa Fe’s art, cultural and architectural attractions weren’t nearly as well known as they are today, but then, the world wasn’t nearly as interconnected and small as it is today.
For a bit more perspective on life in Santa Fe in 1948, consider that the state capital was yet to observe daylight savings time. 1948 was a leap year with 366 days and February 29th falling on a Sunday. The hottest day of the year was July 14th when Santa Fe hit a high temperature of 94 degrees. February 12th saw the coldest day of the year with a low temperature of -10, about 35 degrees below average for the day. Santa Fe saw 55 consecutive days with no measured precipitation. From a meteorological perspective, Santa Fe’s weather hasn’t changed dramatically since 1948.
1948 also saw the launch of The Pantry Restaurant, located just about as far west as you could go while remaining within Santa Fe city limits. Situated in a relatively small adobe edifice on the corner of Cerrillos and Fifth Street, the Pantry’s neon spangled signage beckoned hungry diners much as it does today. Founding owner George Myers established a standard of excellence that immediately made The Pantry a local favorite, beloved by Santa Fe’s power brokers and families alike.
Seven different owners have succeeded Myers, but the commitment to high-quality food, impeccable service and good value has been a constant. Since 2000, the Pantry has been owned by the father and son duo of Stan and Mike Singley. Stan, the father, formerly a long-time manager of Luby’s Cafeteria has presided over several expansions of The Pantry while Mike, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu-Scottsdale has become the face of the restaurant, a peripatetic presence in the dining room, tasting the restaurant’s food every day.
Because the Pantry is one of Santa Fe’s most popular dining destinations, short waits during peak times aren’t uncommon. There are several areas in which you might be seated. The front room showcases an old-fashioned counter with swiveling bar seats; it’s very much reminiscent of diners of yore. A more conventional dining room with windows facing Cerrillos is popular among families while larger crowds gravitate toward the larger dining room in the back where walls are festooned with art work celebrating Spanish conquistadors and significant events in New Mexico’s storied history.
Classic Americana diner food shares space on the menu with traditional and contemporary New Mexican favorites. All orders are made from scratch, arriving piping hot to your table. That’s exactly how the pancakes arrive, wisps of aromatic steam wafting upward as they beckon for butter and syrup. The Pantry serves both conventional diner-style buttermilk pancakes and pancakes stuffed with either strawberries or raspberries. There’s even a pancake “sandwich” with eggs, sausage or bacon. The no-frills buttermilk pancakes are terrific, one of the very best reasons to get up in the morning.
On May 13, 2013, the Travel Channel’s Burger Land program showcased four of the Land of Enchantment’s very best purveyors of green chile cheeseburgers. One of the four burgers featured was The Pantry’s unconventional Tortilla Burger, a burger topped not with green chile, but with red chile. Emmy award-winning freelance filmmaker and program host George Motz described it as “the only burger he’ll eat in America with a fork.” At first glance the burger resembles a burrito short-changed in length, but graced with width and bulk. A char-grilled burger and beans are wrapped in a tortilla and topped with The Pantry’s red chile (puree, garlic, salt) which Motz likened to a “smoky, earthy flavor bomb.” The beef patty itself is terrific although the the kitchen staff was a little heavy-handed with salt during my inaugural sampling. The chile is rich and complex with a nice degree of piquancy.
While cumin, that unnecessary despoiler of chile isn’t used on most of the restaurant’s New Mexican food, it’s sometimes used on carne adovada. If, like me, you enjoy the purity of New Mexican chile without cumin, you’ll have to ask your server if the chef used it on the day you visit. The carne adovada, sans cumin, is porcine perfection marinated in red chile perfection. Each tender tendril of pork is absolutely delicious. A carne adovada breakfast plate includes two eggs and Spanish rice.
The Pantry serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Dinner is a relatively new event (since 2009), featuring such comfort food favorites as meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, pork chops and chicken-fried steak as well as chile-spiked New Mexican favorites. Dinner is becoming as popular at The Pantry as breakfast is.
Sixty years in operation and the Pantry is still going strong with no surcease in its popularity in sight. It’s likely we’ll be saying the same thing sixty years from now. This is an enduring restaurant classic with something for everyone.
The Pantry Restaurant
1820 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 4 August 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Tortilla Burger, Carne Adovada, Pancakes