Sometimes–such as when Teri, a faithful reader of this blog, recommended I visit The Daily Grind–being a lexicologist can be a detriment. The first thing that came to mind was the drudgery of the software development project to which I was assigned. Since the 1800s, “grind” has been synonymous with boring, tedious work as in “grinding away.” Why then would I want to visit The Daily Grind when the daily grind was visiting me everyday in the form of SQL databases, configuration scripts and dot-net framework.
My Kim, who’s got all the common sense in the family, clarified that the type of grind to which Teri was referring had nothing to do with the tedium of the dog-eat-dog routine. The Daily Grind Teri recommended is a coffee shop she and her husband consider awesome. The term Daily Grind as used in the restaurant’s name refers to the daily grinding of coffee, a routine prefacing the luxurious indulgence in a steaming cup. The Daily Grind proudly serves Allegro Coffee, a subsidiary of Whole Foods which roasts flavorful coffee from Arabica beans. Two cups of cafe au lait sold me on this coffee.
The Daily Grind has been making the daily grind easier to bear since 1996. For seven years–until September, 2013–the coffee shop operated in the East Downtown district before relocating to the Calibers Center on Cutler Avenue just west of Washington. The Daily Grind is located in a battleship grey corrugated steel building. If not for the signage and picture windows in the restaurant’s storefront, first-timers might think they’ve mistakenly arrived at an industrial complex of some sort. Compounding doubts newcomers might as to whether they’ve reached the right location is that The Daily Grind is sandwiched between I40 on its south and a diversion channel about a quarter mile north. Its next door neighbors are a gun store and pro shop and a fly and tackle shop, not the usual coffee shop neighbors.
The weirdness continues when you discover there is no entrance up front. Instead, you have to navigate a concrete path that takes you past a rock garden with an interesting water feature. The coffee shop’s entrance precedes the patio where umbrellas provide cooling shade. You can choose to dine in a capacious dining room or, weather permitting, a delightful patio. When you walk in, your eyes will instantly be trained on the glass pastry case in which scrumptious pastries and cookies baked on the premises are on display. This lexicologist also detected exposed grinding gears on the clock just over the window to the kitchen. Two grinding gear mirrors hang on a dining room wall.
The Daily Grind is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch or dinner. During the enjoyable hour we spent at the coffee shop on a unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon, we were surprised both at the eclectic crowd and volume of take-out and eat-in traffic. Our server told us the crowd was a mix of loyal patrons who followed their favorite coffee shop to its new home and newcomers like us. The Daily Grind has all the elements that make coffee shops popular: a friendly, attentive wait staff; an inventive and diverse menu; an attractive milieu; and of course, good coffee.
The two-page menu includes a smattering of New Mexican favorites, but for the most part focuses on traditional American favorites prepared with creative touches. The nine item breakfast menu includes an array of sweet (pancakes, French toast), savory (panini, eggs, omelets), piquant (huevos rancheros, burritos) and healthy (yogurt, fresh fruit). Not including soups, there are eight items on the lunch menu, but you can also have panini sandwiches or burgers. The dinner menu features only six items, some of which you might find at a gourmet restaurant. Don’t make your dessert decision based on the menu. You’ve got to visit the pastry case to select the sweet treat that’s just perfect for you.
Appetizers range from a selection of domestic and imported cheeses and seasonal fruit to crab cakes, but you can also have French fries made two ways–with green chile and bacon or with truffle oil. The troika of French fries, green chile and bacon has got to be one of the most decadent appetizers ever created, albeit also a cardiologist’s nightmare. The cheese is Cheddar, the antithesis of the gloppy processed stuff from which nachos are usually made. The green chile has just enough bite to be discernible while the fries are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. To add ketchup would be sacrilege.
Of the eight items on the lunch menu, four are sandwiches, including two tortilla wraps. A separate paninis menu features five sandwiches pressed on local baguettes from Le Paris French Bakery in Albuquerque. Sandwiches are served with housemade potato chips and cornichon pickles. The chips are crispy, but not brittle and they’re low in salt. A bowlful enough of cornichons isn’t enough to sate pickle lovers so the four that accompany your sandwich are strictly a tease.
As with most sandwich shops in Albuquerque, The Daily Grind offers its own version of The Cubano, the Cuban sandwich or as it might be called in Cuba–a sandwich. Over the years, many liberties have been taken with the Cubano with tradition pushed by the wayside. The Daily Grind’s Cubano is a pressed panini stuffed with ham, turkey breast, pickle, Swiss cheese and cilantro mayo. Many Cubanos are made with mustard which, some might argue, throws off the balance in the sandwich’s flavor profile. The cilantro mayo provides very complementary flavor notes that allow the ham, turkey breast and Swiss to sing.
On Nancy’s Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich, a baguette is hollowed out and ingredients are stuffed where soft bread innards used to be. The chicken salad is constructed from shredded chicken breast, pineapple, golden raisins, celery and curry mayo. It’s a terrific sandwich with savory and sweet (but not overly so) notes that coalesce into a surprisingly delicious combination. The curry mayo, pineapple and golden raisins provide the sweet elements while the shredded chicken breast lends savory qualities. If you love curry, you’ll love this sandwich. If you don’t love curry, you’ll probably still like this sandwich.
Desserts are truth in advertising. The advertising comes from the glass pastry case under which are displayed some of the Duke City’s most delectable desserts: pies, cakes, cookies and more. The truth comes as your taste buds confirm what your eyes have been telling you. These are absolutely amazing desserts, some of the very best in the city. The French Silk Pie, very much reminiscent of French gateaus, may be the best I’ve had in the United States. It’s smooth, rich and best of all, not too sweet (courtesy of the semi-sweet chocolates). The pie is topped with blueberries which provide a terrific contrast to the chocolate.
Peñasco’s Sugar Nymph’s Bistro has long held the distinction of serving what I believe are New Mexico’s very best scones. The Daily Grind’s raspberry scones are right up there with Sugar Nymph’s. That’s rarefied air. The Daily Grind’s scones are both moist and crumbly, dense and light, sweet and savory and absolutely addictive. So, too, are the cinnamon rolls which are brick thick with icing spread generously as if by trowel.
The Daily Grind is a true respite from the daily grind, the type of coffee shop you’d frequent if it was in your neighborhood or that you wouldn’t mind driving a half hour for, especially with the promise of warm raspberry scones awaiting you.
The Daily Grind
4360 Cutler Avenue, N.E., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 12 October 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Cafe Au Lait, Cinnamon Roll, French Silk Pie, Nancy’s Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich, Cubano, Green Chile Cheese Fries, Raspberry Scone