While it does have a nice ring to it, “beautiful downtown Placitas” probably won’t catch on the way “beautiful downtown Burbank” did when the catch phrase (and quite often, punch-line) was made famous first on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In then on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Located just a few miles northeast of Hollywood, beautiful downtown Burbank is 34-blocks of retail, office, residential and entertainment destinations that include more than 200 shops and 90 restaurants.
Beautiful downtown Placitas, on the other hand, is pretty much limited to the Homestead Village shopping center which is surrounded on all sides by capacious open space in a charming village back-dropped by the reddish Sandias. Instead of the high-density urban sprawl of Burbank, beautiful downtown Placitas is graced by panoramic views of hills dotted with dessert flora, weather-worn mesas and verdured mountains.
The term “beautiful downtown Placitas” isn’t some sort of ironic inside joke among the village’s 3,000-plus citizens. Nor will you find the term splayed on Placitas real estate brochures or touristy village literature. Where you’ll most often read this term of endearment is on the Placitas Cafe’s blog. The Placitas Cafe is one of two restaurant anchor tenants within the Homestead Village, the other being Blades’ Bistro.
While Blades Bistro has established a reputation as one of the very best restaurants in New Mexico, the Placitas Cafe hasn’t been as widely touted. Could it be Placitas residents want it that way? Might the fact that the Cafe’s exterior signage reads simply “Cafe” be indicative of the desire among locals to keep it a secret…to keep it to themselves? It sure seemed that way during my inaugural visit for a late lunch when the restaurant was sardine-packed with locals. With all the Placitas residents who read this blog, it sure made me wonder why they hadn’t been clamoring for me to visit. Hmmm, Bruce, Dave, Joe?
Upon entering, it became immediately apparent that the Placitas Cafe is a beloved local treasure, a “Cheers” type of establishment in which “everyone (or at least the wait staff) knows your name.” During my inaugural visit, the front of the house was in the capable and ambassadorial hands of Mike Franklin, brother of the Cafe’s owner and chef John. As gregarious and extroverted as they come, Mike does indeed seem to know everyone–and if he doesn’t, he will by meal’s end. Mike flits from table-to-table, engaging in witty repartee with guests while taking care of their orders with a deft touch. In a subsequent visit over lunch, we discovered that brother John is equally engaging, bringing mirth and laughter to every table. John told us family reunions are a laugh-fest.
The one thought that never crossed my mind as to why my Placitas readers hadn’t raved to me about the Placitas Cafe is because maybe it wasn’t very good. Considering the near overflow crowds, that notion just didn’t make any sense. If the Cafe hadn’t been good, it would truly have been tragic because the menu is more than a cut above what you find in most cafes. Some items, in fact, are heretofore unavailable elsewhere in the Land of Enchantment. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (8AM to 9PM every day but Monday. Saturday and Sunday, 8AM to 2PM), the Placitas Cafe offers American and New Mexican breakfast standards, organic spring mix salads, vegetarian dishes, New Mexican offerings, burgers, sandwiches and so much more.
When busy, you might be asked to seat yourself, the first invitation to make yourself at home. Few things in life make me feel more welcome than helping myself to coffee–as much and as often as I want (for a non-morning person, there’s nothing as unnerving as an empty cup). A self-serve coffee bar offers three coffee blends, including the eponymous Placitas Cafe blend tinged with New Mexican piñon. As you luxuriate in your cup, you’ll want to take in the comfy, cozy ambiance. Walls are adorned with a mishmash of cutesy, folksy wall hangings and landscape photographs showcasing the Land of Enchantment’s scenic vistas.
Breakfast is served from 8am-1:59pm with a menu including a Hawaiian favorite not often found in New Mexico cafes (ironic considering how popular it is in New Mexican homes). That would be a plate called “Spam, Eggs, Bacon and Spam,” (BOTVOLR, this one’s for you) described on the menu as “a couple of Spam steaks, cooked to your preference, two eggs any style, bacon, sauteed potatoes and English muffin.” How many of us even knew Spam could be cooked in different ways?
8 February 2014: Less artery clogging dishes are available to start off your day. Among them are made-from-scratch scones which are light yet dense, crumbly yet soft and absolutely delicious. The triple berry scone (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries) is terrific, the tanginess of berries punctuating each bite. As with all good scones, these aren’t overly sweet. They also pair wonderfully with the coffee, especially the aforementioned Placitas Cafe piñon blend.
8 February 2014: Among the heretofore “not found in New Mexico cafes” items is a unique take on Eggs Benedict. Called Huevos Espiñaca Creama (sic), it’s a very rich dish with which to start off a morning. This isn’t a bad thing because you’ll likely take about half of it home for breakfast the following day. The canvas for this decadent dish is a crispy flour tortilla which is topped by two poached eggs surrounded by a creamed sauce, spinach and diced potatoes and topped with melted mozzarella and crumbly feta. Though it should come standard with an angioplasty, it’s an excellent example of rich indulgence the type of which we should all treat ourselves on occasion.
6 February 2014: The “snackies” portion of the menu includes a number of de rigueur appetizers such as salsa and chips, quesadilla, nachos con queso and something called “Special Green Beans,” described on the menu as “a tasty pile of organic green beans, deep sauteed and seasoned.” The menu boasts “once you’ve tasted them, you’ll never look at a green bean the same!” Served with Ranch dressing, these green beans are special indeed. The texture of these green beans is crispy, but not so much that the beans snap when you bite or cut into them. The seasoning mix is a mix of mostly savory seasonings which lend a lot of personality to these beans.
6 February 2014: The “Burgers And….” menu lists some fourteen burgers ranging from the standard to the unconventional. Among the latter is The Dubliner, which shares its name with the cheese featured on the burger. The menu describes The Dubliner as “a hamburger stuck between spring mix, tomato and horseradish sauce on the lower, then topped with coleslaw and Dubliner cheese.” As hinted at by the description, this is a moist burger, but also one redolent with deliciousness. The nicely seasoned beef patty is hand-formed and about half an inch thick. The horseradish has a bite, but won’t water your eyes. If you’ve never had Dubliner cheese, you’re in for a treat. Dubliner has a distinctive flavor, imparting a sweet, lingering aftertaste. Its texture is firm and slightly dry. Frankly it surprised me at how well it melts. What didn’t surprise me is how enjoyable a burger The Dubliner is. Would it go well with green chile? Probably not, but no doubt someone will be willing to try.
8 February 2014: Surely I’m not the only person who’s ever engaged in a “patty melt: burger or sandwich” debate? Persuasive arguments can be made for both points. What is a patty melt anyway? It’s grilled onions and hamburger patty served on toasted rye with melted cheese (the Placitas Cafe uses Cheddar and mozzarella). Not all patty melts are created equally well. Utilizing excellent ingredients is the key to a good patty melt. You want the beef patty prepared at no more than medium for optimum juiciness. You’ll want the onions (red, if possible) to be floppy strands of caramelized deliciousness without being overly crunchy or flaccid. You’ll want the cheese to be thick enough to complement, not dominate the flavor profile. You’ll want the rye bread to be lightly toasted and soft, but still formidable enough to hold up against the moistness of all other ingredients. The Placitas Cafe passes muster on all counts.
29 November 2014: Though I pride myself in being open-minded, there is one thing about which I’m unabashedly stubborn. For me, it’s not breakfast without chile. My Chicago born-and-bred Kim, however, was raised with different traditions and honors them by ordering such breakfast plates as the Placitas Cafe’s American Classic: two eggs (any style), sauteed potatoes, a choice of ham, sausage, bacon or turkey bacon and toast (white, wheat, rye, sourdough). She certifies this plate as absolutely delicious, but I can’t vouch for that because my breakfast was a New Mexican proud buffalo enchiladas plate that blows any American Classic out of the water.
29 November 2014: When asked if the chile served at the Placitas Cafe includes cumin, John’s response was “we don’t serve tourist chile.” That’s an understatement! This is New Mexico chile the way it should be–even if it is spelled tourist fashion: chili. Both red and green chile are pleasantly piquant with a very nice roasted flavor. It’s also served steaming hot, an endearing quality not all restaurants practice. One of the best dishes in which that chile is showcased is the buffalo enchiladas, flat enchiladas made with lean, delicious buffalo ground beef, fresh corn tortillas and red and yellow Cheddar served with papitas and beans. Compared to beef, buffalo has a lighter flavor, tastes slightly sweet and is deliciously tender and lean. The papitas are cubed potato perfection with a right-sized amount of salt. The buffalo enchiladas are also served with a single tortilla from which you can construct “New Mexican spoons” for scooping up and eating the deliciousness.
2 January 2015: Although no longer complimentary at most restaurants, salsa and chips remain a de rigueur standard at many restaurants in New Mexico. If the salsa and chips are good, patrons don’t mind paying for them. The salsa and chips at the Placitas Cafe are very good and to paraphrase John, they’re not “tourist salsa and chips.” The salsa, a chunky blend of chopped tomatoes and jalapeños, has the type of kick New Mexicans enjoy. Piquancy and freshness are the hallmark of this salsa which pairs very well with the thick, crisp yellow corn chips. These formidable chips are perfect for scooping Gil-sized salsa portions.
2 January 2015: The curiously named “monkey cakes” incorporate a touch of New Mexico with a traditional American favorite. Three golden pancakes studded with piñon and topped with banana slices make for a terrific breakfast (or any other time) treat. Slather these orbs with butter and syrup for best results. The piñon offers that magically subtle hint of pine that will transport your heart, mind and taste buds to New Mexico’s pine forests. It’s a perfect foil for the sweet bananas and even sweeter syrup. The monkey cakes are served with your choice of bacon or turkey bacon, the latter of which provides a crispy, crunchy textural contrast to the monkey cakes.
6 February 2014: The Dubliner isn’t the only menu item paying tribute to the Emerald Isle. On your first visit to the Placitas Cafe, you’ll be treated to a slice of Irish Buttermilk Pie, made from a recipe brought over from Ireland by the Franklin brothers’ grandfather. It’s a scrumptious and rich wedge of pie imbued with more than a scintilla of Guinness (would it be Irish otherwise?). The Franklin brothers are justifiably proud of this delicious dessert.
I don’t know whether or not to be mad at my Placitas friends for not having invited me to this village gem sooner, but suspect they’ll be mad at me if this review drives up traffic to the Placitas Cafe. Who can blame them for wanting to keep it to themselves, but it’s too good not to share.
221 Highway 165
Placitas, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 2 January 2015
1st VISIT: 6 February 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Special Green Beans, The Dubliner, French Fries, Buttermilk Pie, Huevos Spiñaca Creama, Triple Berry Scones, Patty Melt, Placitas Cafe Piñon Blend Coffee, Buffalo Enchiladas, American Classic, Monkey Cakes, Chips and Salsa