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Cinnamon Sugar and Spice Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe

Back in the dark ages when I grew up–long before America became the kinder, gentler Utopia it is today–it would have been inconceivable that boys and girls would receive trophies just for “participating.” Back then, we were expected to be competitive about everything. The battle of the sexes was waged at home every night with my brothers and I pitting our brawn and bulk against the brains and gumption of our sisters, two of whom would go on to graduate as valedictorians and all of them much smarter than the recalcitrant Garduño boys. 

It rankled us to no end when our sisters reminded us constantly that “boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails'” while they were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice” even as they smashed our toy machine guns (probably in retaliation for us having drawn mustaches on their Barbie dolls before decapitating them).  We sure made it challenging for our parents to be as generous with their affection as Dr. Benjamin Spock (the pediatrician, not the Vulcan) had advocated.

Busy dining room on a Sunday morning

Espying the curiously named Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe on Juan Tabo rekindled memories of the “What Are Little Boys Made Of” nursery rhyme and prompted me to reflect on the fact that somewhere between the merciless teasing, nasty name-calling and nefarious feats of brotherly terrorism, my sisters grew up to be beautiful ladies made of sugar, spice and everything nice.  It took my brothers and I a bit longer to grow up, but then our sisters did remind us often that girls mature three years faster than boys. 

Though I often revert to the snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails of my boyish youth, the sugar and spice and everything nice influence of my bride of three decades has made me more cultured and ostensibly more mature. My former traits rear themselves, however, when we enter a new restaurant such as the Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe and my eyes fixate immediately and exclusively on the menu. My Kim noticed everything about Cinnamon Sugar & Spice right away: the bouncy terriers on the dog-friendly patio, the bright sunshine entering through the east-facing windows, the kitchen utensils and bric-a-brack for sale, the dishes on which dainty delicacies are presented… Those details didn’t warrant my attention until our order had been placed.

Carne Adovada Burrito

It was then, and only then, that I noticed just how crowded the café was. Almost every table was taken even as throngs of diners queued almost reverentially past glass pastry cases showcasing cakes, pies, cookies, baklava and other sweet, decadent temptresses. Eyes that weren’t hypnotically drawn toward those pastries were locked on the nattily inscribed menu, a luscious line-up of American, New Mexican and even Greek breakfast and lunch favorites. The café is so bright, open and capacious you’ll find it hard to believe this same space was once home to DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza which seemed so diminutive in comparison.

If you’re wondering why you may not have espied the Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe during your travels across the Duke City, it may be because the cafe is ensconced in the Shops @ Mountain Run on Juan Tabo just before it intersects with Eubank. It’s not exactly a bustling thoroughfare and the Cafe is set back a ways from the street. A teeming brunch crowd is certainly confirmation that this Cafe has been discovered and perhaps by more than just the neighborhood.

Honey Granola and Yogurt Parfait

Launched in 2014, the Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe may be relatively new to Albuquerque, but it’s owned and managed by an experienced and highly regarded staff. Since 2001, owner Kanella (which translates from Greek to “cinnamon”) Chronis and her team have kept Albuquerque’s power-brokers well fed at the Plaza Eatery, a downtown cafe in the shadow of City Hall. In 2011, Albuquerque The Magazine ranked the Eatery’s breakfast burrito as the city’s fifth best, giving it the red and green cred Duke City diners respect most.

It wasn’t Albuquerque’s fifth best breakfast burrito my Kim opted for during our inaugural visit, but the carne adovada burrito. The flavor profile of carne adovada, all those falling apart tender tendrils of porcine perfection, should be melt-in-your-mouth delicate, never overwhelming in piquancy or astringency. Too much Mexican oregano, for example, can embitter carne adovada. That, unfortunately, is what we experienced with the Cafe’s version. Thanks to a dash more spice than warranted, it just didn’t have the light, delicate chile marinated qualities we love in carne adovada.

Cin-fully delicious French Toast

We long ago stopped deluding ourselves that granola is a healthy alternative to sugary breakfast cereals. Despite the fruits, nuts and whole grains, most restaurant granola is fairly fattening. Its deliciousness, however, sometimes outweighs the extra treadmill miles you’ll have to do to work it off. The housemade honey cinnamon granola at Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe is worth a half marathon at least. It’s layered with your choice of Greek vanilla or Strawberry yogurt (a great option) served with toast and seasonal fresh fruit. Luckily for us, blueberries and strawberries were in season and at the prime of freshness. They enlivened an already excellent granola and yogurt pairing.

The first item on the breakfast menu is “Cin-fully delicious French Toast,” a curious name which makes sense in a literal sense as in you probably don’t want to consume something that’s full of sin, but something “cin-ful” might be palatable. Whether it was that unique spelling or the promise of “thick slices of housemade bread dusted with Saigon cinnamon, topped with brown sugar toasted pecans, served with maple syrup” the menu had us at “sin”…er “cin.” These French Toast live up to their promise with loads of sweetness and richness that no residual savoriness in the pecans could hope to penetrate. For the lust with which we enjoyed these French toast, our penance will be five Hail Cinnamons.

Like my three wonderful sisters, Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe is made of everything nice.

Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe
5809 Juan Tabo, N.E., Sweet A.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2119
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 August 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cin-fully Delicious French Toast, Honey Granola and Yogurt Parfait, Carne Adovada Burrito

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Coyote’s Rooftop Cantina – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Coyote Cafe on Water Street

The Coyote Cafe on Water Street

National Geographic Traveler once described Santa Fe as “a hypercultural hybrid–equal parts Wild West and New Age, Native American and Hispanic, old money and old hippie”…a city “used to mixing things up and still creating an oddly seamless whole.”  It truly is the City Different, a city with  an identity, substance and style all its own.  Is it any wonder it has earned acclaim as one of the most popular travel destinations in the world?

Yet, to many people, Santa Fe is as much an escape as it is a destination.  It is an adobe colored Mecca that preternaturally calls seekers to a spiritual and creative fulfillment they just don’t find elsewhere. Santa Fe draws them with an amalgam of spiritual tranquility, piñon-perfumed air and its accepting, non-judgmental culture.  It holds them captive with its beauty and its cuisine.  One of the defining elements of contemporary “Santa Fe style” has been the howling coyote, an art phenomenon originated by woodcarver Alonzo Jimenez a couple of decades ago.

A popular dining destination

A popular dining destination

While the coyote is prevalent in contemporary Native American mythology and generally represents a cunning, treacherous scourge, to New Mexico artisans he has been a blessing, displayed on every conceivable medium.  The howling coyote became so omnipresent that it became synonymous with Santa Fe style. In the culinary arts, Santa Fe style is most often associated with the Coyote Cafe whose logo is surprisingly not a howling coyote, but a flute-playing (ala Kokopelli) coyote about town with an unusually long, shaggy tail.

The Coyote Cafe, founded in 1987 and going strong more than two decades later, is considered by cognoscenti to have created the template for modern Southwestern cuisine.  At the Coyote Cafe–under the direction of the “High Priest of Southwestern Cuisine” Mark Miller–Southwestern cuisine evolved and reinvented itself time and again, honoring its historical roots while introducing new elements and culinary techniques that both reflect and refine tradition.

Trio of Salsas

The most recent reinvention of the Coyote Cafe is in the form of a new ownership group that includes Eric Distefano, one of the best chefs in the entire southwest. Distefano has been at the helm at Geronimo for many years and from all indications, is restoring the Coyote Cafe back to its halcyon days when it was widely considered one of Santa Fe’s premier dining destinations.

My favorite Coyote Cafe restaurant family member has long been the Rooftop Cantina where seasonal open-air dining between April and late October is so quintessentially Santa Fe.  The atmosphere is casual and the views of Santa Fe’s bustling downtown are ever so cosmopolitan. Thematically, the Rooftop Cantina has the look and feel of Old Mexico.  As much as we enjoyed the Cantina, we somehow let eight years elapse in between visits and when we returned in August, 2015, we discovered a different Coyote Rooftop Cantina.  While the ambiance still resonates with fun and frolic, many of our favorite dishes had either evolved or were no longer on the menu.

Black Sesame Honey White Shrimp Tempura

When pressed, I would admit to the Rooftop Cantina’s fire-roasted salsa as being my very favorite in the Land of Enchantment.  While other salsas were more piquant, the Cantina’s salsa and its subtle citrus influence and tangy sweetness had addictive, capsaicin endowed properties that made it unrivaled for pleasure-inducement. We purchased Miller’s The Great Salsa Book so we could duplicate this salsa during the Cantina’s off-season when we couldn’t get it. 

15 August 2015: Alas, making it at home is henceforth the only way we’re going to be enjoying this wondrous salsa.  While a fire-roasted salsa is still on the Cantina’s menu, it isn’t the fire-roasted salsa we loved so deeply.  It’s now redolent with cumin.  We gleaned some consolation from the fact that the menu now offers a trio of salsas: the aforementioned fire-roasted salsa; a creamy avocado, tomatillo and lime salsa and a pico de gallo.   The avocado-tomatillo-lime salsa is superb, a creamy amalgam of lively flavors that go so well together.  Similarly, the pico de gallo (rooster’s beak) melds fresh ingredients into a pleasantly piquant, freshly flavorful delight.

Fiery Skillet

15 August 2015: The Cantina has long been the type of restaurant in which diners feel comfortable ordering two or six starters instead of a single entree. It’s not necessarily a cost-effective proposition, but the appetizers tend to be very good and are usually large enough to share (not that you’d want to). The starters menu includes a trio of seafood starters including a black sesame honey white shrimp tempura served with two sauces, an incendiary spicy atomic horseradish sauce and a pineapple sweet and sour sauce. Unlike some tempura dishes which are so heavily breaded that you barely discern and taste the sheathed item, this tempura is delightfully light, allowing the shrimp to shine. The shrimp is so fresh and delicious, it renders the sauces almost unnecessary though both enliven the five shrimp.

15 August 2015: Shrimp are also available on the “fiery skillet” entrée which by any name would still be fajitas. Landlubbers can opt instead for chicken and chorizo served with Alicia’s tortillas, fresh peppers, Mexican crema, pico de gallo and a fresh Ranchero sauce with refried beans and green rice on the side. As fajitas go, these are quite good. My Kim especially appreciated that the green and red peppers are sliced into thin strips and grilled to an optimum level, neither al dente nor mushy. The flavors of the chicken and chorizo go very well together. My favorite item on this entrée were the refried beans topped with melted yellow and white Cheddar.

The Cantina Gold Canyon Beef Burger

15 August 2015: If a green chile cheeseburger includes chile, but it isn’t New Mexico green chile grown in the Land of Enchantment, can it still be called a green chile cheeseburger? Apparently not because the Cantina’s sole burger offering features not the pride of New Mexico, but pickled Fresno chile which is grown throughout California. It’s called “The Cantina Gold Canyon Beef Burger” and it’s an “everything but the kitchen sink” burger. In addition to the pickled Fresno chile (in strips), this behemoth includes sharp Cheddar cheese, sliced smoked ham, crispy fried Vidalia onion, greens, tomato and cilantro mayonnaise and pickles with boardwalk fries and Habanero ketchup on the side. To take this burger to another level, you’ve got to smear the Habanero ketchup on heavily. It’s perhaps the tastiest element of a burger replete with ingredients.

15 August 2015:Ice cream used to be my Kim’s fallback dessert, the one to which she would resort if none of the other post-prandial treats enticed her. Over the years she’s happened upon so many excellent ice cream flavors that ice cream has now become her first choice. The Cantina’s ice cream trio validated her stance. A generous bowlful of three creamy, delicious, texturally delightful ice creams—cognac ice cream, canela chocolate ice cream and vanilla—proved swoon-worthy and satisfying to the greatest extent of the word. Only half-gallon sized portions could have made this triumvirate better for her.

Ice Cream Trio

15 August 2015: My preferred desserts lean toward strong flavor profiles, not desserts with cloying tendencies.  It’s one of the rare disagreements my Kim and I have.  For me, the stronger and darker the chocolate the greater the appeal; for her, it’s milk chocolate or it’s too strong.  She didn’t like the Cantina’s Banana Chocolate tart, a semi-sweet chocolate tart topped with caramelized onions and encircled by a tangy citrusy swathe.   There’s a lot going on with this dessert, highlighted by the strong chocolate.    

15 August 2015: On the adobe wall just before the final four steps leading to the Cantina is a metal sculpture depicting coyotes frolicking boisterously at a Cantina.  It’s somewhat reminiscent to a fight scene on a Western movie. One coyote is swinging from a chandelier, there’s a comely coquette coyote on the bar and two members of the Canis Latrans family are ready to come to blows. While the restaurant is never quite this animated, it does radiate fun and is one of the very most fun spots in Santa Fe.

Banana Chocolate Pie

Coyote’s Rooftop Grill is a bit on the pricy side even if you don’t order adult beverages, but sometimes fun times do come at a cost.

Coyote’s Rooftop Grill
132 West Water St.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
505 983-1615
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 15 August 2015
# OF VISITS: 14
RATING: 19
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Banana Chocolate Pie, Ice Cream Trio, Fiery Skillet, The Cantina Gold Canyon Beef Burger, Black Sesame Honey White Shrimp Tempura

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Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Amore Neopolitan Pizzeria

Naples, Italy leaves nothing to chance, boasting of more than fifty official patron saints. Among the more well-known of the beatified intercessors to whom Neapolitan citizens petition are Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Pascal Baylon (San Pasqual, if you will). This litany of saints is among the who’s who among Catholic saints. You might think one of these sanctified patrons would also serve as the official “mascot” of Naples, but that sacrosanct honor is reserved for someone almost antithetical to the saints.

The official mascot of the city of Naples is a harlequin clown named Pulcinella. Perpetually hungry and nearly destitute, Pulcinella earned a reputation as a bungler with a rare joie d’ vivre, requiring only a slice of pizza and a jug of wine to make him happy. The character Pulcinella originated in a 17th century puppetry play. He is characterized by a long, hooked nose which he turns up at authority figures. Attired in white, up to and including his hat, Pulcinella is the embodiment of the street wise, crafty guy. In Naples, nicknacks representing this beloved Neapolitan character can be found virtually everywhere.

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The high heat oven in which pizza is prepared

It’s only fitting that a depiction of the official mascot of Naples adorns the wall of one dining room of Amore Neapolitan Pizza, the Duke City’s sole purveyor of Neapolitan style pizza. Pulcinella is depicted with a jug of wine on one hand and an entire pizza on the other with his mandolin resting against his leg. The pizza has been personalized for his New Mexican home as green chile is laid out on the pizza in the shape of the Land of Enchantment’s Zia sun. In the background, as in the state flag, red rays spread out against a field of yellow.

Amore—yes, that’s Amore as in “when the moon hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie”—is located on the fringes of Nob Hill in the space formerly occupied by the very popular Bailey’s on the Beach which closed in May, 2013. Pulcinella himself may have picked the colors for the sun-shielding canopies on the rooftop patio, one of the Duke City’s favorite venues for watching an enchanted sunset. The cynosure of the front dining room is a red-tiled Ferraro clay oven imported from Italy. The oven is the high-heat catalyst in which some of the city’s most perfect and pulchritudinous pizzas are baked.

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Pulcinetta, the official mascot of Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria

High heat—905 degrees hot–is one of the secrets to perfect Neapolitan pizzas. When a pie goes into the wood-burning oven, it doesn’t stay there for very long. Your pie will be ready in sixty to ninety seconds. It does help that the genuine Neapolitan dough, sourced directly from Italy, is hand-formed to the supermodel thinness of slightly more than one-eighth of an inch. The high heat renders the crust crispy, but not overly so. The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is soft and chewy. Best of all, the pizza has the flavor and aroma of just baked bread.

Amore doesn’t scrimp on ingredients. They’re of exceedingly high quality with an emphasis on sourcing locally wherever possible. That doesn’t apply to the canned tomatoes which, like the flour, are imported from Italy. The tomato sauce for each pizza is made from those canned tomatoes. It makes a difference. So does the house-made, hand-stretched mozzarella which is placed strategically on the pie. There’s neither too much or too little of the mozzarella on pies which call for it.

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Burrata (Available Fri, Sat, Sun)

Outstanding ingredients, however, are wasted if the pizzaioli don’t know what to do with them. Owners Gabriel and Kimberly Amador lived in Naples where they consumed their share of Neapolitan style pizzas. When they decided to open a pizzeria which would showcase the pizza style with which they fell in love, they sought out and were trained and certified by Robert Caporuscio, President of the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN). APN certification, which can be obtained only in Naples or New York City, is the highest certification for pizza chefs in Italy.

15 August 2015: In the two years (2013 – 2015) between visits, we gleefully noted just how much the menu had expanded from sixteen wood-fired pizzas, three of which—Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”, il Duke “Duke City Style” and Diavola “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami”— include a beloved local ingredient you won’t find in Naples, but which many New Mexico natives consider their pizzas to be naked without. Those ingredients are red and green chile. The menu includes eight “specialty” pizzas, three of which are named for Caporuscio.  Undoubtedly by popular demand, there are now six “New Mexico Style” pizzas.  For traditionalists who can’t have pizza without tomato sauce, the menu lists ten Pizza Rosse (tomato sauce) pies.  The menu also includes calzones, lunch specials and so much more.

Pizza Sushi

Pizza Sushi

31 August 2013:  Before you get to the pizza, there’s antipasti on which to nosh. The antipasti menu lists only four items, including a “pizza sushi” which honors Amore’s predecessor by nestling Bailey’s blackened mahi in a pizza roll topped with fresh apple-papaya slaw. The pizza sushi more closely resembles a blackened mahi egg roll sliced diagonally, but by any name, it would be delicious.  The blackening spices used on the mahi give it the type of piquant bite New Mexicans love.

27 July 2013:  If you visit on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you’ll want to indulge in the Burrata, described on the menu as “fresh, house-made mozzarella filled with soft cheese.” Burrata is typically far more creamy, rich and soft than the version served at Amore. As a mozzarella goes, Amore’s version is very good, but as a burrata, it’s not quite there.

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Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”

27 July 2013: The Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”, on the other hand, is one of the very best pizzas I’ve had in the Land of Enchantment. It’s constructed with a white cream sauce, house-made mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, corn and New Mexico green chile. The green chile doesn’t hold back on flavor or piquancy. It’s sourced from an organic chile farm in the Socorro area and it’s pure delicious dynamite. Corn niblets lend elements of sweetness and freshness while the white cream sauce proves a worthy alternative to the fabulous tomato sauce. The crust, especially the cornicione, is an absolute delight. It’s bread as good as you’ll find at any bakery, so good you could eat an entire pizza sans ingredients. 

31 August 2013: Because “red or green” is the official state question of the great state of New Mexico, it’s apropos that the pizza menu include a pizza incorporating red chile, too.  That would be the Diavola, sub-titled “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami.”  Diavala, an Italian term for female devil, is apropos, too.  In addition to spicy salami, the tomato sauce is tinged with red chile and topped with house-made Mozzarella, Pecorino Romano and olio.  The red chile and spicy salami combination won’t water your eyes, but you will feel a pleasant warmth on the back of your throat.  The Mozzarella and Pecorino Romano pairing is genius, a perfect foil for the heat of the red chile and spic salami.

Diavola “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami” Tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella, salami, pecorino romano, red chile, olio

Diavola “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami”

27 July 2013: The pizza crust is a perfect canvas for some of the best ingredient combinations you can find. My play-it-safe bride’s pizza, the Capricciosa “An Italian Classic” showcased tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, artichokes, mushrooms, Italian cooked ham, olives, basil and olio. There’s an interplay of several flavors in each bite, but the difference makers are the tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella and that wondrous pizza crust. If all bread tasted as good, I’d weigh 400 pounds. 

31 August 2013:  No Neapolitan-style pizzeria could be complete without featuring the pizza that started it all.  That would be the the Margherita, first crafted in 1889 when an Italian pizzaiolo created a pizza reflecting the colors of the Italian Sabauda flag and named it for his queen.  More than a century and a quarter later, it is widely acknowledged that the red (marinara sauce), white (white mozzarella cheese) and green (fresh basil) pizza crafted that fateful day is the progenitor of every pizza crafted ever since. Amore’s rendition does great honor to the progenitor of all pizzas.  To call it “plain” would be to undervalue a great, great pizza.

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Capricciosa “An Italian Classic”

14 August 2015: Less than a decade ago, burrata was virtually unavailable in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment.  My friend Sandy Driscoll would tell me about this rich, buttery cheese she enjoyed in restaurants throughout the Los Angeles area.  We often thought of ordering it and having it shipped to us, but this is a cheese that’s meant to be consumed while it’s still fresh–as soon as possible after it’s made.  As far as cheeses go, burrata is relatively new and not just to New Mexico.  It wasn’t made until the 1920s then it took a while before it made it across the pond from Italy to the United States. 

Amore not only offers burrata as an appetizer, but features it as the showpiece of a pizza named in honor of Robert Caporuscio, mentor and inspiration to owners Gabriel and Kimberly Amador.  The Maestro “Robert’s Burrata Pie” is constructed with Pecorino Sardo (D.O.C.), a rare sheep’s cheese from Sardinia (D.O.C., by the way is a patent nobility accorded to only 26 Italian cheeses; it means the cheese is now protected to maintain the original conditions of the cheese); Italian white truffle, Porcini mushrooms, grape tomatoes, house-made burrata, basil and olio.  We’ve had “quattro formaggio” (four cheese) pizzas that are less cheesy than this pie, a salty, creamy orb of pure deliciousness so good and so rich you won’t leave a slice behind.

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Maestro “Roberto’s Burrata Pie”

In recent years, Farina has been anointed by some of the cognoscenti and diners alike as the Duke City’s favorite gourmet thin-crust pizza, but with the 2013 launch of Firenze Pizzeria and now Amore, the competition for best in the city has heated up. You’ll fall in love with Amore!

Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria
2929 Monte Vista Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 554-1967
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 14 August 2015
1st VISIT: 27 July 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Burrata, Pizza Sushi, Capricciosa “An Italian Classic”, Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”, Margherita “The Original”, Diavola “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami”, Tropica “Island Delight”, Maestro “Roberto’s Burrata Pie

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