Hartford Square – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Hartford Square, a delightful cafe

The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star.”
~ Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Dante Alighieri’s 14th century poem Divine Comedy postulated the existence of nine circles of Hell, each circle appropriate to the sins of the damned. The fourth circle, for example, is reserved for hoarders and wasters whose punishment is to spend eternal life rolling giant boulders at one another. While gastronomy is a virtue and not a sin, were there to have been a circle in Hell for gastronomes, there’s no doubt it would have been to spend eternity eating in chain restaurants where we would be subjected to the tedium and monotony of forevermore eating homogeneous foods. It would certainly make prophetic my words “I’ll be damned if I ever eat at Chili’s or Applebee’s.”

Gastronomes need the spice of life that is variety. Unlike gluttons who eat and drink excessively or voraciously, (and therefore spend eternal life in the fourth circle of Hell where they wallow in muck and mire) gastronomes need not consume food in large quantities. Instead, we (and I’m including the faithful readers of this blog here) need the diversity that comes from foods with varying food profiles. We need restaurants like Hartford Square.

The very active exhibition kitchen at Hartford Square

Fittingly Hartford Square’s motto is “variety is the spice of life” and it’s not a motto that graces the menu and its Web site solely for the sake of pandering to an adventurous demographic. It’s the restaurant’s modus operandi. Hartford Square changes its menu every week, based on what is abundant and available. For gastronomes whose favorite dish is the next new adventure in deliciousness, it’s a formula that works. We like being surprised and rather than fretting the absence of a favorite dish, we celebrate the new dish which took its place. Visiting Hartford Square is almost like visiting a new restaurant every week.

The menu is simple and short. It’s the antithesis of the compendium menus which promise all things to all diners and fall woefully short. The only aspect of the menu that’s even remotely formulaic is that you’ll always find outstanding pastries, soups, salads and main course dishes. Hartford Square embraces farm-to-table concepts; most of its food is local (often organic), seasonal and healthy. Local sources–Kyzer Farms, Michael Thomas Coffee, Chispas Farms, Old Windmill Dairy and more–are exemplars of quality, freshness and social consciousness.

Pumpkin Donut and Michael Thomas Coffee

Hartford Square is ensconced in a 1,200 square-foot ground-floor storefront at the Belvedere Urban Courtyard condos to the immediate north of the old Albuquerque High. The restaurant is wider than it is deep with the exhibition kitchen occupying more than half of the space. To maximize seating, a bar-like counter with stools provides the best views in the house, allowing guests to watch the assiduous staff preparing various dishes in small batches throughout the day. If great fortune is smiling on you, that might mean warm scones just out-of-the-oven.

Hartford Square is named for founder-owner Sarah Hartford, a New Mexico resident for two decades but with roots in New England. On any given visit, you might see East Coast influences throughout her menu. You will see a distinctive menu unlike that of any other restaurant in Albuquerque. That might even mean no red or green chile on any dish–even on burritos. This is a vive la difference approach gastronomes, much as we love our red and green, have embraced.

Boston Baked Beans with Piccalilli Relish and Macaroni & Cheese

The first thing your eyes will probably fixate upon when you walk into Hartford Square is a glass case showcasing pastries and main dishes. Then if your eyes need confirmation as to what they’re ogling, menus are scrawled overhead, describing each dish. Atop the gleaming steel counter where you order as well as on top of the pastry case, you’ll espy covered pastry plates so tempting they may evoke wanton lust (and if you don’t curb that lust, maybe a future trip to the second circle of Dante’s Hell). Pastry chef Acacia Prechtel is the talented creator of the restaurant’s artisinal pastries, all so good you might be prompted to propose marriage to her if not to one of those pumpkin donuts.

The house coffee is sourced from Michael Thomas Coffee Roasters on Carlisle. It’s a very highly regarded coffee which author Andrea Feucht lauded in an article for London’s The Guardian. Not being quite the coffee connoisseur Andrea is, to me the coffee didn’t have the smoothness and richness of my favorite coffees at Cafe Bella. Ironically, it was a glowing recommendation from Cafe Bella’s affable proprietor Michael Gonzales which prompted my inaugural visit to Hartford Square. Where the coffee did is job superbly is as a wonderful complement to the best pumpkin donuts we’ve had anywhere. The coffee and the donuts brought out flavor notes in one another we didn’t discern on their own.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Having lived for two years in a Boston suburb, it made sense for old-times-sake that I’d try the Boston Baked Beans (simmered all day in molasses, mustard, cider vinegar, bacon and salt pork) and Piccalilli relish which somewhat countermands the sweetness of the beans. Despite the city’s “Beantown” sobriquet, not all Bostonians like Boston Baked Beans which are often almost as sweet as the candy-coated peanuts which share their name. Hartford Square’s rendition is among the very best I’ve had anywhere even without the housemade Piccalilli relish made from pickled vegetables and spices. This is a relish so good it should be bottled and sold.

When you order Macaroni & Cheese you don’t always know what you’re going to get. Sometimes the dish is creamy and moist. At other times, it’s got a good cheesy caramelization and crust. The latter is how our macaroni & cheese was served. Frankly it’s the way we like it because it generally means you get a stronger cheese flavor, one not diluted by cream or milk. If we wanted runny mac & cheese, we’d open up a box of Kraft dinner (because Kraft dinner will never cross my lips, that’s a lie that will land me in the eighth circle of Hell.)

Chicken Pot Pie

If you’re a fan of fleshy fungi, you’ll love Hartford Square’s stuffed mushrooms, individually priced mushroom caps stuffed generously with locally sourced Italian sausage. The wonderful contrast between moist, woodsy mushrooms and nicely seasoned, tangy sausage is memorable. To keep peace in the family you’ll want to order at least two each for every diner at your table.

Without having paused to photograph the chicken pot pie, we might not have noticed the six-petaled flowery display on the pie’s top crust. That’s how eager we were to confirm that it tasted as good as it smelled and looked. Puncture that crust with your fork and fragrant steam escapes, a portend to deliciousness. The chicken pot pie is moist and unctuous, a panoply of smaller than bite sized pieces of tender chicken and fresh vegetables (carrots, potatoes, celery).

Lemon Poppy seed Scones and Cinnamon-Apple Streusel Coffeecake

We’ve had scones all over England as well as in New England and have uncovered scones in the Land of Enchantment that are competitive with the best. Hartford Square’s lemon poppy seed scones are right up there with the scones at Sugar Nymph’s in Peñasco and at Albuquerque’s Daily Grind. That’s rarefied company. What makes these scones so wonderful is their feather-light texture and the fact that they’re not overly sweet. Best, we got them right out-of-the-oven when they were warm and delectable.

A commonality among the pastries (aside from their deliciousness) at Hartford Square is that none are overly sweet. They’re all imbued with natural flavors. On the cinnamon-apple streusel coffeecake, it’s a pleasure to see real apples sliced into small cubes and not a surfeit of pectin from a box. While pectin is a naturally occurring thickener, its gelatinous qualities can be off-putting when pectic is used to excess. The streusel is moist and delicious, as good as any we’ve had in Albuquerque.

If Dante Alighieri can posit nine levels of Hell with each circle appropriate to the sins of the damned, surely there are at least nine levels of Heaven. Gastronomes will be in one of them. So will Hartford Square.

Hartford Square
218 Gold, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 January 2014
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pumpkin Donuts, Lemon Poppyseed Scones, Cinnamon-Apple Streusel Coffeecake, Boston Baked Beans with Piccalilli Relish; Macaroni & Cheese; Stuffed Mushrooms; Chicken Pot Pie

6 thoughts on “Hartford Square – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. 4/29 Multiple Evidence they’ve Closed 1. Google & Facebook Pages note “Permanently Closed” 2. 4/23, 10 A.M. “Available For Lease” Sign at 218 Gold SW 3.4/22 Call to 265-4923 gets “Call Can’t Be Completed” Message. Acting as a Detective, W R

    1. Thank you, Detective W R. Sadly Hartford Square has indeed closed. Here’s what’s next from owner Sarah Hartford:

      I have been thinking a lot about what comes next, even as we enter into a more difficult phase of the whole pandemic experience—more lockdowns and really scary numbers every day. Although I cannot run a food business right now, I still want to do whatever I can to keep all those local connections alive. So, for me, what could be more comforting and useful than thinking about food, making food, writing about food, looking at food, photographing food and especially eating food? I can’t think of anything I’d rather do…. so here it goes!

      Welcome to the next adventure… exploring local and seasonal food and food issues around the Albuquerque area… go to the local food blog: http://hartfordsq.com/blog

  2. Thanks Michael!
    It is always appreciated to get a personal and descriptive uptake on a venue as well as a reminder about a place’s existence. Interestingly: also looked at the Website and found it apparently and uniquely features an ever changing(?) menu on a weekly basis!
    – In light of Gil’s notation that not all Folks are enamoured with Boston Baked Beans: For Folks who might be vacationing New England for history or leaf-peepin, and/or great seafood, here’s an option re history and food which also attests to the fact that apparently great products and service by Moms&Pops can “break the chain”.
    – For eons, my Sis & husband continue an every Saturday ritual of picking up fresh, not Boston Baked, Rochette Beans in this cubbyhole of a store where their making is described: http://tinyurl.com/nz3tr2r Besides its French-Canadian roots being almost 100 years old, you can tour this historical neighborhood initially occupied by the lowly Irish canal/mill builders of the early 1800s, then shared with Greek immigrants and more currently Cambodians and Latinos. This shot http://tinyurl.com/nz3tr2r encompasses so much history: St. Patrick’s Church; one of six miles of canals carrying water to power the textile mills “mechanically”, not electrically; a Greek Orthodox Church; all amidst, in red brick, one of the first “housing projects” (circa ’40) in the country. For what draws tourists to this 1st National Park City in terms of history: http://www.nps.gov/lowe/index.htm Ever wonder why unions were once relevant and where seeds of women’s suffrage sprouted, then Experience, for example, what 15 yr old girls experienced for 12 hrs/day, 6 1/2 days/wk where windows were shut sealing in heat, cotton fluff, the smell of whale oil lamps http://tinyurl.com/k6tftva
    – Lastly, besides eating beans with franks (grilled or boiled), slices of buttered Polish Rye are good or…B&M Brown Bread in a can of all things: http://tinyurl.com/n77pjcl

  3. Just had another great meal at Hartford square! Local farm raised beef (steak & eggs) with Yukon gold rosemary potatoe, local eggs, greens and just out of the oven cheddar biscuit with orange marmalade. Of course we had to enjoy a house made granola square and raspberry bunt cake. Sarah and her team do so well at bringing that east coast urban feel to our area. Loving the commitment to the farm to table scene too.

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