After years of toiling as a quality engineer in a pressure cooker environment in which the happiest time of day was usually 5PM, Charlene McBain has truly found her happy place. It’s a cozy little cafe named Southwest Savories which she founded in 2018. She’s eager to share her happy place with guests. Although most of us probably won’t even notice the placard on a wall which reads “Our Happy Place,” you’ll certainly feel the spirit of that aphorism. In fact, in a scant lunch hour, you just might find Southwest Savories is the temporary respite you’ve been looking for, a warm, welcoming place where you can–if only for just a brief time–forget the daily rigors of the rat race.
Charlene’s perpetual smile isn’t pasted on solely when she’s got a roomful of guests. My brother Mario who had the joy and privilege of having worked with her for years tells me she’s a naturally happy person with an infectious smile. Nor is she smiling broadly because Brinks trucks are backing up in front of the cafe to transport the day’s proceeds to the bank. In fact, Southwest Savories is one of those rare gems that not even the connected social media seems to have widely discovered.
Credit most of that to the bane of many a restaurant that could have been great if only it had been discovered: location, location location. Southwest Savories is ensconced in a veritable ghost town of a strip mall time and people seem to have forgotten. Though it’s recessed by only one block from the heavily trafficked San Mateo Blvd. about half a mile north of its interchange with I-40, you’d think it was on the West Mesa desert somewhere. Mario and I quickly concluded that Southwest Savories is much too good to remain a hidden secret. This is one cafe which should have diners lined up to get a seat!
One of the reasons for this “out of sight, out of mind” location is Charlene’s other enterprise. Southwest Savories isn’t solely a sit-down cafe. Its location offers a quick jump-off point for catering to aviation companies in Albuquerque and Santa Fe as well as for business functions, family gatherings, social gatherings, parties and other events throughout the city. Southwest Savories’ repertoire includes New Mexican food, breakfast, lunch, brunch, appetizers, desserts and coffee. Everything is made fresh and ready to order whether you eat in or take advantage of the free delivery.
The dine-in and to-go menu offers an enticing line-up of traditional American and New Mexican dishes starting with such breakfast surprises as a “European Breakfast Box” brimming with assorted meats and cheeses, sliced baguette, fruit cup and hard-boiled egg. The lunch menu offers such tempting teases as a green chile cheeseburger, pork belly BLT, green chile fettuccine, street tacos and more. It’s not a huge menu, but it’s a good one and while perusing it, make sure to indulge in a cup of the coffee (especially if no place is a happy place until you have your first cup). It’s good, hot and faithfully replenished.
Nursing one of those annoying change-of-season colds, my bleary eyes quickly gravitated to the jambalaya, a Cajun dish with chicken and andouille sausage served over white rice. Available in cup or bowl sizes, it’s got a beautiful spice kick–not quite enough to clear stopped-up nasal passages, but certainly enough to titillate your taste buds. Charlene’s rendition of jambalaya isn’t soupy as some versions tend to be, but it’s got that distinct, unmistakable flavor that just might transport you to New Orleans.
Whether you’re a bit under-the-weather or feeling chipper (get it), another great choice is the fish and chips (two Alaskan amber beer-battered had dock fillets with a choice of fries or chips). Haddock is a great option when preparing fish and chips. It’s a lean, firm, white-fleshed, cold water fish with a delicate, never “fishy” flavor. Two golden-hued planks each the size of a small puppy are served atop a small mound of crinkly French fries and a ramekin of tartar sauce (or you can request malt vinegar if you prefer). These is a top-tier fish and chips plate.
Few pastries are as versatile as the ubiquitous empanada, a favorite everywhere from Spain to Tierra del Fuego. These pastry-crusted turnovers can be stuffed with savory (seafood, vegetables, chicken, meat) or sweet (fruit, s’mores, arroz con leche) fillings. For empanada enthusiasts, there are few surprises; we’ve tried them all…or so Mario and I had thought. Charlene then surprised us with an empanada engorged with cranberry cream cheese and dates. It didn’t surprise us as much that it tasted so good as it did that we’ve never before had this amalgam of decadence. Wow!
Not all of us will be blessed with the opportunity to work at our happy place, but for at least an hour or so, Southwest Savories and its ebullient owner will bring you to her happy place where you’ll enjoy great food, warm service and maybe a few surprises.
2418 San Mateo Place, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 14 May 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Jambalaya, Fish & Chips, Empanadas