It’s not all parents who can give birth to two children in a six week period, but that’s precisely what Harrison and Violet did. In early October, 2019, they welcomed into the world a beautiful bundle of love they christened Jasmine. Just before Thanksgiving six weeks later, they greeted their second “baby” when Marigold Cafe opened its doors in the Journal Center area retail space which also houses Restoration Pizza and Cabela’s. Along with Torinos @ Home, these two bookend restaurants just may make the Journal Center area a dinnertime dining destination instead of just two other restaurants serving the burgeoning area’s lunch crowd.
The Marigold Cafe is a breath of fresh air, introducing the Duke City to a heretofore unsampled fusion concept that melds Indian cuisine with New Mexican and American favorites. It’s an idea whose time has come and best of all, it’s executed exceptionally well. Credit that to the passion of its dynamic owners. When Marigold’s website touts a “local, family owned business that has a passion for food and culture,” you can take it to the bank that these aren’t prosaic platitudes. Neither is Marigold’s mission statement.
A restaurant’s mission statement is used to convey a restaurant’s raison d’être (reason for its existence) to potential guests, especially those who haven’t encountered a restaurant’s “brand” before. A good mission statement should pique curiosity and engender visits. The Marigold Cafe’s mission statement clearly will do both: “We believe that food brings people together and we believe that good food comes from fresh ingredients and quality spices. We prepare each dish with love, care, and pride. We make an effort to create fresh and exciting flavors throughout our menu. We strive for consistency in all of our dishes and aim to have you leaving full and happy every time.”
Of course mission statements don’t translate to “mission accomplished.” Great restaurants–those with staying power and passionate customer loyalty–recognize they have to execute to the mission statement every day. The Marigold Cafe is off to a good start, its owners’ passion evident in a day-to-day operational model that emphasizes customer service and great food. Violet gets up early in the morning to prep food items needed for the day. Harrison is a peripatetic presence at the restaurant, flitting attentively from table to table to ensure guests are enjoying their food and the Marigold experience. The restaurant’s attentive staff mirrors the owners’ customer oriented attitude.
Architecturally the Marigold Cafe is an exemplar of modernity meets tradition. Anasazi style stonework and steel girders are a mirror opposite to Restoration Pizza’s storefront, its eastern bookend. The interior continues the theme with industrial style girders from which pendant lights are suspended. Ductwork hangs from the ceilings. A colorful mural on the restaurant’s eastern wall mirrors some of the spectacular sunsets which have spoiled Duke City residents. A capacious west-facing dog-friendly patio provides a panoramic view of those sunsets. Weather-permitting, it’s the best seat in the house. On the wall just above a cozy two-table cubby hole is another mural, this one depicting a marigold in bloom. Look closely enough just above the bottom petals and you’ll espy a heart sporting the initials (V and J) of the Cafe’s owners.
The menu delivers on the promise of fresh and exciting flavors with a line-up that includes Shareables/Starters, Soups & Salads, Burgers & Sandwiches, Favorites, Tacos with a Twist and Bowls. It would be easy to gravitate toward familiar New Mexican and American favorites, but what’s the fun in that? We purposely pursued Indian and Indian-inspired or Indian fusion items and there are plenty of them on the menu. During our inaugural visit, we enjoyed an Indian beverage (mango lassi), appetizer (samosas), entrees (tikka mac n’ cheese and tikka flatbread) with a terrific naan-based dessert to finish our meal.
Samosas fall under that broad classification of dumplings that includes virtually everything made of dough wrapped around a filling, or of dough with no filling. Somewhat similar to Greek spanakopita (and almost contemporaneous in terms of age), samosas are usually triangular in shape and made with a pastry crust or filo dough stuffed with curried potatoes or meats with spices. They’re almost always fried which imbues them with a delightfully crispy exterior and they’re usually served with a chutney variant.
8 February 2020: The Marigold Cafe’s samosas are a unique India meets New Mexico treat stuffed with potato, green chile, and cheese. Offered a number of chutneys, we opted for the sweet, tangy tamarind and spicy mint-coriander chutney, dipping sauces with polar opposite flavors. The samosas are terrific with the green chile adding a unique twist, that of a lively punch. If you enjoy the piquancy of the green chile, the mint-coriander chutney amps it up even more. If you prefer a fruity contrast, you’ll enjoy the tamarind chutneys influence. Both are excellent.
8 February 2020: After a rough day of clashing with clients, dueling with deadlines and juggling more balls than a circus of clowns, it’s only natural to crave comfort foods, those soul-warming dishes that make us wax nostalgic for home. Whether it’s grilled cheese you covet, tomato soup you have a yen for or mac n’ cheese that strikes your fancy, the Marigold Cafe’s menu is your hook-up. It’s got all three and others which made the Huffington Post’s list of the 25 best comfort foods. It’s hard to argue with Mac n’ cheese making the list at number three though after enjoying Marigold’s elevated version, we’re inclined to believe it would supplant standard American mac n’ cheese. Introducing the tikka mac n’ cheese.
That elevated version is available with bacon (which makes everything better) and chicken, but even sans protein, cavatappi (Italian for “corkscrew”) pasta baked in home-made tikka sauce and blended with mozzarella cheese is an exceptional dish. In fact, my Kim (who just might be more prone to hyperbole than her alliterative husband) said it was the best mac n’ cheese she’d ever have. More than most mac n’ cheese, this one balances the meltedness of mozzarella with a delightfully spicy and surprisingly moist sauce. Tikka is actually a Persian word for “bits and pieces,” which describes the preparation of dishes using a sauce made of yogurt, curry and sundry Indian spices. Next time, we’ll try it with bacon.
8 February 2020: I’ve frequently made the heretical proclamation on this blog that naan is my favorite bread, favored even over New Mexico’s sacrosanct tortillas and sopaipillas. Freshly baked naan extricated from a tandoor is invariably one of my favorite aspects of dining at an Indian restaurant. Thankfully, just as American restaurants have long offered a basket of rolls or bread to start a meal, Indian restaurants across the fruited plain offer naan, often with a magnificent Indian chutney.
While the Marigold Cafe doesn’t offer a side of naan with your meal, naan-based dishes are available as both entrees and even a dessert (more later). There are actually two naan-based entrees. Our choice was the tikka flatbread (naan topped with rich creamy tikka sauce, shredded chicken, mozzarella cheese, red onion and cilantro). Call this an Indian-inspired pizza if you must, but you will call it delicious. By pizza standards, this is a thin-crust pie, the antithesis of the crispy, crunchy cracker-like pies. The naan retains its soft texture. Both the naan and shredded chicken are prepared in a tandoor, the high heat clay oven that bakes unlike anything else. Surprisingly, the tikka sauce has much more personality than many sauces used on pizza.
10 February 2020: About a quarter century ago, my very favorite burger restaurant in Albuquerque was a tiny hovel on Cornell near the University of New Mexico. It was called the Sheepherder’s Cafe and the specialty of the house was a lamb burger with green chile. The closure of this unique student favorite was a heart-breaker. While a few other restaurants have offered a facsimile of the lamb burgers I so enjoyed, none have approached the quality of the Sheepherder’s Cafe. The prospect of another lamb burger brought me back to Marigold two days after my inaugural visit.
The Marigold Cafe’s version is called a lamburger (house-made lamb patty topped with mint mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles) and its personality is very different from that of my beloved lamb burger. Where the named protein on the lamb burger played a subordinate (though very complementary) role to the green chile, the Marigold Cafe’s lamburger is very much about the lamb which is seasoned assertively with spices familiar to aficionados of Indian cuisine. A little bit more mint mayo (and maybe some green chile) is the only addition I would have made to what is sure to become a very popular burger.
10 February 2020: Accompanying burger and sandwich options is your choice of fries, sweet potato fries, onion strips, coleslaw or side salad. The prospect of experiencing more of the tikka sauce made fries a natural choice. Think really good, really creamy, delightfully aromatic tomato soup with lots of personality. As with many exemplars of comfort food, it’s served hot. You’ll want to saturate the fries with this elixir, but make sure to save a sip or three for the end.
8 February 2020: Baked goods are on full display under glass at the counter where you place your order. They’re supplied by Swiss Alps Bakery and they look fabulous. The Marigold Cafe also offers a unique dessert made on the premises. It’s called cinna-naan and as the name hints, it features both cinnamon and tandoor-baked naan. A rather large naan is first slathered with butter then sprinkled with cinnamon and a caramel sauce before three generous scoops of ice cream are piled on. It’s an amazing dessert, the best we’ve had in 2020 thus far.
13 January 2021: If asked what the national food of England is, you’d probably answer fish and chips or Yorkshire pudding or maybe even roast beef. In 2001, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook British declared chicken tikka masala as the new national dish of the United Kingdom. Chicken Tikka Masala? Yes, and not solely because some critics believe the dish was actually conceived in Glasgow, Scotland. Restaurant-goers care more that it’s a delicious Indian (some would say Indian-inspired) dish and have made it the most popular restaurant dish in the country.
Tikka, a Persian word for “bits and pieces” aptly describes the dish which showcases boneless chicken pieces in a creamy spiced tomato sauce. Marigold Cafe describes its version as “our most popular bowl (rich, creamy, and a little heat) with tandoori cooked chicken.” Rich, creamy and a little heat are accurate descriptors for the dish, especially creamy. It is redolent with cream of tomato and is tinged with the signature bronze-orange color of tikka masala. The chicken is tender, moist white meat. As with each of the four bowls on the menu, the chicken tikka masala is served with seasoned rice and your choice of naan bread (garlic, plain or chili) or you can substitute cauliflower rice ($1) or crispy stir-fried cabbage (No up-charge). The chili naan has a pronounced bite.
13 January 2021: In September, 2020, a Lincoln, Nebraska resident and obvious logophile petitioned the city council “That we as a city remove the name ‘boneless wings’ from our menus and from our hearts. His reasoning: “Nothing about boneless chicken wings actually comes from the wing of a chicken. Boneless chicken wings are just chicken tenders, which are already boneless. I don’t go to order boneless tacos. I don’t go and order boneless club sandwiches. … It’s just what’s expected.” Not all Americans feel the same about the concept of boneless wings. 53-percent of respondents polled believe “boneless wings” should count as wings. Only 34-percent claimed they “felt duped by the term,” believing boneless wings are more chicken nugget than wing.
We’ve always known what to expect from boneless wings, overwhelmingly preferring bone-in wings. From a tactile, experiential and flavor perspective, they’re just better…much better. Alas, the Marigold Cafe offers only boneless wings, described as “tender pieces of chicken breast fried or grilled, tossed in one of our homemade sauces: BBQ, sweet chili or garlic buffalo.” At eight pieces per order, it’s a generous appetizer. As with so many chicken wings we’ve had, these have a tendency toward mushiness especially since we had to transport them fifteen miles. We didn’t find much balance in the “sweet chili” sauce which was nearly cloying with virtually no hint of heat. Sure, there’s plenty of meat, but we missed the experience of gnawing around the bones and extricating the juicy meat.
13 January 2021: Considering how much the aforementioned Lincoln, Nebraska resident was irked by the use of a term with which he didn’t agree, imagine how apoplectic he’d be if he ordered the Monte Cristo Sandwich from the Marigold Cafe. In John Mariani’s Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, he described the Monte Cristo as “a sandwich composed of ham, chicken, and Swiss cheese enclosed in bread that is dipped in beaten egg and fried until golden brown.” The Lincoln logophile would certainly not appreciate the fact that the Marigold Cafe’s version is served on a croissant and in addition to grilled ham and Cheddar cheese it’s got raspberry jam. The horror!
That unique interpretation of the Monte Cristo is one of twelve items on the Marigold Cafe’s breakfast menu. The croissant, it turns out, is a nice replacement for the egg-dipped bread of the traditional Monte Cristo sandwich. Though light and flaky, the crescent-shaped bread proved a worthy substitute and that raspberry jam should be part of every Monte Cristo. Its tart sweetness counter-balanced the saltiness of the ham and sharpness of the Cheddar. The Monte Cristo is served with a fruit cup.
The Marigold Cafe is clear about its goal: “to provide our community with amazing food, awesome service, and a relaxing atmosphere.” Nice words indeed, but this is a restaurant living up to those words.
5161 Lang Avenue, N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 13 January 2021
1st VISIT: 8 February 2020
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Samosas, Tikka Flatbread, Tikka Mac n’ Cheese, Cinnanaan, Lamburger, Fries with Tikka Sauce, Chicken Tikka Masala, Monte Cristo Sandwich, Boneless Sweet Chili Chicken Wings