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Entries in new mexico (23)

Monday
Oct142013

CakeSpy Undercover: The Vanilla Moose, Aztec NM

I need to tell you about the business that may just be my favorite soft serve ice cream joint on earth. 

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

And please know that this statement does not come lightly, as I was born and raised by the Jersey Shore, a soft serve mecca if ever there was one.

But in the most unexpected place--Aztec, New Mexico, in a region called "Four Corners" given its proximity to the spot where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah all meet--there is a most magical ice cream spot called The Vanilla Moose.

Here's what you'll see as you drive up. 

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

There are picnic tables leading up to the burger shack-style order window. You can drive through, too, but that's definitely not as much fun as walking up. 

Soft serve is what's on the menu here, vanilla and chocolate, and it's done right. It's creamy and smooth, with none of the "ew"-y grainy texture that can characterize lesser varieties of soft serve (and like I said, I know). But if a plain ol' cone is too boring for you, that's ok, because they have a number of different ways to dress it up, as you'll see on the menu. Vanilla Moose, Aztec

By the way, the menu boasts "spoiling dinners since 1983" and "as always, free doggie & baby cones". Seriously, don't you love them already?

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

There are floats, cones, shakes, and especially sundaes. Now, don't get me wrong, because we got a shake and it was most excellent--chocolate with almond syrup and almonds inside and on top of the shake, thankyouverymuch--

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

But. In my opinion, the true joy here is the sundaes. We sampled several, so I feel well qualified to tell you about it. They are served in several sizes, but I found the "junior" size to be just right. It's like a small ice cream, but when topped with a number of different textured and flavored additions and whipped cream and a cherry on top, it's the perfect amount. 

Some highlights? The brownie sundae was a study in balance, with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream playing beautifully off of the chocolate-rich brownies (made by owner Pam) and the rich fudge sauce. When it slightly began to melt and all of the flavors came together...perfection. Good with nuts, too. 

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

The peanut cluster sundae was ideal for this sweet-and-salty dessert lover. Creamy vanilla ice cream was coated with caramel and crunchy salty roasted peanuts, then (why not) it was all topped with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. It was just indulgent enough, and the saltiness made each bite completely tantalizing, making you want more sweet, and then the taste of sweet made you want more salty. 

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

During a week-long stay in the area, we went four times. The owner, Pam, who took over the business from her mother, and her employee were both just stellar, dealing with simultaneous drive-through and walk-up customers with ease, speed, and friendliness. On a visit when there was no line, Pam came 'round the counter and sat with us and talked about New Mexico, spirituality, cross-country moves, and of course, her role as one who brings sweetness to many lives. She's a pretty cool lady. Tell her I said hi if you go. 

And, speaking of which, yes, I do think you should go. Aztec is an interesting little town, with Native American ruins which are fascinating to tour, and it's just a stone's throw from uber-cute Durango, Colorado. It's worth a visit if you find yourself in that part of the world.

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

But please, make sure you visit The Vanilla Moose. I'll warn you, they're closing in about 2 weeks (a little before Halloween) for the season, but they'll be back in the spring, and the spring after that, and it's my sincere hope that they are there forever. Because we need places like this to make us pause from being so busy in our everyday lives, and savor some sweetness just for a few minutes.

OH! And remember how I told you they do free doggie cones? Guess who we brought on one of our visits...

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

Yeah, this happened. Porkchop loves The Vanilla Moose, too! Wonder what emotions he felt while eating his cone.

 

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

The Vanilla Moose, 1721 West Aztec Boulevard, Aztec NM 87401. On Facebook.

Thursday
Sep122013

Carb Lover's Delight: Golden Crown Panaderia, Albuquerque

Golden Crown Panaderia

When I tell you about Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque, it's probably going to sound strange. 

You see, from the best I can tell, they have four specialties there: 

1. Empanadas

2. Biscochitos

3. Bread

4. Pizza

Golden Crown PanaderiaGolden Crown Panaderia

Yep. Empanadas and biscochitos, okay. Bread...all right. The pizza is a little bit of a curveball. And yes, in case you're wondering, they do have other stuff--like mexican wedding cake cookies and a variety of other pastries. Here's there menu so you can ogle. But we zeroed in on the stuff that we were told was the best.

Golden Crown Panaderia

Now, I don't know about you, but I might not have high hopes for, say, the pizza at such an establishment. But the most incredible thing is that they do all of four things things amazingly well. 

But since this is a dessert and baked goods site, I am going to assure you that the pizza is well worth a try and start talking about the sweets now, ok?

Biscochito, Golden Crown

First, the biscochitos. We were extremely delighted when, upon entering the bakery, the employee just gave us each a biscochito. If you've never tried one, they're a flaky, almost pie crust-esque spiced cookie, often made with lard, which is the official State cookie of New Mexico. Their biscochitos were perfect. Golden Crown Panaderia

They simply crumbled into a sweet, melty oblivion in your mouth, and the lightly crunchy dusting of sugar and spice was gentle, not overpowering, letting the flavor of the rich but slight cookie shine. 

Now, I should tell you for future reference that if you ever buy biscochitos, you must eat them immediately. It's not that they won't keep, but they will crumble. I have purchased biscochitos before and taken a short walk with them and somehow they've turned into a pile of crumbs. Be warned.

Next up were the empanadas. We got apricot and cherry. They have a number of flavors, though--raspberry, apple, lemon, et cetera. Nothing crazy, but a nice variety of flavor options.

Golden Crown Panaderia

The fillings were OK. Like, serviceable. But sort of along the lines of one of those TastyKake hand pies. Fancier of course, but still of that ilk. The apricot tasted better than the cherry, we thought. But either way, the fillings are really just an excuse to have something to wrap the crust around.

Golden Crown Panaderia

But dudes, dudettes, the crust. The crust was similar to the texture of the biscochitos, making me wonder if it was a biscochito crust or perhaps just a lightly doctored biscochito dough altered for a sturdier texture. Golden Crown PanaderiaLike the cookies, they were dusted with sugar and spice. The crust was perfect. It was flaky, lightly nutty (perhaps owing to the spice?) and like the biscochitos, just melted in your mouth. This is the type of crust you're willing to travel for. 

Golden Crown Panaderia

Get yourself to the Golden Crown. I think you'll enjoy their crust quite a bit, be it on an empanada or a pizza.

Golden Crown Panaderia, 1103 Mountain Road, Albuquerque NM. Online here.

Saturday
Jun152013

Sweet Discovery: Mexican Wedding Cake, Mary and Tito's Cafe, Albuquerque

 

Mexican wedding cake

 I'd like to share with you the most interesting dessert I've had in a while.

It's called Mexican Wedding Cake. But this is kind of a funny name, for a few reasons.

First off, when I think "Mexican Wedding Cake", I think of a cookie--a snowball sort of cookie. Not an actual cake.

Second, it doesn't really look like a wedding cake. It actually more resembles a Hummingbird cake, with walnuts and pineapple and cream cheese frosting...but without the banana. It's baked in a bundt type pan.

Third, we're not in Mexico. We're in New Mexico, at an eatery specializing in New Mexican food. It can't be denied that New Mexican cuisine is heavily influenced by that of Mexico, but they're not *quite* the same. Although to this last point, I feel as though at least one of the employees referred to it as "New Mexican Wedding Cake".

But who really cares about the name when a cake tastes this good?  

 

Mexican wedding cake

 As previously mentioned, it's a nice, dense, sort of Hummingbird-esque cake, but without the banana. It is dense with spices, fruit, and buttery cakey goodness. When I say dense, I mean it. It's almost gooey, like the texture of a baked pudding. Upon reflection, it's like having a glimpse at the evolution between fruit cake and fluffy layer cakes, with delicious results. And the frosting, oh, the frosting. Here's a posterior view to give you an idea:Mexican wedding cake

 It's somehow light, almost with the texture of whipped cream, but rich in cream cheese flavor. It's applied thickly, and you'll be so glad it is. This is a very, very special cake, served in an unassuming spot (picture below): 

What a find!

As I learned from the fantastic site NM Gastronome, (owner) Antoinette has been making this cake for better than 30 years (though she doesn’t look much older than 30 herself) and says she’s made it thousands of times.  You won’t find any better in New Mexico.  You won’t find anything close.

As I learned from the same post,

In the February, 2013 edition of Albuquerque The Magazine  celebrated the Duke City’s best desserts. The fabulous Mexican wedding cake was recognized as the “to die for dessert to remember.”  I’m not too sure what that means, but if it means the Mexican wedding cake is unforgettable, the honor is certainly well deserved.  It’s certainly one of the very best desserts in New Mexico. 

You've got to try this one if you find yourself in Albuquerque! 

Mary & Tito's, 2711 4th Street, N.W. Albuquerque, NMMary & Tito’s Facebook Page.

 

Monday
Jun032013

Sweet Surprise: Key Lime Pie from Zia Diner, Santa Fe

Key Lime Pie

Sometimes, you find sweet dessert finds where you least expect them. For instance, I would not have thought that Santa Fe, New Mexico, would be a great place to get an authentic slice of Key Lime Pie. Turns out, I was wrong, because they're selling the good stuff right at the Zia Diner, not far from the central downtown area. How delightful to be surprised like this!

As I entered the building to meet a friend, I was greeted by a case full of baked goods. I was informed by the hostess that their sweets are all made on site, and that they're all very, very good. I had a long and loving look at this cream puff: 

Cream Puff, Zia Diner

Before sitting down for some savory food. After dinner, though, you can bet your bottom dollar we were ready to see the dessert menu! When asked what was good, the waitress said that if there was any part of us that held love for key lime pie, we simply had to get theirs. "Is it made with real Key Limes?" I asked. Apparently, yes. She also told us that Floridians have a way of testing a pie to see if it's authentic from the get-go: they look at the color. Artificially tinted or regular-lime only impostors will not have the correct color, which is kind of a custardy yellow (not green!). She also told us that Floridians approved of this pie. But would a Spy?

Key Lime Pie

Yes! Oh my! This pie was very, very good. Shockingly tart on first bite, but subsiding as it warms in your mouth to an even, tart-sweet richness. Zingy citrus--this pie tastes like sunshine. A very nice texture, sort of like that of panna cotta--it didn't collapse when cut into, but wasn't stiff or too firm, either. Soft...yielding. 

I was very impressed by this Key Lime Pie, not only because it was delicious but that it was proof that sometimes, even a professional dessert detective can be pleasantly surprised by a sweet in the most unexpected place! 

If you're not in or near Santa Fe, however, you can enjoy the dessert gallery on their website (why doesn't every restaurant do that?).

Zia Diner, 326 South Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe NM; online here.

Saturday
Apr202013

CakeSpy Undercover: Momo and Company, Santa Fe

Momo and Co

This is what a gluten-free cupcake looks like at Momo and Company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This is a totally gluten-free and mostly vegan bakery near the Georgia O'Keeffe museum, downtown.

How did they get there? So glad you asked. Per their website,

What happens when you put together a native New Yorker with an affinity for baked goods (bordering on obsession) and a native New Mexican who has a passion for Boba tea?…you get Momo & Co! Leslie Thompson, founder of Momocakes Vegan, Gluten-Free Bakery and Carola Kieve, lover of all things Boba have teamed up to bring 100% Gluten-Free, (Mostly) Vegan goodies and the 1st ever All Natural Boba Tea Bar to Santa Fe, NM.  Initially our journey was a personal challenge to be more mindful of what was going into our food and beverages but along the way we’ve learned that many people need to eat allergen-free foods as a necessity .

While eating gluten-free may be a necessity to some, it need not equal suffering--for anyone. So it makes me so glad that places like Momo and Company exist, where gluten-free treats are available for those who can't eat gluten, but delicious for everyone.

By the way, this is what two gluten-free cupcakes look like at Momo. 

Momo and Co

On my recent visit with my friend Judi, we each got the breakfast sandwich (I know, not sweet) on gluten-free bread. Hey, the bread was pretty good and held together quite well (I've had trouble with gluten-free bread falling apart on me in the past). 

The cupcakes, made with a proprietary blend of flours (each of their baked goods has a slightly different mix to ensure the best flavor and texture), are among some of the better gluten-free / vegan varieties I've tried. The cake held together (once again, I have had trouble with that) and on the chocolate-chocolate cupcake, little studs of chocolate added extra delight. The frosting had a little bit of a "crust" on top, which I like--the only bad part is that it made it solid so if cutting the cupcake in half, the frosting comes off in a chunk. But this does not affect the flavor--just the visual. 

Cupcakes aren't the only sweet on the menu--they also have sticky buns with chocolate:

Momo and Co

as well as chocolate chip cookies, mexican wedding cake cookies, a waffle bar with plenty of sweet toppings...

and of course the savory / sandwich menu.

Momo and Co

Momo and Company, 229a Johnson Street, Santa Fe; online here.

Wednesday
Apr172013

Pastry Profiles: Chocolate Tart from Tree House Pastry, Santa Fe

Tree House Pastry

Tree House Pastry Shop and Café is not easy to find. It's in an unlikely spot--inside of a mall, across from an insurance agent. But it's worth seeking out, particularly for their chocolate tart. It's both vegan and gluten free, but don't be scared off when I say that, because there is nothing virtuous at all about the taste of this devilishly decadent tart. Does the secret lie in the crust, made of crushed candied walnuts? Or is it the dense, lusciously luxuriant slab of chocolate topping, which is so thick that it will coat your teeth? Or is it the secret addition of raspberries which add a little tart burst to all taht chocolatiness? Either way, after a few bites, you don't care so much about the ingredients as you do that it keeps on finding its way to your mouth.

Treehouse pastry

I wouldn't go quite so far as to tell you this tart alone is worth a trip to Santa Fe, but...I am saying that if you are in Santa Fe, this tart is worth seeking out. Or maybe it will make you strongly consider Santa Fe for your next vacation. 

Tree House Pastry Shop and Cafe, 163 Paseo de Peralta (inside of the DeVargas Center), Santa Fe, NM 87501; online here.
Monday
Apr012013

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe Bakery Roundup

There are a few things you should know about New Mexico. First off, it is part of the United States. The license plates helpfully point this out: “New Mexico, USA”. Second, it is one of the few states with an Official State Cookie (the biscochito—or is that bizcochito?). Third, it's a fantastic place to get fat, or, as I told one diner manager who looked at me funny when I ordered a sopaipilla and a slice of tres leches cake (no dinner to go with it, thankyouverymuch) a great place “to carb-o-load for a marathon you're never going to run.”

Here's where I've carb-o-loaded and sugar-rushed, and I think you should, too. 

Whoo's Donuts

Donut Stop Believin'. Santa Fe is not, strictly speaking, a donut town. In fact, there's only one non-chain donut shop in town. But one is all they need, because clearly, Whoo's Donuts are the best. This is where you'd get flavors such as blue corn with strawberry-jalapeno glaze, white chocolate lemon pistachio (pictured above) or salted caramel. You'll pay for them—most doughnuts are $2 or more—but they are so. Freaking. Good. 

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Chocolate Smith

Time for Chocolate. If chocolate is more your speed, you're in luck. Check out the "Chocolate Trail of Santa Fe" for a self-guided tour, or just read on. I'd start right after visiting Whoo's Donuts and go next door to ChocolateSmith and get something sweet like a mendiant, some bark, or a truffle. It's owned by the same people who own Whoo's Donuts, and everything, from the salted caramel truffle to the spicy chocolate bark, is made with love and care and is completely tasty. 

Kakawa

Not too far away, Kakawa Chocolate House is also a fantastic spot for chocolate, most notably drinking chocolate. They actually create historically accurate drinking chocolates there, in case you've ever been curious what Aztec chocolate tasted like, or what flavor of cocoa Jefferson might have favored. Oh, they also make a nice array of sweets on site, such as this delightful (and large) lemon pistachio macaroon.

C.G. Higgins also does truffles and chocolates, including some unusual flavors.This is more like the old-fashioned confectionery shop in town, but with some more updated flavors. Intrigued by the blue cheese and cherries jubilee truffles, I stuck kind of safe and tried the himalayan sea salt. Sweet. Salty. Yum. They also have a respectable hot chocolate (though in my opinion, that's something you look for at Kakawa). Also, just FYI, you could get some Chile Pecan Brittle here, too.

At Todos Santos Fine Chocolates, you'll find silver, gold, and...chocolate? Believe it. This small-batch chocolatier is noted for making chocolates that resemble milagros, small charm-like offerings to saints in Hispanic folk culture. These are done with edible gold and silver leaf, though, making them tasty offerings to your mouth!

Finally, don't forget CocoPelli: It's off the beaten path, in a mall, but the chocolate is all made by hand. Nice choco-covered fruit and nuts and truffles...and they make cakes and pastries, too! A sweet spot.

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French Connection. For a small city, Santa Fe has a surprisingly large amount of French bakeries. Le yum!

Macarons, Clafoutis, Santa Fe

Probably the most famous is Clafoutis, which is always, always crowded. Go there for breakfast, brunch, or lunch for a delightful Croque Monsieur (i'd tell you to get something else, but that's what I've gotten every time and I can't bear to order differently). Or just go to the bakery case and get one of everything. They are somehow able to make macarons at the high altitude, which is a bit of a miracle, and they're good--so are the croissants, the Opera cake, et cetera.

Montmartre

The French Pastry Shop and Creperie makes crepes both sweet and savory, and they also have a counter case full of Frenchie stuff to go. On past expeditions here I have tried their delectable sables and their blissful Montmartre pastry.

Cafe Mamou, Santa fe

Chez Mamou is another French spot in town, and they boast a beautiful array of French pastries. You'll find single-serve mont blancs or almond paste stuffed chocolate cakes, as well as croissants, brioche, and tarts. According to one of the handsome French-speaking gentlemen who work there, however, the best of the bunch are the lemon and apricot tarts. I haven't tried those yet, but have tried the clafoutis, studded with dark cherries and marzipan, and a chocolate almond thing that I'm not 100% sure of the name, but know it was delightful.

Swiss Bakery, Santa Fe

The Swiss Bakery might not sound French, but, after all, aren't fancy French pastries referred to as Viennoiserie? So yeah, it's going to come off as French. The best item in the case, according to one of the employees, is the Napoleon. I would tend to agree, although I haven't tried everything there. Just look at that thing. This particular one was stuffed with strawberry and kiwi. I know that might not sound amazing, but it really was. 

Also equipped with French pastries is Le Chantilly, a cafe with bakery offerings such as croissants, eclairs, and Napoleons.

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Ice Cream and Frozen Treats After enjoying some of the local spicy and chile-rich dishes, you're probably going to need something cool. I hope someone will challenge this statement with proof of delicious ice cream around town, but as it stands...there really aren't any notable local ice cream shops. Taos Cow ice cream at the station At The Station coffee house, they have ice cream from Taos Cow; likewise at CocoPelli (mentioned above).

Gelato, Ecco Gelato, Santa Fe

There is, however, gelato. We'll start with Ecco Coffee and Gelato. A little more milky-icy than some other gelati I've tried, it's nonetheless fantastically flavored stuff. I got the stracciatella and pumpkin, which was serious pumpkin; a friend got the stracciatella with nutella. Yumsies.

Mangiamo Pronto, a casual Italian eatery, also has gelato which is quite good, and they are opening a gelateria next door to expand their currently small but very good offerings.

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Cookies, Cakes, n Pies: For the classic American treats, you have plenty of options too. 

Dream Cakes, Santa Fe

Dream Cakes Gourmet Cupcakes has a humble storefront but good gravy are these cupcakes good. Moist , butter-packed cake that makes you want to swoon. If they have it, please try the "Southern Belle". It's a rich pecan cake with cream cheese frosting--pictured above. You will not regret it.

Chocolate Maven, Santa Fe NM

The Chocolate Maven has it all, from cookies, cakes, and pies , to breads. They have a restaurant too, actually, but I've never gotten past the pastries. I've known and loved their Russian Teacake cookies and tarts, cupcakes, have ogled (but I will confess, not tried) their pies, and have truly enjoyed their croissants, which are crispy, light, buttery, and when filled (for instance, with almond paste), they are filled generously.

tres leches cake, cocopelli

CocoPelli, mentioned above, specializes in chocolate but they also bake their own cupcakes. And my oh my, was the Tres Leches Cupcake nom-worthy.

Dulce, Santa Fe

Dulce, in spite of the name, offers little dulce de leche and mainly, pretty standard American bakery fare. Not that this is a bad thing! Scones, cookies, a very nice Red Velvet cake.  

Sage Bakehouse

For carb-rich treats and wonderful breads, visit Sage Bakehouse. Dudes, dudettes, this place is pricey. But their bread is pretty amazing, and their cookies and pastries are made with love, care, good flour, and the taste reflects it. 

You'll also find some very tasty stuff at Treehouse Pastry and Cafe. It's in an unlikely spot—the mall, across from an abandoned allstate insurance agent, but damn, do they have a fine pastry case. The shortbread cookies were solid, and I hear the cupcakes are a great, but really, the highlight was the chocolate tart. It's both vegan and gluten free, but you don't suffer at all for its lack of ingredients. It has so much to offer flavorwise that you don't really care what's in it—it just tastes SO good. The secret may lie in the crust, which is made of crumbled crushed candied walnuts. It really reminded me of a sweet treat I love from Chaco Canyon raw and vegan cafe in Seattle.

Which leads nicely into more Vegan and / or Gluten Free options. 

Gluten Free Cinnamon Roll

If you're gluten free and/or vegan, Revolution Bakery has all the classics--cookies, cinnamon rolls, scones, and other tasty carbohydrates, but modified to be safe for your belly, heart and soul. 

Body Cafe also has a very nice array of house-baked (or, if you're raw, not-baked) vegan, gluten-free, or raw options for their sweets. Raw truffle, or vegan cheesecake? You'll find it here.

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Non-Bakeries that Have Good Stuff

When I'm in Santa Fe, I love Whole Foods. To be specific, though, I like the one on Cerillos Road, not the one on Cordova Road (I specify this because there are two Whole Foods markets like 2 blocks away from each other). I like them as a grocery store, but I also like the fact that their bakery often has a sort of “best of” selection from area shops. You'll see doughnuts from Whoo's, sweets from Sage Bakehouse and Chocolate Maven, and more. They also do a rather respectable job with their in-house baked goods, in particular their Chocolate Decadence cake, which is better than many restaurant versions I have tried!

A visit to the Farmer's Market is a highly good idea. It's on Tuesday and Saturday. Tuesday is smaller and slower but an easier pace, perfect to check out Cloud Cliff Bakery, ogle at pretty produce, buy some peppers which were being roasted while I watched, and buy this slice of prune-filled pie.

Pastelito Pastelito

 

It was made by a lady who just had two types—apricot and prune. The “pies” were rather flat, and reminded me of garibaldi biscuits. Apparently, these are sometimes called Pastelitos Indios and are common with Native American cookery.They also have a farmer's market “cafe” which had Whoos doughnuts and other goodies (some of them gluten free, since it's a big concern in Santa Fe).

If you stop nearby the farmer's market, you'll see a restaurant nearby called The Junction. I didn't eat there but when I walked in to try to sneakily use their restroom, I looked at the menu and the hostess told me that their apple pie was--not joking--some of the best in town. She said that on her birthday, she craved that instead of cake. Well, I'll just say that I took note of that.

Cake from The Station

Also nearby the farmer's market is The Station, a coffee shop where they not only, as previously mentioned, have ice cream from Taos Creamery, but a beautiful array of pastries made on site. Pick up a slice of almond clementine cake? Don't mind if I do. I also enjoyed how they used coffee ice cubes in their iced drinks. Nice touch.

Not to confuse you, but the Santa Fe Baking Company is not actually a bakery--it's a cafe-restaurant. And, you know, a pretty good one. Their breakfast burrito, for instance, is beloved. But luckily they DO have their own selection of baked-on-site goods, including muffins, scones, brownies, cookies, et cetera. 

Bobcat Bite Chocolate Chip Cookie, Bobcat Bite

If you do travel all the way to Santa Fe, you must go to Bobcat Bite, a very famous burger place and beloved by locals and travelers. But save room for dessert, because they make their own cookies there!

Cafe Pasqual's, Holiday Pie Mania, Santa FE

Cafe Pasqual's is nationally famous, and with good reason: they offer some delicious eating at their restaurant. But you know what's great? Their desserts. They're house baked and Southwest influenced but also rooted in Americana. For instance, a chocolatey pecan nut pie, which combines pecans, native to the area, and a Kentucky classic? Yes please.

And OMG, the banana coconut cream pie from Jambo Cafe. This is a sort of African-Carribean fusion cuisine restaurant, and everything you eat is so freaking good. But save room for this pie. Please. 

Chocolate Cream Pie, Harry's Road House, Santa Fe

Harry's Road House is a popular people-pleasing spot, and they have a nice array of house-made desserts. Including chocolate cream pie, chocolate cake, and cookies and other sweets. 

Tesuque Village Market is not a bakery, but they do have some fantastic baked goods. Among the sweeter surprises? Sticky buns that would do a midwest potluck proud. 

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 Let's Carb-o-load for Breakfast 

Tecolote Cafe, Santa Fe

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you're in Santa Fe, promise me you'll go to Tecolote Cafe at least once. Blue corn pinon pancakes will make your head spin with their awesome amazingness, and they offer a bakery basket or a tortilla with egg dishes. Go for the basket!

Tune Up Cafe

You'll need breakfast more than once while you're in Santa Fe, unless you're only staying for a few hours. Why not try the Tune Up Cafe? In addition to delicious pupusas and all sorts of tasty savory fare (including a popular breakfast side of fried bananas with cream), they also make all their own baked goods, so please, for me, try one of their wedding cake cookies. It will make you look like a cocoaine addict after you eat it, and it's apropos, because I suspect they are crack filled. They are really, really good. 

Pantry restaurant

The Pantry is a fantastic spot to get breakfast AND sweet treats. Their pancakes are light and fluffy and worth the visit; their sopaipillas are a fine specimen (see below). They also have their own proprietary tres leches cake, which is baked by an employee's wife. Yum!

El Tesoro, Santa Fe NM

OMG El Tesoro. Go for breakfast, stay for the muffins. LOOK AT THAT THING.

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An Unexpected Sweet Spot

Who knows what adventures await you after all of that delightful carb-o-loading? Here's what happened for me. All that breakfast worked up an appetite for a trip to the bookstore. Collected Works is a great bookstore, where they carry my book and Judi's and will probably carry my next book, too. They have a fantastic collection of cookbooks, and while reading about desserts from the area, I got intrigued by a writeup about the fantastic carrot cake at a place called Mission Cafe and Sweet Shop. I decided to walk over.

Well, it's been closed for three years, but it so happened that I walked by the Oldest House in the USA. No kidding! And guess what? They sell baked goods there! The caretaker, Evelyn, baked everything herself. Pick up a brownie, scone, and a couple of biscochitos? Well, OK.

Now, as Evelyn told me, when it comes to biscochitos everyone has their own variation and secret ingredient. She wouldn't tell me hers, but she assured me that she used the vital one: lard. When you make these cookies with butter, they are just not the same. Sorry! She also said that when she was young, biscochitos were most commonly baked in a sort of trefoil form. But today, she bakes hers as stars so that people can refer to them easily, and they won't break as quickly.

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Sopaipilla Nirvana

To the uninitiated, a sopaipilla is a pillowy piece of fried dough. It's not technically dessert. It's a fried bread, but it's not a doughnut. It's neutral (or should be), and is served with honey. It's used as a side, to sop up soups, stews, or sauces, and it's just delicious. It's typically served as a side dish in New Mexican cuisine. Occasionally it's an automatic side, but often you have to order. They don't break the bank, though—the most expensive ones I came across were $2 for a basket of 2. Though not a comprehensive list, because there are so many restaurants that offer them, here are some that I've known and loved in Santa Fe.

Horseman's Haven Horseman's Haven

First up, Horseman's Haven. What an oddball spot. It's in a gas station and kind of looks forbidding from the outside, like a place where bar brawls break out. But inside it's not a dive bar, but instead a family friendly restaurant. And every day at three pm, they start up their fryers to make sopaipillas. Now, it's odd that they only start making them at three. Why? I asked the waiter. It was 2:58 and I had time—there were no exceptions to the rule, apparently. He didn't know. “that's just how it's done here” was the basic response. The sopaipilla here was fresh. A little greasy. With a nice thread of honey served on top, it was a pleasing side to a meal. It definitely made me hungry for more.

Tia Sophia

The next sopaipilla stop was Tia Sophia's, where the sopaipillas are one of the specialties. Theirs was wonderful: soft but chewy, chewy but not tough. It was like biting into a cloud. If clouds were made of fried dough that you could pour honey on and eat.

Sopaipilla from the Pantry

Time to continue carb-o-loading, so off to The Pantry Restaurant I went. Here, I tried their sopaipilla, which was very yeasty and slightly sweet. Very different from the other ones I'd tried so far, lighter and less evident that it was fried, but very good. 

Maria's

I was starting to feel a serious sopaipilla jones by this point, so hit up a place called Maria's with my friend Judi, who is a famous author and also has a passion for pastry. In fact, we met in a case involving a pastry. The sopaipillas at Maria's were respectable, but (in my opinion) slightly inferior to the ones at Tia Sophia's. I enjoyed the crispiness of this variety, however.  BTW, Maria's specializes in Margaritas. I tried Judi's, but in general margaritas are a one or two sip type of drink for me. Better (for me) was the Margarita cheesecake. We tried that, along with the kahlua cheesecake. It was muy delicious. 

Tortilla Flats Sopaipilla

When it was time for more sopaipillas, I hit up Tortilla Flats, where they make a yeasted sopaipilla. Nice and lightly crispy, this one was airy on the inside. They only begin frying at 11 am. The manager informed me that this is because the quality is superior when they have ample time to rise, and “we are not making them in the middle of the night!”.

Finally (for now), I have also wholeheartedly enjoyed the sopaipillas on offer at Gabriel's, a restaurant famous for making guacamole tableside. Their sopaipilla was like a delicious pillow, more substantial than some others but perfect for sopping up honey and sauces. I loved it. 

Whew!

Now. I can't say I have been to every single place in Santa Fe, but I firmly believe I've visited a lot of the good ones. And if this writeup doesn't make you hungry for some sweet Southwest adventure, I don't know what's gonna give you an appetite!

Tuesday
Mar192013

Pastry Pilgrimage: Pie Town, New Mexico

Pie Town, New Mexico

A Pie-lgrimage: Road trip to Pie Town, New Mexico.

In the game of life, we all have journeys to take, and pilgrimages to make. And as a seeker of sweetness, I prefer to make mine dessert related. So it should be no surprise to you that it's been a longtime dream of mine to visit Pie Town, New Mexico. Yes, friends, this is a place that actually exists. And this spot in the desert's name was in fact inspired by the classic American dessert.

As the lore goes

There are several versions of the story of the founding of the town and how we came to be called Pie Town. There may be some discrepancy in dates but these are the basic facts of our story.

In 1922 a veteran of WW-I by the name of Clyde Norman filed a 40-acre mining claim for gold and silver along the route of US-60 and a trail set aside to drive cattle to a railhead 60 miles to the east. Although US-60 bills itself as the Nation's first coast-to-coast highway, when Clyde Norman settled here the cattle driveway was the more important route. Norman’s mining claim was not very successful so he opened a small store to supplement his income. He sold gasoline, kerosene and pies made from dried fruit. Some stories say he made the pies, some say that his teenaged niece did. At any rate the pies were a hit with the cowboys on the cattle drives who went out of their way to stop at "Pie Town."

In 1924 Harmon L. Craig bought a half-interest in Pie Town from Norman for "one dollar of good and lawful money and other good and valuable consideration." A few years later Craig bought out Norman and became Pie Town's leading citizen. He owned the mercantile store, a Chevron service station and garage, a café and a pinto bean warehouse. Most of the families that settled in Pie Town came from Texas and Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and established homesteads. The bean warehouse provided local homesteaders a way to market their crops. Mr. Craig helped these families struggling though the Depression by selling land below market value, and by making loans with no collateral and no interest.

When it came time to establish a Post Office for the town the Postmaster General thought Pie Town was not an appropriate name, but the local citizens insisted that it was the only acceptable name.

In 1940 Farm Security Administration photographer Russell Lee took an extensive set of photographs of Pie Town, including some using the new Kodachrome color film. Those photographs are in the National Archives.

Today's residents still have the sense of community and self-sufficiency that sustained the earlier settlers. We enjoy a unique tranquility in one of the few places in the United States where you can still see the Milky Way.

Of course, as the owner of the Good Pie Cafe put it more directly, “we call it Pie Town because it's about 3.14 miles from nowhere.” 

Here I am!

And well, that's true. It's about a 3.5 hour drive from Santa Fe, or a 2.5 hour drive from Albuquerque. Either way, it's a long trip for a town that boasts a main street area of about 2 blocks, and only a small handful of businesses, two of which are pie-centric. 

Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NMGood Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

One friend asked me “did you really drive all that way for just a slice of pie?”.

My response was, “No. I drove that distance for three slices of pie.” 

But to one on a pastry pilgrimage, that's quite enough. And it's also true that this town has played muse to more than me: there's a book called Pie Town which was so popular that a sequel was written, too. Even without that, though, I was delighted to head down there—on Pie Day, no less, 3/14. 

Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

After driving a long-long way, our first stop was the Good Pie Cafe. At this cafe they serve a simple diner menu, but Pie is the real focus. They'll offer several types each day, and most likely their famous New Mexican Apple Pie will be on the menu. 

The atmosphere is eclectic and funky, kind of like visiting your uncle who's living off the grid or something. But with pie. It's cozy and quirky.

Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

We ordered the New Mexican apple pie and the chocolate pie. Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

It was evident from the get-go that these are not necessarily fancy pies. But the love with which they are crafted is clear, and for me, that made the experience. The apple pie was an interesting flavor—the light sweetness of the apples was nicely paired with toasty pinon, and then—surprise!--a little kick from the green chile.

Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

It made for a fascinating flavor, and I could definitely see this as a breakfast treat, not so much a sweet at all. Especially with that nice, sturdy and very carb-y crust. That's my type of crust, by the way. I don't like it when pie crust shatters on you. The chocolate pie had a nice flavor, but I wished it had a big fat dollop of whipped cream on top.

Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

Still, the experience of eating pie in this weird little spot in Pie Town made it all worthwhile.

Good Pie Cafe Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

While we were there, we were given stickers as a token of the owner's appreciation of our patronage on Pie Day. We were also told to come back on 6/28, which locals call “Double Pie Day” on which you are welcomed to eat double the pie. What a great day!

Pie-o-neer Cafe, Pie Town, NM

Down the road, you'll find the Pie-O-Neer Cafe. Don't go there on Thursday, or Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, as they are closed—but luckily, it was Pie Day on the Thursday we went, so they were open as an exception.

Pie-o-neer Cafe, Pie Town, NM

It being pie day and all, the selection was somewhat picked-over by the time we got there—apparently, there had been a big run from students from a nearby college. But there was enough for us to enjoy a slice of coconut cream pie with a nice meringue topping. 

Pie-o-neer Cafe, Pie Town, NM

Interestingly, I don't think I have ever tasted coconut cream pie with a meringue top like this before. I found it highly satisfactory. The coconut custard was very dreamy, and the pie crust a flakier variety than down the street. It worked very well together.

Pies Open

 Moreover, I felt that the pies were perhaps more sophisticated at Pie-O-Neer and the atmosphere still quirky but a little bit more grandma's house style.

Pie-o-neer Cafe, Pie Town, NM

Pie-o-neer Cafe, Pie Town, NM

So yes, I drove 7 hours (3.5 hours each way) for some pie. Was it the best pie I've ever had? No. But I call to mind a passage in the classic Donuts: An American Passion in which John T. Edge refers to the act of eating beignets at the famous Cafe Du Monde as being a "rite of passage". While they're not the only friteur in town, he says, there's something to having the experience of eating them there and taking part in that ritual. 

So, that having been said, for the experience of enjoying pie in pie town, what I ate couldn't have been better. 

Pie Town, 3.14 Miles from Nowhere. Places to go while you're there: Good Pie Cafe, Pie-O-Neer Cafe, and don't miss the Windmill Museum

Saturday
Mar162013

Pastry Profiles: the Montmartre from The French Pastry Shop and Creperie, Santa Fe

Montmartre

Now here's a pastry that makes me want to start singing "Isn't she lovely?". 

Beautiful red strawberries standing proudly at attention, gleaming under an apricot glaze. Thick whipped cream. Spongey cake. A rich layer of pastry cream. More cake to keep it all in place. That, my friends, is the Montmartre, a totally sweet pastry named after a Parisian neighborhood which I scored at The French Pastry Shop and Creperie in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

How did I choose this pastry above all the others in their delectably filled cases? Easy: I asked the employee working the counter what the very best thing was in the case. He kind of blushed, said of course everything was good, but that his personal favorite was this bad boy. And so I went with it.

I wasn't disappointed. The Montmartre was kind of like strawberry shortcake's more glamorous French cousin, with a little more sophistication and je ne sais quoi. But when it came down to it, the strawberries n cream was down-home delicious, to the very last bite. 

A sweet find indeed! 

The French Pastry Shop & Creperie, 100 E. San Francisco Street, Santa Fe NM; online here.

Sunday
Mar102013

CakeSpy Undercover: Banana-Coconut Cream Pie, Jambo Cafe, Santa Fe

Dessert, jambo cafe, santa fe

Totally sweet! This week will bring 3/14, otherwise known as "the other pie day". But rather than get involved in an argument over whether 1/23 (the day the American Pie Council deems National Pie Day) or 3/14 is the true Pie Day, I'd rather spend this valuable online word real estate to tell you about the best pie I've eaten recently: the Banana-Coconut Cream Pie from Jambo Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Now. A little briefing on Jambo Cafe. Their menu merges aspects of Jamaican, African, and Middle Eastern cuisine, and every single thing is delicious. While not dessert, their cinnamon-sugar dusted plantains as an appetizer are a great lightly sweet beginning, and it will definitely set the tone for a meal that must end with dessert.

You must get dessert here, because other than their baklava, which is made by an outside vendor, it's all baked in-house. I was pretty excited to try more of their sweets, as I had already tried their rum pecan pie at an event.

When I recently went there, I ordered the Banana-Coconut Cream Pie, and my dining companion got the Flourless Chocolate Cake. When they both arrived, we were so excited. We each took a respective bite of our own desserts, then politely offered each other a bite.

Flourless chocolate cake, Jambo Cafe, Santa Fe

After taking a bite of that flourless chocolate cake, I smiled and whispered in my companion's ear, "Mine's better". 

There was nothing wrong with the cake, of course. But the banana-coconut cream pie was just so good. Since I know my low-light photos don't quite do it justice, I'll tell you about it from the bottom up. 

Dessert, jambo cafe, santa fe

First up, a nice, sturdy crust. It wasn't soggy under the weight of all the custardy stuff. It was nice and crispy and had just slightly absorbed the flavors of the pie filling, making for a delightful cookie-esque backdrop.Jambo Cafe, Santa Fe NM

Next, the filling. Oh, the filling! If you imagine the best version of a rich, thick banana cream pudding (you know, the kind with real bananas), you're on the right track...but now, add an extra element of delight by putting in some coconut. Got the idea? This pie is just that: a mashup of the tastiest banana cream pudding and coconut cream pie you've ever tasted. 

But don't stop there. Top it with freshly made whipped cream and then dust it with cocoa and cinnamon sugar. Isn't your mouth happy just imagining this?

If you don't like banana, or you don't like coconut, please, for the love of all things tasty, just click away from this page now. But if you do love these flavors, then please, consider taking a road trip or airplane right, right this very minute, to try some of this pie. I don't think you'll regret it. 

Jambo Cafe, 2011 Cerillos Road, Santa Fe NM; online here.

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