I was looking forward to my visit to Tecolote Cafe in Santa Fe for spicy, blue corn laden New Mexican food from the Vortex (Santa Fe is reputed/chided for being in an supernatural energy vortex) and I was not dissapointed.
Tecolote Cafe is quirky but they know their food and the spirit of the cantankerous New England army cook and founder, Bill Jennison (who passed last May) pervades from the “No Toast” motto to Bill’s son-in-law Matt Adkins who runs the place with his wife Katie. Matt told me the “No Toast” story. Apparently, Bill was a crusty son of Massachusetts who worked around the hospitality business for many years, finally settling in Santa Fe. In the 1980′s Bill decided that Santa Fe, the adobe Disneyland, needed a breakfast spot dedicated to serving fresh LOCAL New Mexican food.
He sought out authentic recipes from his archives, his hospitality colleauges, and long time residents. He sampled the recipes around to his network. They loved the food but were not sure about his breakfast concept. As his former wife, who owned the Guadalopue Cafe and loved the food, but not the operating hours, queried “Why do you want to be in a breakfast place where you will work yourself to the bone making this fabulous food, only to be answering complaint after complaint about the toast.” Bill had a simple, pragmatic New England answer. “No Toast!” and thus the Tecolote Cafe was born, without toast.
They do have fresh bread, home-made daily, but they don’t waste it on a side, like some of their competitors might. Instead it only goes into higher value dishes like the French Toast. After Bill booted a few customers who insisted on toast too stridently, the motto became a tongue-in-cheek jibe at the other places, like the Pantry down the road, which do serve a lot of toast. Do you feel a food war coming on?
If I’d known that story when I sat down, I would have ordered French Toast too to have an opinion on the argument, but I had already submitted my request before Matt joined me. I was visiting to sample the Atolé Pinon Hot Cakes ($5.70), which translates as Blue Corn Meal, Pine Nut Pancakes. They sounded authentic and interesting.
The first thing I noticed was that my hot cakes were “Blue,” the second was the attention to detail; the maple syrup was served piping hot. The pancakes are a different savory earthy experience that really can grow on you. They are very different in their specific taste, but similar in their adult pancake audacity to those from the Beach Grass Cafe in San Diego (bacon cheddar) that have won some national pancake awards. There is bouncing around from the taste undertones to the taste overtones.
As I’d been sitting waiting for the pancakes to arrive, and before Matt joined me, I read the menu and soaked up the “Fanta Se”, vortex conversations in the room. Two women at the table next to me actually uttered these gems. “The messages are in the air. You just have to follow them.” and “If you find yourself stuck deep down in a conundrum, call me. I will be there for you.” I can just imagine one friend phoning the other, from deep down inside a black swirling conundrum and the second friend steadying herself to throw a rope down into the maelstrom, to help haul her pal out. I wonder what I would have picked up at the community table?
While being a traveling food blogger “Aureur” (a new word for an aural voyeur?) I surveyed the menu, where the printed attention to detail, around the Red Chili and the Green Chili caught my attention. The menu read “Our chiles flucuate from hot, to Very, to Very VERY HOT. So if you are not sure ask your server for a sample. ” That sentence sold me. Mindful that I still had yet another breakfast to eat I ordered an egg with two side dishes of chili: one red and one green.
The chilis are both smoky with a fine heat that builds. I preferred the red, until I added salt to the green. Matt explained that they add just enough salt to the purely vegetarian chilis to mellow or balance the flavors of the peppers and the Roux. They expect you to salt to taste for yourself. How grown-up is that?
If you are passing through, Tecolote Cafe has been on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives for the Huevos Yuccatan, and won best Huevos Rancheros (in New Mexico) in 2001. When I come back through I am going for the Carne Adovada
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