The cosmos are not shining too brightly for the Railyard's newest installation, Flying Star Café. The soft opening in May will be followed by a big grand opening celebration (11 am-4 pm Saturday, June 6). This location is the ninth outpost for the Albuquerque-based chain founded in 1987 on Nob Hill as the Double Rainbow. I so wanted to love it, to embrace it and to hype its glory.
But the much anticipated opening of this Duke City institution has left me feeling sullen and downright disappointed.
I pictured many a Saturday fresh from the Santa Fe Farmers Market, frolicking with my friends and family amid the bountiful baked goods and the cornucopia of comfort foods.
Instead, when I go for an early Friday-night dinner and eight days later for Saturday brunch, what I get are pricey pancakes, forgettable breakfast fare, mellow but easily eatable mac and cheese, lackluster service and a sorry sandwich with a side of so-so something. Oh, and it all comes with a Santa Fe surcharge—and I'm not just talking about a little 87501 gross receipts tax; Albuquerque and Bernalillo menu prices posted on the website are typically about $1 less than those in our City Different.
I know we have the living wage, higher per-square-foot rental costs and other factors that perhaps cause business owners to ratchet their pricing accordingly, but shouldn't the entirety of the Flying Star Corporation bare that burden? I keep thinking the "Exclusive Santa Fe Menu," dolled up with a few site-specific specials, is really just code for "Exclusive Sucka Menu."
We may live 60 miles north of Albuquerque, but that doesn't make us stupid. Many a Santa Fean has wandered into an Albuquerque Flying Star at some point, and we notice when our dinner ticket a la Railyard is inflated.
Would this banter about price really matter if the food was as addictive and divine as we would hope? For the quality of food and quasi-cafeteria service, it just doesn't feel worth the price—even the lower ABQ prices.
My toddler, however, makes out like a bandit, receiving by far the tastiest items out of what we ordered: mac and cheese ($3.49) and blueberry baby (pan)cakes ($3.99). They are very good iterations of the
classics, although I'm not winning any parenting awards for pumping my child full of white flour, white sugar and processed-cheese foodstuffs. I am sorely discouraged by my chicken salad sandwich ($10.59), the description of which does nothing to prepare me for its dill infestation. I like dill, don't get me wrong. But I also like my chicken salad to taste more like chicken than anything else. As for all those tempting glass-cased goodies, which are crafted in Santa Fe, the baked goods are definitely the closest this Flying Star gets to reaching orbit. The pastries receive rave reviews, especially the pies.
Before I abort my mission, I sample a range of other savory dishes from "breakfast all day" to a salad with the signature house tomatillo lime vinaigrette, and then I probe into the Far East with a Buddha Bowl with shrimp ($13.58) and take a brief chicken pot pie ($12.99) detour into Americana. They all miss the mark. I dearly appreciate their "Food for Thought" philosophy that touts certified humane (raised and handled), organic, fair trade and local products, but I come away wishing the food reflected that wholesomeness, and wasn't super-sized in volume and price. Better-crafted smaller portions for smaller prices might yield the same profits but, moreover, happier customers.
This Flying Star settlement may be new, but the company has had eight attempts previous to get it right, so my sympathy is slim. Santa Fe might soon become The City Indifferent if the Flying Star stays the course, but if the stars align and Saturn returns, then I will enthusiastically give it another try.
Flying Star Café
Open 6 am to 10 pm Sunday-Thursday
6 am to midnight Friday and Saturday
500 Market St.