The odd little space between Pink Adobe and Rio Chama has housed a number of different businesses over the years. I worked there 14 years ago when it was Café Pink, the Adobe's failed attempt at a coffee shop. As of last fall, the space has become home to Gourmet Today Café (410-A Old Santa Fe Trail, 903-649-2128).
I've always liked the spot. It's cozy, narrow and has a great patio with a very large mural celebrating Fiestas and the reconquest of Santa Fe that, subject matter aside, is a really a nice piece of art.
Owner TJ Griffith has managed to do something strange and beautiful here. The place is an unapologetic throwback. There are prints of birds on the walls. The seats have crocheted cushions on them. Each table has a little potted plant on it. This may sound like a backhanded compliment, but there is a sense that your grandmother has opened her sitting room to visitors.
The concept of the restaurant is pretty unique as well. Griffith sells a list of standard sandwiches and soups, but the attraction is the rotating entree and dessert menu. Every day is a slightly different experiment in cooking with a mostly traditional American lean. It's clear that this comes from a place of genuine love of food—that it is also a business is probably a benefit.
The day I stopped by, the food gods were clearly happy with me—it was chicken pot pie day. I mean ... meat pies are my thing, and I think the meat pie drought has ended for Santa Fe.
As luck would have it, I was with my friend Lefty (who went with me for the sad shepherd's pie at Blue Corn Café in my first column). We both ordered the chicken pot pie ($15) with a side of corn bread served with fresh-made butter.
Entrees come with a nice small salad with seasonal veggies. Ours had beets and cucumber in it. The house dressing is a tangy, poppy vinaigrette that I could have poured on nearly anything.
- The food is plated really well.
- I was immediately comfortable in the space.
- The food looks so, so good!
The pot pie was perfect: buttery, melty crust overflowing with creamy, but not overly thick, gravy and large hunks of chicken. Ample vegetables. The portion was just right. The cornbread was bright yellow and sweet, and the crust on top added just the right level of texture. The butter wasn't skimpy.
After such a meal it may sound gluttonous to get dessert, but the options for the day were Texas chocolate sheet cake with pecans ($7) or hot apple cobbler ($6.50). We got one of each, and this was the right choice. The cake was a slab of dense chocolatey sugar served warm enough to melt on your tongue. It was sweet but not cloying. You could taste the chocolate and the frosting was the right balance of fudge and heart attack. Cobbler is usually difficult. Most is just applesauce with a sad topping. This was light and delicate. Simply wonderful.
And this brings up the greatest positive of the place: It isn't Mexican food. I know this sounds weird, but a menu without green chile on it is something to behold. This is a restaurant serving what you find at family reunions, but at a four-star level. It's Southern comfort food, raised up. And Griffith doesn't care for food trends. The menu features shrimp cocktail! I couldn't even tell you the last time I saw that on a menu.
There is something oddly satisfying about simple, well-made cooking. The only drawbacks are price—it is definitely a touch pricey for lunch—and the location. Parking is a bit rough in that area.
Take a chance on it, though. We often talk about restaurants as extensions of their chef, and this one is clearly an extension of Griffith. The place is a one-woman show; she cooks, waits on tables and does the dishes, the whole time chatting about the meal of the day. I can imagine myself being in a mood where this would annoy, but Griffith is too damn nice to not want to talk to her. This is restaurant as personality, and it just works.