Morning is Annamaria O'Brien's favorite time of day: The quiet serenity and solitude of an empty kitchen, where she can craft pastries and other baked goods. Luckily (for both her and Santa Fe as a whole), she now has the space in which to do just that. In July, O'Brien opened Dolina Bakery & Café, a quaint daytime spot that melds the Eastern European flavors of her childhood with traditional American breakfast favorites.
Slovakian by birth, O'Brien came to the United States 17 years ago to study English and, after traveling around the country, stumbled upon Santa Fe. "I absolutely fell in love with it," she says. "Not just the city, but also with my ex-husband." She made a home here, and began a career in the restaurant scene. Her extensive experience includes a decade at fine-dining landmark Geronimo and then helping to open Café Fina in 2012. However, she was never quite able to focus on her passion for pastries as much she would have liked. Thus: Dolina Bakery, housed in the old Clafoutis space.
"Often in the United States, desserts can be overwhelmingly sweet, and it doesn't have to just be about the sugar," O'Brien says. "There are such wonderful other flavors; it doesn't have to be too sweet to be delightful."
That's true of the tvarohovy struhany ($3.25), a traditional Slovakian pastry made from Eastern European probiotic cheese and topped with crumbled chocolate dough. It's a brilliant breakfast pastry—rich but not heavy, sweet but not overwhelming, with a unique blend of flavors that are hearty enough to keep you full till lunch.
And though it's tempting to put together an entire meal from the pastry case alone, Dolina's menu does extend to more standard breakfast faves, like a breakfast burrito ($8.50) or cornmeal waffles with buttermilk-fried chicken ($12). I was craving something hearty, and $10 gets you a generous serving of three ricotta pancakes topped with berries, maple syrup and whipped cream. The accoutrements highlight the delicate flavor and soft, almost gummy texture of the ricotta.
To balance out the sweet on the table, I ordered green chile cheese hash browns ($6) which came out hot and smothered with a green that, while not the spiciest, had a delightful kick and delectable savoriness. In the battle of flavor versus spice, I'll take flavor any day. The real winner here, though, is the cheese—a generous serving of asadero in all its melty, gooey glory bubbling throughout the crispy, crunchy hash browns.
My companion's order of French toast ($12) was another of O'Brien's not-as-sweet sweets. The bread used reportedly changes often, but while we were there, it was a cinnamon walnut swirl, topped with caramelized apples, orange zest and maple syrup. The flavors blended together so well we didn't even miss the extra sweetness.
At $3 per bottomless cup, the coffee runs on the expensive side, but a cappuccino runs just 50 cents more. The fresh turmeric and ginger lemonade ($7) comes with honey and cayenne and tastes like health in a glass—seriously, when I get my first cold of the season, I'm heading straight over to get one.
The lunch side is well-represented, too, with a house-poached tuna sandwich with capers, pesto and pickled red onions ($12), Caesar or spinach salads or a bowl of seasonal soup (each $8.50). O'Brien speaks highly of the often-featured Hungarian goulash. Made according to a traditional recipe with Hungarian paprika but accentuated by poblano peppers and Navajo beef, it incorporates the souls of both of her homes. She's even subbed the flour for potato starch, making it gluten-free.
Santa Fe loves a good breakfast joint, and while Dolina is still new, I already count it among my favorites in town. However, the perennial problem of this space persists: Parking is a nightmare. Sundays make finding a spot a little easier, as the neighboring business is closed, but I'm not the only one to have figured that out. If you want to skip the wait for a table, try grabbing a place at the community table, or just order pastries at the counter and head back home to eat them in bed—we can't all be morning people.
Dolina Bakery & Café
402 N Guadalupe St., 982-9394
Hours: 7 am-3:30 pm Monday-Friday; 8 am-3:30 pm Saturday and Sunday
Order: The tvarohovy struhany ($3.25)
Pair with: The cappuccino ($3.50)
Price range: Around $15-$20 per person