When the Green Onion, more typically called the “Grunion,” shut its doors and left St. Michael’s Drive with a dearth of cheap beer, alcoholic quiz games and greasy onion rings, we lost more than just a skeezy bar. We lost the identity of the road, the soul of St. Mike’s.
For a time, there was a juicy rumor that Joel Coleman, after closing Mauka, was going to locate in the Grunion building, but he ultimately put his new Asian tapas restaurant, Koi, downtown. The space now houses the Sunshine Family Restaurant, a by-the-book New Mexican joint, with a few Mexican twists (such as menudo).
As it happens, the Grunion’s demise corresponded with City of Santa Fe-backed momentum to generate a new vision for St. Mike’s as a boulevard “…lined with new office, retail and arts-related space, accompanied by enjoyable pedestrian walkways connecting new living areas of higher density—more affordable residential units for rent and ownership. Finally, St. Michael’s could be a showcase for public art…”
Unfortunately, that little gnat called global economic disaster has put an annoying crimp on enthusiasm for pushing redevelopment projects; when government budgets have to be slushed, government doesn’t get to do the fun stuff.
But sometimes it’s best for identity vacuums to be filled naturally, rather than under the heavy hand of government. Engaged presences in the area—foremost among them the Santa Fe Art Institute, the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and longtime landowners with a deep love for Santa Fe and a deep stake in its future—are moving forward with plans to revitalize the area, and the street is riddled with entrepreneurial opportunities. Some efforts will succeed, some will fail outright and others will take time.
It’s unclear into which category the Sunrise Family Restaurant will ultimately fall, but the owners have their work cut out for them. As with many shoestring start-ups, it’s clear a ton of money is not available for the project—thus the notion of renovation has been set by the wayside. Nobody ever really wanted to have, say, breakfast at the Green Onion, and seeing the place in full glory of daylight is a good reminder as to why. Should you wish to season your food with paint chips, brushing a nearby wall should accomplish the job.
But at the end of the day, the food is the thing, isn’t it? If the food is good enough, you can hurl ambiance, service and everything else right out the window and still have a line out the door. So far, though, parking at Sunrise is real easy and there are no eager diners to block you from triggering the prison-like buzzer that alerts staff to new customers’ arrival. The restaurant is quite young, so business may pick up, but the dishes I’ve had have not inspired return trips.
Most recently, I tried a chilaquiles special. This is a spicy, Mexican breakfast dish that usually makes use of the previous day’s leftover tortillas in the form of chips stirred into a simmering chile sauce. There are many regional and personal variations, and I’ve never found one I dislike—until now. I won’t go into the many ways in which the dish was brutalized, but I will say it was not an exception for Sunrise. If the place is going to improve, it needs to start with the basics. I’m not sure there’s an excuse for a self-respecting New Mexican restaurant to use flour to thicken red chile but, if it’s going to, it shouldn’t come off as one of the overriding flavors.
All of the above is too bad—the staff at Sunrise is exceptionally friendly and everyone has the kind of can-do spirit needed on St. Mike’s. But nobody gets a free pass when we’re all in this together. Come on, guys, put some effort into the food.
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Sunrise Family Restaurant
1851 St. Michael’s Drive
Breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday
Breakfast and lunch Sunday