My thoughts about Santa Fe’s newest vegetarian and vegan lunch spot have to begin with a list of complaints.
No. 1: With a name like The Community Table Café, the joint ought to have more than just the one community table; three big, shared tables would drive the point home more effectively than the smattering of utterly noncommunity tables. I mean, some people are forced to sit alone in the corner, which just seems mean.
No. 2: The Design Center gives me the heebie-jeebies. It just does. It smells like defeat. It has a haze of bankruptcy about it. Hopefully, with Pizza Centro’s move to a bigger, better location within the center and the addition of The Community Table, the place is ready for revolution.
No. 3: Only open for lunch and only on the weekdays? Ouch. I mean, I support quality of life versus workaholism, but with surprisingly limited options for fresh, flavorful vegetarian fare, The Community Table may be missing out on some impressive dinnertime revenue. Or, put another way, I hope never to identify as a vegetarian and I still suspect soy beans are made from meat, but if The Community Table were among my dinner options, it would rank pretty well.
No. 4: Don’t put canned black olives on anything—ever. I’m serious; I’ll punch you.
And that’s the end of my complaints. I could niggle about this and that or wish the owners had the time and the courage, in the face of restrictive regulations, to go on fermentation binges and other wildly inventive meatless romps, but that wouldn’t be as fun or as satisfying as tucking into a "soul bowl." This flagship dish comes in small and large sizes (either $6 or $7) and is a heaping pile of rice, beans, avocado, cheese, tomato, chile and a tasty coconut milk-based (I’m guessing) sauce.
The rest of the menu is smallish, but diverse and enticing for that. There’s a weekly entrée that changes up. Fuel is a classic bowl of rice and beans for $3.50 (or $4.50 with the addition of hearty, cooked greens). Oodles of Noodles is a rice noodle platter with fresh vegetables, well-portioned herbs, tofu and vegan nut sauce. The house and Caesar salads are accompanied by a selection of shifting, seasonally inspired side salads (I had a cucumber vinaigrette salad that was refreshing on a hot day and energizing with its light dressing and exuberant flavoring). There’s also a “burger” made primarily of beets, grains and beans, and a “fajita” burrito that’s available, like any good Norteño burrito, either smothered or handheld.
In addition to the soul bowl, I can recommend from experience both the kale, potato and chickpea soup ($3.50) and the tempeh Reuben ($7.50). As a starter, the soup—with its fine, clear broth and accompanying tomato—is simple but satisfying. As for the sandwich, I have equal environmental guilt about eating soy products as I do about corned beef or pastrami, but The Community Table’s adapted Reuben was filthy and delicious enough to assuage any regrets. I don’t know if they’re whipping up a Russian dressing with Vegenaise or what, but it does the trick.
One final note on the sappy-but-cool entrepreneurial spirit of joint owners Christopher and Reingard Kolon: Every day, one of the regular menu items is designated as a “plate of love.” If you don’t have the dosh to pay the going rate, you may simply pay what you wish.