Eating fermented foods is an incredibly nutritious and essential practice, and the Western diet has thankfully been expanding beyond old standbys like wine, beer, cheese and bread to include other, wilder options, such as kefir. This milk-based drink originated in the central Asian Caucasus mountains, and is fermented to eliminate lactose and prevent spoilage. But kefir is actually created by "grains," which are colonies of yeast and bacteria that almost look like rock candy in their solid form. With numerous applications even beyond the culinary—kefir makes for fine compost tea for soil, or an addition to face and body scrubs—it can be used in water as well, which is how Patrick's Probiotic Fine Foods makes its lineup of slightly effervescent, light-bodied sodas.
Founded in 2016 by Shawn and Lyn Patrick, Patrick's Probiotics moved in 2017 into the space formerly occupied by the Aztec Café. Beyond the storefront, however, their sodas are available at 25 different locations, including Meow Wolf, Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen and Body of Santa Fe. The Patricks are Silicone Valley tech industry expatriates, he a former CMO and she a former business manager to an ergonomic software company. Together they now focus their considerable knowledge and business acumen on a shared passion for making things that taste good on the palate and feel good in the gut.
Four years of experimentation led to the genesis of a kefir culture the couple named Áine, after the Celtic goddess of the summertime. And though the practice of naming a culture and treating it like a living being may seem strange, it is not historically uncommon.
With kefir as their starter, the Patricks are focused on contributing to wellness by encouraging customers to embrace the broader world of fermentation. Fermenting acts as a preservative, eliminates toxins, breaks food down into more easily digestible forms and creates new nutrients—in the case of kefir, those would be vitamins, amino acids and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. For the purposes of the café, more foods will be added to the lineup, such as hummus made from sprouted chickpeas and breads from Wild Leaven Bakery in Taos. The Patricks, meanwhile, are firm in their commitment to "living foods," and their ultimate goal for the café is to diversify. "We also will be using our platform to extend into other food areas, such as hot sauces, dressings and ketchups," Shawn tells SFR. "The idea is to displace sugary, processed food with a better-tasting probiotic alternative."
Three such hot sauces are available at $1 apiece for the café's breakfast burrito: a Hatch green chile, habanero and taco sauce, each made with a different chile base and accented with herbs and spices. I dubbed taco my favorite, a blend of ancho, arbol and Hatch red mixed with tomato, smoked paprika and turmeric. The burritos themselves are on the smaller side, clocking in at $2.99 each for a combination of artificial hormone-free cheese, cage-free eggs and nitrate-free bacon.
Fermented foods tend to have strong flavors—think of cheese, sauerkraut, miso or kefir's most easy comparison, kombucha, which tastes not unpleasantly like vinegar. But kefir is relatively flavorless, and the sodas are light and delicate, tasting of fruit accented by floral and herbal notes.
"We are really approaching these drinks more like a wine vintner, where every characteristic matters," Shawn says. "We also are focused on simplicity, which is why pineapple, raspberry and peach [are the only flavors]. We want people to understand what we are shooting for."
I sampled all three varieties ($4.25 for 12 ounces), but the peach won out in the end. Its lush stone fruit overtures tasted fantastic with the fizzy bite of the kefir soda water. A slight tang of lemon and hints of orange peel, rose hips and hibiscus provided plenty of interesting secondary flavors, and though the drink also contained hawthorn berries, chamomile and blackberry leaves, these ingredients didn't really impact the taste. I added ice cubes made of kefir and coconut cream for $3 more, which turned the texture into more of a creamy Italian soda.
The Patricks also serve mocktails ($7.25), such as a sangria that consists of a blend of all three sodas poured on top of raw coconut, pineapple and berries then finished with elderberry hibiscus-infused ice cubes. It made for a refreshing treat on a hot July afternoon. Coffee options are available from local organic roaster Agapao as well, and the menu is nascent but expanding.
Small (and in some cases, gluten-free and Paleo-friendly) bites are available, with a few options such as a sourdough cultured croissant and a cinnamon swirl ($4.95). Bags of organic popcorn with a probiotic seasoning are featured for $3, topped with either powdered cheddar cheese or Hatch chile and lime.
The spirit of the Aztec Café is ever present, with the Patricks paying homage to the once-loved local coffee shop that occupied their space by preserving an arty, vaguely Western steampunk vibe. Antebellum chairs from the 1900s sit beside wooden tables made by Albuquerque artist Stitch Jackson, and books and Harpers magazines from over 100 years ago are available to read. A player piano from 1900 sits against a wall decorated with pictures of cows and horses, and the Patricks are hoping to display art from local artists and host musicians and community events in the future, further contributing to Santa Fe's culture in more ways than one.
Patrick's Probiotic Fine Foods
317 Aztec St., 365-2725
8 am-6 pm Tuesday through Saturday