They say Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth—but, for many, the happiest place on Earth is the space in front of a pastry case. When I was in college, one of our favorite
dreary-weather outings was to the North End, Boston's Italian neighborhood, to hover, drooling, in front of the curved, fluorescent-lit glass at Mike's Pastry. It seemed there was no end to the rows of cakes, cream puffs and cannoli; the only limits were the size of our stomachs and paltry wallets.
In Santa Fe, we are lucky to delight in the bright delicacies lovingly showcased behind the glass at the likes of Clafoutis, Panaderia Zaragoza, Dulce and Chez
Mamou. But there is one place where the pastries really stand out, perhaps mostly because they don't really fit in; and that is shining forth from the charming schtick of Tesuque Village Market (138 Tesuque Village Road, 988-8848).
Whether you're going for a pizza or enchiladas, to peruse the premium wine selection or to grab a can of San Marzano tomatoes and a package of high-
quality Italian pasta, it's hard not to notice the baked goods section. If you're early enough, the table just inside the door welcomes you with fresh-baked loaves of green chile cheese bread. A serve-yourself case to the left offers breakfast-y baked goods ranging from sticky pecan rolls and muffins to danish and croissants.
Then, there's the elephant in the room: the hulking, brightly lit, old-school pastry case. Even if you don't profess to have a sweet tooth, it's hard to resist what's inside. As I sat near that case one day, eating lunch after a hike, it was impossible not to smile at the exclamations bursting forth from parties lurking around this showstopper. One man let out a good, 30-second "ahhhhhh" of a rumbling exhale as he considered the impossible: a choice from the rows of cheesecake (chocolate and cherry), cream puffs, pies (Key lime, banana cream, apple, rhubarb, chocolate cream), coconut cake, triple chocolate cake, tres leches, eclairs and tiramisu.
Is this all part of Tesuque Village Market's bric-a-brac charm, or is there a story behind these delectables?
"I inherited them," is the answer from Michael Stein, Tesuque Village Market's New York-born Italian co-owner. "And I am very happy I did."
Stein and his business partners bought the market in 2006, inheriting both its character and its baked goods recipes. While some may comment on how hard Tesuque Village Market has had to work to engineer that "character," it is, in fact, bygones of the original structure's former incarnations: chicken coop, filling station, butcher shop and—still—community meeting place. The original Tesuque Village Market opened in 1989 and the baked goods are among its original remaining offerings.
"People with serious baking training get frustrated here because they want to evolve us, and that's not what we're about," points out Stein. As such, no real change has been made to the traditional pastries other than replacing the quality of their ingredients. One of Stein's first moves was to equip the bakers with ingredients such as Vermont butter and real cream. "If someone knows what they're doing and you give them the right ingredients, they're guaranteed to do it even better," says Stein. "For us it was about quality, not price."
For $7, one can choose from among the large slices of pie and cake. The most popular are the big squares of tiramisu and Key lime pie. The tiramisu is a fine take on the traditional, more coffee than booze-flavored, its light layers belying the richness of its ingredients. Just the thought of Key lime pie makes me nauseous, as my first, and only, experience with it was after day-drinking too many margaritas in Miami when I was 21. I shook off the bad memories to try this one, and am happy I did. It was light and fluffy, its tart citrus followed by a soothing wave of fresh cream and graham cracker crust crunch. I'd actually eat it again—something I never thought I would ever say about Key lime pie.
Other pies with flaky crusts and sweet, gooey insides are seasonal—whether due to the fruit or holiday—and can be ordered by the slice and whole ($30). If you're really craving something out of season, or don't want to bake during the holidays, call a few days ahead and the Tesuque Village Market bakers will whip you up something delicious.
Let's not forget the non-dessert baked goods. The green chile cheese bread ($5 for a small, $8 for a large) is fluffy and greasy and spicy and absolutely ideal for a New Mexico-style grilled cheese. It's not unheard of that Tesuque Village Market staff are asked to freeze and mail loaves to chile-hungry out-of-towners. From the self-serve bakery case, one can procure extra-large flaky croissants and sticky, nutty pecan rolls in addition to muffins, danish and more (all $4) that early birds have always picked off before slackers like me get there.