The French Connection

Café Manolla comes to Canyon Road

Are you sitting down right now? Can you sit down? You should be sitting down. For I'm about to tell you something: I just had one of the top three tartines of my entire life. Not to brag, but I've been to France. I've been everywhere, man, and I've eaten many a tartine around this globe of ours. But the one Manon Pierme whipped up for me at her freshly opened Manolla Café (223 Canyon Road,
365-2887; in the former Café des Artistes location right at the mouth of the street)—and on her day off, no less—was nothing short of perfection.

Dubbed The Margot for Pierme's daughter, the open-faced sammie ($7.50) consisted of fresh berries atop Sage Bakehouse's pecan raisin bread slathered with almond butter. You want a fresh berry, of course, and the blackberries and raspberries on this particular tartine were fresh indeed, but firm and flavorful, not a one mealy—each like a miniature berry explosion in my mouth and each mingling in delightful flavor unison with the semi-sweet bread. On the side, a little plain yogurt with Pierme's lavender vanilla granola—she's a granola whiz, but more on that in a sec—and, in addition, the Amour de Kale salad ($7.50), one of the eatery's proprietary blends with massaged kale, arugula, parmesan, walnuts and peas, plus just the right amount of olive oil, garlic, sea salt and lemon. It was crisp and fresh, and I swear to God it added an entire effing year to my life.

Considering Pierme was within striking distance of kicking off a granola-based commercial kitchen some months ago, Manolla Café is a particularly welcome addition to the Santa Fe lunch scene—especially for downtown workers. Pierme's a nutritionist on the side, hence, the delicious but healthy granola choices, but still—why open a new restaurant at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic?

"It was just before COVID really came to the US, or before we thought it was actually going to get as bad as it did," Pierme says with a nervous laugh. Her food's fantastic, no question, but with dwindling 2020 tourist numbers and less foot traffic on Santa Fe's most gallery'd-out street, she's rightly alert to the potential pitfalls. She'd signed the lease in early March before any of us were taking the pandemic seriously. And since then, she's put in an ungodly amount of effort. No, the adorable patio isn't allowing dine-in guests just yet, but Pierme offers counter service takeout—including a service wherein you can call in days' worth of orders and pick them up at your leisure—and the work put into the space's overall appearance is obvious.

"We ended up pulling everything out and remodeling the whole thing, replacing all the equipment…it took a lot of time—during the pandemic when no one could work—so our goal date for opening was supposed to be April 15, and we didn't actually get to open till June 22," she continues. "The initial challenge was to do this with a toddler, because I'm a new mom; I'm a full-time mom with full-time work during the pandemic, so this is definitely me making it work."

And make it work she does. In addition to the flavorful meal I sampled, Pierme also has a few sandwiches, like the Saint Marco with prosciutto, arugula and Dijon ($10) or the petite tuna sandwich with goat cheese and dried or fresh figs. And though the granola kitchen didn't pan out, she still offers the stuff in rotating blends. This week had the aforementioned vanilla lavender, but you'll also find almond butter crunch and seasonal surprises ($9 per 10 oz.).

Pierme was born in France, where much of her family still lives, but came to Santa Fe when she was about 5 years old; when her father, the multi-disciplinary artist Pascal Pierme, found it a promising place for creators. She's left before for stints in California and Colorado, but Santa Fe, she says, feels like home. Besides, she notes, it seems a good place to put down roots, particularly for her 15-month-old daughter.

"I've always loved to cook and I have a background in nutrition, so to be able to implement the nutrition and the culinary aspect is really big for me," she tells SFR. "Being from France where food, fresh food, is really important. And I'm weaving in a Mediterranean style of eating as well, and a little bit of the Okinawa diet with lots of veggies and fruits and sometimes macrobiotics."

Keeping that in mind, she says there will consistently be rotating dishes at Manolla Café, even if she's working reduced hours right now (10 am-4 pm Thursday-Sunday). Looking forward, Pierme plans to expand into dinnertime hours, including soups on the menu and getting that coveted beer and wine license. A lot of it is finding common ground with her fellow Santa Feans and a lot of it is in offering healthy foods at affordable prices (tip o' the old hat for killer veggie options, BTW). Whatever happens, though, please everyone do me a favor and order something from Manolla Café. I'd like this place to stick around. K? Thanks.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Pierme's Sage Bakehouse bread is gluten-free. While Pierme does offer gluten-free bread from Canyon Bakehouse, our readers ravenously and furiously pointed out the Sage variety does contain gluten. ADV regrets the error and, honestly, that he was ever born.

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