#84 | Lilacs, Tea, and Pink Party
Last week, we were off smelling the lilacs. And it was especially grand because earlier this year we briefly feared we might never smell flowers again. Like approximately 300 million other people, including half the ones to whom we trotted out our sob story, we came out of a bout of COVID with a disrupted olfactory system. One enduring outcome: coffee is not as marvelous as it used to be.
For a while, we found it undrinkable. And we habitually drink quite a lot of it. So, waking to a world where the aroma of freshly ground coffee was alternately a turnoff or a tease, we took refuge in the land of tea. Oolong, grassy greens, Earl Grey with a dash of cream. Then, as we crept back out into society, we started seeking out the tea menu at coffee shops.
Now, coffee shops are called coffee shops for a reason. Most kindly offer a tea and/or chai latte, but both can feel dashed off. And there are some places—say, Michael Thomas Coffee Roasters and Cutbow Coffee in Albuquerque and 35° North Coffee in Santa Fe—where the worship of coffee is so palpable that it feels blasphemous to order something like a matcha latte.
So here’s our rundown of a few whose offerings might please those who, for whatever reason, are taking a break from the arabica. Albuquerque’s downtown Zendo Coffee makes wonderful tea drinks; our favorite might be the lapsang latte, but we’d definitely try the red cappuccino if only we could stop needing frequent jolts of caffeine. On the other side of Central, Novel Point Coffee, in addition to tea lattes, does a cascara cream soda that’s springy and light. (Cascara, sometimes called coffee cherry tea, is brewed from the husks of coffee beans and hits some of coffee’s high fruity notes without really tasting anything like it.) In Nob Hill, Little Bear Coffee’s all-the-time noncoffee menu is simple and, well, classic, with matcha and chai lattes and the requisite golden milk, but their seasonal menus include more creative drinks without espresso.
And in Santa Fe, the Teahouse is the obvious place for fancy tea drinks (or straight-up tea, of course), but we also like the tea offerings at CrashMurderBusiness. Plus, we like to say things like, “We’d like a Cabinet of Yaks, please,” or “How’s the Parliament of Owls?”
Tea people, what and where are your favorites?
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“We’ll go with a Red Death,” we told the man behind the makeshift bar at Fistful of Prints, a gathering of artist vendors in the hallowed, beleaguered, and—as one artist observed—good walls of the not-altogether shuttered CCA in Santa Fe. Red Death: a take on the margarita with agave spirits distilled, we’d just been told, from imported agave nectar at Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery, because they’re sticklers for making things themselves. A fitting name for a midafternoon cocktail, a rare indulgence, and we also don’t often veer away from classic when it comes to margaritas, but the hibiscus lent visual spark along with its characteristic zing. Lime and house-made orange liqueur being the drink’s other ingredients, the only true red, we noted, was the salty Tajín lining the rim. “Red death? They should call it Pink Party,” our friend said as we walked lightly toward evening.
Entrances & Exits
In March, El Chamo Arabe opened in the former home of Al Awan Cafe in Albuquerque. The space has been a serial Mediterranean-restaurant host, but this time it’s with a Venezuelan twist: shawarma and baklava, yes, but also patacones, empanadas, and arepas—at least occasionally stuffed with falafel.
Across Menaul from El Chamo, a place called Two Hands Corn Dogs is threatening to open by the end of May. According to their website, their mission is to “ride amongst the Korean wave,” and they already have more than a dozen California locations, plus a bunch in Texas and Arizona and other places. What this means is that you will be able to order a Korean corn dog wrapped in potato cubes or rolled in hot Cheeto powder. If you can’t wait, Urban Hotdog Company also has a Korean corn dog on the menu.
We mentioned that Romero St. Curry & Chai was opening in Old Town Albuquerque in March, and in fact, they did, right on schedule.
Mila’s Mesa, operating mostly as a catering and event space in Nob Hill, has been doing grab-and-go lunches from Wednesday thru Saturday.
El Cotorro, where we always ordered one taco too many because we couldn’t decide between the lamb barbacoa or the oxtail, the fish or the camote guisado, has been gutted. The Nob Hill taqueria of six-plus years is no more.
In better Nob Hill news, Zinc reopens their dining room May 12. (The Cellar Bar, as we noted previously, is already open.)
Also open, after much ado: the Kin Dining Room at the Castaneda Hotel in Las Vegas. Spacious booths, grand tables, lasagne with house-made noodles, cocktails with New Mexico spirits.
And speaking of cocktails, we caught Santa Fe’s Altar Spirits in the act of rebranding: Caley Shoemaker is still at the wheel, but the distillery at the Santa Fe Railyard is now called As Above, So Below.
We’re not sure about corn dogs, but it’s a good bet that there will be fancy grilled cheeses on hand today outside the El Rey in Santa Fe via food truck-in-residence the Turquoise Trailer during their second annual all-day bash, the High Road. Tender Fire will be making their pies, and of course there’s La Reina for libations while you check out live music and shop the vendor tables. You can even bring your (leashed) dog.
On May 8, Farm & Table in Albuquerque is hosting a multicourse meal called A Chef’s Story on their splendid patio. Wines and culinary inspiration from around the world, music by Le Chat Lunatique.
United in Beer: Sure, alcohol can produce discord, but this one is about making collaborators and friends. Led by Ex Novo, twenty-six New Mexico breweries are participating in this statewide collaboration, whereby randomly partnered breweries were charged with selecting the beer they would make together. Sample the results on May 13 at Ex Novo in Corrales, and know that the festival is a benefit for the Somos Unidos Foundation.
Speaking of beer with a purpose: local collaborations with the New Mexico chapter of Pink Boots Society have resulted in two beers whose sales support women and nonbinary individuals in the beverage industry (where, you might have noticed, they’re pretty underrepresented). Pink Daze, created at Icebox Brewing, can be found at Las Cruces Public House, and Put the Pilsner on a Pedestal, brewed at Ex Novo by the Pink Boots crew, can be found at most Bosque Brewing locations, Sidetrack Brewing, and maybe other places.
And speaking of women and the business of beer, Albuquerque-based Bow & Arrow recently released its newest Native Land beer, a Mexican-style lager made with blue corn. Participating breweries agree to donate proceeds to Native-led nonprofits, and Bow & Arrow’s will be going to Navajo Ethno-Agriculture in the Four Corners area.
How to brew coffee in the wild (or at least outside): Michael Thomas Coffee Roasters is offering an outdoor brewing class the morning of May 20.
Smell training is real, and even if we can’t scientifically demonstrate that it works, we know that a morning ritual devoted to detecting scents helped us feel a little less freaked out when we stepped forth into a world that had mostly ceased to smell (except when it smelled terrible). Make your own smell training kit, and include heady aromatics like star anise and freshly ground cumin in addition to essential oils and flavor extracts.
As if Yelp’s algorithms didn’t already control our minds enough, they’ve created a list of the top one hundred restaurants in the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, according to them), eleven of which are in New Mexico and none of which serve New Mexican food. That said, they’re all good places, at least the ones we know, and we just heard a few weeks ago in The Bite’s report from Cloudcroft that Mad Jack’s Mountaintop does great barbecue.
Santa Fe landed at number seven in another food list that doesn’t make a ton of sense, Food & Wine’s “10 Best Cities for Neighborhood Restaurants in the U.S.” The entry mentioned Radish & Rye, Jambo Cafe, and Paper Dosa—all great places but not necessarily what springs to mind when you think “neighborhood spot,” the way Joseph’s, which is also on the list, does. The list appeared alongside a top ten “Best Cities for Food in the US” in which New Mexico didn’t rank at all.
This week for The Bite, Raven del Rio directs us to two New Mexico roadhouses on what the uninitiated might mistake for the road to nowhere. The drinks aren’t fancy, but the stories are good.
Got a tip? Wish we knew about your favorite bakery/brewery/hole-in-the-wall? Give us a shout!