We set out for Cloudcroft to get our three-year-old on skis, but the girl was in more of an observant mood than a try-something-new frame of mind. Watching other people ski from the sidelines entertained our trio awhile, but soon we thirsted for a new activity—specifically, eating and drinking. The rest of our time at nine thousand feet was spent crisscrossing Burro Avenue and navigating the village’s narrow streets to discover Cloudcroft’s many and varied dining experiences.
Black Bear Coffee Shop
200 Burro Ave
Each summer, our family swings through Cloudcroft; every time, we find ourselves at Black Bear Coffee Shop. When we ran out of whole beans for the French press in our camping rig, a pound of their bright, citrusy Ethiopia ensured our taste buds and caffeine receptors were satisfied for the trip’s duration. When we’ve been hiking in the Lincoln National Forest, we’ve leaned on Black Bear’s dirty chai. When we’ve rolled in to escape the heat at lower altitudes, the cold brew on ice with a splash of cream has hit the spot. This time, what with the cooler late-winter temps, I craved something warm, beautiful, and complex. I asked for guidance with the specialty latte menu. “Do you prefer sweet or less sweet?” the barista inquired. “Less,” I replied. She suggested a soothing lavender latte and brewed it while we browsed the selection of roasted beans. Finding a cozy corner, I glanced down to take my first aromatic sip: a little white bear stared up at me from the foam.
Eight the Cake
506 Burro Ave, Ste A
Seeing as how toddlers shouldn’t really drink lattes, we sought out a kid-appropriate treat. After learning that Burro Street Bakery had been raided earlier that day by weekenders fleeing the snow, we stepped back onto the wood-planked sidewalks of Cloudcroft’s downtown area and noticed a sign across the way: Eight the Cake. The glint of sanding sugar and the draw of eye-catching sprinkles in the pastry cases at the front of this sweet shop lured me and my kiddo to the counter, where collections of princess wands—rainbow-dipped pretzel rods made metallic with edible glitter—stood out among the turnovers and cinnamon rolls. An orange-frosted cupcake wound up on our plate too, and the first taste of its nutmeg-y center reminded us of sipping eggnog on Christmas.
601 Corona Pl
Crowning a hill at the center of a residential neighborhood, The Lodge at Cloudcroft offers a timeless dining experience with Rebecca’s. White tablecloths and flickering candles give the restaurant inside The Lodge a country-club vibe that could lend itself just as easily to family brunches as to romantic dinners. Our midday meal proved to be something in between. Studying Rebecca’s well-rounded menu, we ordered the Monte Cristo, pistachio-crusted rainbow trout, and blue corn rellenos. The sandwich’s salty meats and mild swiss balanced pleasurably with a dip in the accompanying strawberry compote. The crunch of the Tularosa Basin’s signature nut offset the fish’s flaky flesh while a bright vinaigrette rounded out the plate. The puffy, round rellenos made with poblanos, topped with Monterey Jack, and served with wild rice seemed more TexMex than NewMex, but I wasn’t complaining. And, warmed by the lobby’s wood-burning fireplace, I also couldn’t find it in me to grumble about the flurries obstructing the view from Rebecca’s broad windows. Maybe the legendary spirit of the restaurant’s namesake ghost uplifted me. Or maybe the emptied plate in front of me did.
Cloudcroft Brewing Co.
1301 Burro Ave
Feeling social, I suggested a visit to the brewery. A scarcity of tables put our crew on the waiting list. Until a table cleared, my daughter and husband played outside, and I bellied up to the bar. Once in a seat, the only other challenge was in choosing what to have the bartender pour. At first, I was torn between an instinctive choice, the 4.5% ABV Adobe Wheat, and a daring one, the 7.8% Railspike Red, also called Art’s Red Ale. But I also considered something out of the ordinary—perhaps the Orange Honey Blossom Mead. Ultimately settling on a seasonally appropriate Oatmeal Stout, I sipped my deep and full-bodied pint while perusing the brewery’s event calendar and watching families divvy up pizzas, half eavesdropping on conversations between locals, half keeping an eye on the game being broadcast on TVs overheard. The brewery had hosted an Albuquerque-based singer-songwriter the night before and advertised more live music tomorrow. I wouldn’t mind coming for a green chile-and-chorizo-topped Zia Pie on some Monday evening during karaoke. And I know we’ll return in the warmer months to watch my little one dance as a band performs on the mountainside stage.
Small as Cloudcroft may be, our weekend was over before we tried everything the locals recommend. I asked Jonny Coker, a friend who was raised in Cloudcroft and moved back to the area recently for his role as KRWG reporter, which other places we should check out the next time we find ourselves in town. “In terms of my favorites, I’d list Dave’s Cafe and Mad Jack’s,” Coker said. “Definitely a greasy spoon, Dave’s is the restaurant I’ve been going to the longest.” Indeed, the burger joint has been serving residents and visitors since 1984. Plus, Dave’s selection of beer on tap is unmatched in Cloudcroft; tourists should look toward the New Mexico brews, Coker says. Opened in 2015, Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue is not the only spot for brisket in this home away from home for many Texans, but it’s the first one we’ll head to. “If you’re willing to wait in line for over an hour, on a weekend especially, Mad Jack’s satisfies a hankering for world-class barbecue,” Coker says. The breakfast burritos at Cook Caboose are on our list for next time, too.
Between the trails and the slopes, the mountains of Cloudcroft call us back again and again. Hopefully next winter, we’ll be able to truly aprés-ski in this village stuffed with eateries and overflowing with craft beverages served at down-home joints by people who welcome us warmly every time.
Jennifer C. Olson
Jennifer C. Olson tells the stories of the Land of Enchantment’s people, places, and culture through outlets such as edible New Mexico, The Bite, and New Mexico Magazine. Whether shining a light on a single fruit or diving into the complexities of the rural food system, she relishes the grains of stories in all of life’s moments. She lives on the outskirts of the Gila National Forest.