The most local salads in town might come from a bakery. An indoor growing operation—lights, fans, reflectors and of course plants—was germinated in the west end of Golden Crown Panadería last April. For the counter staff, it's almost too local for comfort, as the expanding tangle of greens, tomatoes and peppers is growing into their workspace. If you order one of the appropriately named “huge” salads, they find the scissors and start snipping.
“I was tired of bad produce,” explains Chris Morales, who’s father, Pratt, opened Golden Crown 35 years ago. “The stuff you buy generally had a shelf life of only three or four days, and I was tired of throwing it out.”
“When you harvest to order, there's no waste," says the senior Morales. “The pepper and tomatoes get to ripen on the vine."
While the bakery has buttered the bread at Golden Crown for much of its lifetime, the local greens join a wave of more recent additions to the menu, such as an espresso bar and a popular pizza menu.
The place is eclectic to the core. The decor, for lack of a better word, seems largely determined by luck, whimsy and the onward march of time, the way a river carves a canyon. A stack of 120-year-old adobe bricks leans against the outside wall by the porch. Inside, the crowded ordering area is filled with mismatched tables and chairs, a few ancient stoves, a jar of jam (it’s for sale), and several Food Network mugs (also for sale)—mementos of a visit the channel paid.
“When you harvest to order, there's no waste. The pepper and tomatoes get to ripen on the vine."
On the other side of the counter, a long lineage of baked goods continues to spring from Golden Crown’s considerable ovens, including fruity empanadas, powdered-sugar-coated cookies and a daily lineup of loaves.
Golden Crown's biscochito cookies are wholesomely gritty, decadently crumbly and mysteriously fragrant. They've endeared themselves to generations of Valley dwellers and national media alike—most recently the July/August issue of National Geographic Traveler. The biscochitos can even come sugar- and gluten-free.
Curiously, the New Mexico green chile bread contains ample flecks of chile pequin, and the loaf as a whole has a reddish hue. The red comes from tomatoes in the batter, says Pratt. There's also onion, garlic, cilantro, green chile (of course) and a blend of wheats, most of which are grown in New Mexico. The only visible green comes from whole cilantro sprigs baked into the crust. With a coyote and moon design baked into the top, it's a spectacular loaf of bread—one of my favorites ever. It pulls apart in great, cotton-candy-like swirls that are moist but not wet. A few days later, the remains of the loaf easily come back to life in the toaster.
But a loaf of pecan bread was inexplicably dry from Day One. I wanted to love it because of the local pecans and the loaf’s tubular, ribbed shape, but it failed to impress. If you’re jonesing for N.M. nuts (which are, as we speak, now battling with green chile for water from the shriveling Rio Grande in the southern half of the state), a tastier option is the moist and lovely pecan pound cake.
The coffee drinks are strong, and the espresso machine is also used to make loose-leaf tea—an idea that Chris came up with. One evening I enjoyed a great big glass of iced jasmine tea on the patio, which gets nice late-afternoon shade, as I waited for a pizza. The funky clientele included a nuclear family, a couple passing through town poring over maps, two girlfriends double-dating with their Pomeranians, and some college kids who just wanted their effing pizza.
With a coyote and moon design baked into the top, it's a spectacular loaf of bread—one of my favorites ever. It pulls apart in great, cotton-candy-like swirls.
The crusts on Golden Crown's "New Mexico-style" pizzas come thin or hand-tossed and in three mixes: peasant white, pueblo-grown blue corn or green chile. The toppings are entirely up to you. My favorite combination tops a thin blue-corn crust with mushrooms, onions, spinach, garlic, anchovies (the most sustainable fish around, as you’ll recall from my June 16-22 column), green chile, artichokes and no cheese.
To get that pizza just right for my tastes, I asked them to make the crust extra crispy, so the bottom was crunchy and there was a golden brown halo around the edge. But if you like the crust a little chewy, no special instructions are required.
Among all of these delicacies, it was the local salad that got me in the door. And the greens did not disappoint. The leaves were fragile, having never felt the wind or tasted the rain, which gave them a veal-like tenderness. The pile was impressively spicy for a restaurant salad, thanks to arugula. Tossed with olives, house-grown bell pepper and several types of lettuce, it’s one of the better salads to be had in town—even if the dressing comes in a packet.
Espresso bar, pizza shop, bread sculpture studio and indoor salad farm ... with so many loaves in the fire, it’s no surprise the place has the experimental feel of a lab run by a father-and-son team of mad scientists. One experiment you might especially like is Golden Crown’s online ordering system—which makes arguing with your friends about what to put on the pizza a little more comfortable. Just call a half-hour before your ETA and make sure they’re working on it.