There’s a framed award on the wall of Savory Fare Café & Bakery that reads “Best Undiscovered Restaurant”—issued by Albuquerque The Magazine in the year 2006. That was seven years ago, and greater Albuquerque still hasn’t beaten a path to its door. Most people I talk to have never heard of Savory Fare, and it rarely receives any press. Strange, when you consider how elusive a good pastry case is in this town.
Yet Savory Fare persists, discovered by someone (most likely tight-lipped, neighborhood, pastry-hoarding types), because every lunch hour, the café is packed to the rafters.
That is a figurative claim, because no, people aren’t literally stacked in vertical array—but yes! There are teal-blue rafters, which play no small role in contributing to the breezy, Indian summer charm of the place. Other charms include Jeff Rubin, the terse pastry chef and owner working the register in full-white regalia; the freezer case packed with sundry homemade take-out dinners ($8.75 a pop); and the obvious advantage of being able to appraise the food before you buy it (all pre-made salads and desserts are on exhibit in the refrigerator case).
The whole place screams “indoor picnic!”(Which, fyi, is not illegal to yell in public, unlike some other things.)You order at the register than collect your own glasses, silverware and drinks, like a self-reliant adult. En plein air classics are the specialty—chicken salad, potato salad, ambrosia salad, deviled eggs, sandwiches. If you are a semantics purist who pooh-poohs the notion of picnicking indoors, fine—portable food is another specialty—grab a blanket, a friend, and go forth into our freakish landscape of prematurely budding fruit trees and showers of pollen.
It will be as if your fairly hip aunt from the Midwest (real or imagined) has packed your picnic basket. I say fairly hip because there is a smidge of embellishment to all of these dishes. The creamy-buttery chicken salad is larded with dried apricots, the potato salad is dressed up with bacon and dill, the carrot salad is sweetened and tossed with raisins.
En plein air classics are the specialty—chicken salad, potato salad, ambrosia salad, deviled eggs, sandwiches. If you are a semantics purist who pooh-poohs the notion of picnicking indoors, fine—portable food is another specialty—grab a blanket, a friend, and go forth into our freakish landscape of prematurely budding fruit trees and showers of pollen.
A particular trick up Savory Fare’s sleeve seems to be slipping fruit into their dishes. (You can’t fool me, Savory Fare! I have eyes to see!) Sometimes they take it too far—the spinach salad with blue cheese, spiced pecans, bacon and mandarin oranges ($6.50) is served with a side of raspberry dressing in a color that should be reserved for lipstick and tulips.
Here’s the deal: Outside of the pastry case, Savory Fare offers good, simple homemade food, but nothing spine-tingling. Their sandwiches are tasty—the bread is homemade, the ingredients appealing. Recommended: the melting, delicious Savory Fare (smoked turkey, cheese, tomatoes, Dijon and mayo with thick strands of green chile for $6.25) and the Smoked Salmon ($6.25) with herbed butter, cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. Besides sandwiches and salads, Savory Fare also has a couple of soups on offer. Get your mitts on the sweet and savory tomato bisque ($5.95) if it’s available.
As for breakfast, same story—solid, by-the-book food, nothing amazing. The breakfast burrito ($6.25) is flavorful and moist but bereft of salsa. The omelette is perfectly-cooked and balanced (crisp-tender vegetables not sandbagged with cheese), nothing memorable. But, come on, we don’t always need to eat stunt food. All of my breakfast companions were happy with their orders.
My breakfast torte ($6.26), a double-crusted puff pastry quiche with mushroom, bacon and spinach, was the biggest let-down, clumping and rubberizing when it should have been disintegrating in buttery flakes. The real glory-stealer at breakfast was the raspberry cruller, mutedly sweet with just a drizzle of pink frosting and that golden brown caramelized crust that forms on superior cake donuts.
Which brings us to dessert: Let’s return for a moment to my accusations of certain Burqueños being greedy little pastry hoarders. Because: Why hasn’t anyone told me about Savory Fare? Could it be because the pastry hoarders are trying to increase their “cultural capital” by walking around town with exclusive desserts like chocolate pavlovas and pithiviers? Remember how one year ago I wrote an article about the impossibility of locating a pavlova-for-sale in this town? Remember that? No longer, pastry flaunters!
We have macaroons in translucent honey-combish clumps iced with chocolate. We have lemon-meringue tartlets with crowns of toasted, glossy meringue that dwarf the tarts themselves. We have pavlovas of piped meringue, slathered with chocolate and filled with chocolate mousse (a tad too sweet if we must be honest). We have chocolate cream pie with cream and homemade pudding in equal loft. We have poundcakes and pies and bread puddings galore—a whole gallery of confections spun from sugar, cream, meringue and pastry dough (at $3.75 for full-sized items). It’s all just whip-smart desserts, one after another. And this is where Savory Fare really shines.
Even with such baroque pastries, there is no pretension at Savory Fare. No reaching for the stars of hipness or haute cuisine, ending in an Icarus-like crash-and-burn. The lunch plates come with Ruffles potato chips. It’s not too often you can pair potato chips and Napoleons. But America allows it, and Savory Fare may be the one place in town that has both. Secret no more! Enjoy.