Cowgirls and meat pastries
Breakfast is still the most important meal of the day. Every morning, I see people ingesting a superb variety of bizarre breakfast foods during their commute, from alien blue goop-filled toaster pastries to cold egg rolls and, in my case, the occasional bowl of leftover tofu helper. It’s a start. And so imagine my delight upon learning that the Calico Café, a hot breakfast nook (lunch and dinner, too), has relocated from far away Corrales to north Fourth Street. Anything “charming” needs a manly-man perspective, so I decided to bring my buddy Ike for some company and the occasional grunt or scratch.
As it turned out, this was a good call, because the restaurant’s cowgirl theme is enough to put any warm-blooded male into a fantastic frame of mind. Pictures of females in chaps and meat pastries from the in-house bakery were like fine music to Ike. Meanwhile, my feminine side was immediately impressed with the cozy atmosphere and a menu with eggs Benedict on it.
We made it to the café, despite ongoing construction on Fourth Street. The restaurant’s new building is very New Mexico with raw wood pillars and plenty of copper accents.
Ike said, “It looks like a Santa Fe tourist trap, right here in Albuquerque.”
We walked in and were faced with the dieter’s greatest nightmare—the bakery case. This one was filled to the rafters with poofy cream pies, lattice-topped fruit pies, icing-painted cinnamon rolls, sticky pecan rolls and Danishes that were huge and heavy with fruit. Our hostess took us to our booth, but I vowed to return to inspect the other two cases.
The inside matches the outside--there are plenty of nice wood furniture, treated copper lamps and various depictions of solemn cowgirls doing cowgirl things: riding the range, roping cows, etc. I did not ask Ike what he thought of the cowgirls. It was too early in the morning for that.
I felt immediate love for this establishment when our server brought us the orange and grapefruit juice we ordered in actual adult portions. Woe is the breakfaster’s plight when they want juice and get a glass the size of a thimble. Our juice lasted through our entire meal.
“Look! Pulp!” said Ike.
This breakfast menu was also quite inspired. Morning meals like banana-pecan pancakes, a spinach and piñon omelet, the “give me meat” skillet, “Billy Bob” Baca’s chicken fried steak and three different “cowgirl Benedicts” to choose from made me forget that I was forced to be awake at this unreasonable hour.
I ordered the eggs Florentine Benedict ($7.15) and Ike ordered “Nana’s Papa’s Breakfast” with carne adovada ($7.50).
The menu seemed a bit pricey to me, but Ike, who has some experience with chain restaurant breakfasts, informed me that “it’s about the same price as Denny’s.”
In addition to the fine breakfast items, the Calico Café is open for lunch and dinner. It follows that it serves a respectable representation of New Mexican and American faves like the green chile chicken breast sandwich, homemade meatloaf, a crab-stuffed portobello mushroom, pot roast, enchiladas, Louisiana sautéed catfish, fajitas, a house special chicken and creamy green chile stacked enchiladas, and, owner Nana’s recommendation, the steak fingers with cream gravy.
We each made a trip to the bathroom before digging in, and I have to say that the cowgirl’s room was immaculate and spacious, like a cathedral. They obviously put forth some genuine effort here. Nana said she threatens the staff with a flyswatter to keep it that way. I got the warm fuzzies; my grammy used to do that, too.
Our food arrived in good time, and the eggs Benedict was perfect--from the fat, poached eggs to the fresh, sautéed mushrooms and spinach, to the liberally ladled Hollandaise sauce. Ike’s food was a piled-high skillet with seasoned diced potatoes, eggs, red chile, tons of melted cheese and some of the best carne adovada I’ve tried since I came to New Mexico five years ago. The pork was melting, and the chile was just hot enough to linger but not overwhelm.
I took a break to go back and check out the rest of the bakery cases. They contained a chocolate layer cake, carrot cake, a real red velvet cake and then, on the bottom shelf, meat pastries.
Wh-wh-what? Plump, glistening pigs in a blanket were next to paw-sized cheese and green chile rolls topped with crumbled sausage, next to biscuit sticks with bacon curled around them like little barber poles. And the crown jewel? The house special spicy sausage balls. These are hot little drop biscuits filled with green chile, cheese and crackling pork sausage. I tried a sample of these, and also a pig in a blanket. I brought some for Ike, too.
“Ummm!” said Ike, making the heavy metal pointer finger and pinky sign in the air.
As we were leaving, I asked Ike what he thought overall about the service, the atmosphere, the grub.
“F*** Santa Fe,” he said. “This place is awesome!”
Need I say more?