Eclectic breakfast and lunch on a quiet Downtown corner
Café Lush is like a daydream of the way things might be in some future hybrid of Europe and Albuquerque. It’s an urban café on a quiet street corner, with a small menu of simple yet well-crafted dishes and a pledge to use local, seasonal and organic ingredients whenever possible. But unlike in Europe, the red and green chile won’t disappoint—unless you’re a member of the New Mexico anticumin coalition.
The outdoor seating has been put away for the winter, but the inside is cozy and furnished with some of the shiniest tables I’ve ever seen. During both of my visits, the music was the kind of techno one might expect to hear at a rave on some Greek isle (disclosure: I’ve never been to a rave or to Greece), a feeling that the black-and-white photos of beach scenes on the wall did little to dissuade.
The coffee is roasted locally by Red Rock Roaster, and it’s strong—encouraging signs for a place that closes at 3 p.m. My breakfast pizza, like most dishes on the menu, had at least one surprise I’d never had before. In this case, it was the potato crust below eggs, chile, cheese and a choice of meat. I chose Lush bacon, which is sprinkled with “Lush dust,” a mix of cinnamon, cardamom and cocoa powder. It may not be the first combination of spices that comes to mind when you think of flavoring bacon, but it works well. And that potato crust had a nice crisp to it.
The salads are worth ordering, if small. While the sweet potato and beet salad hardly filled me up, it was interesting and good—balsamic vinegar syrup united roasted beets, grilled sweet potatoes and baby spinach. The lunch menu is mostly sandwiches, many of which are named after people I’ve never heard of. One curious exception is the Papa Doc. It’s essentially a fancy BLT with avocado aioli, but invoking a Haitian dictator killed my appetite and I didn’t try it. I did eat the Davis, which boasted natural and local roast beef, local Asiago cheese, and roasted garlic aioli. It came together nicely, rolled in an aromatic flatbread. The roast beef itself was delicate and tasty, and the Southwest slaw on the side (replete with non-Southwestern pineapple) hit the spot as well.
Lunch also includes a selection of thin-crust, grilled pizzas. The Boody featured a thick layer of pesto and tomatoes that’s swamped in cheese—feta and mozzarella—with roasted garlic and baby spinach on top. It was too much cheese for me, but I’m probably in the minority.
Self-proclaimed “food industry lifers” Tom Docherty and Sandy Gregory opened Café Lush in June. Creating a restaurant in this economy must be a challenge, but the owners clearly know what they’re doing. If they succeed, it will be thanks largely to their creativity. In that spirit, the café is putting together a Thanksgiving-to-go catering menu: butternut squash soup with coconut milk, housemade green-chile-apple sausage, Yukon gold mashed potatoes, stuffed turkey, and green bean bundles wrapped in Lush bacon and tied together with scallion strings. And for dessert, there’s pumpkin bread pudding with eggnog sauce.
While not everything on the menu is local, seasonal and organic, it’s evident the owners put a good-faith effort into supporting clean eating. If you ask where something is from, or if it’s organic, they know the answer. There’s no question to them, however, that it’ll taste good.