Sandwiches with a slow food ethos
Restaurants that advertise their use of local ingredients are becoming more commonplace. But for whatever reason, they rarely seem to appear in strip malls near major freeway exchanges. Bliss Sandwich Spot-N-More stands alone in that regard (it’s one of the storefronts at The Pavilions at San Mateo, right off of I-40) and in many other ways, most of them charming.
Perhaps most charming of all is the "green chile Philly" sandwich. Modeled on the Philly-style cheesesteak, but with the addition of green chile from Wagner Farms in Corrales, it’s safe to say the New Mexico version beats Philadelphia’s—and I’ve drunk from those headwaters at Pat’s in South Philly. When you think about it, why wouldn’t green chile improve a dish of sliced rib eye steak, bell peppers, onions and cheese? Bliss’ version also includes an assertive dose of black pepper, which seals the deal for me. (Cheese Whiz also comes standard, but I declined it.)
Bliss bills itself as a purveyor of local ingredients, which can be difficult to maintain year-round. New Mexico foods currently being served are the red and green chile and pinto beans—plus fresh-baked breads from Flying Star and Le Paris. In the warmer months, much of the sandwich and salad parts are locally grown. Going into its second growing season, I’m looking forward to seeing what Bliss does.
In the heat of summer, customers will surely gaze longingly at the near life-size photograph of Lake Louise, in the Canadian Rockies, which covers the north wall, while diving into a big, fresh salad. The Caesar I ordered, for example, was a generous pile of chopped romaine and other greens in an awesome housemade dressing.
At the moment, the restaurant is still searching for its groove. A recurring but fixable problem is too much salt. Customers can always add more seasoning, but they can't remove it. A mushroom soup special approached ocean-strength salinity. Another peeve: The tortilla around the otherwise fine vegetarian “paradise wrap” wasn't heated, which seemed incongruous with the attention to detail elsewhere.
Those issues aside, vegetarians are certainly well cared for at Bliss. Owner Tami Greenwald says the “Jiminy's criminy”—a sauté of mushrooms, onions and tomato with avocado, ranch and Swiss—is especially popular, and that most veggie options can be made vegan. The veggie burger patty, more of a thick pancake than burger, was delicious (though, again, less salt would have allowed the complexity of this homemade mixture of beans, grains, greens and vegetables to come through better). A layer of delicious homemade hummus secured the patty to its bun.
From-scratch execution means filling orders can be slow, even when the place is empty. If you’re in a hurry, consider calling ahead with your order. But if you’re chilling, Bliss offers a gentle reprieve from the engines and asphalt that surround the place. The unisex bathroom is labeled with a tomato and a pickle. The other customers are easy-going, nice and interesting to watch—unless they’re complaining about how long their Bliss club is taking.
I certainly wasn't complaining about the house-ground rib eye burger, a special during one of my visits. It was a simple affair, just chile, cheese and bun around that high-quality patty, and it didn't need anything more. Next time I'll probably request onions and pickles, just to see what happens. Greenwald says that business has been picking up, and they've had to make some adjustments. Chances are my burger toppings will be sliced ahead of time to deal with the rushes.
While Bliss will never be a streamlined sandwich factory like some of its competitors, the food and experience easily trump big guys like Subway. As the quirks smooth out, folks in the area won’t be ignorant about Bliss much longer.