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More than Sweets: Caramel is the specialty but this cafe serves burgers to salads, too

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The caramel bacon cheeseburger is one of the menu specialties at Sheila’s Sweets. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The caramel bacon cheeseburger is one of the menu specialties at Sheila’s Sweets. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

We all have friends in our life who are known for one particular dish. When invited to a dinner party or to a holiday feast or the office potluck everyone requests of them that one thing, without fail. For Sheila Bivens that is her grandmother’s recipe for caramel, a technique Sheila learned at age 13. For many years she longed to open a store to sell all of her caramel creations; in 2008 Sheila’s Sweets was unveiled to Albuquerque in a former fast-food spot in the Northeast Heights.

Sheila’s Sweets, run by Sheila and her husband, Gerald, offers both sugary temptations and homemade meals with a little bit of crossover in between – caramel bacon, you say?

Whether caramel bacon sounds a bit strange or absolutely delicious, you’re right. The meaty confection is the cafe’s most famous, available on a hand-formed burger ($6.75 as a meal combo) or as a five-slice side dish ($3.75) worth every penny and then some, each strip lacquered with gooey tan caramel. Even without the bacon, the petite burgers are flavorful and gently charred around the edges.

Other sandwiches are held in high regard; the build-your-own grilled cheese ($5.50 meal combo) starts with three bread choices, then three cheeses from a list of six, and are topped with add-ons, from green chile to onions.

There’s even a “secret” sandwich, available by request: the Dagwood, which piles turkey, bacon, tomatoes and egg salad on toasted sourdough bread. Sounds like I know what to order in future visits.

Soups are made in-house and range from meaty stews to pumpkin green chile curry ($3 for a cup), each variety satisfying on chilly days.

On the cooler side of the menu, one can find salads; I’m fond of the Blue Cheese Romaine ($6 or $8 with meat) with cheese crumbles, bacon and crispy onions, even if the dressing is a bit lackluster. The caramel pervades: even the pear salad is drizzled with caramel over each wedge for contrast against the veggies, and oatmeal can be ordered with a drizzle of the thick nectar.

The atmosphere is both cozy and a bit low-key, with minimal fuss or fancy furnishings. Here’s the thing with this unassuming little cafe – Sheila and Gerald make this place a worthy stop with their oodles of friendly smiles that draw in repeat customers day after day.

After having lunch (or breakfast), you can shop in the sweets store in the adjacent room for some take-home treats or crafts from local artisans. If there is anything that Sheila learned in her years working up to this restaurant, it is her enthusiasm for small businesses, from jewelry crafters to salsa makers. The cafe has space for several small displays of such wares, rotating by schedule and availability.

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