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Nurturing community with true comfort food

SANTA FE, N.M. — The elliptical sign outside is something of an eye-stopper, and attractive. A stout swine in profile beneath six lowercase letters, half of them vowels – a r a b l e – makes for immediate cognitive dissonance. The brain responds, “Huh?!”

Our cute, fat piggy stands upon a fan of green rows (Ah – A garden? A farm? “Arable” land, get it?). And along the curved edge, the announcement “FRESH FOOD BEER WINE COMMUNITY” beneath which is a tiny banner in a neat script – “New Mexico.”

Inside, the place is just as visually appealing – spare and cool, muted greens, blues, lots of bare brick wall, but still warmly inviting.

Married owners Renée Fox, chef and a sommelier with decades of experience at top restaurants in Chicago and Santa Fe, and Virginia-born manager Dave Readyhough offer contemporary versions of classic Southern and Midwestern dishes on the menu at Arable, open since last summer, and also at their original restaurant, The Loyal Hound gastropub on St. Michael’s Drive.

The philosophy at both is creating and nurturing a convivial community experience serving finely crafted comfort food and drink, nearly everything made from scratch with as many local and organic ingredients as possible.

We arrived at Arable in Eldorado for supper famished, and an immediate cup of potato potage with cheese, green peas and bits of ham ($5 cup/ $9 bowl) was so creamy, rich and tasty that we wish we’d ordered a barrel of it. Superb.

More spuds and a dish of light, crispy housemade potato crisps ($3) appeared next with a lemony malt vinegar aiöli ($1/$3 for pimento cheese), along with an adult beverage from the ample beer offerings on tap, and for our companion a pinot noir from a very nice and reasonably priced wine list.

Next up was a prodigious and delicious Arable wedge salad ($13.50) of romaine, apple slices, blue cheese dressing and crumbles, apple chutney, and the knockout, a thick slab of smoked pork belly bacon.

(I did ask our server what’s with the pig on the sign. She said with a smile, “The owner likes pigs.”)

The burger ($14), again sizeable and superb, is made with local grass-fed beef from Sweetgrass Farms, with Old Windmill Dairy cheddar, smoked pork belly topped with green-chile-apple-butter on a fluffy homemade bun, and served with housemade potato crisps.

The Southern fried chicken sandwich ($14) – buttermilk-battered chicken on a buttermilk-cheddar biscuit, with olive oil-wilted greens, honey butter on the side, and an organic mixed green salad with baby tomatoes (add $1.50) – was thick, tender, juicy, savory and unfinishable in one sitting, at least for this diner.

The fresh berry “tart” with lemon sabayon looks almost absurdly erotic, and tastes better.

We leave the final word to a nearby resident, gourmand and genuine Son of the South, who says, “It’s a real neighborhood place in the true sense of the word, and (it’s) got everything a neighborhood eatery needs to succeed. And Eldorado has been waiting for this combination for a long time. Don’t miss the marinated hangar steak ($24) or the grilled pork chop ($22), and save room for the desserts.”

Arable; it’s remarkable.

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