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Spicy comfort: Marigold Café blends Indian flavors with American, New Mexican favorites

Tikka masala macaroni and cheese typifies Marigold Café’s concept of adding Indian flavors to American comfort food. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

Earlier this year, news that a place called the Marigold Café would be opening next to Restoration Pizza in Journal Center provoked speculation. Would it be a diner? An Indian restaurant? A coffee shop?

Turns out it’s a little of all three.

On Marigold’s menu, chicken wings, grilled cheese sandwiches and other American comfort foods coexist with such Indian stalwarts as tikka masala, samosas and the vegetarian dish gobi tofu. Some offerings, like macaroni and cheese baked in tikka masala sauce, meld the two cuisines together in one dish.

It’s also a coffee shop. Moons Coffee & Tea on Juan Tabo supplies the stock for the restaurant’s lattes, chai tea and other hot drinks, and the baked goods come from Swiss Alps Bakery on San Pedro.

Marigold’s corner location opposite Cabela’s offers a panoramic view to the west, where the sunset on a recent night was echoed in mural that covers the opposite wall. The fiery sunset theme carries over to the pendant lights and a geometrically patterned red and orange carpet. The dinner hour on this night found a few parties sharing booths while a lone coffee drinker hunched over at his laptop at a table.

Patrons order at the counter, get a number and wait. Within minutes, a starter of nicely prepared samosas ($5.95 for four, $7.95 for six) arrived. The thin, crisp shells of the conically shaped pastries are fried to a golden brown over a potato- and cheese-based filling with lots of green chile flavor. Dipping sauces, including a bracing mint chutney and sweet, tart tamarind sauce, add respectable levels of heat.

Tamarind, a tropical fruit familiar to Indian cuisine, shows up again in a vinaigrette that sweetens the strawberry tamarind salad ($9.95). The salad consists of a big plate of mixed greens sprinkled with goat cheese, almonds and sliced apples. The thick dressing, pungent cheese and bitter greens work well together, but it was difficult to get the full effect because the promised strawberries were not in stock.

Fried green chile and onion strips add crunch to Marigold Café’s Local Flave Burger. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

Marigold’s Local Flave Burger ($9.50) and its well-seasoned patty typify the restaurant’s mission to inject flavor into everyday things. The lettuce, tomato and onion slices were fresh, and the fried green chile strips, spicy mayo, pepper jack cheese brought the burger to life. The accompanying pile of fried onion strips is a good idea well-executed. Frying here is done well.

Highlighting the “favorites” section of the menu is tikka macaroni and cheese served in a casserole dish. Long curlicues of perfectly cooked cavatappi (from the Italian for “corkscrew”) pasta are baked in pale orange tomato-curry sauce. While not initially registering as hot, the tikka masala provides a pleasant slow burn, and the pasta holds it well. The mozzarella broiled on top gives the dish the flavor profile of a spicy pizza. There’s plenty to share or take home for leftovers.

Fillings for Marigold’s tacos, served in mini naan or corn tortillas and costing from $3 to $3.95, include lamb, fried cauliflower and curry chicken ($3.00). The latter, slow-cooked chicken cubes cooked in red curry and topped with green chile, was exceptional. A bowl of rice accompanied the taco.

All the spicy food is a good excuse to indulge in a glass of smooth and sweet mango lassi ($3.95) made with yogurt. Drink options are likely to expand; the owners are in the process of getting a liquor license.

On this night, at least, there were more staffers than customers, and everyone was friendly and helpful. The co-owner circulated in the dining room, briefing customers and attending to issues such as a heater that was making the temperatures inside a little uncomfortable.

Marigold Café celebrates the common bonds of Indian and New Mexican cuisine. What better way to warm up a cold night?