ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Tune-Up Cafe, a few blocks off St. Francis Drive near St. Anne’s Church in a neighborhood that mixes residential use with businesses, expanded over the summer.
It now includes a second small room, used as a beer and wine bar, adding a few more indoor seats to add to the capacity in the main dining room. (Weather permitting, you may also sit outside.)
Other than that, Tune-Up remains as I remembered, as cozy, unpretentious and welcoming as ever.
Customers park beside the building or along the street, step in the front door and up to the front counter. We selected from specials posted on the blackboard or the options on a printed menu.
After ordering, we picked up our drinks and headed off to a find an empty space or join a community table. After a brief wait punctuated with good smells from the kitchen, food arrives, delivered by a pleasant staff member. Tune-Up draws a happy local crowd with from-scratch breakfasts or lunches for less than $10 or dinner for less than $15.
LOCATION: 1115 Hickox, Santa Fe, 505-983-7060
First, I stopped in for breakfast, inspired by a pictured I’d seen of Tune-Up’s French toast stuffed with fruit compote and served with cream cheese and real maple syrup. It was tempting, but I decided on something lighter, the Huevos El Salvadorenos, instead. The scrambled eggs, whisked with green onions and bits of red tomatoes, had a festive look. The meal came with grilled banana slices, creamy refried beans with a bit of cheese, and wonderfully soft and fresh corn tortillas. Very nice – filling, but not too much.
Other choices include eggs served with a chile relleno, buttermilk pancakes (you can add chocolate chips), breakfast burritos, hand-held or smothered with choice of chile and meat including house-made chorizo. We sampled the house omelet, a hearty breakfast of eggs, with ham, spinach, mushrooms with sour cream folded in and chile sauce on top. The coffee? Fresh, strong and excellent.
For lunch a few days later, a friend and I shared pupusas, a Salvadoran specialty that resembles a cross between a corn pancake and a quesadilla. You can order them stuffed with chopped vegetables or bits of flank steak. We tried one of each, and agreed that while the veggie filling might be full of fiber, the meat had more flavor. The pupusas arrive with a warm, mild roasted tomato salsa and curtido, a spicy, acidic pink slaw created with cabbage, beets, jalapeños, a splash of vinegar and lots of chopping.
The lunch menu includes salads, Tune-Up’s popular green chile beef stew, several New Mexican choices and sandwiches. We shared a Cubano, with decidedly mix reactions. My friend expected the panini-style Cubanos he had enjoyed in Florida, probably because the menu says the sandwich comes on “pressed ciabatta.” He was turned off by Tune-Up’s untoasted, unpressed, very thick bread. The bread was too much for me, too, even though it was fresh and yeasty with a nice bit of chew.
But I loved the flavorful filling: lots of ham, fresh slices of roasted pork, melted Swiss cheese and tart, salty pickles all dressed with brown mustard and real mayonnaise. I gave the sandwich a thumbs up. The fries that came with it were good, too, fresh and hot. (You can order a side salad instead for a bit extra.)
The lunch menu includes more sandwiches and burgers with hand-cut fries, a Tune-up salad available with or without meat, some New Mexican choices, tamales wrapped in a banana leaf and a soup of the day. Dinner adds more specials, pastas and a steak with green chile.
Desserts, on display at the front counter, included pumpkin pie and three kinds of cakes.