Local and healthy: Rose's Kitchen, Root 66 Vegan Café serve fresh, nutrition-packed delights - Albuquerque Journal

Local and healthy: Rose’s Kitchen, Root 66 Vegan Café serve fresh, nutrition-packed delights

“You want it darker?” Leonard Cohen asked us shortly before he died in 2016. As we enter the pandemic fall, I don’t know that I do. Many of us are downright fearful of the waning light.

But we can shore up our systems with healthy nourishment to keep us calm and carrying on. And coincidentally or not, just in time for harvest season, two versatile Santa Fe spots have emerged where organic, locally grown vegetables take center stage: Rose’s Kitchen and Root 66 Vegan Café.

One recent Tuesday evening, I swung on a tire swing, took a sun-warmed walk between rows of tall sunflowers and lavender, watched masked community-farm workers gather for refreshments in the day’s lengthening shadows and listened to a few out-of-time roosters crow. I was pleasantly waiting for takeout dinner for four at Rose’s Kitchen, a tiny but mighty food stand at Reunity Farm off Agua Fria at San Ysidro Crossing.

Chef Ilana Rose Blankman pivoted from a career as a circus teacher and performer to open Rose’s Kitchen in July. She’s a sure hand at her new gig, having worked in the restaurant industry since she was an Albuquerque teenager. Her small but far-ranging menu travels from a homemade organic Frito pie (with or without Sweet Grass Co-op beef) to a veggie ramen to a Mediterranean mezze platter. No matter what you order, the produce grown on-site by Reunity is the star of the show.

We settled into the movable feast at twilight under a friend’s gazebo. (The farm has a few picnic tables sitting under big shade trees, but if you opt not to stay, the food travels well.) No one at the table could agree on what was better: the vegetarian tacos ($10, with pintos, chicos and calabacitas or oyster mushrooms, black beans and feta) with homemade molé and a crisp, vinegary cabbage-carrot curtido; the mezze plate heaped high with crunchy falafel balls, a glistening tomato, cucumber and feta salad, hummus and flatbread triangles ($12); the peanut-coconut rice noodles with tofu and more perfectly crispy veggies ($9), or the giant farm stand salad ($7) with greens, beets, radishes, carrots, cucumbers and more under an herb-flecked avocado dressing. Although the dinner party included a 9-year-old, she needed no exhortations to eat her veggies.

I continued my tour of virtuous eating at Root 66 Vegan Café. Local vegans got acquainted with Root 66 in 2018 as a food truck with a menu heavy on plant-based meat substitutes. At the new brick-and-mortar restaurant that opened on Lena Street in May, a new chef and manager has elevated Root 66 from a vegan destination to a straight-up destination. Katlyn Badeaux came to town from New Orleans by way of Denver. In both places, she honed her vegan-cuisine expertise at Superfood Bar, a hub for nutrient-packed food that’s “incidentally vegan.”

That’s how a lunch visit went – incidentally vegan, completely delicious. Badeaux, who hails from Baton Rouge and told me “everyone in Louisiana knows how to cook,” is an artful pro at layering flavors. I prefer a breakfast burrito without meat to begin with, and I’m now a convert to Root 66’s “cheezy chorizo” burrito ($8). It’s sided with avocado and stuffed with an herby brown rice/black bean combo, toothy home fries, creamy Violife vegan cheese, sautéed greens and sambal mayo on a Stacey’s Tortilla. (This is not rabbit food – I ate half the hefty burrito at breakfast and half at dinner, alongside a serving of crunchy turmeric-pickled carrots, cauliflower and onion.)

A mushroom shawarma wrap, side salad and hibiscus lemonade from Root 66 Vegan Cafe on Lena Street. (Molly Boyle/for the Journal)

A mushroom shawarma wrap ($12) was equally good. Cradled in lavash, roasted mushrooms and caramelized onions are layered with quick-pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs and a swath of hummus. The wrap is served alongside a fresh side salad topped with cherry tomatoes and more pickled veggies, and sided with honey-mustard dressing.

Root 66 has two shaded first-come, first-served picnic tables outside its small storefront, although I took my food to go and it held up well. In a welcome bit of restaurant community synergy, Root 66 is partnered with Reunity Resources in recycling its compostable takeout containers. And, like Rose’s Kitchen, they’re committed to local food systems, sourcing produce from Synergia Ranch and La Montañita Co-op.

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” food writer Michael Pollan urged us more than a decade ago. Good advice – though in the midst of a raging pandemic, a contentious election season and widespread social unrest, the siren song of a green chile cheeseburger may be more tempting than ever. Since the creative chefs at Rose’s Kitchen and Root 66 are proving that vegetables can be just as comforting, Santa Fe has some very tasty reasons to resit.

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