The recent opening of 505 Central, a food hall and apartment complex Downtown Albuquerque, is a sorely needed piece of good news in the face of more restaurant closures and layoffs.
Architect and developer Mark Baker of Baker Architecture + Design, the firm that transformed the 1930s building into a multi-use facility, appeared cautiously optimistic as he chatted with patrons on the patio during a recent weekday lunch hour. Baker’s outlook, on this day at least, seemed apt. The sun was out, the patio full and staffers from the various restaurants inside looked pleased to finally have some customers to serve.
The opening of 505 Central also represents the rebirth of one of Downtown’s notable buildings, a streamlined, brick-walled structure that was once home to a Sears before falling into disuse in recent years. Its design is attributed to John Gaw Meem, the renowned architect whose midcentury works integrated modern amenities into the Pueblo Revival vernacular.
Inside, the compact space shows off familiar industrial-style design elements such as polished concrete floors and an exposed ceiling painted black. The purveyors currently open for business include a mix of new spots and outlets and spinoffs of existing places.
One such spinoff is Linda Zamora and Bryan Thompson’s Wild Rosemary. Zamora and Thompson own Rosemary, a 2-year-old restaurant near San Mateo and Montgomery, and they’ve brought the plant-forward concept of that place to 505 Central with a pared-down menu that fits on a few erasable boards hanging up on the wall behind the counter. They also run Pier None, a seafood place next door.
Wild Rosemary’s menu features vegetables, nuts and ancient grains served in bowls or in wraps. Fittingly, when I arrived, one of the servers was pulling a tray of the ancient grain freekeh from the oven. Made from the young, green grains of durum wheat, freekeh is coveted in the Middle East for its nutty, smoky flavor and satisfying chew. It exemplifies Zamora and Thompson’s mission to bring nutritious foods to the table without sacrificing taste and texture.
The lone starter on the menu, lemon hummus with celery and carrots and a handful of pita triangles ($9), looks like something your aunt might put out for company. The hummus, however, was far superior to the average store-bought variety, light and fluffy with a nice balance of salt and garlic and lemon.
Entrees include a teriyaki bowl and a Caribbean bowl, both of which you can also get over greens as a salad or tucked into a spinach wrap. Chicken or tuna is $5 extra.
Fresh broccoli, finely julienned carrots and cabbage are combined for the teriyaki bowl with chicken ($14). A generous portion of moist white chicken meat, grilled and cut into cubes, topped the vegetables, along with a light dressing of sweet, salty teriyaki. The sauce sank to the bottom, where it got soaked up into a bed of farro and brown rice. It’s just what you want in a bowl: a healthy, filling lunch or dinner that won’t drive you into a food coma.
The Caribbean wrap ($10) is far more likely to put you there, with only black beans and the nutty and chewy feekeh to counter the sweetness of the plantains, mangoes, sweet potatoes and coconut. I had mine in a spinach wrap that was crisped up on the grill to make a shell around the mostly mushy ingredients. A bit more heat was needed to cut the dessert-level sweetness. Perhaps that was the intended role of the jerk cashew cream, but I was unable to discern it.
Most of the stuff on the menu is available in vegan and gluten-free versions. There’s a create-your-own- bowl/salad/wrap option ($10) that starts with your choice of grain or rice and allows you to add up to four vegetables, two toppers and your choice of sauce or dressing.
Breakfast bowls ($10), Scrambowls ($7) and a couple of ancient grain cups with fruit ($5) make up the all-day breakfast menu. The peach cup with cayenne, candied pecans, dried cranberries and toasted coconut was really good, the nuts and farro providing some backbone for the delicious stewed peaches and the ever-so-slight fiery notes from the cayenne taking some of the edge off the sweetness.
Drinks include a couple of iced teas and a lavender lemonade ($3) that was not too sweet, not too tart and just slightly floral.
The two servers were friendly and helpful, and my order came out in about 10 minutes. There are a couple of paid parking lots and a garage nearby, but these days it’s pretty easy to snag a metered space in the vicinity.
Wild Rosemary has the healthy eating niche locked down at 505 Central. Its bowls and wraps are welcome options in these grab-and-go times.