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Slate Street Cafe chugs on: One of the city’s unlikeliest success stories is coming back to life

Want to know the surest sign that the pandemic is abating?

The lawyers are back at Slate Street Café.

At least that’s what one of Slate Street’s servers told me during a recent lunch as he nodded toward a handful of people in business attire eating along one side of the restaurant’s dining room. Apparently, the noon hour brings them in from the courthouses just a block south on Lomas.

The return of the workday lunch crowd must be a welcome sight to Myra Ghattas, Slate Street Café’s owner. Ghattas has spent the past year and a half shepherding the restaurant through closures, layoffs and the vagaries of government assistance loans. Now that patrons are filling the dining room and patio again, it appears that Ghattas’ flagship restaurant – one of the city’s longest-running and most unlikely success stories – will live on.

Ghattas opened Slate Street Café in 2005 with the idea of bringing wine appreciation to diner food. She hosted wine tastings and special dinners where small plates were paired with different vintages. The concept caught on and getting a table for weekend brunch soon became a fool’s errand. In the ensuing years, Ghattas’ portfolio has grown to include a café inside the Albuquerque Museum (currently closed) and Sixty-Six Acres, the Asian- and Middle Eastern-influenced restaurant at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

Slate Street Café occupies a pitched-roof building on a short, tree-lined stretch of Slate Avenue between Fifth and Sixth. Light pours into the dining room through a large, half-moon-shaped window over the entrance. It’s noisy in there, but the more serene patio is too hot this time of year except for the morning hourTmenu, somewhat pared down from its pre-pandemic version, mixes familiar diner dishes with a few outliers. Green chile makes frequent appearances; it even shows up in the bread from Fano, the local bakery. Most items run between $10 and $15, with a few entrées landing north of that. Menu choices with asterisks are served only as part of the weekend brunch, a fact I discovered when I tried to order the sausage sliders on a Wednesday.

There’s a separate drinks menu, something not often seen in places that close early in the afternoon. Local beers are available on tap and in bottles, and a glass of wine from the thoughtful selection will set you back about $10. Among the signature cocktails are several variations of the mimosa ($5), that mainstay of brunch and first-class air travel. A glass of pomegranate mimosa ($5) was a lovely, translucent ruby red, with just enough champagne to cut the tang of the fruit.

Slate Street’s fried egg sandwich on ciabatta with bacon and white cheddar. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

Breakfast choices, all around $10, are almost all savory. The fried egg sandwich ($10) is served on ciabatta over a rectangular brick of hash browns. Unlike the typical ciabatta, the bread was light and airy, and it held an egg, its yolk fully cooked, and overdone bacon that shattered like peanut brittle when I bit into it. The whole thing was a little stodgy; it needed an aioli or something to punch it up. Next time, I would ask for green chile on it. The hash browns had a crispy top layer contrasting with the soft shredded potato beneath it.

The green chile chicken sandwich at Slate Street is made with a fried chicken breast topped with chile and tomato. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

The sandwich menu has burgers, a BLT and a grilled cheese. The green chile chicken sandwich ($14) comes with a fried chicken breast on a green chile bun. The chicken was moist and the green chile was terrific, with a heat that hit hard at first bite before settling into a steady simmer. Unfortunately, that same chile, along with melted white cheddar cheese, conspired to wring all the crispiness out of the fried chicken coating. The fries that came with it were very good.

Slate Street Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch six days a week. The Creole Shrimp, seen here, is one of Slate Street’s entrees. It comes with six shrimp in a tomato-based sauce. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

An entrée of shrimp creole ($20), one of the priciest dishes on the menu, was handsomely presented in a large, sloping bowl, the tail-on shrimp arranged around a stump of rice in a thick sauce bright with peppers. The six shrimp were plump and juicy, and stamp-sized pieces of housemade tasso ham added smokiness to a sauce that was otherwise a little pallid. Surprisingly for a creole dish, it was not spicy at all.

Service was first rate. The server took my order quickly and the food came out in less than 10 minutes. Several people checked on me during the meal. The whole experience was an antidote to all the horror stories about understaffed restaurants one hears these days.

The sight of a bunch of lawyers is not normally a cause for celebration, but at Slate Street Café, it’s yet another indicator that life is returning to the restaurant business.