Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
“Summer cooking means the extraction of maximum enjoyment,” Elizabeth David wrote in the mid-1950s. That feels truer than ever in 2021. As we face down shortening days and a surging pandemic, August is the time to make the most of our season in the sun.
Accordingly, I’ve been flitting around Santa Fe like a frantic pollinator, savoring the sweetest summer nectar the city has to offer. Here are some standouts.
HAWT PIZZA CO.: “There’s no good pizza in Santa Fe,” was the standard lament of local food snobs only a few years ago. That became an outdated statement with the arrival of the wood-fired Bruno’s “The Biz” truck and the Tender Fire pop-up at El Rey Inn. Then, this spring, the Albuquerque-based Hawt Pizza Co. took up residence at the Hotel Chimayó’s Low ‘n Slow bar, giving everyone a run for their money.
With two Hawt pizzas to go, a recent pre-opera tailgate turned into a stress-free midsummer night’s dream. The Low ‘n Slow’s 850-degree wood-fired oven makes a beautifully blistered “neo-Neapolitan”-style 12-inch pie. The Margherita ($15) is slathered in a tangy, distinctive pomodoro sauce and dotted with immaculate slabs of mozzarella, finished with Italian olive oil and basil.
The Norteño ($19) gives you more singed, perfectly crunchy Ezzo pepperoni per square inch than anywhere around, along with spicy lumps of Keller’s Farms Italian sausage, mushrooms and righteous green chile. Try a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey ($2) on any pie to hit that savory-sweet spot. These airy, bubbly pies fairly scream summer – and the thin crust is substantial enough to withstand any takeout sogginess.
If you’re dining in at the Low ‘n Slow, take advantage of extra-friendly, mellow service and one of the best drinks in town: the serrano-infused, red chile-rimmed, apricot-liquered Chimayóso margarita ($13).
TONIC: Speaking of fine cocktails, belly up to the gorgeous Art Deco-style bar on Water Street and pretend you’re overlooking the Pacific with the Seaside Negroni ($12). Owner-mixologist Winston Greene puts a twist on the classic with cardamaro – a nutty, milder wine-based amaro infused with cardoon thistle and artichoke – along with salt water, bitters and navy-strength gin.
Soak it up with Tonic’s new food menu, which rotates according to what’s fresh. Mainstays include steak frites with sage fries and chimichurri, as well as the Wagyu and Angus-blend burger on a buttermilk English muffin ($16). The burger is a double whammy of two 3-ounce patties supplied by local purveyors Beck & Bulow. It’s topped with an heirloom tomato slice and caramelized onion jam, and served with apple-fennel slaw alongside house-made chips.
SANTACAFÉ and SASSELLA: For some, summertime means lobster – even if you’re landlocked. If you’re craving the crustacean, both Santacafé and Sassella have you covered.
Santacafé serves their succulent Maine Lobster Rolls ($24) on newsprint, so you can make like you’re at a mom ‘n pop stand on the East Coast. The two buttery rolls are classed up with tarragon, a swipe of tartar sauce and a tangle of mixed greens that pop with bright slices of watermelon radish.
“In Lombardy,” boasts the menu at Sassella, “risotto is a religion and no one does it better than Chef Pontiggia.” Lombardy native and executive chef Cristian Pontiggia studs his extravagant lobster risotto ($31) with gorgeous chunks of white meat accented by Parmesan, Fontina and a nut-tastic pistachio-arugula pesto. This is one summer treat we’re hoping lasts into the fall. Amaro aficionados would also do well to check out Sassella’s Negroni and Amaro flights ($14-$25).
ROSE’S KITCHEN: Reunity Resources, the nonprofit farm nestled in the verdant fields just off Agua Fria, is truly the summer place to be. In addition to the weekly bounty available at the farmstand on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the farm-to-table Rose’s Kitchen food truck is open six days a week.
Chef Ilana Rose Blankman squeezes the essence of summer out of every vegetable on this vegan-friendly menu (which also features locally raised meat). Check the daily chalkboard for a rotating cast of ultra-seasonal veggie galettes and colorful lavash wraps.
A new addition to the menu is the Talus Wind Ranch pulled pork (or sliced tofu) banh mí ($10-$12). It’s served on a crusty baguette with ginger cabbage slaw, aioli and sliced cucumbers with an ample side salad and corn chips. Savor it on outdoor tables that face rows of towering sunflowers, an image of endless summer to file away and revisit until next year.