Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen in Santa Fe offers gluten-free cuisine - Albuquerque Journal

Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen in Santa Fe offers gluten-free cuisine

Sweetwater Harvest Kitchens Chicken Bahn Mi Sandwich Special. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

Even though we are still in the thick of winter, many of you may be thinking about the imminent arrival of spring and summer. And, as the seasons change, so do our taste buds. After a cold winter filled with heavy stews, soups and braised meats, perhaps it’s time to think about eating a bit cleaner.

While most Americans want to eat healthier, there are challenges that often get in the way of this intention. From financial resources to culinary chops, these realities can thwart all good intentions. In Pacheco Park, there is a restaurant devoted to healthful dishes made in a 100% gluten-free kitchen. For those seeking delicious anti-inflammatory, vegetarian, vegan and Paleo options that make you feel good, Sweetwater Harvest checks all the boxes.

This nourishing restaurant opened in 2012 as a gathering place for those seeking healthier culinary options. Owner Soma Franks says, “It’s a labor of love and we are celebrating our 10-year anniversary. The space is beautiful and it’s like having people over to your house. It’s been a good and wild journey for sure.”

Matcha Green Smoothie Bowl at Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen in Santa Fe. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

When my dining companions and I arrived for brunch on a Sunday morning, the hostess inquired if we had a reservation – and I said, “No, is that a problem?” She replied that it wasn’t because they had one table available, but did recommend brunch reservations in the future. Duly noted.

A clean, light and airy space, the high ceilings and concrete floors have an industrial feel, while the plants, green chairs and blonde wood tables soften the space, so it feels warm and welcoming. A community table is available for whoever wants to sit down.

Like the décor, service is sparse with two servers taking care of a full house and one runner, but we took a deep breath and remembered it was Sunday. We were there to relax, catch up and share a wholesome meal. The dining room was filled with smiling people – mostly younger and fit, along with many solo diners sprinkled with mature guests. A large glass bottle of water is placed on each table so you can hydrate to your heart’s content. There are also plenty of coffees, teas, smoothies and fresh juices to get your health on. The menu is broad with breakfast, lunch and dinner options, a slew of sides and 15 house made desserts made with Sweetwater’s special almond flour blend.

Starting with the Rise + Shine section, they offer a bright green and uber-delicious Matcha Green Smoothie Bowl ($9.5), Housemade Crunchy Buckwheat Granola ($8.5) and Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes ($9). We shared the Smoothie Bowl and it was everything I wanted it to be. Creamy coconut milk is the base along with kale, spinach, banana and matcha green tea powder. Topped with hemp hearts, shaved coconut and seasonal fruit, this is a glorious and nutritious start to any day.

Sweetwater Harvest Salad at Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

The Eggs category features five eggcellent dishes, while the Greens + Grains part of the menu called my name. One of my dining companions had the Sweetwater House Salad ($11.5) which includes mixed greens, quinoa, goat cheese, avocado and almonds. Unfortunately, this salad arrived without avocado, but upon bringing this oversight to the server’s attention, the team swiftly delivered the missing ingredient, and she loved her light meal.

Always a Buddha Bowl ($13) fan, my order was easy. A slight serving of brown rice is topped with Nori seaweed and sauteed kale, watermelon radish, avocado, pumpkin seeds with a spicy-ginger-garlic-tamari sauce. I added salmon ($5.5) in lieu of tofu and this was a satisfying meal that kept me sated all day. Other protein options include shrimp ($5) or chicken ($4) and cauliflower rice ($3.5) is also available. A dish that caught my eye is the Kimchi Fried Rice ($15) which sounds worthy of attention in the future.

The specials are enticing and one friend raved about the Chicken Bahn Mi Sandwich ($14). This monster sandwich could feed two people. A house- made gluten-free baguette is the base, topped with spicy chicken chunks, carrot ribbons, cucumber slices and cilantro. She proclaimed this a worthy bahn mi and enjoyed half at brunch and took the other half home for another meal.

If you eat Paleo, there are three Paleo Power options for you. I love that Sweetwater is such an approachable restaurant for those who want to explore and incorporate healthier meals into their diet.

When I returned for dinner a few nights later, I found the ambiance completely different than the daytime. The dinner menu is equally creative with global dishes that spark your imagination and your taste buds. Light jazz was playing in the background, the lights were dimmed and there was an exuberant feeling in the air. The wine list is thoughtfully comprised of sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines. Bottles are half-price on Tuesdays, so we ordered the 2019 Lunar Apage Syrah, a French wine that was luscious. Regularly priced at $40, this felt like a steal for $19.

For dinner, my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the Japchae Korean Glass Noodle (yam noodles) Stir Fry with Tofu ($19). Silky yam noodles are stir-fried with carrot, celery, onion and spinach and cooked with a savory coconut amino and sesame sauce. Light and tasty, this dish is a winner. We also tried the Cashew Basil Pesto House Specialty Yucca Root Flatbread Pizza ($14), topped with tomato slices and goat cheese. Thin and light, we both approved of this flatbread pizza and were impressed with the kitchen’s agility and creativity. “This recipe took months to perfect but the cassava flour is the trick,” Soma says.

There is a serious dessert menu to tempt you, and you should acquiesce. The Coconut Flan ($8) is a stand-out, along with the Banana Cream Pie ($8.5) and they are known for the Carrot Cake ($8.5). Creamy and delicious, the flan is exquisite. Made with coconut cream, heavy cream, half and half and topped with shaved coconut and berries, the flan was not overly sweet and seriously luscious. What didn’t set our mouths on fire was the Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookie ($3), which had good texture and flavor, though it seemed a bit stale.

Though the menu features ample good-for-you, 100% gluten-free dishes and tasty desserts, trust me when I say that each and every item is filled with flavor. And you will never know what’s missing. Coupled with the overarching practices of sustainability and responsible food sourcing, supporting and eating at Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen is that much more enticing.

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