Dolina elevates lovingly baked goods and Eastern European specialties - Albuquerque Journal

Dolina elevates lovingly baked goods and Eastern European specialties

Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce, Garlic Confit and Herby Charmoula at Dolina Cafe and Bakery. (Heather Hunter/for the Journal)

Dining with a diverse group of eaters can be challenging. Invariably, part of the group wants a late breakfast, and the other half prefers lunch. The next time you face this conundrum, head straight to Dolina where everyone will be glad they came. This cafe and bakery – with a brunch-centric menu that slants Eastern European – is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Santa Fe, near the corner of N. Guadalupe Street and Paseo de Peralta.

There will likely be happy people dining on the sunny front patio, as well as others waiting for a table as they ogle the case filled with stunning and golden baked goods. The selection of baked goods are mostly eastern European delicacies that has made Dolina a beloved brunch, lunch and bakery spot since opening six years ago. Small but mighty, Dolina will delight your palate with fresh foods made with intention.

The simple dining room allows customers to focus on the food rather than be distracted with superfluous decor. Pillows line the seating along the wall so you can slow down and unwind from the hustle of life. This is not a fast casual restaurant, but one where everything is made to order. This takes time, and it’s worth every bite.

Tuna Conserva Sandwich with Side Salad at Dolina Cafe and Bakery. (Heather Hunter/for the Journal)

If you are with friends, do yourself and your tablemates a favor and start with the Orechovník French Toast ($15). Housemade walnut and cinnamon swirl bread is the foundation for this spectacular variation that may spoil you for any future iterations of uninspired French toast. Seriously. I asked our serene waiter, Steven, if we should have the Ricotta Pancakes ($14) or the French Toast and he did not steer us in the wrong direction. This is a signature Dolina breakfast dish that should not be missed.

The bread is soaked in the custard for just the right amount of time and cooked, so it’s tender but golden on the outside. Topped with fresh blueberries and a dusting of powdered sugar, there are two thick slices of toast cut into four servings. Drizzle with maple syrup and get ready for a slice of heaven.

The Baked Eggs ($15) is really Shakshuka, a famous and delicious Middle Eastern breakfast. Tomato sauce and garlic confit are the base where two eggs are baked so the eggs take on the tomato sauce flavors. The eggs are topped with a spoonful of herbaceous charmoula, and sourdough toast is there for scooping and sopping all of the tasty tomato sauce up. One of my dining companions was thrilled with his first Shakshuka experience. He happily said, “I will order this again and again and again.” A savory and succulent start to any day of the week.

My other dining companion reveled in the Quiche of the Day ($12), which was spinach. The buttery crust is a solid and sturdy cradle for creamy baked eggs. A gorgeous side salad brings this plate together to make you feel light and wholesome.

Being that I love tuna sandwiches, the Dolina version, Tuna Conserva Sandwich ($17), puts all others to shame. Albacore tuna is poached in olive oil to make this an unforgettable tuna sandwich – which, once again, will render any future canned tuna sandwiches listless. Pesto is slathered on a chewy ciabatta roll to give flavor and moisture while capers, an heirloom tomato slice and pickled red onions add even more flavor to this sandwich fit for a king. A side salad of fresh greens, watermelon radishes and carrot ribbons are dressed with a delectable lemon vinaigrette.

The side salad that comes with some entrees is a stunning addition and can also be ordered as an entrée, Organic Baby Mixed Greens ($12), or choose a Caesar Salad ($12) which interestingly adds avocado. Make either of the salads a solid meal and add grilled organic chicken ($7).

Known for Eastern European specialties, be sure and explore the Paprikash ($18) and other iconic dishes that celebrate the owner’s homeland. Organic chicken is cooked in brown butter, white onions and Hungarian paprika, and the dish is finished with sour cream to make a creamy red sauce and the pillow-like dumplings are added for the coup de grace. This is a dish your grandmother would have made for you.

Orechovník French Toast at Dolina Cafe and Bakery. (Heather Hunter/for the Journal)

Soups are a major part of the Eastern European diet which is why there are a variety of distinctive options ($14-$15) on the menu. Start your day with Morning Soup, a broth made with organic New Mexico lamb bones, wild rice, caramelized sweet onions, a poached egg and chives for garnish. There is also the Hungarian Goulash, a classic Organic Chicken Vegetable Dumpling soup, Cream of Mushroom or Borscht, a vegetarian version of the Russian soup made with organic red beets, sauerkraut, potatoes, hard-boiled egg and a dollop of dill yogurt.

In addition to a relaxed and healthy menu, what really makes Dolina a standalone in Santa Fe is the array of classic and Eastern European baked goods. From Butter ($2.95) or Chocolate Croissants ($3.50), to melt-in-your-mouth Jam Thumbprint cookies to Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies ($2) or a gluten-free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie ($2), along with assorted cakes and pies.

As for the signature bag of four Gingerbread Squares topped with a light sugar icing ($12) that we shared and took home, one of my dining companions called me with this confession, “If I were to have an affair with a cookie, this would be it. The gingerbread squares have the right balance of ginger, thickness, soft texture, and the icing makes this a sweet treat I don’t want to live without.” My advice is strike early and not wait until after you have eaten because everything will be gone. So, treat yourself to the heartbeat of Dolina – lovingly baked goods that keep customers coming back.

Clearly, the youthful, yet chill Dolina team has a knack for celebrating Eastern European dishes in New Mexico and for taking often boring dishes (like a tuna sandwich) and kicking them up so they are on fire. Whether you seek sweet or savory – breakfast, brunch or lunch – Dolina has what you want. But be sure and arrive with a calm and relaxed European attitude as you savor a thoughtful meal.

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