ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the most part, restaurants that occupy ground-floor spaces in professional office buildings tend to be unexciting, serving functional meals that, even if perfectly suitable for sustenance, can be devoid of personality to a busy working crowd.
In the Downtown Simms Building on Gold, however, Cafe Bien is elevating workday fare above the default level, serving breakfast and lunch staples with tasty twists. Owner Lindsay Cavazos has brought her catering background to serve a larger audience, winning over hearts and stomachs in the process.
With a space solidly lodged between cafeteria and minimalistic-modern, the restaurant gives the sense of promise — there will be no stale deli meat sandwiches nor overcooked egg platters here. Breakfasts (served all day) begin with a Bacon & Eggs Plate ($10), brioche and poached eggs dolloped in hollandaise with cubes of pork belly standing in for conventional strips of bacon.
The accompaniment is a green chile potato pancake, though home fries can be substituted, if desired. Sweet beginnings include a crêpe trio ($9) with pecans, crème anglaise and strawberry jam fillings. Veggie lovers swoon over the tofu-studded Vegan Hash ($10), spiced well with chile.
Ordering is done at the counter, with food brought out to the table when ready. Munching on the inventive chips and salsa is easy to do — the “chips” are freshly fried whole corn tortilla rounds served wrapped in paper like a surprise love letter with pureed salsa for dipping.
It’s a slight change from the ordinary, like many things here, but it makes an impression. While I reclined and waited for lunch, I took in the crowd, seeing a whole swath of Albuquerque’s population from hurried takeout order messengers to co-workers dining while dishing about life.
Even though it’s hard to give up on the tasty morning items come lunchtime, the burgers have been a popular option. Cafe Bien’s Burger Your Way ($11) is on a brioche roll and topped with cheese — add anything else you can dream up from mushrooms to guacamole for $1 each.
Salads are one of the few menu categories that are just OK — a few more creative twists would make this place competitive with the best of the Downtown spots.
That said, the Seasonal Greens ($7) is still a good mix of spinach, apples, feta and nuts all topped with herb vinaigrette. Make a heartier meal and pair it with a bowl of green chile stew ($6) — if you’re not cooked from the summer heat already.
The restaurant serves as a fine walk-in coffee shop, as well. All manner of drinks and espressos are available, and a few of the desserts, like miniature pies, are portable enough to take back to the office. You don’t even have to share.