ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Downtown Albuquerque is alive. Still navigating the torrent of a nonstop succession of new restaurants, diners have options like never before. Burger joints, coffee shops, fine dining, upscale libations – this encouraging state of affairs delivers an optimistic poke in the eye to recession fears.
Joining the flood is a breakfast-and-lunch nook called Cafe Lush. Nestled into a narrow space, the operation is under the care of self-described “food industry lifers” Tom Docherty and Sandy Gregory, bringing their years of expertise to a menu all their own.
The focus is on as many local and house-made ingredients as possible. Ice cream, in predictable yet delicious flavors, is churned on site. Produce is purchased from the Downtown farmers’ market and La Montanita Co-op. Even the green chile sausage is made fresh.
|Cafe Lush 3.5 Stars
LOCATION: 700 Tijeras NW
HOURS: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays
The unmistakable aura when walking in the door are owners clearly excited to make their customers happy. Even sauntering in at closing time might prompt a slight blink from Sandy before she grins and hands over a menu, letting Tom know that more orders will be coming his way. Nearly all plates are reasonably priced in the $6-$9 range, though the portions reflect the cost of high-quality ingredients. If the pastries and ice cream weren’t already in your meal plans, they will be soon.
Hash browns reign on cafe breakfast menus for a reason. Frugal and versatile, the lowly potato is cooked into tender bits, then darkened to a crisp in shapes from home fries to tater tots. It sounded brilliant, then, to craft a big hash brown into a crust shape, topping the whole thing with eggs, chile and cheese before declaring it a Breakfast Pizza ($5.95). The clever naming twist ended up being the dish’s downfall – my potatoes had no crunch, no browning, so there was no correlating it with a pizza. Had they called it the Lush Pileup in the fashion of other breakfast joints, it would still be a tasty meal. Save the pizza moniker for a truly crisp foundation.
Sandwiches ($6.95-$8.95) are named after friends of Sandy and Tom, giving lunch patrons The Kathy (decadent grilled cheese with local green chile cheddar), The Adam (turkey, brie and pesto wrap) and The Papa Doc (a BLT with thick bacon), to name but a few.
Despite the restrained portioning, I adored the Southwest-meets-Cobb-style Chop Salad ($6.95). Black beans, corn, turkey, bacon, avocado, corn and cilantro with a green chile dressing – how can that not be delicious? Perhaps I’ll lobby for a “full-size” version in the $10 range – not out of line with similar salads all over Albuquerque.
Even pizzas – real ones – make the menu cut. The Irminator ($5.95) is a vegetarian and vegan delight with roasted veggies and cheese made from rice milk. Those who have the most severe food restrictions could even order their Irminator with gluten-free crust. The Callan ($5.95), with green chile sausage and fresh basil, is more my cup of tea.
Because you’ve saved room for dessert, prepare your sweet tooth for Chocolate Chip Whiskey Bread Pudding ($3) served in meatloaf-thick slices under its drizzle of amber sauce. You also could construct an Ice Cream Sandwich ($3.50) out of cookies and your choice of ice cream, but I actually love the Cookies & Cream ice cream on its own – just the right amount of cookie bits to play against the creamy custard.