There is one problem with dining at Hartford Square, the stylish East Downtown neighborhood café down the street from the lofts at Albuquerque High: You want it all.
Not only the alluring baked pumpkin spice donuts and cherry and marzipan scones calling you from the entryway display case, but the pear and havarti sandwich on herb bread, conveniently available in half ($5) or full ($9) size; the charming croque madame muffin ($5), the local grass-fed sirloin hash, and the Mediterranean frittata loaded with roasted eggplant, tomato and green pepper ($6.75).
After some deep contemplation, I stroll past the counter facing the exhibition kitchen, where a young and engaged team is preparing fresh daily offerings, take a seat at a table to gaze at the Downtown skyline, sip from my mug of Michael Thomas coffee, and skim the house copy of The New York Times while listening to Miles Davis. The artful black-and-white décor expresses a beautifully coordinated, thoughtful urban sensibility that gets the day off to a brilliant start. Crafted by chef-owner Sarah Hartford, this locale is set up for quiet conversation and comfort, and as I open my laptop, I am seriously considering calling this café my office away from the office.
A decent poached egg is hard to find. They are a specialty here at Hartford Square, elegantly presented atop the savory bread pudding with spinach, sun-dried tomato and cheese ($6.75), a perfect dish for any time of day. The Hartford Square take on huevos rancheros, served at Sunday brunch, is a creative mélange of bright tomatillo salsa over poached eggs and roasted potatoes and local frijoles with a luxurious topping of crème fraîche, all built upon exquisite white corn tortillas ($11). This dish goes well with a pomegranate wine mimosa ($6.50). Even the everyday oatmeal ($6) is dressed up and served on a platter with condiments of brown sugar, milk and dried fruit. A side of maple roasted bacon ($3.75) makes it super-special.
A visit to the website at hartfordsq.com keeps you in touch with updates to the weekly menu, and Hartford Square has perfected the art of takeout, which is prepared quickly and presented beautifully wrapped. Last week, the creamy mushroom lasagna ($6 half-order; $11 full), and the lemon and lavender chicken with baby potatoes ($11) made lovely dinners to take home when paired with the refreshing chopped roasted winter salad of celeriac, Brussels sprouts, apple and kohlrabi. Salads are available as small ($5) and large ($9) servings.
Drop in anytime for a meal or a snack – a cup of deeply mushroom-infused velvety soup ($4.75), a slice of a divine streusel sour cream coffeecake ($3.75), or breakfast, served weekdays until 5 p.m. The staff is friendly, efficient and helpful, willing to accommodate special requests, without being intrusive.