Saturday, May 8, 2010

Coffee with Milk

Gallup, NM, a town of 20,000, is the commercial hub for the Navajo nation, for the Hopis whose reservation is centered within the Navajo reservation, and for the Zuni tribe, whose main pueblo lies about 25 miles to the south.

The Gallup Cultural Center includes a cinema that screens documentaries about the Southwest, changing art exhibits, and two dozen dioramas that relate the history of area native peoples, Western expansion, and the building of the railroads. In summer, there are Native American dances in the courtyard every night. (This statue at the entrance shows the remnants of an overnight snowfall.)

The 9-foot statue of a single Code Talker speaking into an Army radio, created by Navajo artist Oreland Joe of Kirtland, N.M., was commissioned by the Southwest Indian Foundation, which has operated the Center since 1996.

Angela’s Café con Leche (coffee with milk) is located on the first floor of the Gallup Cultural Center inside the restored almost century-old Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway station. The café shares the building with a Native American gift store, the Storyteller’s Museum, a Native American museum, a small theater, and, in the lobby, the waiting room for AMTRAK's twice daily (one train in each direction) historic Southwest Chief.

The small main dining room is nicely decorated with authentic photos from the past century, wood tables, old tile work, and original wooden doors. It has a comfortable but upscale atmosphere that reminds me of a ladies’ tearoom. Fortunately, Chuck is comfortable about his masculinity so the somewhat froufrou décor did not deter him from joining me for lunch.

The feminine atmosphere carries through to the abbreviated menu which leans heavily towards salads, quiche, sandwiches, and desserts. Quiche options include green chili, spinach, and bacon and all are served with a side salad for lunch or fruit for breakfast. For salads you could have: the Greek Salad with mixed greens, feta cheese, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and pepperoncini; the Chef Salad with lettuce, turkey, ham, Swiss and American cheese; the Caesar Salad with romaine lettuce, croutons, and grated Romano cheese; the Bacon and Cheddar Salad with mixed greens, tomatoes, bacon, cheddar cheese, and croutons; or the Chicken Salad (a favorite among web reviewers) with chicken, apples, and almonds served over greens.

All of these sounded light and healthy, but we both decided to order sandwiches. Chuck chose the pastrami and Swiss on marble rye with a side of potato salad while I ordered the Veggie--Swiss, American, and jack cheeses on a French roll spread with pesto with romaine, red and yellow bell pepper, cucumber, and tomato. I elected to have the soup and sandwich combo and the soup that day was a chicken gumbo.

The gumbo was not gumbo as those in Cajun country would know it. Nary a speck of roux made up this recipe. Rather, it resembled a homemade version of canned gumbo with a thin but very tasty broth base that contained chicken, okra (gumbo is a derivation of the African word for okra), onion, celery, and red bell pepper and was seasoned with black pepper and thyme. Again, not real gumbo, but a soul-satisfying soup nonetheless.

All of the ingredients in both of our sandwiches were top-notch. The veggies were crisp, the bread was fresh, and the pastrami had great brining and smoking flavor. The garlicky basil pesto on the Veggie sandwich gave it an extra boost of flavor. So what was wrong? All of the components came ice cold. Granted, the menu didn’t say that Chuck’s sandwich would be “hot pastrami” but neither did it specify “freezing pastrami.” And the three cheeses on my sandwich were so cold as to have almost no flavor.

While Angela’s Café had great intentions, the execution was just off, and so this small café only earns a 3.0 Addie rating.

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