Sunday, May 30, 2010

Great Breakfast,

No Toast.

A number of years ago, our friend Tom drove from Albuquerque to Santa Fe along a road west of I-25. During that drive, he stopped at a small restaurant and had what he claims are the best blue corn pancakes ever. Unfortunately, he can’t remember either the restaurant’s name or location. So everywhere we go in this area, we ask people if they know of a place serving great blue corn pancakes. Everyone we asked here in Santa Fe responded with “Tecolate.”

“When Bill and Alice Jennison opened Tecolote in 1980, they did so with a sense of mission. Their goal was…‘to serve a wholesome, tasty meal, at a reasonable price, in a comfortable and cheerful environment.’…the Jennison's specialty, and the distinction of Tecolote, is breakfast. Lines of morning customers waiting to get in are testimony to their fulfill-ment of the mission. This sprawling roadhouse serves some of the tastiest breakfast in the South-west,” noted Michael Stern (from the Roadfood web site). Regrettably, Bill Jennison died in mid-May, but the family plans to continue the business.

There is nothing about the restaurant that would lead you to believe this is a break-fast mecca. In fact, even if you noticed it, you might not be inclined to enter. But there are all of those cars in the lot.

Inside, the restaurant’s décor is what I call “minimal decora-tion.”

There are a few artworks on the walls and the chairs are of the institutional stack variety.

The breakfast menu included the standard diner choices. But there was a fairly long list of New Mexico breakfast classics. One could chose from: the Breakfast Burrito—eggs scrambled with ham, bacon, or sausage, rolled in a flour tortilla, and topped with red or green chile and melted cheddar with a choice of beans, posole, or potatoes; the Huevos Rancheros—two eggs any style on a corn tortilla, smothered in red or green chile with cheese on request and a choice of beans, posole, or potatoes; the Huevos Yucatecos—a corn tortilla layered with black beans, two eggs any style, green chile, Swiss and feta cheese, and pico de gallo, and surrounded with fried bananas with a choice of beans, posole, or potatoes; Carne Y Huevos—a serving of lean pork cooked in a blend of red chiles with two eggs any style and potatoes; the Chicken Livers Tecolote—chicken livers sauteéd with salsa fresca and served with two eggs any style and potatoes.

I was really intrigued by the chicken livers, but finally ordered the Sheepherder’s Breakfast—boiled new red potatoes, jalapeño, and onion that has been browned on the grill, then topped with red and green chile, melted cheddar, and two eggs any style. With this came my choice of either a flour tortilla or the pastry basket ("Great Breakfast, No Toast," just as the menu cover states).

First, I didn’t detect much browning of the potatoes, onion, and pepper. Second, Tecolate cooks with almost no salt and the entire dish tasted bland. A modest sprinkling on the last few bites certainly perked up the flavor. Third, the green chile was very good and the red chile was very, very good. The biscuit in the basket was o.k., but the green chile corn muffin was remarkable and had the kind of crusty sides that come from baking in a well-oiled cast iron pan.

I had also been intrigued by the café’s French toast selections. For bread, you could choose from orange poppy, cinnamon raisin, honey almond oat, honey wheat, honey blue corn, or fresh French (plain). Hot cakes came as Melba (peach and raspberry sauce), Tollhouse (chocolate chips and walnuts), strawberry, or atolé piñon (in New Mexico, blue corn atole is finely ground cornmeal toasted for cooking). These were Tecolate’s famous blue corn pancakes and Chuck’s breakfast choice, along with a side of home fries.

When we went to breakfast with the same friend I mentioned in the first paragraph, Tom would joke that Chuck was the only person he knew who would order potatoes with pancakes. Upon presentation, these potatoes had possibilities. They looked to have been sliced on the thinnest setting of a mandolin and to have a crisp crust. Alas, the rest of the potato slices were unevenly cooked, thus spoiling what could have been a top-rate plate of home fries. The pancakes were good but not great, and Chuck detected the dreaded taste of baking soda, although I didn’t. The piñon nuts added texture, but I thought the kitchen was a little light on the nuts.

We still haven’t found Tom’s restaurant, but we’ll keep asking. As for Tecolate, we only give it a 3.5 Addie rating.

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