Pour some sugar on me, please

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Rob DeWalt I The New Mex­i­can

The clos­ing of Cloud Cliff Bak­ery and Café due to fi­nan­cial woes in spring 2008 left a res­tau­rant void in the vi­brant Sec­ond Street neigh­bor­hood. Devo­tees of the es­tab­lish­ment’s lo­cally har­vested or­ganic fare and house-baked breads and pas­tries found other haunts, but the empty café — which was in­stru­men­tal in the area’s evo­lu­tion into a bustling hub of busi­ness and art from the day it opened in 1988 — was a sad re­minder that eco­nomic forces too of­ten over­power a com­mu­nity’s love for a neigh­bor­hood gath­er­ing place.

Last Fe­bru­ary, how­ever, chef Adolfo Le­mus and his wife, Rosa — vet­er­ans of San­ta­café’s kitchen bri­gade — breathed new life into the Cloud Cliff space when they opened El Patío Café, a ca­sual New Mex­i­can/ Amer­i­can joint with an eye for hearty chile-head break­fasts and the oc­ca­sional Cen­tral Amer­i­can and Con­ti­nen­tal fa­vorite. The sparse, ca­sual dé­cor of the café’s spa­cious in­te­rior hasn’t changed much, and the youth­ful floor staff is uni­formed in bright-red threads. If you’re look­ing for your server — and you prob­a­bly will be, given a lag time be­tween fin­ish­ing your meal and re­ceiv­ing your check — the staff is easy to spot if you’re not color blind. (In fact, there seems to be a lack of ex­pe­ri­ence and sense of ur­gency among most of the floor staff, but they are gen­uinely friendly.)

A break­fast in­doors by a large, sun-bathed win­dow on a chilly mid-May morn­ing proved good, save for inat­ten­tive ser­vice. A cup of or­ganic cof­fee was pip­ing hot but took nearly 10 min­utes to hit the ta­ble. My chichar­rón (fried pork belly skin) and scram­bledegg bur­rito with black beans, “break­fast pota­toes,” ched­dar-jack cheese, and red and green chile sauces looked big enough to smother me. Two eggs were not pre­scram­bled be­fore hit­ting the heat, which left whites and yolks par­tially sep­a­rated and un­evenly heated af­ter cook­ing. Not my fa­vorite, but it seems to be the norm here. The red chile sauce was mild but earthy and smooth, while the green of­fered a slow burn and a nat­u­rally sweet, toasty fla­vor. Both were good, but the green was too thin and prac­ti­cally un­sea­soned. My part­ner’s plate of veg­e­tar­ian eggs Bene­dict with red chile hol­landaise, tomato, avo­cado, and house­made English muffins was break­fast heaven. Puffy, per­fectly poached egg-white clouds en­cas­ing slightly runny yolk; muf­fin halves of­fer­ing both crunch and a slight chew; ripe tomato; silky avo­cado; bright orange hol­landaise … Chef Le­mus nails this one. But his new­potato hash needs some love: un­der­cooked, cold red pota­toes are the Bene­dict Arnold to his out­stand­ing Bene­dict eggs. A pil­lowy side-or­der blue­berry pan­cake the size of a Fris­bee com­pen­sated for these sad pa­pas — for a price, of course.

Dur­ing a late-af­ter­noon lunch on the tree-shaded pa­tio, I wanted to sam­ple the pu­pusas (thick corn tor­tillas stuffed with cheese, beans, meat, and other in­gre­di­ents). There were none. I did, how­ever, rekin­dle my love af­fair with the hot Reuben sandwich: a gen­er­ous por­tion of quar­ter-inch-thick corned beef — curled at the edges af­ter hit­ting the grid­dle but not dry — topped with sauer­kraut, Rus­sian dress­ing, and Gruyère cheese en­cased in toasted house-baked rye bread. It was nei­ther oily nor soggy, ex­em­pli­fy­ing sandwich crafts­man­ship at its best. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing warm chipo­tle potato salad — may­on­naise-based — added a spicy re­gional twist, and the pota­toes were cooked through. A cup of sweet-corn chow­der was fla­vor­ful, al­beit luke­warm, and I won­dered why more sea­sonal lo­cal fare wasn’t hit­ting the soup cook’s prep ta­ble. A small house salad of ro­maine, mixed greens, cu­cum­ber, and carrot was un­re­mark­able but fairly priced for its size. The metal­lic taste of dried herbs over­pow­ered the blue cheese dress­ing.

My com­pan­ion’s baby spinach, but­ton mush­room, and asadero cheese que­sadilla with avo­cado was tasty, but for nine bucks, I ex­pected some­thing larger, with an orig­i­nal twist be­yond bland house-made salsa.

El Patío boasts a large pas­try case left over from the Cloud Cliff days, but on both vis­its, it was prac­ti­cally bare. A few sad-look­ing muffins were avail­able, which I con­sid­ered af­ter not be­ing asked dur­ing ei­ther visit if I cared for some­thing sweet af­ter my meal. If ser­vice is­sues are ap­proached head-on, I see no rea­son why El Patío can’t as­sume the role of its pre­de­ces­sor as a bustling neigh­bor­hood’s go-to meet­ing place.

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