Go to hill
There are numerous artistic and historical treasures to discover on Museum Hill, from the Huichol yarn paintings at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture to multiple exhibits at the Museum of International Folk Art. It’s easy to spend an entire day getting lost in the beauty of the objects on view, and you may work up an appetite while doing so. Sure, you could pack a lunch. You could even cram your pockets full of nutrition bars, juice boxes, and gummy bears — although I have a feeling museum security may frown upon you eating them within close proximity to a rare and precious embroidered Guatemalan huipil garment.
If you want lunch on Museum Hill there is a better alternative to being banished for slathering peanut butter all over the delicate untouchables. Sandwiched between all of this art, history, and culture is a lesserknown exhibit that deserves your immediate attention: The 21st-Century Northern New Mexico Burger, Corned Beef, and Pastrami Collection. Reopened last summer after it had briefly closed, Museum Hill Café is now run by Weldon Fulton, proprietor of the Station Café in the Railyard.
A casual, colorful, airy atmosphere and bay windows that provide attractive views encourage lingering over coffee and the café’s house-made cakes or pastries. But the real reason to make the trip to this café is the kitchen’s expertise in sandwich craft.
A classic Reuben on toasted rye was stacked high with hot, juicy corned beef topped with melted Swiss cheese, warm sauerkraut, and thousand-island dressing. A small side of mixed organic greens lightly dressed with citrus-y vinaigrette minimized meat-laden guilt, although some of the more delicate lettuces were brown and wilted.
My Bonanza Creek Ranch beef burger (yes, the place where Silverado was shot is also a working ranch where Longhorn cattle are raised for slaughter) was ordered medium-rare but served medium. It was still incredibly juicy, well seasoned, and flavorful. A pillowy burger bun was toasted and warm. I opted for fries instead of a side salad, which was a mistake. The fries were undercooked and greasy — we hardly touched them. During the weekday lunch rush, with only two servers manning the near-capacity dining room and patio, having the fries redone in a timely manner seemed unlikely.
The friendly servers try hard to be attentive, but they’re spread a little thin. Burger condiments seem to be available only upon request, a service style I prefer because it reduces food waste and the possibility of sticky tables. However, constant dashes back to the kitchen by wait and bus staffers for ketchup and mustard contribute to the neglect of customers’ needs. It’s a dilemma that management should address.
Carnivores, try the Tommy’s Reubicon sandwich, a generous pile of grilled pastrami on rye with Swiss cheese, bacon, and whole-grain mustard. When I ordered it the first time, a classic Reuben arrived, but the mistake was quickly remedied. I took the sandwich with a side of greens, which were once again a bit wilted. I ordered a glass of Murphy-Goode pinot noir, but my server suggested another choice that wasn’t listed on the menu: a 2009 Chime California pinot noir — a marvelous substitution that paired well with the salty bacon, seasoned pastrami, earthy rye bread, and slightly vinegary mustard.
I tried a special on another solo lunch visit: steak tacos with avocado slices, a spicy, chunky jalapeño-avocado purée, and greens. I savored every bite of the four soft-corn tortillas filled with juicy, medium-well beef cubes and shredded cheddar cheese. When I asked what cut of steak was used, the server asked the kitchen. The reply: “shoulder.” I wish the server had been a little more specific. And that puréed chile sauce? The stuff of taco sainthood. Sadly, my greens were wilted again. A glass of Chime pinot noir was on the wine list this time, for 25 cents less than on my first visit.
Desserts are a gamble. A swipe of sweet berry jam tucked between two flourless peanut-butter cookies proved a delectable gluten-free treat to go, but a sitdown bread pudding with warm caramel sauce came to the table dry, custardless, tepid, and without the caramel sauce. Some whipped cream helped make it passably edible. Grab ’n’ go goodies at the quick-service coffee counter may be a better bang for your buck.