Come for break­fast, stay for brunch

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Casey Sanchez

Tune-Up Café feels less like a res­tau­rant and more like the well-ap­pointed din­ing nook of an Earth-mama party host who fluffs the pil­lows of the strag­glers camped out on couches, gen­tly awakening them with the smell of freshly made ba­nana pan­cakes. With a menu that whis­pers brunch and an at­mos­phere that is ba­si­cally the adult equiv­a­lent of kinder­garten nap time, Tune-Up is a wel­com­ing den that is easy on the wal­let and gen­er­ous with its serv­ings of culi­nary sero­tonin.

Though it’s open un­til 10 p.m. ev­ery day and many lunch items ap­pear on the din­ner menu, break­fast is king, and I or­dered ac­cord­ingly. A spe­cial of chicken liver and eggs caught my eye and did not dis­ap­point. A heavy help­ing of caramelized onions, grilled jalapeños, and wilted spinach lent a spicy tang to the chicken liver, giv­ing it a taste equal parts New York deli and Deep South buf­fet. Plus, in the hip­ster Waf­fle House cook­ing style fa­vored by this joint, I got to see the cook hand my dish over the counter to the man­ager din­ing at my shared ta­ble, who nod­ded his ap­proval at the golden-brown, but­ter­fly-cut liv­ers but chided his em­ployee to toast some cia­batta for me.

The fresh-fruit stuffed French toast — a mis­nomer, since the poached pears and cran­ber­ries are la­dled on top — was a lus­cious cre­ation of pil­lowy slices of egg-and-cream bat­tered bread. There are, how­ever, some no­tice­able mis­fires. I’m look­ing at you, Huevos El Sal­vadoreños, with pale scram­bled eggs laced with pal­lid toma­toes and fla­vor­less green onions. The corned-beef hash, a sim­ple if bland grilled mix of red pota­toes, poached eggs, and corned beef, only re­deemed it­self when I called the waiter for a re­in­force­ment of smoky roasted green chile.

De­spite its pos­si­ble over­ex­po­sure on na­tional food-voyeur pro­grams like the Food Net­work’s Din­ers, Drive-Ins, and Dives, the res­tau­rant man­ages to safe­guard its lo­cal boho at­mos­phere. For ev­ery tourist driv­ing an SUV with out-of-state plates, caught off guard by their GPS and forced to U-turn into the gravel park­ing lot, there seem to be two dyed-in-the-wool Santa Feans whiling away the week­day day­light hours with omelets and ba­nana-leaf-wrapped tamales.

Like many ca­sual cafés, Tune-Up of­fers a blend of counter and ta­ble ser­vice. Or­ders and pay­ment are taken at the reg­is­ter while the wait­staff nim­bly moves its way around 10 tightly packed ta­bles. The servers are help­ful with­out be­ing cloy­ing, laid-back with­out be­ing overly aloof. Then again, in the cozy con­fines of the Hickox Street diner, staff and cus­tomers are never more than a few yards apart from one an­other.

The res­tau­rant has a siz­able se­lec­tion of bev­er­ages, cof­fees, beers, and wines, well cu­rated for the menu’s of­fer­ings. A glass of Crispin Cider, a hard ap­ple cider served with ice, proved to be an ex­cel­lent pair­ing for eggs and French toast and is a wel­come re­place­ment for that old pair of brunch war horses, the mi­mosa and the bloody mary. As for fresh juices, while it’s re­fresh­ing to see an Amer­i­can res­tau­rant dab­ble in Mex­i­can agua fres­cas, Tune-Up’s ul­tra low-sugar ver­sion of the Latin Amer­i­can sta­ple needs some work. An agua de Ja­maica (iced hibis­cus tea) was overly tart, and the le­mon­ade made me pucker.

One over­looked as­pect of Tune-Up’s menu is its se­lec­tion of gluten-free desserts. A rich co­conut cake, a mixed-berry crisp, choco­late brown­ies, and a cran­berry scone all held cen­ter stage on the dessert rack. It’s a tes­ta­ment to the qual­ity of pas­try bak­ing here that these sweets’ lack of wheat flour went largely un­ac­knowl­edged un­less asked about by a cu­ri­ous cus­tomer. The berry crisp was a pleas­ant mix of sweet and tart, its crumbly top­ping no dif­fer­ent from a tra­di­tional crisp. The cran­berry scone was sweet, and the berry taste shined through. But the baker re­ally needs to step up his game if he hopes to mimic the soft chewi­ness of tra­di­tion­ally baked goods. It’s a small over­sight, con­sid­er­ing that this hum­ble res­tau­rant man­ages to cater to spe­cial-needs eaters and the per­pet­u­ally break­fast-starved, while bal­anc­ing the de­mands of tourists and lo­cals with a menu whose items rarely break the $10 bar­rier.

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