Olé it again, sammy
When Cathy Notarnicola and Nancy Peralta opened Café Olé in 2009 in the space formerly occupied by PD Bean, I was excited for a few reasons. It was in my neighborhood, and I had been looking for a nearby café with a friendly and comfortable atmosphere, decent takeaway, and locally roasted coffee. I have to admit, however, that I rarely visited the café before moving to the country last spring.
Olé’s décor is café/retail-eclectic, but not dizzyingly so. Books for sale line shelves on one wall, and there are packages of specialty coffees and teas on display nearby. Cushioned chairs and oilcloth-covered tables are easy to navigate, and coffee is self-serve. A bay-window view of Cerrillos Road traffic isn’t my idea of a good time, so I lost myself in the artwork adorning the café. (On my visit, it included colorful encaustic paintings by Anna Aviemore and welded-steel sculptures by Gigi Gaulin.)
Step up to the counter to order from a large and diverse chalkboard menu of salads, sandwiches, burritos, and other fare. Olé participates in the Santa Fe Farm to Restaurant project, and uses locally harvested foods whenever possible. If you’re watching calories, beware: the housemade pastries peeking out at you from the shiny glass display case may hypnotize your taste buds into ordering a cupcake with that morning coffee, which is provided by Albuquerque’s Red Rock Roasters. The Red Rock Sumatra — a smooth, forest-y bean roast with hints of dark chocolate — is my favorite at Olé, drunk piping hot and naked or cooled with a little ice and some whole milk.
One of the owners recommended I try the “Santa Fe Turkey,” as it’s called here, a regional deli/café staple of sliced turkey, avocado, bacon, mayonnaise, and roasted and diced green chiles piled onto toasted wheat bread. The ripe avocado, crisp bacon, tender turkey breast, nutty wheat bread, and mayo were in perfect proportion and balance, but there was a shortage of the New Mexicogrown chile in this sammy. I had a choice of chips or salad, and I chose potato chips. After grabbing a salad with a different dish a few days later, I regretted getting those mundane, generic-tasting chips.
I took that side salad — made with organic greens, cucumber, celery, balsamic vinaigrette (it’s the only dressing choice here, but it’s a dandy one), and ripe cherry tomatoes — with one of the best meatball sandwiches I’ve ever consumed. Two generously portioned house-made beef/pork/veal meatballs were tender and well seasoned, draped with melted whole-milk mozzarella and doing the backstroke in a small pool of subtly sweet house-made marinara sauce poured into the recesses of a crusty bollio (Mexican sandwich roll). I grabbed the sandwich to go, along with a ground beef and pinto-bean burrito with green chile sauce (New Mexico-grown chiles) for a friend.
I took one bite of the burrito and, discovering how heavenly it was, decided I needed to eat it all myself. Service note: when I asked the counterperson if the beans were refried, she said, “No, they’re whole; but I’d be happy to refry them for you.” I declined, my jaw fully dropped, feeling like I had just won the lottery. This is outstanding service, folks. It takes a while, but almost everything is prepared fresh to order. Be patient, and you’ll be rewarded.
If you’re resisting carbs, grab a meatball salad. Yes, I said salad. Smaller versions of the café’s meatballs are loaded (along with a light sprinkling of grated Italian cheese) onto organic greens with more of those ripe cherry tomatoes, cucumber, celery, and balsamic vinaigrette. The meatballs were a little dry and tepid. In the café’s defense, I ordered the dish at the drive-through and drove the 10 minutes or so back to my office. Next time, I’ll ask for the meatballs in a separate smaller container or foil to help keep them warmer and juicier.
Don’t pass up the pastries. A takeaway cherry empanada was slightly tart (how I like it) and the crust was superb, especially heated up at home for breakfast. The peach empanada was flavorful but a little soggy on the reheat, which I chalk up to excess filling. On Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to a red velvet cupcake. The moist cake had a distinct vanilla-and-buttermilk flavor, and it was a deep red hue. Olé has this red velvet thing down to a delicious science, including the cream-cheese frosting — although I think the frosting is a bit heavy-handed.
The café’s chalkboard menu is crowded and, despite its multicolor fabulousness, may be difficult for some patrons to read. There is also no food menu outside for the drive-through window, which may slow down service and aggravate patrons worried about time constraints during the lunch rush.