Mom’s the word
Would it be weird to say that Angel’s Bakery and Café is almost too nice for Santa Fe? I don’t mean nice in a fancy, upscale-dining sort of way. I mean that the sweet little restaurant and pastry shop — which relocated from St. Michael’s Drive to the street-level section of the former Catamount Bar & Grille — is so clean, well-lit, completely free of pretense or quirk, and peopled by courteous, considerate individuals that it kind of feels like an anomaly. With its creamy walls, bright but indirect lighting, white tablecloths, and simple porcelain plates, it’s a far cry from the dark-wood-paneled bar it replaced, which was often rowdy and usually smelled faintly like stale beer and mop water. Angel’s is the sort of place you’d take your mother and grandmother for lunch.
The food isn’t mind-blowing, but it isn’t bad, either — just generous portions of good, regular food with presentation that ranges from utilitarian to pretty (if such a thing can be said about a plate of huevos rancheros). Everything arrives at your table impressively quickly, and your water glass or coffee cup will never be empty.
Where locals once bellied up at the bar, a glowing pastry case chock-full of goodies practically radiates temptation with its oversize croissants, cinnamon rolls that are fluffy and airy and not too sweet, and various cakes. There’s a gently sweet, not overly sticky tres leches cake and an intriguing but mild rice cake, which is something like rice pudding in solid form. Beer taps have been replaced with an espresso machine and big carafes of Aroma Coffee.
Angel’s serves breakfast and lunch until 5 p.m. — that means classic morning items like eggs and pancakes but also tacos, enchiladas, burgers, salads, and sandwiches. A dish that works morning, noon, and night, my oversize plate of golden-yolked huevos rancheros was overflowing with perfectly textured and seasoned black beans, red and green chile, cheese, and hash browns, with a lovely, lively, colorful bonus garnish of sautéed onion, tomato, and jalapeño.
The breakfast burrito is the smothered sort, stuffed full of scrambled egg and topped with cheese and chile, with hash browns, beans, and a tiny fresh green salad on the side. However, everyone would benefit if the restaurant offered an easier-to-eat hand-held version with the chile, cheese, potatoes, and maybe beans inside to temper all that egg.
Both the Caesar and Greek salads start with giant chilled bowls of crisp, cool romaine. Our Caesar had just the right amount of salty, garlicky, piquant house-made dressing but a few too many croutons. A tangy, herby dressing was also precisely applied to the Greek salad, with its mild and milky feta, briny black olives, some wedges of moderately ripe tomato, and crisp strips of green bell pepper. The kitchen piles on more raw red onion than I care to eat midday, though.
Rather than the crispy beer-battered sort you’d find at a boardwalk stand in California, the fish tacos here are the fancier, healthier variety. Nuggets of well-seasoned fish are sautéed and wrapped in double corn tortillas along with fresh mixed greens and deliciously saline pink pickled onion. (The fish is very juicy, so you really might need that extra tortilla.) For extra kick, salsa and more of those black beans are served on the side. There must be a giant vat of those things bubbling on a burner in the kitchen at all times.
The menu claims the house tuna salad is “made with mayo, peas, green beans, corn, and carrots,” but I didn’t spy any of those crunchy additions in our tuna wrap — and, frankly, that’s a good thing. What we had for lunch was a perfectly acceptable mayo-based tuna salad rolled up in a typical white flatbread. Tuna salad doesn’t need to be redefined.
Also mild and unassuming but still satisfying is the turkey panini. It could stand a little more time getting toasty in the press, but the mozzarella was mostly melted into an enjoyable mess with meat, tomato slices, and lettuce. The salad we ordered on the side was an overflowing bowl of fresh greens and colorful veggies.
If your appetite is heartier, go for the pastrami burger. Yep, that’s beef topped with beef — a half-pound patty crowned with sliced peppery-smoked meat, Swiss cheese, and caramelized red onions on a sweet soft-brioche-style bun (sadly, the kitchen had run out of the green chile cheddar variety). The tawny fries were addictively salty, starchy, and crisp.
We were tempted by the nachos and chile cheese fries advertised in plastic tabletop displays, but those are foods that beg for a beer, and Angel’s doesn’t have a liquor license yet. Various parties are talking about turning the upper level back into a bar, in which case Angel’s might provide food for tipsy patrons. That sounds like a bar even my grandmother would like.