Com­fort zone

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Alex Heard I For The New Mex­i­can

The Pantry has been serv­ing old-fash­ioned com­fort food at the same Cer­ril­los Road lo­ca­tion since 1948, and if you doubt its en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity, show up on a Satur­day morn­ing at 9 or 10 and get in line. Your wait might last half an hour or more — which is OK be­cause you’ll be that much hun­grier when you’re seated at one of the restau­rant’s homey wooden ta­bles.

It’s fun to eat here in part be­cause you’re con­nect­ing to a piece of Santa Fe his­tory. The Pantry was cre­ated by the late Ge­orge Eric My­ers, a World War II vet­eran who had served in the Navy Con­struc­tion Bat­tal­ion as a met­al­worker. As his 2001 obit­u­ary in The Santa Fe New Mex­i­can makes clear, My­ers was a can-do man who drew on his many skills — “tai­lor, sheet-metal worker, gas-sta­tion owner, short-or­der cook, painter, gar­dener, and block layer” — to cre­ate a restau­rant that has man­aged to en­dure decades of chang­ing tastes. Not sur­pris­ingly, The Pantry is no place for di­eters, food snobs, or quit­ters. It serves heavy por­tions off a large menu, and some of its recipes have been around for a long time. It’s fa­mous for gen­er­ous Santa Fe-style break­fasts that will con­quer your ap­petite un­til din­ner­time or the com­ple­tion of a 10-mile hike, whichever comes first.

This doesn’t mean ev­ery­thing served at The Pantry is first-rate, and I doubt the cooks are re­ally mak­ing most of their food from scratch, as the web­site im­plies. (“We have been serv­ing qual­ity fresh from scratch com­fort food for over sixty years.”) If they are, that level of sourc­ing and care didn’t shine through dur­ing two re­cent meals, both of which took place in the restau­rant’s back room, near a huge wall map of the Río Grande and Pe­cos River val­leys. Up front, there’s a smaller dining area with cozy ta­bles and stool seat­ing at a vin­tage counter.

My first trip was for break­fast, and we went all out, order­ing three sub­stan­tial egg dishes, cof­fee, or­ange juice, bis­cuits and gravy, and buttermilk pancakes. The cof­fee and OJ were typ­i­cal diner stuff, not ter­ri­ble but def­i­nitely on the weak side. One of my com­pan­ions was thrilled with his food choice: corned beef and two eggs, which he or­dered poached. This was a win­ner, fea­tur­ing a bed of spicy, skil­let­browned pota­toes, lots of corned beef, chopped scal­lions, and eggs that had been poached just right. My friend said he’ll go back specif­i­cally to have this dish again.

I tried the huevos Con­suelo, a vari­a­tion on huevos rancheros that in­volves a se­cret sauce that ap­pears to be unique to The Pantry. No­body I asked could re­mem­ber if it was in­vented by a woman from the old days named Con­suelo or if the la­bel is sup­posed to mean “com­fort eggs.” The menu of­fers no clue as to what’s in it. To me, it tasted like shrimp cock­tail sauce, with a dis­tinct hint of horse­rad­ish. I found it jar­ring paired with eggs.

The third mem­ber of our group or­dered a chile rel­leno omelet, which came with a chubby fried rel­leno in the mid­dle. This was tasty and fill­ing, though the eggs were a tad over­cooked. The buttermilk pancakes we shared tasted generic and soaked up syrup like a sponge. The bis­cuits that came with the corned beef dish were not re­ally bis­cuits at all. Bis­cuits are sup­posed to be ei­ther flaky, like pas­try, or crumbly, like a scone. Th­ese had the dense, bready tex­ture of cafe­te­ria din­ner rolls.

A sec­ond trip, for lunch, played out along sim­i­lar lines: a mix of good and so-so. I didn’t know it un­til we got there, but my com­pan­ion that day was a veg­e­tar­ian. He was able to scrape by, but The Pantry is not a wise choice if you don’t eat meat. We split a Cae­sar salad that had nice in­gre­di­ents — fresh chopped Ro­maine, plenty of grated cheese, and croutons — but suf­fered from a bland dress­ing. He liked his veg­e­tar­ian sand­wich well enough — it con­sisted of sliced sour­dough bread, Swiss cheese, let­tuce, roasted red bell pep­pers, tomato, and gua­camole — but said he wouldn’t come back to or­der it again. The tomato was pale and taste­less, and the smear of gua­camole was too skimpy to as­sert it­self.

I had a six-ounce New York strip steak with cheese en­chi­ladas. Both were fine, though the steak was, pre­dictably, fairly tough — a thin strip that had got­ten a car­bony sear­ing on a kitchen grill. The rice and beans that came with this meal were dry and dull, which seems to hap­pen all too of­ten with Santa Fe sides. The take­away: The Pantry is a good place to get full, but you shouldn’t ex­pect con­sis­tent great­ness on the plate.

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