The first two appetizers I tried at The Love Apple — a small, romantic restaurant housed in a converted Catholic chapel on the road heading north out of Taos — were as good as anything I’ve eaten in a while, and they were surprisingly simple. One was a plate of four cornbread muffins — two made with yellow cornmeal, two with blue — accompanied by tasty little blobs of honey butter and herb butter. The other was a quesadilla that contained apple, onion, asadero cheese, and blue cheese, served with a delicious chipotle orange crème fraîche.
Both were first-rate, and though I think I could mimic either one at home and get an acceptable result, deep down I know mine wouldn’t be as good. The cornbread was soft and toasty and moist in a way that’s hard to achieve consistently. The quesadilla was a perfect combination of crunchy flour tortilla, cheese, and the cooked apple and onion. Sometimes, you just have to leave it to the pros.
The Love Apple, named after a French phrase for the tomato (la pomme d’amour), was launched in 2008 by Jennifer Hart and Andrea Meyer, who were early proponents of the now-ubiquitous farm-to-table concept. On their website, where Hart and Meyer talk about their dedication to using the best regionally sourced ingredients, they sometimes sound like they’re running for office. (“We do it because it’s challenging and fun to work within parameters of integrity.”) But here’s the thing: They mean it. The site goes into detail about where The Love Apple gets its meats, cheeses, eggs, butter, flour, cornmeal, spices, and sweets, and you’re invited to come backstage and peek into their pantries and fridges. I skipped that offer, though. I didn’t want to be away from the table when the next round of food came.
The restaurant’s setting is beautiful — the old chapel was converted in a way that transformed the space for its new role while respecting its past. The dining room is long and narrow; at the end where the altar presumably used to be, a raised area houses an array of small tables. Most of the seating is below that and lines the walls — a combination of padded benches, square wood-top tables, and comfortable chairs. The interior features — white walls, a ceiling made of vigas and planks, plank flooring, recessed windows and niches — are cozied up with warm lighting, stored bottles of wine, and flowers. Outside, there’s a large patio, with a high wall that screens the restaurant from the busy road on the other side.
The menu is meatier than you might expect — the website lavishes praise on “Rick, Antonio, and John, our beef, lamb, and bison ranchers respectively” — but there are ample options for vegetarians. On a typical visit, counting variations and specials, you’ll see roughly two dozen salads, appetizers, and entrees, about half of which will work fine if you can eat dairy and eggs. (Vegans will have a pretty hard time here.) The most protein-rich offerings include grilled antelope loin, lamb meatballs (I had these, and they were yummy), and a charcuterie plate — available in two sizes — that contains tasso (a spicy Louisiana-style ham), sausage, cheese, and sourdough bread (I had this, too — ditto). But you can go lighter than that. Over the course of three visits this summer, I tried two Love Apple salads: one made of greens, fresh peach slices, pecans, and a cap of slightly browned goat cheese and one that combines raw beets, avocado, and cucumber. Both were great.
Which isn’t to say everything at The Love Apple is a winner. One appetizer we tried — grilled local oyster mushrooms — featured sliced mushrooms, bacon strips, Parmesan cheese, and a fried egg, but it was an unusual combination that didn’t mesh well together. Another dish, a baked tamale with “Oaxacan-style mole,” used a mole sauce that — for me, anyway — was too heavy on dessert spices, and it was topped with a fried egg that had been overcooked. For a restaurant that champions regionalism, the New Mexico offerings on the beer list are limited and uninspired: Marble IPA, Santa Fe Pale Ale, and Monks’ Ale.
But don’t get me wrong. The Love Apple is a special place. Fall is a good time to make the drive up from Santa Fe to check it out, and be sure to try a dessert. The last thing I ordered during two recent trips was a peach crumble with walnuts and vanilla ice cream. Remember those two appetizers I was going on about earlier? It even trumped those.