How sweet it is

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Lau­rel Gladden

For a road that’s home to one of Santa Fe’s most pop­u­lar mu­se­ums, John­son Street al­ways seems re­mark­ably quiet. This can be par­tic­u­larly true in the early morn­ings, when pro­duce trucks clank over pot­holes and em­ploy­ees of the El­do­rado Ho­tel are be­gin­ning to bus­tle be­hind the scenes. The pal­try four park­ing spa­ces in front of Sweet Lily Bak­ery may still be wide open, so when you pull back the springloaded screen door on the Ter­ri­to­rial-style front porch, you’ll be sur­prised to see that sev­eral tables inside are al­ready full.

By the win­dow are busi­ness­men in starched shirts and pleated-front pants, hunched over a spread­sheet in the cen­ter of the ta­ble and mur­mur­ing gravely. At the long com­mu­nity ta­ble are sets of tony mid­dle-aged cou­ples, blow­ing on their pip­ing hot cof­fee while they pick in­sis­tently at the last crumbs of muf­fin on their shared plates. You wan­dered in un­caf­feinated, ex­pect­ing a sleepy café where you’d be in no rush to or­der, but now a gag­gle of ath­letic twen­tysome­things in hik­ing shorts, Keen wa­ter shoes, and sun­glasses se­cured by Croakies has gath­ered be­hind you in line.

You might have a muf­fin on your mind, but you might also be out of luck — lots of things dis­ap­pear quickly from the dis­play case at Sweet Lily, a bak­ery and café whose build­ing has had a bit of a re­volv­ing door lately. In 2013, it was home to Momo & Co., and then in 2014 it trans­formed into Sweet Lily un­der the pro­pri­etor­ship of Melinda Gip­son, who sold the busi­ness and her recipes to new own­ers Me­lanie and David McPher­son and Robin and Steve Print late last year. For bet­ter or worse, the dé­cor is now more pro­fes­sional than play­ful, an open, cot­tage-like space filled with clean, un­in­ter­est­ingly stylish tables and chairs. The am­bi­ence may not be ex­actly warm and wel­com­ing, but the smil­ing, at­ten­tive staff mem­bers cer­tainly are.

As I watched the last gra­nola muf­fin dis­ap­pear from the case, I re­al­ized that only two pre­made break­fast sand­wiches were left there as well. These are a combo of fluffy yel­low scram­bled egg and bright or­ange ched­dar on what’s called a green chile scone but is closer to a soft, but­tery, South­ern grand­mother’s biscuit — and I couldn’t be hap­pier about that. I also snagged a piece of vegetable quiche — with silky smooth cus­tard, pre­cise sea­son­ing, and deep green, ten­der as­para­gus — which the kitchen re­heated tem­per­ately and served with a gen­teel salad of mixed greens and grape toma­toes.

On an­other day at lunch, the lone slice of straw­ber­ryrhubarb pie — in­ci­den­tally, the only pie in the case at the time — van­ished just as we were suc­cumb­ing to its fruity-pink al­lure. While in­ves­ti­gat­ing Sweet Lily’s menu on­line, I was in­trigued and en­ticed by the no­tion of a “puff pie” stuffed with tomato, caramelized onion, and goat cheese; alas, by the time I ar­rived, only one re­mained, a muf­fin-shaped pod filled with roasted beef and mush­rooms, and it was quickly snatched up.

Toma­toes still on my mind, I turned to the Tus­cany panino, a sand­wich of moz­zarella, tomato, and basil that was mod­estly pro­por­tioned, juicy and full of sum­mery fla­vor, and served on an oddly uniden­ti­fi­able and homely round roll that had the chewy tug of a bagel. In­deed, bagel is one of the two bread choices for sand­wiches here — the other be­ing gluten-free fo­cac­cia — but no one asked for a pref­er­ence when I or­dered, so what­ever this is, it must be the de­fault. The figgy ham and cheese, also served on a roll, adds fig’s nutty-but­ter­scotch fla­vor to an oth­er­wise hum­drum combo of salty meat and mildly sharp pro­volone — and I wanted more of all of it.

More eye-catch­ing is the “drug­store” BLT, an old-school dou­ble- decker stacked high with nei­ther bagel nor fo­cac­cia but airy sand­wich bread, slices of sur­pris­ingly ripe tomato, emer­ald let­tuces, and meaty, just-thick- enough ba­con — along with a healthy slather­ing of mayo.

In Santa Fe, call­ing your soup of the day Texas chili could be ask­ing for trou­ble, but this hearty, meaty, well- spiced but only mildly spicy brick-red stew is un­likely to start any fights — ex­cept maybe who gets to sop up the last bits with the adorable poufy roll that’s served along­side.

A cup­cake with pretty pink curls atop a puff of fluffy frost­ing flirted with us from across the room. The cake had the ruby hue of red vel­vet, but its fla­vor turned out to be very vaguely straw­berry, and the frost­ing was too cold and stiff to ap­pre­ci­ate. Still, I spied other cup­cake fla­vors in the case, and I’m still dy­ing to try a tomato puff pie. Those are good enough rea­sons to take a lit­tle down­town de­tour down quiet John­son Street.

Lots of things — like break­fast sand­wiches, muffins, quiche, cup­cakes, and pie — dis­ap­pear quickly from the dis­play case at Sweet Lily.

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