How sweet it is
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.