NOTABLE NOSHES AROUND TOWN The fried chicken sandwich at Betterday — full of savory flavor — is better than any coffee shop sandwich has a right to be.
Notable noshes around town
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is noted for observing that “change is the only constant in life.” That could certainly be said of the restaurant business: On a regular basis, doors open and close, chefs come and go — sometimes even before a critic has a chance to pen a review — and menus get facelifts. This week, Pasatiempo takes a brief look at expansions, renovations, and additions to familiar menus in Santa Fe and noteworthy noshes worth seeking out in unexpected places. Unless you’re a regular, Betterday Coffee Shop and Kitchen (905 W. Alameda St.) might not strike you as a destination for breakfast or lunch; the urban-chic spot in the Solana Center started its life as the city’s first dispenser of the popular Stumptown Coffee and has since become a hipster outpost, offering a short menu to java addicts who prefer to plant themselves, MacBooks on laps, in one place for hours at a time. Those who have made Betterday a habit know well its gimmicky “burrito in a jar,” a rather twee takeout dish in which the contents of our favorite hand-held sustenance are arranged in colorful strata inside a Ball jar. It’s too clever by half, perhaps, but it allows you to walk away with breakfast or lunch in a reusable jar — while also avoiding the carby pitfalls of the tortilla.
Fleshing out the menu are a grass-fed-beef green chile cheeseburger and a fried chicken sandwich that’s better than any coffee shop sandwich has a right to be. Roughly the size of a tennis ball, it looks a bit modest, leafy lettuce bloomers peeking out from under a domed buttery bun. The meat is astoundingly tender and full of savory flavor, and the crust is crisp without crumbling away. A dollop of chopped roasted green chile adds a touch of pleasant hot-smoky finish, though I longed for a swath of sharp mustard. An accompanying serving of fries, russet beauties enveloped by a cloud-white paper sack, makes up for any appetite-satisfying shortfalls of the small-scale sandwich, though I’m betting those are rare.
Some eight years ago, Erin Wade opened Vinaigrette, breathing refreshing, whimsical life into the often-dismissed realm of salad, and now, at Modern General (637 Cerrillos Road) — her cheery, tony, loftlike market-café — she rejuvenates the pancake with colorful, moderately sized Modcakes, “a humble dish reinvented for the modern palate,” she says.
“If Vinny is about achieving health by eating more greens, Modern General is about the grains,” Wade has said. Plaincakes — made with white Sonoran wheat, teff, or cornmeal — are on the menu, as are alluring-sounding Sweetcakes to soothe the longings of your sweet tooth: coconut cakes with almond and lime-passion fruit curd, carrot-ginger slathered with tangy labne buttercream, and lemon cakes layered with lemon curd and raspberry compote. But if your tastes run toward the salty, as mine do, the Savorycakes will hit your sweet spot.
In a flavor profile more commonly associated with bagels, red pepper Sonoran wheat cakes are topped with an ample portion of salty-smoky lox and chive sour cream, a drizzle of red pepper syrup offering the slightest sweet counterpoint. The not-very-spicy green chile corn cakes — accented by scallions, cilantro, and mostly indiscernible Jack cheese — become a nice herby, savory breakfast or brunch with an overeasy egg crown. The Supercakes, inspired by savory Japanese okonomiyaki, are salty and sincere (kale, cabbage, and flax all in the same place at once) and slathered with a rich, dark, sticky sauce. A healthy pile of thin Italian ham and gooey melting layers of cheese make the stack of prosciutto-Robiola cakes almost too rich to eat. Almost.
Verde (851 W. San Mateo Road and 105 E. Marcy St.) got its start by specializing in juices of all sorts; personally, I’d rather chew my calories than slurp them, so I often turn to their array of salads, sandwiches, and wraps — and in the morning, Overnight Oats or granola. The filling lentil-laden Brunch Salad Bowl satisfies the legume lover, although the dressing often strikes me as overly acidic. The Santa Fe Sweet Potato Wrap, with its Anasazi beans, escabeche, and soft, mildly sweet tubers, is satisfyingly substantial and nutritionally loaded.
Meals from Verde are typically the grab-and-go sort, but now during weekday lunchtime at their San Mateo location, they offer dine-in table service, with a new, heartier addition to the menu: the Verde Juiced Burger. Made in house with sweet potatoes, black beans, juice pulp, and various grains and seeds, it’s a sturdy, pleasantly warm, and colorful patty on a no-nonsense sprouted whole-grain bun. Like many other veggie burgers, it’s not trying to fool you into thinking it’s made of meat, but it will quiet your rumbling belly all the same. I had my doubts about the spicy beet ketchup, but its earthy fruitiness and mild heat was a sprightly counterpart to the patty’s vegetal earnestness.