Amuse-bouche Gourmet Today Café, reviewed; cookbook author Susan Purdy
Gourmet Today Café
410-A Old Santa Fe Trail 903-649-2128, www.gourmetinsantafe.com
Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; dinner 4:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
Vegetarian and gluten-free options Noise level: Quiet Patio dining in season No alcohol Credit cards, cash
The Short Order
Tiny Gourmet Today Café, tucked into a niche between The Pink Adobe and Río Chama Steakhouse, offers visitors and locals a break from Santa Fe’s predominantly Southwestern restaurant scene. Standard salads and sandwiches anchor the menu, but the real stars are the daily specials — well-prepared soups and entrées that meet (and sometimes exceed) the chef-owner’s “comfort food” criteria. Recommended: Broccoli and cheese soup, old-fashioned pot roast, house salad, and shrimp-stuffed avocado half with rémoulade.
T.J. Griffith is a brave woman. As a management consultant, she traveled the world teaching leadership skills in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. After a brief retirement, with absolutely no experience in the restaurant business, she took another bold step and opened Gourmet Today Café. Tucked between The Pink Adobe and Río Chama Steakhouse, the café is the perfect size for a new restaurateur, with just 16 indoor seats and the potential for another dozen or so on a patio facing Old Santa Fe Trail.
Gourmet Today’s décor is more Southern than Southwestern. The lovely white curtains are long and lacy, and there’s not a coyote, antler, Native pot, or rug to be seen. The menu does not revolve around red or green chile (although they do make an occasional appearance in the daily specials) — something that could appeal to both capsicumweary locals and tender-tongued visitors. “Good old comfort food,” prepared as much as possible with organic produce, antibiotic-free meats, and nonGMO foodstuffs, is what Gourmet Today’s website says it wants to provide, and by and large Griffith meets that goal. The menu offers special soups and entrées that change daily, bolstered by an ongoing selection of sandwiches and salads.
The always-available sandwiches include ham and cheese, roast beef, adequate but unremarkable tuna and chicken salads, and an equally acceptable but undistinguished BLT. The pimento cheese sandwich, also on the everyday list, is a bit more exotic (at least in Santa Fe). A mash-up of finely grated sharp cheddar cheese, pimentos, good mayonnaise, and a dash of hot sauce, the Southern staple can be thick enough to spread or loose enough to dip. Griffith’s version is properly salty and creamy but a bit too wet to stay within the bread — a problem easily solved with a fork.
The list of salads is brightened by a ripe avocado half stuffed with perfectly cooked shrimp, the two complemented by an excellent reddish house-made Louisiana-style rémoulade. The house salad of bright, crisp organic greens and finely diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, beets, and shredded carrots arrives dressed with Griffith’s well-balanced signature poppy-seed dressing.
Although she has taken classes at La Varenne cooking school in Paris, Griffith is basically a selftaught home cook and hostess who is perhaps at her best when she is preparing something she loves — like the soups and entrées that change daily. One week, the soups of the day included cream of potato, chicken tortilla, bean-based chili, and a very satisfying broccoli and cheese. Not as thick and gloppy as some and more flavorful than many, with shards of carrot and tiny florets visible in the golden broth, this version of the classic comfort soup tasted of chicken stock as well as milk or cream. The crunchy, salty, deeply browned house-made croutons provided the perfect textural contrast.
Griffith is proud of her cornbread, baked fresh daily, so we were puzzled when our first order was as dry and tasteless as the Chihuahuan Desert. There was much confusion and disorganization in the café that day, so it may have been popped into a warming oven and forgotten — a supposition validated on our second visit, when the wedge that appeared on our table was moist and tender, with just the right amount of structure and crumble. Southerners engage in an endless debate as to whether cornbread should be made with sugar. Be advised that this one falls on the sweeter side of the Mason-Dixon line.
The café also features one entrée per day. A spaghetti casserole, San Francisco crab quiche, and a pulled-pork BBQ sandwich were among the recent offerings. The “old-fashioned” pot roast special on our first visit was just what your grandmother might have made — if your grandmother had a deft hand in the kitchen. The beef, carrots, and potatoes were perfectly cooked, the gravy rich and savory.
The beef stew entrée sampled on another visit was less successful, perhaps because the chef and I define “classic” beef stew differently. I was expecting a variation on the pot roast — tender chunks of meat, carrots, and potato cloaked with a thick, beefy brown gravy. What appeared tasted more of the corn and tomatoes in the dish — although both beef and potato were in the mix.
House-made desserts also speak with a Southernaccent.Hummingbirdcake—rich with pineapple, bananas, and nuts — rotates with buttermilk and pecan
pies and a Texas-style chocolate sheet cake, among other choices. Apple and cherry cobblers also make frequent appearances. The butter-rich cherry cobbler topped with a very good vanilla ice cream was quite sweet, the cherries taking on an almost candied taste. The generous serving was too much for me; my dessert-loving companion cleaned her plate.
About that aforementioned confusion and disorganization: We spent close to two hours having lunch on our first visit to the café — not because we were busy chatting but because the service was slow and error-ridden; even our credit card had to be run three times. Although there were few customers present at the time, Griffith was clearly distracted — perhaps because, as she told us, she was facing hand surgery the next day.
There were more diners in the café on our second visit, and Griffith did not seem as scattered, even though her hand was wrapped in a bandage and she was working alone. Neither the orders nor the check were incorrect that day, just exceedingly slow to appear.
Most — if not all — of the service problems we encountered during our two visits could be resolved with the addition of an assistant with front- and back-of-the-house experience. With another person to help take orders, fill drinks, and assist with the plating and running of food, the dining room might run more efficiently and Griffith could take a deep breath and spend more time visiting with her guests — something she does very well.