Dulce - and its new owner - ready to give your oven a little relief
Dulce has a new owner, but its Thanksgiving mission is the same: Provide holiday cooking relief, one pie at a time
On Thanksgiving, your oven is full. This can be a problem. Most of the time, one oven is plenty for the average human family group, adequate for a roast or casserole or chicken with, if you like, a second dish on top for roasted potatoes or something. But when the pilgrims and the Native Americans got together to Pinterest the ideal Thanksgiving menu, clearly they had one of those houses with two ovens in mind. You’re serving five or six dishes, and everything has to get baked or roasted at more or less the same time at different temperatures. Heaven forfend a friend brings over something that needs to be “kept warm.” And you could bake your desserts the day before, but you’re shopping for last-minute ingredients, ironing your pants, prepping your stuffing and cleaning your house.
However, the place you stop to get your cardamom coffee cake or daily croissant is, this time of year, going into holiday overload mode, the bakers rolling up their flour-covered sleeves and gearing up to bake off whole pies and cakes for people’s holiday get-togethers. Particularly if that place is Dulce bakery on Cordova Road. Dulce is not exactly a “hidden” gem — this minimalist cafe with its bewildering panoply of decadent baked goods has a devoted following. But even if you frequent the place, you may not know — and probably wouldn’t have noticed — that Dulce recently has come under new ownership. Keith Maestas, longtime Santa Fean and newbie restaurant owner, very quietly took over the helm at Dulce about three months ago.
“I worked for a financial services company in Santa Fe for 15 years, and I felt like I needed to make a change — for health reasons more than anything else,” he says. “I was sedentary. I wasn’t on my feet. I was looking at a computer, looking at spreadsheets. Analyzing information for the company. It was a terrific job, but I’d been looking at that for 15 years there and another nine years before that, so 24 years of sitting around. … What’s impressive is how quickly the days go in restaurant work.”
Dulce is actually Maestas’ second foray into restaurant ownership — he bought plant-based, mostly vegan, clean-eating haven Rasa Juice in June, straddling the full spectrum between virtuous health food and naughty pastry. But the lifestyle factor is not what’s important to Maestas — it’s the quality of the product.
“I was looking to make my own sort of investments into businesses I wanted to get into. If the product wasn’t excellent, there was no good reason to buy something,” he says. Maestas was a regular at Dulce, which was near his home and opened early enough for him to grab a scone and a coffee before getting to his desk job.
“Before I was an owner, I’d always come by. I lived around the corner. I’d get a turkey sandwich and take it home. It was one of the best turkey sandwiches I ever had.”
Though the guard has changed, the ganache has not. Dulce retained the same baking staff, recipes and dedication to flakiness and crumbiness (good traits only when used to describe a bakery).
“We’re making sure that we’re doing everything we can do to make it the exact same experience,” Maestas says. “There’s an expected experience, and I don’t want to mess with that.”
And that includes the desserts, which you can preorder, that Dulce’s sugar-dusted baking elves churn out as the holidays approach. Dulce is known for its gorgeous cupcakes, croissants, giant muffins and theatrically high, New York-style cakes, but somehow cake does not have the same Thanksgiving lumberjack-cuisine cache as pie, so this time of year Dulce offers a suite of whole pies that you can pick up and lie to your relatives about having baked. Dulce has apple, naturally, and pumpkin, or you can go a bit more exotic and get their “Crimson Pie,” which is a bit like cranberry sauce turned into a dessert.
“Crimson Pie is a mixed-berry pie that features cranberry,” Maestas says. “It’s a cold-weather tart pie. As the seasons go on, our tart fruits are very ephemeral. A cherry is not going to last into fall.
We don’t want to do frozen fruit or out-of-season frozen fruit.”
If you want something more decadent, go for pecan pie, or even its chocolate cream pie, which is an unholy three-way marriage of pie, cake and pot de creme.
“It’s [an inch and a half] of chocolate cream in a chocolate cake crust,” Maestas says. “We take our cake ends and make our crust out of that, and then top it with whipped cream.”
And if you want pie for dinner as well as for dessert, Dulce makes eight varieties of quiche every day, like quiche Lorraine, bacon potato, broccoli mushroom, spinach and feta, chicken sausage, cauliflower or zucchini, and is a great way to wedge (ha ha!) a vegetable side dish into the fairly carb-centric meal that is Thanksgiving. It’s also the perfect thing to bring to all those potlucks you’ve been invited to.
You also can order whole cheesecakes, including Dulce’s season-appropriate pumpkin cheesecake, or whole loaves of its popular pumpkin bread (it comes in mini-loaves, too, but unless you’re not planning on sharing, why bother?). And to save your oven one more thing, Dulce will even bake your dinner rolls for you.
As for Maestas, this will be his first holiday as a bakery owner, so the flood of pies is something he has, as yet, only dreamed of. Dulce asks that you preorder at least two days in advance. They will be closed Thanksgiving, so be sure to get your orders in by Monday for pickup Wednesday. And during those two days, Maestas will be lucky if he gets to sit down at all.
“I haven’t experienced it yet,” Maestas says. “But I’ve heard stories.”
Angela Evans pulls a tray of freshly baked pumpkin pies out of the oven Tuesday at Dulce.
Keith Maestas took over as owner at Dulce about three months ago.
Angela Evans prepares crusts for pumpkin pie.