Written on Sunday, March 21, 2010:
I’ve just finished my third meal in three days at the Plaza Cafe in Santa Fe (www.thefamousplazacafe.com), and my overriding emotion is regret that I won’t be here tomorrow for a fourth. Today I had the pleasure of sitting at the counter next to a couple in their 70’s from the Netherlands – I had ordered the green chile stew with both calabacitas and carnitas mixed in, and he leaned over to ask what sort of soup I was having. His wife was instructing him to order whatever I recommended, and I told him that I had already tried the carnitas breakfast on Friday and had the calabacitas burrito smothered in green chile for lunch on Saturday and now I was onto the green chile stew. With corn tortillas on the side.
Despite my warning that the chile was very spicy, he ordered the green chile stew exactly as I had it. She ordered the BLT, which arrived on the largest two slices of homemade bread I’ve ever seen. He tasted the stew and then looked at me, “Ahhhhh, it is sooo spicy. But very delicious, no?”
I agreed. I came to the Plaza Cafe years ago, in the 60’s, with my Aunt Margaret and my Aunt Crystell and my Cousin Susie, and I remember that the french toast was amazing then. Another time we came, when I was a young single mother, and Margaret suggested that I order the blue corn pinon pancakes. We sat in a booth on the south side of the dining room where we could see the plaza, and visited over strong black coffee in diner mugs long after the meal was done. I was newly single and lonely and overwhelmed, and she was newly widowed , and we had a lot to share. That coffee and that breakfast were enormously comforting to me, as was her presence and understanding.
I miss my Aunt Margaret and having her in Santa Fe to visit. She passed away over ten years ago, and I never go to Santa Fe without wishing she was at her house off Rodeo Road with a pot of coffee waiting for me. But I still have the Plaza Cafe and their amazing food and their eclectic atmosphere, which is a cross between a 50’s diner and a Santa Fe work of art.
I got to talk to the owner, who says his father bought the Plaza Cafe in 1937. “But the original cafe has been here for 140 years,” he told me, “And my dad put in this counter and back bar.” His name is Daniel Razatos, and on this Sunday afternoon he really doesn’t have time to talk. The place is full, and people are lined up at the door. The only reason I’m sitting down is because I’m eating alone at the counter. With my friends from the Netherlands, who have shared a basket of sopaipillas with me. When I tear off the corner and fill mine with honey, my Dutch man says, “Ah, they’re filled with air, no?” And I say, “yes. And now they’re filled with honey.” He smiles and takes a bite and sighs deeply. Obviously the concept of delicious crosses all international lines.
The Plaza Cafe is full of memories and good food. Like the rest of New Mexico. I really should stay another day and try that french toast again. But I figure if it’s been here for 140 years, it’ll be here in a month or two. . .