Counter Culture a nostalgic, yet up-to-date, experience
By Karen Peterson
For the Albuquerque Journal
April 15th, 2016
FOOD: Eclectic Americana. Beer and wine
ATMOSPHERE: Industrial mayhem
SERVICE: Order at the counter; no credit cards
Counter Culture Cafe is another of those Santa Fe places that, though they've been around a long time, have nothing to do with tourism, art or adobe and everything to do with local flavor, not to mention local sociology.
Counter Culture is decidedly post-tourism. It's off the beaten path in the industrial-residential mix-up that is Baca Street; it's housed in a steel building and it's mobbed, as often as not, with santafesinos of all persuasions, usually with their kids. Save possibly in the rare, truly between-meal hours, a serene and restful place Counter Culture is not.
Never mind. The food is very good, the service is up to the mob and the atmosphere, if noisy, is cheerful and lively. We stopped in for a weekend brunch not so long ago and enjoyed ourselves, even if thoughtful conversation was not the high point of the experience.
Standing at the counter, studying the handwritten menu and mindful of the line behind us, we quickly settled on two specials and a standard. Specials that Sunday included a pesto frittata and a Counter Culture frequent flier, lemon ricotta pancakes. We also picked a menu standard, the Middle Eastern plate. (Be forewarned: Counter Culture doesnt take credit cards.)
Our plates arrived promptly and we dug in. The frittata was odd-looking: not the bright yellow of beaten eggs, but a sort of toasty brown, thanks to the generous lacing of basil pesto. Rounds of perfectly cooked potato were embedded, adding heft to what otherwise would have been more or less a pesto omelet. It was a good, if quirky, flavor combination.
The Middle Eastern plate was excellent, as well: crispy-flaky triangles of spinach-stuffed spanakopita arrived with a wonderful large salad of mixed greens, tomato, cucumber and black olives. (The small salad accompanying the frittata was just as good.) Wedges of pita and a little hummus rounded out the sampler.
The lemon ricotta pancakes were excellent, too. Three big cakes arrived fluffy and light, and tasted very spring-like. The lemon zing was softened (and enriched) by the ricotta, there wasnt too much maple syrup and the berry garnish contributed another spring-like note.
Counter Cultures varying menu runs the gamut from the standard two-eggs-and-trimmings breakfast and breakfast burritos to green chile cheeseburgers and assorted sandwiches. Soups range from a homely split pea to more exotic Asian-influenced fare.
Dinner is adventurous, too. Fish, chicken and beef appear in various culinary styles ranging from plain American (hangar steak and mashed potatoes) to Italianate (lasagna) to Asian (curried vegetables) to what might, to persons of a certain age, be termed hippie food (grilled tofu, brown rice).
You can get enormous cinnamon rolls at Counter Culture, or huevos rancheros or achiote-marinated chicken. Likewise, you can choose your own company by bringing your own and eating at a smaller table or taking potluck at one of Counter Cultures big communal tables. Want to bring your dog and eat on the patio? You can do it here.
Not everybody will cotton to Counter Culture. But it straddles the divide between that old, small and eccentric Santa Fe and the bigger, richer and more mainstream city we now live in, complete with it's own suburbs and big-box shopping malls. A visit to Counter Culture partakes of nostalgia, certainly.
But it's an up-to-date experience, too, reflecting the sophisticated variety of influences and preoccupations (organic ingredients, local sourcing and so on) that are now our standard.