How Breakfast at a California Marie Callander’s Led to Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe for Dinner

Palace of the Governors, Wikipedia Commons

Still new to each other, I met Clif for breakfast at the local Marie Callander’s after buttoning up the final days of the 1986 Antelope Valley Fair in Lancaster, Ca. 

“What do you do now that the fair is closed for the season?” he asked.

“I take a two week vacation from everything,” I answered. Grasping the white cup of fresh coffee as if it were some sacred potion, I explained, “It’s Santa Fe, NM, this year. After working with some of this year’s entertainers, they sparked up my interest in the town. I’ve never been there before.”

“Why Santa Fe?” he asked.

1986 with Stevie Ray Vaughn, both of us in a Santa Fe mood.

“Well, I just finished a biography on the artist Georgia O’Keeffe, known for her artistic take on New Mexico. There are tons of historic sites to explore. I’ve always wanted to see the cliff dwellings and ancient Pueblo sites. Besides, after spending several hours in the emergency room with the drummer for Double Trouble, (Stevie Ray Vaughn’s band), * Chris, he really sold me on Santa Fe.

“Are you going with someone?” Clif asked.

“Nope. It’s a solo adventure.”

As if I had knocked over my coffee cup, an awkward silence spread across the table.

“Do you always take trips like that by yourself? Do you think that’s a safe thing to do?

“I’m very capable on my own?” I snapped back.

“Whoa, whoa, I didn’t mean that as an insult.”

“Well, would you like to go with me?” I asked, thinking that it would be nice to explore New Mexico with a healthy friend.

At September’s end, Southwest Airlines deposited Clif and I at the Albuquerque International Sunport. We tossed our luggage in a blue rental car that resembled a blue roller skate. I captained the wheel and headed north on Interstate 25 for Santa Fe. True to the title of tourists, we dumped our luggage in the hotel room, and headed for the Santa Fe Plaza. Within a half hour we were in sensory overload. Sand colored adobe and grey stone historic buildings rested beneath towering cottonwoods dangling gold tinged leaves in the autumn breeze; Native American art sellers showed their artistry and crafts on woolen blankets spread over a stone walkway under an aged portal at the Palace of the Governors; park benches for weary shoppers and travelers to simply sit and people watch as they traversed the worn grass squared plaza; an ice cream shop across the street, next to a pastry shop lured even the most diet-conscious soul to visit; wafts of pinon burning in in kiva fireplaces; and restaurants tempted anyone’s senses to come alive. 

The Ore House restaurant set on the second floor above a curio shop across from the Plaza, called out to us. Yes to a freshly made margarita, yes to the Ore House filet, yes to the wickedly delicious-inspired creme brûlée and yes to a Mexican coffee. 

Satiated beyond our limits and adjusting to the high altitude, we headed back to our room and fell fast asleep to the local news station promoting the up-coming Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

Day two in Santa Fe introduced us to new words and meanings like being asked if we wanted red or green with that order of food, and the short-cut answer being Christmas please. How about Indian Tacos served on fresh fry bread; blue corn pancakes for breakfast; sopaipillas with honey to tame the pallet after a plate of hot chili sauce over anything, everything; and  posole—a cool weather must have.  

My travelers diary marked Coyote Cafe the epicenter of the Southwest Cuisine movement,  as one of my must do eateries while in Santa Fe. It was everything I ever dreamed of in a magical meal. To think that meeting a new man for breakfast a Marie Callendar’s in Lancaster. Ca, would bring us to the foodie haunt on a side street in downtown Santa Fe. And who knew back in 1986 when my youngest daughter was still enthralled with nothing but Kraft Mac & Cheese, and sweets, would one day become the internationally known restaurant’s executive chef!

Fate has its ways, doesn’t it?

  • Chris Layton was coming down with a bad case of the flu on the day of the band’s AV Fair performance. The band’s manager, with whom I had developed a friendship over the last few weeks, asked if I could get the band’s drummer over to the hospital for a B-12 shot. The ER was full to the brim (typical of fair time), and regardless of Layton’s fame as the drummer for star-studded Stevie Ray Vaughn blues guitar master, I couldn’t get him pushed up the wait line. So we spent at a minimum of two hours chatting about life. He was a very nice man.

—An outtake from my current work in progress.

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