Restaurant Review: Legal Tender
Love me Tender
By: Laurel Gladden
Published online: Friday, August 17, 2012
Appeared in: Pasateimpo
Few things taste better on a gray
3 Chiles chiles
151 Old Lamy Trail (at the Lamy Railroad & History Museum) 505-466-1650
Lunch noon-4:30 p.m., dinner 5-9 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays; brunch 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Sundays; live music and dancing 6-9 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closed Mondays-Wednesdays
Patio dining in season, Takeout available, Vegetarian options, Noise level: quiet to very lively
In short order:
Four days a week, Legal Tender
off U.S. 285 South in the tiny village of
Lamy, serves a variety of tasty snacks,
salads, sandwiches, and meaty “specialties”
such as steak and lamb. On weekends,
brunch dishes are available. The building
dates to around 1881, and Victorian details
fill the dining rooms. History buffs will get
a kick out of the railroad memorabilia. (All
net proceeds from restaurant sales benefit
the Lamy Railroad & History Museum.)
If the Santa Fe Southern sightseeing train
arrives, service might slow down, but the
ambience is laid-back and homey, and
almost everyone on staff is a volunteer,
so it’s hard to fault them. Recommended:
chicken wings, green chile stew, Cubano
sandwich, DIY burger, and mac & cheese.
*Ratings range from 0 to 4 chiles, including half chiles.
This reflects the reviewer's experience with regard
to food and drink, atmosphere, service, and value
, rainy day than green
chile stew. A couple of weeks ago, I drove some friends to
the train station in Lamy in exchange for lunch. That’s why,
in the middle of a midafternoon deluge, I found myself at
the Legal Tender restaurant, tucking into a bowl of stew
and feeling like I’d just stepped into a time machine.
The tiny village of Lamy came to life in the late 1870s
when the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad put tracks
down in New Mexico. The building housing Legal Tender,
which dates to around 1881, is Lamy’s oldest surviving
structure and is listed on the National Register of Historic
Places. It functioned as a saloon and general store until the
1950s, when it became a restaurant with the mildly racy
name The Pink Garter; cancan girls were part of the regular
entertainment. Renamed Legal Tender and later the Legal
Tender Restaurant and Saloon, the restaurant operated until
1998. The nonprofit Lamy Railroad & History Museum,
founded in 2002, moved into the building in 2006. With the
help of volunteers and with private donations, Legal Tender
reopened as a restaurant in March after a bureaucracy-
History buffs and train fanatics will get a kick out of
the railroad artifacts and memorabilia, including a large
diorama — complete with an electric train — of the rail
route around Lamy as it looked in the 1930s and ’40s.
Classic 19th-century details fill the three dining rooms: an
ornate antique cherrywood bar, chandeliers with rosy glass,
tall tin ceilings, floors of stately black-and-white tile and
floral-patterned carpeting, and a collection of 19th-century
artwork. It’s not hard to imagine cowboys playing poker at
the comfortable round wood tables.
Victorian appointments notwithstanding, the ambience is
laid-back and homey, and the service is friendly to the point
of feeling almost familial. Everyone other than the kitchen
staff is a volunteer, and all proceeds benefit the museum.
About that green chile stew: its rich, well-seasoned broth
was studded with hunks of tender pork, potato, and carrot.
Alongside the bowl was a giant brick of jalapeño corn-
bread that was dense and a little too sweet for my taste.
Still, crumble some into the spicy stew, and the sweetness
creates a nice counterpoint to the heat.
Legal Tender’s menu includes snacks, salads, sandwiches,
and meaty “specialties” such as steak and lamb, with
brunch dishes (s’mores French toast, anyone?) on weekends.
Versions of two old-school salads, the Caesar and the wedge,
are made with refreshing crisp lettuces and creamy, tangy
dressings. The charred chicken wings are meaty — and
fiery if you order the habanero sauce. They’re just what
you want with a cold pint of beer from Santa Fe Brewing
Company or Albuquerque’s Marble Brewery.
The rich, filling, and only slightly goopy crab cakes have
an excellent crab-to-breadcrumb ratio. The ziti tossed with
grated Gruyère and sautéed vegetables (squash, zucchini,
and mushrooms, mostly) was too reminiscent of the token
vegetarian dishes so many restaurants used to offer. The
kitchen makes up for that with its wildly decadent, salty,
spicy take on macaroni and cheese: a mess of ziti tossed with
bright green peas, cubes of ham (vegetarians can ask for the
dish without it), and nuggets of green chile, all slathered in
a rich, cheesy béchamel. One night’s seafood special was an
overly generous serving of ruby trout fillets atop a golden
polenta cake drizzled with a caper-butter sauce.
Come hungry — or plan to share — if you intend to order
the Cubano sandwich: thick bread stuffed with smoked
pulled pork, cheese, pickles, and plump pink ham. Or really
have it your way with the DIY burger. Start with a patty of
hearty ground New Mexico beef (or for $4 extra, Kobe-
style meat from Oregon) and add goodies of your choice for
50 cents each. Crisp, thick-cut, house-made potato chips
and either toothy, spicy-sweet baked beans or crunchy,
just-sweet-enough vinegar-based coleslaw accompany
Depending on the time of day you visit, you might have
Legal Tender all to yourself. But if the Santa Fe Southern
sightseeing train arrives, hungry tourists and families might
flood in (and you might have to wait a little longer for
attention from your server, but it’s hard to fault volunteers
for this). On one of our visits, a diner sat down at the piano
and practiced his Beethoven. On another day, we enjoyed
acoustic guitar covers of songs by everyone from Jimi
Hendrix to James Taylor. In addition to live music, Legal
Tender hosts dancing. No word yet on whether they plan
to have a cancan night.
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