by Joanna Manganaro Toto
Nestled among the eighty-year-old pines on the northeast side of El Rey Court’s revamped motor lodge is the latest iteration of Santa Fe favorite, Opuntia Café. An outfitter tent accessorized with stylish lighting fixtures, plants, and cozy seating areas greets patrons and hotel guests with a hankering for the café’s clean but crave-able dishes and thoughtfully sourced teas. A fancy coffee machine gleams against the background of the natural canvas tent, and artisanal macramé creations hang over slatted wood tables and folding chairs. “Glamping” (a portmanteau of the words “glamorous” and “camping”) is the term Opuntia’s owners, Jeanna Gienke and Todd Spitzer, jokingly but fittingly use to describe their café residency at the El Rey, which began in mid-August and will continue through November.
Gienke and Spitzer explain that the adjacent greenhouse was a catalyst in the café’s decision to move to the new location. The owners of El Rey, close friends of Spitzer and Gienke’s, had mentioned their desire to better utilize the 1936 adobe building and the area surrounding it. When Spitzer and Gienke shared that they would be moving the café out of its original space and would have a few months of a gap between moving into a new spot at the Rail Yards, the friends mutually decided that Opuntia should camp out at El Rey for that time period. And so began Opuntia’s café residency at the hotel. Now, the once-vacant greenhouse is filled with the plants and housewares Gienke curates and provides an additional seating area for restaurant patrons.
In just a week, Spitzer, Gienke, and their team set up the café’s new digs, working closely with the City of Santa Fe to get approval on the concession tent used as their commercial kitchen. Dealing with a mobile kitchen, an outfitter tent for a coffee/tea bar, and lots of outdoor seating during an unusually rainy period in Santa Fe would give many restaurant owners pause, but Gienke and Spitzer have taken the location’s challenges in stride. They recall a recent rainy Sunday when patrons packed into the greenhouse to enjoy their meals, not allowing the weather to dampen the collective good mood. Spitzer says, “In my mind, I thought we were going to have a lot of obstacles, but it turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. … Our staff is having a blast, and our regular customers are loving it.”
From left to right: Singapore Noodle Bowl and Cardamom Rice Pudding
Opuntia’s café residency menu is a slightly abbreviated version of what it offered at its original location, with the exception of pastries and the addition of popular breakfast tacos. The fresh and spicy Singapore Noodle Bowl, the Avocado Toast, and the Cardamom Rice Pudding are among the favorites that have been carried over.
A firm date has not yet been set for Opuntia’s move to its Rail Yards location, but Gienke and Spitzer expect it to be before the end of 2019. In the meantime, they enthusiastically make plans for the new, much-larger space. A pizza oven will allow for additions to their menu, which they will make in collaboration with acclaimed chef, Kim Muller. An indoor water feature and huge skylights create opportunities for an expanded plant offering, and on-site baking equipment will be used for innovative, tea-centric dessert offerings by new baker, Kim Frick. Additionally, Gienke and Spitzer plan to host workshops at the location. “We did a lot with a little, and now we get to do a lot with a lot,” Gienke says.
Until then, Opuntia will keep on glamping, planning to make tweaks to its setup to account for the upcoming cooler weather. Spitzer says, “Opuntia is more of an idea than it is anything else, and we’re just putting it in different environments. … It blossoms differently in each environment, and I really like seeing that.”
Monday-Saturday, 8:30am-9:30pm; Sunday, 8:30am-3pm
El Rey Court, 1862 Cerrillos Rd., Santa Fe.