Have you ever noticed how sometimes you drive past a business without giving it any thought at all and other times your curiosity is immediately, or perhaps over time, peaked. When you travel on Hwy. 68, the “low road” from Santa Fe to Taos you pass Embudo Station which is located on the banks of the Rio Grande, and this is one of those places that I had always wondered about. I had not expected that it would be anything exceptional but it seemed to hold some kind of secret from the past.
I am now letting out a secret about its newest incarnation…Embudo Station reopened on May 9 and it is an inspiring example of a sustainable, farm to table restaurant. The co-owners Alana Banner and John Cox, also a chef, have made a deep commitment to using New Mexican products that are sustainably produced. About 90-95% of the products used are local from within the state or southern Colorado. The produce is bio-dynamic or organic, as well most of the other products that are used.
Chef John’s commitment to local and sustainable is nothing new for him. When he had first arrived at the Hotel Hana Maui some years ago he was surprised to find that so many ingredients came from the mainland. One of his goals was to change this and within a year rice and flour were the only products coming from outside the islands. John was also the chef at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sir, California. Now back to his roots in Northern New Mexico he is cooking up magic along the Rio Grande showcasing the bounty that is found here.
While Alana is usually at Embudo Station handling the daily responsibilities she has more than capable help with Rob Dejka in the kitchen and Mackenzie Holland in the front of the house. Rob was a huge part of the menu design and is responsible for the daily kitchen responsibilities. He had worked with John in both Santa Fe and Hawaii before Embudo Station became a reality. Mackenzie had also worked with Alana and John in Santa Fe. This is a tight knit and committed team.
Much of the produce comes from Red Mountain Farm in Abiquiu, the chiles are from just up the road in Dixon and a few vegetables and herbs come from the small garden just steps away from the kitchen. The beer and wine list is all New Mexican. Black Mesa, Vivac and La Chiripada wineries are even nearby if you want to visit them after tasting their wines. Even the labels for the house wines were designed by Taos artists Amy Cordoba and Dan Enger. I must confess I was a skeptic as far as New Mexican wines go, but I have been pleasantly surprised again and again. New Mexico was actually the first area to harvest grapes for wine in the U.S., long before California. Beers on tap are from Santa Fe Brewery and Turtle Mountain, in Rio Rancho, plus you will find a few varieties from Rio Grande Brewery.
What about the end product of all this local food? You will find a menu of classic American comfort food like Burgers, Ribs, a Meatloaf Sandwich, as well as Macaroni and Cheese and Mashed Potatoes. But these are far from typical in their preparation or presentation. The beef is an heirloom variety called La Corriente, it was the first, and only breed of cattle brought to New Mexico by Spaniards in the 1400’s. Until the 1800’s this was the only breed of cattle in the region until other European breeds replaced them. Over the last 200 years they became a wild breed so they are especially resistant to disease and they are adept at foraging so they need little if any outside food sources…a truly natural, healthy choice.
There are also a few southwestern dishes including Tierra Amarilla Lamb Tacos served with fresh pico de gallo and habanero mango chutney, and also Classic Nachos. The green chile polenta sounds really good, especially with the chill of fall approaching, and it is on my list of items to try on my next visit. Everything that I ate was really delicious, and was a reminder of how food is supposed to taste…full of flavor. The deserts are also made on site and one of the servers doubles as the pastry chef; when you go you will have to guess who is doing double duty.
The beauty of Embudo Station is that it will be a destination for many choosing, and supporting, a local, farm to table restaurant where you can enjoy classic American food but with clean, fresh, quality ingredients…no corporate or industrial farm products can be found here. At the same time it is also just a stop along the road for many who have no idea what sort of place they are entering. I saw many of these folks there enjoying their meals sitting along the Rio Grande or waiting for the entertainment to begin. Once seated they are given an explanation about the products used and where they come from…and what a great way to educate the public that ‘good for you, the environment and the community’ also tastes great. I really believe that a lot of people have just forgotten what real food tastes like and once they experience it again they will start to shop for it and demand it. At least I hope so.
Just to add a bit of history….Embudo Station was in fact a train station, first opened in 1881. It was a stop on the ‘Chili Line’ from Santa Fe to Taos and many of the buildings on the property date back to this time. Even the water tower that was used for the steam engines still stands. Many of the locals have antique souvenirs from when the line was stopped and the tracks removed. Linger long enough and maybe you will be invited to see some.
There is also a coffee house with a gallery on the property and there is live music on Saturdays from 5-8:30 and Sundays 12-4:30.
The restaurant will close for the winter, January through March, but the coffee house will remain open with an expanded menu. So when you are headed from Santa Fe to Taos, or vice versa, make a stop and visit Embudo Station I think that you will be in for a delicious surprise. If John is around ask if he will show you the amazing quartz house on the property. Hopefully one day we will even be able to enjoy a meal in this relic of the past.
Embudo Station is located on Hwy 68 25 miles south of Taos and 41 miles north of Santa Fe
Restaurant open Thursday-Monday 11am – 8pm
Coffee Shop and Gallery Open 7 days per week – 7am – 4pm