Michael Gonzales is a true perfectionist.
Ninety-ninth visit: March 6, 2017
First visit: August 10, 2012
Nothing prepared by Michael Gonzales
at Cafe Bella Coffee is less than perfect.
There. I’ve said it.
There are chains like Starbucks, Satellite, Krispy Kreme, and Badass, among others. These serve coffee that is inferior to that served up at the really good places, like Grove Café & Market, Golden Crown Panaderia, Cafe Giuseppe Espresso, Michael Thomas Coffee, Napoli Coffee, and now Cafe Bella Coffee. I am not a coffee expert, but Andrea Lin is, so ask her for more recommendations.
Cafe Bella Coffee is the brainchild and dream come rue of Michael Gonzales, a classically trained chef,nonstop talker, and coffee freak. He knows coffee. And tea, too. Bella has become somewhat of a community center for artists, musicians (there is often live music on some evenings—watch the Facebook page), car collectors, and whomever loves coffee, delicious panini,, and good conversation. You know. A coffee house. I grew up in coffee houses, as did many of you.
Cafe Bella Coffee on the New Mexico Style Show , with Nikki Stanzione.
KASA – Nikki is joined by Cafe Bella Coffee’s Michael Gonzales to talk about the coffee and food that they serve, as well as about their partnership with the Rio Rancho Art Association. Michael also makes a delicious Grilled Apple Panini.
“The coffee served at Cafe Bella Coffee is single source locally micro roasted specialty coffee. We offer a rotating selection of coffees from around the globe for our daily drip coffee. We rotate coffee that is ordered in a 14 day supply. This way we are able to expose our drip coffee customers to a wide range of amazing flavor notes and tones. Customers enjoy tasting and talking about the different characteristics of the drip coffee we offer. We carry at any time 2-4 different coffees and sell whole bean by the 1/2 and 1lb. We are happy to offer professional grinding if needed.
“Our espresso is our only blend that has been created to maximize our equipment capabilities delivery that wonderful crema in every shot we serve. Comprised of no less than 4 single source beans from around the world our signature espresso is a favorite of our customers.
“Our decaf is Fair Trade Organic and is decaffeinated by mountain water steam process resulting in a less dry or “musty” decaf with excellent aroma and flavor profile. If we did not tell you it was decaf you may not know.
“We do not offer a French Roast, we feel the darker french roasts tend to rob artisan beans of their natural flavors. Dark French Roast is used often in the commodity coffee market as an aid to mask impurities or age. Many people can experience coffee after breath, upset stomach, headaches and bitter after taste which is often be associated with the carbon properties in French Roast coffee.”
Check out the Coffee Menu. You will not get better coffee anywhere in the Duke City.
Watch the KASA video featuring Nikki and Michael. You will begin to understand his passion for food. He makes an apple panini right before your eyes. I could almost taste it.
Last Wednesday Michael asked me when I would be coming up for lunch. I replied that I would as soon as I could find a ride (I don’t see well enough to drive), and he offered to send someone to get me. I replied that I would get a ride from a beautiful blonde, and arranged that for the next day. Linda, one of my newest old friends, is sitting in the middle of the panorama photo at the top of this review.
Slow Smoked Carne Panini.
We Nuevo Mexicanos are accustomed to having Carne Adovada slow cooked in red chile, but this panini was filled with pork, baby field greens, mozzarella cheese, and a juicy mayo-based sauce and expertly grilled on the press until the cheese hit that just melted liquid state. This is by no means a dry panini, but five paper napkin sloppy. The fillings exploded onto my taste buds. Best panini I have ever had. Anyplace.
Michael tries to partner with local restaurants. He gets the carne from Gary West’s Smokehouse BBQ in Rio Rancho. Excellent choice: Gary construchs what I think is the very best BBQ in the area.
On another day, Michael created a similar Carne Panini, but this time on Pita put through the panini press. Fabulous. Michael also brewed up a Cuban-like coffee drink for me: Two shots of his special espresso with some granulated cane sugar were put in the extractor basket, and the resulting beverage is among the very best I have ever had. Anyplace. Great lunch.
Linda, my beautiful blonde companion, is not a pork fan, so Michael built her a sliced turkey panini with baby field greens and the same mozzarella treatment. I have not seen such a look of sheer delight on her face before, and we have shared many meals together. Best that she has ever had, too. Two Best in show dishes so far.
Carne Adovada Panini Revisited
Michael’s carne supplier (Gary West of Rio Rancho’s Smokehouse, now closed) has moved to Hawaii. Undaunted, Michael now makes his own, slow and long. The carne, greens, balsamic, and fresh mozzarella are stacked between a thinly sliced focaccia (made by Davido’s Pizza) and expertly grilled on the press. This is likely the best sandwich I have had in the Duke City. A perfect blend of the freshest ingredients, the first bite elicited an OMG. My companion, Deanell, had the same reaction.
This sandwich deserves a brilliancy prize.
Espresso Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie
Michael thought that we needed something sweet to end the lunch with, so he brought us this brownie to share. One of my all-time favorite candies is the venerable Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (yours too?). Add a hint of chopped nuts and some powdered espresso, and you have this amazing brownie. If the panini were Best in Show, the brownie was Best of Best in Show for the whole year. My mouth is watering as I write these words. OMG!
Oh yeah — my latte was perfect as was Linda’s Earl Grey. The Earl Grey blend is named after the 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s and author of the Reform Bill of 1832, who reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic perquisite, of tea flavored with bergamot oil. Bergamot orange is a small citrus tree that blossoms during the winter and is grown commercially in Italy. It is likely a hybrid of Citrus limetta and Citrus aurantium. The tea at Bells is very heavily infused with this delicious oil. This is the real stuff, not that Twinings crap. Good choice.
Thanks for the nudge, Michael. Linda and I will be back after a few sessions at Defined Fitness. This was a perfect lunch. If you haven’t yet gone to Cafe Bella, listen to Old Larry. Go. Now.
What others are saying
Gil Garduño — New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite
“Admittedly this techie is a relative neophyte to the lure of the coffee sirens. Only in the past ten years or so have I rekindled my appreciation and love for the nuanced depth of flavors conferred by this stimulating and satisfying elixir. Few things in life have become as pleasurable to me as the tantalizing aroma of fresh coffee beans followed by the soul-warming, palate-pleasing flavors of a rich, gourmet blend. As an adventurous voluptuary, it also pleases me to no end that coffee actually has almost twice as many flavor-characteristics discernible by human senses than wine does (take that, oenophiles).
“The quality is telling in some of the very best coffee you’ll find in New Mexico. A simple cafe au lait (drip coffee with steamed milk) practically had me cursing the acerbic qualities of the unnamed and ubiquitous industry leader. Cafe au lait, which has been described as the French version of a latte, is a doubly-strong coffee (especially in New Orleans where chicory is added), but as Cafe Bella proved to me, strong doesn’t have to be bitter or caustic. Made from beans grown in Honduras, the cafe au lait was smooth, delicate and rich with slightly sweet notes.”