When Rene Mettler and his wife Kimberly Armstrong arrived in Taos in 1994, they imagined it was only a quick stop on their way to Sedona.
“We met Ron Cooper and he showed us this building,” Kimberly recalls, “and here we still are.”
Mettler and his wife, Kimberly Armstrong, came to Taos in after deciding to leave the corporate restaurant life which had them coming and going from Europe for years, before moving back to the States.
An artist and Master Gardener along with being an incredibly talented Chef, Rene’s Swiss Heritage drew from all three cultures that converge in that tiny State of neutrality. The Taos light captured his artist’s soul and that was that.
The two opened the Trading Post Café, a neighborhood bistro where food (mainly Italian), art and the local community all came together. Mettler’s art and that of other locals always hung on the walls.
Twenty four years later, the restaurant they opened in the old Ranchos Trading Post location (that had once been the hub of the Plaza that surrounds the iconic St. Francis de Asis church), continues to thrive and serve the community.
The Trading Post Cafe & Gallery is absolutely a Taos institution, a gathering place for locals and visitors alike who appreciate the excellent, discreet service, the fabulous and consistent menu as well as the hospitality owner Kimberly Armstrong extends to all who walk in the door.
After eight years of battling illness, and one leg amputated, when Chef Rene passed away a year and a half ago, Kimberly was torn between selling the house he had turned into a magical estate, and the restaurant, before moving on to create a new life on her own.
“I decided that since I already had a great team in place, and the restaurant was such a Taos landmark, that I would instead keep it and honor Rene by continuing to serve the food he loved and keep things the way they have always been.” The lovely and very stylish proprietress told me, between running around, bussing, waiting tables and moving furniture!
She has decided to keep his house as well, for the time being, and has also purchased the Bent Street Cafe in Town, but that’s for another story.
The Trading Post Cafe has a rich history aside from its past incarnation as a bona fide mercantile. It has been the scene of lively Cigar Dinners (during the 90’s) attended by local art luminaries including Cooper, Larry Bell, Dean Stockwell and Dennis Hopper when he was in town. Millicent Roger’s son Arturo Ramos was a regular who had his own table beside the fireplace for years. Politicians too frequented the establishment. Taos resident Donald Rumsfeld and the late Ambassador William Eagleton were both fans of Rene’s Continental cuisine. Agnes Martin and R.C Gorman’s ghosts still haunt their favourite tables!
Last Sunday Kimberly invited me to be her guest at the Trading Post’s popular brunch. I arrived at around 11.00 am and Judy Morita, who is the Sunday Brunch Hostess, greeted me with a smile and she and Kimberly found me the perfect spot to sit where I could both comfortably eat and people watch simultaneously.
Pretty soon the place began to fill up fast and furiously. I saw many regulars to the Cafe plus folks I’d never seen before. The dining rooms to either side of me were full by noon.
The food is laid out buffet style along the open-kitchen counters and on tables set below them. An incredible spread featuring poached salmon with hollandaise and a refreshing cucumber salad, a variety of salads, a make your own Caesar, Beets with Goat Cheese, a Spinach Salad with Walnuts and Grapes, a variety of cheeses, chips, salsa, queso and guacamole, an unbelievably delicious Coppino (seafood stew), along with made to order traditional breakfast offerings, granola, fruit and yogurt, rich and gooey bread puddings and a dessert platter.
The spirit of Rene aside, this is Kimberly’s forte; over the years I’ve not only eaten at the Trading Post many times, but I’ve been there for celebrations and memorials as well. During these events, it was always Kimberly who set the mood with buffet tables laden with crusty sour dough breads, pastas and paella’s. Salads and shellfish. Her ability to create a cornucopia of gastronomical abundance is second to none.
“The Sunday Brunch is all about giving back to the community,” she told me. “When I started them a year ago, after Rene died, that was my intention.”
Clearly at only $15.00 for an all you can eat spread such as this, there is no profit to be made, but Kimberly is grateful for the loyal local following that has kept her here in Taos for almost a quarter of a Century.
“I love doing this,” she smiled as she left to clear a table and seat yet another party.
This (Easter) Sunday, The Trading Post’s Brunch will feature traditional Easter Foods along with all the favourites. There are fabulous (Wine-based) cocktails to enjoy with your repast and I noticed many people dressed up in their Sunday finest, perhaps coming in to eat after attending church services.
The Brunch runs from 10 -2pm. For more information on the Trading Post Cafe & Gallery, please visit their site linked below. And do inquire about other Special Events at the Trading Post. The weekly Wine Down and the Mangia Festa are equally incredible value for your money.
All photos (of Kimberly, Judy and the food) taken on my iphone