Sometime around September, thoughts of the holidays begin to percolate — usually about the same time that Santa decorations appear next to blow-up witches and pumpkins at the local big-box stores. Visions of all the homemade Martha-Stewart-worthy treats you are going to make (and the gratifying exclamations of delight you just know they’ll be greeted with) start to dance in your head. Suddenly it’s November, and panic sets in. There is no more time, and there are no homemade treats in sight. What to do? Relax! The students who run the Sam Steel Café on the New Mexico State University (NMSU) campus have got you covered.
Las Cruces native and two-time NMSU alum Whitney Biel is an instructor and program manager for the Sam Steel Café, housed in the NMSU Department of Family and Consumer Science. She says the idea for the café originated with Dr. Lisa McKee, and when Dr. McKee retired, Whitney “took over the legwork” and made the café a reality.Before the café came into existence, food production began in 2012 at ACES Food sat NMSU. The first product for sale was the student formulated, produced, and packaged Bhut Kickin’ Brownie Mix, a double chocolate dry mix that incorporates bhut jolokia chile. This perennial favorite can still be purchased at either the café or the Chile Pepper Institute store front on the second floor of Gerald Thomas Hall.
The Sam Steel Café retail outlet opened in 2014, and since then a slew of other student-developed treats have been added, including pies, baked goods, gelato, and coffee drinks,as well as pre-made flower arrangements and even dog treat.
For those of us looking for special holiday treats for our loved ones, Sam Steel Café pies — especially pecan — are always in high demand, and with good reason. Whitney describes the crust as thin and similar to phyllo dough. The student-developed pecan pie recipe “isn’t too sweet, with just the right amount of sugar,” and the pecans are sourced locally from Legacy Pecans (owned and operated by Heather Salopek). Other pie options are cherry, pumpkin, apple, and lime.
Whitney adds that even during cold weather, made-from-scratch gelato is also atop-selling holiday treat, and with about 70 flavors on rotation (the current list is on the website), there is something for everyone. She admits her favorite flavors are pecan pie and tres leches, but cookies-and-cream is the most popular. Other popular gelato flavors include chocolate cheesecake, chocolate chip cookie dough, and salty peanut. (Feeling decadent? Try the chocolate, caramel, and kick-of-bourbon Wobble in Your Boots flavor.)
Prices are reasonable, with pies ranging from $10 for a nine-inch pie (apple) to $15 for a pecan or lime pie or a tres leches cake. Gelato runs $12 for a half-gallon, $22 for one gallon, and $48 for three gallons. Prices don’t include tax, and give them about a week’s notice if the flavor isn’t currently on rotation.
Of course, the café is also popular with students,faculty, and staff looking for a pick-me-up in the form of coffee, tea, muffins, cookies, or Italian soda.Coffee beans are sourced locally from Picacho Coffee Roasters, and preparation options include cold brew on nitro, cappuccino, macchiato, latte, café breve (like a latte but with steamed half and half instead of milk),espresso, or a regular French press brew. Prices for drinks generally run $3.50 – $4.50 plus tax.
Sam Steel Café is open during the academic semesters from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Located off the lobby in Gerald Thomas Hall,a link to the parking map is on the Sam Steel Café webpage: aces.nmsu.edu/samsteelcafe/index.html.Either park at a metered spot on the southeast side ofthe building or print out a campus visitor’s parking permit at park.nmsu.edu/visitor/ for more options.
No time to get to campus? Call the café at 575-646-2230 or firstname.lastname@example.org to place your order with a credit card. Please order pies for Thanksgiving ASAP, and the absolute deadline is Thursday, November 21, at 4 p.m. for pickup on Friday, November 22, by 4 p.m. For December orders,call to find out the pie-ordering deadline.