Night (and Day) of the Iguana
The eagerly awaited La Iguana is now open on Las Cruces’ Downtown Mall.
By Peggy Platonos
The old downtown mall in Las Cruces has a new restaurant, and, after only a month in operation, it has already been discovered and enthusiastically patronized by a surprisingly large number of people. The restaurant is called La Iguana, and it is located in the old Popular Dry Goods building on the stretch of Main Street where the Farmer's Market is held each Saturday.
La Iguana owners Michael and Mary LeBlanc catch a moment of relaxation in one of the restaurant sections that can be converted to open-air dining by raising a wall of windows like a garage door. This photo was taken from the sidewalk with the wall raised. The facade design is visible behind them. (Photo by Peggy Platonos)
Owners Michael and Mary LeBlanc operated a successful business in Maine before coming to Las Cruces in August 2009. Patrons and potential patrons of La Iguana will no doubt be delighted to hear that it was a wholesale cheesecake business that supplied 45 different types of cheesecakes to stores and restaurants in three states: Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.
"We would enter our cheesecakes in competitions, and we usually walked away with a prize or two," Michael says.
These award-winning cheesecakes will be introduced at La Iguana on Valentine's Day, and will be available thereafter for consumption on the premises or for takeout.
The restaurant is an interesting combination of styles, with elements of coffeehouse, deli and fine dining imaginatively woven together.
There is a coffee bar where a variety of different lattes, espressos and flavored teas are available, along with homemade muffins, scones, cookies and brownies. And if you like your drinks stronger, La Iguana has a beer and wine license.
There are tables with simple but sophisticated black tablecloths providing a tasteful contrast with comfortable red-backed chairs. The atmosphere is quiet and relaxed — a perfect place for a leisurely meal.
In addition to the main restaurant area, there are two sections — one on either side of the entryway — where the front walls of windows can be rolled up like garage doors for open-air dining in warm weather. Later there will be additional tables out on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.
There is a partial drop ceiling that is artistic in its quirky design, adding visual interest while improving the acoustics of the restaurant. And you can peek through a cockeyed frame on one wall to catch a glimpse of a back section that is temporarily walled off while under construction. That section will contain booths that will seat an additional 56 people, Michael says.
There is an artist's rendition of the front facade of the building, still to be constructed, that can be viewed in the restaurant. An architect created that design, but the LeBlancs designed the interior of the restaurant themselves, with Michael doing most of the construction. Woodworking is, in fact, what he expected to do after selling the cheesecake business.
"All I was going to do was work with wood, making cabinets, etcetera," Michael recalls. "But then we heard that people were working to get the old downtown area revitalized, and we caught the urge to be part of the revitalization."
The LeBlancs found the empty Popular Dry Goods building and began negotiating to lease it in October 2009. They started renovations in January 2010. And throughout the summer, as the work continued, they invited people in to look around on Saturdays when the Farmer's Market brought swarms of visitors to Main Street. By the time they opened for business on Dec. 15, they had piqued people's interest and the restaurant attracted customers immediately.
La Iguana got its name out of whim, Michael admits.
"Las Cruces has warmth, rocks, desert. Somehow the iguana brings all those things to mind. And the Organ Mountains look to me more like the back of an iguana than an organ. Anyway," he laughs, "I've always liked lizards."
The food is not particularly Southwestern in style, though green chile is an option on breakfast sandwiches, many of which are distinctly deli in style, as are the sandwiches on the lunch menu. At lunch, in addition to sandwiches on ciabatta, challah, gluten-free rolls or in wraps, there are several large, elegant salads offered, each with the option of adding chicken, spicy tofu or shrimp at additional cost.
Deli gives way to what Michael calls "casual fine dining" for dinner, with entrees ranging from Green Chile Alfredo over Penne Pasta at $12.50 to Steak Poivre at $27.50. The same selection of salad plates is offered as on the lunch menu, at the same lunchtime prices, which range from $6 (without chicken, tofu or shrimp) to $10 (with shrimp).
Gluten-free products are available, and a whole section of the kitchen is devoted exclusively to creating gluten-free meals.
"Just about everything on the menu can be made gluten-free," Michael says. "We even have a gluten-free beer. And we will do our best to accommodate people with other dietary restrictions or allergies, as well."
The LeBlancs' 32-year-old son Eric, who is the restaurant's kitchen manager, has had various food allergies throughout his life, including intolerance to gluten. "That has prompted us to offer alternatives for people with allergies," Michael explains. "We know from personal experience how hard it is for these people to find appropriate food when eating out."
The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday. Breakfast is served each day from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. On Mondays and Tuesdays, lunch is served from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., and the restaurant then closes for the day. Wednesday through Saturday, lunch is served from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Dinner is served from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. After lunch ends at 2 p.m., the restaurant remains open and cold sandwiches and salads are available until 4 p.m. in addition to the baked items at the coffee bar.
Though dinner is not usually served Monday evenings, La Iguana will be offering a special Valentine's Day dinner in two seatings on Feb. 14. The first seating will be at 5 p.m., the second at 7:30. There will be a set menu at a set price. Reservations are required.
For information, reservations and directions, call (575) 523-8550.
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