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Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Never mind the signage.  This is the home of Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho

Imagine a world without sandwiches! That daunting premise would make a pretty fatalistic post-apocalyptic movie in which Dystopian societies exist in a nightmare of deprivation, hopelessness, terror and processed food rations (Soylent Green anyone?).  No sandwiches–it’s just too incomprehensible to imagine, especially considering everywhere you turn there’s another Subway.  Frankly, my own post-apocalyptic nightmare would be a world in which Subway and other restaurants of that ilk are the only option for sandwiches.  Like the indestructible roach, chain restaurants would survive even a nuclear cataclysm.

Alas, my personal post-apocalyptic hell is closer to reality than you might suspect.  CHD Expert, the worldwide leader in collecting, managing and analyzing food service industry data reports that the sacrosanct sandwich, one of America’s iconic foods, is dominated by chains.  It’s not even close.  A bleak analysis indicates chains account for 90.4 percent of the sandwich market landscape while independent sandwich restaurants represent only 9.6 percent.  That type of dominance hasn’t been experienced since Mike Locksley coached the UNM Lobo football team.

The counter at which you order. Notice the large neophrine sandwich hanging overhead

CHD Expert’s analysis reveals that Subway is the “largest chain restaurant in America in terms of number of locations with over 26,000 units.”  Beyond the fruited plain there are over 10,000 Subway restaurants operating in more than 100 countries.  Subway ranks behind only McDonald’s (18,710) and KFC (11,798) among the ten most prolific fast food chains in the world.  Lest you fall for Subway’s Madison Avenue propaganda about its healthful menu, in 2010 the sandwich behemoth earned a rather dubious honor (is it any wonder I fear the white and yellow logo).   

Knowing all of these facts, perhaps the premise with which I began this essay should be rewritten to “imagine a world without independent sandwich restaurants.”  Let’s make it even easier to imagine by limiting that premise to sandwich restaurants specializing in subs.  At the risk of sounding gloomy, that world may soon be here…at least in the Duke City.  Think about it.  How many independent, mom-and-pop sub sandwich restaurants can you name in the Duke City area?  There aren’t many, folks. 

Meatball Parm Sub

When a new, independent, mom-and-pop sub sandwich restaurant opens its doors, it’s an event warranting a celebration.  Heck, when you pass by an independent mom-and-pop sandwich shop, a snappy salute should immediately be followed by a U-turn and visit.  April, 2011 saw the launch of L.A. Subs in a nondescript strip shopping center on Golf Course Road in Rio Rancho.  The initials L.A. didn’t represent the City of Angels, but rather the first names of owner Linda (L) Lorens-Martin and her mother Ann (A).  It wasn’t easily visible from the street and only simple signage told you it existed.

Despite its obfuscated location and virtually no advertising, L.A. Subs acquired a pretty significant and loyal clientele.  It wasn’t even listed on Urbanspoon until months had elapsed after its opening.  Visitors learned about it solely through word of mouth from satisfied customers.  You got the impression that’s the way Linda wanted it.  Her menu, scrawled by marker on a white board, was hardly a compendium of every sub sandwich and side conceivable, listing only a handful of subs, sandwiches and salads.  Specials of the day were listed on a smaller white board behind the counter at which you place your order.  Suspended behind that counter is a gigantic neoprene sub sandwich, a depiction so accurate it may make your mouth water.

Steak and Cheese Sub

Two years later, word on the street was of a merger between L.A. Subs and a newcomer named Alicea’s N.Y. Bagels, a bi-coastal sounding operation if ever there was one.  In addition to the subs with which City of Vision residents had fallen in love, they could now get fresh, New York-style bagels (and isn’t Rio Rancho often referred to as “Little New York?”) and fresh coffee.  Today, external signage still reads “L.A. Subs” but all other references for the 1,200 square-foot sub restaurant indicate it’s “Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs.”  

Alicea is Frenchy Alicea, a Connecticut native who relocated to Rio Rancho with Hewlett-Packard (HP).  Although HP offered to move Frenchy to its operations in Georgia, he had already established roots in the Rio Rancho community and decided to stay.  Besides, he wanted to transition out of his engineering career into a culinary career and in his spare time had already been working with Linda at L.A. Subs. 

Italian (ham, salami, roast beef and cheese)

Italian (ham, salami, roast beef and cheese)

If there’s one part of the country that knows subs, it’s the East Coast.  You can find phenomenal subs from Maine to Delaware.  Independent mom-and-pop sub sandwich shops rule the East Coast.  Rio Rancho’s New York transplants echo similar sentiment about bagels, arguing that a good bagel can’t be found west of the Hudson River.  Not even in New York City, however, are bagels delivered to your door.  You read that correctly.  Alicea’s will deliver the bagels which are made the old-fashioned way.  Frenchy calls them “real NY bagels” and the subs “real subs,” emphasis on the real.

Subs are available in two sizes: large and small.  A small sub at Alicea’s is as large as a large sub at the aforementioned chain.  A large sub easily exceeds a foot.  They’re made with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, cheese and Italian dressing.  They’re also accompanied by thick kettle chips and a single pickle spear.  On paper, some of the subs are hold-overs from the L.A. Subs days, but you’ll quickly discover they’re “real” subs, the way they’re made on the East Coast.  They’re bulging behemoths bursting with meats and cheeses.  Oh, and the meats aren’t pre-measured and extricated from hermetically sealed plastic.  The bread is soft and chewy, the perfect repository for high quality ingredients.

18 August 2014: During my inaugural visit since the transition to Alicea’s, the sub calling loudest was a meatball parm sub.  You know it’s an East Coast sandwich if it’s called a “meatball parm” sub.  Everywhere else it’s just a “meatball sub.”  The “parm” is “alla Parmigiana,” because of the cheese.  Alicea’s doubles your fromage fantasy by also adding Provolone.  The cheese is molten, melted deliciousness which blankets the meaty (no adjective better describes them) meatballs.  The meatballs are large orbs and each sub half is loaded with them.  They’re covered in a superbly seasoned sauce, the type of which East Coast Italian restaurants excel. 

18 August 2014: In New England the steak and cheese sub is practically a religion.  No doubt Bostonians were up in arms when Subway introduced their version, an ostensibly flavorless (speculation here) calorific overachiever.  Though there are similarities, steak and cheese subs should not be mistaken with Philly Cheesesteak subs.  At Alicea’s, the steak and cheese sub is crafted from good quality steak cut painfully thin, glistening sweet fried onions, soft melting cheese and a soft, chewy sub roll.  It’s an excellent sandwich sure to be loved by expatriate New Englanders.

Bread Pudding, my weakness

26 September 2014: On September 16, 2014, Alicea’s added a “Real Philly Cheese Steak & Cheese” to the daily menu with a Facebook announcement indicating “Don’t settle for any of the cheap fake wannabes in town get a real one!” That’s a rather audacious claim considering the metropolitan Duke City area has several purveyors of excellent Phillys.  Alicea’s rendition is the closest to the version invented in 1931 by Pat Oliveri in the City of Brotherly Love.  Thinly sliced sautéed ribeye beef, slivers of fresh green pepper and lots of gooey melted cheese make it Philadelphia-like.  Green chile gives it that New Mexico touch. The ultra-rich molten cheese makes the sandwich so rich you may not be able to finish it in one sitting.

26 September 2014: It became a running joke among the Intel cafeteria staff when my friend Bill had his daily breakfast of a bagel and green chile schmear.  He may as well have used a trowel or shovel to pile on the schmear.  If you didn’t get to the schmear before he did, there may not be any left.  Bill will enjoy the green chile schmear, preferably on a green chile bagel, at Alicea’s.  The bagel is soft and chewy with flecks of nicely roasted green chile punctuating it throughout.  Similarly, the rich cream cheese is imbued with the piquant greatness of New Mexico green chile.  Can there be any better combination than a green chile bagel with green chile schmear?

Green Chile Bagel with Green Chile Schmear

As she transitioned L.A. Subs to Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs, Linda imparted her bread pudding recipe to Frenchy.  Great move!  The bread pudding is thick, buttery and delicious, topped with brown sugar and walnuts which provide a savory contrast to the rich, gooey, buttery sweetness. I don’t know if it would make Larry McGoldrick’s bread pudding hall of fame, but I’m betting he’d like it.  Make sure you ask Frenchy to heat it up for you and to top it with a pad of butter for a sweet-salty contrast you’ll enjoy. 

The bleak post-apocalyptic scenario I posed in which there are no independent mom-and-pop sub sandwich shops will hopefully never come to pass.  This can best be assured by supporting local gems such as Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho.

Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs
1009 Golf Course Road
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-4455
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 September 2014
1st VISIT:  4 August 2011
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET:  Bread Pudding, Meatball Parm Sub, Steak and Cheese Sub, Italian Sub, Green Chile Bagel with Green Chile Schmear

L.A. Subs on Urbanspoon

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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New Mexico Beef Jerky Company on Fourth

The internet is replete with compilations abounding in truth and humor entitled “You know you’re from New Mexico when…”  Perhaps most resonating in factuality are the items which depict just how much New Mexicans value their culinary traditions.  For example, you know you’re from New Mexico when: your favorite breakfast meat is sliced fried bologna; you buy green chile by the bushel and red chile by the gallon; most restaurants you go to begin with ‘El’ or ‘Los'; you have an extra freezer just for green chile; you think Sadie’s was better when it was in a bowling alley; and you can order your Big Mac with green chile.

Even if you’ve lived in the Land of Enchantment for only a short time, several items on that short list will ring with veracity for you. If you’re a lifelong resident, however, the list may get your dander up a bit because, conspicuous by their absence, are sacrosanct New Mexican foods and culinary traditions we treasure. We would add to the list, you know you’re from New Mexico when: your trail mix consists of pinon and carne seca and instead of popcorn, your home movie nights consist of eating chicharrones in front of the television.

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The comfy, cozy interior of NM Beef Jerky Company

You also know you’re from New Mexico if you can drive down the street and pass several stores selling carne seca. New Mexicans have always had an affinity for carne seca whose literal translation is “dried beef” but for which a more accurate description would be “dehydrated beef.” Spanish conquistadores and settlers learned the process for making carne seca from indigenous peoples, quickly discerning the value of preserving and ease of transporting dehydrated meats as they set off on their conquests. When they settled down and raised cattle for their families, they retained their carne seca preparation traditions. Years of preparing it had taught them that beyond its practicality, carne seca is an addictively delicious meat treat.

Frank Chavez and his family have been provisioning New Mexicans with high-quality, delicious carne seca for three decades, proffering some thirteen flavors. The carne seca is hung and dried in a controlled environment until the desired texture is achieved. The thin strips of dehydrated beef are then marinated in such ingredients as Hatch red and green chile with no additives or preservatives. Any triskaidekaphobia you might have will dissipate when you feast your eyes and wrap your lips around any of the thirteen flavors: original (salt only), peppered (salt and pepper), green chile, red chile, tangy teriyaki, extra hot teriyaki, lemon peppered, old-fashioned, garlic, extra hot Habanero, hot chile con limon and Christmas (red and green chile).

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Taco Burgers

27 November 2013: Texturally, the carne seca is absolutely perfect.  That means it snaps when you bite into it or break apart a piece.  It isn’t stringy in the least and is lean and super delicious.  The chile con limon is not to be missed.  Chile con limon is a very popular Mexican spice mix combining chile spices, salt, lemon and lime to impart an addictive piquant-tangy-citrusy flavor.  The heat is real.  So is the citrusy flavor.  Other early favorites include the extra hot teriyaki and the garlic, but that’s likely to change with future visits and more sampling.

Chavez, an Albuquerque native who grew up in the area around Central and Atrisco, realizes that New Mexican’s can’t live on carne seca alone. When he launched his second instantiation of the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company, he diversified its offerings by selling chicharrones, too…and if there’s anything New Mexicans love as much as carne seca, it’s chicharrones. We also love hot and spicy New Mexico Quality (the store brand) red chile chips so Chavez makes the very best, created with the same high standards as other products in the store.

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Carne Adovada Burrito

Several months after launching his second store (1900 Fourth Street, N.W.), Chavez once again listened to his customers (a novel concept more restaurateurs should embrace) who were clamoring for more. He expanded the menu beyond carne seca, chicharonnes and red chile chips, restructuring the store to include several tables for eat-in dining. One of the first to visit after the menu expansion was Rudy Vigil, the Sandia savant who’s led me to some great restaurants. Rudy endorsed the burritos at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company with the same enthusiasm he has for the University of New Mexico Lobos.

The limited menu befits the store’s diminutive digs.  Four breakfast burritos (served all day long), five lunch burritos, burgers (tortilla or bun) and taco burgers make up the standard menu, but savvy diners will quickly pick up on the fact that they can also order chicharrones in half or full-pound sizes.  Even better, they can indulge in a chicharrones plate which comes with two tortillas and four ounces of chile for a half-pound portion.  Order a full pound of chicharrones and you’ll double the number of tortillas and chile portion size if you order the full pound.  You’ll also double your enjoyment.

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Chicharonnes Burrito with Green Chile

1 November 2013: Order the taco burgers as an appetizer to begin your experience in New Mexico Beef Jerky Company deliciousness. The taco burgers are simple in their construction: a hard-shell corn tortilla, a hamburger-style beef patty, lettuce and your choice of red or green chile (or both). More tacos should be made with hamburger patties. Texturally, hamburgers have an advantage in that they don’t fall off the taco shell. Hamburger patties are also superior in flavor to fried ground beef. The real kicker, literally and figuratively, is the green chile which bites back with a vengeance. It’s an excellent chile, some of the best in town.

1 November 2013: The carne adovada burrito is so good, it’s easy to imagine yourself having one for breakfast and one for lunch two or seven times a week.  The breakfast version is made with carne adovada, eggs, cheese and potatoes while the lunch version omits the eggs (though as previously noted, breakfast burritos are available all day long).  The carne adovada is outstanding with tender tendrils of porcine perfection marinated in a rich, piquant red chile made from chile pods.  Burritos are generously engorged, easily twice as thick as most hand-held burritos…and most of the filling is carne, not potatoes.  They’re easily affordable and will fill you up.  My adovada adoring friend Ruben calls them “unbelievably good,” a sentiment you’ll echo.  These are the very best carne adovada burritos in town!

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Chicharonnes

1 November 2013: By most measures, the carne adovada burrito would be the best burrito at most restaurants’ burrito line-up, but it may not even be the best burrito at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company. That honor probably belongs to the chicharrones burrito (with beans and chile), the only possible way in which chicharrones could be improved. The chicharrones are exemplars of crackling pork. They’re crispy, crunchy and redolent with porcine goodness. This burrito is tailor-made for green chile, an R-rated variety in that it may be unsuitable (too piquant) for some children, adults who don’t have an asbestos-lined mouth and Texans. This is chile the way New Mexicans have been preparing it for generations, not dumbed down for tourist tastes.

As a cautionary note, if you get there late in the day, say after 3:30, the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company may have run out of chicharrones.  Fresh batches are made daily and if you’re fortunate enough to arrive shortly after a fresh batch is ready, you’re in for a treat.  Few things are as wonderful as freshly made chicharrones hot enough to burn your tongue.  Before day’s end, the freshly ground beef from which burgers are constructed may also be gone.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with New Mexico Quality Chips

Green Chile Cheeseburger with New Mexico Quality Red Chile Chips

27 November 2013: The ground beef for the burgers comes from the same beef used to create the old-fashioned carne seca. Each beef patty is hand-formed and prepared at about medium-well then topped with mustard and onions. Green chile (a must-have) and cheese are optional. As a green chile cheeseburger, the emphasis here is on chile as in plenty of piquancy. If you’ve ever lamented not being able to discern any chile on your green chile cheeseburger, this is a burger for you. The chile is not only piquant, it’s got a nice flavor. The beef patty exceeds the circumference of the bun and is thick, probably a good eight ounces of delicious, rich beef. Burgers are served with New Mexico Quality red chile chips. 

24 September 2014:  Baloney!  If you’ve ever wondered why the popular Italian sausage is synonymous with a term commonly associated with nonsense, bunkum or insincerity, you’re not alone.  It turns out the word “baloney” was first used in the 1930s as a reference to the disingenuousness of government bureaucracies.  The term was later applied to “Bologna” sausages because the sausage tasted nothing like the meat used to make them (a mixture of smoked, spiced meat from cows and pigs). 

Baloney Sandwich

24 September 2014: There’s nothing insincere or nonsensical about the love of baloney, the sausage.  It’s long been a favorite among families in rural New Mexico, a realization some restaurants are only now starting to grasp.  New Mexicans love the log-sized baloney we slice ourselves so that it’s three or four times the height of the single-sliced baloney sold in supermarkets.  We like to grill it over low heat so that it acquires a smoky char and we love our boloney on a tortilla.  That’s how Frank’s crew prepares it: two thick slices of grilled baloney, melted cheese, lettuce and an incendiary green chile that will bring sweat to your brow.  It’s the baloney sandwich of my youth recaptured.

The New Mexico Beef Jerky Company may be Lilliputian compared to those impersonal mega restaurants, but when it comes to service, the big boys can learn a thing or two from Frank Chavez and his crew. By the time our taco burgers were delivered to our table Frank had already secured our unending loyalty with a generous sample of chicharrones. For “dessert” he brought us chicharrones in red chile and samples of the beef jerky.  He had us at chicharrones.  We’ll be back again and again.

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company
1900 Fourth Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-6121
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 September 2014
1st VISIT: 1 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Chicharrones, Chicharrones Burrito, Carne Adovada Burrito, Taco Burger, Beef Jerky, Green Chile Cheeseburger, New Mexico Quality Red Chile Chips, Baloney Sandwich

New Mexico Beef Jerky Company on Urbanspoon

Vote Daily to Help the Food Bank Through 10/5!

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Please visit www.walmart.com/fighthunger through October 5th, 2014 and help Roadrunner Food Bank earn a $60,000 grant. The Roadrunner Food Bank is competing with about 130 food banks across the U.S. for the grant. Your DAILY vote during Hunger Action Month could help the Food Bank and several of their food pantry partners. The key is to vote every 24 hours and keep them at the top of the leaderboard. The top 50 food banks with the most votes on October 5th will receive the grant.