Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill Launched in January, 2016

Most of us have known a wine snob or two. You know the type. They refer to themselves as oenophiles, a fancy way of saying “connoisseur or lover of wines.” They believe themselves to possess refined palates and won’t drink a wine that isn’t as cultured as they are. Even then, they first have to check the color and opacity of the wine. Then they twirl their glass for ten minutes or so before sticking their nose into the glass (like anteaters at an ant hole) and sniffing the wine noisily. They then proudly proclaim the wine has notes of oak, berries or butter. Their next step is to gargle with the wine, sloshing it between their cheeks and gums before finally imbibing of its delicate flavors and proclaiming it worthy.

In recent years, another adult beverage snob has arisen to give oenophiles some competition in the haughtiness department. They’re called “cerevisaphiles,” a term that refers to beer enthusiasts. Cerevisaphiles turn their nose up at Pabst Blue Ribbon and other “pedestrian swill.” As with their oenophile counterparts, the cerevisaphiles pride themselves on their discerning palates. They will drink no beer before or after its time and are careful to note its appearance (color, head density) and aroma before sipping (yes, sipping) it and contemplating its worthiness. Where the snobbiest and most well-heeled of oenophiles pride themselves on wine cellars, cerevisaphiles (like my friend Ruben) take pride in brewing their own.

The dining room at Kaktus Brewing Company in Nob Hill

That, my dear readers, is this gastronome’s feeble attempt to use humor and stereotypes to exploit the misconceptions behind the much maligned, much misunderstood talents and passions of oenophiles and cerevisaphiles. Most oenophiles and cerevisaphiles I know (including some of my best friends) are actually very down-to-earth and uncommonly modest. They’re justifiably proud of their bona fide gifts and abilities to discern and appreciate wine and beer in ways plebeians like me aren’t fully capable of doing. Where I’m mildly jealous is that sometimes their gifts and abilities extend to the culinary realm. With their enhanced taste buds and olfactory senses, they can discern nuances and subtleties in foods better than I can. For all I know, they even have better vocabularies, too.

Dana Koller is one such person. Born into a family which included talented chefs, Dana couldn’t help but develop a passion for quality foods. He parlayed his passions and precocious experiences in the food and beverage industries toward entrepreneurial channels, founding a marketing platform for local restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries throughout central and northern New Mexico. He also launched indulgenm.com, a Web site celebrating the Land of Enchantment’s wines. Although wine is his true passion, Dana’s refined palate also appreciates good beer.

Meat Sampler

Seeing an untapped opportunity in Bernalillo, Dana partnered with brew master Mike Waddy to launch Kaktus Brewing Company in October, 2013. In the vernacular of the brewing industry, Kaktus is a nano-brewery in that it brews only about 500 total barrels a year. Kaktus, named for the German spelling of the word “cactus,” is also unique in that all beer is brewed on steel, flat-bottomed German-made equipment which allows for lighter style lagers without compromising on the quality of other beers. This Lilliputian brewery uses all natural and organic ingredients in its beer. As you enter Kaktus, you can take a self-guided-tour of the brewery.

Though primarily a brewery in which patrons can gather together leisurely and enjoy high quality craft beer, Kaktus didn’t neglected the gustatory needs of its guests. From the onset, it offered a small, but very intriguing menu of surprisingly high quality options, all prepared without the luxury of a true kitchen. Initially Kaktus offered only Frito pie and a number of superb build-your-own hot dogs and brats, the least adventurous of which was an all-natural beef dog. Intrepid diners opted instead for Buffalo Chile Dog; Elk, Cheddar and Jalapeno Brat; All-Natural Beef Dog; Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage; and Wild Boar Game Sausage. Over time, Dana added salads and gourmet pizza to the menu. Andrea Lin, erstwhile critic for the Albuquerque Journal, gave Kaktus a three-star rating.

Dana’s Dog Bites

In part because of public demand, Dana entered Albuquerque’s burgeoning brewery fray in January, 2016, opening the first Kaktus taproom at the space which previously housed Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria and before that Bailey’s on the Beach. That location, on the western fringes of Nob Hill and eastern extremities of the University of New Mexico, is situated in an area already bustling with taprooms. Thanks to its family-friendly atmosphere and a menu sure to capture hearts, minds and appetites, Kaktus will do just fine. Half of the 2,400-square-foot space is, in fact, dedicated to dining while the other half includes a bar you can belly up to. Then there’s an expansive rooftop patio that offers exquisite city views as well as spectacular sunset panoramas.

Knowing what to expect from having visited Kaktus several times at its Bernalillo location, it thrilled me  to see the reactions of my friend Bill and his colleagues Tisha and Jeff as they indulged in their first game meat hot dogs. Jeff, in particular, was practically verklempt with joy at every bite of his elk, Cheddar and jalapeno brat. It’s the same reaction my friend Sr. Plata had when introduced to the duck and cilantro game sausage in Bernalillo. It’s the same reaction I had while reveling in the splendorous glory of the meat sampler, links of duck, elk, jalapeno, wild boar and natural beef served on a bed of sauerkraut and accompanied by dipping mustard and house-made curry sauce. This magnificent meatfest will sate carnivores of all stripes, enrapturing their taste buds with well-seasoned sausages heightened in flavor by the mustard and curry sauce. Each sausage has its own distinct flavor profile and all are addictive.

BBQ Piggie Pizza

There’s a warning on the Kaktus menu which cautions guests “if you don’t like our food, your taste buds may be stressed from the week and need another beer.” While it may be true of other eateries that the level of your enjoyment of the food directly correlates with how much you’ve had to drink, you don’t need to be “four sheets to the wind” to enjoy even the most basic of appetizers at Kaktus. That would be Dana’s Dog Bites, two-to-three bite-sized all-beef dog bites wrapped in a crispy pastry dough served with dipping mustard. This is the adult version of the little Smokies wrapped in biscuit dough you may have enjoyed in your youth. Though they probably won’t make you nostalgic for the “good old days,” Dana’s Dog Bites will make you thankful you can partake of adult indulgences.

The pizza menu lists three specialty pies, four gourmet pizzas, three veggie pizzas, three “simple” pizzas and a build-a-pie option. Just as he didn’t want to offer standard (translation: boring) bar-quality hot dogs, in designing the pizza menu, Dana wanted to construct pizzas different from what other restaurants offer. He wanted to put the pizza in pizzazz. Mission accomplished! Kaktus’s pizza menu is unlike that of any gourmet pizza restaurant in the area. He imports 51-percent whole grain crust from Arizona for the pies. The crust is firm, but has the right amount of “give” when ingredients are heaped on. The BBQ Piggie Pizza, constructed with curry, BBQ sauce, red onions, lots of bacon and Vermont cheese is an eye-opener, the antithesis of all too many pizzas in which barbecue sauce is candy sweet. This barbecue sauce pairs with the curry to give this pizza a more savory punch that complements the bacon very well.

Red Pumpkin Pizza

For sheer uniqueness, you can’t beat the Red Pumpkin Pizza (thinly sliced pumpkin squash, sprinkled pine nuts, goat cheese and drizzled red chili sauce with bacon crumbles). Not only is the squash sliced waifishly thin, its texture is more akin to a dehydrated fruit than what you’d think would be “squashy.” While all ingredients work very well together, it’s the goat cheese and pine nut combination of which you’ll certainly take heed. The pine nuts provide a sweet, roasted flavor with a subtle hint of pine while the goat cheese lends a tangy, slightly sour flavor. The chili sauce adds just a little piquancy to the mix while the bacon provides a porcine presence, the inclination to enjoy of which is imprinted in the DNA of most carnivores.

The vibe in the Nob Hill version of Kaktus is a veritable world of difference from the vibe in Bernalillo. It’s not solely “a little bit rock and roll” compared with “a little bit country.” The Nob Hill location is more fast-paced and rollicking. The Bernalillo milieu is more laid back and sedate. What they both have in common is a great brewery serving great good.

Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill
2929 Monte Vista, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 379-5072
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 January 2016
1st VISIT: 22 January 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Meat Sampler, Red Pumpkin Pizza, BBQ Piggie Pizza, Dana’s Dog Bites

Kaktus Brewing Company @ Nob Hill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

SoupDog – Albuquerque, New Mexico

SoupDog in Albuquerque’s Green Jeans Farmery

The old Jewish proverb “worries go down better with soup than without” may just be the most understated aphorism about soup ever uttered.  When soup is discussed, it’s usually with a sense of warm nostalgia, perhaps even reverence.  We ascribe such adjectives as comforting, restorative, soothing, nourishing, hearty, warming and fulfilling to that nostalgic elixir in a bowl.  The number of adjectives would probably quadruple if we attempted to describe soup’s qualities of deliciousness in addition to its satisfying properties.  There’s no doubt that a luxurious bowl of steaming soup has life-affirming attributes.  Is it any wonder one of the most popular paperback series of all-time is named for soup–the Chicken Soup For the Soul series, an inspirational and uplifting anthology?

Soup is so much more than nostalgia in a bowl, more than a comfort food favorite.  Though good year-round, soup has its own season, one that doesn’t necessarily follow a calendar.  It just seems tailor-made for the chill and bluster of winter.    Indeed, there is much anecdotal and even some scientific evidence to support claims that soups can help restore us back to health when we’re under the weather and wrapped up tightly under blankets.  On days that make us shake, shiver and tremble, soup’s warmth gives us the impetus to brave the cold and attack the day with vigor.

A limited menu with lots of flavors

It was on one of those gelid days that I first visited the SoupDog, an olfactory oasis ensconced in the Green Jeans Farmery (3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E.), the community-oriented commercial plaza constructed entirely with repurposed shipping containers as modular, architectural building blocks.  Four days previous during our inaugural foray to the Green Jeans Farmery for lunch at Amore Neopolitan Pizzeria, we had espied SoupDog and earmarked it for additional study (as in whether or not it was named for Snoop Dogg, the notorious reefer-loving rapper) and a potential visit.

For shizzle (I’ve always wanted to say that) SoupDog isn’t named for the splendid stoner, but for two of the most comforting and iconic foods–soup and hot dogs.  As with other restaurants in the Farmery complex, the SoupDog plies its trade in what could pass for a large concession stand.  Menus scrawled in an array of colors describe the featured fare which you order from a counter.  Next, you’ll saunter over to your choice of several indoor and outdoor dining areas, none attached to a restaurant (although some seating areas are on the roof of the restaurants they serve).

New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo

While the soup menu is relatively limited (listing five soups), deciding which to order won’t be a simple process.  For the peely-wally, the perusal may stop at the creamy green chile chicken noodle soup, the so good and good for you elixir infused with equal parts nostalgia and magic.  Millions of mothers still swear by it.  SoupDog’s version is an invitation to both salivation and sulubriousness.   If you prefer your chicken soup sans creaminess, a more traditional (at least in New Mexico) green chile chicken noodle soup is also available.  From among the five soups listed during my inaugural visit, chile was a chief ingredient in three.

That includes the soup which combines the flavors of my current home in the Land of Enchantment with the flavors of my previous home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  The New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo is as delicious as it sounds, a melding of diverse cultures and cuisines to form an even better concoction.  Picture Andouille sausage and chicken broth with veggies, homegrown herbs and Hatch red chile served over brown rice.  The red chile has just enough bite to be discernible without obfuscating the Cajun flavors which make gumbo one of America’s favorite soups.  If every other soup on the menu is as good, SoupDog will soon join Cafe Bella as my hook-ups when cold weather has me down.

Sonoran Hot Dog

The eponymous SoupDog also lists five gourmet hot dogs, three of which pack the piquancy New Mexicans crave regardless of weather.  Each dog is a right-sized (not too small, not “compensating”) Nathan’s dog.  Though only vaguely reminiscent of eating a Nathan’s hot dog at the original Coney Island stand, the SoupDog’s hot dog offerings will create delicious new memories. My introduction came in the form of a Sonoran Hot Dog (bacon-wrapped Nathan’s Hot Dog in a freshly-baked bolillo roll topped with chili (SIC) beans, homemade roasted jalapeño salsa, mayo and homemade mustard. 

The Sonoran Hot Dog may just be the most delicious export from the Grand Canyon State to hit New Mexico where it’s made significant inroads.  In recent months we’ve uncovered Tucson-quality Sonoran hot dogs in Albuquerque (Sharky’s Fish & Shrimp and Pop Fizz) and Rio Rancho (Ice Cream Palace And Hot Dog World) and we understand there are several purveyors of this paragon of delicious messiness operating from motorized conveyances.  SoupDog’s Sonoran is so good it may take several visits before another hot dog tempts me enough to try it.  The combination of garlicky hot dog, piquant salsa and tangy mustard nestled in a beauteous bolillo is a winner! 

The SoupDog is a sure cure for winter blues and an even better cure for hunger. For soup and hot dogs, it should be on your radar.

SoupDog
3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E., Suite #7
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
(505) 401-5827
LATEST VISIT: 3 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Sonoran Hot Dog, New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo

SoupDog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World on Southern Blvd in Rio Rancho

Nay-sayers, those nattering nabobs of negativism, have always had it in for hot dogs. First they plied us with horror stories and urban myths about what hot dogs are made of. Essentially, they decried, hot dogs are made of everything from pigs snouts and chicken feet to snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails. Then they ratcheted up our shock and awe by telling us how hot dogs are loaded with artery-clogging, cancer-causing saturated fats, not to mention those nasty nitrates and nefarious nitrites. They’ve even disparaged hot dogs as processed pink slime in a bun.

Despite all the brouhaha and rigmarole, hot dogs continue to thrive across the fruited plain as aficionados of the tantalizing tubular treats snub their noses at those who would abolish an American institution. What’s next—motherhood, apple pie, the Dallas Cowboys? Recent statistics reveal that the U.S. population consumes 20 billion hot dogs per year. That’s some 70 hot dogs per person per year (or about as many as Joey Chestnut ate in one sitting during Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest). In 2012, CNN compiled a list of America’s top fifty foods and the hot dog ranked fourth. That’s a lot of love for a beloved American icon some would deprive us of.

Nathan’s Hot Dog with Jalapeño Mustard, Onions and Relish

Unlike the humble hot dog which has been disparaged and bad-mouthed to no end, ice cream has been practically beatified. It is both loved and revered, a symbol of all that is good, wholesome and pure. Research findings from Cornell University revealed that both men and women consider ice cream one of their three favorite comfort foods (not that men will admit to it). CNN confirms this: “Think of any modern romantic comedy to come out of Hollywood; what do citizens of the United States reach for when their boyfriend leaves them for their therapist? A gun? A simple solution? Try a tub of ice cream.”

In the entirety of mankind’s history, there is only one ice cream that’s beyond contempt, a turn-off even to the most ardent aficionados. For some inexplicable reason, an ice cream brand in India bears the stern, mustachioed countenance and name of the Führer of Germany.  Sure, branding an ice cream Adolf Hitler is an exercise in the freedom of speech, but moreover, it’s a demonstration of extremely poor taste and insensitivity (and I need a shower just for mentioning it here).

Tamale

Somehow nature decreed that ice cream and hot dogs become inextricably associated with one another, a sort of “saint and sinner” pairing of foods that just seem to go so well together. That’s especially true in sweltering spring and summer days when the outdoors beckon. Fortunately New Mexico averages nearly 400 days of sunshine a year so ice cream and hot dogs are a good idea any time of the year and in any season. The preternaturally delicious pairing of this dynamic duo wasn’t lost on Abrahan Montaño, an entrepreneur who in March, 2015 launched the Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World in Rio Rancho.

Though he may be a first-time restaurant owner, Abrahan is passionate about ice cream, blending unique ingredients into rich, creamy ice cream flavors you don’t often see.  The paleterias (Mexican Popsicle and ice cream shops) he frequented during his youth were one of the inspirations for his restaurant.  The other inspiration was his grandfather Fred Reade, a familiar name in the restaurant community.  Reade owned and operated Antonio’s Mexican Restaurant on Fourth Street for more than two decades before closing shop in 1996.  Reade has become a fixture at the ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World.

Frito Pie

Although not on the menu, a visit to this Southern Boulevard gem is guaranteed fun as might be expected from a shop offering ice cream and hot dogs.  One corner of the shop is dedicated to kids and includes a number of toys which might make the geriatrically advanced among us wish we were kids, too.  The menu also bespeaks of fun.  A number of aguas frescas are at the ready to quench your thirst while Italian ice and fresh fruit paletas (Popsicles) will quell the heat.  Ice cream flavors include two sure-to-become New Mexican favorites: red chile-chocolate and green chile pistachio.

Nathan’s hot dogs are featured fare and you’ll find all your favorite toppings, too, but if you really want to live a little, try “Grama Faviola’s Fabulous Homemade Jalapeno Mustard.” It’s got almost as much personality as Grama Faviola herself. Faviola and her brother Eddie are friends of the owners and serve as the shop’s unofficial ambassadors.  Much as we love them, we can’t live on hot dogs alone.  Fortunately the shop also offers tamales and Frito pies as well as corn-on-the-cob or in a cup.

Sonoran Hot Dog

The tamales are made for the shop in Santa Fe.  Even when not blanketed by chile, they pack a pleasant piquancy and are packed with shredded, tender tendrils of pork marinated in a very flavorful chile.  These are the type of tamales you would want two (or six) per serving.  The Frito pie is also quite good, a mound of Fritos corn chips topped with ground beef, red chile, lettuce, onions, and onions.  The vegetables offer a cool contrast to the hot chile and ground beef.  The chile won’t water your eyes with heat, but it’ll make you happy.

Among the specialty hot dogs are one you couldn’t find in Albuquerque five years ago.  The Sonoran Hot Dog has made its way into New Mexico and it’s been embraced by the masses.  The Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World offers an interesting and delicious version: a thick Nathan’s hot dog, meat candy (er…bacon), chopped tomatoes and an incendiary jalapeño mayo you can respect.  Had this hot dog been served in the traditional Sonoran bolillo style Mexican bread (resembling) a hot dog bun that hasn’t been completely split length-wise), it would have been even better.

Left: Red Chile Chocolate Ice Cream; Right: Chocolate and Vanilla

Our verdict on the red chile chocolate ice cream–if you’re not revving up your engine to head to Rio Rancho for a scoop or two, you probably didn’t read this far.  Surprisingly, this may be the most piquant dish we enjoyed during our visit.  The combination of chile and chocolate has been wowing diners since before Montezuma’s reign.  This one will definitely wow you.  So will the regular (if such a pedestrian word is appropriate) chocolate ice cream.  Then there’s the pumpkin ice cream, a true taste of autumn that’s wonderful all year long. 

The Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World pairs two of America’s very favorite foods in a fun, friendly shop that promises to be a haven for the hungry and solace for all who need soothing comfort.

Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World
2003 Southern Blvd., Suite 118
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 514-4598
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Sonoran Hot Dog, Tamale, Nathan’s Hot Dog, Red Chile Chocolate Ice Cream, Frito Pie

Ice Cream Palace and Hot Dog World Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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