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Loyal Hound Pub – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Loyal Hound Gastropub in Santa Fe

“It’s me or the dog!” That’s the ultimatum my friend Eric was given by his then-fiancee. It was one of several augurs of an ill-fated marriage only my friend with the rose-colored-glasses failed to see. Three years later as the divorce was finalized, Eric tearfully realized he had made the wrong decision. A dog’s loyalty can never be questioned. A spouse’s eyes and heart can–and often do–wander as had been the case in this troubled marriage.

Psychology professor Stanley Coren correctly postulated that “the greatest fear dogs know is the fear that you will not come back when you go out the door without them.”  You can only imagine the heartbreak Pepper, Eric’s dog, felt when left in the care of strangers.  Dogs don’t abandon their owners.  They love us unconditionally and are unfailingly loyal even when we don’t deserve it.  For those of us whose lives have been enriched by dogs, the term “man’s best friend” doesn’t come close to describing the bond we share. For many of us, dogs are four-legged children.

Bison Short Rib Nachos, Salsa and Avocado Dips

David Readyhough and Renee Fox love their dog Lola so much that they wanted to name their restaurant after her. After agreeing that “Lola” sounded like a great name for a Spanish tapas restaurant but not for the gastropub they envisioned, they decided the name “Loyal Hound” would still honor their beloved beagle. On framed photographs, Lola’s smiling countenance and cheerful figure festoon the walls of the deceptively commodious (75 seats) restaurant. So, too, in a “sunken” back room with comfortable couches and an inviting dart board, do framed photographs of dogs of all types brought in by Loyal Hound’s guests. 

On the wall of one of several small dining rooms hangs a pig diagram which shows from where the various cuts of pork come.  You might expect to see such a diagram in a charcuterie or chophouse specializing in pork, but not necessarily in a gastropub.  The reason given on the Loyal Hound’s Facebook page is “yes, a pig.  ‘Cuz dog is too chewy.”  It’s one of the gastropub’s endearing quirks.  So is wine from the tap.  Before you turn your nose up at that concept, you should know that Renee is a certified sommelier.

Spicy Fried Chicken-n-Biscuits drizzled with honey butter, served with a side of Apple Fennel Slaw

As you peruse the menu you’ll quickly discern that the emphasis on the portmanteau “gastropub” is on the “gastro” (as in short for gastronomy) portion of the word, but the emphasis on high quality also extends to the pub, a relaxing, contemporary milieu in which you’ll feel right at home.  The menu showcases items made from fresh, local, organic meats and produce.  It’s not an overly ambitious menu in terms of quantity, but that allows for preparing food to order and ensures freshness.  Almost everything, including bread, is made from scratch.

The “snacks” portion of the menu includes several items bordering on irresistible.  Two restaurant reviews predating mine raved about the fried rosemary Castelvetrano olives and roasted Marcona almonds.  Beguiling while that may sound, we shouldn’t all wax poetic about the same dishes.  Besides, the braised bison short rib nachos with Tucumcari Cheddar and Oaxaca cheese, salsa and avocado dip called just as loudly.  The nachos and all their individual components were well executed and flavorful, but the salsa and avocado dip ensnared my affection.  The fire-roasted salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it packs savory, tangy and piquant notes that will besot your taste buds.  A squeeze or two of lime enlivens the avocado dip in a way all guacamoles should be vivified.

Gluten-Free Olive Oil Chocolate Cake

In recent years, one of the most popular dining trends sweeping across America has been chicken and waffles.  The Loyal Hound dares to deviate from the norm, offering pork and waffles, an herbed Belgian waffle topped with braised heritage pork tossed in house-made BBQ sauce.  My dalliance with that dining option was short-lived thanks to the simple Southern favorite (think Popeye’s, but only several orders of magnitude better) of spicy fried chicken-n-biscuits.  The boneless fried chicken is first marinated in the intriguing combination of buttermilk and Sriracha then coated in panko breadcrumbs before deep-frying.  The chicken and a single halved  biscuit are drizzled with honey butter.  The influence of the Sriracha is subtle, tempering the richness of the buttermilk while the panko imbues the chicken with a texture that doesn’t fall away as some breading tends to do.  The scratch-made biscuit is dense and absolutely addictive.  This combination is served with a bright, fresh apple-fennel slaw with lip-pursing qualities that contrast beautifully with other components. 

Chef Renee is the architect of the menu which features made-from-scratch daily breads and desserts, some of which are unique. Made-to-order cinnamon-sugar beignets, called “The Doggy Bag” on the menu, are a popular choice, but for diners who live by a “viva la difference” ethos will opt for the gluten-free olive oil chocolate cake. The olive oil lends just a slightly oleaginous quality to the moist, dense cake.  More discernible are the cake’s citrusy notes (the combination of chocolate and citrus is terrific).  It’s served atop a smear of caramel. 

The Loyal Hound Pub launched in June, 2014 and already has a loyal following of patrons who enjoy the inviting made-from-scratch food and an ambiance you’d love to share with your own loyal hound.

Loyal Hound Pub
730 St. Michael’s Drive, Suite 3RW
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 471-0440
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 19 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bison Short Rib Nachos, Spicy Fried Chicken, Olive Oil Chocolate Cake, Jones Root Beer

Loyal Hound on Urbanspoon

El Comal Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

El Comal, serving great New Mexican food in Santa Fe for more than thirty years

From a social connectedness perspective, 1995 was the dark ages. The internet as we know and love it today was in its relative infancy.  There was no Urbanspoon, no Yelp, no Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog…no trusted online resource to enlighten and entice diners.  My only knowledge of Santa Fe’s restaurant scene came from fading memories and a 1994 article on Fortune magazine naming the City Different as one of the fruited plain’s ten best dining destinations.  The article listed such stalwarts as the Coyote Cafe, Santacafe and the Tecolote Cafe as among the city’s best.

After nearly two decades of wanderlust and travel courtesy of the United States Air Force, I had finally returned home to New Mexico and looked forward to introducing my bride of ten years to one of Fortune magazine’s anointed restaurants.  It was our first excursion together to Santa Fe and my first opportunity to impress my Kim with sophisticated Santa Fe cuisine.  My mom who’s infinitely more intelligent than I am had other ideas, steering us away from Fortune magazine’s popular tourist destinations and introducing us to one of Santa Fe’s quintessential off-the-beaten-path, mom-and-pop restaurants, a gem named El Comal.

Some of the very best chips and salsa in Santa Fe

By 1995, El Comal had already been serving New Mexican cuisine for over a decade.  Tucked away in a small, nondescript strip mall that already had an anachronistic, timeworn look and feel to it, El Comal was the antithesis of Fortune magazine’s anointed restaurants, devoid of the trappings and superficiality that so often defines what unenlightened diners often consider signs of good restaurants.  El Comal is named for the heavy cast iron griddle used to cook tortillas.  It appeared to be a magnet for blue collar workers and Hispanic families, preparing New Mexican food as they would prepare it at home.

Just as El Comal itself is receded from the well-trafficked Cerrillos Road, over the years memories of the restaurant receded to the back of my mind.  Frankly, it wasn’t until the well-traveled Lobo Lair owner Mark Chavez mentioned it on a tweet that I fondly remembered a very good meal there so many years ago.  Chavez captioned a photo of his lunch “real recognize real.” Real is an apt description for El Comal, one of the least pretentious and most authentic New Mexican restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.  Not much had changed in the nineteen years since my last visit, but it did secure a commitment not to let so much time pass before my next visit.

Breakfast Enchiladas Christmas Style

If you have a number of restaurants on your “rotation” of frequent favorites, one visit to El Comal will probably  convince you to add it to that rotation. It’s that good!  It’s that real!  A comprehensive breakfast and lunch-dinner menu is replete with all your favorite New Mexican dishes while a chalkboard lists a handful of daily specials which the wait staff dutifully pushes. Cumin is not used on either the red or green chile.

Chips and salsa have become so de rigueur that we often take for granted that they’ll be good and that they’ll be the most piquant items on the menu.  More than often the chips and salsa live up to those expectations.  At El Comal, they exceed all expectations.  Quite simply these might be the best chips and salsa served at any New Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe.  The salsa, made with red chile, is incendiary, offering a piquancy that is heightened by the restaurant’s scalding hot coffee.  The chips are crisp, lightly salted and perfect for dredging large scoops of the superb salsa.

Carne Adovada Taco

My server pushed the breakfast enchiladas with such alacrity that not ordering them was not an option.  Thank goodness I’m such an easy mark.  These are among the very best breakfast enchiladas I’ve had: two rolled corn tortillas engorged with scrambled eggs and chorizo topped with shredded cheese and red and green chile.  Chorizo is the Rodney Dangerfield of the breakfast meats, usually mentioned after bacon, sausage and ham, but when it’s made well, there is no meat quite as rousing in the morning. El Comal’s chorizo is rich and flavorful with a pleasant spiciness and just a bit of char.  The corn tortillas are redolent with the enticing aromas of corn just off the comal. 

The highlight of the breakfast enchilada entree is most assuredly the red and green chile, both of which are absolutely magnificent.  The red chile, in particular, has a depth of flavor very few red chiles achieve. The green chile also has a real personality, one that reminds you chile is technically a fruit.  The breakfast enchiladas are served with pinto beans and hash browns.  The hash browns are of the “take it or leave it” variety, but dip them in the chile and they’re addictive.  In fact, the chile is so good you’ll finish off the oft-annoying garnish with it.  The beans are top shelf, as good as they can be made. 

El Comal offers a la carte tacos filled with ground beef, shredded beef, chicken and get this, carne adovada. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a carne adovada taco. It’s a life altering experience, one that should entice you to order the carne adovada plate on your next visit.  The carne adovada is porcine perfection, tender tendrils of pork marinated in a wondrous red chile.  It pairs wonderfully with the corn tortilla.   

El Comal may not be on any national publications touting the best in Santa Fe restaurants, but locals have a high regard for this small mom-and-pop. It’s a great restaurant warranting a greater frequency of visits.

El Comal Cafe
3571 Cerrillos
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 471-3224
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Coffee, Breakfast Enchiladas Christmas Style, Chips and Salsa, Carne Adovada Taco

El Comal Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Whole Hog Cafe – Santa Fe & Albuquerque, New Mexico

Whole Hog in Albuquerque

While the etymology of the expression “whole hog” appears to be American, its progenitor is actually an English slang word.  Americans in the new world employed the slang use of hog as a word for dime, intending the term to mean “spend the entire coin at once.”  The word hog had been previously used in the Mother Country as slang for a shilling and came from the depiction of a hog on one side of the English coin.

To barbecue fanatics, however, the term “whole hog” can only mean one thing–the whole hog category in Memphis in May, the annual world barbecue championships in Memphis, Tennessee, an event which has been called the “Superbowl of Swine.”  If you win the whole hog category in Memphis, you have every right to call yourself the very best in the world.  It means you’ve mastered ribs, pulled pork and sausage–virtually snout to tail.

The trophy room

When we saw a restaurant on Cerrillos Road billing itself as the “Whole Hog Cafe,” we wondered if it was an audacious pretender to the pinnacle of pork or the real deal.  The restaurant’s trademark image of a portly porker subtitled “World Championship BBQ” cued us in to the fact that its ‘cue just might have the porcine pedigree to call itself Whole Hog.

Sure enough, the Whole Hog Cafe and Catering Company, which competes in Memphis in May as the “Southern Gentlemen’s Culinary Society” earned first place in the 2002 Memphis in May World Barbecue Championship. It has also earned walls full of awards in premier pork events throughout the country. Memphis in May awards alone include the 2002 world championship, first place in the whole hog category and second place in the ribs category. In the millennium year, they also earned second place in the ribs category at Memphis.

Two of the three Memphis in May championships earned in 2002

Two of the three Memphis in May championships earned in 2002

Based out of Arkansas, the Whole Hog Cafe is but one of five restaurants listed in Fodor’s Travel Guides as “Don’t Miss” as you travel through the Razorback state.  Aside from the original restaurant in Little Rock and satellites in Arkansas, only  Santa Fe,  Albuquerque (as of December, 2007),  Cherry Hill (New Jersey) and Springfield (Missouri) can boast of a Whole Hog Cafe, all licensed franchises of the original.  The Santa Fe restaurant launched in the summer of 2006 and has been pulling ‘em in like the pulled pork on the menu.

True to the restaurant’s name, pork–porcine perfection Memphis style–is the specialty of the Whole Hog Cafe, but that’s certainly not all you’ll find.  Whole Hog also offers chicken and beef brisket you wouldn’t be ashamed to serve in Texas where beef is king.  The restaurant isn’t a slouch at sides either, offering a number of complementary dishes you’ll enjoy.

The essentials

One of the essentials Texans and Southerners order with their barbecue is Big Red soda, a bright red cream soda with effervescence and personality.  It’s a beverage tailor-made for barbecue.  The other essentials are already at your table: a roll of paper towels (you’ll be using up several of them) and a six pack of barbecue sauces, each numbered.  There’s another sauce, but you have to request it at the order counter where you’ll be cautioned that the “Volcano” sauce is enjoyed at your own risk.  It’s pretty incendiary stuff.

Sauce number one is sweet and mild with a molasses flavor.  Sauce number two is a traditional tomato and vinegar sauce and is slightly tangy and acidic.  Sauce number three is a spicier version of sauce number two.  The fourth sauce is more traditionally Southern and features vinegar and spices.  The fifth sauce is sweet with a heavy molasses flavor.  It is practically lacquered on when applied to baby back ribs.  The sixth sauce is reminiscent of the sauce you’d find in the Carolinas with a basis of rich mustard and vinegar.  It’s better than some of the best mustard-based sauce we’ve had in the Southeastern states.

Pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw

Pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw

Purists will tell you that great barbecue doesn’t need sauce if it’s redolent with smoke and dry rub spices.  The Whole Hog’s meats certainly don’t need sauces, but it’s fun and adventurous to experiment with various sauce and meat combinations.   After an April, 2014 trip to Charleston, South Carolina, I couldn’t get enough mustard and vinegar-based sauces.  Sauces, like meats, are a matter of personal preference. 

So are sandwiches.  Unless you request otherwise, Whole Hog sandwiches are topped with a sweet coleslaw.  This isn’t just Memphis style barbecue, it’s the way barbecue is prepared in Arkansas.  It’s the way former president Clinton loved his barbecue as depicted in a photograph near the restaurant’s entrance.  Sandwiches come in two sizes–regular and jumbo.  Each is abundantly packed with juicy, flavorful and fork-tender meat–either pulled pork, beef brisket, pulled chicken or pork loin.  Each is smoked to perfection for fifteen hours after a delicate application of dry-rub spices.

A half rack of ribs

A half rack of ribs

The pulled pork sandwich is something special.  Shredded, smoky bits of pulled pork marry with the sweet and tangy coleslaw and the sauce of your choosing to form a two-fisted, mouth-watering sandwich you’ll remember long afterward.  The pork is so full-bodied, you can almost imagine it as a carne adovada.  For being a Memphis style barbecue restaurant, the Whole Hog would do Texas proud with its rendition of a beef brisket sandwich replete with fork-tender sliced beef.

The most prodigious plate on the menu is fittingly called The Whole Hog Platter.  Large enough to feed a small family, it includes a triumvirate of smoked meats: pulled pork, beef brisket and baby back ribs (four bones) along with three sides–beans, potato salad, coleslaw and a dinner roll.  The ribs can’t be describe as “fall of the bone” tender which isn’t a bad thing as sometimes that means they’re overdone.  The meat does come off the bone rather cleanly and easily with minimal effort.  The ribs are meaty, tender and smoky.

The Whole Hog Platter

The beef brisket and pulled pork are both redolent with spice and smoke.  They’re tender and moist, the perfect vehicles for any of the sauces if you’re in a saucy mood.  Whole Hog’s pulled pork and beef brisket are the type I refer to as Ivory Snow in that they’re 99 and 44/100 percent pure.  You won’t find any fatty or sinewy meat here, but that type of meat is exactly what people love about restaurants such as Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City.  Whole Hog’s barbecue also doesn’t give you a whole lot of smoke, merely enough of a hint to leave your mirthful, another attribute of outstanding barbecue.

The half chicken plate is a paragon of poultry perfection, a panacea for patients suffering from (or enjoying) Alektorophilia.    Within a half chicken, you’ll find both white meat and dark meat all within a thigh, breast, wing and leg.  Mildly flavored and not as smoky as other meats, it nonetheless features flavor which can’t be cooped up.  If you must insist on a sauce, might I suggest the number six, a rich mustard and vinegar sauce reminiscent of the sauces served in the Carolinas.

Smoked Chicken with a cucumber salad

The menu features only a few desserts: brownies, cookies and banana pudding.  The latter is what the great South is famous for and a good choice.  It comes in a small bowl and the portion size isn’t quite big enough for two to share.  The banana pudding is served cool, but not enough for your teeth to chatter.  The vanilla wafers are certainly more assertive than you might be used to.

Santa Fe is one of America’s very best restaurant towns, but it isn’t known for barbecue.  In recent years only the Cowgirl BBQ & Western Grill has seen much success as a barbecue restaurant.  Successive years (2006 and 2007) saw the launch of two barbecue restaurants–Whole Hog Cafe and Josh’s Barbecue (reopened in 2010 as The Ranch House)–which might put Santa Fe on the barbecue map.  It’s much closer than Memphis.

Banana Pudding

Whole Hog Cafe
9880 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-323-1688
Web Site
LATEST VISIT:  26 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Jumbo Pulled Pork Sandwich with Coleslaw, Jumbo Pork Loin Sandwich, Babyback Ribs, Baked Beans

Whole Hog Cafe on Urbanspoon