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Jhett’s Restaurant – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

The Rio Rancho Country Club, home to Jhett’s Restaurant

In its halcyon days, the Chamisa Hills golf course and country club in Rio Rancho was considered one of the city’s crown jewels.  Its undulating 18-hole championship course with strategically placed deciduous trees and challenging water hazards once hosted the Charley Pride Golf Fiesta, one of the most prestigious tournaments in the state.  Built in 1970, the 212-acre development was flanked by upscale gated communities and boasted of magnificent panoramic views showcasing the reddish hues of the Sandias at sunset and the twinkling city lights of Albuquerque at night. 

Alas, over time escalating water rates made operating the course economically onerous.  Soon denuded fairways and eroded bunkers replaced the once verdant grounds.  In 2013, the Chamisa Hills golf course and country club was auctioned off to be purchased nearly a year later by visionary entrepreneurs Bob Gallagher and Jhett Browne who immediately began putting into action their plans for restoring the operation to prominence and profitability.  The two negotiated significant water rate reduction rates and plan for reduced turf areas to conserve water.  At fruition, they hope to revivify the facility into one of the area’s best event centers, not just golf clubs.

View to the East from the dining room patio

Rebranded as Club Rio Rancho, the sprawling complex includes two nine-hole golf courses, six resurfaced and lighted tennis courts, a remodeled swimming pool, a members-only restaurant and lounge with an outdoor cigar bar, a three-level bar and grill with televisions and outdoor patio seating and a remodeled indoor restaurant with a patio facing the Sandias.  While some of the facilities and amenities remain available only to club members, the priceless “billion-dollar views” are available to the general public as is what promises to be an exciting fine-dining venture.

From its sprawling patio, the eponymous Jhett’s Restaurant may just have the very best views of any restaurant in the metropolitan area with the possible exception of Sandiago’s Mexican Grill.  There’s a view for all seasons and times of day from the east-facing large picture windows, too.  Jhett’s offers live music and dancing every Friday and Saturday starting at 8PM and a bountiful Sunday brunch, the type of which have seemingly become an anachronism.

The dining room in which Sunday brunch is served from 11AM to 2PM

The dinner menu bespeaks fine-dining belied by a price-point that’s surprisingly competitive with fine-dining establishments in far less ostentatious digs.  Whether your choice emanates from the land (such as the Bleu Cheese Crusted Angus Filet, Ribeye Steak or Lamb T-Bone) or sea (Stuffed Filet of Sole, Honey Ginger Shrimp or Lobster tail), you’ll find it on the menu.  Soups and salads as well as “nothing but noodles” entrees (such as Baked Lasagna Bolonaise and Spinach Ravioli) are also available. 

The all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch is quickly becoming a Rio Rancho Sunday tradition.  Available from 11AM through 2PM, the buffet-style brunch is the antithesis of the grab, gobble and go fare one associates with the terms “all-you-can-eat” and “buffet.”  A fusillade of well-laid out tables with silver heating trays offer dish after dish of beautifully edible creations arranged aesthetically.  An omelet station with eight different fillings is at the ready as is a carving station where a deft server cleaves generous slices from a large roast beef prepared at medium rare.  Desserts aplenty and a beverage table round out the cavalcade of deliciousness.

Some of the magnificent brunch offerings

4 January 2015: Rightfully so, the hand-carved roast beef is the primary draw.  The roast beef has a deep brown, crisp, crackly, unctuous crust around the edges.  The medium-rare interior is moist and tender, signs of optimum temperature control and cooking time.  You can have your roast beef with au jus or with a creamy horseradish that’ll water your eyes.  There are a number of other proteins on the buffet trays: bacon, sausage, fish and more.  The macaroni and cheese is some of the best we’ve had in a while while the Eggs Benedict dish is delightfully creative.  Instead of an English muffin, the poached egg and Hollandaise sauce rest inside a hollowed-out tomato.

13 September 2015: On Sundays in which the roast beef isn’t featured fare, you’ll find a large hand-carved ham served with a cranberry-pineapple glaze.  The ham is hardly a consolation prize.  It’s pulchritudinously pink with a salty-smoky deliciousness that complements the glaze so well.  Few things go as well with ham as au gratin potatoes and Jhett’s version is seconds-worthy.  We honestly couldn’t remember the last time we had a second portion of au gratin potatoes.  That’s how good these are.


The dessert table doesn’t have tremendous variety, but what it lacks in quantity, it made up for in deliciousness. Alternatively you can sate your sweet tooth with the various fruits. The cantaloupe, honeydew melon and pineapple have an in-season freshness and flavor. Throughout our meal we were well taken care of by an attentive server staff who replenished our beverages and made savvy recommendations. All this and million dollar views of the Sandias.

Jhett’s Restaurant is a welcome addition to the Rio Rancho fine-dining scene. An excellent brunch is just the prelude to future fine-dining ventures in what is once again becoming one of Rio Rancho’s crown jewels.

Jhett’s Restaurant
500 Country Club Drive, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-5000
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 13 September 2015
1st VISIT: 4 January 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sunday Brunch

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Cinnamon Sugar and Spice Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe

Back in the dark ages when I grew up–long before America became the kinder, gentler Utopia it is today–it would have been inconceivable that boys and girls would receive trophies just for “participating.” Back then, we were expected to be competitive about everything. The battle of the sexes was waged at home every night with my brothers and I pitting our brawn and bulk against the brains and gumption of our sisters, two of whom would go on to graduate as valedictorians and all of them much smarter than the recalcitrant Garduño boys. 

It rankled us to no end when our sisters reminded us constantly that “boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails'” while they were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice” even as they smashed our toy machine guns (probably in retaliation for us having drawn mustaches on their Barbie dolls before decapitating them).  We sure made it challenging for our parents to be as generous with their affection as Dr. Benjamin Spock (the pediatrician, not the Vulcan) had advocated.

Busy dining room on a Sunday morning

Espying the curiously named Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe on Juan Tabo rekindled memories of the “What Are Little Boys Made Of” nursery rhyme and prompted me to reflect on the fact that somewhere between the merciless teasing, nasty name-calling and nefarious feats of brotherly terrorism, my sisters grew up to be beautiful ladies made of sugar, spice and everything nice.  It took my brothers and I a bit longer to grow up, but then our sisters did remind us often that girls mature three years faster than boys. 

Though I often revert to the snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails of my boyish youth, the sugar and spice and everything nice influence of my bride of three decades has made me more cultured and ostensibly more mature. My former traits rear themselves, however, when we enter a new restaurant such as the Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe and my eyes fixate immediately and exclusively on the menu. My Kim noticed everything about Cinnamon Sugar & Spice right away: the bouncy terriers on the dog-friendly patio, the bright sunshine entering through the east-facing windows, the kitchen utensils and bric-a-brack for sale, the dishes on which dainty delicacies are presented… Those details didn’t warrant my attention until our order had been placed.

Carne Adovada Burrito

It was then, and only then, that I noticed just how crowded the café was. Almost every table was taken even as throngs of diners queued almost reverentially past glass pastry cases showcasing cakes, pies, cookies, baklava and other sweet, decadent temptresses. Eyes that weren’t hypnotically drawn toward those pastries were locked on the nattily inscribed menu, a luscious line-up of American, New Mexican and even Greek breakfast and lunch favorites. The café is so bright, open and capacious you’ll find it hard to believe this same space was once home to DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza which seemed so diminutive in comparison.

If you’re wondering why you may not have espied the Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe during your travels across the Duke City, it may be because the cafe is ensconced in the Shops @ Mountain Run on Juan Tabo just before it intersects with Eubank. It’s not exactly a bustling thoroughfare and the Cafe is set back a ways from the street. A teeming brunch crowd is certainly confirmation that this Cafe has been discovered and perhaps by more than just the neighborhood.

Honey Granola and Yogurt Parfait

Launched in 2014, the Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe may be relatively new to Albuquerque, but it’s owned and managed by an experienced and highly regarded staff. Since 2001, owner Kanella (which translates from Greek to “cinnamon”) Chronis and her team have kept Albuquerque’s power-brokers well fed at the Plaza Eatery, a downtown cafe in the shadow of City Hall. In 2011, Albuquerque The Magazine ranked the Eatery’s breakfast burrito as the city’s fifth best, giving it the red and green cred Duke City diners respect most.

It wasn’t Albuquerque’s fifth best breakfast burrito my Kim opted for during our inaugural visit, but the carne adovada burrito. The flavor profile of carne adovada, all those falling apart tender tendrils of porcine perfection, should be melt-in-your-mouth delicate, never overwhelming in piquancy or astringency. Too much Mexican oregano, for example, can embitter carne adovada. That, unfortunately, is what we experienced with the Cafe’s version. Thanks to a dash more spice than warranted, it just didn’t have the light, delicate chile marinated qualities we love in carne adovada.

Cin-fully delicious French Toast

We long ago stopped deluding ourselves that granola is a healthy alternative to sugary breakfast cereals. Despite the fruits, nuts and whole grains, most restaurant granola is fairly fattening. Its deliciousness, however, sometimes outweighs the extra treadmill miles you’ll have to do to work it off. The housemade honey cinnamon granola at Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe is worth a half marathon at least. It’s layered with your choice of Greek vanilla or Strawberry yogurt (a great option) served with toast and seasonal fresh fruit. Luckily for us, blueberries and strawberries were in season and at the prime of freshness. They enlivened an already excellent granola and yogurt pairing.

The first item on the breakfast menu is “Cin-fully delicious French Toast,” a curious name which makes sense in a literal sense as in you probably don’t want to consume something that’s full of sin, but something “cin-ful” might be palatable. Whether it was that unique spelling or the promise of “thick slices of housemade bread dusted with Saigon cinnamon, topped with brown sugar toasted pecans, served with maple syrup” the menu had us at “sin”…er “cin.” These French Toast live up to their promise with loads of sweetness and richness that no residual savoriness in the pecans could hope to penetrate. For the lust with which we enjoyed these French toast, our penance will be five Hail Cinnamons.

Like my three wonderful sisters, Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe is made of everything nice.

Cinnamon Sugar & Spice Cafe
5809 Juan Tabo, N.E., Sweet A.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2119
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 August 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cin-fully Delicious French Toast, Honey Granola and Yogurt Parfait, Carne Adovada Burrito

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Cafe Fina – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Cafe Fina, about twenty minutes from the Santa Fe Plaza

Living in the Albuquerque metropolitan area, my nieces expect to stay home on those blustery winter days in which (gasp, the horror) two or more inches of snow accumulate on the highways and byways. Because, they reason, sane people don’t have to risk such ”treacherous conditions,” they don’t buy the dramatic “exaggerations” my brother relates about his experiences growing up in Peñasco.  After all, how could they be expected to believe such obvious “embellishments” as my brother having walked to school in a foot of snow and having read by the light of kerosene lamps and candles when weather knocked out electrical power for hours? They certainly don’t buy what he tells them about gas stations and the service rendered during a typical fill-up and they roll their eyes when he tells them how much gas cost “way back then.” He may as well have told them he hunted dinosaurs in the woods.

There are times we look back upon our “primitive” upbringing without PCs, iPhones and satellite television and our youth seems like an episode of The Twilight Zone, a program much too bumpkinly for my worldly and sophisticated nieces. Back then, you’d pull up to a gas station and wait in your car while an attendant not only pumped your gas, but washed your windshield, checked your fluid levels, radiator hoses, tire pressure and fan belts then thanked you for your business (what a radical notion!). Even in Peñasco there were “gas wars” in which competitors lowered the price of gas to as little as 25 cents a gallon (about the price of a loaf of bread at the time). Sometimes a fill-up included a free gift. It’s no wonder my nieces regard our recollections of the “good old days” with more than a bit of healthy skepticism.

Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice, Gingerbread Square and Chocolate Croissant

Pointing out that Cafe Fina was once the type of service station my brother remembers fondly would certainly elicit guffaws of derision from my nieces…along with scatological comments about the “gaseous” (not the petroleum kind) nature of gas stations turned restaurants. Situated about twenty minutes east of the Santa Fe Plaza, Café Fina probably once have had a “Last Chance for Gasoline” sign similar to those on the edge of many western cities and towns many years ago. Today very few visages of its service station past are visible. In fact, unless someone tells you (or you put two-and-two together from the restaurant’s name) you’re about to dine at what was once a prominent gas station, you probably won’t be able to tell.

In a bit of prophetic irony, when every oil company in the mid-1960s was trying to differentiate its products from those of the competition, Fina touted “PFLASH” as an ingredient in its gasoline which would “improve the food at roadside restaurants.” Though PFLASH isn’t an ingredient on any of Café Fina’s culinary fare, it can certainly be argued that the ingredients used by this oasis on Santa Fe’s easternmost fringes make it perhaps the best eatery between Santa Fe and Las Vegas. You might be surprised at just how many guests fuel up for the day with brunch and lunch fare every day of the week and dinner Thursday through Sunday evenings.

Breakfast Burrito

Café Fina is a commodious structure with several dining rooms and an expansive patio which welcomes four-legged children of the canine persuasion. Large picture windows let in plenty of light and offer views of the pinon-studded foothills. Visit on a busy weekend and you’ll probably queue up within a few feet of the restaurant’s entrance. The line moves quickly, but not so quickly that you don’t get a generous gander at the bakery case on your left and a counter to the right with a bounty of baked goods, including quiche. The bakery case flaunts a phalanx of pies, pastries, cookies and cakes. A bevy of beverages showcases organic apple juice, orange juice, Coca cola with real sugar, Blue Sky sodas, lemonade and a number of coffee and tea options.

You might just find yourself torn between ordering the Mexican hot chocolate or the Mexican mocha. The problem is that both names are rather generic for hot beverages which may or may not have a hint of piquancy (courtesy of chile) and which usually include a number of ingredients in addition to chocolate. Because of a rather lengthy line behind us, we opted not to ask. We didn’t discern chile on the hot chocolate as has been customary since the days of a rather avaricious dude named Montezuma (who lived even before the days of 25 cent gas). Still, it’s a silky, cinnamon-kissed, rich and hot beverage not to be missed. Even more eye-opening is the orange juice, a pulpy blend with what appears to be a hit or two of seltzer for just a bit of effervescence.

Housemade Granola

Naturally you can’t have hot chocolate and orange juice without pastries and Café Fina offers only the best. Those pastries come from the Sage Bakehouse, Santa Fe’s nonpareil artisanal pastry and bread company and they are magnificent! The chocolate croissant is light, flaky and fresh, filled with rich, delicious chocolate and topped with powdered sugar. The gingerbread squares would inspire the Brothers Grimm to spin another yarn about a house constructed of this full-body flavored pastry so reminiscent of autumn.

The brunch menu is replete with options, so many and so varied that Solomon himself would be hard-pressed to select just one. It’s a menu which will surely inspire future visits to sample those options we missed out on during our inaugural visit—options such as the cloud cakes (ricotta pancakes with fresh berries and real maple syrup), huevos motulenos, the “one for David” fish sandwich and of course, the green chile cheeseburger. Because there are so many other intriguing options, we won’t have the housemade granola next time we visit and it makes me sad. The Greek yogurt with which it is served is tangy and sour, a nice departure from so many sweet yogurts. The fruits (raspberries, blueberries, bananas, strawberries) are a fresh and delicious complement to the yogurt and the rolled oats and nuts.


As much as we’ll miss the housemade granola, we’ll miss the migas even more…much more. There are a number of restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment which serve migas, but perhaps none make them as delicious as Café Fina. There’s only one thing wrong with these migas (scrambled organic eggs with corn tortillas sautéed with mild salsa and New Mexico Asadero cheese, served with black beans, sour cream, guacamole and a whole wheat tortilla) that’s the fact that you’ll want a portion twice the size. There’s a lot going on in this relatively simple dish in which every ingredient plays so very well against its brethren. Every bite is an adventure in gustatory pleasure.

If only the migas were the size of the behemoth breakfast burrito (scrambled organic eggs, hash browns, New Mexico Asadero and Gouda cheeses and bacon with red and (or) green chile. Better still, if only Café Fina created a migas burrito then life would be perfect. While the breakfast burrito is perfectly fine…even quite good, everything pales in comparison to those migas. Surprisingly the combination of Asadero (stringy like mozzarella with a Monterey Jack flavor) and Gouda (a rich, smooth cheese) works so well, you might not want to go back to Cheddar. Bacon lovers will also appreciate the generosity of everyone’s favorite pork candy.

Because social media has brought the world closer, even tourists are finding Café Fina…and they’re loving it. What’s not to love? Writing for USA Today’s “10 Best,” the fabulous Billie Frank, whose blog The Santa Fe Traveler, is (like her) a local treasure, rated Café Fina as one of Santa Fe’s ten best restaurants for brunch. She calls it “a true local hangout.” You’ll envy those locals in close proximity to this gem of a gas station turned restaurant. My nieces probably wouldn’t believe my brother if he told them just how good Cafe Fina is.

Cafe Fina
624 Old Las Vegas Highway
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 466.3886
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 5 July 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Migas, Chocolate Croissant, Breakfast Burrito, Gingerbread Square, Housemade Granola, Orange Juice, Mexican Hot Chocolate

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