Papaburgers – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

Papaburger, an El Paso institution now open in Albuquerque

Back in the 1960s, A&W’s Papa Burger was a rite of passage for me.  By age nine, I had surmounted the phased progression through A&Ws burger family–Baby Burger, Mama Burger and Teen Burger–and was ready to prove my mettle with the largest of A&Ws burger family, one beefy behemoth only my dad, a paragon of masculinity, had ever ordered.  Earning the right to order one was acknowledgement that I was growing into a man.  Polishing one off brought newfound respect from my younger brothers, both of whom longed for the day  my dad would order a Papa Burger for them.

In the 1960s, A&W’s burger family signified a formidable line-up of burgers served in more than 2,000 A&W restaurants throughout the fruited plain and Canada.  Each member of the burger family was represented by cartoonish fiberglass statues, the largest of which was the Papa Burger, a bald, vested gentleman holding a large frosted mug on one hand and a gigantic burger on the other.  Papa Burger stood eight and a half feet tall and the frothy mug of root beer was three feet tall.

 Bright and colorful interior at Papaburgers

Bright and colorful interior at Papaburgers

Driving on Chavez Avenue just west of Fourth Street and espying a restaurant called Papaburgers brought a nostalgic pang to my heart. That nostalgia made me hopeful that A&W was preparing to mount a challenge to the Big Three (McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King) and would no longer be relegated to sharing space with abhorrent chains.  Though I disdain chains, A&W still represents growing up to me.  The name on the marquee dashed those hopes quickly.  It read “Papaburgers” not Papa Burgers.  No, this was an A&W offshoot.

Papaburgers has its roots in El Paso, Texas where in 2008, entrepreneur Eric Zubia launched the first instantiation of what has become one of the Sun City’s most popular burger joints.  As of this writing, ninety percent of visitors to El Paso’s Zomato Papaburgers page indicate they like it with some being effusive in their praise.  Sadly, as of this writing, I’d venture to say fifty percent of Albuquerque diners still have no idea about this terrific burger restaurant (unless they read Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog), of course.

My friend Bruce "Sr. Plata" enjoys a double meat burger with avocado and green chile

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” enjoys a double meat burger with avocado and green chile

That’s not entirely their fault.  Albuquerque’s Papaburgers, open only since November, 2009 is ensconced in a nondescript shopping center where it’s barely visible from heavily trafficked Fourth Street.  Get the word out!  This is a very good burger joint, one that is rapidly becoming an Albuquerque favorite.  In El Paso, customers queue early and often to get their burger fix in a restaurant with limited seating.  In Albuquerque, you can still walk up to the counter, place your order and sit where you want.

Finding a seat  is no problem in the Los Ranchos Papaburgers, a sprawling corner edifice which doubled its space within two years of opening to accommodate all the diners who discovered this unique bastion of burgers.  In three years, the ambiance has gone from prosaic to rather busy with a lot to see everywhere you turn.  The menu is sparse, about a dozen items, but there are always specials on the board.  A jukebox and an old-fashioned video gaming console make the expanded dining room just a bit noisy at times.

The Andre Burger Fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard with Butter-Garlic Fries

When Eric Zubia mentioned possibly expanding into the Albuquerque area, his Rio Rancho-based uncle Silver and aunt Adriana Zubia leapt at the opportunity.  As with the original Papaburgers, the freshness of ingredients is a strong point of emphasis.  Each burger is made to order on a flattop grill from freshly ground beef in which finely chopped onions are integrated right into the meat.  The burgers are adorned with lettuce, tomato, pickles, more onions and your choice of mustard or mayo.  The restaurant’s eponymous Papaburger can be topped with American or Swiss cheese. 

Your table haul should also includes plenty of green chile sauce which you can add to your burgers, fries, hot dogs or onion rings.  The green chile is mild by any piquancy scale, but it’s got a garlicky kick potent enough to ward off a family of vampires.  Papaburgers’ version of a green chile cheeseburger is called the Chiara Burger (named for Eric Zubia’s goddaughter).  Instead of finely chopped chile, the burger is crafted with long green chile.  It’s lacking in the piquancy New Mexicans love.

Frito Pie

Frito Pie

During our inaugural visit back in 2009, my friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik took one bite of the Papacheeseburger and declared “it’s just like Lotaburger.”  Considering his devotion for Lotaburger (which he considers New Mexican comfort food), that’s a high compliment.  As with Lotaburger, the ingredients are extremely fresh–crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, lip-puckering pickles, eye-watering onions.  The biggest difference is the onions incorporated right into the beef.  Bill’s sole complaint is that the beef was slightly overdone, sometimes a problem with thin beef patties. 

17 July 2017: You can request double meat with any burger or you can try something entirely different–the Andre Burger (named for Eric Zunia’s godson).  Hamburger meets hot dog in this unique offering–fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard.  As if weenies isn’t unique enough, the chili also includes beans.  It’s not a burger for everyone, but if you have a penchant for the slightly different, this is a burger you will absolutely love.

Jalapeño Fries

Jalapeño Fries

You’ll love it as a composite of terrific ingredients and you’ll love the interplay among those ingredients.  The chili is mild, but has a nice garlicky flavor that almost completely obfuscates the hint of cumin.  The weenies are of the thin-sliced variety, not those flavorless two-inch in circumference meat tubes that seem to be in fashion today.  I liked them so much, my second visit order was a Papadog.  Papadogs are described as a “round hot dog” and are served on hamburger buns.  The buns are toasted and sandwich between them, weenies sliced in half then topped with pinto beans and chili with ground beef.  A smear of mustard and several sliced pickles adorn the bottom bun.  Though somewhat unconventional, this is a good hot dog that warrants return visits. 

Papaburgers is no one-trick pony.  The menu, though limited, also includes a grilled chicken sandwich basket, chicken nuggets and a grilled Papacheese Green Chile sandwich.  Sides include French fries, onion rings and chili cheese fries.  The fries and onion rings are out of a bag, but are quite good when doused in the green chili on each table.   Perhaps the most intimidating item on the menu is an all-beef Chili Cheese Foot Long Coney from Nathan’s.  Bob of the Village People who’s consumed over 550 feet of hot dog from The Dog House Drive In won’t have to consume quite as many to get to 550 feet.  It’s a beefy behemoth.

More Than A Foot Long of Nathan's Hot Dog

More Than A Foot Long of Nathan’s Hot Dog

Papaburgers may have nothing to do with the A&W of my youth, but it’s a rite of passage in its own way–as Food Network star Guy Fieri might say, “a passage to flavortown.”  These are seriously good burgers!

Papaburgers
6601 4th Street, Suite P.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-0255
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 July 2017
1st VISIT: 25 February 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST:  $ – $$
BEST BET: Andre Burger, Papacheesebasket, French Fries, Onion Rings, Papadog

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

Corrales Bistro Brewery – Corrales, New Mexico

The Corrales Bistro

What is it about French words that make them sound haughty and pompous to some people and elegant and refined to others? Think I’m kidding? In Massachusetts, I knew a guy who for two years sported the nickname “Le Cochon” like a badge of honor  before someone had the heart to tell him it meant “the pig.” He had thought that sobriquet was a testament to his prowess with the ladies (on second thought, maybe it was).

Still questioning my observations on French words? Take an informal poll of men (women are smarter) in the office and ask them what the word “bistro” means. I did and most respondents gave me some variation of “snobbish, hoity-toity, fancy, upscale” restaurant. In truth, a bistro is a small restaurant which typically features simple fare and sometimes provides entertainment. So, if you’re looking for a fancy, upscale French brewery when you see the name “Corrales Bistro” you’ll be in for a disappointment. If, however, you’re looking for terrific sandwiches, burgers and New Mexican food you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Dog Friendly Patio

The Corrales Bistro Brewery (“The Bistro” for short) opened shortly after New Years Day on 2007 at the former site of Essencia, a wonderful fine-dining establishment which closed in 2006. It’s the brainchild of entrepreneurial Fritz Allen, proprietor of another business, Hanselmann Pottery in the same commercial center as his brewery. If you’ve driven past the bistro, you may have noticed its new signage which no longer includes the term “Brewery.” The term has been a bit of a misnomer—at least in terms of volume–for a while. Until 2013, Corrales did not have a village sewage system and all wastewater was dispatched into septic systems. That limitation made it a challenge to brew beer in the volumes other metropolitan area breweries do.

Before he launched his bistro-brewery, Fritz had to request a change in Corrales zoning laws to clear the path for his undertaking. An amendment to a village commercial zoning ordinance allowed him to brew no more than 5,000 barrels of beer a year. While the Bistro has a small selection of its own beers, its focus has also been on serving beer from great breweries across the Land of Enchantment. Habitues of the Bistro who appreciate New Mexico brewed beers are well advised to join the “Mug Club” where a membership fee entitles them to enjoy a 22-ounce mug of fine ale for a pittance.

Outstanding Salsa and Chips

One factor which distinguishes The Bistro from other taproom-restaurants is its sense of community. The Bistro is akin to the “Cheers” of Corrales. Everyone knows your name here. To a large extent, my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, credits his decision to move to Corrales on the neighborliness of The Bistro and the “Corralenos” who frequent it. During a visit in July, 2017, we watched as Fritz greeted most of his guests by first name and often with a hearty embrace. The Bistro truly is a hometown hang-out—even if you’re not from Corrales.

Our favorite dining area at The Bistro is an expansive dog-friendly patio. Seasonally-permitting, it’s a terrific venue for enjoying the salubrious Corrales air, punctuated only by the aromas wafting from the kitchen. The Bistro is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In keeping with its sense of community and local pride, The Bistro has become quite the platform for local musicians to showcase their talents. Almost every day of the year, talented musicians entertain patrons with such popular musical stylings as jazz, Celtic, bluegrass and folk.

The New Mexico Tortilla Burger

Tortilla burger

Just as The Bistro’s menu—a fusion of cultures and ideas–can’t be pigeonholed into one category, The Bistro has two mission statement-defining mottos: “if you are not crossing a cultural boundary, you can try harder” and “make yourself at home.” The Bistro does indeed showcase a multi-cultural menu and you certainly will feel right at home. Breakfast is primarily New Mexican entrees—all the dishes we know intimately and love greatly. For lunch and dinner, featured fare includes a nice selection of salads, sandwiches, wraps and specialty burgers, some of which may make you wish your home was in closer proximity.

Regardless of what you order, you’ll want to start your meal with The Bistro’s fabulous chips and salsa (some of the very best in the state). The salsa is made with an autumn-blend chile flecked with roasted red (more like orange) chile. Roasted red chile has a sweeter flavor than roasted green chile, a sweetness we mistakenly attributed to finely diced carrots. The melding of piquancy and sweetness is a pleasant surprise. Another is the generous portion of this terrific starter. Blue- and yellow-corn chips are thick enough to support the weight of any Gil-sized scoop of salsa.

Corrales Blue Quesadilla

Fire-roasted salsa and sour cream come standard with the Corrales Blue Quesadilla appetizer. This is one of the very best quesadillas in the metropolitan area, easily on par with the quesadilla at The Range. What makes this quesadilla special is that it’s crafted with two complementary cheeses, an ultra-sharp bleu (not blue) cheese and a mild Cheddar. It also includes New Mexico green chile, tomato, onion and Mexican herbs all grilled on flour tortillas. This quesadilla is roughly the size of half a pizza and could easily be served as an entrée.

The Specialty Burger section of the menu includes an impressive array of creative burgers all starting off with a half-pound of beef (or you can substitute a grilled chicken breast). Basic toppings are lettuce, tomato and onion. Your creativity will dictate what else goes on. For a New Mexico inspired departure from the traditional burger on the bun concept, try the New Mexico Tortilla Burger, a half-pound of beef wrapped in a tortilla with chopped lettuce, chile con queso and fire-roasted salsa. It’s an outstanding burger grilled to your exacting specifications. At medium done its pinkish insides are dripping with flavor. All burgers are served with a salad or The Bistro’s special blend of sweet and white potato fries.

The black and bleu

Black and bleu burger

There are ten sandwiches on the menu, some of which would challenge a competitive eater to finish. Take for example, the Ruben, a grilled triple-decker sandwich skyscraper high with corned beef, turkey, Swiss cheese, mild sauerkraut on lightly grilled rustic rye bread. Russian dressing may be in there somewhere, too, but it’s lightly applied to give the meat the opportunity to shine. Shine it does. This is one of the best Ruben sandwiches in the Duke City area. A propeller-headed mathematician friend of mine with a penchant for French words said it was “an ordre de magnitude” better than others he’s had in town.

Faithful readers of this blog have probably been subjected ad-nauseam to reading about my passion for pastrami, a passion shared only by Meg Ryan in the movie “When Harry Met Sally” when she gave Katz Deli diners an impassioned appreciation for this mildly smoked paragon of deliciousness. Alas, with few exceptions (foremost among them California Pastrami and Toro Burger) pastrami in the Albuquerque area tends to evoke one reaction–disappointment. Still my pursuit for pastrami perfection goes on.

Robust Ruben with Mixed fries

At The Bistro, pastrami is showcased in a uniquely named sandwich called El Pancho Greenblatt (pastrami, green chile and Cheddar cheese in a tortilla. My last experience with this sandwich is over a decade ago, but the Alibi’s Hosho McCreesh enjoyed one recently and had this to say about it: “The grilled tortilla wraps in all the hot, salty goodness of the pastrami and the luscious melted cheddar, and again the green chile brings the spicy heat that’s hard to beat. It’s a got a great name, a simple, straight-forward style, and comes with fries or a side salad. And while I’d love a dollop of a grainy, stone-ground mustard on the side, I’d certainly have this one again however they’d give it to me.” 

My friend Bill Resnik will tell you The Bistro’s sandwiches are made the way you might make a sandwich for yourself. You wouldn’t scrimp on ingredients and neither does The Bistro. You wouldn’t haphazardly toss tomatoes and lettuce on your sandwich; you’d position them carefully so they complement your sandwich. That’s the way The Bistro makes them. These are excellent sandwiches! Moreover, one waitress told us everything on the menu is made with an extra ingredient–love. How can you possibly go wrong?

El Pancho Greenblatt

Two other noteworthy items: (1) the thin-cut French Fries, available in traditional white or sweet potatoes, are salted just right. These fries straddle the fine line between being flaccid and droopy and being taut and firm. These are not the pale, golden and cardboard stiff super-salted fries served at chains. (2) at four to an order, the pancakes are a great breakfast option. They’re griddled to a golden color and with warm syrup will bring a smile to your face. The pancakes are served with four strips of bacon.

Pancakes

Okay, if you’re still inclined to believe French words show refinement and class, I’ve got one that describes the sandwiches at the Corrales Bistro Brewery–magnifique!

Corrales Bistro
4908 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 897-1036
Web Site   | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 9 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Ruben Sandwich, New Mexico Tortilla Burger, Corrales Blue Quesadilla, Pancakes,

Corrales Bistro Brewery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fork & Fig – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fork & Fig, a Modern Eatery on Menaul Just East of Louisiana

Listen to Billy Joel’s 1983 doo wop hit Uptown Girl and you’ll probably get the impression that uptown is synonymous with uppity or at least upscale.  The lyrics describe a working-class downtown man (ostensibly Joel himself who’s originally from blue-collar Long Island) trying to win the heart of a wealthy, white bred uptown girl (Joel’s future wife Christie Brinkley). The perception of uptown’s haughtiness were reenforced in “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld in which John F. Kennedy, Jr. lived in trendy uptown.  When they finally came into money, the Jefferson’s moved on up, too.

Until just a few years ago, the Albuquerque neighborhoods around which conversations typically centered were Old Town, downtown, Nob Hill and even EDo (East Downtown).  Uptown was solely where the Coronado and Winrock Malls were.  With the closure of the Winrock Mall and subsequent launch of ABQ Uptown, a pedestrian-friendly, open-air lifestyle center, Albuquerque’s uptown area seemingly became “the heart of the city’s modern shopping and business district.”

The dining room with open kitchen at Fork & Fig

Though it may appear national chains such as the Elephant Bar, Dave & Buster’s, Bonefish Grill and Romano’s Macaroni Grill dominate the uptown culinary landscape, actually only 45 percent of the uptown area’s 75 restaurants are national chains.  Local mom-and-pop restaurants continue to thrive against the onslaught of deep-pocketed corporate competition.  Enter into the fray Fork & Fig, a modern eatery which opened its doors just before the calendar flipped to February, 2015. 

Fork & Fig is an exemplar of locally owned and operated.  After having worked as a personal chef in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Josh Kennon, a Deming native credentialed at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, decided to try his hand at owning and operating his own restaurant.  Though Fork & Fig specializes in gourmet burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads, you can also get more substantial offerings (such as steak) on a take-out basis.  The restaurant, which has neither a freezer or a fryer, emphasizes fresh, local ingredients. 

Citrus Salad

Compared with some of the megalithic chains in the area, Fork & Fig is practically Lilliputian, seating only 40 patrons in its 1,500 square-foot space. Diminutive, however, doesn’t mean dull and drab.  Fork & Fig is a hip and happening venue sure to excite both even the most discerning palates.  Seating is in personal space proximity (which means you have a good view of what’s being delivered to your neighbors’ tables) with bar-like seating overlooking an exhibition prep kitchen and, when they’re not swamped, you can even interact with the chefs.  

In Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “Best of the City” peoples’ choice poll for 2015, Fork & Fig was named “Best New Restaurant.”  That’s quite an honor considering the high quality of new restaurants launched in 2015.  In January, 2017, Fork & Fig was one of a handful of Duke City eateries highlighted by Young Professionals of Albuquerque for inclusion in list naming “5 Eateries Perfect For Your Lunch Break.”  Since its launch, Fork & Fig has remained a consistent presence on Yelp’s list of “best restaurants in Albuquerque.”  It’s certainly a restaurant going places.

Sesame Salad

If there’s one thing a smallish restaurant with no freezer and no fryer can’t do, it’s be all things to all people.  It makes better sense to focus on a select few items and prepare them exceptionally well.  The few, the proud, the delicious at Fork & Fig is comprised of eight sandwiches (Sammys), five burgers (Burgs), three wraps, three greens (salads), five sides, a sour du jour and a dessert du jour as well.  With the Sammys, Burgs and Wraps, you also receive one side (Cotija corn, grilled zucchini, potato gnocchi, cherry tomato salad, green chile slaw).  Please note that because of menu rotation, some of the items described below may not be available when you visit.

8 February 2015: It’s probably not polite to drool when servers deliver a meal to your neighbors, but such is the hazard of close proximity seating.  The burgers, in particular, are drool-worthy.  They’re skyscraper tall with thick beef patties topped with sundry ingredients and imagination.  Sometimes, however, you feel like a burger and sometimes you don’t.  In the rare latter event, it’s nice to know you can find something as good as the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich (four cheeses, tomato fig relish and bacon on Hawaiian bread).  This magnificent melange of sweet, unctuous and smoky deliciousness is indeed an all grown up version of the sandwich we all loved as children.  The Cotija corn, a grilled ear of corn topped with shredded Cotija cheese) is a terrific foil.

The Fig with a Cool Watermelon Gazpacho

8 February 2015: Save for the sacrosanct green chile Philly at Philly’s N’ Fries, I’m at a loss to recall a single transformative or even memorable steak sandwich in the Duke City. Fork & Fig’s Ribeye Sammy (ribeye, caramelized onions, smoked Gouda and creamy chimichurri on a ciabatta bun) aims to change my thinking. The ribeye is on the thin side (similar to a Mexican steak), but it’s tender and nary fat nor sinew rear their yucky presence. The chimichurri is indeed creamy, but a bit more of it would have been nice. The green chile slaw doesn’t have much personality or piquancy, but it doesn’t take anything away from the Ribeye Sammy.

8 February 2015: Uber chef Marcus Samuelsson believes “Salad can get a bad rap.  People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, far from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.”  It’s with this approach that Fork & Fig creates the four salads on its Greens menu.  You’ve probably had a salad similar to The Citrus (berries and orange supremes, mixed greens, candied walnuts and goat cheese with a blood orange vinaigrette), but you’ll probably enjoy The Citrus more.  The blood orange vinaigrette should be bottled and sold. 

Cubano

24 June 2017: Humorist Fran Lebowitz once remarked “A salad is not a meal.  It’s a style.”  Most of us will agree with at least the first part of that quote.  Salad is definitely not a meal!  That said, salad can be a very enjoyable first course, a precursor to something less spartan.  Much as we might enjoy Fork & Fig’s The Sesame, we’re happy in the realization that something more substantial will follow–not that this salad is small by any means.  The sesame (greens, avocado, candied ginger, heirloom carrots, orange supremes, pickled red onion and sesame vinaigrette) is an excellent salad, one in which the combination of sesame seeds and sesame vinaigrette impart a discernible nutty flavor, something akin to sunflower seeds.  The sesame flavor is a perfect complement to the peppery arugula while the orange supremes and especially the candied ginger add a delightful contrast.

24 June 2017:  While mathematicians may get their jollies in contemplating the golden ratio (a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part), burgerphiles would rather contemplate ratios which make a perfect burger: the ratio of meat to fat and the ratio of beef to bun to ingredients.  Fork & Fig got the first ratio (meat to fat) just right on the eponymous Fig (beef, caramelized onion, Swiss cheese, fungi, truffle fig aioli, bacon, greens, crispy onion and tomato on a brioche bun).  The beef, prepared a medium degree of doneness, is moist, juicy and very flavorful, about as flavorful as some very good steaks.  Alas, the ratio of bun to beef to ingredients was a bit askew.  Before we had consumed even half the burger, the bun had crumpled under the moistness and volume of the beef and accompanying ingredients.  We had to finish the burger with a fork.  By definition (at least mine), it’s no longer a burger when a fork has to be used.

Opera Cakes

24 June 2017:  Virtually every sandwich purveyor in the Duke City, it seems, offers its rendition of a Cubano.  Virtually all of them are formulaic copies of the other, most often served panini style.  Kudos to Fork & Fig for employing a buttery croissant as the canvas for its Cubano (sliced ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, aioli grain mustard, kosher pickle). Two things stand out about this Cubano: the aioli grain mustard and kosher pickle.  Two things are in short supply: pulled pork and sliced ham.  Had more substantial portions of these proteins been piled on, this sandwich would be in contention for “best in the city.”

24 June 2017:  Fork & Fig offers a dessert du jour.  Good fortune smiled upon us when opera cakes were the delight of the day.  Essentially petit fours, a French term which literally translates as “small oven,” the opera cakes are bite-sized pastries.  Nine different cakes are available, but only five to an order are ferried over to your table and you don’t get to choose which five of the nine you’ll get.  Live dangerously.  If the five–apple crumble cake, pistachio, tiramisu, raspberry and lemon tart–which graced our table are any indication, you can’t go wrong with any of the five.  They’re small slices of decadent deliciousness.

Albuquerque’s Uptown area is far from the uppity and exclusive neighborhood so often stereotyped in song and literature.  In restaurants such as Fork & Fig, all are welcome no matter your neighborhood.

Fork & Fig
6904 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881.5293
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 June 2017
1st VISIT: 8 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grown-up Grilled Cheese, Cotija Corn, Ribeye Sandwich, Green Chile Coleslaw, The Fig, Cubano, Watermelon Gazpacho, Opera Cakes

Fork and Fig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

TerraCotta Wine Bistro – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The TerraCotta Wine Bistro in Santa Fe

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
~Benjamin Franklin

In the 1960s, denizens of the fruited plain weren’t nearly as savvy about the fruit of the vin as they are today. Impressionable youth who tuned in every Sunday for Championship Wrestling from Albuquerque’s Civic Auditorium, for example, had the impression from Roma Wine commercials that all wine was served in large jugs. It really wasn’t far from the truth. Back then, a significant portion of wine production across the fruited plain was indeed destined for a jug. Another high percentage of wine would earn the ignominious distinction of being called “bum wine.” Sporting such brand names as Thunderbird, Mad Dog 20/20 and Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, bum wines were considered “bottom of the barrel.” Consumers (quite often dipsomaniacs or teenagers) often shielded their bum wine purchases from the “decent public” in brown paper bags.

Fast forward five decades and America has become a nation of oenophiles—lovers and connoisseurs of wine–surpassing France as the world’s largest market for wine every year since 2013 (although on a per capita basis, the average French person still consumes about five times more wine than the average American). According to Wine Enthusiast, the preferred wines of contemporary America are no longer poured from a jug, but served in a glass as an accompaniment to a dinner meal. Not only are higher-end aficionados of wine dining out more often, statistics indicate they are spending around 25-percent more on wine when they do.

Front Dining Room

In 2014, Business Insider published statistics depicting wine consumption across the United States. The Land of Enchantment ranked 30th with an annual per capita consumption of 6.9 liters (about 1.82 gallons) while the nation’s capital was found to be the most prolific at 25.7 liters per capita. What is significant and surprising about New Mexico’s middle-of-the-road ranking is that the very first grapes planted for wine in the new world’s soil were sown and reaped at an Indian pueblo just south of modern day Socorro. Even more surprisingly, those grapes were planted in defiance of Spanish Law which, to protect the Spanish agriculture industry, forbade the exportation of Spanish grape vines.

Before grape vines were planted in New Mexico, Franciscan monks had wine shipped from Spain, a costly expenditure considering the nearest supply was several months distant. Central to the daily mass was wine which monks transformed into the blood of Christ. New Mexico State’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences describes the sacramental wine as “light pink in color” with a “sherry-like taste.” The wine was “18% alcohol and 10% sugar.” Ironically, like many wines of the 1960s, Spanish wines of colonial times was transported in jugs. Unlike wines of the 1960s, the jugs were sealed with a glaze that contained lead which leaked into the wine.

Back Patio is very Dog Friendly

Today, according to Wine Country New Mexico, “New Mexico remains a vibrant wine region containing an incredible variety of vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms amidst the low and high-desert vistas of the state.” Many of the high-quality wines produced in the Land of Enchantment have not only earned acclaim from top critics, the state’s wineries have an annual economic impact approaching $100 million. Having earned many prestigious accolades, New Mexico’s wines continue their meteoric rise on the national and international wine stages.  With a burgeoning craft beer industry and a thriving wine industry, New Mexicans who consider themselves both oenophiles and cerevisaphiles are indeed blessed.

Scottish novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “wine is bottled poetry.” Be that the case, the jugged wine of yore is the type of poem which may have begun “There once was a lady from Nantucket…” Finding a poem which fits contemporary wines is a greater challenge because just as every wine has its own unique flavor profile, each of us is a unique, inimitable individual whose own memories and senses of taste and smell influence our opinion of a wine. Rare and privileged are individuals whose palates are able to discern subtle nuances in the aromas and flavors of a wine—those, for example, who can detect notes of oak, fig, fresh roses and crushed berries.

Sage Bakehouse Rolls

Not only does wine delight oenophiles with olfactory, gustatory and trigeminal sensations, wine offers several surprising health benefits as chronicled by blogger extraordinaire Jen Miller in her fun feature 15 health benefits of wine according to science.  Jen points out that while “popping open the cork while the velvety oaked aroma fills the air and flowing effervescent liquid comes out from the bottle gives excitement to everyone,”  wine supports longevity of life, heart health, diabetes reduction, anti-cancer effects and more.  Wine truly offers a panacea for what ails us.

Having progressed from the days in which most wine was served in jugs or kept hidden in brown paper bags, a kinder, gentler and more gentrified America now enjoys wine in more sophisticated milieus. Among the Land of Enchantment’s most noteworthy is Santa Fe’s TerraCotta Wine Bistro which offers the largest selection of wines by the glass in the City Different. With an ambiance aptly described on the bistro’s Web site as “inviting, informal, up-beat, and just plain fun,” it’s “great for intimate or large gatherings.”  TerraCotta features globally -inspired food that is contemporary, eclectic and exciting, utilizing local and regional foods. The bistro prides itself on using high quality ingredients in creative combinations that change seasonally.

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Garlic Aioli

TerraCotta is located in Santa Fe’s historic downtown district and is housed in a charming 19th century adobe building not too far from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the world-famous Plaza.  Previous occupants of the charming edifice include Trattoria Nostrani, once named by Gourmet Magazine as one of the fifty best restaurants in the country.  TerraCotta has been named one of Santa Fe’s ten “most romantic restaurants” and boasts of one of the city’s “top ten wine bars” according to USA Today’s local expert Billie Frank.  Just as important to parents of indulged four-legged fur babies, TerraCotta has received a rating of 5.0 out of 5 bones by dog owners on BringFido.  Our delightful dachshund Dude (he abides) enjoys TerraCotta’s covered porch.

As you contemplate TerraCotta’s expansive menu, you’ll enjoy the complimentary Sage Bakehouse bread rolls.  There are many reasons the Sage Bakehouse (an artisinal French bakery, pastry shop and cafe) reminds us so much of our favorite bakery in Lechlade, England.  Both old-world bakeries honor traditional bread-making practices.  The quality shows.  These simple yeasty rolls release a waft of fragrant steam when you cut them open to spread on butter.  It’s simplicity itself, but simplicity as delicious as it can be.

Grilled Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad

Sometimes local pride gets in the way of enjoying something we might otherwise find absolutely delicious.  Friends of mine refuse to ever try shishito peppers because they’re not “real chiles” (they’re Japanese).  In truth, when you roast these three- to four-inch peppers, they inherit the olfactory-arousing aroma of green chile.  Terracotta flash-fries them until their skin is lightly blistered though unlike green chile, shishitos aren’t peeled.  They’re served with a garlic aioli and chopped red peppers.  From a flavor perspective, shishitos are only mild on any piquancy scale, but they’re a joy to eat.

TerraCotta offers several salads, any of which would make a wonderful shared appetizer.  Our favorite salads tend to have multifaceted flavors (complementary and contrasting) and textures.  Fitting that bill perfectly is TerraCotta’s grilled pear, blue cheese and walnut salad.  We’ve had similar salads at other restaurants many times, but TerraCotta’s stands out.  The sweet, juicy pears are caramelized to the point that the fruit’s natural sugars congregate on the pear’s outer skin, rendering these pears absolutely addictive.  The pears contrast well with the sharp, fetid blue cheese crumbles and the walnuts (which thankfully aren’t candied).  A pomegranate vinaigrette with its tangy-sweet notes is an excellent foil for both the sweet and savory flavors.

Grilled Flank Steak

Selecting our entrees proved a significant challenge.  The menu offers so many tempting options (which is why return visits were invented).  At our server’s recommendation, I opted for the grilled flank steak (New Mexico beef marinated in coffee and cola, basil and olive oil topped with blue cheese compound butter accompanied by roasted potatoes and farmer’s market vegetables).  Sliced into quarter-inch strips similar to a roast beef, this steak is perfectly seasoned and only hints at its marinade.  We should, however, have asked for more of the blue cheese compound butter, so good we wanted to spread it over everything on the plate.  The potatoes are perfectly roasted with a crisp outer shell and soft, tender potato inside.

Much more generously sauced is  Beeler’s grilled tenderloin medallions (Riesling, red onion and apricot gastrique served with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and market vegetables).  The gastrique (a sauce base using a reduction of sugar and vinegar caramelized over low heat combined with a light stock) seems to heighten the sweet-tart-juicy qualities of apricot we enjoy so much.  A generous portion of medallions is virtually covered over by the gastrique, a technique which  sometimes leads to a protein being lost, but not in this case.  If anything, the gastrique brings out the grilled tenderloin flavors.  There’s delicious alchemy in its preparation.

Beeler’s Grilled Pork Tenderloin Medallions

Even teetotalers will find much to love at the TerraCotta, a wine bistro in which the kitchen knows what it’s doing and the wait staff will treat you like royalty.

TerraCotta Wine Bistro
304 Johnson Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 989-1166
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Grilled Pork Tenderloin Medallions; Grilled Flank Steak; Blistered Shishito Peppers; Grilled Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad;

TerraCotta Wine Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ohana Hut – Albuquerque, New Mexico

808 Nachos

In horse racing, the Triple Crown signifies winning all three of the sport’s most challenging thoroughbred horse races—The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.  This is considered the greatest achieved in thoroughbred racing, a feat accomplished only twelve times. The thespian community considers as its Triple Crown, winning a competitive Academy Award, an Emmy Award and a Tony Award in acting categories. Only twenty-two actors or actresses have earned this rare distinction. What makes winning a Triple Crown in any competitive event so exciting for fans is its rarity. It happens so infrequently that fans clamor for it to happen.

At the 2015 Taste of Rio Rancho event, Street Food Blvd pulled off a Triple Crown of sorts, earning three first-place awards: best appetizer, best entrée and People’s Choice. It’s a feat no other Rio Rancho restaurant has managed in the event’s auspicious six year existence. Considering the City of Vision is home to some of the very best restaurants in the metropolitan area (including Joe’s Pasta House, Namaste, Café Bella), that’s quite an achievement. What made this coup doubly impressive to many of the throngs in attendance is that Street Food Blvd is not a brick-and-mortar operation. It’s a food truck which in sweeping three key awards, made the audacious proclamation that food trucks can compete with any restaurant.

Saimin Noodle Bowl

Michael Gonzales, the affable owner of Café Bella and a pretty formidable chef in his own right, first told me about Street Food Blvd’s chef-owner-operator-designer Raul Maestas a couple years ago, but it wasn’t until experiencing the chef’s brilliant fusion of New Mexican and Asian flavors at Taste of Rio Rancho that I really took notice. So did more than a thousand guests who lined up to experience the culinary talents that would sweep the annual showcase of Rio Rancho’s burgeoning restaurant scene. My friend and fellow judge at the event Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, predicted greatness for Chef Maestas.

Chef Maestas launched Street Food Blvd on March 1, 2013. His approach, as revealed on the Street Food Blvd Web site: “Well, using only the best ingredients is a big part, but having an unrelenting love and passion for creativity and providing great food at an affordable price is the other part.” An ambitious “mission statement” further speaks volumes about what he’s trying to do: “We started humbly but with a grand plan: To create the finest street food New Mexico has ever tasted, end of story.” With such ambition and commitment, it was only a matter of time before a broader stage would be needed to showcase the chef’s immense talent.

Dakind Sliders Trio

In the spring of 2016, that broader stage became a reality when Marble Brewery asked Chef Maestas to launch a restaurant presence at its Westside location. You won’t see any exterior signage indicating the restaurant exists (hence no photo of the restaurant) and in fact, until they’re seated many guests aren’t cognizant it’s there. Then they espy the menu placards at their tables. Some will order entire meals off those menus. Others will order an item or two to supplement what they ordered from one of the food trucks regularly parked (Monday through Friday from 4PM to 9PM and from 12PM to 4PM and 4PM to 11PM on Saturday and Sunday) in front of the Brewery. 

Though my Kim and I don’t imbibe adult beverages when either of us plan to drive, we’ve found both the downtown and westside Marble Brewery locations as friendly and yes, even family oriented as possible.  In that respect they’re very much reminiscent of the pubs we frequented during our years in England.  Better still, we’ve enjoyed cuisine from food trucks and the Ohana Hut with our delightful dachshund Dude (he abides) on the shaded patio.  During an outing in June, 2017, Dude was one of a menagerie of four-legged children to visit the brewery.  We’ve always believed dog lovers to be the highest caliber people and reaffirmed that belief during our visit.

Pot Stickers

Chef Maestas calls his restaurant-within-a-brewery Ohana Hut. The term “Ohana” translates from Hawaiian to “family” and the inexorable ties which bind all families together. Fittingly, Ohana Hut serves Hawaiian food and sushi. If your mind’s eye is picturing Spam-based entrees and luau type food, you’re in for a treat. There’s so much more to the cuisine of Hawaiian than those stereotypes. Hawaiian cuisine is heavily influenced by the Asian immigrant workers who settled the island paradise, but it’s also got elements of Polynesian ingredients and techniques as well as foods brought over by European and American visitors and Christian missionaries. The result, similar to what you’ll experience at Street Food Blvd, is a delightful mélange of flavors.

26 November 2016: Our own introduction to Ohana Hut came on a Saturday afternoon when we visited the Brewery to partake of “a little South in your mouth” courtesy of the Supper Truck. As we waited for our order, we perused the menu at our table and absolutely knew we had to order the 808 Nachos (808 being the Hawaiian area code). Within a couple of bites we knew we’d be back. The 808 Nachos—a picturesque pile of teriyaki chicken, crab and rice served over tortilla chips and topped with spicy mayo, green onion, Furiyaki (a dried mixed seasoning), teriyaki sauce and jalapeños–are terrific, very much reminiscent of sushi meets teriyaki meets nachos.  With sweet, savory and piquant notes in perfect proportion to each other, these nachos take a back seat to no other nachos in a state where great nachos are plentiful.

Spicy Tiger Roll and Ghost Pepper Roll

3 December 2016: Our second visit transpired on a cold, windy day in which our bellies craved the warmth and comfort of soup.  Apparently we weren’t alone in our thinking as we witnessed several bowls being delivered of Saimin, a noodle and broth soup inspired by Japanese ramen.   Considered the national dish of Hawaii (take that Spam), it has become so ubiquitous on the Islands that it’s available even on the McDonald’s menu.  Hawaiians consider it the ultimate comfort food.  Ohana’s Saimin Noodle Bowl (Hawaiian noodle, egg, green onion, chicken and dashi Japanese broth) does indeed have the nurturing, comforting properties of all good soups, but we didn’t find it quite as flavorful as the ramen we’ve had at  Naruto or O Ramen.  Still on a cold day, it’s a godsend.

3 December 2016: As you enter the Brewery, look for the slate board on which chef’s specials are listed.  We happened upon a special that sounded too good to pass up.  Sporting the intriguing name “Sushirrito,” we reasoned it must be some sort of burrito-sushi fusion.  Instead of a flour or corn tortilla, a sheet of Nori (paper-like, edible, toasted seaweed) serves as a wrapper in which the other ingredients–rice, sesame seeds, tortilla chips, chow mein with spicy mayo and unagi with your choice of chicken breast or Korean-style barbecue chicken–are nestled.  It will never be mistaken for a New Mexico style burrito though dipping it into a wasabi-soy sauce dip will give you a similar endorphin rush from the heat. 

New Mexico Roll

3 December 2016: One restaurant trend that never seems to go out of fashion, at least in Albuquerque, is sliders–scaled-down versions of burgers or sandwiches.  Sliders are a tease–never big enough to sate you, especially when they’re good.  The Dakind Sliders Trio (Teriyaki Ground Beef, Teriyaki Chicken and Spam topped with American cheese) are a terrific triumvirate.  Nestled within pillowy soft, sweet Hawaiian bread, each sandwich is barely more than four or five small bites.  When you’re splitting them two ways, they don’t go a long way.  Your memories will last longer than the experience of eating them.

3 December 2016: While enthusiastic about the entire Ohana Hut menu, our server was especially fond of the sushi which she assured us is as bold and imaginative as it is delicious.  You might think the most incendiary roll on the menu would be the Ghost Pepper Roll.  After all, the ghost pepper rates over one-million on the Scoville scale and is considered one of the world’s ten hottest peppers.  Ghost peppers aren’t actually found on the eponymous roll, but ghost pepper mayo is.  The foundation for this roll is actually a California roll topped with salmon, pistachios, avocado, unagi sauce and of course, the ghost pepper mayo.  If you’re looking for serious heat, this isn’t your best choice, but if you’re looking for a thoroughly delicious sushi roll, this one is hard to beat.

Hawaiian Roll

3 December 2016: The distinction of being Ohana Hut’s most fiery sushi roll belongs to the Spicy Tiger Roll.  While many purveyors of fine sushi offer their version of a tiger roll, you won’t find much heat on most of them.  The difference-maker on this one is (believe it or not) is Cheetos crunchy flaming hot cheese snacks which are crushed into red dust that tops the roll.  As with the ghost pepper roll, the foundation for the spicy tiger roll is a California roll which is supplemented by tiger shrimp and shredded crab.  The flaming hot Cheetos make this roll so piquant that only fire-eaters will want to dip them into a wasabi-soy mix.  My Kim scraped off the Cheetos and sent them my way.

3 December 2016: You read it here first–one of my choices for “Gil’s Best of the Best for 2016” is Ohana Hut’s Blue Velvet Swirl, a colorful cake with a lemon creme cheese filling topped with kiwi, white chocolate and hazel nuts.  It’s the best dessert my Kim and I have shared in quite a while.  As pleasing to the palate as it is to your eyes, it’s one of those rare desserts which shouldn’t be shared.  You wouldn’t want to miss a single nibble of this wonderful cake!  9 June 2017 Update: Our server apprised us that the Blue Velvet Swirl is no longer offered on the menu.  Apparently this dessert’s inventor is no longer on staff.  It will be greatly missed.

Spicy Tuna Roll

9 June 2017: According to popular legend, the origin of potstickers came about rather serendipitously.  Apparently a Chinese chef intended to boil traditional dumplings in a wok, but he walked walked away and the water boiled off. The dumpling stuck to the wok and crisped up, producing what we now know as the potsticker, which in Chinese literally means “stuck to the wok.”  Ohana Hut’s potstickers (pan-seared and steamed chicken potstickers served with a ponzu sauce in which green onions and sesame seeds swim merrily) hold true to the tradition of Chinese potstickers.  Served five to an order, they’re a delicious way to start a meal.  More than most, these are engorged with chicken and are just a bit larger than bite-sized.

9 June 2017: It seems de rigueur that every sushi restaurant in the Land of Enchantment serve a sushi roll christened either green chile roll or New Mexico roll, sometimes both.  The most standard aspect of the New Mexico roll is that one of its chief ingredients is (no surprise here) green chile.  Ohana Hut’s version is constructed with spicy crab, cucumber, avocado and fresh green chile topped with spicy mayo, unagi (freshwater eel) sauce and Sriracha.  It’s a beauteous serpentine roll with complimentary-contrasting sweet (unagi sauce) and piquant notes (courtesy of the freshly roasted green chile, spicy crab, spicy mayo and Sriracha).  These complimentary-contrasting flavor profiles work extremely well together–so well, in fact, that the wasabi-soy sauce mix is redundant and wholly unnecessary.  Ohana Hut’s New Mexico roll may be the best of its kind.  Perhaps someday the New Mexico State Legislature will consider it for the state’s official state sushi roll.

Haole Roll

9 June 2017: It stands to reason that a chef specializing in Hawaiian cuisine would offer a Hawaiian roll.  Ohana Hut’s version is terrific: vinegared rice wrapped around spicy tuna and topped with avocado, ahi tuna, sesame seeds and micro greens drizzled with spicy mayo and unagi sauce.  Characteristic of spicy tuna used for sushi, this glorious tuna is diced into small pieces emboldened by either spicy mayo sauce or sriracha hot sauce.  The ahi tuna, on the other hand, is sashimi-quality tuna sliced into thin sheets.  It’s tuna two ways, both delicious.  So are the contrasting sauces–the sweet unagi sauce and the piquant spicy mayo.

9 June 2017: Spicy tuna is a staple of sushi bars, a favorite in both Japan and the United States.  Dip the roll into an American wasabi(mostly doctored horseradish) and soy sauce and you’re on the bullet train to flavor town (watching too much Guy Fieri lately).  Spicy tuna rolls are meant to be incendiary so you’ll be forgiven if you dunk the roll in its entirety into the wasabi-soy mix.  Heighten your enjoyment with the accompanying ginger, as effective a palate cleanser as you’ll find.

Baked Volcano Roll

9 June 2017: If you don’t have a sense of humor, you might not appreciate the Hawaiian term Haole which means “a person who is not a native Hawaiian, especially a white person.”  It’s a more precise term than the Japanese word gaijin which simply means foreigner.   Chef Maestas takes no offense with the term, offering a unique no-rice, no seaweed sushi roll called (what else) the Haole Roll (crab, daikon and avocado wrapped in fresh ahi tuna topped with green onion, jalapeño and Haole sauce.  Sashimi-quality ahi tuna is the star of this roll, but the complimentary ingredients make this unique composition a delight to enjoy.

9 June 2017: The term “volcano roll” probably conjures images of a maki roll spewing out molten contents.  The only thing about this roll that gushes is your effusive compliments and a few oohs and aahs.  Many sushi bars serve volcano rolls, but as is often the case there’s nothing standard about their composition.  Ohana Hut’s baked volcano roll is constructed from crab, avocado, spicy tuna, Atlantic salmon baked with spicy mayo and topped with unagi, green onion, tobeko and bonito flake.  An asterisk (*) denotes this is a spicy roll, but it’s certainly not overly spicy.

Hawaiian Mochi

9 June 2017: After receiving the crushing news that Ohana Hut no longer offers the Blue Velvet Swirl dessert, we were told the only dessert now available is Mochi, a term which for me brought to mind the Mexican corrido “Los Mochis.”   Mochi is a unique Japanese concoction crafted from specially treated short grain glutinous rice.  Ice cream enclosed in mochi is a popular Japanese dessert treat, one which Ohana Hut mimics very well.   Though several ice cream flavors are available, we opted for two contrasting flavors: chocolate and mango.  Both were terrific!

In the familial spirit of Ohana, you’ll want to take friends and family to the Ohana Hut where you’ll share some of the very best sushi and Hawaiian food we’ve had in New Mexico (just don’t share the Blue Velvet  Swirl).  Lest I forget, the Triple Crown award-winning Street Food Blvd still prowls the mean streets of metropolitan Albuquerque, pleasing teeming masses with uniquely creative and delicious fare.

Ohana Hut
5740 Night Whisper Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 934-5390
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 June 2017
1st VISIT: 26 November 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: 808 Nachos, Spicy Tiger Roll, Blue Velvet Swirl, Ghost Pepper Swirl, Dakind Sliders Trio, Saimin Noodle Bowl, Spicy Tuna Roll, New Mexico Roll, Hawaiian Roll, Haole Roll, Baked Volcano Roll, Hawaiian Mochi

Ohana Hut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

TFK Smokehouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico

TFK Smokehouse Parked at a Brewery Near You

Every summer, a predictable ritual takes place. After hibernating comfortably since the previous autumn, men attired in aprons emblazoned with the slogan “kiss the cook” will selflessly volunteer to “cook” a meal. This, of course, means barbecue, a decidedly masculine affectation and the only type of cooking most men can be entrusted to do. When this ritual is completed and guests are sated, lavish praise and thanks are heaped upon the “chef.” In truth, the only aspects of this ritual for which men are typically responsible is getting the grill lit, placing the meats on the grill and turning them (after our female better halves warn us that the meats are burning). Normally all the preparatory work—buying the food; preparing the salad, vegetables and desserts; preparing the meat for cooking; organizing plates and cutlery; preparing the plates—is done by our wives and girlfriends. Ditto for the post-dining rituals—clearing the table, doing the dishes and putting everything away. Insouciant clods that men are, we can’t figure out why our ladies are upset when we asked how they enjoyed their “night off.”

While most of us endowed with the XY-chromosome pairing can identify with the scenario described above (which some women might find entirely accurate), Katie Calico and her husband Chris White have a more egalitarian relationship when it comes to the barbecue ritual. The two own and operate the TFK Smokehouse trailer, an endeavor which requires equally exhausting effort from both of them. Watching them prepare then serve meals out of their barbecue mothership nearly wore us out. They perform the same type of prep work the brick-and-mortar restaurants do, but they do so in a much more confined space, a food truck other food truck vendors refer to as “The Cage” for its mix of industrial meets artistic design.

Burqueño Cheesesteak with Coleslaw

TFK, by the way, doesn’t stand for “Truck Food Kitchen” as we had surmised before meeting Katie. It stands for “Talking Fountain Kitchen,” in honor of Katie’s erstwhile venture, Talking Fountain Gallery and Boutique. Before launching the TFK Smokehouse in November, 2013, Katie owned and operated the gallery on Lead Avenue. She explained that “talking fountains” don’t speak on their own; for centuries, fountains have served as meeting places in which citizens of Rome could express themselves—even during Mussolini’s regime. The idea of expressing yourself any way you can resonated deeply with Katie who continues in that spirit even though her primary focus is now culinary arts.

The TFK Smokehouse is reflective of the creativity formerly on display at her gallery. Once a flatbed trailer sporting stainless steel tables, the Smokehouse underwent a significant make-over. Many of the display fixtures and racks from the defunct art gallery were repurposed for the truck along with other artistic treasures. The result is a rather unique food truck that belies any stereotypes you may have about food trucks…at least in terms of appearance. From a functional standpoint, however, the Smokehouse is everything you would expect a great food truck to be. The aromas wafting from this mobile conveyance are akin to smoke signals beckoning you to sample the fruit wood-perfumed fare.

BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich

When we asked to which style the Smokehouse subscribes from among the four regional pillars of American barbecue (Memphis, Texas, Kansas City, Carolinas), Chris told us they employ the St. Louis style of barbecue. On a per capita basis, St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce than any city in the nation and boasts of former world barbecue champion Super Smokers among other purveyors of outstanding barbecue. He added that the influence of molasses is readily apparent on their sauce. It’s also apparent that savvy diners keep track of where the Smokehouse will be parked. In the time it took us to finish our lunch, dozens of diners had queued up and ordered food either to go or to consume at one of La Cumbre Brewing Co’s shaded picnic tables.

In that time, the most frequently ordered item appeared to be the Burqueno Cheesesteak (smoked prime rib with grilled onions, green chile and Asadero cheese on a toasted baguette). In this town only the transcendent green chile Philly from Philly’s N’ Fries is even in the same ballpark as this behemoth sandwich. Several elements make this a special sandwich. First and foremost, it really is made with prime rib, not some inferior cut of beef. That prime rib is lightly smokes so as not to detract from the native deliciousness of that cut. Secondly, the green chile actually bites back. You probably won’t be reaching for water (unless you’re from Colorado), but you’ll definitely get a little endorphin rush. Third, the toasted baguette is courtesy of Albuquerque’s premier bakery, Golden Crown Panaderia. No one in this town knows bread as well as Pratt and Chris Morales.

Pint-Size BBQ Bella Sandwich with Potato Salad

On the date of our inaugural visit, the Smokehouse menu featured six sandwiches, each served with a side item (your choice of cole slaw, potato salad or kettle chips).  Roasted green chile can be added to any barbecue sandwich for a dollar more.  It’s a very worthwhile investment especially with the BBQ beef brisket sandwich (smoked beef brisket on a bed of cole slaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet BBQ sauce on a toasted bolillo roll.  This is a very good sandwich with contrasts (the crunchy, tangy cole slaw and the sweet sauce, for example) which work very well together.  The brisket is shredded into tender tendrils of moist, juicy beef.  True to its genesis, the St. Louis style sauce is very much on the sweet side.  Thankfully other elements provide a nice counterbalance.

For lesser appetites, the Smokehouse offers “pint” sized barbecue sandwiches for about half the price of the standard-sized sandwiches.  These pint-sized treasures are available in your favorite meats (brisket, pork, chicken).  A vegetarian-friendly sandwich christened the Bella (balsamic-glazed portabella mushrooms on a bed of coleslaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet sauce on a toasted bolillo roll) is another superb option.  The balsamic glaze imparts vinegary notes that work very well with the sweet sauce.  The portabella mushrooms have a meaty texture and earthy flavor, but it’s just a bit obfuscated by the sauce. 

More than most Albuquerque area food trucks the TFK Smokehouse does a terrific job of posting on its Facebook page where it’ll be on any given weekend.  Alas, the page also includes photos of some of the featured fare.  It’s food porn that’ll have barbecue aficionados salivate with lust.  That lust is justified.  The TFK Smokehouse is one of the city’s very best food trucks.

TFK Smokehouse
(Location Varies)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 369-8668
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: BBQ Bella Sandwich, Burqueño Cheesesteak, BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, Coleslaw, Potato Salad

TFK Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Boxing Bear Brewing Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Boxing Bear Brewing Company in Albuquerque

In the 2008 Will Ferrell comedy Semi-Pro which centers on a fictional professional basketball team, there’s a scene in which Ferrell’s character wrestles with a grizzly bear at halftime of a game. While young viewers might find this scene preposterous, if not unbelievable, some of the more geriatrically advanced among us might remember when such promotions actually took place–usually at rural county fairs where members of the audience were offered money if they could last a few minutes with a wrestling or boxing bear.

Bears who were forced into pugilism or grappling were typically de-clawed, de-fanged, fitted with a muzzle and often even drugged.  Despite these disadvantages, the 600- to 800-pound Ursidae could easily defeat anyone who stood before them.  Most matches lasted less than a minute (longer than George Costanza lasted in the Festivus Day feats of strength wrestling match with his dad).  Although enthusiasm for bear wrestling and boxing has waned with the rise of animal rights, a barbaric subculture still exists which gets its jollies from watching animals fight.

The Capacious Dog-Friendly Patio

Boxing Bear Brewing Company’s logo-slash-mascot depicts a bear walking on all fours, a red boxing glove covering its right front paw.  Both the brewery’s motto–beer with a punch–and several beers–Hairy Mit, Ambear Ale, Paw Swipe Pale Ale, Uppercut, Red Glove Red Ale, Barril de Oso–are thematic.   If the Boxing Bear Brewing Company continues to earn accolades, the New Mexico state legislature may add a red glove to the image of our state animal, the American black bear.  In 2017, the Brewery won third place for Best Brewpub in USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice national poll.  In 2016–in only its second year of competition-it was named Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year at the Festival.

Boxing Bear launched in 2014 at the capacious 8,200-square-foot complex which previously housed Elliot’s and before that The Cooperage West. It’s situated on the northeast corner of the Alameda and Corrales intersection. Although not part of its name, Boxing Bear is also a winery, producing and serving local varietals all made locally. This sets it apart from most traditional brew pubs in the Duke City. Another people-pleasing aspect that sets it apart is its use of the great outdoors. Nestled beneath towering shade-providing trees and flanked by shrubs and flowers is a sprawling dog-friendly patio. Blaring speakers mean your conversational volume has to go up just a bit.

Nachos

While several brew pubs (Bosque Brewing Company and Starr Brothers Brewery come to mind) across the Duke City have embraced the gastropub spirit of serving high-end, high-quality food with their libations, Boxing Bear’s menu is rather Spartan. Essentially, everything on the menu can be prepared on a panini press or crock pot. Boxing Bear’s focus is clearly on its award-winning beer and wine. Its culinary fare won’t win any awards, but it’s good, basic beer accompaniment. The menu lists five items “to share,” six grilled paninis and three hot dogs. That’s it.

For us, the big culinary draw were the nachos. Dancing Bear’s “to share” menu promised “a pile of chips served with your choice of Ambear-infused Korean BBQ pulled pork or Texas chile topped with house-made beer-infused queso, pickled jalapenos and a dollop of sour cream.” They had us at “Korean BBQ pulled pork.” Alas, whatever beer-infusion process was used on the queso was rather ineffectual; the cheese was reminiscent of the gloppy, canned cheese often used on ballpark nachos. Worse, the “Korean BBQ pulled pork” was more akin to Kansas City barbecue pulled pork than to the bulgogi barbecue we were expecting. Still, to cover that pulled pork with the cheese is near criminal.

Grilled Club

The terms “panini” and “grilled club” are mutually incompatible. When you think of a “club” sandwich, your mind’s eye conjures images of layered sandwiches—often double- or triple-deckers–piled high with meats and vegetables. Some restaurants pride themselves on the skyscraper-high size of their clubs. Panini, on the other hand, calls to mind pressed (and compressed) sandwiches smooshed down to maybe one layer of a Dagwood sandwich. Panini and grilled club are antithetical! Boxing Bear’s grilled club (turkey, roasted pork, bacon, Swiss cheese, spinach and cream cheese) may not be a two-fisted behemoth, but it packs a very satisfying flavor with fresh ingredients that work very well together. Because the Bear uses telera bread (a flat, crusty white bread often used on tortas), you also don’t have to worry about the panini’s rough texture beating up the roof of your mouth.

Also quite good is the Al’BEAR’querque Turkey (turkey, bacon, mozzarella cheese, green chile, chile mayo, spinach and cream cheese). Though it’s been a pet peeve of mine that far too many restaurants seem to believe every turkey sandwich should be called an “Albuquerque Turkey,” at least this one takes a creative twist. What works best on this sandwich is the combination of delicate turkey and green chile. Even though the Boxing Bear’s chile has a pronounced bite, there’s enough turkey in this sandwich so that it doesn’t get overwhelmed. The combination of mozzarella and cream cheese, two very distinct cheeses, also works very well.

Al’BEAR’querque Turkey

Boxing Bear may not ever become a dining destination, but for savvy cerevisaphiles, it’s become a popular Albearquerque draw.

Boxing Bear Brewing Co.
10200 Corrales Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 897-2327
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Al’BEAR’querque Turkey, Grilled Club, Nachos

Boxing Bear Brewing Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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