In the 60s and early 70s, movies and television programs would have you believe all spies were hard-drinking, fast-driving, woman-chasing playboys as good with their fists as they were with a gun. They were worldly, sophisticated and charming, but could just as easily use guile and deception to get the job done. Bob Ayers, who worked in intelligence for 30 years in the U.S. Army and Defense Intelligence Agency counters those stereotypes: “All of that stuff about James Bond, that’s Hollywood. You don’t want anyone standing out in the intelligence business. You want someone nondescript. The ideal spy is 5-foot-6 and kind of dumpy.”
That ideal—nondescript and dumpy—just wouldn’t work in the restaurant business…or would it? Restaurants, especially those which are generously bankrolled by corporate megaliths, tend to have a lot of cash, flash and panache to create the illusion of glamor and allure which brings in customers (and most of us are easily entertained). In addition to all the pristine veneer and effusive, over-the-top flamboyance money can buy, these restaurants tend to have catchy, memorable names which help in the establishment and proliferation of brand identity. They’re capacious, swanky, memorable and largely successful.
Anyone who thinks this formulaic approach is the recipe for success would be at a loss to explain a restaurant like The Shop Breakfast and Lunch. It has none of the aforementioned characteristics of superficiality that seem to draw in the crowds. Even its name is so ambiguous that unless you know The Shop is a restaurant (the Breakfast and Lunch part is subtitled), you might dismiss it as yet another kitschy university area vintage clothing shop. While not “dumpy,” its ambiance is far from ostentatious. Maybe, that’s part of its charm. Perhaps that’s why The Shop has a faithful following that eschews the artifice and ambiance of the “shiny” restaurants to eat there instead.
Like The Shop itself, its patrons aren’t pretentious. Many of them are students at the University of New Mexico (UNM) which sprawls just across Buena Vista from the restaurant. They appreciate being able to fuel up on great food that isn’t going to break a student’s ramen-in-a-Styrofoam-box budget. You can bet the UNM voting demographic stuffed the Alibi’s ballots in 2014 when The Shop was named the Duke City’s “best new restaurant.”
Those of us who have only been students of life for a while also appreciate the great food…and to be honest, most of us don’t imbibe the “ambiance.” After all, a swanky milieu doesn’t improve the flavor of any food. The Shop’s furnishings are more utilitarian than they are comfortable, but you won’t be thinking about how much more comfortable you’d be in a plush, cozy chair as you’re indulging on an even cozier Kentucky Hot Brown.
Your eyes didn’t just deceive you. You did read “Kentucky Hot Brown,” perhaps the only thing more popular in the Bluegrass State than the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. The Kentucky Hot Brown is to Kentucky what the green chile cheeseburger is to New Mexico. It’s a sacrosanct sandwich beloved throughout the state. Even if you haven’t been to Kentucky, you may have heard about it on the Food Network, Travel Channel, PBS or any number of nationally syndicated stations. At The Shop, it’s far from the only sandwich surprise on the menu.
Surprises start with the most important meal of the day. The breakfast menu, served all day long (from 8AM through 3PM) offers hearty options, some of which you can’t find anywhere else in Albuquerque. The duck hash, biscuits and chorizo gravy, shrimp and grits and of course, the Kentucky Hot Brown are just a few of them. Lunch offerings are categorized into sandwiches (with your choice of house made chips or side salad), mac and cheese (three scrumptious options) and three creative salads (Kale Caesar anyone?) .
15 April 2015: During the Roaring 20s, the executive chef at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky invented a sandwich to help revelers to wind down and sober up. Today that sandwich, the Kentucky Hot Brown may be more popular (at least in the Louisville area) than the Kentucky Derby. To say it should be served with an angioplasty may be an understatement. This is a caloric overachiever constructed from egg-battered pain de mie (a soft-crusted butter- and milk-rich loaf), thick cut ham, white Cheddar mornay sauce (a type of Bechamel), two eggs and bacon. Because it’s so very rich and creamy, it’s not for everyone, but everyone should try it at least once or twenty times.
15 April 2015: Several years ago, former Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez attempted a commercially-driven re-branding of the city. Despite his efforts, the sobriquet “The Q” didn’t exactly catch on, not that anyone would believe The Shop’s QBano is named for the mayor’s folly. Obviously, the QBano is a Cuban sandwich, one of the very best in “The Q,”…er, the Duke City. The canvas for this magnificent sandwich is a toasted bolillo roll stuffed and pressed with citrus-brined roasted local pork shoulder, sliced ham, yellow mustard, roasted garlic aioli, Gruyere cheese and housemade pickles. Just perusing the ingredients will cue you in that there are many elements which make this sandwich so special. My friend Bill raved about the garlic aioli while the pork shoulder won me over. This is a sandwich that’s more delicious than the sum of its ingredients!
15 April 2015: In some cultures (Vietnamese, for example), sandwiches are a breakfast mainstay. For some reason, however, Americans seem to dismiss the notion of much more than eggs and ham on their breakfast sandwich (Cafe Bella being an exception). Perhaps acquiescing to American tastes, The Rush’s ubiquitously named Breakfast Sandwich does indeed include eggs and a type of ham (prosciutto) then it gets creative with tomato, arugula, and basil aioli. There isn’t enough prosciutto to suit the ham lover in most of us and veggie haters might not like the thick tomatoes or peppery arugula, but most will enjoy the sandwich in its entirety.
23 April 2015:The answer-slash-punchline to the trite joke that begins “why did the chicken cross the road?” could well be “to avoid becoming a chicken sandwich.” What chicken in its right mind would want a fate so boring? Despite being so commonplace (operative word, common), the chicken sandwich at one restaurant is more of the same banality as you’ll find at almost every other restaurant. You’d think someone (besides the Stone Face Tavern) could come up with something original to do with chicken. The Shop has! Its fried chicken sandwich is constructed with a buttermilk fried chicken breast, shaved cabbage slaw, a creamy caraway dressing, housemade pickles and just enough hot sauce to create an absolutely delicious interplay with the caraway dressing. The chicken itself is moist and sheathed with a light breading which glistens from the creaminess of the caraway and fiery red of the sauce. The pickles provide a tart, but not lip-pursing foil while the shaved cabbage slaw offers a textural contrast. It’s a chicken sandwich any self-respecting chicken would gladly sacrifice its feathers to be a part of.
23 April 2015:For years I didn’t understand coffee snobs and their haughty, expensive designer mochas, lattes, espressos and cappuccinos. The lure of these trendy and upscale aromatic elixirs escaped me until my first sip of the red chili (SIC) mocha at Café Bella in Rio Rancho. To say it was love at first sip was an understatement, one that opened my eyes to the realization that maybe the coffee snobs were right. Because my daytime proximity to Café Bella has shifted by nearly twenty miles, I’ve searched high and low for a closer proximity version of the soothing, sating, invigorating siren’s call that is red chile mocha. While none have equaled the one at my beloved Café Bella, the Mexican Mocha at The Shop has lessened my pain a bit. It’s an earthy, palate-pleasing beverage which more than hints at piquancy and chocolate, two of the world’s finest taste sensations.
While The Shop Breakfast and Lunch may be an ugly duckling compared to some of Albuquerque’s “shiny,” flashy restaurants, it’s a beautiful, graceful swan in the kitchen where some of the most creative and delicious dishes in the Nob Hill district are created.
The Shop Breakfast And Lunch
2933 Monte Vista Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 23 April 2015
1st VISIT: 15 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Qbano, Breakfast Sandwich, Kentucky Hot Brown, Housemade Potato Chips, Fried Chicken Sandwich