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Placitas Cafe – Placitas, New Mexico

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The Placitas Cafe in beautiful downtown Placitas, New Mexico

While it does have a nice ring to it, “beautiful downtown Placitas” probably won’t catch on the way “beautiful downtown Burbank” did when the catch phrase (and quite often, punch-line) was made famous first on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In then on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Located just a few miles northeast of Hollywood, beautiful downtown Burbank is 34-blocks of retail, office, residential and entertainment destinations that include more than 200 shops and 90 restaurants.

Beautiful downtown Placitas, on the other hand, is pretty much limited to the Homestead Village shopping center which is surrounded on all sides by capacious open space in a charming village back-dropped by the reddish Sandias.  Instead of the high-density urban sprawl of Burbank, beautiful downtown Placitas is graced by panoramic views of hills dotted with dessert flora, weather-worn mesas and verdured mountains.

View of the Sandias from the parking lot

View of the Sandias from the parking lot

The term “beautiful downtown Placitas” isn’t some sort of ironic inside joke among the village’s 3,000-plus citizens.  Nor will you find the term splayed on Placitas real estate brochures or touristy village literature.  Where you’ll most often read this term of endearment is on the Placitas Cafe’s blog.  The Placitas Cafe is one of two restaurant anchor tenants within the Homestead Village, the other being Blades’ Bistro.

While Blades Bistro has established a reputation as one of the very best restaurants in New Mexico, the Placitas Cafe hasn’t been as widely touted.  Could it be Placitas residents want it that way?  Might the fact that the Cafe’s exterior signage reads simply “Cafe” be indicative of the desire among locals to keep it a secret…to keep it to themselves?  It sure seemed that way during my inaugural visit for a late lunch when the restaurant was sardine-packed with locals.  With all the Placitas residents who read this blog, it sure made me wonder why they hadn’t been clamoring for me to visit.  Hmmm, Bruce, Dave, Joe?

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Triple Berry Scone

Upon entering, it became immediately apparent that the Placitas Cafe is a beloved local treasure, a “Cheers” type of establishment in which “everyone (or at least the wait staff) knows your name.”  During my inaugural visit, the front of the house was in the capable and ambassadorial hands of Mike Franklin, brother of the Cafe’s owner and chef John.  As gregarious and extroverted as they come, Mike does indeed seem to know everyone–and if he doesn’t, he will by meal’s end.  Mike flits from table-to-table, engaging in witty repartee with guests while taking care of their orders with a deft touch.  In a subsequent visit over lunch, we discovered that brother John is equally engaging, bringing mirth and laughter to every table.  John told us family reunions are a laugh-fest.

The one thought that never crossed my mind as to why my Placitas readers hadn’t raved to me about the Placitas Cafe is because maybe it wasn’t very good.  Considering the near overflow crowds, that notion just didn’t make any sense.  If the Cafe hadn’t been good, it would truly have been tragic because the menu is more than a cut above what you find in most cafes.  Some items, in fact, are heretofore unavailable elsewhere in the Land of Enchantment.  Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (8AM to 9PM every day but Monday. Saturday and Sunday, 8AM to 2PM), the Placitas Cafe offers American and New Mexican breakfast standards, organic spring mix salads, vegetarian dishes, New Mexican offerings, burgers, sandwiches and so much more.

Huevos Espiñaca Creama

Huevos Espiñaca Creama

When busy, you might be asked to seat yourself, the first invitation to make yourself at home.  Few things in life make me feel more welcome than helping myself to coffee–as much and as often as I want (for a non-morning person, there’s nothing as unnerving as an empty cup).  A self-serve coffee bar offers three coffee blends, including the eponymous Placitas Cafe blend tinged with New Mexican piñon.  As you luxuriate in your cup, you’ll want to take in the comfy, cozy ambiance.  Walls are adorned with a mishmash of cutesy, folksy wall hangings and landscape photographs showcasing the Land of Enchantment’s scenic vistas.

Breakfast is served from 8am-1:59pm with a menu including a Hawaiian favorite not often found in New Mexico cafes (ironic considering how popular it is in New Mexican homes).  That would be a plate called “Spam, Eggs, Bacon and Spam,” (BOTVOLR, this one’s for you) described on the menu as “a couple of Spam steaks, cooked to your preference, two eggs any style, bacon, sauteed potatoes and English muffin.”  How many of us even knew Spam could be cooked in different ways?  

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Special Green Beans with Ranch Dressing

8 February 2014: Less artery clogging dishes are available to start off your day.  Among them are made-from-scratch scones which are light yet dense, crumbly yet soft and absolutely delicious.  The triple berry scone (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries) is terrific, the tanginess of berries punctuating each bite.  As with all good scones, these aren’t overly sweet.  They also pair wonderfully with the coffee, especially the aforementioned Placitas Cafe piñon blend.

8 February 2014: Among the heretofore “not found in New Mexico cafes” items is a unique take on Eggs Benedict.  Called Huevos Espiñaca Creama (sic), it’s a very rich dish with which to start off a morning.  This isn’t a bad thing because you’ll likely take about half of it home for breakfast the following day.  The canvas for this decadent dish is a crispy flour tortilla which is topped by two poached eggs surrounded by a creamed sauce, spinach and diced potatoes and topped with melted mozzarella and crumbly feta.  Though it should come standard with an angioplasty, it’s an excellent example of rich indulgence the type of which we should all treat ourselves on occasion.

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The Dubliner with French Fries

6 February 2014: The “snackies” portion of the menu includes a number of de rigueur appetizers such as salsa and chips, quesadilla, nachos con queso and something called “Special Green Beans,” described on the menu as “a tasty pile of organic green beans, deep sauteed and seasoned.”  The menu boasts “once you’ve tasted them, you’ll never look at a green bean the same!”  Served with Ranch dressing, these green beans are special indeed.  The  texture of these green beans is crispy, but not so much that the beans snap when you bite or cut into them.  The seasoning mix is a mix of mostly savory seasonings which lend a lot of personality to these beans.

6 February 2014: The “Burgers And….” menu lists some fourteen burgers ranging from the standard to the unconventional.  Among the latter is The Dubliner, which shares its name with the cheese featured on the burger.  The menu describes The Dubliner as “a hamburger stuck between spring mix, tomato and horseradish sauce on the lower, then topped with coleslaw and Dubliner cheese.”  As hinted at by the description, this is a moist burger, but also one redolent with deliciousness.  The nicely seasoned beef patty is hand-formed and about half an inch thick.  The horseradish has a bite, but won’t water your eyes.  If you’ve never had Dubliner cheese, you’re in for a treat.  Dubliner has a distinctive flavor, imparting a sweet, lingering aftertaste.  Its texture is firm and slightly dry.  Frankly it surprised me at how well it melts.  What didn’t surprise me is how enjoyable a burger The Dubliner is.  Would it go well with green chile?  Probably not, but no doubt someone will be willing to try.

Patty Melt

Patty Melt

8 February 2014: Surely I’m not the only person who’s ever engaged in a “patty melt: burger or sandwich” debate?  Persuasive arguments can be made for both points.  What is a patty melt anyway?  It’s grilled onions and hamburger patty served on toasted rye with melted cheese (the Placitas Cafe uses Cheddar and mozzarella).  Not all patty melts are created equally well.  Utilizing excellent ingredients is the key to a good patty melt.  You want the beef patty prepared at no more than medium for optimum juiciness.  You’ll want the  onions (red, if possible) to be floppy strands of caramelized deliciousness without being overly crunchy or flaccid.  You’ll want the cheese to be thick enough to complement, not dominate the flavor profile.  You’ll want the rye bread to be lightly toasted and soft, but still formidable enough to hold up against the moistness of all other ingredients.  The Placitas Cafe passes muster on all counts. 

American Classic

29 November 2014: Though I pride myself in being open-minded, there is one thing about which I’m unabashedly stubborn. For me, it’s not breakfast without chile. My Chicago born-and-bred Kim, however, was raised with different traditions and honors them by ordering such breakfast plates as the Placitas Cafe’s American Classic: two eggs (any style), sauteed potatoes, a choice of ham, sausage, bacon or turkey bacon and toast (white, wheat, rye, sourdough). She certifies this plate as absolutely delicious, but I can’t vouch for that because my breakfast was a New Mexican proud buffalo enchiladas plate that blows any American Classic out of the water.

Buffalo Meat Enchiladas with Red and Green Chile

29 November 2014:  When asked if the chile served at the Placitas Cafe includes cumin, John’s response was “we don’t serve tourist chile.”  That’s an understatement!  This is New Mexico chile the way it should be–even  if it is spelled tourist fashion: chili.  Both red and green chile are pleasantly piquant with a very nice roasted flavor.  It’s also served steaming hot, an endearing quality not all restaurants practice.  One of the best dishes in which that chile is showcased is the buffalo enchiladas, flat enchiladas made with lean, delicious buffalo ground beef, fresh corn tortillas and red and yellow Cheddar served with papitas and beans.  Compared to beef, buffalo has a lighter flavor, tastes slightly sweet and is deliciously tender and lean.  The papitas are cubed potato perfection with a right-sized amount of salt.  The buffalo enchiladas are also served with a single tortilla from which you can construct “New Mexican spoons” for scooping up and eating the deliciousness. 

Chips and Salsa

2 January 2015:  Although no longer complimentary at most restaurants, salsa and chips remain a de rigueur standard at many restaurants in New Mexico.  If the salsa and chips are good, patrons don’t mind paying for them.  The salsa and chips at the Placitas Cafe are very good and to paraphrase John, they’re not “tourist salsa and chips.”  The salsa, a chunky blend of chopped tomatoes and jalapeños, has the type of kick New Mexicans enjoy.  Piquancy and freshness are the hallmark of this salsa which pairs very well with the thick, crisp yellow corn chips.  These formidable chips are perfect for scooping Gil-sized salsa portions.

Monkey Cakes with Turkey Bacon

2 January 2015: The curiously named “monkey cakes” incorporate a touch of New Mexico with a traditional American favorite.  Three golden pancakes studded with piñon and topped with banana slices make for a terrific breakfast (or any other time) treat.  Slather these orbs with butter and syrup for best results.  The piñon offers  that magically subtle hint of pine that will transport your heart, mind and taste buds to New Mexico’s pine forests.  It’s a perfect foil for the sweet bananas and even sweeter syrup.  The monkey cakes are served with your choice of bacon or turkey bacon, the latter of which provides a crispy, crunchy textural contrast to the monkey cakes.

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Buttermilk Pie

6 February 2014: The Dubliner isn’t the only menu item paying tribute to the Emerald Isle.  On your first visit to the Placitas Cafe, you’ll be treated to a slice of Irish Buttermilk Pie, made from a recipe brought over from Ireland by the Franklin brothers’ grandfather.  It’s a scrumptious and rich wedge of pie imbued with more than a scintilla of Guinness (would it be Irish otherwise?).  The Franklin brothers are justifiably proud of this delicious dessert.

I don’t know whether or not to be mad at my Placitas friends for not having invited me to this village gem sooner, but suspect they’ll be mad at me if this review drives up traffic to the Placitas Cafe.  Who can blame them for wanting to keep it to themselves, but it’s too good not to share.

Placitas Cafe
221 Highway 165
Placitas, New Mexico
(505) 771-1700
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 2 January 2015
1st VISIT: 6 February 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Special Green Beans, The Dubliner, French Fries, Buttermilk Pie, Huevos Spiñaca Creama, Triple Berry Scones, Patty Melt, Placitas Cafe Piñon Blend Coffee, Buffalo Enchiladas, American Classic, Monkey Cakes, Chips and Salsa

Placitas Cafe on Urbanspoon

Shade Tree Customs & Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Shade Tree Customs & Cafe in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill

For at least the past seven years, the most famous “biker cafe” in the Land of Enchantment has been the fictional Maggie’s Diner in Madrid on the Turquoise Trail.  Constructed in 2007 for the made-in-New-Mexico comedy Wild Hogs, Maggie’s Diner was frequented by bikers of all ilks, whether they be white collar executives in the throes of mid-life crises or the stereotypically rowdy, raucous bikers who terrorize the Madrid’s citizenry and  demand food and adult beverages gratis.

After January 14th, 2015 when the Food Network aired a Restaurant: Impossible episode entitled “Revved Up,” New Mexico’s most famous biker cafe probably became the Shade Tree Customs & Cafe in Albuquerque.  Chef-host Robert Irvine and crew spent a couple of days in October “transforming” the restaurant.  The premise of Restaurant: Impossible is that within two days and on a budget of $10,000,  Irvine will transform a failing American restaurant with the goal of helping to restore it to profitability and prominence. 

The redesigned Shade Tree Cafe

To make the show entertaining, any existing dysfunction or drama in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations is spotlighted in the fashion of all reality shows. If anything, what the show revealed is that when two worlds—a motorcycle shop and a restaurant—collide, issues are bound to arise. Irvine quickly determined the ownership quintumvirate didn’t have clearly defined roles and that operational transparency (food and beverage costs, labor costs, revenue) was lacking. Irvine also discerned the ownership passion for the motorcycle shop, indicating that similar passion for the restaurant would make the concept “amazing.”

Convening a meeting of the minds with staff and management, he pinpointed operational issues and recommended an increase in the frequency and openness of communication as well as role definition and managerial involvement. He also helped the kitchen staff rework the menu, creating exciting new dishes designed to wow patrons. To increase kitchen cohesiveness, team-building and morale, he asked that they create a team dance. It was one of the more entertaining segments of the show.

Part of your dining experience should include visiting the patio and repair shop

The show’s restaurant designer described the restaurant design as “college dormish” and “super macho.” Her goals for the make-over was to “make it cool, rough-and-tough, but still have a feminine touch.” Mission accomplished! The metamorphosed Shade Tree Café was even better than the vision ownership had in mind, described by Irvine as “the coolest place on Route 66.” The redesign inspired a rekindled passion that, coupled with the implementation of sound management practices, promises to restore the restaurant to profitability and prominence.

The Shade Tree Customs & Cafe first launched in February, 2012 before relocating to a larger Nob Hill venue some twenty months later.  As its name implies, the Shade Tree is a motorcycle-themed restaurant  and custom motorcycle shop within one complex.  The restaurant storefront is visible from Central Avenue just a few doors west of Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila.  The suite also houses a shop area where Shade Tree builds, sells and repairs custom cycles.  Weather permitting, an expansive patio in the alley behind the restaurant extends  capacity beyond indoor capacity of 70.

Spark Plugs

The Cafe portion of the Shade Tree operation offers wide-ranging beer and wine options as well as lunch and dinner menus ostensibly celebrating American biker favorites such as burgers and sandwiches.  The Cafe is also open for brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11AM until 2PM.  The menu isn’t overly expansive (five appetizers; four soup and salad options; five burgers, including one custom-made; four sandwiches and three popular entrees) or vegetarian friendly, but it does offer good variety and interesting specials. 

A good way to start your dining experience at the Shade Tree is with Spark Plugs, not the humble electrical contrivance that “sparks” to ignite the fuel on combustion engines, but what non-“motorheads” might call a “jalapeño popper.”  If that term practically reeks of greasy, breaded, bite-sized stuffed jalapeños, you’re in for a surprise.  These spark plugs are baked, not fried, and they’re stuffed with cream cheese and Cheddar topped with bacon bits.  The jalapeños aren’t incendiary, a likely consequence of being rather large (generally the smaller the pepper, the more heat it generates).  These spark plugs will rev your motor.

STC (Southern Tasty Chicken) Sandwich

One of the Shade Tree’s most popular entrees is the Southern Tasty Chicken (STC), a fried chicken breast served with green chile chutney, smashed potatoes and the veg o’ day.  A more portable variation of this “sounds like Sunday dinner” entree is the STC Sandwich, a towering behemoth constructed from a fried chicken breast, Habanero-Jack, Cajun mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle.  Do yourself a favor and dispose of the lettuce, tomato and onion even before biting into the sandwich; their biggest contribution to the sandwich is in providing a cooling effect.  The fried chicken breast is meant to be eaten hot with the molten cheeses and Cajun mayo slathered on generously.  As far as chicken sandwiches go, in the Duke City the only better option may be at the Stone Face Tavern

Fortune smiled upon us on the Sunday morning of our inaugural visit when one of the brunch specials was a Southwestern Patty Melt, an Angus patty, poblano, caramelized onions, Habanero cheese and green chile aioli on a brioche bun.  Perhaps because the patty is so prodigious, the ostensibly piquant influence of poblano, Habanero cheese and green chile aioli aren’t especially notable.  A larger tangle of caramelized onions would also be welcomed.  If these sound like shortcomings, kudos are still in order to the Shade Tree for providing a unique take on a sandwich that all-too-often provides a boring sameness from one restaurant to another.

Southwest Patty Melt

From the “Entrees” portion of the menu comes the Green Chile Mac, a plateful of macaroni smothered in Cheddar and Habanero-Jack cheese with a New Mexico green chile topping.  The rich combination of cheeses is sure to please the turophiles (cheese connoisseurs) among us, but the lack of real piquancy may leave volcano-eaters wanting more.  Alas, we didn’t learn until more closely perusing the menu after-the-fact that you can give any entree a kick-start by adding the “XXX hot “Backfire Sauce.”  We’ll request it next time. 

The veg o’ day served with the green chile mac was baby asparagus, as good as we’ve had them anywhere in Albuquerque.  Sauteed (probably in butter) and seasoned with black pepper and garlic, they should be made a permanent addition to the menu or at the very least offered as a substitute for the fries served with sandwiches and burgers.  These baby asparagus are adult-pleasing good.

Green Chile Mac smothered in Cheddar and Habanero Jack Cheese served with Baby Asparagus

If the food is good and the ambiance welcoming, the concept of a biker’s cafe should have a much wider appeal than solely to the biker culture.  At the  Shade Tree Customs & Cafe, the food is good and the ambiance make-over up-classed the restaurant from being inviting primarily to bikers to being a draw for all demographics.

Shade Tree Customs & Cafe
3407 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 200-0777
LATEST VISIT: 21 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Mac, Southwestern Patty Melt, STC Sandwich, Spark Plugs

Shadetree Cycleworks and Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Supper Truck – Albuquerque, New Mexico

On its final day of operation, The Supper Truck parked on Marble Street just south of the Marble Street Brewery (Photo Courtesy of the Supper Truck)

Supper Truck, I hardly knew you!  Inexplicably and to the detriment of my taste buds, I wasn’t graced with your delightfully creative interpretation of Southern cuisine until your very last day of serving Albuquerque.  So, why do I miss you so much already?  Most likely it’s the lost opportunities to partake of Southern cuisine inspired by the dynamic food truck scene of Charleston, South Carolina, one of my very favorite culinary destinations in America.   It begs a paraphrase of a time-honored question “is it better to have loved and lost the chance to further enjoy your edgy, contemporary, fusion twists on classic Southern comfort food favorites than never to have loved them at all?” 

The Supper Truck rolled into town in September, 2012, inviting Duke City denizens to “put a little South in your mouth.”  Savvy diners (in whose ranks I obviously don’t belong) responded immediately and with a rare fervor, according “best of the city” honors in both the Alibi and Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “best of” issues for 2013 and 2014.  More than perhaps any other motorized conveyance in Albuquerque, The Supper Truck brought people together, its crepuscular rays seemingly beckoning the city’s hungry huddled masses yearning for great Southern cuisine.

Grits

Fittingly, The Supper Truck served its last meals while parked on the south side of the Marble Brewery on an unseasonably warm Saturday.  For regulars the event was akin to one last pilgrimage to a beloved culinary shrine which had assuaged their hunger and pleased their palates for more than two years.  For newcomers (like me) and curiosity-seekers wondering if The Supper Truck warranted all the hullabaloo, it was an event that would ultimately leave us with mixed emotions–regret for not having visited sooner and sheer pleasure for having partaken of a rare excellence in esculence.

The Supper Truck’s closure was precipitated by a combination of family needs and staffing issues.  Founding owner and heart of the operation Amy Black is willing to sell both the truck and naming rights to the right person with the rare combination of drive, creativity and community-mindedness which epitomized her purview.  To say a new owner will have Shaquille O’Neal sized shoes (22) to fill is a vast understatement.  Should an owner with such gumption emerge, I’ll be in line shortly thereafter.

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Fried Chicken Banh Mi

The South takes its grits very seriously–so much so that unbeknownst to Yankees and those of us not blessed to have been born in the South, there are ten commandments of grits.   One of the principle commandments considers it blasphemous to eat Cream of Wheat and call it grits.    The Supper Truck’s grits are every bit as good as the best grits we enjoyed while living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for nearly eight years.  These gourmet-quality grits are made with grilled shrimp, bacon, roasted red pepper coulis, green onion, parsley and white wine cream sauce over creamy stone-ground South Carolina grits.  They’re so good even Yankees will enjoy them. 

While the Old South tends to hold fast to tradition, the contemporary South has embraced change, particularly in the culinary arena.  At the forefront of this evolution is the city of Charleston, South Carolina (where Amy cut her teeth) which has become a bastion of culinary expansiveness.  Though Charleston has a very vibrant Vietnamese culinary community, it’s unlikely they’ve seen anything like The Supper Truck’s South Carolina meets Vietnam offering of a fried chicken banh mi. Yes, a fried chicken banh mi.  The canvas for this unlikely but uncommonly delicious sandwich is a fresh, locally-baked baguette into which are piled-on house-seasoned fried chicken, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro and a housemade momo sauce of Sriracha, mayo and lime juice.  It’s one of the best banh mi we’ve ever had.  Ever!  Anywhere!

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Hoisin BBQ Beef Taco and Shrimp Taco

The Supper Truck’s tacos are on par with Cafe Bella’s street tacos and the scallop tacos at Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place) as my favorite tacos in the metropolitan area.  Traditionalists might decry them as nontraditional and unconventional even as their taste buds experience one foodgasm after another at every bite of their sheer deliciousness.  The shrimp taco ( grilled shrimp, Sriracha sour cream, Asian slaw, pickled red onion and cilantro on a grilled corn tortilla and the Hoisin BBQ beef taco (Coca-Cola braised New Mexico beef, Sriracha-Hoisin bbq sauce, Asian slaw, pickled red onion, cilantro on a grilled corn tortilla) don’t even need red or green chile to make them addictive.  I’ll miss these most of all! 

Among foreigners (anyone who’s not from the South), boiled peanuts (sometimes called goober peas) may just be the most hard to grasp of sacrosanct Southern culinary traditions.  In the South, unroasted and unshelled peanuts are boiled in salt water for hours, rendering the peanuts soft and salty.  Then they’re consumed while still hot and wet.  The Supper Truck’s boiled peanuts are terrific, the type of snack you might offer friends in hopes they’ll snub it so you can enjoy them all yourself.

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Boiled Peanuts

Supper Truck, I miss you!

The Supper Truck
Location Varied
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 205-7877
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Hoisin BBQ Beef Taco, Shrimp Taco, Fried Chicken Banh Mi, Grits, Boiled Peanuts

Supper Truck on Urbanspoon