Stack House BBQ – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho

One of my Psychology professors cautioned students about the danger of “amateur diagnosis,” the practice of assigning specific psychoses and neuroses to people we meet solely on the basis of our cursory familiarity with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  He explained that it often takes an experienced practicing psychiatrist several sessions to arrive at a diagnosis and many more sessions before treatment proves effective.  His point–a little knowledge can be dangerous–applies in virtually every arena of knowledge in practicum.  Reflecting back on all the times my rudimentary conclusions were ultimately proven incorrect, it’s a point well driven. 

When my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, Dazzling Deanell and Beauteous Barb decided to pursue Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) certification, the words of my Psychology professor resonated in my memory.  Sure, we’d all been eating barbecue most of our lives, but how much did we really know about passing judgement on barbecue?  Not much, it turned out.  Over the course of several hours, our KCBS instructor imparted sage knowledge and proven techniques to help us understand thee three most important and very nuanced elements of competitive judging: taste, texture and appearance.   Much like getting a Psychology degree, obtaining KCBS certification gave us a modicum of knowledge.  Applying what we learned in such competitions as Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew built upon that knowledge.

Long lines queue up for terrific ‘cue

Recently when Larry and Deanell rhapsodized poetic about the barbecue at the Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho, my first questions were “how would that barbecue rate in a KCBS barbecue competition?” Larry gave it nines in taste, texture and appearance. Deanell one-upped Larry, indicating the Stack House BBQ’s ‘cue warranted all tens (and she knows what it is to be a ten). They invited me to discover for myself whether their ratings were hyperbole or justified.  Alas, during my inaugural visit, I was suffering the ravages of a bad cold which rendered my taste buds untrustworthy and enfeebled my olfactory senses.  You can’t judge barbecue if you can’t imbibe its aromas and taste its subtle flavor qualities. 

Having a bad cold tends to exacerbate my desire for chile, the more piquant the better.  In the throes of even the most egregious colds, I’ve been known to drive to Santa Fe for some of the Horseman’s Haven‘s combustible chile.  The Haven’s Level II chile, affectionately known as “El Diablo” is about the only thing that can quell the stuffiness of a head cold.  While the Stack House doesn’t offer anything quite as incendiary as El Diablo, the menu does include two pepper-infused items: Frito pie and jalapeño sausage.  From what my compromised palate could surmise, both were probably quite good though it would take a return visit or ten to know for sure. 

Pit Master Extraordinaire Greg Janke Slices Brisket with Surgical Precision

My return visit transpired exactly one week after my inaugural visit, so eager were my Kim and I to experience the bodacious barbecue about which Larry and Deanell had raved.  We had the great fortune to spend time discussing all things barbecue with proprietor-pit master Greg Janke.  Like me, Greg is an Intel alum, having toiled at the technology giant for 23 years, five years longer than I.  Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Greg left Intel in April, 2016 and five months later–on Friday, September 23rd–he launched Stack House BBQ. 

Greg’s transition from technologist to restaurateur wasn’t as challenging as one might think.  In fact, Greg admits, working at Intel prepared him very well to own and operate a restaurant.  Even in such technically demanding areas as Automation where he rose through the ranks, Intel employees have the opportunity to hone their business and customer orientation skills (not to mention the discipline to work long hours).  There is, of course, nothing in the semi-conductor arena which translates directly to the mastery of smoking meats in the low-and-slow manner.  Greg began smoking meats at home several years ago, eventually earning praise from friends and the confidence to enter the arena of competition.

Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs

In each of the past two years, Greg has competed at Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew, a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event.  In 2016, he finished seventeenth overall in a field of thirty-one, faring especially well in the pork category where he placed eleventh.  As much as the judges in the blind taste foodfest may have enjoyed his barbecue, it was event-goers who convinced him to launch his own barbecue restaurant.  In each of the event’s two days, he sold out–every morsel of magnificent meat–well before day’s end.   Moreover, many of them lavished praise and encouragement, essentially convincing Greg that he belonged in the barbecue restaurant arena.

Just seven months previously, Rub-N-Wood had shuttered its doors, leaving the City of Vision without a barbecue restaurant.  Now, Rio Rancho without barbecue is akin to Hillary not wearing a pantsuit.  It just doesn’t and shouldn’t happen.  Barbecue became a Rio Rancho tradition in 1983 when the great Gary West launched Smokehouse BBQ  at 4000 Barbara Loop, a location which would henceforth become synonymous with great barbecue. He owned and operated the stately home of seductive smoke for nearly a quarter-century before moving on. With Roger Bell at the helm, Rub-N-Wood moved in and pleased palates for nearly three years.  The hazy smoke plumes which had so long emanated from 4000 Barbara Loop resumed on a lazy, late September day when Greg assumed the role as Rio Rancho’s proprietor of the pit.  It was a day warranting celebration.

Half Chicken

As had transpired during the Pork & Brew, Greg sold out his first few days of operation.  Barbecue aficionados quickly embraced his Memphis meets Texas approach to smoking meats.  What’s not to love!  Greg uses a combination of oak and cherry woods to impart a unique flavor to his barbecue.  He developed a rub that includes some twelve ingredients that penetrate deeply into the meats and imbue them with flavor-boosting, crust-forming properties.  Not only that, the Stack House BBQ restaurant is an inviting milieu for meat lovers.  It may well be the most pristine barbecue restaurant in which you’ve ever set foot.  If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, Greg is probably being fitted for a halo as you read this.  In addition to the immaculate nature of the premises, service is friendly and attentive (another Rio Rancho tradition exemplified by the terrific staff at Joe’s Pasta House among others).

The Stack House menu is rather limited.  Meats–brisket, chicken or pulled pork–are available by the half or full pound.  Also available are sausage, jalapeño sausage, half-a-chicken and baby back ribs (available in quantities of three, half a rack or a full rack).  You can also opt to have your meats on a sandwich.  Then there’s the aforementioned Frito pie.  Sides are pretty much what you’d expect at a barbecue joint: potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, corn on the cob, chile, beans, mac and cheese and fries (including chile cheese fries).  A baked potato, with or without meat, can also be had.  Limited applies solely to the number of items on the menu board, not to how great they taste.

Sides: Green Beans and Potato Salad

You won’t mind getting your hands dirty handling the baby back ribs on which Greg’s magical rub is liberally applied.  These ribs are messy and they’re magnificent, each meaty morsel pried away easily from the bone.  They’re not fall-off-the-bone tender, having just the right amount of give that signifies the perfect degree of doneness.  Make no bones about it, these baby back ribs are (as Larry would say) competition-worthy, needing neither sauce nor amelioration to improve upon them.   The sauce, by the way, is terrific, a sweet and tangy complement to the richly satisfying smokiness of the ribs.

With the emphasis on pork and brisket, chicken is often a sorry afterthought at some barbecue establishments.  Not so at the Stack House where the full-flavored half-chicken is a main-event item.  Quite simply, it’s fantastic, some of the very best we’ve had in New Mexico!  Peel back the blackened skin (delicious in its own right) and you’ll be rewarded with moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat chicken…and there’s plenty of it.  A nice-sized half-chicken (breast, thigh and leg) won’t leave much for sharing–not that you’ll want to.  

Cherry Cobbler

Great barbecue restaurants know that to provide an excellent full-meal experience, smoked meats must be accompanied by worthy sides.  Stack House has a two-tiered pricing model for its sides, the most expensive being three dollars.  Sides are served on Styrofoam vessels and are generously portioned.  The potato salad may evoke memories of picnic meals long gone.  It’s a mayonnaise-based potato salad with a pleasant mustardy-vinegary tang.  Alas, the green beans could use a few bits and pieces of smoked meats and maybe a pinch of salt.  Much better is the cherry cobbler, replete with whole cherries and a crumbly and delicious crust. 

Stack House BBQ may ultimately become yet another destination restaurant in Rio Rancho, a port-of-call for barbecue aficionados from throughout the metropolitan area, if not the entire Land of Enchantment.  With its September launch, all is right in Rio Rancho once again.

Stack House BBQ
4000 Barbara Loop, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 903-7516
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 October 2016
1ST VISIT: 29 September 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Half Chicken, Cherry Cobbler

Stack House BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

K’Lynn’s Cuisine – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

K’Lynn’s Cuisine in Rio Rancho

The tethered banner in front of K’Lynn’s Cuisine in Rio Rancho lists a few of the delicious treasures available in the tiny restaurant: “catfish, BBQ, gumbo, po boys, jerk chicken, carne adovada fries & more!”  Yeah, we did a double-take, too.  One of those items just seemed a bit out-of-place?  If you’re thinking “carne adovada fries” don’t belong on the list because they’re not Soul food, you’d be wrong.  Carne adovada fries definitely belong on the list.  So does jerk chicken which, by most conventional definitions, isn’t soul food either.  The one item we thought to be out-of-place was “& more.” 

I mean what more could you possibly want listed on the banner.  If it didn’t have you at “catfish” you probably haven’t had catfish down South…and if it didn’t seal the deal with “gumbo,” you definitely need an infusion of South in your mouth.  Beyond catfish and gumbo, the rest is gravy and it’s absolutely delicious.  Until the summer of 2016, restaurant-goers craving Southern cuisine had only one option for soul food, albeit a wonderful option in Bucket Headz.  For those of us on the “west side,” the  trek to the International District for Malaika’s fabulous cooking is a long (though well worth it) trip.  With the launch of K’Lynn’s Cuisine, we now have a second option to succor our souls.

K’Lynn’s Tiny and Cozy Dining Room

Residents of the City of Vision may be asking themselves where this new denizen of deliciousness is situated.  Most restaurants in the Land of Enchantment’s third most populous city, after all, are clustered on three main arteries: Rio Rancho, Southern and Unser.  K’Lynn’s occupies a Lilliputian space on the northeast side of the Rio Rancho Marketplace, a retail shopping center whose anchor tenants include Target and Albertson’s.  Even if you take Ridgecrest west-bound, it’s not easy to spot.  Trust me.  It’s there and it’s worth a detour from the well-beaten, well-eaten path.

K’Lynn’s Cuisine is the restaurant arm of K’Lynn’s Cuisine & Catering, an enterprise owned and operated by Karen Johnson-Bey, aka K’Lynn.  A self-taught chef, K’Lynn launched her restaurant on July 7th, formerly focusing solely on catering.  It’s no longer Rio Rancho’s best kept secret.  Word is getting out about the tiny place where you can enjoy food for your soul–a mix of soul, Cajun and Caribbean cuisine.  Her culinary repertoire is even more expansive, catering “all types of cuisines from American, New Mexican, Italian and more.”  There’s that “and more” term again.

Gumbo and Cornbread

You probably won’t peruse K’Lynn’s menu too thoroughly.  That’s because the day’s specials, scrawled on a white board on the counter, are so value-priced and tempting.  Listing only a handful of items, the specials list may include such mouth-watering items as crab cakes, oxtail and barbecue ribs.  The menu itself befits the small restaurant.  You might not get any further than the baskets: catfish (one, two or four pieces), fried shrimp or fried crawfish served with your choice of fries or coleslaw, but if you do you’ll run into three entrees: gumbo, jambalaya and jerk chicken.  Hungry diners can opt for platters which are served with your choice of three sides or you can have a two- or three-item combo.  Either way, you won’t leave hungry…and we haven’t even gotten to the appetizers which include such sumptuous starters as popcorn shrimp and the aforementioned carne adovada fries.  Page two of the menu, if you somehow manage to get there, also lists several po’ boy and salad options.

Gumbo is an archetypal Cajun offering and almost inarguably the most popular dish ever conceived in Louisiana (as emblematic of the Bayou State as chile is to New Mexico).  It’s a veritable melting pot dish, transcending all class and income barriers.  With a fragrant bouquet that precedes it, a steaming bowl of good gumbo is one of life’s most satisfying pleasures.  K’Lynn’s offers two options for its gumbo: Andouille sausage and chicken or shrimp. We can’t speak for the version made with shrimp, but the version made with Andouille sausage and chicken is “close your eyes and let the aroma and flavors wash over you” satisfying.  It goes without saying that it pairs best with cornbread, some to sop up that great gumbo and some cornbread with lots of butter.

Catfish, Mac and Cheese and Fried Green Beans

One of the Southern traditions we quickly embraced upon moving to Mississippi was a family-style meal of catfish and fried chicken after church every Sunday.  For umpteen consecutive Sundays we visited Aunt Jenny’s in Ocean Springs for a bounteous repast.  Aunt Jenny’s set the bar for catfish rather high and only a handful of restaurants (such as the aforementioned Bucket Headz) in the Land of Enchantment are even in the same zip code as that bar.  Though K’Lynn’s source for catfish isn’t the murky ponds of Mississippi, Californian catfish is still very good.  Sheathed in a golden-hued, lightly seasoned batter, the catfish is light and delicate with a deliciousness that defines any notions you may have about the bottom-dwelling fish.  Catfish goes especially well with mac and cheese and fried green beans, both of which are quite delicious.

While you’re more likely to find restaurants pairing fried chicken with catfish than you are restaurants pairing catfish with jerk chicken, the latter combination goes very well together.   Infused with an assertive jerk seasoning, the beguiling fragrance of which wafts toward your waiting nostrils with a siren’s irresistible call, the chicken is moist and tender, but its most endearing quality is that it allows the deep, emphatic penetration of the slightly sweet, pleasantly piquant jerk seasoning.  If you prefer your jerk chicken to render you a coughing, sputtering, watery-eyed frump, K’Lynn’s version won’t do that for you, but you will enjoy it.

Jerk Chicken, Mac and Cheese and Fried Green Beans

In his terrific tome Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time culinary historian Adrian Miller  declared red Kool-Aid to be the official soul food drink.  That’s a pretty audacious claim for which he puts up a good argument.  In the South, Kool-Aid tends to be made with almost as many scoops of sugar as there are granules of Kool-Aid.  That’s why we prefer K’Lynn’s grape Kool-Aid and ginger ale.  Not only is it not cloying, it’s got a nice  effervescence and it makes you feel as if you’re getting away with something.

While the Land of Enchantment is second only to Georgia in the annual production of pecans, Southerners would argue that only in the South can pecan pie be made the right way.  The “right way” means an almost sickeningly sweet pie, palatable only to diners with a seriously sweet tooth.   In the South most pecan pies are made using dark Karo syrup which has a more pronounced and sweeter flavor courtesy of the addition of molasses.  K’Lynn’s version is made with the not-quite-as-sweet blonde Karo syrup and it’s topped with a smooth bourbon sauce redolent with the unique bouquet of the oak casks in which it is distilled.  Whole pecans and a flaky crust offset the cloying elements.   While some Southerners might complain it’s not sweet enough, most diners will enjoy it very much.

Pecan Pie with Bourbon Sauce

Visionaries (isn’t that what residents of the City of Vision are called) have started to discover K’Lynn’s Cuisine, but it shouldn’t take long for savvy diners from throughout the metropolitan area to find out for themselves that food for your soul is good for everyone.

K’Lynn’s Cuisine
4300 Ridgecrest Drive, Suite O
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 453-3068
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 October 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo, Cornbread, Catfish, Mac and Cheese, Fried Green Beans, Jerk Chicken, Red Beans and Rice, Grape Kool Aid, Pecan Pie with Bourbon Sauce

K'Lynn's Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place) – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Dennis and the lovely Sophia at the viewing of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring his outstanding restaurant

Dennis and his daughter, the lovely Sophia at the viewing of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring his outstanding restaurant (Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll)

Picture yourself as a first-year marketing student assigned by your professor to perform a marketing analysis of Eli’s Place and its enigmatic chef-owner Dennis Apodaca.  Essentially you’ve got to figure out the rhyme and reason behind the restaurant’s success.  “Easy assignment,” you think to yourself, “Eli’s Place is successful because it serves some of the best, most delicious food in Albuquerque.”  Your research quickly reveals, however, that Eli’s Place actually violates many of the time-honored, trusted and fundamental marketing tenets of growing and successful businesses.  From a marketing perspective, it just shouldn’t work as well as it does. 

Any Marketing 101 student can tell you, for example, the importance of brand identity.  A brand is one of the most valuable and important assets of a restaurant. It needs to be carefully cultivated to ensure it properly and authentically reflects the values, attributes and passions of a business.  Eli’s Place received an enormous boost to its brand identity in 2008 when the Food Network came calling.  Being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is generally worth a fortune to any restaurant.  So what does Dennis Apodaca do?  In 2015, he renamed his restaurant, eschewing the well-established and nationally known brand name Sophia’s Place in favor of Eli’s Place.

Eli’s Place may not be as visually appealing as other restaurants, but it serves beautiful food

Then there’s the restaurant itself.  From an esthetic perspective, it isn’t nearly as inviting and attractive as those modern venues with their pristine veneer or the effusive, over-the-top flamboyance of the chains.  It’s virtually homely.  Heck, it doesn’t even have a sign telling you you’ve arrived at your destination.  The parking lot can get muddy during inclement weather which can sometimes render the outdoor patio useless.  Step inside the Lilliputian edifice and during peak hours, you’ll be challenged to find a seat.  It just doesn’t make sense that Eli’s Place works as well as it does.

The main reason for its success, of course, is gifted proprietor and chef Dennis Apodaca, an accomplished restaurateur despite (or maybe in spite of) not following a tried-and-true template. Sure, he may be an enigma to any marketing student, but to savvy diners he’s one of the very best chefs in New Mexico.  Dennis has a very impressive pedigree that includes stints at some of the best restaurants in San Francisco and Santa Fe, having worked for several world-famous, cutting-edge chefs in some of America’s most renown restaurants.  Those include Mark Miller, the high priest of modern Southwest cuisine and founder of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe and the pioneering Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse, the original California cuisine (focusing exclusively on organic, locally produced foods in season) restaurant in Berkeley, California.

The interior of Eli’s Place. Note the poster signed by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri

Apprenticing under luminary chefs may make apparent the genesis of some of his culinary influences, but it’s also obvious that Dennis loves his craft and plies it with enthusiasm and style.  I heard him speak once of his annual pilgrimages to New York and of dining at such restaurants as Katz’s, a Manhattan deli I hold in reverential esteem. Like most great chefs, he is always in pursuit of new ideas and techniques.  Dennis launched the restaurant he named for his then eight-year-old daughter Sophia on December 3rd, 2002 (and which he renamed for Sophia’s own son in 2015).  It’s situated at the former site of the once very popular, but now defunct Fajitaville, a restaurant at which he served as chef before launching his own operation. As popular as it was, you don’t hear many former Fajitaville patrons lament the change. That’s because they’ve been completely won over by Apodaca’s inventive, eclectic and funky menu–a menu that includes a range of sophisticated salads and soups, extraordinary sandwiches and lots of pleasant surprises.

Dennis is also a stickler for using fine ingredients, many of which are flown in and delivered daily to his charming North Valley restaurant. He insists on the preparation of each meal to order; you won’t find anything sitting under a heating lamp here.  You also won’t find a freezer in the premises.  Dennis believes in ultra-fresh. His menu is replete with specials of the day which change frequently, usually crafted from fresh ingredients he procures from the farmer’s markets.  Eli’s also does not have an oven or burners, just two grills, but sheer magic is created on those grills.

Chips and salsa at Eli’s

On August 25th, 2008 the Food Network’s Guy Fieri taped a segment at Sophia’s for his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program.  On a signed poster which hangs on one of the restaurant’s walls, Fieri wrote “little place, huge flavors.”  That pretty much says it all, not that Fieri didn’t say quite a bit more about Sophia’s.  After that segment aired on Monday, November 24th, 2008 getting a seat at this fabulous restaurant became even more difficult.  Guy Fieri pegged it correctly when he called him “a hands-on chef who’s doing things his own way.”  That includes touches like making his own butter and crafting all his culinary creations by hand.

24 November 2012: One holdover from Dennis’s days at Fajitaville are some of the best salsas in town.  An order of salsa and chips rewards diners with two salsas–a roasted tomato salsa and a pico de gallo style salsa coupled with housemade chips served warm.  Neither of the salsas are especially piquant, but both are redolent with freshness and flavor.  The chips are lightly salted and oversized for Gil-sized portions of salsa.  Unfortunately you’ll run out of salsa before you run out of chips.

Grilled Sirloin and Green Chile Sandwich on Sage Bakehouse Bakery Bread with Shoestring Fries

Grilled Sirloin and Green Chile Sandwich on Sage Bakehouse Bakery Bread with Shoestring Fries

Breakfast and lunch entrees are served all day which is a great thing because you never know when the urge will hit for a world-class sandwich. Sage Bakehouse bread, a New Mexico treasure, is the foundation upon which those sandwiches are built. Each sandwich is served with your choice of potato salad, green salad or homemade shoestring potatoes (a must-have).  Don’t desecrate those shoestring potatoes with ketchup. Ask instead for a small bowl of Eli’s red chile and dip your fries into that. Some of the best chile and some of the best fries in town–you can’t go wrong with that combination.

Eli’s grilled pastrami sandwich is a poor man’s version of the aforementioned Katz’s in which pastrami is piled on skyscraper high. Even though Eli’s doesn’t lay the pastrami on as thick as at Katz’s, it’s also not apportioned in waifishly thin shreds like the sandwiches the chains proffer. In Albuquerque only California Pastrami serves a better pastrami sandwich (although it dropped just a bit in my estimation when packets of mustard replaced the gourmet mustard once dolloped on the sandwich). Apodaca gets his pastrami flown in from Chicago where this brisket derivative is best made.

Chipotle Chile Bacon Cheeseburger

The green chile cheeseburger at Eli’s

30 August 2008: Also exceptional is the green chile bacon cheeseburger on hard-crusted Sage Bakehouse bread. As the hack comic Banya would tell Jerry Senifeld, “it’s the best, Jerry, the best.” In a city and state in which green chile cheeseburgers are a religion, Dennis Apodaca is a high priest, serving something just a bit different. This cheeseburger is a two-fisted edible piece of art with an explosively delicious taste.  The green chile is not so assertive that it prevents the salty sweetness of the bacon to sneak out. Instead they meld together wonderfully. The texture of the lightly toasted Ciabatta bread is a nice departure from the traditional soft burger buns. The bacon is crispy and thick. There’s no iceberg lettuce in this masterpiece; it’s salad quality mixed greens. The hamburger patty hasn’t seen  the inside of a freezer; it’s hand-formed and thick, prepared to your exacting specifications.

27 September 2016: Burger aficionados will also love Eli’s chipotle cheeseburger, a work of art and absolute beauty.  It’s got the piquancy (maybe even more) of a green chile cheeseburger with the inimitable flavor of chipotle.  If you’re not sure what a chipotle is, it’s merely a smoked, dried jalapeño.  It’s a versatile pepper, adding depth, complexity and a kick to meats, and a savory counterbalance to sweets.  At Eli’s, the chipotle doesn’t come out of a jar.  It’s the real thing, smoked at home and rehydrated to textural perfection.  This chipotle cheeseburger is simple, a thick hamburger patty, molten cheese and chipotle.  That’s it…and that’s enough.

Sophia's Breakfast Burrito

The breakfast burrito, Albuquerque’s very best

The simply named Breakfast Sandwich on (what else) toasted Sage Bakehouse bread is a concordant composition of fried eggs, bacon, cheese and fresh salsa that will help make your day start off on the right foot. It may well be the best breakfast sandwich in Albuquerque, not that there is a plethora of competition in the breakfast sandwich arena.

10 April 2008: Eli’s breakfast burrito has done something I had thought impossible. It supplanted Milton’s breakfast burrito as my favorite breakfast burrito in New Mexico. The primary reason is a wondrous red chile, a deep, earthy, sweet and utterly delicious chile of medium piquancy. This chile is in rarified company with Mary & Tito’s legendary red which I’ve long considered the best in the Duke City area. It’s the type of chile you might want to lick off your plate so as not to leave any of it behind. If Dennis were to offer New Mexican food exclusively, it would probably be the best in the city. Make sure you order your burrito “smothered” so you won’t be lamenting that there isn’t enough chile on your plate. In its September, 2011 edition, the staff of Albuquerque The Magazine undertook the enviable task of selecting the Duke City’s very best breakfast burrito. Eli’s was rated tenth best. To paraphrase the immortal words of former world boxing champion Max Schmeling’s manager Joe Jacobs, “they waz robbed!”

Huevos Mexicanos

There’s only one thing wrong with Eli’s red chile. It’s that the red is so good, many of us may never again order the breakfast burrito “Christmas style” (with both red and green chile). That would be sad because the green chile is outstanding in its own right. It’s a fruity chile with a comal roasted aroma and flavor. The breakfast burrito is crafted from organic eggs, potatoes, cheese and salsa. You can have it with your choice of bacon, pork carnitas, chicken, beef or vegetables.

23 November 2010: The daily specials on Eli’s menu truly earn the accolade “special.” Such is the case with a breakfast enchilada with turkey sausage, Cojita cheese and poblano chile. The melding of these ingredients make for an outstanding breakfast entree that I may have to bide my time to see returned to the menu. Fortunately, there’s always something else intriguing and invariably delicious to mollify my appetite.

Another special special, duck enchiladas with a green chile cream sauce

Duck enchiladas served with a green chile cream sauce

30 August 2008: Another very special special are the duck enchiladas served with a green chile cream sauce (pictured above). Somehow Dennis manages to segregate the least fatty parts of the duck while retaining all its characteristic flavor and he engorges corn tortillas with the delicious canard. A generous dollop of mildly piquant green chile sauce crowns the enchiladas with even more flavor. This special is served with black beans studded with Cojita cheese as well as a mixed greens and mango salad. This is just Dennis and his free spirited whimsy; he loves to play with ingredients and has a knack for making seemingly disparate ingredients meld together in perfect flavor synchronicity.

The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives taping took place on a day in which the special of the day was another version of duck enchiladas, this time with tomatillo sauce. Watching the step-by-step construction of this entree revealed the depth of Dennis’s talent, but even more so, just what a perfectionist he is. Every preparation step is meticulous and well practiced, obviously the result of extensive experimentation until everything is absolutely to the chef’s exacting standards.

Scallop Tacos with beans, rice and a salad

The duck, which is left in the bone and skin, is seasoned and rendered in duck fat for several hours then is de-boned by hand and seasoned again (lime, cilantro, Mexican red chile, sugar, salt and other ingredients) on the flat top.  Two legs per order of succulent duck meat are then placed on two soft corn tortillas with Asadero cheese then topped with the tomatillo sauce, toasted pumpkin seeds, scallions and queso fresco.  Fieri uttered “really good” three times punctuated with “an explosion of flavors” and “you’ve got it going on with this one.”

10 April 2015: A Washington Post writer recently proclaimed, “Ok so who in the hell doesn’t do a scallop taco?” He obviously hasn’t been around the restaurant scene in Albuquerque where scallop tacos are a novelty. In fact, Dennis is just one of a handful of chefs in the landlocked Land of Enchantment I know of daring to depart from the de rigueur fish taco (which is rarely done well in New Mexico). His version starts with gigantic sea scallops which he tucks into soft, pliable corn tacos then garnishes with a mild salsa, avocado slices and Crème fraîche. There are two scallops per taco, two tacos per order and they’re at least twice as good as the best fish taco I’ve ever had.

Sophia's shoestring fries with red chile

Eli’s shoestring fries with red chile

Eli’s scallop tacos are inspired–an amalgam of flavor combinations which work very well together.  The pearlescent scallops are grilled so they have a nice char on top and at bottom while retaining an opaque clarity that means they’re absolutely perfect.  I’ve tried in vain several times to duplicate Dennis’s wizardry with scallops, but have concluded begrudgingly that my scallop skills are rudimentary compared to the chef. 

The Saturday and Sunday brunch menu features several items not available during weekdays. These weekend specials have made Eli’s an intensely popular dining destination. You might have to wait in line ten to fifteen minutes to place your order then another half hour for your order to reach your table. It’s worth the wait.


20 April 2008: One of the best reasons to get up on a weekend are Eli’s Special Pancakes, priced daily and served with fresh fruit and real maple syrup. Those special pancakes might be sour cream and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with blueberries. The tartness of the blueberries and lemon create a palate pleasing harmony with the maple syrup. The sour cream changes the texture of standard pancakes by adding moistness while retaining the fluffiness inherent in great pancakes. 

23 November 2008: Eli’s pancakes will cure the early morning blues (or anything else that ails you).  A large stack (four) of pumpkin pancakes with pinon nut butter topped with assorted berries may be the very best pancakes you’ll ever have.  They’re stick to your ribs pancakes, the panacea for cold mornings.  Cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice emphasize the flavor of pumpkin while the berries provide a tangy contrast.  The syrup brings together the complementary tastes of sweet, tangy and pumpkiny.  Share these with people you love.

Turkey Sausage Enchiladas with Red and Green Chile

One of the things that makes Dennis’s pancakes a panacea is his homemade butter, a culinary rarity that blew even Guy Fieri away. Fieri who has probably seen just about everything on his road tours seemed amazed that Dennis would go to that extent. After sampling Eli’s homemade butter (made from separated heavy cream mixed with toasted pine nuts, dried cherries and honey), Fieri called it “outstanding.” 

4 November 2012: Other brunch favorites include Eli’s version of chilaquiles and a very unique interpretation of Huevos Rancheros called Huevos Mexicanos.  This dish is constructed from corn tortillas topped with two eggs prepared any way you want them then slathered with green chile stew.  The green chile stew is terrific, the type of which you’d appreciate at any time, but especially on a cold wintery day.  The chilaquiles are simplicity itself though its flavors are complex and delicious.  Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican dish with which Eli’s takes a few liberties, topping the eggs and tortilla chips with red chile instead of the more conventional salsa.

Lemon and sour cream pancakes with blueberries

Sour cream and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with blueberries

You’ve got to experience this gem for yourself to find out what so many diners know–Eli’s Place is one of Albuquerque’s very best restaurants of any genre. Overflow crowds and accolades don’t tell the whole story. That lies in each and every wonderful morsel of pure deliciousness fashioned by the inventive hands of the chef and owner.  Eli’s Place and its superbly talented owner-chef Dennis Apodaca may be an enigma to marketing students, but to those of us who love great food, he’s a luminous star, one of the very best.

Pumpkin pancakes with pinon nut butter

6313 4th, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-3935
LATEST VISIT: 27 September 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grilled Pastrami Sandwich, Breakfast Sandwich, Chipotle Bacon Cheeseburger, Simple Noodles, Breakfast Burrito, Special Pancakes, Scallop Tacos, Chilaquiles, Huevos Mexicanos, Grilled Sirloin Sandwich, Pork Carnitas Tacos,

Eli's Place (New Name for Sophia's Place) Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shake Foundation – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Shake Foundation in Santa Fe (front view)

If it seems there’s a glut of restaurants brandishing a much-hyped and often self-glossed as “best” version of New Mexico’s fabled green chile cheeseburger, it won’t surprise you to read that yet another purveyor of the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct sandwich entered the fray in January, 2014.  What might surprise you is its most worthy motto and raison d’etre:  “Dedicated to the preservation of the original green chile cheeseburger.” Just what exactly does that mean? 

If, like me, your initial inclination is to question why at its pinnacle of popularity, the green chile cheeseburger needs to be preserved, you’re missing the point.  Likewise, the motto has nothing to do with  mimicking the burgers crafted by New Mexico’s two claimants to being progenitor of all green chile cheeseburgers: The Owl Cafe & Bar and Bert’s Burger Bowl.  The Shake Foundation is all about preserving and honoring the inviolable traditions and impeccably high standards of the green chile cheeseburger.  It’s about crafting the type of green chile cheeseburgers that trigger memories of unforgettable burgers past while creating new memories that will have you eagerly anticipating your next great green chile cheeseburger.

The Shake Foundation in Santa Fe (side view)

Despite its “mission statement,” the Shake Foundation isn’t based solely on green chile cheeseburgers as proffered throughout the Land of Enchantment, but also on founder-owner-chef Brian Knox’s boyhood memories of eating cheeseburgers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Milwaukee, as burgerphiles everywhere know, is famous for slathering its burgers–both bun and beef–with butter: lots of gooey, unctuous, calorific butter.  Milwaukee’s butyraceous burgers are the quintessential five napkin (or more) burger.

For nearly three decades, the name Brian Knox has been synonymous in Santa Fe with fine-dining.  Prior to launching the Shake Foundation, Chef Knox owned and operated Aqua Santa, a contemporary American restaurant which helped pioneer the city’s slow-food movement.  He’s been wanting to make high-quality burgers widely accessible and affordable in a fun and welcoming venue for several years.  The Shake Foundation is the culmination of those dreams.


Shoestring Fries and a Lavender Shake

Built on a site which for fifty years housed a gas station, the Shake Foundation isn’t much bigger than a roadside stand, but offers an ambitious menu belying its Lilliputian size.  This burger hop is strictly a walk-up operation with a number of picnic tables for seating.  A number of stately deciduous trees provide seasonal shade and help block New Mexico’s winds.

Burgers are the featured fare: cheese burgers with or sans green chile and the classic burger, both available as singles or doubles.  A number of free and optional toppings are available, the latter including such revolutionary items as whipped lardo (seasoned, cured pork fat), house-brined pickles and jalapeños and garlic mayo.  The menu also offers a turkey burger, a portobello burger and a New Mexico Shepherd’s Lamb Burger as well as a fried oyster sandwich with red chile mayo.  Green chile stew and a Caesar salad round out the food menu.


Double meat green chile cheeseburger with bacon

31 March 2014: If for no other reason than we’re in America and we like to super-size our burgers, you’ll want to order a double meat burger.  The single is all of three ounces (just an ounce shy of the quarter-pounder), but by all appearances doesn’t look much bigger than some “sliders.”  A better reason to order a double meat burger is the beef’s healthful deliciousness.  The beef blend is a combination of sirloin and brisket with no hormones or antibiotics.  All burgers are cooked to medium unless otherwise requested.  True to Chef Knox’s heritage, buns are buttered though not dripping in butter as you’d find in Milwaukee. 

The menu warns that “Our New Mexico green chile is hot!”  That’s hot with an exclamation point.  Frankly, most New Mexicans won’t wince at its piquancy (or relative lack thereof), but we’ll certainly appreciate its roasted flavor and fruity nuances.  A few strips of bacon are a perfect, salty complement to the green chile as is the rich, gooey Monterey Jack cheese.  Even with a double, you might want to order two of these burgers.  With a bun not more than four inches around, they have a subliminal effect of appearing small even though with double meat, they tower above most chain burgers.  The Shake Foundation’s burgers are juicy and absolutely delicious, well worthy of New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail consideration. 

Fried Oyster Sandwich with Red Chile Mayo

17 September 2016: Having lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for nearly eight years, I consumed oyster po’ boys by the boatful, my favorite being the behemoth bivalve sandwich from Cafe Maspero in New Orleans.  In New Mexico, it may be easier to find a prize pearl inside an oyster than to find an outstanding oyster po’ boy or sandwich.  The Shake Foundation’s version, a Gulf Coast meets the Land of Enchantment sandwich may be changing that with its fried oyster sandwich with red chile mayo.  The oyster is moist and delicious and the red chile mayo is slathered on generously.  The combination of flavors is a winner. Note: On occasion, Santa Fe’s Bang Bite Filling Station constructs an even more amazing oyster po’ boy.

17 September 2016:  From 1983 through 1993, a tiny restaurant on Cornell Avenue named Sheepherder’s Café made eating lamb not only fashionable, but immensely satisfying and incomparably delicious. Its specialty was the Lamburger, a thick, charbroiled lamb patty served on a sourdough bun with homemade salsa.   Since its much lamented closure, I’ve sought to replicate that uniquely wonderful dining experience to no avail.   That is, until we discovered the Shake Foundation’s New Mexico Shepherd’s Lamb Burger, a burger I topped with Monterey Jack cheese and green chile.  If taste buds have a memory, my first bite of this super-sized slider transported me back to the Sheepherder’s Cafe and every bite thereafter reinforced the experience.  This burger quickly became my second favorite burger in Santa Fe behind only the Santa Fe Bite‘s green chile cheeseburger.  It’s an amazing burger!  That is, it’s an amazing burger when it’s made with double meat.  To taste and appreciate that meat, you’ll have to strip the burger of the ripe, red tomatoes and crisp lettuce.  Even then, it brought to mind the Wendy’s commercials of yore which lamented “where’s the beef.”

New Mexico Shepherds Lamb Burger

Hand-cut shoestring fries, available in single or double portions, are a nice accompaniment to your burgers.  Made from potatoes grown in Colorado, they’re fried to a crispy, but not potato chip-like texture and don’t require desalinization as do so many other fries.  They’re also not quite as greasy as conventional fries.  Being shoestring thin means they’re also not as moist as other fries. 

True to the name on the marquee, shakes are a point of pride. Rightfully so! These are not the cloying, syrupy, made-from-a mix shakes the chains dispense. You can actually taste the ice cream with which these shakes are made…and it’s great ice cream made from Taos Cow ice cream (one of the “ten best ice cream parlors worldwide” according to Fox News.  It’s a rich, creamy, smooth ice cream available in “viva la differencia” flavors such as lavender and piñon caramel.  Even better is the Mexican Chocolate shake which my Kim calls the best shake she’s ever had.  Unless you’ve got the suck power of a vacuum cleaner, you’ll need a spoon because a straw just won’t cut it. 

It could be debated that the Shake Foundation isn’t as much about “the preservation of the original green chile cheeseburger” as it is taking it to a new level with the type of creativity which made Chef Knox one of Santa Fe’s most acclaimed culinary minds.  

Shake Foundation
631 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 988.8992
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 17 September 2016
1st VISIT: 31 March 2014
BEST BET: Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Bacon, Fried Oyster Sandwich with Red Chile Mayo, Double Meat Hamburger, Shoestring French Fries, Lavender Shake, Piñon Shake, Mexican Chocolate Shake, Double Meat New Mexico Shepherd’s Lamb Burger

Shake Foundation Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Starr Brothers Brewing – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Starr Brothers Brewing in the San Antonio Commons (Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights)

Poets, musicians and authors have long rhapsodized about the loyalty of dogs, the most faithful and loving companions anyone can have. Their love is unconditional, their loyalty boundless.  They’re  truly man’s best friend.  Poets, musicians and authors obviously didn’t know Chato, the sleek and powerful best friend to the Dominican nuns who taught generations of Peñasco’s best and brightest at St. Anthony’s (my alma-mater).  No matter where they drove in their ancient rattletrap of a car, Chato sprinted along to ensure their safety.  When the nuns raffled off that car to raise money for the purchase of a newer, more reliable vehicle, Chato suddenly changed his lifelong residence from the convent to the home of the new car owners…..and everywhere that car went, Chato was sure to go.

In his own way Chato demonstrated the loyalty for which dogs are renowned, albeit to a car instead of to his people.  Among people–who tend to be the most fickle and disloyal of creatures–studies have repeatedly shown that beer is one of the things about which we as consumers tend to be most loyal.  According to a Nielsen (and you thought they only did television ratings) study conducted in 2015, 48% of beer drinkers purchased only one to three brands of their alcoholic beverage of choice in the year preceding the survey.  Only 15% of beer drinkers purchased ten or more brands of beer in the same period.

Dining and Bar Area

Not all beer drinkers are so brand monogamous.  Those who drink craft beers are much more likely to purchase a variety of brands. Almost one-third (32%) of all craft beer drinkers who buy beer at least several times a year bought seven or more brands in the year preceding the survey.  Younger, more frequent craft beer drinkers were found to be more brand “promiscuous,” as 37% purchased seven or more brands of beer in the year preceding the survey.  The survey revealed that younger beer drinkers were more apt to purchase a broader set of brands,  likely resultant from the more adventurous nature  of youth compared to older demographics.  Being younger, it’s conceivable as well that they have not established brand loyalty.

Albuquerque’s burgeoning craft beer industry means beer drinkers have many more choices than the beer drinkers of yore.  It seems a new brewery pops up every week with no surfeit in sight.  Indeed, the New Mexico Brewer’s Guild Map indicates there are (as of this writing) some sixty-six craft breweries across the Land of Enchantment with nearly half of them concentrated in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.  As  competition for beer buyers continues to intensify, breweries are looking for ways to differentiate themselves–to stand out from the crowd–from their brewing brethren.   The differentiator which resonates most with gastronomes, of course, is food.

Herbed Brie with Heidi’s Raspberry-Lavender Jam

Several Duke City breweries have elevated culinary offerings from the “pub grub” (typically deep-fried, stick-to-your-ribs fast foods) of yore to true gastropub fare–high quality, freshly prepared food that may surprise discerning diners.  They offer diverse menus, several orders of magnitude superior to what bar-goers of yesteryear were accustommed to.  In January, 2016, the Starr Brothers Brewing Company joined the fray, launching in an underserved Northeast Heights area in a sprawling 5,000 square-foot edifice.  Situated on heavily-trafficked San Antonio about a mile east of Cracker Barrel, Starr Brothers operates a full kitchen that features a wide-ranging menu showcasing some of the most surprising culinary fare of any brewery in the city.

“Small bites” to get you started include poutine, an artery-clogging Canadian French fry delicacy made uniquely New Mexican with red chile gravy and green chile; pizza constructed on naan flatbread and much more.  Our server informed us the Cubano has become an early favorite of the brewery’s habitues though the burger isn’t far behind in popularity.  Of more interest to my Chicago born-and-bred Kim is the Italian beef sandwich which we’ll return for  Where you’ll do a double-take is with the entrees, some of which seem more likely to be found in a Chicago chophouse than a brew pub in Burque.    The menu truly has something for every member of the family and indeed, several families were dining at Starr Brothers during our inaugural visit.

Bone-In Pork Chops

3 July 2016: My Kim often chides me for ordering items we’ve never previously had instead of tried and true favorites.  Sometimes it pays off and we uncover a new favorite.  Other times we wish we’d ordered one of the standards.  The herbed brie is in the former category, an appetizer we hadn’t previously enjoyed elsewhere.  Molten brie is formed into four golf ball-sized orbs encased in panko breadcrumbs and served with Heidi’s raspberry-lavender jam.  To be honest, we might have regretted having ordered the brie (which lacks the sharpness this turophile enjoys) had it not been for the jam.  The lavender to raspberry is in perfect proportion to bless you with the invigorating and exiting floral qualities of lavender without detracting from the sweet, slightly tart flavor of the raspberries.

3 July 2016: In ordering the bone-in grilled pork chop (singular), we expected something closer to the waifishly thin pork chops served for breakfast in several Duke City eateries than what was delivered to our table.  Our server got her work-out ferrying a plate with two Flintstonian-sized chops with bone “handles” that looked like Lakota battle axes.  We were momentarily mesmerized and took proper pause to gape with awe and reverence at this porcine bounty (if only lamb chops were similarly sized).  Imbued in a brown sugar honey sweet ale sauce and topped with toasted pecans, the pulchritudinous pork chops are easily an inch thick and grilled masterfully so they’re still moist and tender on the inside.  Noting a little bit of raspberry-lavender jam remained, we used it as a sauce and found the combination absolutely magnificent.  Our accommodating server even brought us another ramekin of that wondrous jam.  The pork chops are served with mashed sweet potatoes.

Grilled Bistro Tender Steak with Fingerling Potatoes and Wilted Spinach

3 July 2016: We weren’t sure with what cut of meat we would be rewarded for ordering the “grilled bistro tender steak,” as “tender” tends to be an adjective, not a cut of steak.  Tender, it turns out, is a perfect descriptor for a slab of meat sliced into several medallions and served with fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach.  The steak is prepared to your exacting specifications with a medium degree of doneness providing moistness, flavor and tenderness.  It’s an excellent steak, especially around the “rim” where just a bit of caramelization appears.  The fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach are a perfect accompaniment.

3 July 2016: Starr Brothers is no slouch when it comes to desserts.  While the Polychinka (a crepe stuffed with caramelized banana and topped with nutella, chocolate ganache and powdered sugar) sounds most interesting, it’s hard to pass up bread pudding, especially when it’s described as “chef’s choice” made with the seasonal draft (which turned out to be strawberry ale during our inaugural visit).  At the risk of hyperbole, this is one of the best bread puddings in the city, a sure-fire addition to Larry McGoldrick’s bread pudding hall-of-fame.  Thick slices of bread impregnated with chocolate and berries are caramelized on the edges, moist and tender on the inside then topped with a premium vanilla bean ice cream.  Portion size is prodigious, but the bread pudding’s flavor profile is even larger.

Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding

13 September 2016:  In the Land of Enchantment, our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburgers transcend the seasons.  They’re enjoyed all year-round, however, two factors combine to make September the one month in which they’re enjoyed more than in any other.  The first factor is the freshly picked, recently roasted crop of green chile.  The second factor is the celebration of the green chile cheeseburger in two premier competitive events–Santa Fe’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown and the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge.  On September 12th, 2016, Laguna Burger earned bragging rights at the State Fair event, ending a two year reign by national chain Fuddrucker‘s.  Finishing second in the blind taste test adjudged event was Starr Brothers. 

Frankly had Starr Brothers not garnered such a prestigious honor, it would probably have taken several visits before the Starr Burger crossed my lips.  That’s not so much an indictment of the burger as it is a credit to how diverse and alluring the rest of the menu is.  My server became animated in describing the burger, touting it as the best in Albuquerque.  If it’s not the Duke City’s best, it’s on a very short list as one of the best.  This is a sensational burger!  The canvas is a brioche bun, a rich, eggy bread of optimal thickness–resilient enough to hold up against moist ingredients without becoming a dominant flavor.  Atop the bottom bun are chopped onions, a sliced tomato and fresh greens then comes a choice beef patty prepared to your exacting specifications.  The beef is topped with a green chile ranch aioli, molten melted cheese and strips of bacon in a crossed (X) pattern.  The green chile ranch aioli has a nice bite to it,  The beef patty is moist and seasoned well with a premium beef flavor (obviously not thawed).  You have your choice of a salad or fries with your burger.  The seasoned fries are addictive, with or without the uniquely flavored ketchup with its notes of smokiness and piquancy.

Award-Winning Starr Burger

Lest you think there are no Starr brothers or that they’re a pair of wizened and hirsute gentlemen like the Smith Brothers of cough drop fame, there really are Starr brothers.  They’re the children of owners John and Heather Starr.  If our inaugural visit is any indication, Starr Brothers Brewing is a rising star!

Starr Brothers Brewing
5700 San Antonio Drive, N.E., Suite B1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2752
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 September 2016
1st VISIT: 3 July 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding, Tender Steak, Pork Chops, Herbed Brie, Starr Burger

Starr Brothers Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Loyal Hound Pub – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Loyal Hound Gastropub in Santa Fe

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

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

One of four dining rooms at the surprisingly capacious Loyal Hound

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

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

Bison Short Rib Nachos, Salsa and Avocado Dips

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

10 September 2016: The “snacks” portion of the menu includes several items bordering on irresistible.  Two print-based restaurant reviews predating mine raved about the fried rosemary Castelvetrano olives and roasted Marcona almonds.  There’s a good reason for that.  Imported from Castelvetrano, Sicily, the green-hued (the color of Kermit the Frog) olives lack the bitterness of most olives and are actually considered dolce (sweet) in Italy.  Loyal Hound coats them in a light rosemary-imbued batter and fries them, not to the point that they’re crispy or stiff.  Bite into them and you’ll find the olives refreshingly fresh and juicy.

Fried Castelvetrano Olives and Roasted Marcona Almonds

10 September 2016: If, like me, you’ve grown increasingly frustrated with mixed nuts being mostly peanuts  and almonds with only a few “token” Brazil nuts, cashews, filberts, hazelnuts, and pecans thrown in, you might try buying a can of mixed nuts without peanuts.  If you do, you’ll find the dominant nut is almonds–bland, boring, banal California almonds.  We’d appreciate mixed nuts so much more if instead of California almonds, Marcona almonds were used instead.  Considered the “queen of olives,” these Spanish almonds are roasted in olive oil then sprinkled with sea salt.  The resultant flavor profile is sweeter yet saltier than most almonds.  It’s a terrific departure.

19 September 2014: The braised bison short rib nachos with Tucumcari Cheddar and Oaxaca cheese, salsa and avocado dip called just loudest during my inaugural visit.  The nachos and all their individual components were well executed and flavorful, but the salsa and avocado dip ensnared my affection.  The fire-roasted salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it packs savory, tangy and piquant notes that will besot your taste buds.  A squeeze or two of lime enlivens the avocado dip in a way all guacamole should be vivified. 

Deviled Eggs

10 September 2016: A fundamentalist acquaintance of yore couldn’t bring herself to partake of deviled eggs, believing the term “deviled” to have Satanic connotations. Even when told the term “devil” has been used in Great Britain since the 1700s to describe different kinds of spicy, broiled, or fried foods, she wouldn’t try them. Not surprisingly, when labeled “stuffed eggs” or “salad eggs,” she ate them with great alacrity.  In recent years, deviled eggs have experienced a resurgence at homes and in restaurants (Jennifer James 101 being among the first in Albuquerque to offer them).  The Loyal Hound serves some of the most delicious deviled eggs we’ve enjoyed, four halved eggs with finely chopped pickled jalapeño and a dusting of smoked paprika.  This gluten-free, vegetarian offering is so good, they should be called “angeled eggs.”

19 September 2014: In recent years, one of the most popular dining trends sweeping across America has been chicken and waffles.  The Loyal Hound dares to deviate from the norm, offering pork and waffles, an herbed Belgian waffle topped with braised heritage pork tossed in house-made BBQ sauce.  My dalliance with that dining option was short-lived thanks to the simple Southern favorite (think Popeye’s, but only several orders of magnitude better) of spicy fried chicken-n-biscuits.  The boneless fried chicken is first marinated in the intriguing combination of buttermilk and Sriracha then coated in panko breadcrumbs before deep-frying. 

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

The chicken and a single halved biscuit are drizzled with honey butter. The influence of the Sriracha is subtle, tempering the richness of the buttermilk while the panko imbues the chicken with a texture that doesn’t fall away as some breading tends to do. The scratch-made biscuit is dense and absolutely addictive. This combination is served with a bright, fresh apple-fennel slaw with lip-pursing qualities that contrast beautifully with other components.  Slaw seems to be a specialty at the Loyal Hound though a more generous portion size would be much appreciated.

10 September 2016: In her terrific tome American Sandwich, my friend Becky Mercuri reveals we each devour about 193 sandwiches a year for a hefty 45 billion annual total nationally.  The most popular sandwich across the fruited plain is the simple ham sandwich with the BLT ranking second.  Enterprising chefs the world over have long created more interesting variations on the three-ingredient bacon, lettuce and tomato standard.  The Loyal Hound’s rendition is one of the best we’ve had in New Mexico.  It’s constructed with Zoe’s applewood smoked bacon, lettuce and heirloom tomato on homemade sandwich bread with black pepper mayo (to which we added sliced avocado).  What makes this sandwich transformative is the homemade sandwich bread baked fresh (you’ll want to take a loaf or three home with you), as wonderful a sandwich canvas as you’ll find anywhere.  Zoe’s applewood smoked bacon is an artisan masterpiece cured to bring out the optimum sweet, salty and smoky flavors that define bacon greatness.


10 September 2016: Included among the more than 8,000 comments on Gil’s Thrilling are a number of threads discussing the best fish and chips in the Albuquerque area.  Should those discussions been expanded to include Santa Fe, the Loyal Hound’s Fish N Chips would certainly have made the list…even sans chips.  Yes, my friends, it may be sacrilege to have fish and chips without chips, but given a choice of house fries, spicy green chile slaw, apple fennel slaw, organic pintos, side salad, or minty mushy peas, chips don’t necessarily bubble up to the top.  Who needs them when the fish is this good (the most popular item on the menu according to our server).  Two thick, lightly breaded fish fillets that are actually mostly fish not breaded air is one of the reasons for their popularity.  Then there’s the tartar sauce, a very good accompaniment, though our preference will always be malted vinegar.    

An old television commercial from our years living in England included a catchy refrain with the lyrics “you’ve had your chips” repeated several times.  The term “you’ve had your chips, an English colloquialism, essentially means “you’ve run out of luck” but it also described my decision not to have chips with my fish.  Instead of chips, we opted for mushy peas, a traditional dish in the United Kingdom which tastes much better than it sounds.  In fact, the Loyal Hound’s version has a remarkably fresh flavor with a texture that’s not at all off-putting.  Flavored with mint, the mushy peas are better than many we had in England.  Add green chile slaw to the mix and you’ve got a party for your taste buds.

Fish N Chips (Minus the Chips)

10 September 2016: No matter what you order, it’s best washed down with basil-mint lemonade made on the premises. From your introductory sip when you’re expecting just a slight variation from your run-of-the-mill lemonade, you’ll be ensnared by something even more refreshing and delicious. Minty freshness and the sweet aromatic zip of basil are a nice counterbalance to the sweet-tart flavor of an otherwise just very good lemonade. If you could have the Loyal Hound’s basil-mint every summer day, the heat and humidity of monsoon season would be so much more bearable and delicious.

19 September 2014: Chef Renee is the architect of the menu which features made-from-scratch daily breads and desserts, some of which are unique. Made-to-order cinnamon-sugar beignets, called “The Doggy Bag” on the menu, are a popular choice, but for diners who live by a “viva la difference” ethos will opt for the gluten-free olive oil chocolate cake. The olive oil lends just a slightly oleaginous quality to the moist, dense cake.  More discernible are the cake’s citrusy notes (the combination of chocolate and citrus is terrific).  It’s served atop a smear of caramel. 

Gluten-Free Olive Oil Chocolate Cake

10 September 2016Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans made its reputation largely on the strength of chicory coffee and beignets, a square piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar.  Locals find it humorous to see tourists walking around with more than a dusting of powdered sugar on their clothing.  As often as we had these fried fritters, we never thought them to be as good as sopaipillas.  The cinnamon-sugar beignets at the Loyal Hound are close.  Served three to an order in an old-fashioned paper bag (called a Doggy Bag), the beignets are more roundish than the traditional New Orleans-style beignets, more closely resembling oversized donut holes.  They’re also served with your choice (or both) of dipping sauces, either sea salt caramel or ganache.  The dipping sauces elevate the beignets significantly.

The Doggy Bag

10 September 2016: In four of our last five restaurant visits we’ve ordered cobbler.  No, we’re not in a rut.  We’re trying to relive the delectation we experienced with the peach cobbler at The County Line Restaurant and the transformative rhubarb cobber at the Eclectic Pizzeria and Beer Tap.  Our server raved about the Loyal Hound’s peach cobbler which she assured us is made with fresh, not canned peaches.  It’s a different cobbler than others we’ve had recently.  Instead of a thin pie-type crust blanketing the peaches, a square bread pudding-like slab of sweet dough lay beside the peaches.  My appreciation for this “crust” was heightened by the dipping sauces which accompanied the Doggy Bag.  The peaches themselves were fresh and tangy, a perfect foil for the vanilla bean ice cream.

Peach Cobbler

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

Loyal Hound Pub
730 St. Michael’s Drive, Suite 3RW
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 471-0440
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 September 2016
1st VISIT: 19 September 2014
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bison Short Rib Nachos, Spicy Fried Chicken, Olive Oil Chocolate Cake, Jones Root Beer, Fish, Mushy Peas, Green Chile Slaw, BLT, Deviled Eggs, Fried Castelvetrano Olives and Roasted Marcona Almonds, Peach Cobbler, Doggy Bag, Basil-Mint Lemonade

Loyal Hound Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Spinn’s Burgers & Beer – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Spinns Burger & Beer serves one of the very best burgers in the metropolitan area!

Like him or not, few would disagree that former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici was one of the most effective legislators on either side of the aisle.  Since his election to the United States Senate in 1972, “Saint Pete” as he is known by admirers and critics alike effectively directed the appropriation of significant federal largesse upon the Land of Enchantment. For many native New Mexicans, one of his shining moments came in 1983.  During a debate about the spelling of the word (chili or chile), Domenici clarified for the Congressional record that “chili” is “that inedible mixture of watery tomato soup, dried gristle, half-cooked kidney beans, and a myriad of silly ingredients that is passed off as food in Texas and Oklahoma.” 

Motivated by Dominici’s impassioned plea, on November 14, 1983 the Albuquerque Journal declared “The I’s of Texas are no longer on us.  ‘Chili is dead.  The only time we will use “i” will be when we quote the written word of some Texan.”  Not to be outdone, in January, 1988 a bipartisan bill was introduced in the New Mexico State Legislature threatening that any New Mexican who misspells “chile” as “chili will automatically be deported to Texas.  Ever an inclusive and progressive state, New Mexico’s tolerance for the aberrant spelling has been relaxed a bit, especially since some restaurants actually serve the Texan dish.  Spinn’s Burger & Beer comes to mind.

Something to see everywhere you turn

Many New Mexicans acknowledge that the word “chili” exists only as an aberration.   We spell the dish, plant and pod correctly–with an “e.” Place a bowl of hot Texas chili in front of a New Mexican and most of us would consume it (or attempt bravely to do so)–if only to deride it as anecdotal evidence that not only is its spelling incorrect, the product is inferior. Few of us will ever admit to admiring the concoction Texans proudly call chili and if we ever hit upon a bowl we actually like, we’re not going to tell anyone.

As a stubborn native New Mexican, I wouldn’t even begrudgingly admit to liking the Texas chili at Spinn’s Burgers & Beer–even if I did. The fact that I didn’t like it at all (the cumin was just overwhelming) makes writing about it more sincere. That chili is available as an appetizer in cup or bowl portions and even better (because the cumin is diluted a bit), as an option on Spinn’s Frank-n-Steins–plump, juicy sausages steamed in beer and available in three varieties, all served on poppy seed rolls and garnished as you like them.

A colorful mural littered with glitterati

The Frank-n-Stein is a jumbo all beef frank, the Polish-stein is a spicy Polish sausage (a dog that bites back) and the Brat-n-Stein is bratwurst steamed in beer and browned on the grill (have it with sauerkraut which is excellent). There are few hot dogs in Albuquerque as good as those offered at Spinn’s, a July, 2006 newcomer to the Albuquerque dining scene which closed in 2010 only to reopen in May, 2011, albeit in a smaller location within a mile of the original site.  In its new digs, Spinns has downsized significantly while retaining much of the charms which made it a very popular dining destination during its nearly four-year run.

The first restaurant venture for Texas born and bred entrepreneur Mike Spinn, the eponymous Spinns serves local hand-crafted Mable Micro Brew beers….but for me, the big draw is the food. Aside from “chili”  (my well-trained spellchecker is yelling at me about that horrid spelling), the menu includes gourmet burgers, flame-grilled Angus steaks and other Texas staples such as country fried chicken strips and gravy.

Green Chile Cheeseburger

The burgers start off as more than a third-pound of fresh ground Angus beef that’s never been frozen.  All burgers are served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions and mustard–all on the side so you can use them in the proportions you want.  Burgers are cooked medium-well unless you request otherwise.  Order the green chile cheeseburger with double meat and double cheese even though the menu indicates it’s made with green “chili” (why hasn’t Mike Spinn been deported to Texas for that offensive spelling).  It takes two hands to handle this baby  and five or six napkins to wipe your lips as you eat it.  There are two Wendy’s commercials which more aptly describe a burger at Spinn’s than they ever did at the perpetually third-place burger chain.  A Spinn’s burger answers the Wendy’s question “where’s the beef?”.  The beef overruns the bun at Spinn’s.  The second Wendy’s commercial befitting a Spinn’s burger is the one for the “hot and juicy” burger which required multiple napkins.

After our respective first bites during our inaugural visit, my friend Bill Resnik and I exclaimed almost in unison “Rex’s.”  Spinn’s burgers are indeed reminiscent of those served at Rex’s Hamburgers, an Albuquerque institution which closed in 2005 only to return in 2008. That’s a compliment.  That means the burgers are juicy and delicious.  While the green chili (aaargh!) is only mildly piquant (at least for this fire-eater), it is a flavorful addition to a delicious and well-seasoned burger (dare I say probably the very best burger on the Duke City’s west side). It’s also one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in the great state of New Mexico and would kick the butt of any burger in Texas.

Double-Double Texas BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger

A large lone star festoons one wall, an audacious display considering New Mexicans seem to have a bit of competitive disdain for their neighbor, but even the most proud New Mexican will embrace the Texas BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger.  This carnivore’s dream is best when served double-double style and prepared at medium.  Barbecue sauce is applied lightly–only enough to be faintly noticeable.  That allows the the meat and bacon to star.  The bacon is thick and smoky and the beef is juicy and flavorful.  Carbohydrate avoiders will love the beef at Spinn’s.

Few things go as well with burgers as French Fries, a culinary marriage that works best with crispy fries that don’t start off frozen and in a bag. At Spinn’s the fries are freshly cut and fried to order and are golden brown and delicious.  They’re easily some of the best fries in Albuquerque, by far better than the out-of-a-bag aberrations.   Spinn’s onion rings are large and sweet (possibly Vidalia onions) and are among the best restaurant onion rings on the West side.

Brat-n-Stein: A juicy Bratwurst in a gourmet dog bun

In addition to the Double/Double, Spinn’s signature gourmet burger line-up includes a Texas BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, a Queso burger (served open-face with queso), and an Armadillo Burger (a six-ounce all-beef patty, green chili, bacon and egg smothered in Texas chili and cheese placed on top of a flour tortilla) and a tortilla burger.  Extras include peppered bacon, avocados, cheese, mushrooms, green chili and an egg over easy.  You can also request a wheat bun on request.  The tortilla burger is excellent and an even better way to hold in all the juiciness of a very moist burger. 

Juiciness seems to be a hallmark of Spinn’s beef and not just on the burgers.   Spinn’s rendition of the Philadelphia Cheesesteak is one of the very best in the Duke City.  There are two ways you can have it–the conventional Philly style with onions and green peppers and New Mexico style with green chile.  An even better way would be to have it with onions, green peppers and New Mexican green chile.  The green chile has a nice bite to it, more than any other green chile Philly in town.  Spinn’s uses a very creamy white American cheese that goes very well with the beef.

Philly Cheesesteak New Mexico Style

My friend Señor Plata’s father once told him that chicken fried steak was something his family would eat during the great Depression.  It hasn’t stopped Señor Plata from enjoying it more than anyone I’ve met outside of Texas where chicken fried steak is practically a religion.  Texas born Mike Spinns obviously worshiped at that altar a few times.  His restaurant’s version is among the best in town.  The tenderized cube steak is thick and fork-tender.  It’s covered in a peppery gravy that  gives it wake-up qualities.  The chicken fried steak is served with two sides.

A large mural festoons the south wall of the Spinn’s location. Painted by popular local muralist Karen Deaton, it depicts several glitterati (including James Dean, Shirley Temple, Nat King Cole and Marilyn Monroe) enjoying themselves with beer and burgers.  On the mural’s bottom right corner was a sight familiar to anyone who’s driven in West Texas–an armadillo on its back. What most of us haven’t seen, however, is that armadillo quaffing a bottle of Lone Star beer while on its back. It’s a whimsical mural that kept your eyes busy while you waited for your food and beverage order. 

Spinns Chicken Fried Steak

I’m not sure Saint Pete would appreciate the menu’s malapropisms, but I’ll bet he’d like most of the food (except maybe the chili).

Spinn’s Burgers & Beer
4411 Montano Road, N.W., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 899-6180
Web Site | Facebook Page
: 4 September 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chili Cheeseburger; Polish-Stein; Onion Rings; French Fries, Sweet Potato Fries, Texas BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, Philadelphia Cheesesteak (New Mexico Style), Chicken Fried Steak

Spinn's Burger & Beer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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