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Kathy’s Carry-Out – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kathy's on Isleta Boulevard

Kathy’s on Isleta Boulevard

In 2001, the Alibi staff declared Kathy’s Carry-Out the “best hamburger in the Duke City.” Surely, nay-sayers retorted, this had to be a mistake. How, after all, they reasoned, could a ramshackle garage sized building with a kitschy purple facade and garish orange trim possibly compete with the flamboyant chains and their glitz and glamor or even with the anointed local purveyors in the more well-beaten, well-eaten paths throughout the city?   Kathy’s Carry-Out lived up to its name, emphasis on the “carry-out” portion of its name.  Carry-Out was the only option available for the phalanx of diners eager to bite into those bodacious burgers.

Ensconced in an Isleta Boulevard neighborhood seemingly zoned as much for more residential than commercial purposes, Kathy’s Carry-Out certainly wouldn’t win any awards for esthetics and it probably violated every feng shui principle for harmony, not that hungry diners noticed.  Savvy burger aficionados from the South Valley frequented Kathy’s for its wonderful New Mexican cuisine and a burger so good it’d convert staunch vegans.  It took one visit to convince us you can’t judge a burger by the dilapidated facade of its place of origin. Kathy’s did serve one of, if not THE best burger in town.

The original Kathy's Carryout on Isleta Boulevard

The original Kathy’s Carryout on Isleta Boulevard

It’ll take one visit to this South Valley neighborhood to gain an appreciation for a neighborhood unabashedly bedecked in an ultraviolet spectrum of colors.  It’s part of the charm about this area that I love  It’s also the utter charm of holding on to a rural neighborliness amidst an urban sprawl sometimes lacking the spirit of community lived daily in the Isleta area.  This is a neighborhood which defies the abobe-hued homogeneity which has claimed so much of the city.  It’s a neighborhood which dares to be different, to express its individuality.

And when color isn’t what your eyes are drawn to, it might be a marvel of architectural ingenuity such as the single-wide trailer which sits on top of a stucco building to the immediate north of Kathy’s Carryout.  It’s a tribute to this area that the zoning Nazis haven’t come down on such inventive architectural expression. Or, your eyes might be trained to the skies because of an inordinate number of pigeons fortunate enough to call this neighborhood home.

A large Kathy Burger

In 2007, the dwarfish ugly duckling which served nonpareil New Mexican food and life-changing burgers was transmogrified into a spectacular swan with a broad wingspan. The charmingly garish exterior facade of its first location and its anti-esthetic curb appeal were gone as were any claims to “Albuquerque’s best burger served here.”  That honor didn’t go very far; it now belongs to the restaurant next door.

Kathy’s Carryout left that utterly charming old edifice and moved next door to a beautiful restaurant with seating for dozens of diners. “Carry-Out” now applies to the drive-up window, not to the way diners used to order and take away their orders.  In Kathy’s Carryout of old, separate windows were used for placing and picking up orders. You had to feel sorry for the cramped quarters in which Kathy and her staff filled orders; there wasn’t much room to move and the heat of the stoves seemed stifling.

Rolled tacos and hot sauce

Rolled tacos and hot sauce

The old location had a couple of picnic tables where you could sit and wait, but most patrons seemed to either wait by the pick-up window or taxed their cars’ air conditioners while waiting in relative comfort within the confines of cars of all makes and models. Most were packed with hungry family members waiting for a designated parent to return with a bagful of deliciousness.What they waiting for is not only one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico (ergo, the universe), but excellent take-out Mexican and New   Mexican food. Waiting indoors is much better!

Kathy’s new digs are completely antithetical to its predecessor. It’s almost antiseptic in appearance with pristine denim colored walls, sixteen-inch tiled floors and comfortable seating.  No one is happier to be in the new restaurant than the staff and cooks who love the large kitchen in which they can ply their skills in climate-controlled comfort.  The larger kitchen also means an expanded menu which now includes burritos, tacos, enchiladas burgers, stuffed sopaipillas and much more. Daily specials are offered every day of the week.

Chips and guacamole

Chips and guacamole

27 July 2015: The most popular item on the menu is probably still the green chile cheeseburger extraordinaire called the Kathy Burger (formerly known as the Cuca Burger), a double-meat masterpiece that will kick sand on the so-called Big Mac and other chain claimants to size.  With two behemoth hand-formed patties prepared to medium-well, Kathy Burger and its tongue-tingling green chile, onions, lettuce, bacon and cheese is a phenom. It takes two hands to handle this leviathan, five napkins to wipe yourself off while consuming it and phenomenal willpower not to order another one, great as it is. With red chile, the Kathy Burger is not quite as incendiary but might even taste better.

24 July 2015: Terrific tacos are an excellent alternative to the Kathy Burger. The rolled tacos (order them with guacamole instead of salsa) are cigar-shaped, deep-fried corn tortilla treasures stuffed with a chile emboldened ground beef. Only in the city of Espanola, New Mexico will you find better rolled tacos than at Kathy’s. The guacamole, by the way, can be purchased by the pint (pictured below). It’s good guacamole, buttery and creamy in texture and delicious in flavor.

Bean Burrito with Red and Green Chile

24 July 2015: Several burrito options are also available and they’re not your run-of-the-mill burritos. The carne adovada burrito, for example, comes with fried potatoes and a fried egg. It’s absolutely delicious with red chile blessed pork chunks as tender as Mother Theresa’s heart.  Now, if you really love burritos, but you like bargains even more, you can have both by visiting Kathy’s on Fridays when the daily special is three bean burritos for an inflation-beating cost just barely over five dollars.  The burritos are engorged with frijoles so good you’ll be reminded why pinto beans are, along with chile, New Mexico’s official state vegetable.  The accommodating staff will indulge you with both red and green chile if you ask.  While both exemplars of deliciousness and piquancy, the green gets my nod, but just barely.  

27 July 2015: The term “cheap eats” sometimes has connotations not of inexpensive fare, but of rock-bottom quality.  At Kathy’s cheap eats represents excellent fare at very reasonable prices.  If the exorbitant price of tacos has you wondering if restaurateurs believe taco shells are fashioned from spun gold, you may experience a bit of sticker shock at the low, low, low price of a la carte tacos at Kathy’s.  Nestled within hard-shelled repositories of deliciousness are beans, ground beef, lettuce and cheese with salsa on the side.  These tacos are terrific, a reminder that tacos shouldn’t cost as much as your mortgage to be great.

Tacos

The Alibi was right about Kathy’s Carry-Out so many years ago.  So are the hundreds of discerning Duke City burgerphiles and aficionados of New Mexican food who frequent it!

Kathy’s
823 Isleta, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 873-3472
LATEST VISIT: 27 July 2015
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Kathy Burger, Rolled Tacos, Bean Burritos, Carne Adovada Burrito, Beef Tacos

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New Yorken Cafe & Bakery – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The New Yorken Cafe & Bakery on Juan Tabo

Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday from the neighborhood
Hop a flight to Miami Beach
Or to Hollywood
But I’m taking a Greyhound
On the Hudson River Line
I’m in a New York state of mind.”
~Billy Joel

Perhaps only in New Mexico does the term “New York state of mind” evoke images of a desert hamlet atop the mesa overlooking the largest city in the state. Such was the effectiveness of the slick marketing campaign by the American Realty and Petroleum Company (AMREP for short) that Rio Rancho, the city it founded less than fifty years ago, may be more often referred to as “Little New York” than as the “City of Vision,” the sobriquet it would prefer.  AMREP’s clever marketing attracted hundreds of middle-income New Yorkers to the then untamed western fringes overlooking the Rio Grande.  

To almost everyone else, however, “New York state of mind” calls forth the melting pot character that can take you around the world in five boroughs where as many as 800 languages are spoken.  That multicultural diversity has become what former President Jimmy Carter described as “a beautiful mosaic” with “different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”  That diversity extends to the city’s culinary scene where within a span of two or three blocks and scant minutes, you virtually have a world’s worth of dining options.

Patrick and Lisa Archibald, proud owners of New Yorken

It’s been said that you may leave New York, but New York never leaves you.  Patrick Archibald, a transplanted New Yorker who’s been in Albuquerque for more than two decades, can certainly attest to that.  Having cut his culinary teeth in Staten Island by baking bagels, he was immediately smitten with the food business and determined to someday make a living in the profession.  It’s taken a twenty-year detour to someday for him to achieve his dreams. 

As owner of New Surface Cabinets and Countertops on Juan Tabo, he witnessed several restaurants come and go from the restaurant space next door before embarking on his inaugural restaurant ownership venture.  A few months after Dagmar’s Restaurant & Strudel Haus shuttered its doors in the summer of 2014, Patrick and his beauteous better half Lisa, a native New Mexican, launched New Yorken.  Determining what the featured fare would be was a no-brainer.  Patrick wanted to bring New York to New Mexico.  For that it’s not only transplanted New Yorkers who are grateful.

Dinner Salad with Blue Cheese

Perusing the menu, it would be easy to conclude that Patrick is of Italian descent, but he’s as Irish as a field of shamrocks.  While heavy on Italian “red sauce” restaurant favorites, the menu also reflects the multicultural diversity of the neighborhood in which he grew up.  That means a smattering of Jewish and German favorites, too.  New Yorken also salutes Lisa’s home state with such enchanting dishes as a breakfast burrito, Frito pie and green chili (SIC) stew).  New Yorkers aren’t the only ones who’ll appreciate the fried or dirty water hot dogs, pork cutlet sandwich, chicken cutlet parmigiana sandwich and burgers redolent with Big Apple touches.

While the breakfast and lunch menus bespeak of New York’s melting pot diversity, the dinner menu could have emanated from a restaurant named Guido’s, Santori’s or any number of other Italian names.  It lists ten Italian dishes, not all of which might be recognized in Italy, but all of which are absolutely beloved in the Italian American communities of New York.  Family recipes are the source of such New York favorites as linguine with clam sauce, baked ziti and meatballs.  Patrick smiles broadly when describing those meatballs and is fittingly proud that the New Yorken menu includes shrimp parmigiana, a dish not often found in the Land of Enchantment.

Italian Bread with Garlic Cloves

The New Yorken Cafe & Bakery is open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.  All dinner entrees come with a tossed side salad and fresh Italian bread, the latter of which is served with garlic cloves and butter.  The hard-crusted bread with a soft, pillowy interior is a perfect vessel for sopping up sauces.  That includes the housemade salad dressings such as the house specialty, a garlic vinaigrette.  (The bread, by the way, comes from Sergio’s on Wyoming).

18 April 2015: My standard salad dressing request is “as much blue cheese as you can carry.” What is ferried to my table usually isn’t enough. Lisa brought me two ramekins brimming with some of the best blue cheese we’ve had in a long time. It’s replete with plenty of blue veined, thick, creamy and wonderfully fetid blue cheese crumbles. This blue cheese dressing pairs well with New Yorken’s tossed side salad which is constructed from an organic salad mix, carrots, cucumber, tomato, broccoli, red onions and mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms, a vastly underused salad ingredient which goes especially well with blue cheese.

Lasagna

18 April 2015: Because my own New Mexican mom makes my favorite lasagna in the universe, I rarely order lasagna in restaurants for fear of being disappointed.  It’s usually a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Lisa’s effusive description of New Yorken’s lasagna swayed my decision as to what to order.  It’s an excellent choice: layered pasta, homemade marinara sauce, creamy cheese blend and Italian sausage “baked to perfection.”  Several elements on this dish stand out.  The marinara sauce is reminiscent of the sauce served at New York’s many “red sauce” Italian restaurants.  It’s not as heavy on oregano as marinara around here tends to be and the tomatoes are rich and sweet.  The coarsely-blended sausage is redolent with fennel and is very flavorful. 

18 April 2015: We thought the lasagna has a lot of sausage (and it does), but it’s sausage-impoverished compared to the Italian Sausage entree (mild Italian sausage, peppers and onions served over spaghetti with garlic and herbs).  Often called sausage and peppers on Italian restaurant menus, it’s a favorite in red sauce Italian restaurants.  None we’ve ever visited serves as many diagonally sliced sausage coins as New Yorken.  My Kim, who believes in sparing the sauce (heretical, yes I know) appreciated the relatively sparse sauce as well as the perfectly al dente spaghetti.  The red and green peppers were absolutely perfect, too, neither soft and mushy nor raw and hard.  The diversity of sausage and peppers can be seen throughout the menu.  They’re available on the New Yorken omelet and on the “Little Italy” sandwich.  Wise diners will try them all.

Sausage and Peppers

On many a balmy evening in Massachusetts when we needed plenty of carbs for marathon sessions of ultimate Frisbee, my friends and i would visit Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Lexington.  One of our favorite energy boosters was baked ziti served in too-hot-to-handle casserole dishes.  Baked ziti is one of those Italian-American hybrids for which there isn’t one standard recipe.  It’s essentially a penne pasta with some type of sauce.  The infusion of the sauce through the dish’s preparation is where the secret to its deliciousness lies.  First the pasta is cooked then combined with the sauce in a casserole dish.  The ziti is then placed in an oven and allowed to bake.

18 July 2015: If there’s one immutable law about Italian food, it’s that it’s going to taste even better the second time around…even if it means reheating a dish.  That’s especially true of good ziti and at New Yorken that’s what you’ll enjoy–very good ziti.  This rendition is made with a blend of rich and creamy Italian cheeses, herbs, pasta and the housemade marinara.  Not needing an infusion of carbs for ultimate Frisbee, we couldn’t finish the generous portion, but enjoyed the remainder thoroughly.  It’s not left-overs when it’s as good, if not better, the second time around.

Baked Ziti

The term “Parmigiana” is a sort of “catch-all” used to describe meals cooked and served with grated Parmesan cheese.  Traditionally, Parmigiana is a dish consisting of layers of Parmesan over fried slices of eggplant though there are numerous variations including chicken, veal and even shrimp.  Over time–and some consider this sacrilege–Parmigiana has been made with other types of cheese such as mozzarella.  You’ll probably never meet a New Yorker who doesn’t use the diminutive of this dish.  That would be “Parm,” a term almost as revered as “mother.”

18 July 2015: Serious Eats, an award-winning online publication contends that “It’s pretty hard to mess up a fried breaded chicken cutlet smothered with red sauce and melted mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.”  Alas, in New Mexico finding a good Chicken cutlet Parmigiana is an exception, not a rule.  Chicken cutlet parmigiana is apparently the dish enchantment forgot.   We count on two fingers–one for Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho and one for New Yorken–the restaurants which prepare an outstanding chicken Parmigiana dish.  One of the aspects of New Yorken’s version which stands out is the golden-hued breading which lends a crunchy texture while insulating the chicken as it’s being fried.  Amazingly, the breading accomplishes this despite being light and thin, somehow allowing the chicken to retain its moistness.  Then there’s the sauce and the cheese, both applied optimally for a blend of acidity and creaminess which render this dish wholly wonderful.

Chicken Cutlet Parmigiana

There are many foods associated with New York, but perhaps the most beloved of them all is the classic cheesecake.  It may be the most enduring, too, having survived America’s low-cal, low-fat, low-carb and low-sugar manias to be served today in more than 2,000 of the city’s restaurants.  New York cheesecake has been a rich, creamy, delicious staple of the New York dessert scene since the 1920s.  Among its telltale signs are its denseness, thickness and creaminess.  There are many imitators, but none are as good.

It took a lot of trial and effort before Patrick was able to bake a cheesecake as good as his mother’s.  Over the years he’s added to his repertoire, eventually building a brand and a business from his passion.  For almost five years, he’s offered his delectable cheesecakes under the Patty Cakes brand, selling them in limited quantities.  With a more expansive platform, it shouldn’t be long before Duke City diners discover and get hooked on possibly the very best cheesecakes outside New York.

Fabulous Cheesecake

18 April 2015: The luminous treasures displayed in jewelry cases pale in comparison to the cheesecakes behind glass in the pastry cases at New Yorken.  Most of them might be classified as “plain” if sheer, utter deliciousness can ever be termed as plain.  In this case, plain only means they’re unadorned with any toppings.  “Classic” is a better descriptor.  Patrick encourages you to make your inaugural slice a classic cheesecake so that nothing comes between your taste buds and the purity of this rich, creamy dessert.  My Chicago born-and-bred Kim, who’s no stranger to cheesecake, conceded with alacrity that Patrick’s classic cheesecake is better than Eli’s, a Windy City staple.

18 April 2015: The turtle cheesecake (pecans, caramel and chocolate) is at least as good as the last slice of Junior’s Cheesecakes to cross my lips (and hips) several years ago.  That places it in rarefied company.  Unlike far too many cheesecakes which are made with a Graham Cracker or Oreo crust, New Yorken’s cheesecakes are absolutely crustless.  The denseness of the cream cheese holds up against the generous layer of chocolate topped with whole pecans and drizzled with caramel.  The beauty of the turtle cheesecake is the layer of flavorings with varying degrees of sweetness within the tangy cream cheese, dark chocolate and sugary caramel.  The pecans are a perfect foil.  This is the perfect cheesecake!

Even Better Turtle Cheesecake

The New York state of mind is alive, well and delicious at the New Yorken Cafe & Bakery, a little bit of the melting pot character that defines America’s largest city.  By the way, don’t ever buy into the stereotype that New Yorkers are cold and unfriendly.  Patrick is one of the nicest restaurateurs you’ll meet, a perfect complement to the lovely Lisa and their son Patrick, Jr., who aspires someday to head Apple.

New Yorken Cafe & Bakery
2120 Juan Tabo,  N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 293-3439
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 July 2015
1st VISIT: 18 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Turtle Cheesecake, Cheesecake, Lasagna, Sausage and Peppers, Lemon Cheesecake, Baked Ziti, Chicken Cutlet Parmigiana

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Witch’s Brew – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Witch’s Brew Coffee House

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
~Macbeth Act 4 Scene 1

Each of the lunch ladies at the Peñasco Elementary School cafeteria undoubtedly earned a pair of wings, a harp, and a halo for all they were subjected to from the recalcitrant kids who lined up for our daily gruel. Whenever (and it was quite often) something unappetizing was served, we would burst into a chorus of “double, double, toil and trouble. Dump this slop on the double.” Most of us were six or seven years old and had certainly never heard of the three witches immortalized in the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth. We’d improvised the little ditty from something we’d heard on an episode of Bewitched (or was it Gilligan’s Island?), a situation comedy of the 1960s.

It wasn’t those sainted lunch ladies who first came to mind when I espied the sign for “Witches Brew,” a coffee house in the Altura Park neighborhood. Now much more geriatrically advanced (and ostensibly more “grown up”) I tried to recall the remarkably precise and detailed incantation (was it “eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, tongue of dog?”…) uttered by Macbeth’s three witches as they concocted the most famous witches brew of all. Alas, my mind was too cluttered with the “dump this slop on the double” chant of my childhood.

From the dining room

Fittingly Witch’s Brew occupies the space previously held by another mythical character, the long defunct Blue Dragon, a coffee house and eatery whose eight year absence has made Duke City hearts grow fonder. As with its predecessor on Girard, Witch’s Brew is quirky and comfortable, a homey milieu in which you can procure enchanting eats and bewitching coffee. The dining room is an upgrade, offering cozy booths that seem tailor-made for long visits as you luxuriate over a pizza or sandwich. The cynosure of another expansive room is a pool table. Walls are festooned with the works of local virtuosos plying their craft in various artsy mediums.

Esthetics and ambiance aside, what sets Witch’s Brew apart is its vibe, the sense of déjà vu and belonging you feel when you first step into the joint. Even if you never set foot in the Blue Dragon, there’s something more than vaguely familiar about Witch’s Brew. For the more seasoned among us, perhaps it’s the sense of nostalgia gleaned from having studied assiduously in similar venues even as live music or a poetry slam unfolded (sometimes rather loudly) in the background.

Apricot Teacake

If you need help getting started in the morning, the Witch’s Brew can hook you up with hot Red Rock Roasters coffee or an 18-hour cold-brewed coffee as well as an assortment of eye-opening breakfast sandwiches and pastries. Return for lunch and you’ll revel in a selection of pizzas baked in the same Baker’s Pride oven once used by the Blue Dragon. The menu, scrawled on a slate board, also offers soups, burritos, salads, nachos and much more. You’ll be hard-pressed to tear your eyes away from the pie case which may be replete with pies, cakes, cheesecakes, Danishes, fruit and several types of cookies.

Feast your eyes on the apricot teacakes then let your taste buds confirm what your eyes tell you. These are perhaps even better than they look—thick, dense, apricot-infused teacakes with a generously slathered on apricot glaze. These aren’t artificially ripened, overly sweetened canned apricots, my friends. They’re imbued with Mother Nature’s freshness and the musky tartness of apricots that not long ago hung from a branch on a tall apricot tree.

Granola with Fruit

It wasn’t that long ago, granola was ascribed with such characteristics as rustic, tree-hugger bran, organic, natural and boring. Today, artisans and innovators are doing interesting things with granola, elevating it from the aforementioned to something inspired and maybe even chic. Witch’s Brew’s take on granola is neither. It might be easier to find Forrest Fenn’s treasure than to find something other than oats on the plate and we love our fruits and nuts, too. The yogurt itself is unsweetened which is a major plus as are the fruits (kiwi, watermelon, grapes, apple slices) served on a separate bowl.

What Bohemians and long-ago frequenters of the Blue Dragon want to know is if the venerable oven can still weave its magic on a pizza. If you believe pizza ovens have a memory and that, like a good pan, they can be “seasoned,” the answer is “the magic is still there.” There are a number of pizza options on the menu, including a taco pizza (black bean-red chile sauce, roasted chicken and al-fresco toppings) and a white pizza sans tomato sauce, but with plenty of garlic. You’re sure to find one you’ll love.

Pizza Margherita

Traditionalists and historians will enjoy the Pizza Margherita, the acknowledged progenitor of every pizza. Tradition dictates that the Margherita is adorned simply in the colors of the Italian flag: white from mozzarella, red from tomato sauce and green from basil. Add the color of char around the braided cornicione (the edge or lip of a pizza) and a bit of golden sheen from semolina flour and you’ve got a beauteous pie, one that’s chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside. The pie itself is rather thin, but it doesn’t wilt when picked up. Though the tomato sauce is generously applied, it doesn’t overwhelm the cheese. Thankfully salt isn’t a prominent part of this pie’s flavor profile.

Some would argue that the premise of a combination pizza is to get as many ingredients on one pie as you possibly can. Others look for combination pizzas to have a more thematic (Hawaiian, meat lovers, veggie, for example) appeal. Still others look for combinations that work well together. That’s what the combination pizza at Witch’s brew does. Constructed with pepperoni, black olives, onions and mozzarella, it’s not a profligate pile-up of ingredients, but the toppings do go very well together.

Combination Pizza

The Witch’s Brew is an enchanting coffeehouse in the heart of the Land of Enchantment. One can only wonder what type of ditty the Gil of my childhood would have composed about its culinary alchemy.

Witch’s Brew
1517 Girard Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 835-5072
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 July 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Combination Pizza, Pizza Margherita, Granola with Fruit

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