Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My Friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver Stands in Front of Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles

If one measure of success is having the wherewithal to pursue those things you love most, Frank Willis has led a very successful life. A towering skyscraper of a man, Frank has had four great loves in his life: family, basketball, music and chicken and waffles. They’ve been his passions and his raisons d’être. Maybe that’s why he’s done them all well.

You might remember Frank Willis as a heavily coveted recruit who played basketball for the University of New Mexico Lobos, then the only game in town. At 6’8” and 260 pounds, he was a physical presence down on the post, helping the Lobos win the Western Athletic Conference championship in 1994. Knee injuries kept him from achieving the promise he showed as a high school senior in Los Angeles. After his playing days ended, Frank remained in Albuquerque where he pined for the soul food—especially chicken and waffles–so readily available in the City of Angels. When he couldn’t find the foods he coveted, he began preparing them himself.

Tenderoni Platter

While he cites his mother, grandmother and aunt as formative influences on his cooking, Frank also waxes nostalgic about his frequent visits to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, a beloved Los Angeles soul food institution. As he had done in honing his basketball skills, he worked relentlessly on his own recipes until he had perfected them to his exacting standards. In January, 2013, he took his concept to the streets—literally, launching a food delivery business featuring soul food. It was such a hit that within nine months, he opened a brick-and-mortar soul food restaurant, Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles.

Now, Frank’s may not have been famous when it first opened, but it quickly garnered a reputation as a purveyor of peerless soul food. In 2015, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded the quickly burgeoning business a Hot Plate Award for the chicken and waffles the Duke City can’t live without. In the 2017 “best of the city” poll, the magazine’s readers declared Frank’s as the best soul food eatery in the metropolitan area. Accolades, awards and glowing media tributes share space on the walls at Frank’s with another of his four loves, music.

12 Wings and 2 Waffles Platter

While you’re enjoying soul food at Frank’s, it’s only fitting that you’re surrounded by the dulcet tones and sensual stylings of sweet, soothing soul music from such stalwarts as Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. A vintage sound system console stereo complete with eight-track player, turntable and cassette player sits on the distressed wood floor next to a small library of record album sleeves. Still more album sleeves and cassettes festoon the walls. Above the fireplace mantle hangs a painting of Prince right next to an electric guitar, both spotlighted by overhead lights. The only vestige of Frank’s playing days as a Lobo is his old jersey framed on the wall and sporting the number 4 he wore.

Frank’s greatest love, of course, is his family.  His restaurant is the quintessential family owned and operated restaurant.  Family members–sister, daughter, mother–all have a hand in day-to-day operation.  Frank himself is the most visible face of the restaurant.  He’s understandably proud of his business.  When my friend Sr. Plata and I visited for the first time in June, 2018, he asked how we’d heard about Frank’s.  I replied “everyone’s heard about Frank’s.  It just took us too long to get here.”  We joked about Sr. Plata having been from Los Angeles but never having been to Roscoe’s.

Just How Big a Platter with 12 Wings and 2 Waffles: Sr Plata Demonstrates

Frank’s menu is so much more than chicken and waffles though if that sweet and savory combination is what you’re jonesing for, a number of plates are available to sate your appetite. And, if you’re like this indolent eater and prefer not to have to work around chicken bones, there are boneless options. The most prolific offering on the menu is the Temptations Platter, a caloric overachiever showcasing wings smothered with Muddy Waters gravy served with yams, mac n’ cheese, greens and corn bread. You can also put some South in your mouth with grits prepared several ways, including the “Kiss My Grits Bowl” (a heaping bowl topped with cheese, eggs and your choice of bacon, sausage or hot links). Two po’ boy sandwiches—your choice of catfish or shrimp—are available for the sandwich lovers among us. You can also enjoy a catfish platter and a plethora of sides such as smoked turkey greens, candied yams and jazzy red beans and rice.

During our inaugural visit, only my friend Sr. Plata’s eyes were larger than his order of twelve wings and two waffles.  He was awestruck at just how much meat a dozen wings could have, obviously figuring on some scrawny pieces.  Not only did he get a serious work-out hefting that immense platter of poultry, he ate enough to keep him sated until at least dinnertime.  It’s a good thing the two waffles were not of the Belgian variety which tend to be thicker or even he might not have been able to finish the plate.  The waffles were served with a rich cinnamon butter and sweet syrup.  They were a perfect complement to the battered fried chicken which was fried to a golden hue.  Steam wafted upward when he bit into his first piece launching an aroma into the air that smelled of a summer picnic.

As previously recounted, this indolent blogger doesn’t much like having to work through the carapace of a lobster, crab claws and even shrimp shells.  Ditto for boned chicken.  That’s why the tenderoni platter (three battered chicken tenders served with fries, coleslaw and a roll) appealed so much to me.  Well, that and the fact that the chicken tenders were all white meat.  This is chicken worthy of Roscoe’s, better than any the Colonel could dream of preparing.  The thick fries are battered in the same delicious concoction used on the fried chicken.  Other restaurants serve battered or seasoned fries, but these are much better.  The coleslaw is excellent, a creamy, tangy and fresh variety.

Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles is a labor of love for a very successful man who pursues the things he loves and does them all well.  You won’t find better chicken anywhere in Albuquerque.

Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles
513 San Mateo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 712-5109
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 June 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: 12 Wings and 2 Waffles, Tenderoni Platter

Franks Famous Chicken and Waffles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Toltec Brewing Co. – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Toltec Brewing Co. on Albuquerque’s Burgeoning West Side

Vincent: And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
Vincent: No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the #%*&! a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules: What’d they call it?
Vincent: They call it Royale with cheese.
Jules: Royale with Cheese. What’d they call a Big Mac?
Vincent: Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.
~Pulp Fiction

265 “f-bombs,” copious racist slurs, torrents of extreme language and some of the most weighty dialogue ever spoken in an American movie.  That was Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 apotheosis Pulp Fiction, a low-brow pastiche the cognoscenti consider one of the most quotable movies ever made.  The clever banter and witty repartee between hitmen Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) is particularly memorable.  It was their dialogue which introduced this review.  It was what immediately came to mind when I espied the “Royale” on the “Breaking Bread” section of Toltec Brewing Co.’s menu.

“The Royale”

While no self-respecting gastronome would ever order a Quarter Pounder…er, Royale with cheese in Paris (or anywhere else, but especially not in Paris), Toltec’s Royale is an entirely different matter. Constructed from a patty weighing in at a whopping half-pound of blended brisket and crimini mushrooms, it’s the proverbial muscle-bound beach bully kicking sand in the face of  the four-ounce weakling Quarter Pounder.    Toltec’s Royale was first brought to my attention by a well-meaning colleague who asked me if I had ever tried Albuquerque’s James Beard award-winning burger.  Huh?

This Royale has not won a James Beard award of any kind, but Duke City voters can change that.  The Royale is one of many burgers entered in the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project national project.  Some of the other burgers entered in the competition are constructed by actual James Beard award-winning chefs so this is one formidable food melee.  You can vote once a day through 31 July 2018 (and we know how much New Mexicans love to vote).  If you’re of the mind that you won’t vote for anything until you find out what the candidate stands for, consider this: 1/2 Pound brisket and crimini mushroom patty with ancho and herb mayo, Young Guns green chile, aged white Cheddar, bacon, local-fried egg and heirloom tomato.

Local Cheese Plate

Okay, you’ve read the campaign promises, but how does it deliver on those promises?  Take it from at least two constituents, photographer extraordinaire Bruce Terzes and your gangling gastronome, the Royale warrants your support.  Not since the green chile cheeseburger at Alamogordo’s Rockin’ BZ Burgers has such a fantastic burger crossed my lips.   It made such a tremendous first impression on the Thursday of my inaugural visit to Toltec that I had to have another one the next day.  Quite simply, it’s one of the very best burgers in the Duke City.

So, what makes it a burger for the people (at least the non–vegan people among us)?  Well, it delivers on what was promised about Wendy’s burgers by 1970s commercials.  Wendy’s spokesperson Clara Peller, for example,  often asked “where’s the beef.” That question doesn’t apply with the Royale. There’s a whole half-pound of brisket blended with crimini mushrooms.  The combination is hot and juicy, another Wendy’s promise of yore.  It’s a multi-napkin affair with moistness sure to run down your arms and make a glistening mess of your face.  The fried egg is over-medium which means the yolk is only slightly runny (like the Rio Grande).  The bacon is crisp and plentiful, the aged Cheddar sharp and complex, but it’s the green chile from Young Guns which brings it all together.  The green chile actually bites back, increasingly a rarity in the Land of Enchilement. Though the buns are formidable, they’re no match for the juiciness of this fabulous burger.  Bravo, Toltec!

Side Salad with Blue Cheese

It may surprise some that Toltec, a west side brewery which launched in May, 2018, would serve such a superb burger though the surprise quickly evaporates when informed the genius responsible for this chef d’oeuvre is David Ruiz.  Albuquerque knows David from his days as executive chef at Pueblo Harvest, a gig that earned him a 2017 appearance on the Food Network show “Guy Fieri’s Family Road Trip.”  It wasn’t the chef’s only appearance on the Food Network. In 2016, he competed on the network’s popular cooking show “Chopped.” In 2017, David won the “Duke it Out” challenge, earning both people’s choice and critics’ choice for best entree.  David was the co-founder of 505 Food Fights, a grassroots chef competition intended to fonder community in Albuquerque’s culinary industry.

8 June 2018: Toltec is by no means a one-trick pony when it comes to dining. Its menu might be small, but it’s mighty.  Save for “Green Eggs and Ham,” Toltec’s name for deviled eggs (with spinach and agave glazed pork belly), the “Beer Bites” section of the menu is pretty uninteresting.  That doesn’t mean it’s not good.  Take, for example, the Local Cheese Plate (local cheese, cured meat, flat bread, local honey and candied pepitas).  It’s a turophile’s dream, celebrating Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory‘s fantastic fromage: (wonderful wedges of green chile and aged Cheddar and charcuterie meats (prosciutto, salami, capicola).  The greater surprise, however, were the candied pepitas and the local honey from a bee-keeper of the chef’s acquaintance.

Sausage and Peppers

8 June 2018: With every burger or sandwich on the “Breaking Bread” menu, you have your choice of seasoned fries, cinnamon fries, cinnamon sweet potato fries, tortilla chips or side salad.  The side salad (mixed field greens, candied pepitas, fresh apple slices, white cheddar and sweet red onions) is superb, pairing magnificently with the blue cheese dressing with its plenitude of cheese crumbles.  This is a salad constructed of complementary ingredients; they all go well together.

8 June 2018: For my Kim, sausage and peppers evokes memories of Italian restaurants throughout the Chicago area where that combination is part and parcel of one of the best sandwiches you’ll find in the Windy City (and that’s saying something).  Sausage and Peppers at Toltec is something entirely different: house-made lemon capellini topped with turkey, lemon and thyme sausage, a trio of bell peppers, roasted marinara and Parmesan.   The capellini, a thin pasta whose name translates to “little hairs” is perfectly al dente.  Strands of this light pasta wrap around red, yellow and green peppers, a coarse sausage and lots of red sauce.  The dish was recommended by two servers, both of whom indicated it was the best thing on the menu.

Service at Toltec is terrific.  Make sure to ask for Nate, an ambassador for the restaurant’s menu who’s on-the-spot with whatever you need, whether it be a refill or an answer to a question about the menu.  Toltec’s dog-friendly patio is only about fifteen feet away from a heavily trafficked and often noisy street, but it’s well-shaded (except right before sunset) and relatively cool.  Were Vincent and Jules to ever visit Toltec, the ensuing dialogue would probably be laced with colorful epithets, all complimentary.  They would love Toltec’s version of the Royale with cheese.

Toltec Brewing Co.
10250 Cottonwood Park, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-1455
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 June 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Royale, Local Cheese Plate, Sausage & Peppers, Side Salad
REVIEW #1045

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

Dave’s Valley Grill – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico

Dave’s Valley Grill in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

Several years ago, Major Larry Abraham (God rest his soul) of the Village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque called me out, reminding me that such restaurants as Sadie’s of New Mexico, Casa de Benavidez and Vernon’s Speakeasy were located not in Albuquerque as credited on Gil’s Thrilling…, but in the village he capably served for four terms.  He politely asked me to correct my oversight.  Ever since Mayor Abraham’s gentle prodding, your humble blogger has been much more diligent about ensuring the correct location of every restaurant reviewed–especially when at issue is whether the restaurant is in Albuquerque or in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.

In my defense, the Village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque is much like what New Mexico’s legendary best-selling author Tony Hillerman termed “the checkerboard reservation.”  Hillerman was, of course, speaking of the Navajo Nation, a hodgepodge of lands owned by tribes (mostly Navajo and Zuni), privately-owned lands and lands controlled by the government or trusts.  Similar to the challenge of knowing where which lands in the Checkerboard Reservation are Navajo-owned, it’s not easy to tell where the village of Los Ranchos begins and ends and when you’ve crossed in and out of the village into the Duke City.  The village map helps a little.

Brat Burger with Onion Rings

Over the years, Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR), the most prolific commenter on this blog and a dedicated volunteer at the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, has been a huge advocate for the village’s restaurants (and for virtually everything else associated with his beloved hometown). Most recently, he gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to a relatively new (circa May, 2017) restaurant calling itself Dave’s Valley Grill. Bob described Dave’s as offering a “far-ranging menu from fine to casual dining.” He seemed confident the restaurant could become a “reservations suggested spot.”

Dave’s Valley Grill is located in the corner spot previously occupied by Papaburgers which closed unexpectedly after the passing of its owner. Nary a vestige of the previous occupant remains. The metamorphosis is amazing. Gone is the wall which separated two distinct dining rooms. In their place is one colorful, cavernous room with tables and booths arrayed in close, but not personal space proximity to one another. The booths do offer some sense that there are two distinct dining rooms, but not as much as before. Gone are the sports posters and bric-a-brac of a fast food venue, replaced by unframed artwork.

Granny’s Meatloaf with Fire-Roasted Corn

The menu invites you to “sooth your soul with something good and choose from a variety of mouthwatering plates…” with such classics as “ribs, burgers, seafood, steak and more.” It’s an ambitious menu segmented into appetizers, salads, soups, bowls, dinners, sides, gourmet burgers, burgers, sandwiches plus and desserts. Dinners, which include soup or salad, green chile Cheddar drop biscuits and two sides, include such chophouse standards as prime rib, London broil and steak Oscar (which Bob raves about). Even more intriguing is the “bowls” section of the menu which offers such interesting dishes as “Thanksgiving turkey,” tavern pot roast and Texas hash. It’s a menu which warrants exploration.

“Soothing the soul” can mean different things to different people. For me, it often means a gourmet burger, preferably one unique in its creative composition. Dave’s offers the Brat Burger (a blend of ground chuck and bratwurst, fire-roasted corn relish, pickled red onions, stout beef aioli and Cheddar on a pretzel bun). This is a messy (four napkins at least) burger…in a good way. The most surprising ingredient is the fire-roasted corn relish whose smoky sweetness contrasts nicely with the stout beef aioli. Fortunately the pretzel bun is up for the job of holding all ingredients in place so you don’t have to wear them on your shirt. You’ll still lose some on the plate, but that’s what forks are for. The ground chuck and bratwurst blend is terrific, a melding of complementary proteins that seemed to bring out the best in one another. You’ll want to pay the up-charge for the onion rings. They’re some of the best in town.

For my friend Bill Resnik, “soothing the soul” means ordering comfort food, something that reminds him of family meals. Perhaps the meal most often associated with comfort food is meatloaf. Granny’s meatloaf, described on the menu as “old-fashioned meatloaf and brown gravy” was his choice with fire-roasted corn and onion rings as his sides. The meatloaf was slightly overdone—at least on the outside—but the interior was moist and delicious. Both the mashed potatoes and meatloaf were smothered in dark brown gravy. Bill enjoyed the fire-roasted corn most of all.

While some of us may never really know when we’ve crossed out of Albuquerque and into Los Ranchos or vice-versa, Dave’s Valley Grill is fast becoming a dining destination which will bring people from all over the metropolitan area into the village Mayor Larry Abraham helped build.

Dave’s Valley Grill
6601 Fourth Street NW
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-5807
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 May 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Brat Burger, Onion Rings, Granny’s Meatloaf
REVIEW #1044

Dave's Valley Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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