Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 793 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 5700 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Shake Foundation – Santa Fe, New Mexico

ShakeFoundation01

The Shake Foundation in Santa Fe (side 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.

ShakeFoundation02

The Shake Foundation in Santa Fe (front 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.

ShakeFoundation03

Shoestring Fries and a Lavender Shake

Built on a site which previously housed a gas station for fifty years, 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.

ShakeFoundation04

Double meat green chile cheeseburger with bacon

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. 

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.  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: 31 March 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $
BEST BET: Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Bacon, Double Meat Hamburger, Shoestring French Fries, Lavender Shake, Piñon Shake

Shake Foundation on Urbanspoon

Papaburgers – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

Papaburger, an El Paso institution now open in Albuquerque

Papaburger, an El Paso institution now open in Albuquerque

Back in the 1960s, A&W’s Papa Burger was a rite of passage for me.  By age nine, I had surmounted the phased progression through A&Ws burger family–Baby Burger, Mama Burger and Teen Burger–and was ready to prove my mettle with the largest of A&Ws burger family, one beefy behemoth only my dad, a paragon of masculinity, had ever ordered.  Earning the right to order one was acknowledgement that I was growing into a man.  Polishing one off brought newfound respect from my younger brothers, both of whom longed for the day  my dad would order a Papa Burger for them.

In the 1960s, A&W’s burger family signified a formidable line-up of burgers served in more than 2,000 A&W restaurants throughout the fruited plain and Canada.  Each member of the burger family was represented by cartoonish fiberglass statues, the largest of which was the Papa Burger, a bald, vested gentleman holding a large frosted mug on one hand and a gigantic burger on the other.  Papa Burger stood eight and a half feet tall and the frothy mug of root beer was three feet tall.

    Bright and colorful interior at Papaburgers

Bright and colorful interior at Papaburgers

Driving on Chavez Avenue just west of Fourth Street and espying a restaurant called Papaburgers brought a nostalgic pang to my heart. That nostalgia made me hopeful that A&W was preparing to mount a challenge to the Big Three (McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King) and would no longer be relegated to sharing space with abhorrent chains.  Though I disdain chains, A&W still represents growing up to me.  The name on the marquee dashed those hopes quickly.  It read “Papaburgers” not Papa Burgers.  No, this was an A&W offshoot.

Papaburgers has its roots in El Paso, Texas where in 2008, entrepreneur Eric Zubia launched the first instantiation of what has become one of the Sun City’s most popular burger joints.  As of this writing, ninety percent of visitors to El Paso’s Urbanspoon Papaburgers page indicate they like it with some being effusive in their praise.  Sadly, as of this writing, I’d venture to say ninety percent of Albuquerque diners still have no idea about this terrific burger restaurant (unless they read Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog), of course.

My friend Bruce "Sr. Plata" enjoys a double meat burger with avocado and green chile

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” enjoys a double meat burger with avocado and green chile

That’s not entirely their fault.  Albuquerque’s Papaburgers, open only since November, 2009 is ensconced in a nondescript shopping center where it’s barely visible from heavily trafficked Fourth Street.  Get the word out!  This is a very good burger joint, one that is rapidly becoming an Albuquerque favorite.  In El Paso, customers queue early and often to get their burger fix in a restaurant with limited seating.  In Albuquerque, you can still walk up to the counter, place your order and sit where you want.

Finding a seat  is no problem in the Los Ranchos Papaburgers, a sprawling corner edifice which doubled its space within two years of opening to accommodate all the diners who discovered this unique bastion of burgers.  In three years, the ambiance has gone from prosaic to rather busy with a lot to see everywhere you turn.  The menu is sparse, about a dozen items, but there are always specials on the board.  A jukebox and an old-fashioned video gaming console make the expanded dining room just a bit noisy at times.

The Andre Burger Fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard with lots of hot sauce

The Andre Burger Fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard with lots of hot sauce

When Eric Zubia mentioned possibly expanding into the Albuquerque area, his Rio Rancho-based uncle Silver and aunt Adriana Zubia leapt at the opportunity.  As with the original Papaburgers, the freshness of ingredients is a strong point of emphasis.  Each burger is made to order on a flattop grill from freshly ground beef in which finely chopped onions are integrated right into the meat.  The burgers are adorned with lettuce, tomato, pickles, more onions and your choice of mustard or mayo.  The restaurant’s eponymous Papaburger can be topped with American or Swiss cheese. 

Your table haul should also includes plenty of green chile sauce which you can add to your burgers, fries, hot dogs or onion rings.  The green chile is mild by any piquancy scale, but it’s got a garlicky kick potent enough to ward off a family of vampires.  Papaburgers’ version of a green chile cheeseburger is called the Chiara Burger (named for Eric Zubia’s goddaughter).  Instead of finely chopped chile, the burger is crafted with long green chile.  It’s lacking in the piquancy New Mexicans love.

Frito Pie

Frito Pie

During our inaugural visit back in 2009, my friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik took one bite of the Papacheeseburger and declared “it’s just like Lotaburger.”  Considering his devotion for Lotaburger (which he considers New Mexican comfort food), that’s a high compliment.  As with Lotaburger, the ingredients are extremely fresh–crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, lip-puckering pickles, eye-watering onions.  The biggest difference is the onions incorporated right into the beef.  Bill’s sole complaint is that the beef was slightly overdone, sometimes a problem with thin beef patties. 

You can request double meat with any burger or you can try something entirely different–the Andre Burger (named for Eric Zunia’s godson).  Hamburger meets hot dog in this unique offering–fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard.  As if weenies isn’t unique enough, the chili also includes beans.  It’s not a burger for everyone, but if you have a penchant for the slightly different, this is a burger you will absolutely love.

Jalapeño Fries

Jalapeño Fries

You’ll love it as a composite of terrific ingredients and you’ll love the interplay among those ingredients.  The chili is mild, but has a nice garlicky flavor that almost completely obfuscates the hint of cumin.  The weenies are of the thin-sliced variety, not those flavorless two-inch in circumference meat tubes that seem to be in fashion today.  I liked them so much, my second visit order was a Papadog.  Papadogs are described as a “round hot dog” and are served on hamburger buns.  The buns are toasted and sandwich between them, weenies sliced in half then topped with pinto beans and chili with ground beef.  A smear of mustard and several sliced pickles adorn the bottom bun.  Though somewhat unconventional, this is a good hot dog that warrants return visits. 

Papaburgers is no one-trick pony.  The menu, though limited, also includes a grilled chicken sandwich basket, chicken nuggets and a grilled Papacheese Green Chile sandwich.  Sides include French fries, onion rings and chili cheese fries.  The fries and onion rings are out of a bag, but are quite good when doused in the green chili on each table.   Perhaps the most intimidating item on the menu is an all-beef Chili Cheese Foot Long Coney from Nathan’s.  Bob of the Village People who’s consumed over 550 feet of hot dog from The Dog House Drive In won’t have to consume quite as many to get to 550 feet.  It’s a beefy behemoth.

More Than A Foot Long of Nathan's Hot Dog

More Than A Foot Long of Nathan’s Hot Dog

Papaburgers may have nothing to do with the A&W of my youth, but it’s a rite of passage in its own way–as Food Network star Guy Fieri might say, “a passage to flavortown.”  These are seriously good burgers!

Papaburgers
6601 4th Street, Suite P.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-0255
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 March 2014
1st VISIT: 25 February 2010
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST:  $ – $$
BEST BET: Andre Burger, Papacheesebasket, French Fries, Onion Rings, Papadog

Papaburgers on Urbanspoon

Santa Fe Bite – Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Santa Fe Bite inside Garrett's Desert Inn on Old Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe Bite inside Garrett’s Desert Inn on Old Santa Fe Trail

This burger is a wonder. It’s thick, it’s perfectly cooked, juicy and covered in cheese…
If eating a burger is a sin, this burger is like going to Vegas with a hooker who you kill,
stuff in your trunk, and push off into a canyon.”
The Amateur Gourmet

Nay-sayers will tell you it shouldn’t have worked.  Housed in a ramshackle building some might describe as being “in the middle of nowhere,” it defied the number one rule for restaurant success: location, location, location.   It was Lilliputian in size, incapable of accommodating everyone clamoring to get in.  Long waits were common with only a small porch and limited seating as a “waiting area.”   Seating was in personal space proximity.   in winter and rare rainy seasons, the dirt and gravel parking lot could become rather messy. 

From a debits and credits perspective, these were the debits, the factors which worked against the Bobcat Bite ever becoming a success, much less a legendary dining destination. Fortunately the Bobcat Bite was frequented by diners with a glass is half full perspective, not by accountants and their ledgers.  The Bobcat Bite was not beloved in spite of the aforementioned debits; it was beloved because of them.  Well, those “debits” and the fact that it served the best burger in the known universe.  

    The iridescent Bonnie Eckre

The iridescent Bonnie Eckre

In a twist of cruel irony, the Travel Channel’s May 13th, 2013 airing of the Burger Land program celebrating the Bobcat Bite debuted just a few days after the announcement that the world-famous Bobcat Bite as we all knew and love it would be forever changed.  An official statement, issued on May 9th, announced the restaurant renowned for its outstanding green chile cheeseburger would shutter its doors in June, 2013.  The press release read: After 12 years, Bonnie and John Eckre will serve their last famous Bobcat Bite burger at the Old Las Vegas Highway location on June 9. They will be vacating the premises June 14th at the demand of the building’s owners, the Panzer family.”  It was an announcement warranting flying the flag (or a chef’s apron) at half mast or upside down as a sign of distress.

The sizzle had barely cooled on the fifty-year-old cast iron grill on which so many wonderful burgers had been prepared before owners John and Bonnie Eckre announced they would be relocating their beloved restaurant near the Santa Fe Plaza, the heart of the city.  While they could relocate their recipes and the personal homespun friendliness which made the Eckres as beloved as their burgers, legalities prevented them from taking the name “Bobcat Bite” with them.

SantaFeBite03

The capacious new digs of a soon-to-be Santa Fe institution

In August, 2013, the newly christened Santa Fe Bite opened its doors in a  space attached to Garrett’s Desert inn, a Route 66 motor court style motel within easy walking distance of the famous Plaza.  The new digs are much more capacious than its predecessor with indoor seating for 80 guests and 36 more on a patio overlooking Old Santa Fe Trail.  Cushioned booths against the west-facing windows and east wall flank the dining room where seating is more utilitarian than it is comfortable.  Mirrors backdrop a bar where you can order not only milk shakes, but beer and wine.  Walls are adorned with Route 66 style memorabilia.

Where the Bobcat Bite’s hours were abbreviated, the Santa Fe Bite is open every day but Monday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  A significantly expanded lunch and dinner menu includes such additions as street tacos, green chile chicken enchiladas, chicken flautas and fish and chips (Fridays only) as well as steaks and chops.  The breakfast menu features most New Mexican and American favorites while the Sunday brunch is the best of both breakfast and lunch, featuring such treats as cast-iron-fried buttermilk free range chicken, cornmeal pancakes, frittatas and so much more.  Burgers are available at all hours, even for breakfast.

SantaFeBite04

Chocolate Shake

There are two things vastly more essential to the success of the Bite’s rebirth than an expanded menu and increased capacity.  The first is the cast iron grill on which burgers were perfectly prepared  for eighteen years at the old Bobcat Bite.  John Eckre was able to bring one of those magnificently seasoned cast iron grills with him to the new location, ensuring continuity of the singularly delicious magic which earned him a reputation as Santa Fe’s premier burger meister. More than any burger chef I’ve ever seen, John has mastered the art and science of preparing burgers your way.  No matter your desired degree of doneness–from medium rare to well done–your burger is prepared to your exacting specifications every single time.

The second is the genuine warmth and charm of Bonnie Eckre.  Watching Bonnie work a room is a study in quiet graciousness and hospitality.  Bonnie’s radiant smile is matched by her smiling eyes, the mirror to a beautiful soul who is absolutely beloved by her guests.  Over the years she’s come to know many of the “regulars,” treating one and all as she would friends visiting her home.  The wait staff is friendly and engaging.  You’d expect no less at Bonnie’s home away from home.

SantaFeBite05

Perhaps the most famous green chile cheeseburger in the world

When it comes to burgers, it’s all about the beef and that’s where The Santa Fe Bite has the edge over the competition. John Eckre still grinds beef daily on the premises, using only hormone-free chuck shoulder and chuck tenders then forming the patties by hand, careful to control fat content.  Each burger is a thick and juicy ten-ounce slab of beautiful beef served with an American and Swiss cheese blend, green chile, lettuce and tomato. Mustard and ketchup are available on your table and you can ask for mayonnaise and sliced (or even better, grilled) onion if you’d like.  

If you do opt to use a condiment on your burger, use it sparingly because it’s the beef that may bring tears of joy to your eyes.  That’s why true burger aficionados don’t whine about the green chile not being especially piquant. The only steak in New Mexico even comparable to the utterly erotic deliciousness of the coarse ground beef patty at the Bobcat Bite is the peppery elk tenderloin at Geronimo.  The cast iron grill ensures consistent, even heat distribution.  At medium, the thick patty has a perfectly pink center and is juicy to the tune of four to five napkins.  The buns are made on the premises with a gluten-free option available.  Burgers are accompanied by lightly salted and wonderfully crispy housemade potato chips.  The Bite still doesn’t offer conventional French fries, but it does offer sweet potato fries and an addictive coleslaw.

SantaFeBite06

Ten ounces of glorious beef prepared at medium

One last word about those burgers–over the years I’ve heard time and again about some upstart burger that’s “as good” or “better than The Bite’s.”  That The Bite is the rarefied standard against which all burgers in New Mexico are measured is fitting, but let’s get one thing straight: there is no better burger in the Land of Enchantment!  My friend Sandy Driscoll visits Santa Fe once a year and always makes The Bite her last meal in the City Different.  Though surrounded by some of the very best burger purveyors in America in her Los Angeles home, Sandy knows burgers and finds The Bite’s burgers unequaled.

If you’ve ever been curious what type of wine would go well with The Bite’s beauteous beef, you’re free to explore.  Others who cherish the time-honored pairing of burgers and shakes will appreciate The Bite’s shakes.  Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry are available and if the chocolate shake is any indication, you’re in for a real treat.  The chocolate is an adult chocolate which means it’s not cloying.  The shakes are served cold and thick in the style of all great shakes. 

Cast-iron-fried buttermilk free range chicken, served with cole slaw, potato salad

Cast-iron-fried buttermilk free range chicken, served with coleslaw, potato salad

In the 2011 movie The Help, Minny Jackson, a downtrodden maid tending to the every need of racist high society in Mississippi sagely observed “Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life.”  The Bite’s cast-iron fried buttermilk free range chicken will not only make you feel better about life, it’ll make you wish every day was Sunday.  This chicken–three pieces of golden, juicy and tender bird with delightfully crisp skin– is available only for Sunday brunch.  You’ll make quick work of this chicken, reducing it to bones in mere moments.  The coleslaw has lip-pursing qualities and is tinged with pepper.

The Bite offers four desserts plus a daily special.  Good fortune will shine upon you if the daily special is the apple pie a la mode.  This is an apple pie the way apple pie should be made.  That means plenty of sliced, sweet-tangy apples and a delicate, flaky crust not some pectin pretender.  It’s served hot, plated right next to vanilla ice cream which renders the pie cool enough to eat.  Few things in life go as well together as apple pie and ice cream.

Apple Pie a la mode

Apple Pie a la mode

With an expanded menu offering so many new and exciting options, you’d think this gastronome would be clamoring to try something new.  Instead, I’m counting the hours until my next Santa Fe Bite green chile cheeseburger.  It’s the very best in the universe and it may just be a while before anything else on the menu will entice me enough to forgo ordering one or three.

SANTA FE BITE
311 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982.0544
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 February 2014
1st VISIT: 29 November 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chocolate Shake, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Housemade Potato Chips, Sweet Potato Fries, Fried Chicken, Apple Pie A La Mode


View Santa Fe Bite on LetsDineLocal.com »

Santa Fe Bite on Urbanspoon