Groundstone – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Groundstone on San Mateo

Kids say the darnedest things. That was the premise of popular radio and television shows hosted by Art Linkletter from the mid 1940s through 1969. Linkletter would engage children (usually aged three to eight) in casual conversation. Humor–often laced with double entendre–would often ensue out of the children’s naive and silly responses. Once, for example, he asked a little girl to spell Art, his name. She proceeded to spell the host’s name R-A-T. Most parents can relate to the unpredictable nature of what their children say. More often than not, it resonates with child-like innocence, but every once in a while an utterly unintentional and unfiltered zinger sneaks out that will make parents want to slink away and hide.

When her son Caleb was four years old, Kimber Scott, an Albuquerque resident and one of my very favorite people, discovered that he was curious about everything his world had to offer. He was fascinated by all the letters, numbers and colors that whizzed by him. Now nine, he’s always asked a lot of questions and has never shied away from expressing himself. Sometimes he speaks with the insightful precociousness of an older child and sometimes with the naivete of innocence, but more often than not, the streams of consciousness that come out of his mouth warrant being shared. Thankfully Kimber chronicled Caleb’s words of warmth, wit and wisdom in a recently published must-read book she named Caleb-isms: The Things My Kid Says. It’s a wonderful insight into the world of a child you can’t help but love.

The Dude Flirts With Many Women, But Groundstone’s Hostess Extraordinaire Dawn Is His Special Lady.

Because Kimber and her charismatic husband “Break the Chain” maven Ryan are passionate gastronomes and always a pleasure to break bread with, it’s only natural that the book be laced with Caleb’s observations about food. Here’s one of my favorites: Every day after school, Caleb usually asks if I will take him to get a cheeseburger. Cheeseburgers are his all-time favorite food. He has affectionately called them hambahgahs for as long as he could talk. I tried to explain that i was not going to buy him a hamburger every day. I went on to say that if I did, I would spend a lot of money every month just on after-school hamburgers and I was not willing to spend that much money. As well as that it is not not the best after-school snack, mainly because it fills him up too much and he will not eat his dinner. I guess I blabbed too much going on and on about why I was not going to get him one. He was silent. I looked in the rear-view mirror and asked, “Well?” He sulked, then quoted a line from his favorite Pigeon book by Mo Willems. “You don’t want me to be happy, do you?”

To good old Charlie Brown, happiness is a warm blanket. To Caleb and many of the rest of us, happiness in a warm cheeseburger, preferably one with green chile. My friend Ryan and I have shared many a cheeseburger, but I’ve yet to have the pleasure of Caleb’s company at a purveyor of bounteous burgers. One of these days, perhaps I’ll ask Caleb to write a guest review. With his astute mind, there’s no telling what he’ll come up with though it’s bound to be better and more percipient and mirthful than anything I can come up with. In writing this review, I tried to channel my own inner Caleb, but just don’t have his flair for words. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this missive as much as we enjoyed our meals at Groundstone.

Spinach, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

Parents of both two-legged and four-legged children will appreciate Groundstone’s family friendliness. On both our visits, our sylphlike hostess Dawn fawned over our debonair dachshund Dude as did our smiling server Shannon. They’re demonstrative dog lovers, not the pretentious type who only touch dogs with their fingertips. During lull periods they returned to give the Dude more love. We watched them impart the same kindness to children and elderly guests. How can you not love a restaurant in which the term “dog-friendly” is a way of service, not just some patio in which dogs are sequestered away from everyone else? Groundstone actually has two patios–one on the restaurant’s east side where the winter sun will keep you warm and one on the west side where the shade will shield you from summer’s rays.

Veteran restaurant impresario Russ Zeigler is the brainchild behind Groundstone. He’s been creating restaurant concepts for four decades. It’s pretty obvious one of the lessons he’s learned in that time is to hire good people who are earnest and caring in their approach to customer service. That’s one of the things that sets apart restaurants such as Groundstone and Joe’s Pasta House. Russ launched his first restaurant in 1977 and has since then owned or co-owned such stalwarts as Liquid Assets, High Finance, Options, Assets and Sandiago’s.

Green Chile Strips with Avocado Ranch Dressing

Groundstone is located in the 6,700 square-foot edifice which previously housed The Library and before that Johnny Carino’s, a short-lived Italian chain. If you’re wondering, the genesis of the name “Groundstone” comes from the restaurant’s make-over. During the renovation, an undesirable flooring had to be ground down to stone and concrete, leaving the floor with an organic look. The cynosure of the capacious restaurant is an attractive bar back-dropped by distressed red bricks. Several flat screen televisions are strategically placed throughout the dining room and bar, most tuned to NFL games during our visits. Several of the staff are diehard Philadelphia Eagles fans, but they still treated this Cowboys loyalist very well.

Groundstone’s promise to its guests is “local, fresh, fun.” The concept combines “the best of the burger, pizza, and craft beer scene, and rounded off with incredible gourmet salads meant to re-invent the dining experience.” Russ calls the triumvirate of pizza, burgers and beer “the classics,” and indeed, there are few eateries across the Duke City in which this troika can be found under the same roof. A commitment to serving mostly local ingredients will endear local diners who appreciate such high-quality local products as Fano bread and Bueno chile. When local ingredients aren’t possible, the restaurant’s commitment to freshness and quality is not compromised.

The Cubano

26 November 2017: Appetizers (and desserts, too, for that matter) have become pretty blase as if imagination is left to wholesale distributors who supply so many restaurants. It’s rare that we find an appetizer that surprises us. Count among those rare surprises the Ahi Poke (sashimi grade seared tuna, kale, sweet chili (SIC), pickled ginger, wasabi, avocado, sesame soy glaze) at Groundstone. With a perfect sear framing the perfectly red tuna, it’s got the chops of a good sashimi. The sweet chili sauce contrasts nicely with the quick burst of heat from the American wasabi and the biting freshness of the pickled ginger, all of which provide a diversity of flavors. The buttery avocado and slightly bitter kale are good, but it’s the sashimi grade tuna which shines most.

21 February 2018: British chef Yotam Ottolenghi expressed an obvious truth: “A well-made salad must have a certain uniformity; it should make perfect sense for those ingredients to share a bowl.” It doesn’t take a genius chef to know when ingredients are working together well. Your taste buds will quickly and easily discern that harmony for you. Groundstone offers five salads, the ingredients of each read like the promise of a great salad. Our inaugural salad experience was the spinach, beet and goat cheese salad (fresh spinach, golden beets, cucumber, red onion, grape tomato, goat cheese, almonds, with pomegranate vinaigrette). Most restaurants would probably serve such an amazing assemblage of ingredients with a cloying dressing. Groundstone serves it with a pomegranate vinaigrette that’s not quite lip-pursing in its tartness, but it’s definitely not sweet. The bitter, earthy goat cheese benefits most from the symbiotic tartness of the dressing, but so do the acidic grape tomatoes.

The Groundstone Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

3 December 2017: In the past few years, restaurants across the Land of Enchantment seem to have discovered the delicious potential of green chile as an appetizer alternative (or addition) to salsa. It should come as absolutely no surprise that green chile strips have caught on. The real surprise is that it took so long. Groundstone’s version showcases Amber ale battered Bueno green chile strips served with a cooling avocado ranch dressing. The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but it has a nice roasted flavor. The avocado ranch dressing is a winner. Even better is the green chile ranch which our delightful server Shannon thought we might enjoy. The green chile ranch isn’t quite as thick as the Dion’s version, but it’s every bit as flavorful. All salad dressings are made on the premises.

3 December 2017: Several elements define the Cuban sandwich, a hearty sandwich which got its start among the working classes in Cuba. What Americans have come to know as a Cuban sandwich typically includes thin slices of marinated pork roast, thin slices of ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickles. Groundstone pays tribute to the Cuban sandwich with a burger called the Cubano. The burger contains some elements of the popular Cuban sandwich, but it goes much further. Picture Akaushi beef topped with black forest ham, smoked pulled pork, provolone cheese, pickles, whole grain Dijon ale mustard, served on a Fano brioche bun. It’s a mouthful and then some. The generous portion of this burger’s three meats–rich, buttery Akaushi beef (a type of Wagyu); salty, intensely-flavored black forest ham and smoked pulled pork– will make carnivores very happy. It wouldn’t be a Cubano, however, without the pickles which provide a textural and flavor (zesty and sour) contrast.

The Brooklyn with Green Chile

26 November 2017: Sometimes a burger is constructed with too much of a good thing. That was our assessment of the eponymous Groundstone burger (grass-fed beef topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, tomato, roasted garlic infused mayo, served on a Fano brioche bun). Though the sautéed mushrooms provide terrific umami (deep, dark, meaty intensity), the strong, pungent garlic mayo is the dominant flavor. That’s almost criminal considering the tender grass-fed beef; rich, sweet Gruyere and sweet caramelized onions. We scraped off some of the mayo and enjoyed it much more. Next time we’ll order this burger sans condiments.

3 December 2017: Nine pizzas grace the Groundstone menu. Available in ten- and eighteen-inch sizes, they’re not as waifishly thin as today’s fashionable pizzas nor are they thick, casserole-like slabs. If the Brooklyn (pepperoni, roasted garlic, mozzarella, fontina, garlic infused olive oil) is any indication, they’re more generously topped than the penurious pizzas on which it’s a challenge to find some of the named ingredients. That generosity applies as well to the cheese which drapes over the crust like a molten blanket. No matter which of the pizzas you order, it can be improved with green chile (which goes well with everything).

The Heisenburger

21 February 2018: Only my former history professor would believe Groundstone’s Heisenburger is named for Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist and catalyst behind the Nazi atomic bomb efforts. The rest of us know The Heisenburger, Groundstone’s version of a green chile cheeseburger, is named for the clandestine alias of Albuquerque’s favorite meth-maker Walter Hartwell “Walt” White, Sr. It’s not only “blue sky” which can manipulate the brain’s Limbic reward system. The Heisenburger (Akaushi beef topped with smoked Cheddar, Bueno green chile, applewood smoked bacon, onions, Bibb lettuce, tomato, green chile infused mayo on a Fano brioche bun) gets diners “high,” too. There are a lot of things going on in your mouth with this burger and all of them are delicious. The Bueno green chile and green chile-infused mayo aren’t especially piquant, but they go very well with all the other ingredients.

21 February 2018: There’s only one problem with Groundstone’s specialty sandwich menu.  The first time you peruse it, you’ll want to order each of the six sumptuous sandwiches.  The second time you visit, you probably will order the sandwich with which you fell in love your previous visit.  That’s become Kim’s dilemma.  After enjoying the Groundfather (Genoa salami, pepperoni, prosciutto ham, mixed greens, pesto, marinara sauce and provolone cheese served on a Fano rustic ciabatta roll), she can’t wait to have it again.  If you didn’t already know how special Fano bread is, this sandwich will quickly show you.  It’s a perfect canvas with the perfect consistency for this sandwich–crusty on the outside and tender on the inside.  The combination of pesto and marinara sauce is a pleasant surprise; they don’t always work together well.  Then, of course, there are the meats and cheeses, an array of Italian delights.

The Groundfather

21 February 2018:  In describing the importance of desserts, movie writer and creator Anne McManus, declared “It’s the finale. It’s the last impression. A bad dessert can ruin the meal.”  Don’t expect to find any bad desserts at Groundstone.  There are six decadent desserts on the menu, all tempting.  Groundstone’s Cobbler (your choice of cherry, apple, or peach, with vanilla ice cream) is work of art on a plate.  Flanking our peach cobbler are vanilla ice cream and whipped cream with chocolate and caramel drizzle.  The cobbler itself showcases a sweetened biscuit topping baked until the peaches are tender and the topping is golden.  The peaches are juicy and fresh.  It’s elevated cobbler at its finest.

Peach Cobbler

Groundstone may not be entirely groundbreaking in its concept or menu, but it’s got a great pedigree and is committed to such ideals as using locally sourced products, enthusiastic and warm service and providing a comfortable milieu in which families can enjoy themselves. With effervescent hostess Dawn and attentive servers such as Shannon at your beck-and-call, you can’t go wrong. Groundstone is terrific: For now you’ll just have to take my word for it, but someday I hope to share Caleb’s unique perspective.

Groundstone
5001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 404-8287
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 February 2018
1st VISIT: 26 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Ahi Poke, Groundstone Burger, Sweet Potato Fries, The Cubano, The Brooklyn, Green Chile Strips, Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing, Green Chile Ranch Dressing, The Groundfather, The Heisenburger, Peach Cobbler; Spinach, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1012

Groundstone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

66 Diner – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The 66 Diner on Route 66 (Central Avenue)

Known as “America’s Highway” and celebrated by author John Steinbeck as the “Mother Road,” the legendary Route 66 meandered across 2,448 miles of the fruited plain, crossing three time zones and eight states as it traversed from Chicago to Los Angeles. For many—especially destitute sharecroppers fleeing Oklahoma’s devastating Dust Bowl—Route 66 held the promise of a better life. For others, Route 66 brought a sense of connectedness with parts of America previously considered difficult to reach. For them, Route 66 engendered a frontier spirit of adventure, greatly expanding their vacation options and travel opportunities.

For hundreds of communities strewn along the two-lane blacktop, Route 66 was also an engine of economic prosperity, creating tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs large and small. The service industry fared especially well with roadhouses, motels and restaurants springing up, offering respite and sustenance to weary and hungry travelers. Since the halcyon days of Route 66, neon signage has been a prominent and vital part of the Mother Road as it winds through Albuquerque. From the foothills of the Sandias in the east to the parched desert expanse of the west, Route 66 is festooned with vibrant neon signage that cuts a luminous swath through the city. The nocturnal spectacle of glowing neon might be the siren’s call that has drawn generations of “cruisers” to the nostalgic route.

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Enjoys the Nostalgia

One of the Route 66 corridor’s most popular neon-spangled destinations celebrates Route 66 in name and spirit. Even though Route 66 was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1984, a visit to Albuquerque’s 66 Diner takes you back in time to when Nat King Cole was singing about getting his kicks on the fabled highway. It will transport you back to the days of pony-tailed waitresses in blue skirts and bobby socks, back to when rock-and-roll was making inroads to ruling the airwaves, to when Ed Sullivan was nabbing all the top talent for his popular variety television show.

With a jukebox full of hits, walls adorned with nostalgic black-and-white photographs and plenty of neon, the 66 Diner celebrates the era of Route 66 with aplomb, earning it an internationally known reputation. Hundreds of Pez dispensers line the ledges directly above the steely countertops in the front dining room. A black-and-white classic lunch counter calls to mind the ice cream fountain of yesteryear. There is much to like about the Route 66 the diner even if Route 66 the two-lane blacktop is solely something you’ve read about. You’ve got to admire the gumption of a restaurant willing to replace a recipe if a better one is brought in by a guest. That’s right! If you believe you have a tastier recipe for something, the 66 Diner will try it out and if they like it more, it will go on the menu. Not only that, they’ll treat you and three friends to dinner. Frankly, I have a feeling they haven’t had to comp many dinners.

Nostalgia Abounds at the 66 Diner

That’s because the 66 Diner’s recipes are tried and tested over time. The diner originally launched in 1987 in a converted World War II era Phillips 66 gas station named Sam’s. It was an instant hit among locals and tourists alike. In May, 1995, the 66 Diner went up in flames, only a portion of the original structure remaining. Albuquerque was in mourning for nearly seven months as the diner was rebuilt. It relaunched in February, 1996 and like the Phoenix of legend, has arisen from the ashes to reclaim its previous glory.

Like many 1950s diners, the 66 Diner features a daily “blue plate special.” Ironically the term “blue plate special” originated not in the 1950s, but in the 1890s courtesy of the Fred Harvey restaurants along the railroad lines of the frontier west. I’ve written extensively in other reviews of Fred Harvey’s culinary contributions to the West. Like his other contributions, the genesis of the blue plate special is very interesting. Apparently Harvey bought cheap, disposable plates colored blue similar to Wedgwood dishes and used them to serve inexpensive meals, hence the term.

Albuquerque’s best shakes according to many are at the 66 Diner

At the 66 Diner, the blue plate specials range from spaghetti and meatballs on Monday to chicken pot pie on Tuesday, chicken and dumplings on Wednesday, a taco platter on Thursday, fried catfish on Friday, a hot turkey sandwich on Saturday and “mom’s choice” (whatever mom comes up with) on Sunday. For the most part, the blue plate specials are comfort food favorites prepared very well and served in generous portions.

No ’50s-era diner would be complete without thick, rich milkshakes, floats and malts (egg creams are available, too). No one in Albuquerque does it any better. That’s the consensus of respondents to various annual polls of city diners who have voted the 66 Diner’s shakes “best in the city” consistently year after year. It’s unlikely, however, that you’d have been able to find a strawberry-lemonade or Mochaccino shake during the Route 66 era. The 66 Diner offers more than twenty different shake flavors.

One of the very best green chile cheeseburgers not to make the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

Many people eschew the old stand-bys–chocolate, vanilla and strawberry–in favor of flavors that weren’t available in the 1950s. In fact, some of those revolutionary flavors might have been considered heretical in the more conservative era of the 50s. Those flavors include the Elvis Presley (banana and peanut butter), the Pink Cadillac (strawberry ice cream and crushed Oreos), Oreo, Dreamsicle, Mocha, Coffee and several others. Pumpkin pie and Egg Nog shakes are featured as “shakes of the month” during winter holiday season. Despite all the inventiveness, the most popular shake remains chocolate.

Unique flavors not withstanding, the 66 Diner’s milkshakes are made with real hand-dipped ice cream and whole milk and are mixed in a tin on a Hamilton Beach blender, the way they were made in the 50s. They’re then served in a shake glass with the tin on the side, much like getting a shake and a half. The 66 Diner is also one of the few places in town to offer red cream soda, my favorite before I gave up sodas altogether.

Sloppy Joe and onion rings

25 June 2011: Nothing goes better with a shake, float or malt than a burger. In New Mexico, naturally this means a green chile cheeseburger. The 66 Diner makes one of the very best (top ten) green chile cheeseburgers in town–even though it didn’t made the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in either 2009 or 2011. When you request a burger a certain way, it’s delivered to your exacting specifications. Moreover you get a two-fisted burger in which the beef is prepared to your exacting specifications, the ingredients are unfailingly fresh and the chile (spelled correctly on the menu) actually bites back. It’s a very good chopped green chile with piquancy and flavor. Burgers are accompanied by your choice of sides–French fries, potato chips, coleslaw or potato salad. 

28 June 2014: There are probably only a handful of Duke City restaurants deigning to serve a Sloppy Joe sandwich today.  While the Sloppy Joe wasn’t “invented” during the Route 66 era, its peak in popularity occurred during that time.  The Food Timeline Web site explains how the name Sloppy Joe came about: “There is probably no Joe after whom it is named–but its rather messy appearance and tendency to drip off plate or roll makes “sloppy” an adequate description, and “Joe” is an American name of proletarian character and unassailable genuineness.”   At its most basic, the Sloppy Joe is a simple sandwich constructed with ground beef and a tomato sauce to which salt, pepper and spices are added.  At its elevated form, it’s  sandwich deliciousness you will crave.  Route 66’s Sloppy Joe will inspire craving.

Patty Melt with Potato Chips

28 June 2014: Contrary to cynics who decry the patty melt as nothing but a “cheeseburger served on toast instead of a bun,” a patty melt—when made well—can be a transformative sandwich constructed from a high-quality ground beef patty topped with molten cheese and grilled onions on rye bread pan-fried in butter. The 66 Diner may prepare the very best patty melt in town. Perhaps that’s because the patty melt actually originated in the Route 66 era. Every element of this sandwich is absolutely textbook perfect, the way every patty melt should be made.

All sandwiches are served with your choice of French fries, potato chips, potato salad or coleslaw. For a pittance more, you can substitute onion rings, Cheddar fries, Fiesta fries, okra or a dinner salad. The onion rings are worth the splurge. They’re lightly battered and golden-hued, sheathing a sweet onion. The potato chips are crisp and whole, not annoying bottom-of-the-bag bits and crumbs.

The Breakfast Burrito

The 66 Diner isn’t as well known for breakfast as perhaps it should be. Its limited breakfast menu might be the reason. Frankly, many New Mexicans are of the opinion that if you have breakfast burritos on the menu, you don’t need much else. The diner’s breakfast burrito is one of the biggest in the city, a large tortilla engorged with home fries, scrambled eggs and chopped green chile topped with melted Cheddar cheese and your choice of red and (or) green chile.

12 October 2008: Make yours “Christmas style,” a burrito covered with both red and green chile. Both are surprisingly good and more piquant than at many New Mexican food restaurants. In fact, the green chile is downright special, a fruity sweet and incendiary chile that elicits the type of endorphin rush which makes people fall in love with chile in the first place. The burrito is served with pinto beans.

A “short stack” of pancakes

12 October 2008: On our way to the 66 Diner for breakfast one Sunday, we passed a restaurant on Central Avenue offering “all you can eat pancakes for seven dollars.” A better bet would be ordering a “short stack” at the 66 Diner. Short obviously isn’t synonymous with small as we found out when our waitress delivered two pancakes which covered all but a tiny bit of the plate. These enormous pancakes would fill a small, developing nation (or as Jay Leno might quip, one fat American). We barely put a dent on them and even contemplated the notion of left-over pancakes, but perhaps only if you’re stoned would pancake left-overs be palatable…and they might cure the munchies. Otherwise, they’re almost inedible.

13 December 2017: My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver is as California as a surfer girl or an In & Out Burger, but as much as he loves chicken fried steak, you’d think he was from Texas.  When we make plans to meet for breakfast or lunch, one of us is invariably “low-carbing” it.  Healthy eating be damned when one of us suggests chicken fried steak.  It’s a choice we always agree upon.  In our two-man quest to traverse the length and breadth of the New Mexico chicken fried steak trail, it surprised me to learn he’d never tried the Route 66 Diner’s version.  He quickly discovered what generations have known–that the tenderized slab of breaded steak on his plate is roughly the size of Danny DeVito.   Seriously!  It’s one large slab.  As always, Sr. Plata didn’t settle for for only the house gravy (a meatless brown).  He also requested a side of the con queso.  He then slathered the slab with a sinful portion of both–not gravy on one side and queso on the other, but both intermixed.  It was a delicious choice!

Chicken Fried Steak, Another Route 66 Favorite

13 December 2017:  While Sr. Plata enjoys chicken fried steak best, my preference is for chicken fried steak, a redundantly named dish which Serious Eats calls “country cooking at its most comforting.”  This is one chicken dish about which any pretensions about chicken being a healthier alternative to beef go out the window.  There’s not much healthiness in the tender, juicy hunk of tenderized and breaded chicken.  Add queso and you can virtually feel your arteries hardening with every bite.  What a way to go!

Friendly, attentive service is also a constant. There are many who say nothing could be finer than a meal at the 66 Diner.  They’re right!

Chicken Fried Chicken

66 Diner
1405 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 247-1421
Web Site| Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 13 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 16
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Breakfast Burrito, Pancakes, Red Cream Soda, Shakes, Malts, the “Dagwood”, Sloppy Joe, Patty Melt, Chicken Fried Steak, Chicken Fried Chicken

66 Diner on Urbanspoon

Brixens – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Brixens, soon to be a downtown fixture on Central Avenue

Though he may not have received any votes in the recent Gil’s Thrilling…. poll asking “with whom you would most like to break bread or tortillas or pita or hearts from among the cast of characters with whom Gil has shared his journey of (then) 999 reviews,” my friend Bill Resnik has and will always be one of my favorite dining companions. He’s a brilliant conversationalist and one of the very funniest people you could ever hope to meet (two hours after my appendectomy he had me in more stitches than the actual surgery). When he recently invited me to lunch, he asked if I wanted to go to “the restaurant opened by the love child of Vixen and Blitzen” (two of Santa’s reindeer). It didn’t immediately dawn on me that he was talking about Brixens, the very highly touted new downtown restaurant in the heart of Central Avenue.

Brixens is not named for the love child of any of Santa’s reindeer. Nor is it named for Brixen, a town in Northern Italy. Brixens is named for the brick accents, particularly on the west wall of the venerable Yrisarri building built in 1909. Located on the southwest corner of 4th and Central, the Yrissari building has cast its shadows on both the historic original route and the rerouted path of Route 66. For three decades, the bottom floor corner of that edifice was the home of Nick’s Crossroads Cafe after which it was occupied by the short-lived Cafe Bien whose closure was swathed in infamy. Brixens is wholly unlike either of its predecessors with a vibrancy that bespeaks of modernity and energy.

Brixens’ capacious dining room

You’ll do a double-take the minute you walk in and espy 5,000 square feet of space laid out creatively. An year-long construction process was well-spent. Save for the floor-to-ceiling brick wall, nary a vestige of previous occupants remains. The cynosure of the space is a hand-crafted bar above which the name “Brixens” is prominently displayed with the “X” noticeably taller than the other letters. To the left of the bar is a vertical sign, a menu of sorts which from top to bottom reads: Smile, Eat, Laugh, Talk, Kiss, Drink, Sing. Ostensibly these are all activities in which guests can engage during their visit. During our inaugural visit, the words “Eat” and “Drink” were lit up, a reminder perhaps of what we were all there to do. Three flat screen televisions hanging over bar were tuned to a surprisingly diverse troika of programs–a perfunctory sports show, a sultry soap opera and a Christian music program. Talk about catering to all tastes.

Even the ordering process is 21st century. Instead of the conventional paper menu, you’re handed an iPad on which the menu is displayed in as clear and unpixilated a view as modern technology can make possible. Techies among us will drool almost as much about the iPad’s tap-and-drag, one- and two-finger scroll capabilities as we will about the menu. Click on any menu item and you’ll not only see a food-porn-worthy image of the item, but a mouth-watering description that includes such dietary essential information as if the item is gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan. Custom hand-built tables which feature ice coolers built into the center of every table will keep your adult beverages cold.

Chips & Dips

“Fine Fare and Luxurious Libations” are the tag line below the restaurant name on the Brixens Website which also boasts of “Drawing on flavors and inspiration from our New Mexican culture, as well as regional cuisines from across America, the Brixens’ menu spotlights dishes you know and love done with a surprising new twist that focuses on quality ingredients and thoughtfully crafted, scratch made food.” Indeed, we do know and love the dishes spotlighted on the menu, but many of those dishes can be found at other restaurants. What distinguishes those dishes at Brixens are the quality ingredients, thoughtful crafting and scratch-made preparation…just as it says in the menu. We had the pleasure of meeting executive chef Chelsea Carbin whose enthusiasm for the menu and the Brixens concept are contagious.

The menu is the antithesis of those compendium War and Peace-sized menus which list so many items none of them can possibly be good. Instead, the focus seems to be on a handful of items executed very well. The menu is arranged into four categories: Snacks & Starters, Handhelds, Greens and Sweet Endings. Snacks and starters include such New Mexico standards as chips and dips and tempura-battered green chile strips, but they also include toasted ravioli and a Brussels dish that sounds almost too good to be true. Eight items adorn the Handhelds section of the menu including an open-face meatloaf and broken tacos. Handhelds are accompanied by your choice of fries, sweet potato waffle fries, onion strings or a side salad. Three salads and four sweet endings round out the menu.

Triple Green Chile Sliders

Remembering Bill once joked “if you ever see me eating a salad, it’s just a pile of whatever fell out of my tacos,”  I didn’t suggest we order the Brussels (crispy Brussel sprouts, apple salad, herb-roasted nuts, Balsamic glaze).  Instead we ordered chips & dips (made-to-order corn chips, fresh pico de gallo, guacamole and green chile queso).   In New Mexico, you can’t go wrong with this terrific triumvirate.  Brixens’ version is among the very best you’ll find.  Rarely does pico de gallo have much pico, a Spanish term which translates to bite.  This one does.  Chopped jalapeños are the reason.  Along with red onions, zesty cilantro and chopped tomatoes, it’s got great flavor along with that bite.  The guacamole is chunky and fresh, also adorned with red onions, cilantro and chopped tomatoes with a little citrus influence for good measure.  Our least favorite (though still good) was the green chile queso which didn’t have nearly as much heat as the pico.

Bill’s introductory meal at Brixens was the triple green chile sliders  (three three-ounce Akaushi beef sliders, triple cheese blend, green chile queso, hot New Mexico chopped green chile, tempura green chile strips), a celebration of New Mexico’s official state vegetable.  Though the three burgers may resemble a jumble of ingredients, Bill declared this burger a winner, prepared to his exacting medium-rare specifications.  He especially loved the Akaushi beef.  Akaushi beef, by the way, comes from red livestock, one of four breeds known collectively as Wagyu (which translates simply to “Japanese cow”).  Similar to other Wagyu, Akaushi beef is buttery and tender but has no lingering fatty aftertaste.  With his burger trio, Bill had fries with a remoulade he enjoyed very much.

66 Crunch Burger with side salad

For those of us who love our burgers moist and juicy, the “gourmet” ingredients we can’t figure out are those with crispy (typically desiccated) qualities.  Onion rings, onion strings and potato strings, I’m talking about you.  Why would any self-respecting chef use you?  My initial inclination when ordering the 66 Crunch Burger (6.6 ounces of fresh ground beef, American and Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickle, Thousand-Island dressing and a “signature crispy potato topping”) was to ask that that crispy potato topping be taken out back and buried.  The desire to honor the chef  and consume the burger as intended won out, however.  There’s still plenty of moistness in this burger, particularly at medium-rare.  There’s also a lot of flavor, especially from the ground beef.  The crispness and freshness of the pickles and the Thousand-Island dressing also stand out.  Instead of fries, my accompaniment was a side salad with a ranch-blue cheese crumbles dressing.  Bill pointed out that arugula sounds like the sound a jalopy’s horn would make.  It makes for a very nice salad ingredient, too, and the blue cheese crumbles were a terrific counterbalance to the richness of the ranch. 

While your dining companion might not be as funny as my friend Bill, you’ll still have a fun time at this rollicking new restaurant on Old Route 66. The 66 Crunch Burger beckons.

Brixens
400 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-2400
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST:  $$
BEST BET:  66 Crunch Burger, Triple Green Chile Sliders, Chips & Dips
REVIEW #1002

Brixens Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Papaburgers – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

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 Zomato Papaburgers page indicate they like it with some being effusive in their praise.  Sadly, as of this writing, I’d venture to say fifty 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 Butter-Garlic Fries

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. 

17 July 2017: 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
LATEST VISIT: 17 July 2017
1st VISIT: 25 February 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST:  $ – $$
BEST BET: Andre Burger, Papacheesebasket, French Fries, Onion Rings, Papadog

Papaburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fork & Fig – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fork & Fig, a Modern Eatery on Menaul Just East of Louisiana

Listen to Billy Joel’s 1983 doo wop hit Uptown Girl and you’ll probably get the impression that uptown is synonymous with uppity or at least upscale.  The lyrics describe a working-class downtown man (ostensibly Joel himself who’s originally from blue-collar Long Island) trying to win the heart of a wealthy, white bred uptown girl (Joel’s future wife Christie Brinkley). The perception of uptown’s haughtiness were reenforced in “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld in which John F. Kennedy, Jr. lived in trendy uptown.  When they finally came into money, the Jefferson’s moved on up, too.

Until just a few years ago, the Albuquerque neighborhoods around which conversations typically centered were Old Town, downtown, Nob Hill and even EDo (East Downtown).  Uptown was solely where the Coronado and Winrock Malls were.  With the closure of the Winrock Mall and subsequent launch of ABQ Uptown, a pedestrian-friendly, open-air lifestyle center, Albuquerque’s uptown area seemingly became “the heart of the city’s modern shopping and business district.”

The dining room with open kitchen at Fork & Fig

Though it may appear national chains such as the Elephant Bar, Dave & Buster’s, Bonefish Grill and Romano’s Macaroni Grill dominate the uptown culinary landscape, actually only 45 percent of the uptown area’s 75 restaurants are national chains.  Local mom-and-pop restaurants continue to thrive against the onslaught of deep-pocketed corporate competition.  Enter into the fray Fork & Fig, a modern eatery which opened its doors just before the calendar flipped to February, 2015. 

Fork & Fig is an exemplar of locally owned and operated.  After having worked as a personal chef in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Josh Kennon, a Deming native credentialed at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, decided to try his hand at owning and operating his own restaurant.  Though Fork & Fig specializes in gourmet burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads, you can also get more substantial offerings (such as steak) on a take-out basis.  The restaurant, which has neither a freezer or a fryer, emphasizes fresh, local ingredients. 

Citrus Salad

Compared with some of the megalithic chains in the area, Fork & Fig is practically Lilliputian, seating only 40 patrons in its 1,500 square-foot space. Diminutive, however, doesn’t mean dull and drab.  Fork & Fig is a hip and happening venue sure to excite both even the most discerning palates.  Seating is in personal space proximity (which means you have a good view of what’s being delivered to your neighbors’ tables) with bar-like seating overlooking an exhibition prep kitchen and, when they’re not swamped, you can even interact with the chefs.  

In Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “Best of the City” peoples’ choice poll for 2015, Fork & Fig was named “Best New Restaurant.”  That’s quite an honor considering the high quality of new restaurants launched in 2015.  In January, 2017, Fork & Fig was one of a handful of Duke City eateries highlighted by Young Professionals of Albuquerque for inclusion in list naming “5 Eateries Perfect For Your Lunch Break.”  Since its launch, Fork & Fig has remained a consistent presence on Yelp’s list of “best restaurants in Albuquerque.”  It’s certainly a restaurant going places.

Sesame Salad

If there’s one thing a smallish restaurant with no freezer and no fryer can’t do, it’s be all things to all people.  It makes better sense to focus on a select few items and prepare them exceptionally well.  The few, the proud, the delicious at Fork & Fig is comprised of eight sandwiches (Sammys), five burgers (Burgs), three wraps, three greens (salads), five sides, a sour du jour and a dessert du jour as well.  With the Sammys, Burgs and Wraps, you also receive one side (Cotija corn, grilled zucchini, potato gnocchi, cherry tomato salad, green chile slaw).  Please note that because of menu rotation, some of the items described below may not be available when you visit.

8 February 2015: It’s probably not polite to drool when servers deliver a meal to your neighbors, but such is the hazard of close proximity seating.  The burgers, in particular, are drool-worthy.  They’re skyscraper tall with thick beef patties topped with sundry ingredients and imagination.  Sometimes, however, you feel like a burger and sometimes you don’t.  In the rare latter event, it’s nice to know you can find something as good as the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich (four cheeses, tomato fig relish and bacon on Hawaiian bread).  This magnificent melange of sweet, unctuous and smoky deliciousness is indeed an all grown up version of the sandwich we all loved as children.  The Cotija corn, a grilled ear of corn topped with shredded Cotija cheese) is a terrific foil.

The Fig with a Cool Watermelon Gazpacho

8 February 2015: Save for the sacrosanct green chile Philly at Philly’s N’ Fries, I’m at a loss to recall a single transformative or even memorable steak sandwich in the Duke City. Fork & Fig’s Ribeye Sammy (ribeye, caramelized onions, smoked Gouda and creamy chimichurri on a ciabatta bun) aims to change my thinking. The ribeye is on the thin side (similar to a Mexican steak), but it’s tender and nary fat nor sinew rear their yucky presence. The chimichurri is indeed creamy, but a bit more of it would have been nice. The green chile slaw doesn’t have much personality or piquancy, but it doesn’t take anything away from the Ribeye Sammy.

8 February 2015: Uber chef Marcus Samuelsson believes “Salad can get a bad rap.  People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, far from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.”  It’s with this approach that Fork & Fig creates the four salads on its Greens menu.  You’ve probably had a salad similar to The Citrus (berries and orange supremes, mixed greens, candied walnuts and goat cheese with a blood orange vinaigrette), but you’ll probably enjoy The Citrus more.  The blood orange vinaigrette should be bottled and sold. 

Cubano

24 June 2017: Humorist Fran Lebowitz once remarked “A salad is not a meal.  It’s a style.”  Most of us will agree with at least the first part of that quote.  Salad is definitely not a meal!  That said, salad can be a very enjoyable first course, a precursor to something less spartan.  Much as we might enjoy Fork & Fig’s The Sesame, we’re happy in the realization that something more substantial will follow–not that this salad is small by any means.  The sesame (greens, avocado, candied ginger, heirloom carrots, orange supremes, pickled red onion and sesame vinaigrette) is an excellent salad, one in which the combination of sesame seeds and sesame vinaigrette impart a discernible nutty flavor, something akin to sunflower seeds.  The sesame flavor is a perfect complement to the peppery arugula while the orange supremes and especially the candied ginger add a delightful contrast.

24 June 2017:  While mathematicians may get their jollies in contemplating the golden ratio (a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part), burgerphiles would rather contemplate ratios which make a perfect burger: the ratio of meat to fat and the ratio of beef to bun to ingredients.  Fork & Fig got the first ratio (meat to fat) just right on the eponymous Fig (beef, caramelized onion, Swiss cheese, fungi, truffle fig aioli, bacon, greens, crispy onion and tomato on a brioche bun).  The beef, prepared a medium degree of doneness, is moist, juicy and very flavorful, about as flavorful as some very good steaks.  Alas, the ratio of bun to beef to ingredients was a bit askew.  Before we had consumed even half the burger, the bun had crumpled under the moistness and volume of the beef and accompanying ingredients.  We had to finish the burger with a fork.  By definition (at least mine), it’s no longer a burger when a fork has to be used.

Opera Cakes

24 June 2017:  Virtually every sandwich purveyor in the Duke City, it seems, offers its rendition of a Cubano.  Virtually all of them are formulaic copies of the other, most often served panini style.  Kudos to Fork & Fig for employing a buttery croissant as the canvas for its Cubano (sliced ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, aioli grain mustard, kosher pickle). Two things stand out about this Cubano: the aioli grain mustard and kosher pickle.  Two things are in short supply: pulled pork and sliced ham.  Had more substantial portions of these proteins been piled on, this sandwich would be in contention for “best in the city.”

24 June 2017:  Fork & Fig offers a dessert du jour.  Good fortune smiled upon us when opera cakes were the delight of the day.  Essentially petit fours, a French term which literally translates as “small oven,” the opera cakes are bite-sized pastries.  Nine different cakes are available, but only five to an order are ferried over to your table and you don’t get to choose which five of the nine you’ll get.  Live dangerously.  If the five–apple crumble cake, pistachio, tiramisu, raspberry and lemon tart–which graced our table are any indication, you can’t go wrong with any of the five.  They’re small slices of decadent deliciousness.

Albuquerque’s Uptown area is far from the uppity and exclusive neighborhood so often stereotyped in song and literature.  In restaurants such as Fork & Fig, all are welcome no matter your neighborhood.

Fork & Fig
6904 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881.5293
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 June 2017
1st VISIT: 8 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grown-up Grilled Cheese, Cotija Corn, Ribeye Sandwich, Green Chile Coleslaw, The Fig, Cubano, Watermelon Gazpacho, Opera Cakes

Fork and Fig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kitchen Se7ven – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Kitchen Se7ven Within the Kaktus brewing Company in Albuquerque

During a 1996 episode of Seinfeld, George Costanza, a self-proclaimed “short, balding, unattractive man” made the mistake of telling his fiancee he wanted to name his child “Seven” after his idol Mickey Mantle. To George’s chagrin, his fiancee’s cousin liked the idea so much she decided to name her own child Seven. Even as the cousin was being wheeled by an orderly into the delivery room, George tried in vain to convince her to name the child something else. Six, Thirteen, Fourteen, even…Soda. “it’s bubbly, it’s refreshing!,” he cried.

When Chef Akio told us of the birth of his son just a day before our inaugural visit, we had to ask him if he’d be naming his son “Seven.”  Obviously understanding the reference, he laughed and told us his son’s name would be Isaiah.  The only seven in his family is the uniquely spelled “Kitchen Se7ven” he named his restaurant.  If you’re looking for signage to guide you to his restaurant, you won’t find any.  Kitchen Se7ven is located within the Kaktus Brewing Company on the western fringes of Nob Hill and eastern extremities of the University of New Mexico…you know, that weird corner bordered by Central to the South, Girard to the west and Monte Vista to the east.

Kitchen Se7ven Dining Room

Kaktus has undergone a significant transformation since our last visit in January, 2016.  The make-over added better functional space and a pleasant aesthetic to the space which  previously housed Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria and before that Bailey’s on the Beach.  Both halves of the 2,400-square-foot space are, in fact, suitable to dining and include a bar you can belly up to. Then there’s an expansive rooftop patio that offers exquisite city views as well as spectacular sunset panoramas.

The best seat in the house is the one closest to Chef Akio who’ll happily answer all your questions about the menu he describes as “San Francisco meets New Mexico.”  The Chef relocated from ‘Frisco to the Duke City so that he could help his siblings take care of their elderly parents.  Albuquerque’s gain!  Chef Akio is a personable gentleman with a great sense of humor.  He cares very much that you have a good dining experience and is happy to let you sample the sauces that enliven his culinary fare.  His kitchen isn’t much bigger than a child’s time-out corner, but he coaxes amazing flavors out of the imaginative ingredient combinations he employs.

Greek Fries with Green Chile

The menu is relatively limited–chicken sandwiches, burgers, wild game links, salads, wings, fries and nachos, bison and veggie chili (the Texas kind) and pizza.  If you visited Kaktus before the menu concept was revamped, you’re already familiar with the inventive pizzas in such original options as red pumpkin-veggie and wild spicy elk.  Sandwiches and burgers are served with your choice of house fries, chips and salsa or a side salad.  If you opt for fries, insist on Kaktus’s fantastic curry ketchup which improves the flavor of everything with which it comes into contact.  You’ll want to take home a bottle (or seven) of this ketchup.

Even if you don’t order a sandwich or burger, the menu includes four different fries options: dragon fries (spicy kimchi, Cheddar cheese, bison chili and secret sauce), truffle Parmesan fries, garlic Parmesan fries and Greek fries (sea salt, feta, oregano, olive oil and vinegar).  My friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik asked that his Greek fries be topped with green chile, a Greece meets New Mexico idea that works very well.  The green chile has a pleasant bite-you-back quality that counterbalances the sharpness of the feta nicely.  Even unadorned, the fries would be among the very best in the city.  They’re hand-cut and firm with just enough salt.

Rumor Nachos

For the first time in memory (probably ever), my entree was nachos.  No, not ballpark nachos with their gloppy cheese and soggy chips.  Kitchen Se7ven offers two nacho options: Bison Nachos (bison chili and Cheddar) and Rumor Nachos (green chile, Cheddar cheese, spicy kimchi, grilled chicken, crumbled bacon, a dollop of sour cream and secret sauce).  It’s no rumor.  The Rumor Nachos are fantastic–some of the very best nachos in this town.  What makes these nachos special is the harmonious interplay of so many complementary ingredients.  The incendiary green chile and spicy kimchi, for example, counterbalance the secret sauce which brought to mind a combination of spicy mayo and the sweet sauce used in sushi restaurants on unagi (freshwater eel).  Similarly, the bacon enlivens the grilled chicken.  The chips are fresh, crisp and served warm with a side of salsa on the side.

Kitchen Se7ven is yet another exemplar of a small restaurant offering big flavors.  Chef Akio’s San Franciso meets New Mexico concept is unique and not to be missed.

Kitchen Se7ven
2929 Monte Vista Blvd. N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 510-3287
CLOSED: November 2017
LATEST VISIT: 3 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Rumor Nachos, Greek Fries with Green Chile

Kitchen Se7ven Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Owl Cafe & Bar – San Antonio, New Mexico

The World Famous Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico

7 March 2017Over the past five years, the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico has been the most frequently launched review on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog.  From January 1st through April 7th, 2017, the review of the Owl has been launched more often than any other review on 37 occasions.  It’s been among the top five most frequently launched reviews 95 times (out of 98 days) since January 1st.  The Owl review is the third most frequently launched review (behind the Buckhorn Tavern and Mary & Tito’s of all time.  What accounts for the Owl’s popularity?  It truly is a timeless institution beloved for its consistently excellent burgers.
San Antonio may be but a blip on the map, but its storied and pioneering history make this sparsely populated agricultural community arguably one of New Mexico’s most important towns.

In 1629, San Antonio was the site on which Franciscan friars planted the first vineyard (for sacramental wine) in New Mexico (in defiance of Spanish law prohibiting the growing of grapes for wine in the new world.) San Antonio was the birthplace of Conrad Hilton, founder of the ubiquitous Hilton Hotels and more importantly, one of New Mexico’s original legislators after statehood was granted in 1912. San Antonio was also the gateway to the Trinity Site in which the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. While these events are historically significant, they are also inextricably bound by one common element–the uncommonly ordinary facade that houses the extraordinary, world-famous Owl Cafe.

owl05

The Owl Cafe and Bar

Conrad Hilton’s father once owned the saloon in which the bar (pictured below) in the Owl Cafe once held prominence and presumably sold the fruit of the vine whose progenitors may have been among New Mexico’s original grape stocks. According to local lore, the fathers of the nuclear age spent much of their free time cavorting at the Owl Cafe where original owner Jose Miera installed a grill and started crafting the green chile cheeseburgers that would ultimately achieve unprecedented acclaim.

Ostensibly, the restaurant was named the Owl because legal gambling was conducted at all hours of the night in the back of the restaurant, ergo by “night owls.” Today feathered fowl are still important to San Antonio’s local economy as thousands of bird watchers flock to the nearby Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge to crane their necks for a glimpse of geese, ducks and cranes. The Owl Cafe offers welcome respite from the pleasures of bird-watching.

The long bar from the original Hilton hotel

The long bar from the original Hilton hotel

Rowena Baca, a descendent of the Owl Cafe’s founder and current proprietor of the Owl Cafe, holds on to tradition, preparing the world-famous green chile cheeseburger in much the same way as her grandfather did. The meat is ground on the premises, patties are hand-formed and the ingredients (mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion cheese and green chile) are unfailingly fresh. On a double meat burger, the succulent meat and melted cheese bulge out beyond the buns. The meat positively breaks apart (the consequences of not using filler and an optimum fat to lean ratio) and its juices make consuming one a lip-smacking, multi-napkin affair.

The green chile is as near to green chile nirvana as you’ll find on any burger in New Mexico. Non-natives might find it a bit hot, but locals think it’s just right. Ironically, it’s not green chile grown within easy walking distance in San Antonio’s famous Sichler Farms, but a special blend of chile from the Albuquerque Tortilla Company. The reason given is that the Albuquerque Tortilla Company’s Chile is already roasted, peeled, chopped and sealed for freshness. Somehow it makes sense.

Double meat, double cheese green chile cheeseburger, one of the very best in New Mexico (ergo, the universe)

Another Owl tradition you can’t help but notice is all the dollar bills tacked on the restaurant’s walls. Patrons leave messages or write their names on dollar bills then tack them on any available free space. Once a year, the money is collected and given to charity with more than $20,000 donated thus far.

On an average summer day, the Owl Cafe will serve an average of six to seven hundred burgers. The population of San Antonio rivals that of a larger city during lunch and dinner hours when the Owl’s several parking lots are overflowing with hungry diners. The front dining room will accommodate only a few of them. Fortunately the restaurant has several dining rooms; you’ve got to go through one to get to another.

What the Owl Cafe does with all the dollar bills tacked to its walls

What the Owl Cafe does with all the dollar bills tacked to its walls

In 2003, Jane and Michael Stern, rated the Owl Cafe’s green chile cheeseburger on Epicurious.Com as one of the top ten burgers in America–lavish praise indeed for one of New Mexico’s historic gems. It has garnered similar acclaim by other notable critics, having transcended the generations by sticking to a time-tested formula of providing great food at reasonable prices. Disputably there may be better green chile cheeseburgers out there, but there are none more famous.

For more than a quarter century, award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt hit the road on a motor home, crisscrossing the fruited plains where waving fields of wheat passed in review and snow-capped mountains reached for cobalt colored skies. Kuralt loved the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment. In his book America, he declared the Own Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico “one of the best food tips” he’d ever gotten.

The hamburger steak dinner

The hamburger steak dinner

In his celebration of America’s favorite dish, filmmaker George Motz traversed the fruited plain in search of some of the country’s most unique burgers for his 54-minute film Hamburger America which made it to the airwaves in 2004. In 2008, he followed up his award-winning documentary with a state-by-state tome listing what he considers the best burgers throughout the fruited plain. Motz loved The Owl calling it “a friendly place, a family saloon with an excellent burger on the menu.”

The menu isn’t limited to burgers. Savvy diners will order the hamburger steak dinner, a bounteous platter that will fill you up for just over ten dollars. This platter includes a juicy hamburger patty (no charring anywhere), a small mountain of hand-cut French fries, a salad with your choice of dressing (including a pretty good blue cheese dressing), Texas toast and bowls of green chile and beans. Make sure you get the grilled onions atop that hamburger steak. It’s an unbeatable combination.

A bowl of green chile and a bowl of beans--sheer pleasure!

A bowl of green chile and a bowl of beans–sheer pleasure!

The other “must have” in addition to an outstanding green chile cheeseburger is a bowl or side of beans with green chile. The aroma of steaming green chile wafts through the dining room as your waitress approaches and you’re the envy of any diner who may not have ordered this favorite of New Mexican comfort foods. The beans are frijoles, whole pinto beans, not refried or black beans you’ll find elsewhere. Ironically, as proud of New Mexicans are to claim green chile as our official state vegetable, we’re often hesitant to admit frijoles share official state honors with green chile. The frijoles at the Owl Cafe will remind you why real New Mexicans love and are proud of their precious pintos.

The Owl Cafe has several other menu items, but rarely do you see anyone foolhardy enough to order say, a hot dog or nachos. It is entirely forgivable, however, to order a patty melt (pictured below), one of the very best of its kind anywhere. One of the reasons this patty melt is oh, so good is obvious. The same wondrous beef patty used on the Owl’s world-famous green chile cheeseburgers is used to create this pulchritudinous patty melt. Two slices of American cheese drape over grilled sweet onions complete the masterpiece sandwiched between two slices of light rye. It’s a fantastic alternative to green chile cheeseburgers.

Patty melt at the Owl Cafe

7 March 2017:  The Owl’s French fries are terrific.  They’re not the homogeneous, flavorless out-of-a-bag travesty, but are hand-cut and fried to a golden-brownish hue.  Texturally, they’re about as perfect as fries can get.  They’re crispy and firm on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside.  Don’t ever make the mistake of ordering these fries with cheese.  Conceptually cheese fries might sound like a good idea, but when the cheese is the gloppy out-of-a-can variety (typically found in ballpark nachos), it’s just blanketing very good fries with cheese glop that’s not worthy to be on the same plate.

Skip the dessert at the Owl and head next door to the San Antonio General Store where Anne Lund serves some of the very best homemade fudge anywhere as well as ice cream (Dreyers), drinks, snacks and sandwiches. Lund actually bought the General Store from Rowena Baca’s daughter and spent about a year perfecting the wonderful fudge (which is made with real butter and cream). Perfect is the operative word for fudge in which you can taste the quality and a whole lot of love from a confectionery artist. 

Chile Cheese Fries

The Owl Cafe is open Monday through Saturday from 8AM to 9PM and is closed on Sundays.

The Owl Cafe & Bar
State Hwy. 1 and U.S. 380
San Antonio, New Mexico
(575) 835-9946
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LATEST VISIT: 7 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger; French Fries, Beans and Green Chile, Hamburger Steak Dinner, Patty Melt

Owl Bar & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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