JOE’S PASTA HOUSE – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho

Once a year, despite my protestations and whining, I agree to take my Kim to the Olive Garden.  It’s a deal we have, albeit one that makes me feel like  Faust in the Christopher Marlowe play.  Faust, for the non-English majors among you was a  scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.  In my case, the deal is  a visit to Olive Garden once a year in exchange for all the strange and exotic restaurants I want to visit the rest of the year.  I sure got the rotten end of that deal.

On a list of things I’d rather do, my annual visit to the Olive Garden for a meal of cheese glop or tomato torture ranks somewhere below visiting a proctologist or watching The View.  Kim likes the salad and bread sticks and I suspect derives a bit of sadistic satisfaction in hearing me mutter polysyllabic epithets about the “Evil Garden’s” food.   The cultural anthropologist in me finds it both amusing and tragic that teeming masses congregate for pathetic pasta, mediocre marinara and boring bread sticks.  It makes me long for a visit to Joe’s Pasta house in Rio Rancho.

Kassie and Joe Guzzardi, two of the most customer oriented restaurateurs in New Mexico

Joe’s Pasta House is the antithesis of the Olive Garden.  In the words of Bruce Schor, one of my astute readers  (and not solely because our tastes in food are fairly similar), “Joe’s represents real Italian food of the real comfort variety.”  The operative word here is “real.”  Joe’s is most often thought of as old-fashioned “red sauce” restaurant, the type of which have survived the onslaught of their supposedly more sophisticated brethren, the vaunted Northern Italian restaurants;  the type of which remain so popular throughout the East Coast.  Perhaps that’s why Joe’s is so beloved in Rio Rancho, the city so many call “little New York.” 

To label Joe’s as strictly a “red sauce restaurant” is to do a disservice to one of the most comprehensive Italian restaurants in New Mexico, a restaurant which transcends labels in that it showcases the cuisines of Italy’s three distinct culinary regions: north, south and central.  Joe’s also prepares the familiar Italian American dishes developed by Italian immigrants, occasionally spicing things up with green chile, a tribute to the adopted home of proprietors Joe and Kassie Guzzardi.

Exemplars of Outstanding Service: Kassie, Chuck and Randi

Joe Guzzardi is a peripatetic presence with a buoyant personality and charm to spare. He visits every table to make sure his customers are enjoying their dining experience. “Mi casa es su casa” seems to be his mantra–and he really means it.  I once overheard him tell a guest who didn’t like the entree he ordered, “this is my house.  We’ll make you happy.” before proceeding to recommend entrees with a different flavor profile than the dish the guest didn’t like.   Joe’s energy, enthusiasm and customer orientation are mirrored by an attentive, well-mannered and highly professional wait staff that is easily among the very best in the metropolitan area. 

Fine imported foods and confections line the shelves near the entrance to Joe's

Fine imported foods and confections line the shelves near the entrance to Joe’s

While Joe manages the restaurant’s day-to-day operations, his pulchritudinous partner Kassie oversees the restaurants social media channels, search engine optimization, blog and Web site presence.   In a day and age in which it’s become fashionable for restaurateurs to tout their social consciousness, Kassie was a pioneer in forging relationships with local suppliers to ensure the highest quality, most socially responsible and healthy foods possible.  She’s understandably very proud that Joe’s won’t feed guests anything the Guzzardi family wouldn’t eat themselves.

Greek Salad

That means hormone- and antibiotic-free meats and to the greatest extent possible GMO (genetically modified organism) free pasta imported from Italy.  It means grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, humanely raised veal and sustainably-caught fish.  Pastas and sauces are prepared in stainless steel pots, healthier vessels by far than their aluminum counterparts.  Only non-hydrogenated oil is used and it’s changed out every day, the remnants given to owners of vegetable oil-powered vehicles.   Unfortunately Rio Rancho’s solid waste infrastructure is currently incapable of providing the recycling capabilities to fully comprehend all of Joe’s needs, but the restaurant recycles as much as possible.  

As for Joe’s famous red sauce (so good I’ve joked with Joe that he should serve it in a shot glass), the secret is in the tomatoes.  Joe’s uses only imported, vine-ripened, hand-picked Italian plum tomatoes which have a wonderful, natural sweetness.  Now, there are two schools of thought about preparing sauce.  Joe is a proponent of not simmering his sauces for hours on end as opposed to the school of chefs who employ marathon-long simmering sessions (which tend to render tomatoes very acidic).  That’s one of the reasons Joe’s red sauce is much lighter in color.   It’s much more delicious, too.

If you’re not careful you can fill up on the complimentary bread and the best bruschetta in New Mexico

In May, 2018 Yelp compiled its first ever Top 50 Places to Eat in Albuquerque.  The highest ranked restaurant in this enumeration of exceptional eateries was Joe’s Pasta House.  Among the 1,500 or so restaurants in the metropolitan area, none is as beloved by Yelpers as is Joe’s.   With nearly 300 reviews (as of 26 May 2018), Joe’s has an average rating of 4.5 stars.  Joe, Kassie and their tremendous staff realize that they have to earn those stars each and every day from each and every visitor who dines at their restaurant.  They don’t shirk this responsibility.  No one does it better!

Hot Antipasti for two

It may be hard to believe that Joe’s Pasta House occupies the former digs of an International House of Pancakes (IHOP), but what’s not surprising is that the restaurant consistently earns flawless ratings on all its restaurant inspections.  It’s an immaculate and attractive restaurant.   Sophisticated stylings include an exhibition kitchen under the cover of a burnished copper awning. The restaurant’s walls are festooned by artwork provided by the Rio Rancho Art Association.

Faux Italian marble columns, a mural painted by a deceased beloved Rio Rancho city council member, real napkins and linen tablecloths let you know this is more than a casual dining restaurant even though the reasonable prices might belie that fact.  Until 2009, the great Bob Morris sang at the Pasta House, his elegant voice delivering beautiful Italian arias and romantic ballads on weekend evenings.  Bob now lives in Texas, but is much missed by frequent patrons and the staff at the Pasta House. 

Eggplant: Lightly breaded eggplant stuffed w/ ricotta cheese, prosciutto & sauteed spinach, topped w/ marinara sauce & mozzarella cheese

Stuffed Eggplant

In August, 2013, Joe’s began featuring delicious, fine, imported foods and confections for those evenings in which you’re craving Italian cuisine, but don’t want to leave home.  Almost immediately as you step into the restaurant, you’ll espy shelves replete with imported olive oils, pastas, olives, salts, risotto, nutella, pastas, mustard, cookies and so much more.  It’s not quite the next best thing to dining at Joe’s, but Kassie assures me this is excellent stuff. 

November, 2015: For some restaurants, having a presence in the community means little more than having a brick-and-mortar storefront with an address.  For restaurants which become beloved institutions within their communities, having a presence in the community means being part and parcel of the fabric of the community–being involved on a day-to-day basis in promoting all that is great about a community.  It means not only providing outstanding food and excellent service to guests, but getting to know them and treating them like family.  It means listening to their guests, taking their feedback–good and bad–and using it to continue improving.  It means being a neighbor and friend.

Fried Lasagna

That’s what   Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho has done.  Joe’s isn’t just one of the two or three best Italian restaurants in New Mexico, it’s an exemplar of what it means to be part of a community.  Because of her involvement with the community, Kassie Guzzardi, the effervescent co-owner of Joe’s Pasta House, was selected by Yelp as one of 100 owners of top-rated businesses from the U.S. and Canada.  With that well-deserved honor, she ws invited to Yelp’s “Coast-to-Coast: Coming Together Because We Mean Business,”  a networking opportunity in which Yelp professionals  shared marketing techniques with their brethren.  There’s no doubt Kassie also taught even Yelp’s marketing experts a thing or two about what it means to be part of the community.

March, 2017: Delish.com, one of the top ten food-related online destinations, knows that buffets are often perceived as “minimal hotel breakfasts and cheesy resort restaurants.” Rather than waste bytes denouncing these denizens of dreariness, Delish celebrated the highest-rated restaurant buffets according to Foursquare City Guide. In its feature “The Buffet Everyone is Talking About in Your State,” Delish certainly picked a great one from New Mexico, selecting Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho as purveyor of the very best buffet in the Land of Enchantment. Joe’s buffet is the apotheosis of deliciousness, a sumptuous array of favorites that will leave you drooling. Although Joe’s spectacular buffet is available only for lunch, the dinner menu is even better.

Fried Breaded Butternut Squash and Ricotta Ravioli Served with a Piñon Cream Dipping Sauce

Fried Breaded Butternut Squash and Ricotta Ravioli

Appetizers

Perhaps the only thing at the Pasta House as warm as the Guzzardi’s hospitality is the bread which arrives at your table shortly after you’re comfortably seated. There may be nothing as comforting as a basket of sliced bread and yeasty rolls baked in-house–unless, of course, it’s a dish of seasoned olive oil and various herbs and spices in which to dip that bread. Joe’s Pasta House goes even further with a complementary plate of bruschetta crowned with a mixture of rich, red tomatoes, chopped onions, garlic and other savory ingredients. At most restaurants you would pay handsomely for such a treat.

Extreme care must be taken to ensure you don’t fill up on bread, great as it is. You also have to be doubly cautious so as not to fill up on Pasta House appetizers, some of which arrive in profuse portions which might constitute an entire meal elsewhere. There’s absolutely no way you can leave the Pasta House hungry!  The menu features several tempting appetizers and while such options as fried mozzarella, fried zucchini and fried calamari are seemingly standard offerings at most Italian restaurants, live it up and try something unique to Joe’s Pasta House.  That something different might be the poppy seed shrimp, ten (yes, 10) jumbo shrimp sautéed with bell peppers, red onions and black olives in a tangy poppy seed sauce. It’s different and it’s delicious. 

Clams Casino

15 January 2014: The menu offers six salads, most available in half and full sizes.  Our favorite is the Caesar salad which is classically interpreted then improved by Joe’s.  The traditional touches are large leaf Romain lettuce, shaved Parmesan cheese and croutons topped with Caesar dressing.   Joe’s touches include red peppers and a sole cherry pepper.  Caesar, after all, was Italian so these small additions are copacetic.  The Caesar dressing is applied lightly so you can enjoy the other salad ingredients.

13 November 2012: Another unique appetizer is the hot antipasti for two, an entree-sized portion that features stuffed eggplant (with rich Polly-O Premium Ricotta Cheese from New Jersey), clams, calamari, shrimp and mussels baked and served with marinara sauce. The shrimp have that snap that signifies freshness and a sweet brininess that’s addictive. The marinara is among the best we’ve had in New Mexico–slightly sweet, barely acidic and wholly addictive, but it’s the eggplant that makes me want to sing like Bob Morris.  Prepared incorrectly eggplant can leave a “metallic” taste in your mouth that may last for days.  The Pasta House chefs know what they’re doing with eggplant!  By itself, it’s quite good, but the Pasta House tops it with melted mozzarella and bits of prosciutto. 

Joe’s Famous and Fabulous Stuffed Eggplant Atop Spaghetti

22 January 2017: Addictive is an apt description for a lightly breaded eggplant stuffed with ricotta cheese, prosciutto and sauteed spinach, topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.  Eggplant is the bane of my kitchen, a dish I’ve never been able to prepare well (hence my aforementioned references to “metallic” taste), but Joe’s rendition comes highly recommended by a trusted fellow gastronome and friend Dave Hurayt who calls it “exquisite…more than a full meal.”  Dave knows what he’s talking about.  He’s a world-traveler who’s experienced the very best in Italian food throughout Boston, New York City and Italy.  Another friend, Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver calls this the very best dish on Joe’s formidable menu.  My Italian sister-in-law says it’s just like her sainted mama used to make. 

Baked Imported Brie (Melted Imported Brie, Served with Fresh Cranberry Compote, Blueberries and Crostini)

The eggplant is indeed exquisite.  It’s the type of dish which makes all your synapses fire as your taste buds try to discern the adventure of flavors going on in your mouth.  Texturally, the skin of the eggplant is soft, but not mushy.  The prosciutto is fairly mild and not nearly as salty as some prosciutto is prone to being.  The sauce is rich with tomatoes, basil, garlic and other spices.  This is an excellent appetizer, a wonderful way to start a meal. Regulars know the stuffed eggplant is standard fare on the daily buffet.  To offer his patrons more variety Joe removed the eggplant from his buffet and replaced it with another item.  That tactic lasted one day, a day he remembers for having made about 75 trips to the kitchen to prepare the beloved eggplant dish for his guests. 

23 October 2016:  Though Joe doesn’t spent as much time in the kitchen as he might like, he’s certainly honed his chef staff to prepare dishes to his high and exacting standards.  He’s got an excellent kitchen staff he can trust.  Chef Simon, for example, prepared a baked imported brie dish that is not only delightful in its deliciousness, but plated beautifully.  If it’s true that you also eat with your eyes, it was love at first sight when the brie arrived.  Served with a fresh cranberry compote, blueberries and crostini, it pairs the mold-ripened pungency of brie with tangy berries, a match made in kitchen heaven.  Brie’s somewhat thick rind belies the creamy softness that practically oozes when punctured.

Sweet and Spicy Shrimp

17 January 2016: When we lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, my Kim’s work-commute took her past pristine sandy beaches and spectacular blue waters. Alas, it also took her past several seafood processing plants, the malodorous emanations of which turned her off seafood for years. She won’t partake of seafood unless it is at the peak of freshness with absolutely no “fishy” smell.  She loves the seafood at Joe’s Pasta House.  It’s unfailingly fresh and delicious.  Her new favorite may be the clams casino. Created in a Rhode Island casino near the turn of the 20th century, clams casino (fresh little neck clams steamed in broth with garlic, red onions and bacon) are a magnificent mariner’s favorite.  The combination of crispy bacon and sweet clams is addictive.

10 August 2014: One of the menu items which best shows Joe’s versatility and creativity is the sweet and spicy shrimp dish, an appetizer which by name alone you might think would be a Chinese dish.  In actuality, Joe concocted this starter as a tribute to the predilection for piquancy among New Mexicans.  The piquancy is courtesy of a roasted pineapple Habanero sauce.  At about 350,000 Scoville units, the Habanero  pepper ranks as one of the most incendiary peppers on Earth.  Not always sufficiently appreciated is its citrus-like properties.  It’s those properties which complement the roasted pineapple so utterly well.  To temper the sweet notes of the pineapple, the sauce is also replete with garlic and red onions.  The eight large shrimp are superbly fresh and have a discernible snap when you bite into them.  They’re served over a bed of fresh spinach.

Mediterranean Style Calamari

29 August 2014: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read “fried lasagna?”  More than a few of you will probably cringe in terror at the thought of Paula Deene slathering up a perfectly good lasagna with butter then frying it.  History recounts that lasagna has actually been fried well before the popular pasta dish was even called lasagna.  In fact a First Century recipe describes “lagana” as thin sheets of wheat flour dough with crushed lettuce juice, flavored with spices, then fried.

Fried Breaded Meatballs

Fast forward some twenty centuries and innovative restaurants such as Joe’s Pasta House are preparing the most indulgent and delicious fried lasagna you can imagine.  As expected, your fork will penetrate past a blanket of molten cheese and sink down into layers of delicious strips of lasagna noodles and ground sausage resplendent in one of Joe’s famous red sauces.  Much less expected is the piquant bite, the genesis of which is actually the sausage.  It’s not New Mexico chile piquant, but it’s got a bite to it. 

12 July 2015:  In recent years the term “fusion” has been widely used to describe the blending of two or more cuisines to create innovative and sometimes quite delicious dishes.  Though Joe would probably dismiss the term fusion, he does marry Italian ingredients and culinary techniques with those of his adopted home state to create uniquely delicious dishes which bring great credit to both cultures.  Among them is the fried breaded meatballs, a special offered in July, 2015.

Ziti Alla Vodka

Ziti Alla Vodka

The name “fried breaded meatballs” in and of itself may not sound especially interesting or delicious, but at the hands of Joe’s kitchen staff, these meaty orbs are quite wonderful.  Take four traditional breaded and fried meatballs, top them with a New Mexico green chile spinach cream sauce and melted mozzarella and you’ve got a rich, indulgent, absolutely decadent adventure in deliciousness.  While dense and coarse, the meatballs are mostly meat, not some filler.  They’d be terrific by themselves, but the green chile spinach sauce elevates them to rarefied status…and that sauce.  Oh, that sauce.  Bill Gates isn’t that rich.

29 August 2014:  In recent years the seemingly de rigueur calamari appetizer has fallen out of fashion, largely because it’s almost always prepared exactly the same way–strips or ringlets of breaded calamari served with a side of marinara.  Joe’s dares to be different, offering a “Mediterranean style” calamari that brings personality and zest to an appetizer which too often earns the adjective “boring.”  At Joe’s, this is one exciting calamari dish redolent with tangy and invigorating flavors. The fried calamari is topped with warm feta cheese, capers, artichoke hearts, red onions and kalamata olives in a lemon-butter sauce. It’s even better than it sounds and thankfully Joe’s serves it in a characteristically large portion size because you and your dining companion will be vying for as much of it as you can get.

Manicotti Bolognese

16 November 2013:  Joe’s fried breaded butternut squash and ricotta ravioli is one of those seasonal appetizers which may have you wishing it was autumn all year round.   Four raviolis, each the size of an iPhone are served with a piñon cream sauce so rich and decadent, it should come with a warning.  As addictive as the ravioli are, they’re also so rich you couldn’t possibly eat more than two, but you’ll relish every single morsel.  The butternut squash and ricotta combination is a perfect blend of semi-sweet and savory, buttery and creamy.  The sauce features not only woodsy New Mexico piñon, but nutmeg and cinnamon to accentuate the squash.  This is one seriously good, ultra rich, ultra delicious appetizer.

Entrees

7 April 2007: The menu is broken into several sections: fresh salads, appetizers, local favorites, traditional favorites, house specialties, seafood favorites and grilled entrees. Within each section are various options, all sure to please the most discerning diners. From the “Local Favorites” section comes a Mediterranean Pasta entree as good as you might expect to find at an upscale Greek restaurant. This dish is crafted with artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, fresh tomatoes, garlic and feta cheese sautéed in a white wine butter sauce all served atop linguine pasta (or you can substitute penne). Available with chicken or shrimp, it is richly calorific and served in a deep dish. You’re sure to have some left over.

Traditional Gnocchi Potato gnocchi topped with tomato sauce topped with meatballs & Italian sausage

Traditional Gnocchi

9 January 2014: Another local favorite not commonly found in Albuquerque area Italian restaurants (but extremely popular in New York City and which we’ve also had in the deep South) is the beguiling Ziti alla Vodka, Ziti pasta with prosciutto and scallions in a vodka pink sauce.  The sauce appears to be  combination of the restaurant’s rich Alfredo sauce and its meatless marinara with a bit of vodka splashed in and the alcohol cooked out.  It’s inventive and unconventional, creamy and rich, sweet and savory…and absolutely delicious.  The pasta is slightly more than al dente and the scallions appear to have been added after the entree is put together, offering a nice contrast.  The prosciutto is sliced into tiny morsels and offers a startling taste and texture difference that you can’t help but take notice.  This is an excellent entree.

4 August 2007: One of the restaurant’s richest entrees is the Fettuccini Carbonara (pictured above) made with green peas, pancetta and a heavy cream sauce that will put weight on you just by looking at it.  There are two Albuquerque area restaurants whose carbonara I recommend highly–Paisano’s Italian Restaurant and Joe’s Pasta House.  The commonality is a subtle balance of rich flavors and perfectly prepared pasta crafted from complementary ingredients.

Baked Cannelloni

14 May 2016: Though it’s easy to characterize Joe’s Pasta House as a “red sauce” restaurant, in truth the restaurant excels at a variety of sauces, some complex and some simple, but all delicious.  During a visit in January, 2011, we happened upon the former, a special of the evening my Kim’s friend Rosalie Marella makes in Chicago.  The label “special” certainly fits.  It’s rigatoni pasta and pork ribs, (old-world-style tender pork ribs slow-cooked in Joe’s homemade tomato sauce with fresh basil, olive oil and Romano cheese served over imported rigatoni pasta), an Italian dish showcasing a simple, but magnificently executed tomato sauce.  Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this addictive dish is the interplay between the acidic tomato sauce and the rich, creamy, sharp flavor of the Romano cheese which Joe applies in perfect proportion to impart a discernibly magnificent contrast.

The pork ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and meaty (porky?) enough for Fred Flintstone.  It’s easy to extricate the pork off the bone, but your inclination will probably be to pick them up and gnaw off that pork with your hands.  It’s a messy proposition considering the tomato sauce, but then that’s what napkins are for.  The rigatoni pasta is prepared at just slightly past al dente,  but certainly not nearly to the level of the squishy, mushy overdone pasta served at the restaurant at which I’m forced to eat once a year.

Rigatoni Pasta and Pork Ribs

23 January 2011: As smooth as degustation (a sensory (taste, smell, tactile, experience) appreciation of a meal, especially with good company) tends to be at Joe’s, there are some meals  which are thoroughly enjoyable while you partake of them at the restaurant, but not so enjoyable if you’re prone to indigestion later.  One of these is the Lobster Ravioli and Shrimp special, a sinfully rich dish of lobster and ricotta engorged ravioli topped with sauteed shrimp, fresh peas and sun-dried tomatoes in a brandy cream sauce.  It’s the brandy cream sauce which will get you.  It’s ultra rich, but also ultra-delicious which means you’ll probably polish off the entire plate. Then there’s the lobster.  Each ravioli (tablet-sized) is engorged with fresh, delicious and rich lobster meat.

Giovanni Special: Six cheese stuffed ravioli, three meatballs, two sausages topped with homemade tomato sauce and mozzarella

26 May 2018: If ravioli is what you crave, there are a variety of ways in which you can have it at Joe’s.  It’s available as a breaded and deep-fried appetizer served with a mushroom cream sauce.  It’s available as an entree where it’s stuffed with cheese and topped with marinara sauce.  It’s also available off-the-menu as an entree called the Giovanni Special.  Invented by John, one of Joe’s long-time waiters, this dish is the mother lode for ravioli lovers.  It features six round cheese stuffed raviolis, three meatballs and two sausages topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella.  This is one of those dishes only regular guests know about.  We’ve had to describe it to members of the wait staff who have never heard of it; fortunately Joe knows precisely what it is.

Baked Penne

13 November 2012: The Baked Cannelloni, homemade pasta stuffed with seasoned beef and topped with homemade tomato sauce and mozzarella is akin to having one large ravioli. The season beef is an excellent counterpoint to the rich, melted mozzarella and the tangy sauce. Roughly the size of a baked potato, it’s a red sauce dish with the richness of an Alfredo sauce. As with all entrees at Joe’s, it’s an archetypal example of how good this specific dish can be.

Sausage and Beef Lasagna

16 November 2013: Every once in a while Joe’s will feature a special which proves just how much the restaurant’s cuisine has also been influenced by the Land of Enchantment.  Now, green chile on Italian pasta dishes isn’t exactly a novel concept in New Mexico, but rarely is it done as well as the Green Chili (sic) Chicken Ravioli, ricotta-filled ravioli topped with sauteed chicken and green chili Alfredo sauce.  The piquancy (discernible, but not overwhelming) and roasted flavor of the green chile are a perfect foil for the richness of the Alfredo sauce…and it is rich.  It’s also delicious, a fine departure from the tried and true sauce. 

Green Chili Chicken Ravioli: Ricotta Filled Ravioli Topped with Sautéed Chicken and Green Chili Alfredo Sauce

Green Chili Chicken Ravioli

16 November 2013: In November, 2012, four time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison published an article entitled 5 Top New Mexico Spots for Divine Gnocchi on her wonderful Tasting New Mexico blog.  Cheryl lamented that for years she tended to avoid gnocchi in restaurants because “most I’d sampled in such settings were heavy with a gluey quality I associate with eating paste in kindergarten.”  She elaborated that “gnocchi should be hearty but have an ethereal lightness about them, too.”  The traditional gnocchi at Joe’s would make my top five.  Traditional means the gnocchi are made from potato, not semolina flour as prepared at some restaurants.  Potatoes is the way gnocchi are made in the Piedmont region of Italy and it’s the way gnocchi tastes best.  At Joe’s the gnocchi are topped with a superb tomato sauce and topped with meatballs and Italian sausage.

While the pasta dishes are infused with flavor, it’s apparent the chef’s culinary skills are as plentiful as are the portions.  Joe’s Pasta House is by no means a one-trick pasta.  In August, 2009, the menu was upscaled with the addition of an admirable cavalcade of chops: Porterhouse steak, French style pork chops, lamb chops and more.  These are chops the type of which you might expect to find in Chicago, the “City of Big Shoulders.”  If Joe has his way, perhaps Rio Rancho should be called “City of Big Chops.”  Lamb chops.  Pork chops.  Porterhouse steaks.

Colorado Lamb Chops with creamy mashed Klondike Rose potatoes

Colorado Lamb Chops with creamy mashed Klondike Rose potatoes

15 January 2014: The Colorado lamb chops are cloud-like luscious and redolent with grilled flavor.  At about an inch thick, they’re the antithesis of the tiny, emasculated chops so many restaurants serve and each order includes four prepared to your exacting specifications.  At medium rare as the chef recommends they be prepared, the flavorful juices flow as you cut into them.  As with much of the lamb served in restaurants, the inherent gaminess associated with lamb has been somewhat bred out which is why medium rare works so well.  These chops are tender and succulent with just the slightest hint of fat for additional flavor.   They’re also not served in the “Frenched” style with the bone “handle” for easy handling.   The lamb chops are served with creamy mashed Klondike Rose potatoes and a ramekin of delicious gravy made from pan drippings.

Porcine perfection can be found in the form of juicy French cut grilled pork chops in a Chianti mushroom sauce.  Chianti is a full and rich red wine that couples well with the mushrooms to imbue the inch-thick chops with a complementary flavor that doesn’t detract from their native pork flavor in any way.  Two chops for under twenty dollars is an additional bonus. 

Twelve-Ounce Roast Prime Rib with creamy mashed Klondike Rose potatoes

Twelve-Ounce Roast Prime Rib with creamy mashed Klondike Rose potatoes

In February, 2013, Joe’s Pasta House began offering a “Fish Fry” as its Tuesday night weekday special.  If you’re from the Midwest, you know that fish fry is practically a religion.  Consider the dining room tables at Joe’s your altar as you enjoy two pieces of hand-breaded, cold-water, wild-caught flounder served with a garden salad, fried potatoes and a house made tartar sauce!  The fish is fried in 100% vegetable oil.  Meat lovers have their own special day, too.  On Wednesdays, the special is all-natural, slow-roasted, Black Angus Prime Rib served with garden salad and mashed potatoes!  Liquid smoke doesn’t exist within the same zip code as this slow-roasted slab of beefy deliciousness. 

15 January 2014: The prime rib is available in ten- and twelve-ounce sizes.  It’s become so popular that you’re well advised to get to Joe’s early (the prime rib special is available from 4PM to 9PM) because once it runs out, you’re out of luck.   Because of the demand, Joe’s roasts some four prime rib roasts.  It’s easy to see why the prime rib is so popular.  It’s very tender, cutting almost like butter and revealing a perfectly pink center (at medium) with rich juices flowing copiously onto your plate.  As with great prime rib, the “crust” is seared to perfection.  Seasoning is earthy and natural, accentuating the terrific grass-fed flavor of the beef.   The accompanying horseradish sauce has some bite, but not so much that it detracts from the starring attraction. 

Veal Parmigiana

15 January 2014: You can add a dinner or Caesar salad with your entree for a pittance or top your steak with sauteed sliced mushrooms, melted mozzarella cheese or sauteed sweet onions for just a bit more.  If you’re tastes are more inclined toward surf and turf, you can also top any of your steak or chop entrees with garlic scallops.  Because scallops are delicately flavored and sweet, you might think garlic would overwhelm those qualities, but that’s not the case.  The garlic kisses the scallops softly so as not to change their flavor profile.  This is a surprisingly nice dish.

4 April 2014: During my years in New England, I consumed boatloads of creamy, comforting, delicious seafood bisques and chowders from Maine to Connecticut.  Nothing in the world compares to a thick, sweet, creamy bisque served at a waterfront restaurant with the advantage of being able to use freshly caught, just off the boat seafood.  There’s also no equal for enjoying such a repast while the salty sea air and balmy ocean breeze lulls you into a state of blissful relaxation. 

Seafood Bisque

Seafood Bisque

Joe’s Pasta House has none of those advantages, but somehow manages to serve a seafood bisque which transports me back to so many wonderful afternoons on the wharf at Gloucester, Massachusetts.  The bisque isn’t always on the menu, but when it is, it quickly sells out.  That’s because Rio Rancho may be a landlocked city several hundred miles from the sea, but its citizenry knows great seafood.  A large soup cup is brimming with fresh crab, mussels and clams sharing a creamy home with carrots, scallions, celery and a single crostini.  The seafood is unbelievably fresh and surprisingly plentiful with sweet crab being especially cherished.  The bisque is creamy and thick and is served at the perfect height of steaminess.  See where it ranks among my favorite soups in New Mexico here

10 August 2014: Blessed with 5,000 miles of coastline, Italy is a nation which cherishes the frutti di mari (fruits of the sea).  Pairing pasta with luscious seafood is virtually a culinary sport for Italian chefs.  There are hundreds of potential variations for something which sounds as simple and basic as a seafood stew or zuppa di pesci.  Italian chefs have learned to exercise restraint to balance the briny seafood with the delicate pasta.  A great seafood stew isn’t about mixing a net full of seafood with a bowl of pasta.  It’s about complementary ingredients melding together well. 

Italian Seafood Stew- Zuppa di Pesci

Joe’s version of seafood stew is a wonderful balance of fresh seafood  with perfectly prepared pasta served in a large boat…er, bowl.  The seafood–shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, lump crab and Atlantic salmon–are so fresh you might forget you’re in a landlocked state and not dockside.  The seafood is served atop a linguini pasta in a tomato basil bullion which allows all ingredients to sing.  A sweeter sauce or one more acerbic would not have gone so well with the delicate, delicious, briny seafood, but the tomato basil brings out the seafood’s natural flavors.  Joe served this dish on the first Sunday in which his magnificent restaurant opened for lunch. 

29 August 2014: One of the most traditional “red sauce” entrees is the almost anachronistic veal parmigiana which the vaunted Northern Italian restaurants don’t even deign to put on their menus.  Veal parmigiana is a circa 1960s favorite of Italian restaurants throughout the East Coast where it’s referred to simply as “veal parm.”  Perhaps one of the reasons this wonderful dish has fallen out of favor is because it’s not always prepared well.   At Joe’s, the veal parmigiana is the stuff of which dreams are made.  The veal is lightly breaded and perfectly prepared.  It’s fork tender and delicious with a blanket of molten Parmesan and Mozzarella and rich, tangy red sauce providing a delicious cover 

Linguini Pasta with Fried Breaded Clams and Scallops

12 July 2015: While I was raving effusively about Joe’s red sauces, my Kim once retorted “if you love them so much, you should marry them.”  I tell her she was being ridiculous.  The state of New Mexico prohibits polygamy.  You know when I eschew a red sauce dish at Joe’s, what I order instead has got to be very special.  Special is a good way to describe the linguini pasta with fried breaded clams and strips, a weekend special during the second week of July, 2015.  A very delicate pasta is tossed with red and orange cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil and Romano cheese then topped with fried breaded clam strips and scallops.  Fried clams are extremely rare in the Land of Enchantment.  Leave it to Joe to prepare them in the manner and style of my favorite New England clam shacks.  Even if they weren’t the sublime clam bellies I prefer, the clams transported me back to Essex in Massachusetts.  Joe’s has a way of transporting diners to better places and states of satisfaction.

26 July 2015: With a veritable compendium of a menu, not to mention specials that live up to that distinction, you’re bound to find something you’ve never had before or haven’t had in quite a while.  For me, the entree fitting the latter is Veal Saltimboccaveal scallopini with red onions, garlic, mushrooms and prosciutto topped with melted mozzarella and served with a pesto cream sauce.   In Italian, the term saltimbocca means “to jump in the mouth,” supposedly a reference to the  dish being so good that it literally jumps into the diner’s mouth.  This isn’t just hyperbole; it literally is that good.  The tender, moist veal is pounded into thin medallions that would be excellent by themselves.  The herbaceous pesto renders them even more delicious.

French Cut Pork Chops

26 July 2015: It seems ironic that a proud Italian restaurant would serve French-cut pork chops…and no, “French cut,” in this case, has nothing to do with cutting women’s underwear so as to emphasize a woman’s thigh.   You don’t have to be a Francophile to understand that “French-cut” means to slice food lengthwise into long, thin strips.  Easily three-quarters of an inch thick, Joe’s pork chops are grilled and topped with a Chianti mushroom pan sauce you might be tempted to lap up when you’re done.  The chops are grilled to your exacting specification and at medium, have plenty of moistness while retaining a fork tenderness.  This is a white meat dish sure to appease all carnivores. 

17 January 2016:  Jonesing for a steak on a Sunday morning, we rattled off one steakhouse after the other before it dawned on me that the Joe’s weekend dinner special for January 15, 16 and 17 was a grilled New York Strip steak topped with sauteed mushrooms, sweet onions and melted Provolone cheese served with battered onion rings.  No steakhouse would have done it better.  Better than a one-inch cut and easily twelve-ounces, it is a moist and tender slab of beef prepared to your exacting specifications (for optimum juiciness go for no more than medium-rare).  The sauteed fleshy fungi are earthy and sweet, counterbalanced by the melted molten blanket of Provolone.  Then there are the onion rings, a stack of golden fried orbs and for great measure, wonderfully prepared asparagus spears.

Grilled New York Strip Steak

17 January 2016: All along the coast of Italy, frutti di mare which translates from Italian to “fruit of the sea” offers a beloved multi-seafood soiree.  The myriad of seafood flavors at Joe’s includes shrimp, clams, calamari, mussels and scallops over a best of linguine in your choice of spicy marinara sauce or garlic butter white wine sauce.  At Joe’s the “spicy” marinara sauce isn’t so spicy or piquant that it detracts from the freshness and sweetness of the seafood.  If anything, the marinara brings out those qualities.  There’s a netful of seafood in each swimming pool-sized bowl of the fruits of the sea.  The next time someone tells you there isn’t good seafood in the Duke City area, bring them to Joe’s and order this dish for them.

There is so much to love at Joe’s Pasta House, an Italian restaurant several orders of magnitude better than the heavily trafficked Olive Garden to which I’m subjected once a year. In 2013 that fact was acknowledged when Joe’s Pasta House was selected by readers of Albuquerque The Magazine as the “best Italian restaurant” in the metropolitan area.  That’s proof that Joe’s has become a dining destination drawing diners from throughout the Duke City area and beyond. In 2015, Albuquerque The Magazine readers voted Joe’s “Top Five” in four different categories: Best Italian, Best Wait Staff (the pulchritudinous Randi and vivacious Victoria are our favorites), Best Place to Overindulge and Best Buffet.  In 2016, Joe’s earned a coveted best of the city for its service staff.  There is none better!

24-Ounce Porterhouse Steak

While Joe’s Pasta House has earned popular acclaim from a faithful customer base, Joe’s culinary skills aren’t always as critically acclaimed.  Rarely will you hear his name mentioned in discussions about the best chefs in the metropolitan area.  Some of that is based on the misbegotten perception that red sauce dishes aren’t as sophisticated and challenging to prepare as the “high-brow” dishes served in “Northern Italian” restaurants.  Another reason is Joe’s self-effacing nature.  He’s not one to crow about his skills and is modest to a fault.  When we lavished praise on his phenomenal rigatoni pasta and pork ribs dish, he dismissed it as “just another dish we ate at home growing up in New York.”  If only every chef was as modest…and talented.  

Spaghetti Bolognese

22 January 2017:  Joe’s weekend dinner specials are so popular that they sometimes sell out early Saturday night.  On occasion, however, one or two specials might be left over for early birds who arrive on Sunday at precisely noon.  Such was the case when a 24-ounce Porterhouse steak was the weekend dinner special.  For my carnivorous Kim, ordering the very last Porterhouse steak is akin to winning the lottery.   Martha Stewart Living Magazine once declared “Only a few steaks can be classified as perfect.  The porterhouse is one of them.”  Indeed, Porterhouse is a peerless cut consisting of a supple, ample-sized filet and a robust strip joined by the T-bone.  It compromises nothing in taste or presentation.  Joe’s seasons it with salt and pepper and cooks it to your notion of perfection.  For Kim, only medium-well will do.  Though usually accompanied by a baked potato, during our Sunday visit she opted instead for a side of spaghetti with meat sauce which she admits is much better than what Olive Garden can prepare.

14 May 2016: We’re convinced there’s nothing Joe can’t do.  Want pizza?  The housemade Sicilian-style pizza, available on the daily lunch buffet, is terrific.  Two or seven slices of pizza and a serving or five of the eggplant parmigiana and you’ll be smiling for a week.  The lunch menu also includes a third-pound burger and a number of hero sandwich, the best of which may just be the Salami and Cheese Hero Sandwich, a beauteous behemoth as good as any sandwich in New Mexico.  Greatness is destined for any sandwich lucky enough to be made on the exceptional bread which comes fresh from Joe’s bread ovens every day.  Nestled between the pillow-soft bread are generous slices of delightfully seasoned salami and sharp, creamy cheese dressed your way.

Frutti Di Mare “

23 October 2016: Flat iron steaks are a value-priced cut that is tender, juicy and which some experts say has the “beefiest” flavor of any cut of beef on any steak. Joe Pasta House exploits these qualities to their utmost, serving a fork-tender steak that is juicy, delicious and absolutely beefy.  The steak is prepared to your exacting specifications (it’s outstanding at medium-rare) and served with a light, innocuous sauce that does nothing to detract from the flavor of the beef.  The flat iron steak is served with sauteed red peppers and onions, a surprisingly natural complement to what is increasingly a favored cut of steak.

Flat Iron Steak sliced with sauteed red peppers & onions

28 April 2017: Joe’s offers four salmon dishes: Romano encrusted salmon, piñon pesto salmon, salmon Florentine and your choice of grilled or poached salmon served atop a bed of fresh spinach.  One definition of the word “faith” is “confidence or trust in someone or something.”  Even though the Romano encrusted salmon (fresh salmon encrusted with imported Romano cheese then oven baked and topped with a sweet pepper cream sauce) didn’t sound especially good to me, my trust in Joe’s chefs is such that I just knew it would be a fabulous dish.  That belief was reinforced by Chuck, the affable floor manager who confirmed the dish’s popularity.  My faith was well placed.  This is an excellent dish.  The sweet pepper cream sauce I had feared would be too sweet and too contradictory to the salmon is a perfect complement to the fresh, perfectly prepared salmon.  The Romano crust is a perfect counterbalance for the rich, creamy sweetness of the sauce.  Although generally served with a side of sauteed vegetables, Joe’s outstanding wait staff can substitute a side of spaghetti (with that outstanding red sauce) if you’d like.

Romano Encrusted Salmon

Desserts

Not surprisingly, the Pasta House also has a stellar dessert tray with palate-pleasing options galore: German chocolate cake, chocolate cake, lemon cake, chocolate cannoli, red velvet cheesecake and oh, so much more. It’s all tempting and likely all delicious. Only the tiramisu and cannoli are prepared in-house.  Other desserts are sourced from a high quality vendor.   Both the tiramisu and the cannoli are absolute must-have desserts.  In the inaugural Taste of Rio Rancho (held in 2014), the tiramisu was acclaimed the City of Vision’s very best dessert.  I was fortunate enough to have served as a judge along with my friend Larry McGoldrick.  When the tiramisu was brought to us, we knew there aren’t many desserts in New Mexico as good as Joe’s terrific tiramisu.

The Italian Dream Cake will inspire nocturnal smiles.  It’s rich, creamy and delicious.  The cannoli is among the best in the city, replete with rich ricotta brought in from New Jersey.  The lemon cake zings with a nice tanginess while the German chocolate cake is the perfect marriage of coconut, pecans and chocolate.  Desserts are decadent, delicious and dreamy.

Joe’s Magnificent Tiramisu, the best anywhere

Though they’re absolutely indefatigable ambassadors for their establishment, Joe and Kassie also rave about other restaurants in the City of Vision, an act of class so very typical of this dynamic couple who win the hearts and stomachs of their guests one delicious dining experience at a time. 

10 AUGUST 2014:  By popular demand, Joe’s Pasta House is now open on Sundays from 12PM to 7:30PM.  Treat yourself to the Albuquerque area’s favorite Italian restaurant where you’ll be well taken care of by the most professional staff in New Mexico.

JOE’S PASTA HOUSE
3201 Southern Blvd.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 892-3333
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 May 2018
# OF VISITS: 29
RATING: 25
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Pesto, Mediterranean Pasta, Hot Antipasti for Two, Lasagna, Cannelloni, Giovanni Special, Fetuccini Carbonara, Zita Alla Vodka, Gnocchi, Butternut Squash and Ricotta Stuffed Ravioli,  Tiramisu, Cannoli, Italian Cream Cake, Green Chili Chicken Ravioli, Colorado Lamb Chops, Prime Rib, Seafood Bisque, Veal Parmigiano, Fried Lasagna, Calamari Mediterranean Style, Sweet and Spicy Shrimp, French-Style Pork Chops, Veal Saltimbocca, Fruitti De Mare, Steamed Clams Casino, Grilled New York Strip Steak, Rigatoni Pasta and Pork Ribs, Salami and Cheese Hero Sandwich, Porterhouse Steak, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Joe's Pasta House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Turtle Mountain Brewing Company – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Turtle Mountain in Rio Rancho

The Tewa name “Oku Pin”  which translates in English to “Turtle Mountain” has three meanings of significance to the people of Okay Owingeh, one of New Mexico’s great Tewa speaking Northern New Mexico Pueblos. “Oku Pin” was the the Indian name given to Dr. Alfonso Ortiz who obtained worldwide prominence as an anthropologist and ethnologist until his death in 1998.  Ortiz was born and raised in San Juan Pueblo which in 2006 officially changed its name to Okay Owingeh.

“Oku Pin” is also the Tewa name for Sandia Peak, the 10,678-feet high mountain which provides a spectacular backdrop for Albuquerque, Bernalillo and Rio Rancho.  When Nico Ortiz, son of the famous anthropologist launched his inaugural restaurant and microbrewery in 1997, it just made sense that it should be called Turtle Mountain, a name which pays homage to his father and to the magnificent peaks under whose shadow his enterprise would flourish.

Hummus with Pita at Turtle Montain

Hummus with Pita at Turtle Montain

Today, Turtle Mountain has also become synonymous with good food and (ostensibly) very good beer.  Nico Ortiz has dedicated his life to the pursuit and production of good beer and has garnered tremendous recognition for his efforts, including a multi-page spread on the November, 2005 edition of New Mexico magazine.  His brainchild has also been discovered by Brewpub magazine, All About Beer magazine and other national and local publications, all of which have come away singing the praises of Rio Rancho’s first and only brewpub.

The inaugural Turtle Mountain microbrewery and restaurant was situated in a strip mall on Southern Boulevard, across from what was then the City of Vision’s City Hall. In addition to quality libations, it quickly earned a reputation as a friendly neighborhood tavern in which you could actually get a very good pizza, calzone or grinder (the term used in the Northeast United States for a large sandwich), all named for New Mexico’s incomparable natural landmarks and several being crafted with an inventive flair you don’t find in many brewpubs.

Potato Skins: Crispy potato boats stuffed with cheese, bacon tomatoes and chives with sour cream on the side

There was no pretense as to what the original Turtle Mountain was–a microbrewery which just happened to serve high quality food.  Parents wanting their children to experience some of the very best pizza in the metropolitan area knew it meant subjecting them to the choking haze of cigarette smoke (before New Mexico banned smoking in restaurants),  the cacophonous din of adult beverage inspired revelry and sometimes long waits for a table to come available.  Those factors may have made the Turtle Mountain a less than family friendly environment.

This wasn’t lost on Ortiz who, in November, 2006, opened a larger, family-friendly Turtle Mountain location about half a mile away from its Rio Rancho birthplace.  Smoking isn’t permitted at the new location and the menu has expanded to include panini-style sandwiches, salads, appetizers and burgers heretofore unavailable to Rio Rancho residents.

Spin Dip

Turtle Mountain’s previous location (3755 Southern) is now home to the Fat Squirrel Bar & Grill, also owned by Nico Ortiz and his wife.  None of the inventiveness that has made Turtle Mountain a local favorite has been lost on the new restaurant and pub which launched in the summer of 2008.  In 2011, Ortiz joined the ranks of Duke City area restaurant impresarios with more than two restaurants when he launched Timbuctu Bistro in the city’s westernmost fringes. 

The guiding principle of Turtle Mountain Brewing Company is to provide the people of Rio Rancho and surrounding communities with delicious, high-quality foods and beverages at an affordable price in a comfortable, friendly environment. Turtle Mountain’s employees are encouraged to get to know customers by name. If this sounds like the show “Cheers,” it’s by design.  That’s how Nico wants it.

Niff Sticks – Pizza bread topped with bacon, garlic oil, jalapeños and mozzarella.

The Turtle Mountain’s appetizers include the Cochiti Combo, house-made tortilla chips with the terrific triumvirate of salsa, con queso and guacamole.  While the salsa recipe has changed over time (it used to have a sweet bite that had its genesis in sunflower seeds, a crunchy treat we’ve never seen before in salsa), it’s still quite good.  Its current rendition is much more piquant, a bit tangy and more akin to a pico de gallo.  The chile con queso is no longer the most piquant of the three saucy appetizers despite the prominent presence of jalapeno.  It’s still the velvety smooth, creamy guacamole that steals the show.

While several Albuquerque area restaurants offer calamari, it’s not Camel Rock Calamari with a pesto aioli and marinara.  The difference is that most restaurants feature the batter-coated, deep-fried squid in the shape of ringlets.  At Turtle Mountain, the calamari is Spanish rabas de calamar–deep-fried squid tentacles.  They’re of the thickness of human fingers and about twice the length.  They’re also tender and delicious with a light batter coating.  The pesto aioli and marinara are flavorful accompaniment, but not absolutely necessary as these calamari are quite tasty on their own.

The Adam Bomb

The Adam Bomb

The appetizer we’ve enjoyed least is Turtle Mountain’s hummus with triangles of pita bread.  That doesn’t mean it’s a bad hummus.  It is, in fact, a good hummus.  It’s just the type of hummus you might expect a brew pub to serve.  Where we found it lacking is in some of the subtle touches that the more practiced hands of a Mediterranean restaurant’s hummus chef would impart: the sheen of olive oil and lemon juice to provide moistness, a tad more garlic to provide fragrance and flavor.

The Turtle Mountain’s specials of the day sometimes surprise even frequent visitors.  One special imparting a dramatic effect is the Thai peanut soup, a thick, rich, comforting soup the flavor of which you normally don’t find in American restaurants, much less a brew pub.  This soup is comparable to the sweet peanut sauce often served with satay at Thai restaurants.  It is replete with vegetables such as onion, okra and tomato, all sliced small.  A bowl of this isn’t quite the swimming pool size of a Vietnamese pho, but one bowl is more than filling.

Buffalo Pizza: Chicken Tenders, Buffalo Wing Sauce, Tomatoes, Green Olives, Ranch Dressing

Another special of the day we hope will someday make it to the daily menu is a pizza called the Spicy Blue, a 12-inch canvass of peppercorn encrusted dough topped with a base of cream cheese blanketed by salty prosciutto and smoked jalapenos draped by melted mozzarella cheese.  It is a thing of beauty, more oblong than round with its sole hint of red coming from the prosciutto.  Its most prominent flavors are saltiness and heat, a palate-pleasing combination.

Not quite a pizza, but close to it is a curiously named starter called Niff Sticks, yet another special-of-the-day good enough to make the starting line-up for just about any other restaurant in town.  Niff sticks start off with the restaurant’s thin-crust dough which is then topped with garlic oil, bacon and jalapenos all covered by mozzarella.  Normally I don’t advocate a bread appetizer prior to having pizza, but this is just too good to pass up especially for bacon lovers who will love the generous portion of bacon in each bite.

Spicy Blue Pizza - Pepper encrusted dough, smoked jalapenos, prosciutto and mozzarella on a cream cheese base.

Spicy Blue Pizza – Pepper encrusted dough, smoked jalapenos, prosciutto and mozzarella on a cream cheese base.

Incomparable might be a good adjective for the pronounced roasted green chile taste you’ll find in all the Turtle Mountain’s pizzas.  Call it heresy if you will, but this restaurant’s pizzas are better than  just about all Duke City purveyors specializing in the thin-crust, gourmet ingredient genre.  Move over Il Vicino.  Stand aside Farina Pizzeria.  Surrender Scarpa’s.  Turtle Mountain’s pizza reigns supreme, particularly the Adam Bomb pizza (Mozzarella, pepperoni, green chile, sausage, spinach, pine nuts, sauce).  Not only does the green chile have the roasted taste New Mexico’s citizens demand, it’s got a bite to it.  It is truly the bomb!  If you want your bomb to be twice as explosive, ask for the Turtle Mountain’s cracked peppercorn crust.  Coupled with green chile, it’ll give your taste buds a thrill.

The pizzas are about twelve inches of thin-crusted deliciousness.  Though thin crust, they’re definitely not New York style with the type of pliability that allows you to fold them vertically.  The crust is painfully thin, stiff and crunchy in places, but it’s not overdone and has only hints of char.  It’s a great canvass for the creative ingredients offered at the Turtle Mountain.  Each pizza leaves its own unique imprint on your taste buds, quite unlike at some pizzerias where every pizza seems to be a cheese pizza whose sole taste differentiation comes from the different ingredients piled atop.  There is serious inventiveness going on at the Turtle Mountain.

The Cabezon

Some of those pizzas showcase the brew pub’s award winning brews.  One is the Ojo Caliente, a pizza crafted with Habanero stout barbecue sauce, mozzarella, chicken and Cheddar.  Some might consider barbecue sauce on a pizza a heretical concept, especially when topped with chicken.  The Ojo Caliente will make converts out of the nay-sayers.  First of all, the sauce is tangy, piquant and absolutely tongue-tingling delicious.  The chicken is shredded instead of cubed as served in some pizzas.  The two cheeses are complementary.

Perhaps the city’s best culinary collaboration is the pairing of barbecue and pizza on the restaurant’s Smokehouse BBQ Pizzas, a pizza partnership between the Turtle Mountain Brewing Company and Rio Rancho’s Smokehouse Barbecue Restaurant.  One pizza is topped with sliced pork, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and your choice of red or green chile.  Add a fried egg and you’d technically have an enchilada on a pizza.  The Smokehouse barbecue flavor profile is prominent on this pie with a very discernible hint of smoke.  The red chile packs a punch, moreso than the green chile, but both are a terrific alternative to tomato sauce.

Smokehouse BBQ Pizza

Smokehouse BBQ Pizza

The calzones are roughly the size of a flattened football and prepared in the same wood burning oven as are the pizzas.   In fact, you can have any of the restaurant’s signature pizzas made into a calzone.  The Adam Bomb calzone, for example, is made from the same ingredients as my favorite Turtle Mountain pizza.  They’re just packaged a bit differently.

Also available are five different “grinders,” the name given to sub sandwiches in New England.  For perspective, a grinder is essentially the same as a hero, hoagie, po boy, submarine, torpedo, wedge or zep.  It’s a large sandwich made of a long crusty roll split lengthwise and filled with meats and cheese (as well as sundry condiments such as tomato and onion).

The Adam Bomb on a calzone

The Sun Mountain grinder is constructed of turkey, ham, green chile, provolone, Cheddar, tomato, onion and garlic mayo on a hoagie roll.  It is served warm so that the melted cheese covers all the other ingredients.  Fortunately, the cheeses ameliorate, not cover-up the other ingredients.  This is an excellent sandwich, as filling as a Turtle Mountain pizza and as good as any sandwich you’ll find in the City of Vision.  The green chile and garlic mayo combination is especially flavorful.  There is a lot going on in this sandwich as in a lot of ingredients, a lot of flavor and a lot of sandwich!

The menu has several tempting burgers.  For a wonderful breath-wrecking and absolutely delicious burger, you can’t beat the El Rito.  This beauteous, bountiful burger is engorged with crisp bacon, fetid feta cheese and that rich, creamy guacamole the Turtle Mountain does so well.  It takes two hands to hold his burger and five or six napkins to wipe off your mouth; that’s how juicy this carnivore’s dream is.

Fish and chips

Fish and chips

Macaroni and cheese is yet another entree the Turtle Mountain does surprisingly well–so well that you’ll often see children eschewing pizza to partake of their favorite cheesy treat.  This is an adult mac and cheese made with a blend of five cheeses, the most prevalent being Cheddar.  It’s not an especially creamy mac and cheese, but that also means it’s not as oleaginous as some macaroni and cheese tends to be. 

The fish and chips at the Fat Squirrel Pub & Grill may be the very best in the area (just ask Bob of the Village People, the most prolific commentator on this blog).  Its sibling restaurant, the Turtle Mountain, is a chip off the old block.  Three golden-hued, flaky Alaskan cod planks are dipped in the house beer batter then deep-fried and served with house-made malt vinegar and tartar sauce.  The batter is light and crisp, the flesh firm to the fork and the chips soft, but not flaccid.

Ruidoso Ribs

15 April 2018:

It’s rare that anyone has much room left for dessert, but if you do, the Turtle Mountain menu includes several popular choices, the local favorite of which is probably the Carrizozo Apple Calzone (caramelized apple calzone fried golden then topped with sugar, cinnamon and caramel sauce with vanilla ice cream). Another cloying option is the Roundtop Reese’s Cookie (freshly baked oversized cookie with Reese’s Pieces topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce). If you weren’t stuffed before having dessert, you certainly will be when you’re done with the sweetness.

Large peanut butter cookie with Reese’s Pieces topped with Vanilla Ice Cream

Luke’s Root Beer Web page indicated the Turtle Mountain’s root beer is one kids would love (translation: it’s pretty sweet) and rated it 15th among 71 root beer brewed throughout America.  Well, this overgrown kid certainly did love that root beer–it washed down some excellent food.  Alas, both that wonderful root beer and the Turtle Mountain’s heady cream soda (which had a sarsaparilla goodness rare in soda) are no longer offered, the consequence of doing business with Coke.

Turtle Mountain Brewing
3755 Southern Blvd.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 994-9497
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 April 2018
# OF VISITS: 21
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Adam Bomb Pizza, The Chimayo Pizza, Root Beer, Calzone, The Ojo Caliente, Thai Peanut Soup, Cream Soda, The Sun Mountain Grinder, Smokehouse BBQ Pizza, Fish and Chips

Turtle Mountain Brewing Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Stack House BBQ – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Stack House Barbecue in Rio Rancho

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

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

Long lines queue up for terrific ‘cue

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

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

Pit Master Extraordinaire Greg Janke Slices Brisket with Surgical Precision

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

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

Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs

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

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

Half Chicken

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

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

Sides: Green Beans and Potato Salad

7 October 2016: You won’t mind getting your hands dirty handling the baby back ribs on which Greg’s magical rub is liberally applied.  These ribs are messy and they’re magnificent, each meaty morsel pried away easily from the bone.  They’re not fall-off-the-bone tender, having just the right amount of give that signifies the perfect degree of doneness.  Make no bones about it, these baby back ribs are (as Larry would say) competition-worthy, needing neither sauce nor amelioration to improve upon them.   The sauce, by the way, is terrific, a sweet and tangy complement to the richly satisfying smokiness of the ribs.

7 October 2016: With the emphasis on pork and brisket, chicken is often a sorry afterthought at some barbecue establishments.  Not so at the Stack House where the full-flavored half-chicken is a main-event item.  Quite simply, it’s fantastic, some of the very best we’ve had in New Mexico!  Peel back the blackened skin (delicious in its own right) and you’ll be rewarded with moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat chicken…and there’s plenty of it.  A nice-sized half-chicken (breast, thigh and leg) won’t leave much for sharing–not that you’ll want to.  Update: Because the half-chicken didn’t always sell out, Greg decided to offer chicken thighs instead.  Aside from being the most moist part of the chicken, chicken thighs don’t have to spend as much time on the smoker as half chickens.

Frito Pie

In November 2016, Stackhouse began offering daily specials from Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday’s child is a pulled pork sandwich.  On Thursday, it’s a chicken sandwich.  Friday features beef back ribs (a whole pound) though you’re well advised to get them early.  When we attempted to order beef back ribs on December 2nd, 2016, Greg apprised us that on that very date, my friend Sr. Plata ordered two portions for lunch and took home another for dinner.  Sr. Plata enjoys the Stackhouse’s beef ribs so much, he may move in…at least on Fridays.  But I digress.  Saturday’s special is three baby back ribs while Sunday, it’s Frito pie.  All daily specials are value priced.

2 December 2016: New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie. The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat. Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it sometimes looks like a healthy lettuce and onion salad when prepared by some restaurants. Underneath the lettuce and chopped onions, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips.  At the Stack House, Greg dispenses with all the offending lettuce, tomatoes and onions.  Instead, this Frito Pie is constructed with only the good parts–lots of Fritos corn chips, ground beef, chile and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese.   The chile has a nice bite, just enough to get your notice.  This is a fat-fest all New Mexicans will enjoy.

Three Meat Platter: Brisket, Chicken Thighs and Pork

2 December 2016: For a veritable meatfest, your best bet is a three meat platter (pictured above).  Kim, my carnivorous better-half will vouch for the brisket, chicken thighs and pulled pork.  Though a half chicken would be her preference, the chicken thighs make for a good consolation prize.  They’re moist, tender and delicious with a light smokiness.  The best of the three may well be the brisket which is shredded and pulls apart easily.  As with brisket in Central Texas, the cradle of Southwest barbecue, this isn’t the most lean of brisket.  It’s got just enough fat for flavor.  Tender tendrils of deliciousness define the shredded pork, a tangle of white and dark meat.  All three meats are lightly smoked and are perfect vehicles for the Stack House barbecue sauce.

2 December 2016: My Kim has often threatened to take away my man card, especially when we prepare steak at home or order it at a restaurant.  While she immediately–and with great zest–attacks the steak, my focal point is usually a loaded baked potato with plenty of melting butter, sour cream and shredded cheese.  The Stack House does one better than local steak houses.  First, the baked potatoes are smoked–lightly impregnated with hickory-cherry smoky goodness.  Secondly, you can load them up with the aforementioned baked potato suspects and with your choice of smoked meat.  The pulled pork is a magnificent choice for the smoked baked potato.  You’ll wish all your baked potatoes were similar endowed.

Smoked Baked Potato with Pulled Pork

7 October 2016: Great barbecue restaurants know that to provide an excellent full-meal experience, smoked meats must be accompanied by worthy sides.  Stack House has a two-tiered pricing model for its sides, the most expensive being three dollars.  Sides are served on Styrofoam vessels and are generously portioned.  The potato salad may evoke memories of picnic meals long gone.  It’s a mayonnaise-based potato salad with a pleasant mustardy-vinegary tang.  Alas, the green beans could use a few bits and pieces of smoked meats and maybe a pinch of salt.  Much better is the cherry cobbler, replete with whole cherries and a crumbly and delicious crust. 

18 February 2018:  One of the best kept secrets in the Albuquerque metropolitan area may be just how good the Stack House breakfast burritos are.  My Kim who prefers hand-held breakfast burritos to the more ubiquitous smothered burritos believes these are the very best in New Mexico.   The Stack House’s basic breakfast burrito is stuffed with hash browns, eggs and cheese.   You can then add bacon, sausage, brisket or pulled pork (the brisket reigns!).  Of course, you’ll want either (or both) red or green chile.  While my own loyalties tend to lie with the more complex nuances of red chile, Greg’s green chile is in rarefied air as some of the very best in the area.  It’s magnificent!  Too piquant for my Kim, it titillates my taste buds–doubly so when I squeeze in some of the Stack House’s peppery, sweet, tangy barbecue sauce.  Folgers got it wrong.  These are the best reason to get up in the morning.

Breakfast Burrito

18 February 2018:  America’s ideological divide dominates the airwaves when what we really should be deliberating is hard-shell or soft tacos.  Though I’d never kick any taco off my table, count me among the aficionados of the latter.  The Stack House’s breakfast soft tacos (egg and cheese on a soft flour tortilla) are among the main reasons why.  As with the burritos, you can add bacon, sausage, pulled pork or brisket along with red and (or) green chile.  It goes without saying that the green chile will leave all others envious and the brisket is such a complementary flavor it may awaken your taste buds.   Once available only Saturday and Sunday, the Stack House’s breakfast is so popular, it’s now available Wednesday through Sunday from 8AM through noon.

If you live in the Albuquerque metropolitan area and your cable or satellite package doesn’t include the Cooking Channel, you’d be forgiven if you shed a few tears on Thursday, November 9, 2017 when you missed the Stack House BBQ being showcased.  In an episode entitled Carnival Eats, Greg created Stack House’s mountainous triple stack sandwich (brisket, pork and jalpeño sausage topped with slaw and barbecue sauce on a hoagie roll).  Sadly because the show is still being aired on reruns, it’s not yet available online.  Not even Greg himself has seen the program for want of the Cooking Channel.  If you haven’t discovered for yourself why television food and cooking shows are visiting Rio Rancho, you owe it to yourself to see why the Stack House is a star.

Breakfast Soft Taco

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

Stack House BBQ
4000 Barbara Loop, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 903-7516
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2018
1ST VISIT: 29 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Half Chicken, Cherry Cobbler, Apple Cobbler, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken Thighs, Frito Pie, Smoked Baked Potato, Breakfast Burrito, Breakfast Taco

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

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