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Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

The Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub in Rio Rancho

If you’ve ever wondered why the term “pink elephants” has long been recognized as a euphemism for a drunken hallucination, credit author Jack London. In his autobiographical tome, he described himself as “the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants.”

When we first heard of the Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub in Rio Rancho, we wondered if it, too, was  a euphemism for adult beverage overindulgence.  Frankly, the reason behind the name is almost as good as Jack London’s euphemism.  The sobriquet was bestowed upon co-owner Peter Apers by his mentor as he was teaching Apers to play the blues on guitar.  One of that mentor’s favorite television personalities was Caine, the David Carradine character in Kung Fu whom the Shaolin master called “grasshopper.”  Hence “Blues Grasshopper.”

The cozy, comfy confines of the Blue Grasshopper

In 2014, Livability.com named the Duke City as “America’s best mid-sized city in the country for beer.”  With nearly thirty brewery and tap room restaurants (as of this writing), Albuquerque metropolitan area  cerevisaphiles certainly have their pick as to where to imbibe their favorite beer.  Initially the Blue Grasshopper served beers from other local breweries, but with the advent of a new year (2015), they now have their own beer on tap. 

So besides its name, what distinguishes the Blue Grasshopper from all the competition?  Two things come to mind immediately.  The first is the nightly live entertainment showcasing the best in local talent in several genres: pop, rock, jazz, country and more.  The second is pizza, nine twelve-inch pies prepared in a wood-fired oven imported from Italy.   There isn’t much else on the menu and what there is might best be described as “bar snacks.”

Bar Snack

As long as there have been bars, pubs, taverns, bodegas and beer halls, there have been bar snacks, the type of which are served at the Blue Grasshopper.  Salty and flavorful, these bar snacks are intended to make you want more adult beverages.  A bowl of these bar snacks features pretzel sticks, hard and dry pumpernickel and rye bread pieces; and cheesy, salty and garlicky bite-sized pieces of goodness that will tide you over until your pizza is out of the oven. 

Although you can choose all the ingredients with which to build your own pizza, the nine pies on the menu will sate most of us.  Pies range from the simple (cheese pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella) to the gourmet (chicken pesto with pesto sauce, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella and chicken).  Hatch green chile can be added to any of them.  All pizzas are made-to-order.

The Margherita

If you want the pizza that started it all, you’ll order the Blue Grasshopper’s version of the Margherita (tomato sauce, garlic, fresh basil, mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sliced fresh tomato).  It’s a pretty basic pizza which would be improved with even more fresh basil.  The crust has a light char and is is chewy, but formidable enough to hold up against the weight of copious ingredients. The combination of tomato sauce and fresh, sliced tomatoes is a nice touch as is the cheese blend.

Copious ingredients is what you’ll find on Greg’s Special, a pie topped with pepperoni, spicy Italian sausage, black olives, green olives, Hatch green chile, tomato sauce and mozzarella.  What a pleasant surprise to enjoy both black and green olives with all their similarities and dissimilar flavor properties.  The Hatch green chile has a nice roasted flavor and just enough piquancy to be discernible.  The olives, green chile and tomato sauce are all acidic with only the mozzarella and crust to temper those properties.  Still, it’s an excellent pizza.

Greg’s Special

Launched in October, 2014, the Blue Grasshopper occupies the space which previously housed a Quizno’s Sandwich Restaurant.  No vestiges of the previous tenant remain in the  formerly narrow and long retail strip center space which has been expanded to 2,000 square-feet with a seating capacity of 60 or so. Long gone are the sandwich assembly stations and bread ovens. In their place is a single pizza oven imported from Italy.  It’s a pizza oven from which emerge pizzas cerevisaphiles and pizza aficionados will enjoy.

Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub
4500 Arrowhead Ridge Drive, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 463-3169
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 February 2015
# OF VIS
ITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Margherita Pizza, Greg’s Special, Snack Mix

Blue Grasshopper on Urbanspoon

Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Never mind the signage.  This is the home of Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho

Imagine a world without sandwiches! That daunting premise would make a pretty fatalistic post-apocalyptic movie in which Dystopian societies exist in a nightmare of deprivation, hopelessness, terror and processed food rations (Soylent Green anyone?).  No sandwiches–it’s just too incomprehensible to imagine, especially considering everywhere you turn there’s another Subway.  Frankly, my own post-apocalyptic nightmare would be a world in which Subway and other restaurants of that ilk are the only option for sandwiches.  Like the indestructible roach, chain restaurants would survive even a nuclear cataclysm.

Alas, my personal post-apocalyptic hell is closer to reality than you might suspect.  CHD Expert, the worldwide leader in collecting, managing and analyzing food service industry data reports that the sacrosanct sandwich, one of America’s iconic foods, is dominated by chains.  It’s not even close.  A bleak analysis indicates chains account for 90.4 percent of the sandwich market landscape while independent sandwich restaurants represent only 9.6 percent.  That type of dominance hasn’t been experienced since Mike Locksley coached the UNM Lobo football team.

The counter at which you order. Notice the large neophrine sandwich hanging overhead

CHD Expert’s analysis reveals that Subway is the “largest chain restaurant in America in terms of number of locations with over 26,000 units.”  Beyond the fruited plain there are over 10,000 Subway restaurants operating in more than 100 countries.  Subway ranks behind only McDonald’s (18,710) and KFC (11,798) among the ten most prolific fast food chains in the world.  Lest you fall for Subway’s Madison Avenue propaganda about its healthful menu, in 2010 the sandwich behemoth earned a rather dubious honor (is it any wonder I fear the white and yellow logo).   

Knowing all of these facts, perhaps the premise with which I began this essay should be rewritten to “imagine a world without independent sandwich restaurants.”  Let’s make it even easier to imagine by limiting that premise to sandwich restaurants specializing in subs.  At the risk of sounding gloomy, that world may soon be here…at least in the Duke City.  Think about it.  How many independent, mom-and-pop sub sandwich restaurants can you name in the Duke City area?  There aren’t many, folks. 

Meatball Parm Sub

When a new, independent, mom-and-pop sub sandwich restaurant opens its doors, it’s an event warranting a celebration.  Heck, when you pass by an independent mom-and-pop sandwich shop, a snappy salute should immediately be followed by a U-turn and visit.  April, 2011 saw the launch of L.A. Subs in a nondescript strip shopping center on Golf Course Road in Rio Rancho.  The initials L.A. didn’t represent the City of Angels, but rather the first names of owner Linda (L) Lorens-Martin and her mother Ann (A).  It wasn’t easily visible from the street and only simple signage told you it existed.

Despite its obfuscated location and virtually no advertising, L.A. Subs acquired a pretty significant and loyal clientele.  It wasn’t even listed on Urbanspoon until months had elapsed after its opening.  Visitors learned about it solely through word of mouth from satisfied customers.  You got the impression that’s the way Linda wanted it.  Her menu, scrawled by marker on a white board, was hardly a compendium of every sub sandwich and side conceivable, listing only a handful of subs, sandwiches and salads.  Specials of the day were listed on a smaller white board behind the counter at which you place your order.  Suspended behind that counter is a gigantic neoprene sub sandwich, a depiction so accurate it may make your mouth water.

Steak and Cheese Sub

Two years later, word on the street was of a merger between L.A. Subs and a newcomer named Alicea’s N.Y. Bagels, a bi-coastal sounding operation if ever there was one.  In addition to the subs with which City of Vision residents had fallen in love, they could now get fresh, New York-style bagels (and isn’t Rio Rancho often referred to as “Little New York?”) and fresh coffee.  Today, external signage still reads “L.A. Subs” but all other references for the 1,200 square-foot sub restaurant indicate it’s “Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs.”  

Alicea is Frenchy Alicea, a Connecticut native who relocated to Rio Rancho with Hewlett-Packard (HP).  Although HP offered to move Frenchy to its operations in Georgia, he had already established roots in the Rio Rancho community and decided to stay.  Besides, he wanted to transition out of his engineering career into a culinary career and in his spare time had already been working with Linda at L.A. Subs. 

Italian (ham, salami, roast beef and cheese)

Italian (ham, salami, roast beef and cheese)

If there’s one part of the country that knows subs, it’s the East Coast.  You can find phenomenal subs from Maine to Delaware.  Independent mom-and-pop sub sandwich shops rule the East Coast.  Rio Rancho’s New York transplants echo similar sentiment about bagels, arguing that a good bagel can’t be found west of the Hudson River.  Not even in New York City, however, are bagels delivered to your door.  You read that correctly.  Alicea’s will deliver the bagels which are made the old-fashioned way.  Frenchy calls them “real NY bagels” and the subs “real subs,” emphasis on the real.

Subs are available in two sizes: large and small.  A small sub at Alicea’s is as large as a large sub at the aforementioned chain.  A large sub easily exceeds a foot.  They’re made with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, cheese and Italian dressing.  They’re also accompanied by thick kettle chips and a single pickle spear.  On paper, some of the subs are hold-overs from the L.A. Subs days, but you’ll quickly discover they’re “real” subs, the way they’re made on the East Coast.  They’re bulging behemoths bursting with meats and cheeses.  Oh, and the meats aren’t pre-measured and extricated from hermetically sealed plastic.  The bread is soft and chewy, the perfect repository for high quality ingredients.

18 August 2014: During my inaugural visit since the transition to Alicea’s, the sub calling loudest was a meatball parm sub.  You know it’s an East Coast sandwich if it’s called a “meatball parm” sub.  Everywhere else it’s just a “meatball sub.”  The “parm” is “alla Parmigiana,” because of the cheese.  Alicea’s doubles your fromage fantasy by also adding Provolone.  The cheese is molten, melted deliciousness which blankets the meaty (no adjective better describes them) meatballs.  The meatballs are large orbs and each sub half is loaded with them.  They’re covered in a superbly seasoned sauce, the type of which East Coast Italian restaurants excel. 

18 August 2014: In New England the steak and cheese sub is practically a religion.  No doubt Bostonians were up in arms when Subway introduced their version, an ostensibly flavorless (speculation here) calorific overachiever.  Though there are similarities, steak and cheese subs should not be mistaken with Philly Cheesesteak subs.  At Alicea’s, the steak and cheese sub is crafted from good quality steak cut painfully thin, glistening sweet fried onions, soft melting cheese and a soft, chewy sub roll.  It’s an excellent sandwich sure to be loved by expatriate New Englanders.

Bread Pudding, my weakness

26 September 2014: On September 16, 2014, Alicea’s added a “Real Philly Cheese Steak & Cheese” to the daily menu with a Facebook announcement indicating “Don’t settle for any of the cheap fake wannabes in town get a real one!” That’s a rather audacious claim considering the metropolitan Duke City area has several purveyors of excellent Phillys.  Alicea’s rendition is the closest to the version invented in 1931 by Pat Oliveri in the City of Brotherly Love.  Thinly sliced sautéed ribeye beef, slivers of fresh green pepper and lots of gooey melted cheese make it Philadelphia-like.  Green chile gives it that New Mexico touch. The ultra-rich molten cheese makes the sandwich so rich you may not be able to finish it in one sitting.

26 September 2014: It became a running joke among the Intel cafeteria staff when my friend Bill had his daily breakfast of a bagel and green chile schmear.  He may as well have used a trowel or shovel to pile on the schmear.  If you didn’t get to the schmear before he did, there may not be any left.  Bill will enjoy the green chile schmear, preferably on a green chile bagel, at Alicea’s.  The bagel is soft and chewy with flecks of nicely roasted green chile punctuating it throughout.  Similarly, the rich cream cheese is imbued with the piquant greatness of New Mexico green chile.  Can there be any better combination than a green chile bagel with green chile schmear?

Green Chile Bagel with Green Chile Schmear

As she transitioned L.A. Subs to Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs, Linda imparted her bread pudding recipe to Frenchy.  Great move!  The bread pudding is thick, buttery and delicious, topped with brown sugar and walnuts which provide a savory contrast to the rich, gooey, buttery sweetness. I don’t know if it would make Larry McGoldrick’s bread pudding hall of fame, but I’m betting he’d like it.  Make sure you ask Frenchy to heat it up for you and to top it with a pad of butter for a sweet-salty contrast you’ll enjoy. 

The bleak post-apocalyptic scenario I posed in which there are no independent mom-and-pop sub sandwich shops will hopefully never come to pass.  This can best be assured by supporting local gems such as Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho.

Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs
1009 Golf Course Road
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-4455
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 September 2014
1st VISIT:  4 August 2011
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET:  Bread Pudding, Meatball Parm Sub, Steak and Cheese Sub, Italian Sub, Green Chile Bagel with Green Chile Schmear

L.A. Subs on Urbanspoon

NM Rodeo Burgers – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)

NM Rodeo Burgers In Rio Rancho

“Traveling with the rodeo
It’s the only life I’ll ever know
I started in New Mexico
Must have been a thousand years ago.”
~Lyrics to “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” by Paul Davis

Although my friends and I were all fairly accomplished horse riders in the svelte and carefree days of our youth, Peñasco didn’t have a high school rodeo team so we couldn’t show off our skills in the arena of competition.  Instead we entertained ourselves with such non-sanctioned “rodeo” events as hand-fishing for bottom-feeding suckers and tossing them into a chicken coop where a frenzied take-away melee would ensue with feathers and fish entrails flying.  We also enjoyed tossing wet bailing wire into electrical wires overhead.  if done right, the bailing wire returned to earth a smoldering ashen heap reminiscent of snake fireworks. 

Risking life and limb with thousands of volts of electrical current was child’s play compared to riding rambunctious young bulls who would invariably toss us to the ground with impunity.  My days of bull riding ended when a recalcitrant bull was spooked by a horse who aimed a kick at my flank, leaving me no recourse but to jump off into a fresh, fetid pile of horse and cow sh…er, excrement.  Memories of walking home to face my mom covered head-to-toe in manure were rekindled when a Burger King commercial for its new “rodeo burger” aired.  It wasn’t the brawny beef on the hoof we rode I associated with that commercial, but the dung pile into which I fell.  That’s the “appeal” chain restaurants seem to have with me.

The Rodeo Burgers Menu

I did a double-take when first spotting the NM Rodeo Burgers restaurant in Rio Rancho.  My first thought was of the maverick rodeo days of my youth then of America’s eagerly litigious society and its affinity for copyright infringement lawsuits.  A quick Google search revealed a number of Rodeo Burgers throughout the fruited plain and even Canada so copyright shouldn’t be an issue.  Side note: Even though Rio Rancho can’t claim the very first Rodeo Burgers restaurant across the fruited plain, the Land of Enchantment is one of several claimants to having held the very first rodeo in America.  That rodeo transpired in Santa Fe some 65 years before New Mexico joined the Union. Take that Texas!

The NM Rodeo Burgers is more a “joint” than a “restaurant.”  There are no indoor sit-down amenities save for a handful of concrete picnic tables where you can dine al fresco (or “al viento” on windy days).  To place your order, you can either drive up or walk up to the counter at the front of the edifice which once housed a  Weinerschnitzel (which long ago misplaced its “Der”).   While its address (900 36th Place, N.E.) may sound residential and unfamiliar, look for it off Southern Boulevard in the same cul-de-sac which is home to the Turtle Mountain Brewery.

The Rodeo Burgers Unique Hamburger Menu

The Rodeo Burgers menu (pictured above) may be limited in terms of sheer numbers, but for sheer variety look within the burgers themselves.  The Cowboy Burger, for example, includes spam and green bell peppers, two ingredients not often found in burgers around these parts.  The 8 Second Burger is even more uniquely adorned.  If you’re inclined to think these burgers were designed by a rodeo clown, you really need to lasso one before passing judgment.  

You’d think that with my personal rodeo experiences, my inaugural burger would have been the 8 Second Burger (in the rodeo vernacular, eight seconds is the length of time a rider should remain on a bucking bull for it to be considered a good ride).  Even cowboys start with baby steps, ergo the Cowboy Burger.  What caused me most trepidation is actually one of the best aspects of this burger.  That would be the Spam (ukuleles playing Home on the Range in the background) which, though a bit salty, complemented the beef very well.  The green chile, described as mild chopped green chile, actually has more bite than found in most green chile cheeseburgers.  The beef patty extended beyond the sesame seed buns and the burger was made fresh to order.  On the debits and credits side of the ledger, these were the credits.

The Cowboy Burger

On the debits side, the beef is prepared at medium-well, a degree of doneness which almost always means desiccated beef (no napkins necessary).  The green peppers are sliced into rather thick ribbons which makes them more prevalent an ingredient than all but the most ardent green pepper lovers would enjoy. The lettuce was a bit wilted.   Still, this is a burger I’ll order again if only to confirm how good Spam can be on a burger. 

The same can’t be said for the Rancher, a hot dog whose composition isn’t described on the drive-up menu.  Certainly the ranching profession is far from glamorous, but a restaurant creative enough to add Spam to a burger can certainly gussy up a hot dog with exciting and innovative ingredients.  Alas, upon wrapping the Rancher at home, it was nothing more than a toasted bun with a sliced hot dog.  No mustard.  No onions.  No relish.  No sense of rodeo adventure.  If the ordering protocol is to stipulate the ingredients with which you want your hot dog prepared, it certainly wasn’t described anywhere.  Grrrrr!

The Rancher

Rodeo Burgers shows some imagination and creativity in its menu, but must perform well on every single order or discerning diners won’t return.

NM Rodeo Burgers
900 36th Place, N.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT:  5 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:Cowboy Burger

Nm Rodeo Burgers on Urbanspoon