Freight House Kitchen & Tap – Bernalillo, New Mexico

The Freight House in Bernalillo

Many of us look at an unused and timeworn historical building and a wave of nostalgia sweeps over us as we imagine what life was like when that building teemed with activity. Some see such a building as a pig in need of lipstick, nothing a coat of paint and a few nails can’t fix up. Others see that same edifice as having served its purpose, a structure which should be razed to make room for a modern complex. Still others view a weathered building as a thing of beauty from which they draw inspiration. For restaurant impresario Matt DiGregory, driving by the Santa Fe Freight House nearly two decades ago planted the seed for an idea that took years to germinate.

The long-time owner of The Range Café and Standard Diner drew inspiration from the two story Mission-Revival façade, envisioning it as the potential site of a restaurant with the thematic look and feel of the railroad industry which once thrived in Albuquerque. Because of the historical nature of the building, DiGregory was unable to realize that particular dream at that particular location. In 2015, he did the next best thing, launching The Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room, a restaurant inspired by the grand Santa Freight House. The restaurant is located in the yawning complex which previously housed the Flying Star on Bernalillo’s heavily trafficked Camino Del Pueblo. Fittingly, the Freight House Kitchen is in close proximity to the town’s Railrunner stop.

Pickled Veggies

It’s easy to see why the Santa Fe Freight House was such an inspiration to DiGregory. Though constructed some seven decades ago and currently in disuse, the Santa Fe Freight House remains an impressive structure. Located on First Street practically beneath Lead Avenue, the building is emblazoned with red neon signage which reads “Santa Fe Freight House” flanked by the words “Rail” and “Truck.” Lintels, window sills, base and canals are made of concrete while the stucco is a greyish adobe. The Freight House was one of the last additions to the sprawling railyard made by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. It is on the National Historic Register.

The halcyon days of the railroad is revisited at DiGregory’s Freight House Kitchen, a bustling establishment with 176-seating spaces on two levels and two expansive patios. Even the restaurant’s logo is thematic, depicting a locomotive engine designated “FR8” barreling down the track. Framed vintage photographs of life around the railyards festoon the brick walls, but the true masterpiece is a painting of the restaurant’s historic namesake. Even the wait staff gets into the act, sporting shirts emblazoned with clever play-on-words slogans such as “The Chew Chew Crew” and “We Smoke The Good Stuff.”

Tempura Green Beans with Manchego

The Freight House Web site purports to “raise the bar on bar food,” showcasing gastropub fare–high quality, freshly prepared food several orders of magnitude superior to the stereotypical pub grub of yore. During the railroad’s prosperous past, you could find food of this caliber near a railyard only at Fred Harvey establishments. The menu is very eclectic, offering both “chili” and “chile” (and you thought never the twain shall meet) as well as a number of sandwiches, burgers, plates and smoked items. Brunch is served on Sundays from 9AM to 3PM.

If appetizers are the preamble to a great meal, The Freight House’s “Snacks,” an inventive array of comfort food starters, will get you started on the right foot. The Snacks menu has so many intriguing options, in fact, that ordering two…or ten would constitute a very good meal. Our early favorite is the pickled veggies, a colorful mélange of pickled al dente vegetables (crisp carrots, cauliflower, green beans and celery) arranged artfully on a rectangular plate. Sometimes pickling vegetables brings out the worse in them, particularly when those vegetables are imbued with lip-pursing sour properties that take away their native freshness and flavor. Among the pickling spices used by the Freight House chef are cardamom and juniper berries, two aromatics with strong, distinctive flavors. They impart an invigorating quality to the vegetables that you’ll enjoy immensely even if you think you don’t like vegetables.

Smoked Bison Meatloaf

Another Freight House appetizer, the tempura green beans with Manchego, is almost a polar opposite to the pickled vegetables. Where the pickled vegetables are garden-fresh and crisp, this fried dish is crispy in other ways. Green beans are sheathed with a light tempura batter and fried to a crispy texture then sprinkled generously with shredded Manchego, a mild, nutty-flavored Spanish cheese. The green beans are served with a creamy green chile ranch dressing with a little kick and lots of flavor. Reflecting on the Freight House’s Snacks menu, you have to wonder if the chef isn’t consciously also trying to get children of all ages to eat their vegetables…and we would if they all tasted this good.

From the smoker, you’ll find such summer favorites as baby back ribs, beer canned chicken, smoked prime rib (Friday and Saturday nights) and a smoked bison meatloaf served with garlic mashed potatoes topped with a barbecue glaze and green beans. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes is a comfort food combination favorite that has made generations pine for a nap immediately after consuming a plateful or two. Being a very lean meat, bison offers a slightly different textural experience than beef, but its sweeter, more intense flavor more than makes up for any textural difference. A tangy barbecue sauce is slathered on generously to imbue the meatloaf with a summery, smoky feel. You’ll want to ask for the restaurant’s green chile gravy (maybe even an extra portion) to enliven the mashed potatoes. It’s an excellent green chile gravy.

BBQ Beer Can Chicken with Mac and Cheese and Garlic Green Beans

Beer can chicken—sometimes called chicken on a throne or dancing chicken—earns its name because of its preparation style. An entire chicken is placed over an opened, partially-filled can of beer. The chicken must be placed on a grill in an upright position in order for this dish to work. The heat of the grill warms the can, causing the beer inside to evaporate. Ostensibly, the beer, now in gaseous state, fills the inside of the chicken, imparting moistness and flavor to the chicken. While it may disappoint some diners that you don’t taste the beer at all, most of us are in it for the chicken, not the beer. The Freight House’s BBQ beer can chicken is indeed moist and tender with a mild smokiness. Few things go better with beer can chicken than mac n’ cheese, a rich, molten, cheesy version the restaurant does well.

The Freight House dessert menu is a winner, offering a number of innovative options that will make choosing a challenge. If it’s on the menu, one unique and delicious option is the olive oil rosemary ice cream cake topped with a peach compote. Ice cream is made on the premises in flavors that go well beyond vanilla and chocolate. Olive oil and rosemary is one such example. Too much rosemary and it could overwhelm the flavor profile. The olive oil also poses textural challenges. Kudos to the chef for optimizing the proportions of each ingredient to create a deliciously decadent (without being overly rich) ice cream . The peach compote serves as a very nice foil.

Olive Oil Rosemary Ice Cream Cake with Peach Compote

If a visit to the Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room doesn’t inspire you to travel the rails, it will inspire you to come back to see what the inventive kitchen staff is cooking up. It’s bound to be good.

Freight House Kitchen & Tap
200 South Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 588-2143
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pickled Veggies, Tempura Green Beans with Manchego, Bison Meatloaf, Olive Oil Rosemary Ice Cream Cake, BBQ Bear Can Chicken

Freight House Kitchen & Tap Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Antojitos Lupe – Bernalillo, New Mexico

Antojitos Lupe Authentic Mexican Cuisine in Bernalillo

Gustavo Arellano, the brilliant and hilarious author of Ask a Mexican, a widely syndicated newspaper column published mostly in weekly alternative papers, has become one of my go-to sources of entertainment and information, particularly regarding our common and beloved Spanish lexicon.  His inimitable wit and perspective is amusing and enlightening.  Take for example his translation of the word “antojitos.”

in an article published in his parent newspaper, the Orange County Weekly, Arellano observes that “the Spanish menu entry antojitos translates as “appetizers,” but the expression connotes more than mere snacks. It derives from the noun antojo, which describes the cravings unique to pregnant women. Antojitos, then, is “little cravings,” and Latinos know that their before-the-main-meal bites should be so appetizing that expectant females snarl at husbands to seek these delights at ungodly hours.”

Antojitos Lupe Dining Room

Expectant mothers snarling! Ungodly hours!  Obviously antojitos should be good enough to elicit the type of carnal response usually reserved for something more than special…something great.  One could surmise that in a sense, antojitos are the Mexican equivalent of dim sum, but where antojitos translates to “little cravings,” dim sum translates to “a bit of heart” or “heart’s delight.”  In either case, Mexicans are passionate about their antojitos which in every sense are a heart’s delight.

Barry Popik, food etymologist extraordinaire explains in his fabulous blog that the word “antojitos” has been cited in American newspapers since at least 1937.  He credits Claudia Alarcon writing for  Chefs.com for shedding more light on the topic of antojitos: “Perhaps the most difficult group of dishes to explain in all of Mexican cuisine, antojitos are best described as small dishes that are meant to be consumed informally, either from street vendors at lunchtime, in cantinas with drinks before dinner, or at home or in the street as late night snacks.”

Salsa and Chips

In October, 2009, a new restaurant named Antojitos Lupe opened on the ill-fated corner of Camino del Pueblo and Avenida Bernalillo, a corner which has seen many restaurants come and go, all in short order.  The site’s previous tenant was Charlie’s Burgers & Mexican Food which lasted less than a year in that location.  Antojitos Lupe, it turns out, is the second instantiation of a popular and similarly named restaurant in the Duke City.  Lupe’s Antojitos and Mexican food on Zuni Road has been pleasing palates in southeast Albuquerque since 2007.  There are several other Mexican restaurants in that area, but Lupe’s has established a faithful following.  One reason might just be Lupe herself.  She is a delightful woman with a luminous smile and happy glow reserved almost exclusively for her Bernalillo restaurant.  She rarely visits her Albuquerque restaurant, but leaves it in the hands of a trusted staff on whom she relies to provide high quality victuals and service.

In Bernalillo, Antojitos Lupe has no competition from other Mexican restaurants and in fact, only a half-dozen or so restaurants of any kind call the City of Coronado home.  As such, when the corner complex which housed Lupe’s shuttered its doors in 2013, savvy diners went into mourning.  Our sorrow was short-lived because on October 30, 2013, Antojitos Lupe launched in a shiny new strip mall off heavily trafficked Highway 550.  Lupe’s, a veritable compendium of deliciousness from Central Mexico, was back and for that, we are extremely grateful.

Tostada de Ceviche

17 October 2009: Tostada de Ceviche

Contrary to the name on the marquee, the menu isn’t solely about appetizers.  There are a number of breakfast, lunch and dinner entrees available.  As you contemplate the menu, a complementary bowl of salsa with thick, crispy chips is brought to your table.  The salsa may be a nearly luminescent neon green tomatillo based salsa (called salsa verde) or it may be a thin, fiery red salsa.  The tomatillo salsa is only mildly piquant, but most definitely fresh tasting.  More prevalent flavor sensations come from the tanginess of limes and the sharp, fresh flavor of cilantro.  It’s a very good salsa, a bit on the watery side, but the chips are formidable enough to hold large quantities of it.  The chips are thick, crisp and low in salt.

A rotating array of Aguas frescas (including Pina, Jamaica and Horchata) to slake your thirst are served in Styrofoam cups.  If you wish to reduce your carbon footprint, try an ice cold bottle of Jarritos, the famous Mexican soda pops which come in nine delicious and colorful fruit flavors: Tamarind, Mandarin, Fruit Punch, Jamaica, Lime, Grapefruit, Guava, Pineapple and Strawberry.  The horchata is cold and delicious with a flavor more than vaguely reminiscent of the milk left over after eating a bowl of children’s breakfast cereal.  The pina (pineapple) is even better.

Huarache con carne asada

Huarache con carne asada

17 October 2009: It wouldn’t be a true antojitos experience if you don’t partake of at least one preprandial treat.  Perhaps the most intriguing are the Huaraches.  No, not the Mexican sandals popular with the Bohemian set. Barry Popik explains that huaraches are “thick, oval-shaped corn tortillas, often topped with meat, cheese, beans, and cooked cactus leaves.”  The name “huaraches” was either coined or popularized by a popular Mexico City restaurant named El Huarache Azteca.

The name fits.  Huaraches are shaped roughly like a human foot, and just as a human foot needs covering, the thick corn tortilla needs toppings.  Indented by hand so that it has “borders” to hold its component ingredients, one huarache at Antojitos Lupe is topped with ground beef, shredded lettuce, Mexican crema and queso fresco.  The ground beef is well seasoned and best of all, it isn’t refried  (fried once then reheated) as at some restaurants.  Even if you don’t add a smidgeon of salsa, this is a surprisingly flavorful meal starter.  Perhaps even better is a huarache topped with chorizo and potatoes.  The chorizo is nicely seasoned and imbues everything it touches with flavor.

March 1, 2012: A three taco plate with rice, beans and salsa

One entree highly recommended by the wait staff is the Bisteca Ranchera which at many Mexican restaurants is a supermodel thin slab of beef.  At Antojitos Lupe, that slab is cut up into small pieces and based on how well the flavors meld together, is sauteed with tomatoes and onions.  At least, this entree tastes as if it is all prepared together instead of the tomatoes and onions being added later.

17 October 2009: The Mexican state of Oaxaca is known as the “Land of Seven Moles,”–moles which can be found in such colors as red, green, black, brown and yellow.  Moles are an intricate sauce made by grinding and toasting chiles, seeds, spices and sundry ingredients.  Though they appear to be rather simple, moles are, in fact, highly complex and unique, no two cooks preparing it the same way.  While some New Mexicans won’t “deign” to eat mole, others find it a surprising alternative or even supplement to their beloved chile.One of the most common ways to have mole is over chicken and at Antojitos Lupe, “over” is an understatement.  A full chicken leg and thigh are thoroughly covered in mole.  In fact, the entree looks as if it chocolate has been applied by trowel, so densely covered is the poultry.  This is a messy entree guaranteed to require several napkins and copious finger-licking.

28 July 2012: Chile Rellenos with Beans and Rice

16 August 2011: Among the most intriguing items on the menu are three molcajete dishes.  A molcajete is essentially a seasoned stone mortar meticulously carved out of a single rock of vesicular basalt by a skilled artisan.  Not only are they esthetic, they are highly functional, used for crushing and grinding spices and as serving vessels.  That’s how Antojitos Lupe uses them.  The minute you place your order for one of the molcajete dishes, the round, three-legged mortar goes into the oven before your meal is prepared.  Your entire meal will be served in the cavity of the molcajete which retains heat for the entire duration of your meal.  This is “too hot to handle” heat that keeps your meal steaming hot for as long as half an hour.  The Molcajete Lupe is the house specialty, a spectacular melange of Mexican favorites: carne asada–thinly sliced grilled beef flank steak; pollo asado–grilled chicken; carne al pastor–marinated pork; queso fresco–a creamy, soft white cheese that tastes like a mild feta; nopalitos–verdant strips of nopal (prickly pear pads) cooked with onions; and finally, homemade corn tortillas.

Individually, each item on this entree is quite good, but as a collective, the entire dish is fabulous.  The juices from the sauteed onions and nopalitos coalesce with the al pastor to penetrate the chicken and beef, imbuing them with a surprisingly delicious flavor and a moist texture.  The corn tortillas make excellent tacos, engorged with a little bit of everything on the molcajete plus the side of beans and rice that comes with this entree.  The other two molcajete dishes are a chicken-based Molcajete Pollo dish and a meat based Molcajete Asada.

Red chicken Mole

Red Chicken Mole

1 March 2012: The caldo de res, a hearty beef and vegetable soup, is a meal in itself.  Served in a bowl equal in size to the swimming pool sized bowls used for Vietnamese pho, it’s big enough to share–not that you would want to.  To compare caldo de res with some Vietnamese soups wouldn’t be much of a stretch.  Both have restorative properties and are especially wonderful in cold weather.  Both are elixirs for whatever ails you, offering the comfort only a mother can match.  Both are flavored with marrow from bones.  Lupe’s caldo de res is made with bone-in beef shanks boiled for hours until tender. Mixed in are chunks of zucchini, carrots, chopped cabbage and mini corn on the cobs. It’s the beef broth which will absolutely delight you.  You’ll relish each spoonful, maybe even disposing of the spoon to slurp it up right from the bowl. 

22 March 2015:  One of the more intriguing dishes on the menu has the curious name “mole de oya.”  If you’re expecting mole in a pot, you’d be wrong.  Our server explained that the mole de oya dish has nothing to do with mole other than to share a name.  Instead, she elaborated, it more closely resembles the aforementioned caldo de res, the main difference being that the mole de oya is prepared with a hot chile.  Several of the signature vegetables on the caldo de res are absent from the mole de oya.  In fact, the spicy crimson broth includes mostly carrots, zucchini and the bone-in beef shanks aficionados de caldo (soup fanatics) love.

My friend Señor Plata enjoys his very first Molcajete Lupe

11 October 2015: Most often enjoyed during breakfast, chilaquiles are a good-at-any-time dish that’s both simple and complex.  At their essence, chilaquiles are constructed from the triumvirate of corn tortillas, salsa (or chile) and cheese.  The foundation for the dish is the tortillas which are cut up into quarters then fried and simmered in red chile until they absorb the sauce and become soft and pliable.  Queso fresco is then sprinkled on top.  The complexity is in any other ingredients (typically eggs, beans, meat and rice) added to the dish.  Lupe offers chilaquiles with carne asada, a very thin steak. 

11 October 2015:  If you’re in the mood for sandwiches, look no further than Antojitos Lupe which offers about a dozen different tortas, the delectable Mexican sandwich.  One of the more popular filler options is the torta al pastor, marinated pork cut up into tiny pieces and stuffed in between a soft, split bolillo bun with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and jalapeños.  As beautiful a sandwich as it is when it’s just sitting on your plate, it becomes a falling apart mess when you unwrap and pick it up, as seemingly half your sandwich falls onto the plate.  That’s just a minor inconvenience, the spillage of excess ingredients.  There’s still plenty between buns and you’ll have some left over to eat with a fork.

Chilaquiles with Carne Asada

When we first discovered Antojitos Lupe, dessert options abounded, but the only way you’d have room for any is if you asked for a to-go box (some entrees, such as the Molcajete dishes, actually taste even better the next day).  Dessert options included flan, arroz con leche (a sweet rice with milk dish) and bionicos.  The very word “bionico” is intriguing.  For those of my generation, it conjures images of the Six Million Dollar Man, a television show chronicling the adventures of an astronaut “rebuilt” with “bionic” implants that enhance his strength, speed and vision

2 July 2010: Bionicos are so-named because they impart quick energy.  Lupe explains that bionicos are very popular for breakfast in parts of Mexico, not only because of their quick energy but because of their healthful qualities.  They are constructed of fresh, hand-cut fruits–strawberries, cantaloupe, papaya, pineapple, banana, apples–topped with granola, coconut, unsweetened yogurt and just a bit of syrup for sweetness.  Unlike some granola-based breakfast dishes, bionicos aren’t cloying in their sweetness; instead, the fruits impart their naturally fresh flavors–natural tanginess, sweetness, juiciness and tartness.  The dessert is easily large enough for two to share. 

Caldo de Res

Alas Antojitos Lupe no longer offers desserts.  As wonderful as the sumptuous sweets were, they weren’t moving very quickly and have been removed from the menu.  I kept the two previous paragraphs and the photograph on the review to remind patrons of what they’re missing.  Perhaps they’ll inspire a grass roots effort to bring them back (or at least the bionicos).

The lofty menu at Antojitos Lupe means future visits are inevitable.  Good cooking, attentive service and reasonable prices means there’ll be plenty of company at Bernalillo’s newest and only Mexican restaurant.  Then there’s Lupe herself, a perpetually smiling woman with the energy to multi-task as hostess, waitress, cashier and cook.  She’s sweeter than any of the desserts formerly offered at the restaurant.

Antojitos Lupe
180 East Highway 550
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 867-2145
1ST VISIT
:  17 October 2009
LATEST VISIT: 11 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Chicken Mole, Huaraches, Tomatillo Salsa, Bisteca Ranchera, Molcajete Lupe, Molcajete Asada, Bionicos, Mole de Oya, Chilaquiles, Torta al Pastor

Lupe's Antojitos on Urbanspoon

Back-Sass BBQ – Bernalillo, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Back-Sass01

Back-Sass BBQ in Bernalillo

Every few years, the eyes of the world fixate on a tiny chimney perched on the roof of the Sistine Chapel as millions await the telltale plumes of white smoke which signify that a new pope has been elected.  Since November, 2012, savvy Duke City area barbecue aficionados have been following plumes of smoke emanating from a mobile eighteen-foot grilling machine, a sign that great barbecue is imminent.  Fittingly “Follow the Smoke” is the motto of the Back-Sass BBQ team which has been hauling its mother ship of barbecue all over the city.

On January 29, 2014, Back-Sass BBQ put down roots in Bernalillo, launching its bodacious barbecue operation in a restaurant storefront.  Located on North Camino del Pueblo less than half a mile north of heavily trafficked Highway 550, Back-Sass is easy to find if you follow the smoke which wafts into your motorized conveyance like a sweet Texas smoke signal beckoning you to try some baby backs.  Back-Sass BBQ is situated in a fairly nondescript edifice which formerly housed La Bamba Grill among other businesses.  Its signage is bold, sassy and inviting.

Back-Sass03

The interior of Back-Sass BBQ

Attempts to define any new barbecue restaurant’s “style” as either Kansas City, Texas, Memphis, or the Carolinas are inevitable, but Back-Sass BBQ’s style doesn’t subscribe to any of those hallowed templates.  Instead it might best be described as “Cleveland style.”  No, not the Cleveland in Ohio which set the Cuyahoga River on fire back in 1969.  I’m talking about the other Cleveland, the one in New Mexico bordered by Holman and Mora; the Cleveland on the “other side” of the Jicarita Peak from my hometown of Peñasco.

Back-Sass BBQ founder and owner Gina Valdez grew up in Cleveland, New Mexico, a village one travel site described as “where cars go to die.”  She’s been a barbecue enthusiast all her life and although she’s a sanctioned judge with the Kansas City Barbecue Society, doesn’t barbecue competitively, not even in Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew.  In fact, Gina didn’t get super serious about honing her craft until a broken leg laid her off, giving her the impetus to build the mobile unit.  The eighteen-foot barbecue behemoth can smoke more than one-hundred full-sized turkeys at one time.  In her new restaurant, however, she relies on barrel smokers that aren’t quite as prolific.  Though hours of operation are posted, once the barbecue runs out, the restaurant closes.

Back-Sass02

Baby Back Ribs with Chile Beans and Potato Salad

You won’t want to miss out on this barbecue!  Shawne Riley, a long-time friend of this blog, made sure I didn’t, extolling the ribs and coleslaw so enthusiastically I had to visit Back-Sass BBQ the following day.  Shawne was also enamored of the sauce which she described as “pretty complex.”   Obviously more persuasive than I, she managed to coax Gina into telling her what’s in the sauce: molasses, apple pie spices, pineapple and a “bunch of other things.” 

Back-Sass BBQ is essentially a one-room operation with booth seating on one side of the room.  The dining room is sparsely appointed.  Fittingly therefore, the menu lists fewer than twenty items: four sandwiches, four plates (with your choice of two sides), three meats by the pound, baby back ribs, turkey legs, three sides (chile beans, coleslaw, potato salad) and for dessert, peach cobbler and gingerbread men.  

Two meat plate: hot links and pulled pork with two sides: potato salad and coleslaw

Two meat plate: hot links and pulled pork with two sides: potato salad and coleslaw

26 March 2014: Some purists will tell you  that one of the marks of great barbecue is whether or not sauce is needed.  Other barbecue enthusiasts don’t want their barbecue naked, preferring it slathered with a sauce.  Back-Sass BBQ is quite good with or without sauce.  The baby backs pull away from the bone easily and have an addictive bark, the deeply dark, flavor rich, sweet, caramelized rind suffused with magnificently complex flavor.  Barbecue without bark has no bite.  The sauce, by the way, is indeed pretty complex.  The flavor components Shawne described are easily discernible, but the source of a pleasant piquancy can only come from chipotle, a fact Gina confirmed.

One of the other hallmarks of Back-Sass BBQ is an aromatic smokiness courtesy of apple woods which dispense a very mild flavor and imbue foods with a slight sweetness.  Because a little smoke goes a long way with meats, most aficionados prefer light-smoking hard woods such as apple which tend to be complementary of all meats.  The fragrances at Back-Sass BBQ’s dining room would make a wonderful aftershave or aphrodisiac.

My friend Bruce "Sr Plata" takes a bite from a turkey leg as big as his arm

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” takes a bite from a turkey leg as big as his arm

27 March 2014: Your best bet if you want to sample more than one meat is the two meat plate with your choice of two sides. Make one of those meats the hot links, emphasis on the word “hot.” That’s hot as in hotter than eighty percent of the chile served at New Mexican restaurants in the Duke City area. Not only are these luscious links hot, they’re moist and delicious. You’re well advised to eat these last because you might not be able to taste the other meat on the plate…and if the other meat is pulled pork, you’ll want to be able to discern every nuance. The pulled pork has a pinkish hue with a darker “ring” denoting the smoking process. It’s sweet, moist and absolutely delicious–with or without sauce.

Smoked Turkey and Broccoli Soup

Smoked Turkey and Broccoli Soup

27 March 2014: The turkey legs at Back-Sass BBQ look like throw-backs to the age of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. They’re bulbous, chewy, delicious drumsticks the size of Popeye’s forearm or a pterodactyl wing. Bad cartoon metaphors aside, you’ll channel your inner troglodyte as you gnaw on perhaps the best turkey legs in the Duke City area (with apologies to The Cube). There’s almost something primal about holding these legs by their built-in handle and piercing through the glistening bark to expose pinkish smoked turkey meat. Who cares that turkey is all dark meat. The smoked flavor and surprising moistness will convert even the most cynical. 

Potato and Leek Soup with Spinach

Potato and Leek Soup with Spinach

3 April 2014: During an April, 2014 visit to Back-Sass BBQ, Gina told my friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and I that before she was a barbecue lady, she was a soup lady and that she planned on introducing soup to the menu once she perfected her recipe. She then treated us to a magnificent example of her soup handiwork, a steaming hot bowl of smoked turkey and broccoli soup. This soup is perfect as is and should be on the daily menu starting now! It’s a rich and creamy soup with a strong pepper influence coalescing with the smokiness of turkey and the al dente crispness of broccoli, celery and other vegetables. Both Sr. Plata and I took home 32-ounces of this enchanting elixir to share with our respective wives, but we secretly hoped they don’t like it as much as we do so we could have all of it. Unfortunately for us, they loved it. 

9 April 2014:  The soup of the day during a subsequent visit was a potato and leek soup with spinach.  It’s a hearty, creamy and very tasty soup served hot.  The flavors of leek and potato harmonize very well and the spinach lends nutrients, texture and its very own unique flavor profile.  This is the type of soup you’ll love best during cold winter days, but it’s wonderful any time.

A quarter-pound of brisket

A quarter-pound of brisket

3 April 2014: If your experiences with brisket are akin to what masticating shoe leather must be like, it’s because you haven’t had great brisket. Trust Gina to smoke your brisket. It’s tender, offering just the right amount of chew and it’s and smoky with a pink smoke outline. Best, it’s delicious with or without sauce and has the perfect qualities for dressing a sandwich. A quarter-pound will do you for lunch.

Brisket Sandwich with Lays Potato Chips

Brisket Sandwich

09 April 2014: If you prefer your brisket on a sandwich, Back-Sass serves an overstuffed sandwich just brimming with moist, tender brisket nestled in a soft hoagie bun. My friend and fellow barbecue aficionado Mike Muller uses brisket as his benchmark for how good a barbecue restaurant is. He loved this one and was surprised at just how moist and tender the brisket is. The brisket pulls away easily and you won’t find any annoying sinew or fat.

Chicken Sandwich with Lays Potato Chips

Chicken Sandwich with Lays Potato Chips

09 April 2014: The very last item on the menu I had from Back-Sass was the chicken. True to form, it’s very clucking good. The chicken is available as a sandwich or you can opt for a half-chicken (thigh and leg). Any way you have it will become your instant favorite. As with all meats smoked by Gina, the chicken is moist, tender and redolent with apple wood smokiness. The half chicken has a wonderful crust which, at first glance, may appear to be on the burnt side, but that patina comes from the marinade she uses on her beer can chicken recipe.  That crust is poultry’s answer to pork skin and is absolutely delicious.

A half chicken

A half chicken

1 May 2014: Credit renowned author Calvin Trillin for exposing the world to burnt ends, what some have called “nuggets of barbecue gold.”  Though born of tougher, drier, misshapen end pieces of brisket, burnt ends are imbued with mouth-watering qualities, a coalescence of melted-down fat and meat slowly grilled into smoky, crunchy, meaty bark.  They’re a delightful delicacy not always appreciated by barbecue purists as they tend to be not only fatty, chewy and tough, but often very smoky.  For those of us who concur with Trillin’s sage opinion, they’re truly special.  Back-Sass BBQ’s version is Kansas City worthy, like delicious meat candy.

Burnt Ends

Burnt Ends

One other essential element in the barbecue experience is sides, the accompaniment needed because even barbecue addicts can’t live on meats alone. Back-Sass BBQ offers three terrific sides. The chile beans are true New Mexican chile beans with red chile and not Texas “chili” beans with whatever mystery spices they add. The coleslaw is light on the dressing and heavy on crispness and freshness. The potato salad, which includes finely cut pickles and celery, is similarly light on the mayo or salad cream. All are terrific.

Peach Cobbler and Gingerbread Men

Peach Cobbler and Gingerbread Men

27 March 2014: Back-Sass BBQ offers only two desserts, one of which is seemingly de rigueur in barbecue restaurants.  That would be peach cobbler, one of those desserts often described as both homespun and old-fashioned.  More often than that, it’s described as delicious.  Covered with a crumbly sweet crust and imbued with moistness, it’s a good cobbler, one which can be improved only by a scoop or four of ice cream.  The other dessert is gingerbread men (five for three dollars) which children of all ages will enjoy.

Meat up with some friends and follow the smoke to Back-Sass BBQ in Bernalillo for apple wood smoked deliciousness.

Back-Sass BBQ
N. 213 Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 1 Mayl 2014
1st VISIT: 26 March 2014
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Chile Beans, Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Hot Links, Pulled Pork, Peach Cobbler, Gingerbread Men, Turkey Leg, Smoked Turkey-Broccoli Soup, Brisket, Brisket Sandwich, Half Chicken, Chicken Sandwich, Burnt Ends

Back-Sass BBQ on Urbanspoon

The Range – Bernalillo, New Mexico

My friend Karen Baehr and the Range

My friend Karen Baehr stands next to the range at The Range

The phoenix of ancient Egyptian mythology was a sacred firebird of beautiful red and gold plumage said to live for centuries. At the end of its life, the phoenix built itself a nest of cinnamon twigs which it then ignited. Both the phoenix and the nest burned fiercely and were reduced to ashes from which a new phoenix arose.  Similarly, the Range Cafe in Bernalillo was claimed by a fiery conflagration only to rise up from the ashes to exceed its former glory to become one of the most popular restaurants in New Mexico.

Like the phoenix, the Range is a rare breed–one of the few locally owned and operated (non-chain) restaurants which at any given time (make that, almost all the time) has diners lining up for a seat. That may be because the Range offers the “familiar” in serving comfort foods and local favorites and serves them in the profuse portion sizes American diners love.

Creative art abounds at the Range Cafe

The original Range debuted in September, 1992 in Bernalillo’s main street, Camino Del Pueblo. The restaurant was an instant success, quickly becoming more than a local favorite.  Not quite three years later (on May 30, 1995), the Range went up in smoke–a huge conflagration consumed the entire restaurant. The community let it be known that they wanted their favorite restaurant rebuilt and held fund-raising events to help with the process.

Two months after the fire, the Range was back in business, albeit in a temporary location directly across the street from the church, thereby making it unlawful to obtain a beer and wine license. In April, 1996, the Range negotiated to rent a circa 1905 property which once served as the warehouse of the Bernalillo Mercantile. By December of that year, the Range officially re-opened at its present address, 925 Camino del Pueblo in the heart of downtown Bernalillo. Like the majestic phoenix, the Range rose from the ashes and has been going strong ever since.

Stuffed Range Toast

Stuffed Range Toast

The Range shares building space with Rose’s Pottery House owned by life-long Bernalillo resident Antoinette Silva. Part museum, part art gallery, it features contemporary and ancient Pueblo pottery and art. It’s a must stop before or after dining at the Range.  During its nearly 80 year history, the building, now covering a full city block, served as a general store, movie theater, auto repair shop and permanent home to one of the finest collections of Native American and Hispanic art in New Mexico.

After obtaining a liquor license, the Range opened the Lizard Rodeo Lounge, a welcoming, non-smoking gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The Lounge includes a full-service bar and offers a full service-menu as well as live, free entertainment featuring local New Mexico bands.  Every Thursday is open mike night for all aspiring stars.

A "short" stack

A “short” stack

A contemporary Southwestern artsy ambiance enhances your entire dining experience. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to catch your eye. Even the chairs and tables are functional art. While the milieu may seemingly scream “contemporary western,” ergo “home on the range,” the restaurant is actually named for the other kind of range–the one on which you prepare food. Several old stoves as well as stove art festoon the restaurant. Art and ambiance not withstanding, it’s the wonderful food that’s the big attraction. Not only are the portions profuse and most menu items familiar, they are generally delicious and reasonably priced. 

The Range is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Matt DiGregory whose other popular restaurant ventures in the Duke City area include the Standard Diner and now defunct and much missed Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen.  The entrepreneurial restaurateur is a visionary innovator whose restaurant concepts defy local stereotypes.  His idea to combine fine cooking (such as applying French culinary techniques to the preparation of meatloaf) with comfort food was years before its time.

A trio of salsa, con queso and guacamole with blue corn tortilla chips

The Range trio of guacamole, salsa and con queso with blue corn chips

Breakfast

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the Range’s eye-opening, belly-busing breakfasts are a good way to start off the day, but if you’re inclined to get sleepy after a big meal, you might want to split breakfast with someone you love. That’s because the Range’s portions are humongous.  The most popular entree on the voluminous Range menu, by the way, is the huevos rancheros.  It’s possible the Range sells more huevos rancheros than any other restaurant in New Mexico.  Diners come from miles around to partake of these award-winning treasures.

The gargantuan breakfast burrito includes three large eggs scrambled with either ham, sausage or grilled veggies, wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with white cheddar and your choice of red or green chile. It is accompanied by Range fries and pinto beans. Both the red and the green chile at the Range can be about as piquant  (or as mild) as you’d get at some New Mexican restaurant, depending on the season and batch. It may open your eyes in the morning.

The Range’s version of green chile chicken stew

Even larger than the breakfast burrito, if that’s possible, is a breakfast entree called the “Range Roundup” in which a homemade biscuit is topped with crumbled, crisp bacon and sausage, two eggs fixed your way smothered in chile and white cheddar cheese with Range fries and pinto beans.  This entree should come standard with an angioplasty.

2 May 2009: For a week’s worth of calories, try the stuffed Range toast–three brick-sized slices of cinnamon raisin bread with a rich egg batter, grilled and stuffed with strawberries and bananas then topped with homemade apple/peach butter, whipped cream and maple syrup. These are among the most decadent French toast in New Mexico and should be shared.

Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla

Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla

2 May 2009: Should you opt instead for pancakes “Short stack” is a misnomer for the two large pancakes (the size of manhole covers) that leave very little of your plate uncovered. These syrupy orbs, like most Range portions, are big enough to share (they could feed a developing country).

Appetizers, Soups and Salads

2 April 2008: Lest I forget, one of the best ways to start a meal at the Range is with the trio of guacamole, salsa and con queso with blue corn tortilla chips. The salsa is about medium on the piquancy scale, but it is fresh, rich and delicious. The guacamole is buttery and fresh, the product of excellent ingredients. Only the con queso, which lacks creaminess, disappoints. It’s a bit on the thick side and includes no ameliorants to contrast the cheesiness.

Range Quesadilla

Range Quesadilla

28 May 2012: You can’t mention comfort foods without a prominent spot on the list for soups. The soups–especially the cream of mushroom soup and the cream of carrot soup–are among the very best you’ll find in New Mexico. These are the type of soups you love most on a cold winter day, but which are great any time of year. Thick, rich, hearty and replete with fresh ingredients, they’re an elixir for whatever (if anything) ails you. I’m not quite as fond of the Range’s green chile chicken stew, perhaps a misnomer because it’s described on the menu as a “soup that serves like a meal.”  It really is a soup as it’s not thick and creamy as most traditional green chile stews tend to be.  Within a thin soupy broth, you’ll find blue corn tortilla chips, potatoes, carrots, celery, tendrils of chicken and a barely discernible chile. 

20 November 2009: The motto of the Range Cafe is “ordinary food done extraordinarily well.” Ordinary doesn’t have to be boring or the “same old thing” everyone else serves. The Range Cafe takes some liberties with New Mexican cuisine and comfort food favorites. Take for example the shrimp scampi quesadilla, sauteed shrimp marinated in tequila, lime and garlic combined with tomatillo, pico de gallo, corn and white Cheddar cheese grilled on a flour tortilla and served with sour cream and guacamole. The shrimp is sweet and succulent, blending in extraordinarily well with the other flavor combinations. 

Green Chile Strips (breaded whole chiles served with a cool, creamy jalapeno dipping sauce), a Range Cafe appetizer favorite

4 April 2014: Vegetarians and Catholics out on a Lenten Friday aren’t left out in the cold when they crave quesadillas.  The Range Quesadilla is everything any discerning diner desires in a quesadilla save for a meaty protein.  A large, grilled flour tortilla is folded over artichoke hearts, red bell pepper, tomato, green chile and white Cheddar then served with the tasty triumvirate of salsa, guacamole and sour cream.  Even avowed carnivores will enjoy this terrific tortilla treat, but if they must have a protein, it’s also available with chicken.

28 May 2012: Another appetizer catering to New Mexican tastes is a plate of green chile strips, breaded whole chiles served with a cool, creamy jalapeño dipping sauce.  Served four to an order, each of the green chile strips is at least six inches of piquancy and deliciousness.  Unlike some chile rellenos, the batter is thin, light and doesn’t fall off the chiles.  The jalapeño dipping sauce is cool heat, a perfect accompaniment for chilephiles who know the only way to improve on a heat-generating food is with even more heat. 

Asian Salad

Asian Salad

4 April 2014: The Range menu features ten salads ranging from the familiar and traditional (taco salad, Caesar and wedge) to the innovative (Grilled Salmon Berry and Quinoa).  The Asian Salad–fresh spinach and mixed greens with cabbage, carrots, jicama, cucumber, snow peas, sliced almonds and frizzled onions tossed in sesame ginger dressing–probably falls in the latter category.  It’s an exceptional salad highlighted by freshness and diversity of ingredients.  Alas, those ingredients have a similar flavor profile and the salad would probably benefit from a mild cheese.

Entrees

The aforementioned meatloaf, christened Tom’s meatloaf in honor of Range co-founder Tom Fenton, is a comfort food standard served with garlic mashed potatoes and a delicious mushroom gravy. The meatloaf is a substantial brick-sized slab of moist deliciousness. Like most Range entrees, it’s served almost out-of-the-stove hot. The mashed potatoes are made with real potatoes, not the powdery stuff and surprise, surprise…you can actually taste the garlic.

Mac and cheese with a unique Range twist, green chile

Mac and cheese with a unique Range twist, green chile

Another comfort food specialty, the chicken fried steak (a fresh beef cube steak breaded and smothered with cream gravy) is as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Land of Enchantment’s Rio Grande valley. Even Texans (for whom chicken fried steak is a religion) enjoy the Range’s Texas-sized version which even has the size (everything’s bigger in Texas) they appreciate. This chicken fried steak is tender enough to be cut with a fork.

20 November 2009: Recognizing that mac and cheese are everyone’s favorite, the Range makes theirs with a special New Mexico unique twist–green chile. The macaroni is rigatoni, the size of a culvert. The cheese is creamy and delicious with a prominent white Cheddar flavor though it’s entirely possible more than one cheese is used. The entire bowl–and it’s the size of a hub cap–is covered with ground parmesan. The green chile is a bit mild on the piquancy scale, but it’s a delicious chile that complements the mac and cheese very well.

Trout

The Range Trout

Although comfort foods hold a prominent place on the menu, my favorite entree (when on the menu) is the Thai shrimp noodles with semi spicy peanut sauce and julienne vegetables. It’s an entree as good as you’ll find at some Thai restaurants and like many Thai entrees, has a flavor profile that includes a nice balance of sweet, savory and piquant flavors.

The Range burger starts with an eight-ounce fresh ground chuck patty flame grilled to order.  It’s topped with shaved ham, green chile strips and melted white cheddar cheese on a fresh, homemade bun.  It is one of six inventive burgers on the menu, the most unique being a Relleno Burger topped with a blue corn chile relleno and green chile sauce.  Obviously these are not boring burgers. The ground chuck patty is what all burgers in the area should aspire to be.

The Rio Grande Gorge: 8-ounce ground chuck beef patty served open face on a tortilla, topped with red or green chile sauce, Cheddar, grilled onions, black beans, Range fries with queso

An eight-ounce ground chuck patty is also a key component of the Rio Grande Gorge in which the patty is served open face on a tortilla, topped with red or green chile sauce, Cheddar, grilled onions, black beans and Range fries with queso. It sounds great–and for the most part it is, save for the queso which tops the Range fries which is of Velveeta quality.

2 April 2008: Dinner specials are generally so good you’ll wish they were on the standard menu. One example is the Range’s trout which is topped with capers, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes in a light white wine sauce. The trout is flaky and grilled to perfection. The natural brininess melds perfectly with the tanginess of the ingredients topping the trout. A lime and cilantro infused Basmati rice makes for excellent accompaniment to this dish.

The dessert case is an edible work of art.  You'll want to lick the glass.

The dessert case is an edible work of art. You’ll want to lick the glass.

Desserts

Desserts, are so good, they’re almost indecent!  The Range bakes only with real butter, fresh cream, real vanilla, fresh fruits and fine chocolates. Anything can be made a la mode for a pittance.  The Range’s dessert case is one of Bernalillo’s most popular attractions, one that should be displayed on tourist guide books.  Not only is each dessert esthetically pleasing (drool eliciting), they’re all delicious.

The roadhouse chocolate cake is among the most moist cakes you’ll find anywhere while the “Life by Chocolate” cake defines the word decadent. Featuring milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, Belgian white chocolate and raspberry mousse layered together and glazed with a rich ganache, this is the type of dessert your dentist warned you about as a child and your dietician cautions against today.

Key Lime Pie at the Range

20 November 2009:  If you’re served green key lime pie, there’s a good bet either food coloring was added or the pie mix came out of a box.  In the Florida keys, no restaurant can expect to stay in business for long if it serves green key lime pie.  Key lime pies should always be pale yellow, usually a good indication that actual key lime juice is used.  The Range’s key lime pie is very reminiscent of those we enjoyed so much when traveling through Florida where the key lime pie has been designated by the state legislature as “the official pie of the state of Florida.”  The Range’s version has a tart, but not lip-pursing, flavor.  It’s also very aromatic, another sign of authenticity.

4 April 2014: In New Mexico, chefs and cooks love showing off the versatility of green chile.  One of the most delicious is in apple pie, an idea which makes good sense considering chile (a member of the nightshade family) is closer related to fruits than it is to vegetables.  The Range’s green chile apple pie with piñon streusel in a flaky pie crust is among the best.  The green chile packs the type of piquant punch that titillates the back of your throat.  For the faint of heart and tongue, this pie should be served a la mode.

Green chile apple pie with piñon streusel in a flaky pie crust

Green chile apple pie a la mode

The Range expanded from its Bernalillo location by launching at two Albuquerque locations, both of which experience the same overflow crowds as the original. Rather than creating a separate entry for each, I’ll update this listing for any visit to the Range, regardless of location.

This is a restaurant about which seldom a disparaging word is heard. Like the Phoenixes rise from the ashes, it continues to ascend in the estimation of its many patrons.

The Range
264 Camino Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 867-1700
Web Site


LATEST VISIT: 4 April 2014
# OF VISITS: 24
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Desserts, Meatloaf, Mushroom Soup, Mac and Cheese, Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla, Range Quesadilla,

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Kaktus Brewing Company – Bernalillo & Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kaktus01

The Kaktus Brewing Company in Bernalillo

Most of us have known a wine snob or two. You know the type. They refer to themselves as oenophiles, a fancy way of saying “connoisseur or lover of wines.” They believe themselves to possess refined palates and won’t drink a wine that isn’t as cultured as they are. Even then, they first have to check the color and opacity of the wine. Then they twirl their glass for ten minutes or so before sticking their nose into the glass (like anteaters at an ant hole) and sniffing the wine noisily. They then proudly proclaim the wine has notes of oak, berries or butter. Their next step is to gargle with the wine, sloshing it between their cheeks and gums before finally imbibing of its delicate flavors and proclaiming it worthy.

In recent years, another adult beverage snob has arisen to give oenophiles some competition in the haughtiness department. They’re called “cerevisaphiles,” a term that refers to beer enthusiasts. Cerevisaphiles turn their nose up at Pabst Blue Ribbon and other “pedestrian swill.” As with their oenophile counterparts, the cerevisaphiles pride themselves on their discerning palates. They will drink no beer before or after its time and are careful to note its appearance (color, head density) and aroma before sipping (yes, sipping) it and contemplating its worthiness. Where the snobbiest and most well-heeled of oenophiles pride themselves on wine cellars, cerevisaphiles (like my friend Ruben) take pride in brewing their own.

The artsy compound

The artsy compound

That, my dear readers, is this gastronome’s feeble attempt to use humor and stereotypes to exploit the misconceptions behind the much maligned, much misunderstood talents and passions of oenophiles and cerevisaphiles. Most oenophiles and cerevisaphiles I know (including some of my best friends) are actually very down-to-earth and uncommonly modest. They’re justifiably proud of their bona fide gifts and abilities to discern and appreciate wine and beer in ways plebeians like me aren’t fully capable of doing. Where I’m mildly jealous is that sometimes their gifts and abilities extend to the culinary realm. With their enhanced taste buds and olfactory senses, they can discern nuances and subtleties in foods better than I can. For all I know, they even have better vocabularies, too.

Dana Koller is one such person.  Born into a family which included talented chefs, Dana couldn’t help but develop a passion for quality foods.  He parlayed his passions and precocious experiences in the food and beverage industries toward entrepreneurial channels, founding a marketing platform for local restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries throughout central and northern New Mexico.  He also launched indulgenm.com, a Web site celebrating the Land of Enchantment’s wines.  Although wine is his true passion, Dana’s refined palate also appreciates good beer.  

Sit with the cast of Breaking Bad

Sit with the cast of Breaking Bad

Seeing an untapped opportunity in Bernalillo, Dana partnered with brew master Mike Waddy to launch Kaktus Brewing Company in October, 2013.  In the vernacular of the brewing industry, Kaktus is a nano-brewery  in that it brews only about 500 total barrels a year.  Kaktus, named for the German spelling of the word “cactus,” is also unique in that all beer is brewed on steel, flat-bottomed German-made equipment which allows for lighter style lagers without compromising on the quality of other beers.  This Lilliputian brewery uses all natural and organic ingredients in its beer.  As you enter Kaktus, you can take a self-guided-tour of the brewery.

You have to get there first and that can be a bit tricky.  Kaktus is located on South Hill Road, a lightly trafficked, relatively unknown two-lane west of and which essentially parallels I-25.  It’s about half a mile from the Railrunner and lies in what seems to be part industrial complex, part residential area with a couple of trailer parks along the way.  A single sign depicting Kokopelli points the way to the brewery.  Signage not withstanding, you might still wonder if you entered a kitschy art compound instead of a brewery.  Then there’s the brewery itself.  There’s none of the pristine veneer or effusive, over-the-top flamboyance of the typical brew pub to lure in patrons.

All Natural Buffalo Frito Pie

All Natural Buffalo Frito Pie

Instead, Kaktus resembles a somewhat austere converted home to which is attached a canopied patio, ostensibly for use when weather permits it.  If you choose not to take the self-guided tour, you’ll step into a brightly illuminated room where you’ll espy Dana Koller manning the brewery taps behind the bar.  What will almost immediately catch your eye are the chairs and stools.  Carved onto the chairs on one six-person table is the cast of Breaking Bad.  The four stools on another table (which will probably be most popular among male patrons) pays tributes to the “dollys:” Salvadore Dali,  the Dalai Lama and of course, Dolly Parton.  The Dolly Parton stool is a bit uncomfortable because of  a couple of a couple of wooden “protuberances” that won’t let you sit up straight.

4 January 2014: Primarily a brewery in which patrons can gather together leisurely and enjoy high quality beer, Kaktus hasn’t neglected the gustatory needs of its guests, offering a small, but inviting menu.  As with the beer menu (eight beers on tap), the food menu focuses on quality.  The first item on the menu is a homemade all-natural buffalo Frito pie (Fritos corn chips, sour cream, onion, Cheddar cheese).  It’s not a conventional Frito pie, at least from a New Mexico standpoint.  The “chile” is black bean chipotle chile and it’s seasoned with bay leaf, oregano and coriander stewed with all-natural bison, cumin, sea salt and peppers.

Knockwurst

Brats

If, like me, you’ve been so inundated with hot dogs obfuscated by everything but the kitchen sink, Kaktus is your hook-up, offering build-your-own hot dogs and brats. Build your own starts with selecting your own dog or brat from an alluring selection: buffalo chile dog; Elk, Cheddar and Jalapeno Brat; All-Natural Beef Dog; Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage; and Wild Boar Game Sausage. Next you select your choice of bun: baguette or pretzel and lastly your favorite toppings: mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, garlic, onions and relish. You even get to specify whether you want your mustard or ketchup spread light, medium or heavy. Green chile and curry ketchup are available for a pittance. All brats and dogs are served with chips and salsa.

To ensure the quality he wants, Dana sources the brats and dogs from Colorado. Great choice! The three we sampled were “restore my faith in brats and dogs” good! They were “can’t wait to sample others” good! The brats are “Wisconsin good” and in the Badger State, brats are almost a religion. Kaktus’s brats are thick and meaty sausages incorporating a blend of old world German spices with the aforementioned  contemporary twists. They snap when you bite into the casing, releasing moist, smoky deliciousness. These brats are so thick that even the chewy pretzel bun is challenged to hold it in, especially if you add anything more than mustard.

Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage on Pretzel Bun Hickory Smoked Wild Boar Game Sausage

Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage on Pretzel Bun
Hickory Smoked Wild Boar Game Sausage

4 January 2014: After only one visit, the wild boar game sausage has quickly become my very favorite exotic hot dog in the Land of Enchantment. Credit some of that to the hickory smoke flavor impregnating this behemoth between a pretzel bun. The hickory smoke is more than noticeable, but it doesn’t mask the feral, but fabulous flavor of the wild boar which, by the way, isn’t quite as sweet or as fatty as domestic pork. Boar meat is also a bit darker and more coarse, but otherwise shares a similar flavor profile to pork.  If you love pork-based hot dogs, you’ll love the wild boar game sausage.

4 January 2014: We admire the monogamous commitment and beauty of ducks so much, it sometimes makes it difficult to fully enjoy the wonderful watery fowl, one of my very favorite proteins. The duck and cilantro game sausage means I’m no closer to giving up my guilt-edged enjoyment of duck. This is an outstanding sausage! It’s not nearly as fatty as some duck entrees tend to be while the cilantro lends the element of an invigorating freshness to the sausage. As with the other hot dogs, this one is long and thick, reminiscent of the “fifteen schnitzengruben” sausages in Blazing Saddles.

Curry Dog: All Natural Beef Dog with Housemade Curry Sauce

Top: Curry Dog: All Natural Beef Dog with Housemade Curry Sauce
Bottom: Wild Boar Game Sausage

3 February 2014: Throughout Chicago, using ketchup on a hot dog is considered a desecration akin to scrawling graffiti on Mike Ditka’s countenance.  It just isn’t done!  Customers wanting to exercise their freedom to choose ketchup are either refused (Superdawg Drive-In comes to mind) or gruffly handed a bottle and told to apply it themselves.  One wonders if Kaktus’s curry sauce would even be given a shot.  My Chicago in-laws will probably consider it heresy, but I believe this curry sauce would improve even the sacrosanct Vienna hot dogs.  It’s a very nice curry with a good depth of flavor complexity.    

Not being a certified cerevisaphiles, I can’t vouch for what beer goes well with what brats or dog. What I can vouch for with much alacrity is that Kaktus Brewing Company has hot dogs which go well with any carnivorous appetite.

Kaktus Brewing Company
471 South Hill Road
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 379.5072
LATEST VISIT: 3 February 2014
1st VISIT: 4 January 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Knockwurst, Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage on Pretzel Bun, Hickory Smoked Wild Boar Game Sausage, Curry Dog

Kaktus Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Abuelita’s New Mexican Kitchen – Bernalillo, New Mexico

Abuelita's in Bernalillo

Abuelita’s in Bernalillo

Abuelita–perhaps no word in the vernacular of Spanish Northern New Mexico evokes such veneration, reverence and, for those of us who have lost these heaven-sent treasures, a melancholy ache not even time can erase.  The abuelita is the family matriarch, the heart of the extended family and the sagacious matron to whom you go for counsel, consolation and cooking. For generations, New Mexico’s abuelitas have been nurturing their families with the simple foods passed down by their own abuelitas.  Before the proliferation of New Mexican restaurants, abuelita’s was where the family congregated–no special occasion was necessary because any time with your abuelita was a special occasion.

Dining at Abuelita’s New Mexican Kitchen in Bernalillo won’t replace dining at your own abuelita’s, but you’re guaranteed a good meal, sizeable portions and genial, attentive service. As at your own abuelita’s home, there’s almost always something going on in the kitchen.  Abuelita’s is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week and has been serving Bernalillo for more than a quarter-century.  Paintings of local artists festoon the muted yellows and earth tones of the restaurant’s walls.  Fittingly the shirts worn by the wait staff sport the motto “panza llena, corazon contento” or “full belly, happy heart.”

The front dining room at Abuelita's

The front dining room at Abuelita’s

The Abuelita’s menu exemplifies just why native New Mexicans, especially those of Hispanic descent, cherish family memories centering around food.  You’ll find dishes at Abuelitas with which we grew up: dishes you won’t find at most restaurants and even some dishes we experienced only seasonally.  A Lenten menu includes a number of specials New Mexicans enjoy only during the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Among the most special of these Lenten dishes is torta de huevo con quelites which  might be best described as egg fritters or fluffy egg “cakes” marinated in red chile while quelites are spinach.  This can be a delicious dish and will always  trigger the fondest of familial memories.

During breakfast, lunch and lunch, Abuelita’s large dining room is bustling with activity and with boisterous, happy patrons enjoying their victuals (translation: it’s loud).  At breakfast, the tinkling of spoons as they stir the house coffee seems almost melodic when it’s not drowned out by conversation.  Regardless of meal, service isn’t hurried, in part because the wait staff just seems to know everybody–and if they don’t know you, they might by the time your meal is done.  That’s what dining in a small town restaurant is all about.  The pace  allows you to luxuriate over your coffee or the salsa and chips and because plates are prepared to order, your plates arrive at your table piping hot. At the risk of sounding xenophobic, Abuelita’s has not “dumbed down” its chile for tourist tastes, serving chile with the type of piquancy Bernalillo residents like.

Calabasitas and Ham burrito with Red and Green Chile

Calabasitas Burrito with Red and Green Chile

24 January 2014:  Hundreds of restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment pride themselves on breakfast burritos with many of them claiming bragging rights.  Very few breakfast burritos in New Mexico are as worthy of bragging rights as the calabasitas and egg burrito (two scrambled eggs, diced squash, zucchini and onions) topped with both red and green chile.  The calabasitas are perfectly al dente,  crispy not mushy and very fresh.  The eggs are fluffy and well seasoned and the tortilla is engorged with ingredients, topped with red and (or) green chile and melted white and yellow Cheddar cheese. 

Both the red and green chile have a terrific bite, a welcome change from the insipid chile that’s become so commonplace.  It’s the type of chile that pairs well with a hot cup of coffee, the heat of the coffee accentuating the piquancy of the chile.  You can add your choice of bacon, sausage, diced ham or chorizo to  the burrito for a pittance more.  The ham has an endearing smokiness and goes well with the calabasitas.  This is one of the very best breakfast burritos in New Mexico.

Salsa and chips at Abuelita’s in Bernalillo

The salsa has a rich red tomato taste much like a spicy V8 juice with a jalapeno kick flecked with cilantro and white onions. A complimentary order of chips and salsa is brought to your table shortly after you’re seated.  You’ve got to pay for second and subsequent orders.  Both the salsa and the crisp chips are low in sodium.  Best of all, the salsa has a nice bite with a pleasant piquancy locals love, but which won’t send tourists scurrying for a fire hydrant.

25 January 2014: The menu is replete with New Mexican specialties, some of which you might not ever see in your abuelita’s kitchen.  One such unique entree is the creatively named tacopilla which is a portmanteau of the words taco and sopaipilla.  Some might argue that the foundation for this entree isn’t a sopaipilla, but a buñuelo.  A buñuelo is essentially a flat sopaipilla about nine inches around, but it resembles Indian fry bread (which is more dense and tastes more like yeast-leavened bread).  Anyway, the buñuelo, er…sopaipilla is layered with refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and sour cream and if you so desire, shredded beef, ground beef or chicken.  The shredded beef is your best bet.  It’s moist and tender, like shredded carne adovada without the chile.

The Tacopilla

The Tacopilla with Red and Green Chile

The tacopilla is delivered folded over like a taco, but there’s no way you can eat it like that. You’re going to have to lay it flat and cut into it like a pizza in order to eat it. That’s a bit of a challenge considering the “elasticity” of the sopaipilla. It may be argued that the refried bean, shredded beef and green chile combination on a sopaipilla makes it an entree while the lettuce and tomato make it a sandwich. Whatever it is, it covers your plate and it’s a rare eater who can finish the entire Frisbee-sized behemoth.

25 January 2014: If tacopilla sounds too much like a reptilian monster which terrorizes Mexico City, Abuelta’s has your hook-up with normal sized tacos.  Available in quantities of two or three (or you can order four or more a la carte) and served with refried beans and rice, these tacos are of the hard-shelled variety and are engorged with ground beef, cheese, lettuce and tomato.   The ground beef is nicely seasoned without being too salty and doesn’t taste refried as at far too many New Mexican restaurants. These tacos are perfectly made for Abuelita’s salsa.

Tacos

Tacos

As you peruse the menu, you might be surprised to see chicken fried steak on the “New Mexican Specialties” section of the menu.  So what makes chicken fried steak New Mexican?  Why, green chile, of course.  My friend Larry McGoldrick,, the professor with the perspicacious palate raves about Abuelita’s chicken fried steak with green chile gravy.  If you prefer that your steak not be chicken fried, opt for the Ranchero steak, a six-ounce strip steak served on a bed of papas topped with green chile and served with Texas toast.  For just over ten dollars, the Ranchero steak is surprisingly tender, wholly belying the leather-tough caliber of meat you generally find at that price range.  It’s also well seasoned with salt and pepper.  You can omit the chile if you so desire, but no savvy diner will omit the golden blonde, cubed papas which are so much better than any fries.

Abuelta’s is no one-trick pony when it comes to enchiladas, offering six enchilada dinners, all served with  Spanish rice and refried beans.  The enchiladas are rolled (though you can order them flat/stacked as they’re served in much of Northern New Mexico) and stuffed with your choice of cheese, beef, chicken, carne adovada, calabasitas and of course, with the requisite egg atop and your choice of chile.   There’s not a bad enchilada on the menu, only good, better and best (the carne adovada).

Ranchero steak, a six-ounce strip steak with papitas

There are also six burritos on the menu including one of the very best chicharones burritos you’ll find in the Land of Enchantment. Chicharones are made by frying pig skin and are sometimes called “cracklings” although in no case should they be as crisp as pork rinds. The best chicharones are just slightly crispy and have a smoky, bacon-like taste. At Abuelita’s, the chicharones are neither too crispy or too soft. They’re also delicious and generously packed into a tortilla where they share space with excellent refried beans. 

25 January 2014: Abuelita’s carne adovada is yet another winner.  The slow-roasted lean pork is marinated in red chile then smothered in either red or green chile.  If you’ve never had red chile marinated pork smothered in green chile, you owe it to yourself to try it.  It’s the best of both worlds.  Abuelita’s carne adovada is oh so smooth and delicious with tender tendrils of pork you can chew even if you don’t have teeth.  It’s among the best carne adovada in the area and displays its versatility in stuffed sopaipillas, burritos, enchiladas or on a lunch or dinner plate where it’s served with refried beans and Spanish rice as well as two sopaipillas.

Carne Adovada with a Fried Egg and Rice

Carne Adovada with a Fried Egg and Rice

Nearly flat and just slightly greasy and somewhat “elastic,” the sopaipillas are  served with most lunch and dinner plates.  They’re low in salt and are a perfect repository for honey (or honey-flavored syrup as served in the restaurant)  For dessert, another nice option are the natillas served warm or cold (your choice) and sprinkled generously with cinnamon. 

Abuelita’s New Mexican Kitchen is a hometown treasure serving New Mexican comfort foods in the ways they’ve been prepared for generations by abuelitas in their own kitchens.

Abuelita’s New Mexican Kitchen
621 Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 867-9988
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 January 2014
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Natillas, Carne Adovada, Chicharones Burrito, Tacopilla, Ranchero Steak, Calabasitas Burrito

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Ancient Spirits Bar & Grille – Bernalillo, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Ancient Spirits Bar & Grille in Bernalillo

“Ancient spirits dwell in New Mexico, since before the existence of humanity.”
The Husband: A Novel by Dean Koontz

FROM THE ANCIENT SPIRITS BLOG ON JULY 17:  Due to unforeseen circumstances Ancient Spirits Bar and Grille has had to close its doors. We have lost one of our owner/investors and are searching for someone to take his place. We are hoping that this is only a temporary setback and that we will be able to open back up very soon. Sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for your support.

The presence of ancient spirits is ubiquitous throughout New Mexico.  It’s a presence as palpable as a soft caress or a small, still voice.  You can feel that presence while standing reverently under a canopy of stars when the hushed stillness of an ebony night is punctuated by a gentle breeze.  You can sense those ancient spirits around craggy canyon walls which reach precipitously upwards to cerulean skies.  Contrary to what is popularly postulated, these spirits are earthbound not because of unresolved issues, but because they can’t bear to leave the preternatural beauty of the Land of Enchantment.

Some will call it sacrilege, others will argue it’s a tribute, but in March, 2013, a new restaurant named for those ancient spirits was launched in Bernalillo.  Those who consider it sacrilege should remember that some of those spirits earned their reputations as pranksters, the most famous of which is Kokopelli. Known also as a fertility god, healer and raconteur, the flute-playing Lothario has come to embody what is colorful and fun about the Southwest.  It’s only fitting that effigies of the hunch-backed flutist festoon the Ancient Spirits Bar & Grille.

The main dining room at Ancient Spirits Bar & Grille

The main dining room at Ancient Spirits Bar & Grille

Ancient Spirits is situated to the immediate east of the Santa Ana Star Casino in a capacious edifice owned by the Pueblo of Santa Ana (which is not involved in the operation of the restaurant in any capacity).  Area residents will recognize the complex as having previously housed Capo’s Bottega Ristorante Italiano and before that the Milagro Brewery & Grill.  Perhaps because of the mediocrity of previous tenants, several of my foodie friends were trepidacious about dining at Ancient Spirits, believing it would be more of the same.

Any trepidation or uncertainty we may have felt ourselves quickly dissipated when we ran into executive chef Enrique Guerrero, one of the most accomplished and personable chefs in the Land of Enchantment. Chef Guerrero has a very impressive culinary pedigree that includes having served for more than four years as personal chef for Mexican President Carlos Salinas. During that stint, he had the privilege of having prepared state dinners for Pope John Paul, II as well as President George H.W. Bush.

Cowgirl Quesadilla with Sweet Potato Fries

Cowgirl Quesadilla with Sweet Potato Fries

In New Mexico, Chef Guerrero presided over the kitchens of some of most highly acclaimed restaurants during their halcyon periods, including the now defunct La Mancha at Galisteo Inn when it garnered recognition from Bon Appetit as among “ten of our favorite dining spots in vacation destinations around the country.” Under his watch, La Mancha was also named by Conde Nast Traveller as one of the nation’s 26 “Hot Tables.” More recently, Chef Guerrero was the founding chef for both the O Eating House in Pojoaque and Mangiamo Pronto in Santa Fe.

Chef Guerrero could not have selected a more inviting milieu in which to ply his considerable talents. Ancient Spirits is a very attractive, very well laid-out establishment with a sprawling patio providing awe-inspiring views of the bosque and Sandias. Blonde wood floors, massive floor to ceiling vigas and kiva fireplaces adorn the main dining room. Oneophiles will appreciate the separate bottle room in which they can select from among different wines. Plans are also in motion to relaunch the brewery operation.

Slow Roasted Turkey Enchilada

Slow Roasted Turkey Enchilada

Ancient Spirits is described on its Facebook page as a “Southwest Steakhouse,” which offers an eclectic array of food styles: American (new), Mexican, sandwiches, seafood, Southern, steakhouse and vegetarian. You can trust that Chef Guerrero will infuse unique and innovative touches–sometimes with a bit of whimsy, sometimes with a bit of sophistication, but always with a delicious actualization of flavors in each dish.

Surprisingly the lunch menu doesn’t list appetizers unless you consider the four taquitos on the “taquito divertido” menu as starters.  Divertido, a Spanish word which translates to “fun or enjoyable” makes sense.  The lunch menu also includes four “from the garden” salads and a taquito soup.  The sixteen item Platos De Almuerzo (lunch plates) menu features New Mexican entrees, burgers, a petite steak, red chile battered Alaskan cod, quesadilla and sandwiches.  Several, but not all, of the Mexican and New Mexican items are prepared with cumin.  The lunch menu features thirteen entrees south of ten dollars.

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New Mexico Cheese Steak with Fries

Though it’s on the Platos de Almuerzo menu, the Cowgirl Quesadilla makes a very good appetizer.  As quesadillas go, this one is more appetizer sized than it is entree portioned.  It’s one of the more creative quesadillas in the Albuquerque area with two  pinto pony color charred flour tortillas stuffed with bleu and asadero cheeses, fresh apple slices and spicy pecans.  An apricot-habanero glaze is drizzled on the tortillas.  The contrasting flavors of the ingredients, especially the bleu cheese and the apple slices, go very well together as do the textural differences of pecans and soft asadero cheese.

The New Mexican entrees proudly showcase New Mexico chile.  The slow-roasted turkey enchilada plate is served with your choice of Chimayo red chile or Hatch green chile, both of which exemplify what it is we all love about our state’s official state vegetable.  The Chimayo red chile has a rich, earthy flavor and a notable piquancy.  The green chile will also bite you back and has a fresh, fruity flavor.  The enchiladas are served flat, the preferred way in Northern New Mexico and they’re served with house rice and black beans.

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Apple Pie Tamal with Cinnamon Ice Cream.  (Chocolate and Cajeta Ice Cream also Pictured)

Move over Philadelphia cheese steak.  The New Mexico cheese steak (beef tenderloin tips, roasted bell peppers, New Mexico green chile, Cheddar cheese) will make even the most devout of Philly transplants forget “wiz wit” (“with cheese whiz, “wit” onions).  While green chile isn’t a novelty on cheese steak sandwiches, Ancient Spirits pulls no punches because it dresses this sandwich with a chile you can respect.  It’s green chile with heat as well as flavor.  Great as the chile is, you’ll come away remembering and perhaps pining for another bite of the beef tenderloin tips.  If they’re indicative of the quality of the restaurant’s steaks, we’ll be trying those soon. 

Six dessert offerings, in addition to the house ice cream selection, are available to crown your meal.  The desserts are as creative (i.e., jalapeño cheesecake) as many of the entrees.  Perhaps the most imaginative dessert is the apple pie tamal (apple pie, moonshine crema)  Sheathed within singed corn husks are apple pie filling inside a cinnamon crust served with cinnamon ice cream.  As interesting as this dessert is, my preference would have been for masa with a pronounced corn flavor to go with the sweet apples. 

Slow-Baked Cowboy Bread (Smoked Local Tomatoes, Caramelized Onions, New Mexico Goat Cheese)

Slow-Baked Cowboy Bread (Smoked Local Tomatoes, Caramelized Onions, New Mexico Goat Cheese)

SECOND VISIT – 11 APRIL 2013:  The beef tenderloin tips on the New Mexico Cheese Steak made such an impression on us that we knew we’d return in short order to try the steak.  Any restaurant which calls itself a “Southwest Steakhouse,” especially a restaurant in which Chef Enrique Guerrero presides over the kitchen certainly must know its steak.  The grill menu offers eight tempting entrees, not limited to steak.  You can also order barbecue pork ribs, a three-quarter pound burger (with pork belly, among other ingredients), two smaller (a meager eight-ounces) burgers and a twelve-ounce pork chop. 

Much as we might have wanted to attack a steak the moment we pulled up to the parking lot, other items on the menu beckon “try me first.”  One such item is slow-baked Cowboy Bread served with a sweet house butter.  There are five breads from which to choose, each one baked individually at ten minutes baking time and each one seemingly more creative than the other.  Our choice included smoked local tomatoes, caramelized onions and New Mexico goat cheese.  The bread arrives at your table in a too-hot-to-the-touch cast iron baking pan (which could probably have used a bit of baking spray to prevent the bread from sticking to the pan).  It’s a very good bread which would have been even better had we been able to extricate it wholly from the pan.

Taquito Soup (Tomato Broth, Avocado, Charred Corn, Pulled Chicken, Cheese Taquito, Crema

Taquito Soup (Tomato Broth, Avocado, Charred Corn, Pulled Chicken, Cheese Taquito, Crema

Another starter not to be missed is the aptly named Taquito soup, a beautiful expression of flavor and texture in a flying saucer sized bowl.  The basis for this excellent elixir is a nicely seasoned and rich tomato broth in which you’ll find unctuous avocado, charred corn, pulled chicken, crema and a cheese taquito.  The cheese taquito is a very pleasant surprise texturally in that it retains just a bit of a crispy crunch.  The soup is served warm (not hot) and its portion size isn’t really substantial enough for sharing (not that you’d want to).  Those are the two minuses for an otherwise terrific soup.

In the 70s, “stacking” food was a gourmet restaurant trend that lingers on and on.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  In the latter category is the Ancient Spirits bone-in center-cut rib eye entree nestled atop potato puree and topped with a chile relleno and charred tomato sauce.  The reason stacking this entree didn’t work for us is that the chile relleno erupted its molten cheesy innards all over the steak.  Grrrrr!  Even after scraping away the gooey, cheesy and charred tomato mess, their residual flavors remained imprinted on the steak.  What might otherwise have been an excellent steak was diminished.  The steak is thick, juicy and it’s prepared to your exacting specifications.  Should we order it again, the sides will be on the side.

Bone-In Center-Cut Rib Eye (16-ounce hand-cut bone-in rib eye, chile relleno, charred tomato sauce, mashed potatoes

Bone-In Center-Cut Rib Eye (16-ounce hand-cut bone-in rib eye, chile relleno, charred tomato sauce, potato puree

THIRD VISIT – 27 June 2013:  In his near-obsessive quest to find the best non-fried chicken in the Duke City area, my friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver has devoured several chicken coops worth of rotisserie chicken, roasted chicken, chicken al carbon, barbecue chicken, baked chicken and chicken made in ways of which the Colonel never conceived.  He’s got a phalanx of poultry loving people providing feedback on chicken dishes he hasn’t yet sampled.  When someone recommended the iron skillet roasted chicken at Ancient Spirits, he took it in the spirit that “all feedback is a gift,” forgetting that fellow foodie Bruce Schor had found the penurious portions of the chicken to be just one of the things he didn’t like about it.

The menu describes the iron skillet roasted chicken as half a chicken marinated in cardamom and Ancho chile.  The term marinade implies “before cooking,” but the marinade appeared to have been applied after-the-fact.  Instead of marinated, the chicken had a slathered-on feel with marinade ingredients not penetrating much below the surface.  The marinade itself is wholly unnecessary and any cardamom influence is obfuscated by a  chile which completely dominated any roasting flavor profile.  The chicken is served with roasted potatoes, seasonal vegetables and fresh avocado.

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Iron Skillet Roasted Chicken

Much better than the chicken are the Ancient Spirit burgers. The Cowboy Deluxe Burger, a beefy behemoth topping the scales at eight ounces and topped with onion rings, bacon, Cheddar and Oooo Eee barbecue sauce (did Bob of the Village People name that?) is a stellar burger–and it would be even better sans onion rings–or at least onion rings not so heavily breaded.  As effective a desiccant as you’ll find anywhere, onion rings on a burger are a mistake which will make you wish for more of the Oooo Eee sauce or at the least, grilled onions.  At medium, the beef is perfect.  The bun is solid and formidable enough to hold up against all the moist ingredients.  Burgers are served with your choice of regular or sweet potato fries.

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Cowboy Deluxe Burger

The ancient spirits who inhabit the Land of Enchantment have one more reason to remain earthbound–a delightful bar and grille named for them with a chef who prepares preternaturally good food.

Ancient Spirits Bar & Grille
1016 West Highway 550
Bernalillo, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 27 June 2013
1st VISIT:  6 April 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$-$$$
BEST BET: Cowgirl Quesadilla, Slow Roasted Turkey Enchilada, New Mexico Cheese Steak, Apple Pie Tamal, Slow-Baked Cowboy Bread, Taquito Soup, New York Strip, Bone-In Center-Cut Rib Eye

Ancient Spirits Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

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