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Roma Bakery & Deli – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Roma Bakery & Deli is a culinary oasis north of Albuquerque's downtown district.

The Roma Bakery & Deli is a culinary oasis north of Albuquerque’s downtown district.

Galdamez and Albertine.  If you saw those names on a building, you might expect to see them appended with “Attorneys at Law.”  That’s especially true if the building is in the area  immediately north of Albuquerque’s burgeoning downtown district, an area teeming with lawyers’ offices and bail bondsmen (is bondspeople the politically correct term?). Instead, the building in which Oscar Galdamez and Bruce Albertine ply their own noble trade houses a diminutive and charming dining establishment, Roma Bakery and Deli.  You won’t see their named displayed in any officious self-aggrandizement manner, but it’s a good bet you’ll get to know their names soon enough.

That’s because frequent return visits are imminent, especially for hungry patrons lucky enough to live or work close to the restaurant.  The Roma Bakery and Deli launched in the summer of 2006 and despite seating for only about 40 patrons, this comfy, cozy diner has established itself as a very popular dining destination.  Visit during the lunch hour and you’ll find yourself standing in a line that extends from the entrance to the counter at which you place your order.  There is no menu overhead, but most of the patrons don’t seem to need it.  That familiarity and the banter they exchange with Oscar and the genial staff means they’re regulars.

Oscar Galdamez, the baker and chef, is quite a character.

Oscar Galdamez, the baker and chef, is quite a character.

While delicious, made-from-scratch food is the big draw, it doesn’t hurt any that Oscar and Bruce are as outgoing as any restaurateurs in town.  Oscar, who does the cooking and baking, is from El Salvador but don’t expect any pupusas on the menu any time soon.  He frequents  the Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreño for his pupuseria fix.  His restaurant launched four months after the popular pupuseria.

Finding a place to sit during the weekday lunch hour is a challenge so a lot of people call in to-go orders, sometimes for dozens of sandwiches.  An early lunch (or late breakfast), say at about 10 o’clock might be your best bet and if you’re not in a hurry, make sure to imbibe the ambiance.  The first thing you see when you walk in is a pastry case under glass in which colorful, delicious looking Central American pastries and cookies are put on display.  If you do succumb to the tasty temptations, you’ll be heartened to learn that these pastries don’t derive all their flavor from sugar as do many of their American counterparts.

The pastry display case is replete with delicious treats.

The pastry display case is replete with delicious treats.

Instead, these goodies showcase other distinct tastes.  The prominent flavors on the orange raisin scones, for example, are the citrusy freshness of oranges and the sunny sweetness of sultana (golden raisins).  The coconut butter cookies are indeed buttery and studded with smoked coconut flakes (not unlike coconut macaroons which bear a surprising similarity in appearance), but I digress…

The walls are festooned with giclee prints of original Julie Maas pastels, all very reasonably priced.  Interspersed among the colorful giclees are paintings of automotive designed concepts from the 1960s, all painted by Miller Johnson, a retired automobile designer.   The building which houses restaurant still has old-fashioned windows which open and close with a crank handle.  It’s one of the deli’s charms, along with the worldly eclectic music which plays mostly upbeat and concordant tunes continuously.

On the left, the 5th Street Grilled Cubano and on the right, The Rostisado.

On the left, the 5th Street Grilled Cubano and on the right, The Rostisado.

The menu features five deli-style sandwiches and two croissant sandwiches made on all-butter croissants made in-house.  Four salad options, a soup of the day (on Tuesdays, it’s Baja Lobster Bisque, a bisque spiced up with sauteed jalapeno and tomatoes with fresh cilantro tossed in) and two breakfast entrees (breakfast burrito and breakfast croissant) are also available, albeit served only until 10:30AM.  A chocolate chip cookie is served with every sandwich.  When you bite down on this cookie, you might forever swear off anything baked by an elf.  The chocolate practically oozes out with each heavenly bite. 

15 March 2007: Perhaps the most popular sandwich on the menu is the 5th Street Grilled Cubano, a slight departure from the traditional Cuban sandwich Duke City diners have embraced with a passion. This Cubano is crafted from tender marinated pork loin and Swiss cheese with fresh spinach, pickle and a Citrus dressing (a marinade of lime and orange juices, onion and garlic) all grilled on an in-house baked Roma baguette.  It is served warm and is as comforting and delicious a sandwich as you’ll find anywhere in the Duke City.  The freshly baked, just out-of-the-oven baguette (crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside) is a perfect canvas for any sandwich, especially panini.  The citrus dressing, a tangy elixir may just transport you to Miami.

The Cubano

15 March 2007: Perhaps even better (if possible) is a sandwich called The Rostisado.  This beauty is crafted with slow-roasted beef, pepper Jack cheese, marinated Italian red peppers, lettuce and a proprietary Bistro sauce.  The roast beef is roasted on the premises (as are the pork and turkey) and it is piled high on a fresh-baked Roma French roll.  It’s a very tender roast beef which might just rekindle memories of mom’s pot roast.  The Italian peppers (roasted and marinated in oil and oregano) are so good, you might want to order a separate Italian red pepper salad (for a mere pittance more).

19 August 2014: Having an office within easy walking distance of the Roma Bakery & Deli is one of the very few perquisites of my Kim’s job.  Over the years she’s sampled virtually everything on the menu several times over.  She raves so much about the croissants that not having one was not an option for me.  The Southwest Tuna Croissant is the very best tuna-based sandwich I’ve had in New Mexico (and as my readers know, one of my life’s quests is to find a tuna sandwich equal to those in Massachusetts).  This one is close!  The tuna is as fresh as is possible and it’s not overwhelmed by mayo or salad cream.  Instead, it’s ameliorated with just enough finely chopped jalapeño peppers to earn its sobriquet and give the tuna a discernible punch without detracting from the freshness of the tuna.  Onion, cilantro and tomatoes are the only other ameliorants.  The croissant is buttery, soft and flaky (though not overly so).

The Southwest Tuna Croissant with Pasta Salad

A separate deli case displays the deli’s various salads, all of which appear as fresh and inviting as possible.  The Southwest Tuna Salad, a cool mound of the aforementioned tuna on a bed of fresh mixed greens, will forever be my choice after having experienced that tuna on a croissant.  The pasta salad, however, is no bride’s maid.  In a city where it may be impossible to find a good pasta salad, this is a great one.  Salads are available in small or regular sizes.  The soup-of-the-day is made daily from fresh ingredients.  Monday is green chile stew day, a cause for celebration in Albuquerque.

The name “Roma,” by the way, has nothing to do with the Italian city by that name or with the wine which once sponsored Championship Wrestling on Channel 7 (does anybody remember Cyclone Negro panning Duke City drunks?).  It has everything to do with being located on Roma Avenue.  The Roma Bakery & Deli is open on weekdays from 7AM to 2PM.  It’s closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Coconut Butter Cookies

This tiny gem has been called one of downtown’s best kept secrets.  Frankly, it’s far too good to be a secret.  This is the type of treasure the downtown revitalization folks and Albuquerque tourism should trumpet with pride.  Residents and tourists can’t live on chile alone.

Roma Bakery & Deli
501 Roma, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 843-9418
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 19 August 2014
1st VISIT: 15 March 2007
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: The 5th Street Grilled Cubano, The Rostisado, Southwest Tuna Croissant, Pasta Salad, Red Pepper Deli Salad, Coconut Butter Cookies, Orange Raisin Scone, Pumpkin Empanaditas, Raspberry Margaritas,

Roma Bakery & Deli 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. 

Tuna Sub

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.  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.

Italian (ham, salami, roast beef and cheese)

Italian (ham, salami, roast beef and cheese)

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. 

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

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: 16 August 2014
1st VISIT:  4 August 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET:  Bread Pudding, Meatball Parm Sub, Steak and Cheese Sub

L.A. Subs on Urbanspoon

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli – Santa Barbara, California

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli

“I flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami.”
~George Costanza

January 14th has been designated “National Hot Pastrami Sandwich day.” The fact that a day has been designated to honor the greatness of the “most sensual of all the salted and cured meats” is wholly unnecessary for many of us.  True pastrami paramours in the mold of Dagwood Bumstead, Shaggy Rogers, Joey Tribbiani and my friend Bill Resnik, don’t need a special reason or designated day to partake of pulchritudinous pastrami.  To us, every day is pastrami sandwich day! 

Now, if your experiences with pastrami have been limited to the packaged Boar’s Head offering or worse, an occasional Subway pastrami sandwich, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is about pastrami.   Offer Boar’s Head or Subway’s version of pastrami to a foodie from the East Coast or the West Coast, however, and you may as well be offering them snake tartare.  If you’ve ever had pastrami from either Coast, you’ll understand why.

Corned Beef on Rye

Pastrami is deli food.  It’s not meant to be extricated from a hermetically sealed package or consumed at a chain sandwich shop.   Nor is it intended to be lean and trim. Pastrami is a rich indulgence of fatty, spicy, smoky deliciousness.  Its addictive properties impact all your brain’s pleasure centers much the way the capsaicin in chile does.

East Coast transplants will argue vociferously that pastrami is not a bi-hemispheric proposition, while residents of the West Coast talk up their own pastrami traditions.  Until the 2006 launch of California Pastrami & More, Duke City diners were pretty much shortchanged when it came to outstanding pastrami.  California Pastrami acquires its pastrami from The Hat, a Los Angeles area pastrami sandwich shop chain, even East Coast transplants agree is absolutely delicious.

Pastrami on Rye

Pittsburgh-born political commentator and Saturday Night alum Dennis Miller spent enough time in New York City to understand the pastrami mystique, yet it was the pastrami from a Santa Barbara deli he recommended to Guy Fieri, the high élan host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  Miller, a Santa Clara resident, describes Norton’s Pastrami and Deli as “very Long Island.”   Norton’s sells about 320 pounds of pastrami per week, serving it up six different ways: pastrami dipped sandwich; pastrami, lettuce and tomato (PLT) with chipotle mayo; pastrami Reuben; the NYC (with coleslaw, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye); pastrami cheese (Jack, Cheddar, tomato on grilled sourdough); and of course, The Classic (pastrami on rye). 

As with Dennis Miller, this pastrami partisan doesn’t need all that “augmentation.”  Pastrami on rye with deli mustard is my ticket.  Interestingly Norton’s doesn’t steam its pastrami as California Pastrami does.  Instead, the pastrami is grilled on the flat top to give it a slightly crisp texture.  Norton’s isn’t chintzy with its portions, engorging each sandwich with a full eight to ten ounces of wonderfully marbled pastrami.  The pastrami is sliced thin and piled high, a perfect combination.  Texturally, the pastrami has an occasional ribbon of fattiness, but for true devotees, that’s just more flavor.  Norton’s pastrami is a bit on the salty side, but its crispiness (courtesy of the flat top grilling) makes up for it.  The light rye is perfectly grilled and has an assertive, but not overly so, personality.

Norton’s Deli is no one-trick pony, offering an extensive sandwich menu that includes corned beef, melts, grilled chicken, Philly steak, Hebrew National hot dogs and even salads (since the salads aren’t constructed with pastrami, I’ll never order one). It’s an ambitious menu considering the deli’s tiny digs with no more than five tables in the dining area and about that many bar seats. The “open kitchen” lets you take in all the action–and all the aromas. You may be drooling by the time your sandwich is ready. 

As with the light beer commercials from the 1960s, I’m the “great taste” guy and my Kim is the “less filling” gal in the way we order at restaurants.  We then tend to split our orders so we can have a bit of both.  Her sandwich of choice at Norton’s is the corned beef on rye.  There’s no doubt it’s a great sandwich, but there’s no way I’d share a pastrami sandwich.  A couple of bites of the corned beef confirmed it’s lean, moist and delicious, but no one I know is lobbying for a “Corned Beef Sandwich” day.

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli
18 West Figueroa Street
Santa Barbara, California
(805) 965-3210
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 June 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pastrami on Rye, Corned Beef on Rye

Norton's Pastrami and Deli on Urbanspoon