Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill Launched in January, 2016

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 dining room at Kaktus Brewing Company in Nob Hill

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.

Meat Sampler

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.

Though primarily a brewery in which patrons can gather together leisurely and enjoy high quality craft beer, Kaktus didn’t neglected the gustatory needs of its guests. From the onset, it offered a small, but very intriguing menu of surprisingly high quality options, all prepared without the luxury of a true kitchen. Initially Kaktus offered only Frito pie and a number of superb build-your-own hot dogs and brats, the least adventurous of which was an all-natural beef dog. Intrepid diners opted instead for Buffalo Chile Dog; Elk, Cheddar and Jalapeno Brat; All-Natural Beef Dog; Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage; and Wild Boar Game Sausage. Over time, Dana added salads and gourmet pizza to the menu. Andrea Lin, erstwhile critic for the Albuquerque Journal, gave Kaktus a three-star rating.

Dana’s Dog Bites

In part because of public demand, Dana entered Albuquerque’s burgeoning brewery fray in January, 2016, opening the first Kaktus taproom at the space which previously housed Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria and before that Bailey’s on the Beach. That location, on the western fringes of Nob Hill and eastern extremities of the University of New Mexico, is situated in an area already bustling with taprooms. Thanks to its family-friendly atmosphere and a menu sure to capture hearts, minds and appetites, Kaktus will do just fine. Half of the 2,400-square-foot space is, in fact, dedicated to dining while the other half includes a bar you can belly up to. Then there’s an expansive rooftop patio that offers exquisite city views as well as spectacular sunset panoramas.

Knowing what to expect from having visited Kaktus several times at its Bernalillo location, it thrilled me  to see the reactions of my friend Bill and his colleagues Tisha and Jeff as they indulged in their first game meat hot dogs. Jeff, in particular, was practically verklempt with joy at every bite of his elk, Cheddar and jalapeno brat. It’s the same reaction my friend Sr. Plata had when introduced to the duck and cilantro game sausage in Bernalillo. It’s the same reaction I had while reveling in the splendorous glory of the meat sampler, links of duck, elk, jalapeno, wild boar and natural beef served on a bed of sauerkraut and accompanied by dipping mustard and house-made curry sauce. This magnificent meatfest will sate carnivores of all stripes, enrapturing their taste buds with well-seasoned sausages heightened in flavor by the mustard and curry sauce. Each sausage has its own distinct flavor profile and all are addictive.

BBQ Piggie Pizza

There’s a warning on the Kaktus menu which cautions guests “if you don’t like our food, your taste buds may be stressed from the week and need another beer.” While it may be true of other eateries that the level of your enjoyment of the food directly correlates with how much you’ve had to drink, you don’t need to be “four sheets to the wind” to enjoy even the most basic of appetizers at Kaktus. That would be Dana’s Dog Bites, two-to-three bite-sized all-beef dog bites wrapped in a crispy pastry dough served with dipping mustard. This is the adult version of the little Smokies wrapped in biscuit dough you may have enjoyed in your youth. Though they probably won’t make you nostalgic for the “good old days,” Dana’s Dog Bites will make you thankful you can partake of adult indulgences.

The pizza menu lists three specialty pies, four gourmet pizzas, three veggie pizzas, three “simple” pizzas and a build-a-pie option. Just as he didn’t want to offer standard (translation: boring) bar-quality hot dogs, in designing the pizza menu, Dana wanted to construct pizzas different from what other restaurants offer. He wanted to put the pizza in pizzazz. Mission accomplished! Kaktus’s pizza menu is unlike that of any gourmet pizza restaurant in the area. He imports 51-percent whole grain crust from Arizona for the pies. The crust is firm, but has the right amount of “give” when ingredients are heaped on. The BBQ Piggie Pizza, constructed with curry, BBQ sauce, red onions, lots of bacon and Vermont cheese is an eye-opener, the antithesis of all too many pizzas in which barbecue sauce is candy sweet. This barbecue sauce pairs with the curry to give this pizza a more savory punch that complements the bacon very well.

Red Pumpkin Pizza

For sheer uniqueness, you can’t beat the Red Pumpkin Pizza (thinly sliced pumpkin squash, sprinkled pine nuts, goat cheese and drizzled red chili sauce with bacon crumbles). Not only is the squash sliced waifishly thin, its texture is more akin to a dehydrated fruit than what you’d think would be “squashy.” While all ingredients work very well together, it’s the goat cheese and pine nut combination of which you’ll certainly take heed. The pine nuts provide a sweet, roasted flavor with a subtle hint of pine while the goat cheese lends a tangy, slightly sour flavor. The chili sauce adds just a little piquancy to the mix while the bacon provides a porcine presence, the inclination to enjoy of which is imprinted in the DNA of most carnivores.

The vibe in the Nob Hill version of Kaktus is a veritable world of difference from the vibe in Bernalillo. It’s not solely “a little bit rock and roll” compared with “a little bit country.” The Nob Hill location is more fast-paced and rollicking. The Bernalillo milieu is more laid back and sedate. What they both have in common is a great brewery serving great good.

Kaktus Brewery Tap @ Nob Hill
2929 Monte Vista, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 379-5072
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 January 2016
1st VISIT: 22 January 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Meat Sampler, Red Pumpkin Pizza, BBQ Piggie Pizza, Dana’s Dog Bites

Kaktus Brewing Company @ Nob Hill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Filling Philly’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Filling Philly’s Cheesesteaks on Menaul Just East of Louisiana

In 2008, Philadelphia, which translates from Greek to “the City of Brotherly Love” was named by Forbes Magazine as America’s fifth most miserable city, a ranking based on such factors as tax rates, commute times, violent crime, unemployment and weather. The city’s sports fans, in particular, are notorious for their “lack of fraternal affection,” mercilessly turning on even their own teams and players when they underachieve, regardless of past performance.  In the annals of “what have you done for me lately” lore, the last time any of the city’s four major professional sports (football, basketball, baseball and hockey) teams earned a championship was in 2008, putting a stop to a fifteen year drought.  Rather than being “lovable losers,” the Philadelphia fanatics have become mavens of misery.

How miserable is Philadelphia? In 1968, when he walked onto the field for the halftime show, jolly old Saint Nick was greeted by a chorus of boos and a fusillade of snowballs from Philadelphia Eagles football fans.   That the city’s rabid sports fans would boo Santa should come as no surprise.   Eagles fans also cheered when Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin lay injured and motionless on the turf, paralysis a real possibility.  They assaulted the Washington Redskins mascot.  They’ve been known to chuck bottles and batteries at opposing teams and officials.   It got so bad that one year the city installed a jail, judge and court inside the stadium to deal with unruly fans.

Soft Pretzel with Cheese

While Philadelphia fans are known widely as the most obnoxious and violent in all of sports, you can’t argue that they’re also among the post passionate.  That passion extends beyond sports, including into the culinary arena.  Philadelphia is the birthplace of the American pretzel industry, producing up to eighty percent of the country’s pretzels.  The City of Brotherly Love gave us Philadelphia Cream Cheese as well as scrapple (which you can find at Harry’s Roadhouse in Santa Fe), water ice, hoagies and perhaps most famous of all, the Philadelphia (or Philly for short) cheesesteak.

I half expected to be pelted with snowballs the first time we approached Filling Philly’s, a contemporary sports bar and eatery on Menaul just east of Louisiana.   “We’re not in Philadelphia,” my Kim reminded me.  Besides, the Eagles were battling the beleaguered Buffalo Bills on one of the restaurant’s five flat screen televisions and the eyes not affixed on the pigskin pugilism were trained on the cheesesteak sandwiches at their tables.  The menu features seven Philly’s, some such as the Teriyaki Philly and the BBQ Philly heretofore not seen in this parts.  Interestingly, there are seven versions made with chicken instead of steak.  The menu also includes meatball subs, soup and salad and a few non-sandwich entrees.

Green Chile Philly with Fries

Filling Philly’s, the brainchild of Colorado transplant Renee Vallejos, opened its doors in early November, 2015.  Before launching her restaurant, she traveled to Philadelphia where she gleaned advice from purveyors of the city’s sacrosanct cheesesteak sandwich  throughout the city.  To ensure authenticity, she is even procuring the rolls from Amoroso’s, a legendary Philadelphia bakery.  Perhaps in time she’ll have Duke City diners uttering “wiz wit” when ordering their cheesesteaks.  “Wiz wit” is slang for “with Cheese Whiz “wit” onions,” and it’s pretty standard ordering vernacular in Philadelphia.

So, too, are soft pretzels, one of five appetizer options on the menu (the other options are fried pickles, chicken wings, cheese fries and chile cheese fries).  In Philadelphia, soft pretzels are ubiquitous, a standard snack option at any time of the day or night.  Filling Philly’s rendition are characteristically chewy and not nearly as salty as other pretzels with which you might be acquainted.  They’re served with a melted cheese and provide a good, light snack as you anticipate delivery of your cheesesteak.

The Classic with French Fries

For trenchermen of my acquaintance, the most conspicuous misnomer isn’t any item on the menu, but the restaurant’s name itself.  These hearty eaters will argue that the Philly’s aren’t nearly as filling as they would like–even if they order the “meal” option which includes a beverage and French fries.  Indeed, the sandwich portion would probably constitute a half-sandwich at other sandwich restaurants.  No matter how good these sandwiches are, for cost-conscious diners, size does matter.  Make no mistake.  These sandwiches are very good!  They’re just not the behemoths on a bun to which many of us are accustomed.

Faithful readers recognize that my very favorite sandwich in New Mexico is the Green Chile Philly from Philly’s N Fries (formerly Itsa Italian Ice).  It’s my sandwich standard, my basis for comparing every other sandwich, particularly every green chile Philly.  Filling Filly’s version is good, better than a Miss Congeniality.  The steak is finely chopped and perfectly grilled, the green chile registers no more than “mild” on my piquancy scale and the Cheese Whiz is gooey  and doesn’t become the gloppy mess some processed cheeses do.  It’s a moist and messy sandwich with plenty of flavor.  The Amoroso’s buns are soft, chewy and delicious.  They should be a standard sandwich canvas everywhere.

The “Classic” (steak, onion, Provolone, green peppers) is also quite good, albeit not large enough for my Kim whose portion preference is petite compared to mine. Every aspect of this sandwich is a winner save for portion size. At first bite, you’ll likely discern there’s something just a little different about the French fries in the “meal” order. The fries are seasoned with sugar and buttermilk. It’s an odd combination some will like. One day after having perhaps Albuquerque’s best fries at La Quiche Parisienne, we weren’t exactly blown over.

It’s hard to conceive of Philadelphia being a miserable city considering the widespread availability of quality cheesesteaks, the type of which Filling Philly’s has brought to Albuquerque.  It may be as close to standing on the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue (where the cheesesteak was invented by Pat’s King of Steaks) as you’ll get in New Mexico.

Filling Philly’s 
6904 Menaul Blvd. N.E., Suite D
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 830-4444
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 December 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Philly, The Classic, Soft Pretzel with Cheese

Filling Philly’s Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

SoupDog – Albuquerque, New Mexico

SoupDog in Albuquerque’s Green Jeans Farmery

The old Jewish proverb “worries go down better with soup than without” may just be the most understated aphorism about soup ever uttered.  When soup is discussed, it’s usually with a sense of warm nostalgia, perhaps even reverence.  We ascribe such adjectives as comforting, restorative, soothing, nourishing, hearty, warming and fulfilling to that nostalgic elixir in a bowl.  The number of adjectives would probably quadruple if we attempted to describe soup’s qualities of deliciousness in addition to its satisfying properties.  There’s no doubt that a luxurious bowl of steaming soup has life-affirming attributes.  Is it any wonder one of the most popular paperback series of all-time is named for soup–the Chicken Soup For the Soul series, an inspirational and uplifting anthology?

Soup is so much more than nostalgia in a bowl, more than a comfort food favorite.  Though good year-round, soup has its own season, one that doesn’t necessarily follow a calendar.  It just seems tailor-made for the chill and bluster of winter.    Indeed, there is much anecdotal and even some scientific evidence to support claims that soups can help restore us back to health when we’re under the weather and wrapped up tightly under blankets.  On days that make us shake, shiver and tremble, soup’s warmth gives us the impetus to brave the cold and attack the day with vigor.

A limited menu with lots of flavors

It was on one of those gelid days that I first visited the SoupDog, an olfactory oasis ensconced in the Green Jeans Farmery (3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E.), the community-oriented commercial plaza constructed entirely with repurposed shipping containers as modular, architectural building blocks.  Four days previous during our inaugural foray to the Green Jeans Farmery for lunch at Amore Neopolitan Pizzeria, we had espied SoupDog and earmarked it for additional study (as in whether or not it was named for Snoop Dogg, the notorious reefer-loving rapper) and a potential visit.

For shizzle (I’ve always wanted to say that) SoupDog isn’t named for the splendid stoner, but for two of the most comforting and iconic foods–soup and hot dogs.  As with other restaurants in the Farmery complex, the SoupDog plies its trade in what could pass for a large concession stand.  Menus scrawled in an array of colors describe the featured fare which you order from a counter.  Next, you’ll saunter over to your choice of several indoor and outdoor dining areas, none attached to a restaurant (although some seating areas are on the roof of the restaurants they serve).

New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo

While the soup menu is relatively limited (listing five soups), deciding which to order won’t be a simple process.  For the peely-wally, the perusal may stop at the creamy green chile chicken noodle soup, the so good and good for you elixir infused with equal parts nostalgia and magic.  Millions of mothers still swear by it.  SoupDog’s version is an invitation to both salivation and sulubriousness.   If you prefer your chicken soup sans creaminess, a more traditional (at least in New Mexico) green chile chicken noodle soup is also available.  From among the five soups listed during my inaugural visit, chile was a chief ingredient in three.

That includes the soup which combines the flavors of my current home in the Land of Enchantment with the flavors of my previous home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  The New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo is as delicious as it sounds, a melding of diverse cultures and cuisines to form an even better concoction.  Picture Andouille sausage and chicken broth with veggies, homegrown herbs and Hatch red chile served over brown rice.  The red chile has just enough bite to be discernible without obfuscating the Cajun flavors which make gumbo one of America’s favorite soups.  If every other soup on the menu is as good, SoupDog will soon join Cafe Bella as my hook-ups when cold weather has me down.

Sonoran Hot Dog

The eponymous SoupDog also lists five gourmet hot dogs, three of which pack the piquancy New Mexicans crave regardless of weather.  Each dog is a right-sized (not too small, not “compensating”) Nathan’s dog.  Though only vaguely reminiscent of eating a Nathan’s hot dog at the original Coney Island stand, the SoupDog’s hot dog offerings will create delicious new memories. My introduction came in the form of a Sonoran Hot Dog (bacon-wrapped Nathan’s Hot Dog in a freshly-baked bolillo roll topped with chili (SIC) beans, homemade roasted jalapeño salsa, mayo and homemade mustard. 

The Sonoran Hot Dog may just be the most delicious export from the Grand Canyon State to hit New Mexico where it’s made significant inroads.  In recent months we’ve uncovered Tucson-quality Sonoran hot dogs in Albuquerque (Sharky’s Fish & Shrimp and Pop Fizz) and Rio Rancho (Ice Cream Palace And Hot Dog World) and we understand there are several purveyors of this paragon of delicious messiness operating from motorized conveyances.  SoupDog’s Sonoran is so good it may take several visits before another hot dog tempts me enough to try it.  The combination of garlicky hot dog, piquant salsa and tangy mustard nestled in a beauteous bolillo is a winner! 

The SoupDog is a sure cure for winter blues and an even better cure for hunger. For soup and hot dogs, it should be on your radar.

3600 Cutler Avenue, N.E., Suite #7
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
(505) 401-5827
LATEST VISIT: 3 December 2015
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Sonoran Hot Dog, New Orleans Meets New Mexico Gumbo

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

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