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The Mine Shaft Tavern – Madrid, New Mexico

The Mine Shaft Tavern is a very popular eatery and watering hole on the Turquoise Trail

The Mine Shaft Tavern, home to one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico

“You load sixteen tons and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter, don’t you call me cause I can’t go.
I owe my soul to the company store
.”

Those immortal lyrics, hauntingly performed by crooner Tennessee Ernie Ford describe with a poignant reality, the plight of the American miner even onto the 20th century.  By payday, which came at month’s end, miners did indeed owe their souls to the company–for the company house in which they were living, for groceries to feed their families, for doctor bills and even for the tools they used to mine.

They were paid in scrip which could only be spent at the company store, leaving them no choice but to buy from the companies. Despicably, this allowed the company to gouge the miners with vastly over-inflated prices, leaving miners with families inextricably in debt to the company.  When they got paid at month’s end, any money left after settling their debts to the company was insufficient to last through the following month. This vicious cycle was perpetuated the following month when miners again had to pay the company first and were lucky to have anything left for their families.

The capacious Mine Shaft Tavern Dining Room

Although many miners of the age toiled under hazardous working conditions and in virtual indentured servitude  while despotic mine owners and managers benefited from their labors, Madrid’s superintendent of mines Oscar Huber was a unique sort.  Under his direction, the citizenry of Madrid enjoyed unlimited electricity in their homes courtesy of the company-owned power plant, paved streets, schools, a company store and even a hospital.  Commerce was still controlled by the company, however, so miners wages ultimately returned back to the owners’ pockets. 

When given the opportunity, the miners played as hard as they worked. In 1922, Huber built the first illuminated baseball park (still in use today) west of the Mississippi.  The stadium served as home to the Madrid Miners, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers who played a game in the park in 1934.  Madrid was also home to one of the most elaborate and famous Christmas light displays in America.  From the 1920s through the advent of World War II, Madrid miners lit up the sky with 150,000 Christmas lights powered by 500,000 kilowatt hours of electricity provided by the company’s coal-fed generators.   Commercial planes used to divert from their normal routes in order to fly over Madrid so passengers could enjoy the pageantry.

The famous bar at the Mine Shaft Tavern

The last “company town” building erected in Madrid was the Mine Shaft Tavern whose doors opened in 1946. Within the tavern only those familiar with the difficult mining conditions pause to reflect on that heart-wrenching aspect of Madrid’s colorful history. Other patrons are there to have a good time thanks to tavern quality food and libations which flow freely.

The Mine Shaft Tavern is especially popular with old hippies and Harley Davidson enthusiasts whose “hogs” take up many of the parking spaces. The bikers congregate on the porch where they have an excellent vantage point from which to admire their bikes and those of their fellow easy riders. The tavern’s dimly lit interior appears relatively unchanged since the 1940s with canned lights that are indeed made from tin cans. Above the longest stand-up bar in New Mexico, a series of paintings by renown artist Ross J. Ward depicts Madrid’s colorful history.

A better view of some of the paintings just above the bar

From a culinary perspective only, our inaugural visit to the Mine Shift Tavern back in 2005 was a disappointment.  The menu was rather lackluster and the quality of fare was pedestrian.  It might best be described as “company store quality.”   Marked improvement was evident during my second visit in 2011 when I dined at the Mine Shaft Tavern for a “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” article in New Mexico Magazine.  What a difference a change of ownership can make!  In 2009, Lori Lindsey purchased the Mine Shift Tavern and has made it not only “Madrid’s living room,” but one of its best dining rooms.

The menu features “New Mexico Roadhouse Cuisine” showcasing a number of specialty burgers, grilled pizza and specials such as enchiladas, fish and chips and a smoked barbecue sandwich.  Dinner specials are available from Thursday through Sunday after 5PM.  They include a Wagyu “Baseball Cut” Sirloin, Shrimp Brochette and Wild Mushroom Pasta.  If it’s been a while since your last visit to the Mine Shaft Tavern, you might be surprised at how much more varied and inviting the menu now is.  The kitchen’s “mission statement says it best: We take pride in making food from scratch using quality and organic ingredients whenever possible.  Our famous burgers and “Kobe” comes right off the Turquoise Trail, from Bonanza Creek Ranch and Lone Mountain Ranch.”

The Mine Shaft Tavern Stage

With a New Mexican beef pedigree like that, you’ve got to order one of the Tavern’s six specialty burgers which are available from your choice of half-pound Angus, New Mexico Wagyu, Buffalo or Veggie.  The newest specialty burger was created in 2014 for the second annual green chile cheeseburger smackdown in Santa Fe.  It’s called the “Mad Chile Burger” for good reason–because most New Mexicans are absolutely mad about green chile.  The more, the better!  If this describes you, you’ll love the duo of roasted green chile and lightly battered and fried green chile strips.  The Mad Chile Burger also includes a half-pound black Angus Chuck, aged Cheddar and Chipotle Dijonaisse on a Brioche Bun with garnish (pickles, tomatoes, lettuce) on the side.

When I ordered the Mad Chile Burger, my server (who also happens to be owner Lori Lindsey’s niece) was very prophetic in telling me it would be the winning green chile cheeseburger in the Smackdown two days later.  I was skeptical until my second bite when the Chipotle Dijonaisse kicked it.  With the heat-generating triumvirate of roasted and chopped green chile, battered and fried green chile and Chipotle Dijonaisse, this burger blesses you with three times the love and three times the flavor you get from most green chile cheeseburgers.  The battered and fried green chile strips, similar to a chile relleno without the cheese, are especially addictive.  The Chipotle Dijonaisse has the tanginess of mustard with the piquant kick of chipotle, a combination which renders mustard unnecessary.  In fact, to add anything else to this burger would be to desecrate it.  It is simply one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico.  Smackdown attendees obviously agreed, according the Mad Chile Burger the “people’s choice” award for 2014.

The Mad Chile Burger with black and tan onion rings

All burgers are served with your choice of fresh cut French fries or coleslaw.  For a pittance more, you can substitute a salad, sweet potato fries or black and tan onion rings.  Better still, order an appetizer-sized Hatch green chile basket, the same fried, fire-roasted Hatch green chiles found on the Mad Chile Burger.  Served with Ranch dressing, these green chiles will give you yet another reason to be mad about green chile.

Fittingly, the Mine Shaft Tavern is on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail and was also recognized by the New Mexico Tourism Department as a Culinary Treasure.

The Mine Shaft Tavern
2846 State Highway 14
Madrid, New Mexico
(505) 473-0743
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 10 September 2014
1st VISIT: 30 May 2005
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Mad Chile Burger, Black and Tan Onion Rings

The Mine Shaft Tavern on Urbanspoon

Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen – Madrid, New Mexico

Mama Lisa's Ghost Town Kitchen (aka No Pity Cafe)

Steeped in rich history dating from the early 1800s, Madrid has been transformed from a hard- and soft-coal mining town with shafts as deep as 2500 feet down into a distinctive artist’s community. In the 1970s, artists and craftspeople converted old company stores and houses into shops, galleries and services. In doing so, they transformed what might otherwise have become yet another storied New Mexico ghost town into a popular tourist destination. Situated on the storied Turquoise Trail, Madrid is today a beautiful Bohemian escape city dwellers like me really enjoy.

Madrid’s unique charm and slow pace of life are infectious. It’s easy to imagine a carefree life away from the maddening crowds and hustle and bustle of modern metropolitan existence. The folly of modern existence is captured brilliantly in the wooden sign above the door to Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen’s. The sign depicts a corpulent matron ladling soup into her mouth from an Indian pot while a sombrero and huarache wearing skeleton on bended knee begs for sustenance. It’s certainly Madrid’s citizens who represent the fatted woman while those of us envying that way of life are the skeletal beings.

The sign above the restaurant's door.

The sign above the restaurant's door.

Had the skeleton depicted on the sign been allowed to eat regularly at Mama Lisa’s kitchen, he, too, might have been endomorphic like much of American society. That’s because Mama Lisa’s serves hefty portions of delicious, maybe even extraordinary victuals…and yes, there is a Mama Lisa.  She’s a transplant from Chicago who’s been feeding visitors and locals in Madrid for more than two decades.  She and her tiny restaurant are very highly regarded by locals, but surprisingly unknown, despite the restaurant’s longevity, outside Madrid.

The signage might lead you to believe this is a restaurant with a multiple personality.  Most people know it as Mama Lisa’s, but its full name is Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen, the “Ghost Town” portion an obvious reference to what Madrid almost became.  The “No Pity Cafe” subtitle came yeas later when the restaurant’s staff called a Santa Fe radio station on a frequent basis to request a song bemoaning “a town with no pity.”  Mama Lisa, a compassionate woman, has a heart of gold, giving a hand-up to many of the town’s poor residents who might not otherwise get much to eat.

Hummus pita with feta and harissa

Hummus pita with feta and harissa

As with many seasonal travel destinations, Madrid’s peak tourist season is in the warm summer months.  As such, it’s probably best to call ahead just to make sure the restaurant is open.  Save for in summer, hours are inconsistent and the restaurant is actually closed from January through March when the town reverts from a bustling hubbub of activity to a veritable ghost town.  When it is open, you’re in for a real treat.  Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town is a jewel, one of the two or three very best restaurants along the Turquoise Trail.

Mama Lisa’s menu is eclectic and everything is made from scratch. Organic ingredients are used to the greatest extent possible. The menu changes frequently and is posted on a slate board just inside the restaurant as well as on the front porch, weather permitting.  The restaurant is situated in the confines of a former two-story home located near the center of Madrid, just east of the fictional Maggie’s Cafe built for the Disney movie Wild Hogs.  Though the restaurant is as homey as possible, its restroom is a porta-potty behind the restaurant by a llama pen–all part of its charm.

Curried Acorn Squash and Orange Soup

Mama Lisa’s eclectic menu is a departure from the mundane. It’s a treat to read the slateboard and a challenge to pick what to order. Everything just sounds so good and you can always be assured of the highest quality of fresh, homemade food possible…just like a mama would make if she could cook nearly as well. As good a cook as my mom is, she never prepared curried acorn squash and orange soup for me, but Mama Lisa has. This is a fabulous, soul-warming soup. Beautiful to look at and absolutely delicious, it melds the surprising combination of acorn squash and orange into an elixir for whatever ails you.

If it’s on the menu, it would be hard to pass up the hummus pita with feta and harissa (a paste of chilies and garlic used to enhance food in North Africa). This Mediterranean inspired entree also includes a fresh assorted greens garden salad and cucumbers (use the harissa as a salad dressing). It’s entirely meatless and absolutely delicious.  While hummus has seemingly become a de rigueur offering at just about every restaurant, very infrequently does it make an impression on me.  Mama Lisa’s rendition does.  It is rich and garlicky, spiced just right.

Green Chile Cheeseburger

During our inaugural visit, we lucked upon the “Schwarzneggar,” an aptly named Sunday special consisting of a three-quarter inch pork chop smothered with rich cream gravy and served with red cabbage imbued with caraway seeds and dried cranberries. Rarely have we had a better pork chop, especially in New Mexico.  An accompanying flax seed bread roll was out-of-the-oven warm and absolutely delicious. Mama Lisa (who rarely seems to venture out of the kitchen) bakes great bread when she finds the time.

Great bread, an airy and hearty housemade ciabatta bun, is the foundation of an excellent green chile cheeseburger.  Lightly toasted, the ciabatta provides a solid foundation to hold all the ingredients for the burger together.  A hand-formed all-beef patty extends beyond the bread on all sides.  It’s a thick beef patty topped with an excellent green chile blanketed by a molten white Cheddar.  The green chile barely registers on my piquancy scale, but rates highly on my roasted green chile flavor meter.  Toppings include julienne carrots, red onions, lettuce, pickles and squash.  The burger is accompanied by a warm potato salad.

The "Sloppy Jose"

The "Sloppy Jose"

A barbecue brisket sandwich with chipotle barbecue sauce is nearly as good as the green chile cheeseburger. The brisket is as tender as a bird’s heart and so scrumptious, no sauce is required (although the chipotle barbecue sauce is dynamite).   The brisket is thinly sliced with a faint smokiness and no discernible fat or gristle.  The chipotle barbecue sauce combines the best aspects of barbecue and chipotle, meaning a nice degree of heat and flavor.  This sandwich may have been served on a paper plate (thankfully with real silverware) but it was of three star quality.

The theme of “good food that’s good for you” applies seemingly to all sandwiches on the menu. Mama Lisa’s “Sloppy Jose,” for example, is made with organic ground beef and is served with dill pickles, a fresh tomato slice and mixed greens all on a ciabatta roll (a specialty of the house). The spicy ground beef practically oozes out of the buns as you squeeze them into your hands. Sandwich plates may include Kettle potato chips which are all natural, extra crispy and delicious–a perfect sandwich accompaniment

Enchilada Heaven

Enchilada Heaven

At most restaurants, especially in New Mexico, calling an entree “Enchilada Heaven” might be an audacious claim, but Mama Lisa’s interpretation of this quintessential New Mexican dish lives up to its name. The three ingredients which make this entree special are pork carnitas (adovada style and unbelievably tender), cremini (a small Portobello) mushrooms and a deeply rich red chile tinged with just a hint of cinnamon and a barely discernable bit of cumin. Perfectly prepared pinto beans and cheese add to the flavor parade.

The parade of surprises at Mama Lisa’s is endless.  You might believe you know what you’re in for if you see penne pasta with meatballs and sausage on the menu, but not so at the hands of a wonderfully inventive chef.  We discerned a real difference in the first taste of the sauce.  Sure the usual suspects–garlic, oregano, etc.–were obviously in the flavor profile, but there was also something deliciously different.  The sauce included a basil-enhanced pesto sauce that provided an enlivening zing that made me want a whole bowl of the sauce.

By the way, the rest of the penne pasta dish is perfectly executed, too.  The pasta is perfectly prepared, neither al dente nor overdone and mushy.  Dollops of melted mozzarella decorate the dish and provide a mellow cheese contrast.  The meatballs, near perfect orbs of seasoned ground beef, are plentiful and excellent.  The sausage, sliced diagonally and buried under the pasta, is fennel-kissed and delicious.  Mama Lisa’s prowess with Italian inspired dishes should be of no surprise considering her international repertoire.

Penne Pasta with Meatballs and Sausage

Beverage selections may include a refreshing Tamarindo Refresco, loosely patterned after a Mexican agua fresca. If you’ve never had tamarind, you’re in for a treat. Tamarind is a fruity, sour, fleshy pulp which Mama Lisa squeezes into a lip puckering cup of deliciousness.  During another visit, the Mexican inspired libation was housemade limeade.  Not too tart, not to sweet, it proved a thirst-quenching beverage on a hot Madrid day.

Mama Lisa’s portions are waist expanding, but no matter how full you might be, you have to save room for dessert. Either that or shop for a couple of hours then come back just for dessert.

Tres Leches cake, one of the best we've had in New Mexico

Tres Leches cake, one of the best we've had in New Mexico

One of her specialties is a red chile chocolate cake. Velvety smooth and moist, it’s a delicious marriage of chocolate and chile. Montezuma and the Aztecs believed this combination possessed aphrodisiac qualities and it turns out, there is a physiological basis for this belief.  As all New Mexicans know, chile is considered an aphrodisiac because of its ability to heighten the pulse rate. Chocolate is imbued with phenyl-ethylamine, a substance that stimulates the same bodily reaction as falling in love.  The bitter-sweetness of chocolate and the smoky heat of the chile form an absolutely delicious combination! It’s made even better with Mama Lisa’s homemade ice cream.

One of the very best homemade ice cream treats we’ve ever experienced is Mama Lisa’s honey flavored ice cream, a dollop of which graced a fabulous “nectarine blue crisp” dessert served warm.  First, the nectarine blue crisp.  It’s a cobbler made with blueberries and nectarine (a fuzz-less relative of the peach) slices.  The blueberry and nectarine combination is a study in how well contrasting flavors can go together.  Now for the honey-vanilla ice cream.  Unlike so many housemade ice creams we’ve sampled, this one has a creamy, velvety texture, but it’s the prominent sweet honey flavor that’s the true foil which makes this dessert memorable.

 

Nectarine Blue Crisp with Housemade Honey Ice Cream

Another outstanding dessert is Mama Lisa’s interpretation of the Mexican favorite tres leches cake. Taking just a bit of liberty, she tops the cake with caramel, homemade ice cream and adds strawberries to the cavalcade of flavors. It’s not quite spongy moist, but the press of each spoonful is made easy thanks to the sweet, delicious three milks combination.

The chocolate walnut strudel is light, flaky, moist and delicious. It is topped with a redolent bitter-sweet chocolate and imbued throughout with walnuts.  It’s one of the few things at Mama Lisa’s you can top.

This is an outstanding restaurant not on everybody’s radar!  If you want to impress friends and family, bring them to Mama Lisa’s and you’ll be hailed a pioneer, maybe a savant.  Please note that because of the frequency with which the menu changes, some (perhaps none) of the items described in this review might be available when you visit.  That would be fine, too, because no matter what’s on the menu is bound to be an adventure in deliciousness.

Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen (aka No Pity Cafe)
2859 Highway 14
Madrid, New Mexico
(505) 471-5769

LATEST VISIT: 18 September 2010
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Red Chile Chocolate Cake, Barbecue Brisket, the Schwarzeneggar, Hummus Pita With Feta & Harissa, Enchilada Heaven, Organic Ground Beef Sloppy Jose, Chocolate Walnut Strudel, Tres Leches Cake, Nectarine Blue Crisp, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Penne Pasta with Meatballs and Sausage, Curried Acorn Squash and Orange Soup

Mama Lisa's Ghost Town Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The Hollar – Madrid, New Mexico

The Hollar in Madrid, New Mexico

The Hollar in Madrid, New Mexico

It wasn’t that long ago that if you played “word association” with almost anyone outside the Mason-Dixon line, the first thing coming to mind if you used the term “Southern food” was probably something like “heapin’ helpins’ of hillbilly hospitality.”

During their nine-year run as one of the most popular comedies in the history of American television, the Clampetts, a hillbilly family who relocated to Beverly Hills after finding oil on their property, introduced “vittles” to the American vernacular.  Vittles, of course, meant such “delicacies” as possum shanks, pickled pig jowls, smoked crawdads, stewed squirrel, turnip greens, and owl cakes.  “Weeeee Doggies,” now that’s eatin’.”

To much of America, the aforementioned delicacies were culinary curiosities–bumpkinly and provincial food no one outside the deeply rural south would eat.  Because the Beverly Hillbillies predated the Food Network and the culinary awakening of America, those stereotypes as to what constitutes Southern food became deeply ingrained in the fabric of American culture.

The interior of The Hollar

The interior of The Hollar

In 2008, Gary Paul Nabhan published Renewing America’s Food Traditions, one of the most important books written about American food. This terrific tome celebrates the vast diversity of foods which gives North America its distinctive cultural identity, an identity reflecting the vast and unique hodgepodge of cultures.  In an example of gerrymandering Congress would envy, Nabhan remapped North America’s boundaries into thirteen basic food “nations” or culinary regions.  He named each region for its ecological and cultural keystone foods.

The culinary region which includes Southern Arizona and New Mexico into northern Mexico, for example, is called “chili pepper nation.”  Three distinctive food nations define the South: “Chestnut Nation”–northern Georgia through West Virginia; “Crab Cake Nation”–the mid-Atlantic down to the Florida coast; and “Gumbo Nation,” the Gulf Coast.

These three culinary nations proudly showcase distinctive traditions and ingredients spawned from a veritable stew of multicultural influences which evolved into Southern food as we know it today.  Those influences include Native and African Americans as well as Scottish, French, Spanish and so many others which were ultimately responsible for Soul food, Creole and Cajun cooking, barbecue and more.  To pigeonhole Southern food into a finite category is to not understand Southern food at all.

Hollar Burger with Prosciutto and Provolone

Hollar Burger with Prosciutto and Provolone

Having lived in Mississippi for eight years, we knew not to compartmentalize Southern food which we thought we had seen described and defined every conceivable way.  That is, until reading an email from a long-time reader of this blog.  When Robyn Black described a restaurant in Madrid, New Mexico which serves “a kind of continental southern food…not the kind of ya’all southern food, but a lot more upscale” in an ambiance “as comfortable as an old shoe, but a lot prettier,” we were intrigued.

When she added that “This is a place that should not be missed, whether you are just passing through or staying in Madrid.  In fact this is a place that is worth driving to from just about anywhere,” and personalized it with “Gil Garduno, this is a restaurant you should not miss,” a visit became inevitable.

The restaurant Robyn described so invitingly is called The Hollar.  In the vernacular of the South, a hollar is a term for “a small valley between mountains,” an apt description for Madrid itself.  Long-time Country music fans are undoubtedly familiar with part-time New Mexican Randy Travis’s “Deeper Than The Holler” which describes the lyrical way a country boy expresses his love (i.e., “My love is deeper that the holler, stronger than the rivers, higher than the pine trees growin’ tall upon the hill…)”

New York Steak and eggs

New York Steak and eggs

The Hollar is the brainchild of owner-chef Josh Novak who matriculated at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Atlanta, perhaps the heart of the South.  It is situated in the rustically charming wooden structure which previously housed the Tocororo Cafe, a highly regarded Cuban restaurant which we loved.  Robyn assured me that “Tocororo may have been good, but The Hollar which has taken it’s place is stellar!”  She called chef Novak “an outstanding, innovative chef!”

The Hollar has interior seating for fewer than thirty guests, but weather-permitting, the place to dine is really the outdoor patio which seats up to 20 more people.  Enclosed by an agrestic coyote fence, it is an ideal milieu for enjoying a New Mexico day particularly when entertainment is provided–and if it isn’t, the people watching is always interesting.  The mostly monochromatic restaurant’s walls are festooned with unframed paintings by a local artist.   More colorful are the clientele, which seemingly typical of Madrid restaurants, is a mix of Bohemians and bikers.  It’s the tourists who seem out of place.

The abbreviated menu is inspired, the “continental Southern” Robyn described.  It’s Southern food with refinement to be sure, but it also includes some of the more simple favorites such as fried green tomatoes, fried pickles and fried chicken.  Lest you think the commonality among everything on the menu is “fried,” the menu also includes entrees you might not necessarily expect at a Southern restaurant–dishes such as a Nicoise salad featuring blackened tuna and a Balsamic vinaigrette.

Fried Green Tomato and Egg Biscuits

Fried Green Tomato and Egg Biscuits

Robyn recommends the shrimp stack which to her “amazement and palate’s delight” provided “an explosion of flavors to die for, something you might find in a five-star restaurant (without the five-star price or attitude).”   The shrimp stack is available for lunch or dinner, but not for Sunday brunch which as it happens was when Kim and I first visited.  The brunch menu is limited in terms of the number of items available, but limitless in its surprises and the culinary contentment it elicits.

One surprise is the Hollar Burger with Prosciutto and Provolone, an inspired burger combination that might seem more Italian than Southern were it not for the fact that a biscuit replaces the banal burger bun.  Unlike the crumbly biscuits I make at home, this one holds together surprisingly well despite the moistness of the beef.  In terms of circumference it’s not a big burger, but it stacks pretty high with a thick, juicy beef patty; crisp lettuce; and thinly-sliced prosciutto sheathed under melted provolone.  More importantly than it’s height is its depth of flavor.  It is a rich and delicious burger.

With today’s inflation the phrase “as tough as a two dollar steak” should probably be replaced by “as tough as a twenty dollar steak.”  The Hollar’s brunch menu features a New York Steak and Eggs for five dollars less than that, but this steak isn’t tough in the least.  It’s a tender and juicy steak–about eight-ounces–seasoned to perfection with nary any gristle.  In addition to the two eggs, this plate includes some of the very best grits I’ve ever had.  If you’ve never had good grits, you’ve never had Josh Novak’s smoked gouda grits which have a texture and flavor unlike any grits I can remember, even in Mississippi.

Fried green tomatoes with a Bourdelaise sauce

When Fanny Flagg’s best-selling novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was published in 1987, it inspired many restaurants to try their hand at preparing this Southern favorite.  Most failed miserably, but The Hollar has perfected the formula–fried green tomatoes lightly coated with cornmeal crust so that when you bite into them, only the outer layer is crunchy while the insides retain a juicy tomato flavor.  One of the ways to appreciate the fried green tomatoes best is on a biscuit with fried eggs.  Wow!  Aside from my mom’s chokecherry jelly, I’ve never had anything better on a biscuit.

Lunchtime starters include a house salad, bruschetta, fried pickles, fried okra and fried tomatoes.  The fried okra is classic–lightly breaded and impeccably fresh.  You’ll find the okra crispy on the outside and  light and moist on the inside.  The fried okra is served with a creamy house-made Ranch dressing.

A starter of fried green tomatoes comes four to an order.  The tomatoes are served with a unique twist on Bordelaise sauce which is traditionally served with meats.  In fact, by virtue of its white gravy-like color, you’d probably never mistake The Hollar’s sauce with Bordelaise.  Appearance be darned, this is an excellent sauce which complements the fried green tomatoes very well.

A warm goat cheese salad

The Hollar’s lunch menu even offers a fried green tomato salad, one of five salads featured (the others being a Nicoise salad with seared tuna, a crispy chicken salad, a crispy shrimp salad and for vegetarians, a sauteed tempeh salad).  When available, the best salad may well be a warm goat cheese salad (pictured above).  This is a work of edible as well as aesthetic art showcasing a variety of greens, berries (black berries, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries), cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, roasted red peppers and grilled chevre (goat cheese) from the South Mountain Dairy in Cedar Crest.

This is a sensational salad!  Served with house-made vinaigrette and Ranch dressings, it is a compilation of scintillating ingredients as fresh and delicious as possible.  The goat cheese is mild, creamy and only slightly sour, the way it should be.  It emboldens and complements the other ingredients, especially the berries.  The grilled red peppers are lightly marinated and have a sweet, ripened quality that renders them delicious.  The berries are an interesting and pleasant addition, bringing an element of tartness to the salad.

One of the highlights of our eight years living in Mississippi was in discovering a region in which fried chicken was practically a religion.  We’ve missed the golden-hued, crispy coating which enrobes perfectly fried and delicate chicken so good it makes adults swoon with ecstasy.  The Hollar’s rendition, though not traditional bone-in chicken, is the best we’ve found in New Mexico.  An entree of crispy chicken with cheese grits and grilled asparagus nearly elicited carnal responses of delight.  The white meat chicken breasts were moist and delicious with an exquisite coating reminiscent of the fabulous Southern-fried chicken we enjoyed often.  Better still, it is served with the aforementioned Bordelaise sauce which presents the qualities of richness and elegance.

Crispy chicken with cheese grits and grilled asparagus

The smoked gouda cheese grits are outstanding, better than any grits we enjoyed in the Deep South–much better.  I’d make the drive from Rio Rancho to Madrid just for the grits.  Then there’s the grilled asparagus which appears to have been marinated in a Balsamic sauce of some sorts.  The asparagus spears are tender and as fresh as they are in spring.  Aficionados of fried chicken won’t do better in New Mexico than this plate!

Biscuits play a prominent role in the  menu and as wonderful as they are, I can’t help but wonder what a good jam would add. Still, if you’re looking for a refreshing departure from the de rigueur New Mexico brunch standards such as breakfast burritos, The Hollar is a welcome change. If you’re looking for a great meal in a terrific setting, the picturesque drive to Madrid should definitely be on your horizon. My love for this charming restaurant is, as Randy Travis might sing, deeper than The Hollar.

The Hollar is open for lunch from 11AM through 3PM and dinner from 5 to 9PM Wednesdays through Saturday. Sunday brunch is available from 11AM to 3PM.

The Hollar
2849 Hwy. 14
Madrid, New Mexico
505-471-4821
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 July 2010
1st VISIT: 2 August 2009
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Hollar Burger with Prosciutto and Provolone, Fried Green Tomato and Egg Biscuit, Coleslaw, New York Steak and Eggs, Warm Goat Cheese Salad, Crispy Chicken with Cheese Grits, Fried Green Tomatoes with a Bordelaise Sauce