The tethered banner in front of K’Lynn’s Cuisine in Rio Rancho lists a few of the delicious treasures available in the tiny restaurant: “catfish, BBQ, gumbo, po boys, jerk chicken, carne adovada fries & more!” Yeah, we did a double-take, too. One of those items just seemed a bit out-of-place? If you’re thinking “carne adovada fries” don’t belong on the list because they’re not Soul food, you’d be wrong. Carne adovada fries definitely belong on the list. So does jerk chicken which, by most conventional definitions, isn’t soul food either. The one item we thought to be out-of-place was “& more.”
I mean what more could you possibly want listed on the banner. If it didn’t have you at “catfish” you probably haven’t had catfish down South…and if it didn’t seal the deal with “gumbo,” you definitely need an infusion of South in your mouth. Beyond catfish and gumbo, the rest is gravy and it’s absolutely delicious. Until the summer of 2016, restaurant-goers craving Southern cuisine had only one option for soul food, albeit a wonderful option in Bucket Headz. For those of us on the “west side,” the trek to the International District for Malaika’s fabulous cooking is a long (though well worth it) trip. With the launch of K’Lynn’s Cuisine, we now have a second option to succor our souls.
Residents of the City of Vision may be asking themselves where this new denizen of deliciousness is situated. Most restaurants in the Land of Enchantment’s third most populous city, after all, are clustered on three main arteries: Rio Rancho, Southern and Unser. K’Lynn’s occupies a Lilliputian space on the northeast side of the Rio Rancho Marketplace, a retail shopping center whose anchor tenants include Target and Albertson’s. Even if you take Ridgecrest west-bound, it’s not easy to spot. Trust me. It’s there and it’s worth a detour from the well-beaten, well-eaten path.
K’Lynn’s Cuisine is the restaurant arm of K’Lynn’s Cuisine & Catering, an enterprise owned and operated by Karen Johnson-Bey, aka K’Lynn. A self-taught chef, K’Lynn launched her restaurant on July 7th, formerly focusing solely on catering. It’s no longer Rio Rancho’s best kept secret. Word is getting out about the tiny place where you can enjoy food for your soul–a mix of soul, Cajun and Caribbean cuisine. Her culinary repertoire is even more expansive, catering “all types of cuisines from American, New Mexican, Italian and more.” There’s that “and more” term again.
You probably won’t peruse K’Lynn’s menu too thoroughly. That’s because the day’s specials, scrawled on a white board on the counter, are so value-priced and tempting. Listing only a handful of items, the specials list may include such mouth-watering items as crab cakes, oxtail and barbecue ribs. The menu itself befits the small restaurant. You might not get any further than the baskets: catfish (one, two or four pieces), fried shrimp or fried crawfish served with your choice of fries or coleslaw, but if you do you’ll run into three entrees: gumbo, jambalaya and jerk chicken. Hungry diners can opt for platters which are served with your choice of three sides or you can have a two- or three-item combo. Either way, you won’t leave hungry…and we haven’t even gotten to the appetizers which include such sumptuous starters as popcorn shrimp and the aforementioned carne adovada fries. Page two of the menu, if you somehow manage to get there, also lists several po’ boy and salad options.
Gumbo is an archetypal Cajun offering and almost inarguably the most popular dish ever conceived in Louisiana (as emblematic of the Bayou State as chile is to New Mexico). It’s a veritable melting pot dish, transcending all class and income barriers. With a fragrant bouquet that precedes it, a steaming bowl of good gumbo is one of life’s most satisfying pleasures. K’Lynn’s offers two options for its gumbo: Andouille sausage and chicken or shrimp. We can’t speak for the version made with shrimp, but the version made with Andouille sausage and chicken is “close your eyes and let the aroma and flavors wash over you” satisfying. It goes without saying that it pairs best with cornbread, some to sop up that great gumbo and some cornbread with lots of butter.
One of the Southern traditions we quickly embraced upon moving to Mississippi was a family-style meal of catfish and fried chicken after church every Sunday. For umpteen consecutive Sundays we visited Aunt Jenny’s in Ocean Springs for a bounteous repast. Aunt Jenny’s set the bar for catfish rather high and only a handful of restaurants (such as the aforementioned Bucket Headz) in the Land of Enchantment are even in the same zip code as that bar. Though K’Lynn’s source for catfish isn’t the murky ponds of Mississippi, Californian catfish is still very good. Sheathed in a golden-hued, lightly seasoned batter, the catfish is light and delicate with a deliciousness that defines any notions you may have about the bottom-dwelling fish. Catfish goes especially well with mac and cheese and fried green beans, both of which are quite delicious.
While you’re more likely to find restaurants pairing fried chicken with catfish than you are restaurants pairing catfish with jerk chicken, the latter combination goes very well together. Infused with an assertive jerk seasoning, the beguiling fragrance of which wafts toward your waiting nostrils with a siren’s irresistible call, the chicken is moist and tender, but its most endearing quality is that it allows the deep, emphatic penetration of the slightly sweet, pleasantly piquant jerk seasoning. If you prefer your jerk chicken to render you a coughing, sputtering, watery-eyed frump, K’Lynn’s version won’t do that for you, but you will enjoy it.
In his terrific tome Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time culinary historian Adrian Miller declared red Kool-Aid to be the official soul food drink. That’s a pretty audacious claim for which he puts up a good argument. In the South, Kool-Aid tends to be made with almost as many scoops of sugar as there are granules of Kool-Aid. That’s why we prefer K’Lynn’s grape Kool-Aid and ginger ale. Not only is it not cloying, it’s got a nice effervescence and it makes you feel as if you’re getting away with something.
While the Land of Enchantment is second only to Georgia in the annual production of pecans, Southerners would argue that only in the South can pecan pie be made the right way. The “right way” means an almost sickeningly sweet pie, palatable only to diners with a seriously sweet tooth. In the South most pecan pies are made using dark Karo syrup which has a more pronounced and sweeter flavor courtesy of the addition of molasses. K’Lynn’s version is made with the not-quite-as-sweet blonde Karo syrup and it’s topped with a smooth bourbon sauce redolent with the unique bouquet of the oak casks in which it is distilled. Whole pecans and a flaky crust offset the cloying elements. While some Southerners might complain it’s not sweet enough, most diners will enjoy it very much.
Visionaries (isn’t that what residents of the City of Vision are called) have started to discover K’Lynn’s Cuisine, but it shouldn’t take long for savvy diners from throughout the metropolitan area to find out for themselves that food for your soul is good for everyone.
4300 Ridgecrest Drive, Suite O
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 2 October 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo, Cornbread, Catfish, Mac and Cheese, Fried Green Beans, Jerk Chicken, Red Beans and Rice, Grape Kool Aid, Pecan Pie with Bourbon Sauce