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Cafe Bella – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

My friends Bruce “Señor Plata” Silver and Paul “Boomer” Lilly in front of Cafe Bella Coffee in Rio Rancho

Caffeine is my shepherd; I shall not doze.
It maketh me to wake in green pastures:
It leadeth me beyond the sleeping masses.
It restoreth my buzz:
It leadeth me in the paths of consciousness for its name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of addiction,
I will fear no Equal:
For thou art with me; thy cream and thy sugar they comfort me.
Thou preparest a carafe before me in the presence of The Starbucks:
Thou anointest my day with pep; my mug runneth over.
Surely richness and taste shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the House of Mochas forever.
~Author Unknown

Among the many unflattering stereotypes about Information Technology (IT) professionals is that we’re all propeller-headed Poindexters hopped up on Mountain Dew, Red Bull and strong coffee.  As if to lend credence to that stereotype, the cafeteria where I work provides free coffee to its employees from the ubiquitous (and unnamed here) industry leader–as much of it as we can drink.  All day long programmers and systems analysts turn down the volume on Metallica, doff their headsets and leave the sanctity of their Jedi knight poster-filled cubicles to refill their barrel-sized coffee mugs.

There are some of us, however, who defy those stereotypes, particularly about the coffee.  It’s not that we like our coffee weak.  It’s that we don’t like introducing battery acid into our delicate systems.  Piquant red and green chile, the type of which makes New Mexicans sweat and New Yorkers cry, an emphatic “yes,” but caustically bitter coffee, “no.”  It’s only because the temperature in our facilities is regulated for the cool comfort of computers and not for thin-blooded human habitation that we occasionally succumb to the warming effects of coffee as strong as Agent Orange.

Affable proprietor Michael Gonzales tends to guests

Admittedly this techie is a relative neophyte to the lure of the coffee sirens.  Only in the past ten years or so have I rekindled my appreciation and love for the nuanced depth of flavors conferred by this stimulating and satisfying elixir.  Few things in life have become as pleasurable to me as the tantalizing aroma of fresh coffee beans followed by the soul-warming, palate-pleasing flavors of a rich, gourmet blend.  As an adventurous voluptuary, it also pleases me to no end that coffee actually has almost twice as many flavor-characteristics discernible by human senses than wine does (take that, oenophiles).

Today more than 400 million cups of coffee are consumed annually across the fruited plain with some 57 percent of all Americans over the age of 18 drinking it daily. The average American consumes about 10.5 pounds of coffee per year, a number which pales in comparison with per capita consumption in other countries.  Coffee has become, next to water, the world’s most popular beverage with 400 billion cups consumed yearly (1.4 billion cups daily) across the globe.  It ranks behind only oil as the planet’s most valuable commodity and may be the one item which can be ordered in any country even if you don’t know that country’s language.

Coffee Cup Chandelier

Not surprisingly, the US city with the highest per capita consumption of coffee is Seattle, birthplace of both the unnamed industry leader and the Seattle’s Best chain. With 35 coffee shops per 100,000 residents and an average monthly spending on coffee of $36, it’s no wonder Seattle is sleepless.  Denver (number four) and Phoenix (number seven) both made the Daily Beast‘s list of America’s twenty most caffeinated cities, but Albuquerque did not.  Sadly, when people associate the Duke City with coffee, it’s because of a 1992 incident in which an elderly woman was severely burned by coffee served in a Styrofoam cup at a McDonald’s drive-up window.  A jury also awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages, the equivalent of about two days of coffee sales at McDonald’s.

Also not surprising is that the unnamed industry leader from Seattle has dominated the Duke City coffee scene for years with a franchise seemingly around every corner.  Local chain Satellite Coffee has been gamely fighting for market share as have a number of independent operations which are really starting to get noticed.  Perhaps the reason no New Mexico city is widely regarded as a player in the coffee scene is that coffee drinking hasn’t fully caught on as a cultural and community experience as it has in Seattle and other copious caffeine consumers.  Michael Gonzales hopes to change that and he’s got the coffee cred to do so.

Panini with roasted organic chicken, micro greens, garlic mustard and cheese

Michael is a classically trained chef with years of experience in the food and beverage world.  He has held positions as an executive chef for corporate chain concepts and independent eateries and he’s served as general manager and outlet manager for companies such as Hyatt. Born in Santa Fe, Michael was raised in Seattle during the height of the coffee revolution and was trained as a barista by Italian World Cup tasting champion Sauro Dall’aglio.  From an experiential standpoint, those  are all serious creds, but the real difference-maker is Michael’s customer-centric philosophies.  To him, the word “espresso” literally means “for you.”

In January, 2012, Michael launched Cafe Bella, a flagship espresso cafe concept in Rio Rancho, just north of the demarcation line with Albuquerque’s northwest side.  It’s minutes from several burgeoning neighborhoods as well as Intel Corporation, the Presbyterian Medial Center and the Lovelace Westside Hospital.  The east-facing coffee shop is an inviting milieu, offering free Wi-Fi and comfortable seating in which to enjoy a leisurely cup or six.  The friendly, community feel is evident even if you’re among the many commuters who stop by to pick up orders especially made for them one order at a time.

Panini (grilled Red Delicious apples with caramelized onion herb spread, melted mozzarella cheese and organic field greens on local Fano rustic artisan bread) with a large Cafe Au Lait.

Michael has cultivated relationships with high-quality local sources who are as passionate about their products as he is.  The single source of Cafe Bella’s roasted drip-brewed coffee is Fat Boy Coffee Roasters from Cedar Crest which procures its beans from individual properties in countries such as Peru, Sumatra, Guatemala, Brazil, Mexico and Honduras.  The beans are roasted to Michael’s exacting specifications and are available for purchase by the pound.  None of the coffee beans will ever see a Mr. Coffee caliber coffee maker.  Great coffee beans deserve the best coffee maker and that’s what Cafe Bella has in the form of a Nuova Simonelli Aurelia espresso maker, a world barista championship caliber machine. 

The quality is telling in some of the very best coffee you’ll find in New Mexico.  A simple cafe au lait (drip coffee with steamed milk) practically had me cursing the acerbic qualities of the unnamed and ubiquitous industry leader.  Cafe au lait, which has been described as the French version of a latte, is a doubly-strong coffee (especially in New Orleans where chicory is added), but as Cafe Bella proved to me, strong doesn’t have to be bitter or caustic.  Made from beans grown in Honduras, the cafe au lait was smooth, delicate and rich with slightly sweet notes.  During subsequent visits, I’ve had cafe au lait from Chiapas, Mexico and Peru, both of which were terrific.

Breakfast Bagel of the Day: Warm toasted Parmesan bagel, Italian herb bread with mozzarella, sundried tomato cream cheese spread and Canadian bacon

Michael takes guests on an around-the-world coffee tour, rotating coffee beans every few days.  The coffee menu includes espresso, latte, mocha java freeze, mango freeze, red eye, Bella mocha, iced coffee, chocolate milk and the very best hazelnut chocolate milk I’ve ever had.  Cafe Bella also sells teas, smoothies, muffins, scones, brownies, salads, panini sandwiches, breakfast bagels, quiche and so much more. 

20 January 2012: The panini sandwich of the day, made fresh daily from local ingredients including farm-to-table greens, is a terrific accompaniment for the coffee and show off Michael’s culinary creativity.  Show up late for lunch and the panini may be sold out; they are that popular.  One of the most popular is crafted with grilled Red Delicious apples, caramelized onion herb spread, melted mozzarella cheese and organic field greens on a canvas of local Fano rustic artisan bread.  The ingredients marry very well together, providing delightfully complementary taste contrasts.

Chocolate Panini

Chocolate Panini

Cafe Bella Coffee works with four special bakeries to bring its guests the freshest baked goods on a daily basis. All its bakery partners are mico-businesses that work out of certified professional kitchens preparing their baked goods the old fashioned way, each item by hand with no artificial flavors.  The Lemon Budt Cake from Cosmic Euphoria Desserts is available exclusively at Cafe Bella.  It’s made with unrefined, unbleached flour, organic cane sugar, agave nectar, coconut oil and real lemon.  The blueberry scones from Cosmic Euphoria are an early favorite, as good a scone as we used to have on the banks of the River Windrush in Bourton on the Water, England. 

15 March 2013:  Fourteen months after its launch, Cafe Bella continues to do the right things right and winning repeat visitors one guest at a time.  Guests not fortunate enough to live or work near Cafe Bella are clamoring for Michael to launch a second instantiation of his popular cafe.  Other Duke City area coffee aficionados who haven’t had the pleasure of a smooth cup of coffee at Cafe Bella may have watched Michael’s appearances on KASA Fox 2′s New Mexico Style program or read in Albuquerque The Magazine that Cafe Bella was runner up for the magazine’s best coffee shop award in 2012.  Perhaps they read about Michael’s genius on Larry McGoldrick’s Albuquerque Food Musing or met Michael at the Taste of Rio Rancho event.  However you’ve learned about Cafe Bella, if you have yet to visit, you owe it to yourself to do so.  Cafe Bella is one of those rare gems which truly exceeds all expectations.

Slow Smoked Carne Panini

Slow Smoked Carne Panini

Cafe Bella has further cemented its standing as an asset to the community by hosting, sponsoring and participating  in a number of events on and off location.  On the first Saturday of each month, it’s the “Coffee & Cars” event which draws in hundreds of automobile aficionados.  Monthly poetry nights draw in a different demographic as do the Salsa-Zumba nights.  With live music on Friday nights, Cafe Bella is also a great venue for unwinding after a challenging workweek. 

8 June 2013: The Cafe Bella menu has expanded as well.  One of Michael’s new creations is a chocolate panini, a unique sandwich crafted from a melted dark chocolate and mozzarella cheese on grilled rustic Fano bread.  It’s even better than it sounds if possible.  Dark chocolate ensures the sandwich isn’t cloying while the mozzarella lends just enough fat and salt to prevent a chocolate overload.  The rustic Fano bread is a perfect canvas. 

CafeBella12

Smoked Turkey Panini with Garlic Mustard Barbecue Mayo, Melted Mozzarella, Organic Field Greens on Local Fano Artisan Bread

16 March 2013: Vegetarian offerings, and not just salads, have always been a staple at Cafe Bella.  One of my favorite vegetarian sandwiches (or sandwiches of any type) in the Duke City is the Grilled Vegetable Ciabbata: grilled garden vegetables, fluffy egg, Parmesan cheese and organic greens on a Ciabbata roll with sun-dried tomato cream cheese.  For a calorically low sandwich, this one is remarkably delicious, especially the amazing combination of perfectly grilled seasonal vegetables with complementary organic greens.  The sun-dried tomato cream cheese is the type of schmear bagel lovers appreciate most. 

14 May 2013: Larry McGoldrick, the esteemed professor with the perspicacious palate, called the slow-roasted carne panini at Cafe Bella the “Best panini I have ever had. Anyplace.”  He named it one of the very best dishes he had in 2012.  It’s easy to see why.  Michael has managed the near miraculous feat of creating a perfect cheese melt while heating the chile marinated pork to perfection without singeing the panini.  When he first served this panini, the carne, true porcine perfection, came from the Smokehouse BBQ, a Rio Rancho institution and one of New Mexico’s very best purveyors of smoked meats.  When the Smokehouse closed, Michael began procuring the pork locally and cooking it for four and a half hours.  The result is pure, unadulterated edible art.  Michael engorges the panini with that succulent pork, baby field greens, mozzarella and a mayo-based sauce.   Each bite is an absolute joy and an adventure in deliciousness. 

Red Chili Mocha with Locally Smoked Carne Adovada Panini

Red Chili Mocha with Locally Smoked Carne Adovada Panini (with an egg)

7 June 2013: If, like me, you find turkey one of the most boring meats with which you can construct a sandwich, you’ve probably had those paper-thin slices of pre-packaged turkey.  You haven’t had turkey from the Smokehouse Barbecue Restaurant in Rio Rancho.  The Smokehouse is where Michael procures the smoked turkey he uses on a fantastic smoked turkey panini.  The canvas for this sumptuous sandwich is Fano artisan bread atop of which is a smear of garlic mustard barbecue mayo (as good as it sounds), melted mozzarella, organic field greens and thick pieces of chopped smoked turkey.  This is real turkey, not the turkey “slurry” sold at the grocery stores (you know, the one which tastes just like the pre-packaged ham).  This is the type of turkey for which you’ll give thanks. 

19 March 2014: Creative people realize that sometimes an idea takes time, testing and patience to achieve actualization.  For Michael, it took more than two weeks of trial before he was ready to debut the best red chili (SIC) mocha in New Mexico.   You can almost envision Michael as a proverbial mad scientist emptying the contents of one steaming beaker into another.  In perfect proportion, the formula for the red chili mocha includes Dutch chocolate cacao, cinnamon, brown sugar and New Mexico red chili.  The red chili imparts that back-of-the-throat heat that raises endorphin levels and makes you happy.  The chocolate and cinnamon lend sweet qualities that temper the piquancy of chili.  It’s a marriage made in heaven.  Michael, by the way, knows the spelling “chili” might offend purists like me, but he’s happy that it starts a conversation.  If people are talking about this magical coffee, they’re bound to try it and if they try it, they’re surely going to love it.  I did!

Cafe Bella's drive-up window means coffee to go at any time

Cafe Bella’s drive-up window means coffee to go every day but Sunday

In 2013, Cafe Bella expanded by launching a drive-through location at 9121 Eagle Ranch Road, N.W. in Albuquerque.  The drive-through windows are open Monday through Friday from 7AM to 12PM and is closed on Sundays.  Who knew coffee flavor so rich and delicious could originate in such a small building.

My love and appreciation for coffee waned after leaving Massachusetts where the wonderful (and sadly now defunct) Pewter Pot in Burlington (about fifteen miles north of Boston) practically become a second home.  The Pewter Pot resonated with revolutionary war era personality.  Waitresses donned  period clothing, walls were adorned with colonial themed wallpaper, wooden beams supported the ceiling and the coffee was served in faux English pewter pots.  The coffee was very good, but it was the sense of community and the personable service that kept me coming back.  Cafe Bella has many of the same qualities.  If  this IT professional could break away more often from grueling propeller-headed projects, it might become a second home.

Cafe Bella
2115 Golf Course Rd SE
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
505 306-6974
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 22 March 2014
1st VISIT: 19 January 2012
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Cafe Au Lait, Blueberry Scone, Panini, Hazelnut Chocolate Milk, Breakfast Bagel, Chocolate-Peanut Butter-Coffee Brownie, Chocolate Panini, Soy Vanilla Honey Smoothie, Grilled Vegetable Ciabatta, Slow-Roasted Carne Panini, Smoked Turkey Panini, Red Chili Mocha


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Cafe Bella Coffee on Urbanspoon

Rebel Donut – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rebel Donut on Wyoming Just North of Menaul

Many years ago if someone proposed a wager of “dollars to donuts,” you might have been well advised to take it.  The phrase “dollars to donuts” essentially meant the person proposing the wager thought he or she had  a sure thing, that he or she was willing to to risk a dollar to win a dollar’s worth of donuts.  Donuts weren’t worth much at the time (and they weren’t very good either) so winning a bet might result in being paid off by a baker’s dozen or so donuts.  Today, if someone offers a “dollars to donuts” wager, the counter to a five dollar bet might be two donuts and the donuts would likely be terrific.  

Visit a donut shop today and sticker shock might set in.  Donuts aren’t cheap anymore, not that it stops Americans from spending our dollars for donuts to the tune of about $3.6 billion dollars per year.  Americans consume some ten billion donuts a year. That’s 33 donuts per man, woman and child per year.  The demographic which loves donuts most is middle-income men ages 25 to 49 (now you know what accounts for the “middle-age spread”).

Donut deliciousness in a glass case

As with burgers, donuts are one of those rare foods which have proven to be recession proof.  Despite the  economic malaise of the past few years, the number of donut shops, amount of donuts consumed and profitability per donut shop has continued to increase every year (save for a short lapse when the nutrition police made donuts non grata).  The reason most attributed is that donuts are a tasty and inexpensive comfort food.  Similar to the gourmet burger craze which has taken America by storm, consumers don’t mind splurging on donuts that are more costly.

The June 11th, 2012 launch of Rebel Donut (singular) will certainly give consumers an opportunity to splurge. Only the Li’l Rebel (mini donuts) and the classic donuts (glazed raised, chocolate glazed, the rebel, strawberry, coffee glazed, cookies and cream, maple, etc.)  are under a dollar though you can buy a dozen for ten dollars.  Fancy Donuts and premium donuts will cost you more than a dollar as will cinnamon rolls.  Rebel Donut donuts, however, are far from ordinary donuts.

Nutella-Chocolate, 3X chocolate, Powdered Sugar Vanilla , Old-Fashioned Coconut

As might be expected for a donut shop bearing the appellation “Rebel,” Rebel Donut is expanding the boundaries of donut conventionality.  Even the shop’s logo, a donut with wings, bespeaks of nonconformity, risk-taking, daring to be different.  Rebel Donut is taking donuts to the extreme, helping them be all they can be…self-actualizing donuts.  Unique flavors include red velvet, chocolate salted pretzel, chocolate mint, peanut butter and apple, peanut butter and Sriracha, carrot cake, watermelon and blueberry pancake and those are tame compared to other donuts on the ever-changing menu.  

You’d expect no less than imagination and inventiveness from Rebel Donut owners Carrie Mettling and Tina Winn.  Carrie was the founder and creative force behind Cupcake Fetish which she opened in March, 2006 and which began a bit of a cupcake boom in the Duke City.  The Rebel owners have hired a like-minded staff and given them the latitude to be visionary.  Then, as if the Rebel team wasn’t already taking donut innovation to new heights, they gave Facebook followers an opportunity to suggest new donut ideas.  The ideas were so clever that many, if not all, will be implemented.    That’s donuts by the people, for the people and by the people.

Top: Mocha Chocolate, 3X Chocolate Muffin, Key Line Pie
Bottom: Dreamsicle, Apple peanut butter, Smores

Striving to be Albuquerque’s premier artisan donut and pastry shop, Rebel Donut showcases more than thirty donut flavors per day with new and different surprises every day.  One unexpected surprise for us is the presence of kolaches (Czech and Slovak pastries with a dollop of fruit inside), but not exactly the type of which we experienced in Chicago.  Purists will argue that Rebel Donut’s line-up kolaches (sausage and cheese; sausage, jalapeño and cheese; and veggie sausage, green chile and cheese) are not kolaches, but Klobasnek.  Call them what you will, but you will call them delicious.

If you have any inkling that these donuts sound like so much fluff and style, one bite will assure you’re there’s plenty of substance beyond the round hole in the middle.  These donuts taste like very good renditions of their named ingredients.  The Dreamsicle donut tastes like a sweet and tangy orange.  The mocha chocolate tastes like a creamy, chocolatey coffee.  Then there’s the donuts in which seemingly disparate ingredients (peanut butter and Sriracha, for example) are combined.  These, too, as if by some feat of enchantment, are at the very least interesting, but more often than not, quite good.

Maple Bacon

If your idea of a radical donut is chocolate with sprinkles, Rebel Donut will rock your world.  Who but a Rebel would create a donut topped with candy resembling blue sky meth, the vice of choice on Breaking Bad, a popular television drama filmed in Albuquerque?  Who but a Rebel would launch a second shop at a seemingly cursed location on Albuquerque’s west side, a location which has seen a number of restaurants and even another donut shop?  Who but a Rebel would open a satellite shop in Albuquerque’s fledgling downtown area? 

In 2013, Rebel Donut was  selected to compete on a new Food Network show called “Donut Showdown” which premiered April 2nd on the Food Network in Canada.  The show made its United States debut on Wednesday, July 3rd on the Cooking Channel.  Carrie competed with two other donut-makers for a $10,000 prize.  The theme of the show was “Carnival.” 

The Rebel Donut location on Albuquerque's west side (9311 Coors Blvd NW)

The Rebel Donut location on Albuquerque’s west side

Apple Corporation recognizes the value of rebels: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”  Rebel Donuts is changing Albuquerque one donut at a time.

Rebel Donut
2435 Wyoming Blvd, N.E. 
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 293-0553
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 September 2013
1st VISIT: 28 July 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $
BEST BET: Maple Bacon, 3X Chocolate, 3X Chocolate Muffin, Key Lime Pie, Mocha Chocolate, Old Fashioned Coconut, Nutella Chocolate


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Rebel Donut on Urbanspoon

Chillz Frozen Custard – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Chillz, Home of the Very Best Frozen Custard in Albuquerque

Chillz, Home of the Very Best Frozen Custard in Albuquerque

“Custard: A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow, and the cook.”
Ambrose Bierce, American writer (1842-1914)
The Devil’s Dictionary (1906)

Ambrose Bierce’s scathing definition of custard is not necessarily an expression of his disdain for the popular frozen dessert, but an example of his lampooning of American culture and especially its lexicon.  Starting in 1881, the American satirist began writing The Devil’s Dictionary in which he published alternate and usually quite acerbic definitions of common words.  His biting wit and sardonic views earned him the nicknames “cackling king of cynics” and “Bitter Bierce.”

There are parts of the Midwest (the Milwaukee and St. Louis areas in particular) in which Bierce’s definition of custard would be considered sacrilege.  Midwesterners feel so strongly about their custard, that an utterance of such blasphemy would be an occasion for a noose, a tall tree and a short drop.  Their passion for frozen custard is akin to the love New Mexicans have for chile and never mind that winter temperatures throughout the Midwest can drop to near Arctic levels, custard is an year-round obsession.

A fabulous menu listing all the wonderful toppings for Chillz' frozen custard

A fabulous menu listing all the wonderful toppings for Chillz’ frozen custard

Just as most New Mexicans have a strong antipathy toward “chili” from Texas, Midwesterners abhor the “franchised soft-serve fare pumped full of air” which passes off as custard in New Mexico (and throughout the fruited plain) and which Jane and Michael Stern denounce in their terrific tome 500 Things To Eat Before It’s Too Late.”

The Sterns appreciate only the best custard—”dense and smooth, not as rich as ice cream, but even more luxurious.”  In their sagacious estimation, the very best frozen custard in America is found at the legendary Ted Drewes, a Saint Louis institution for nearly eight decades. Despite copious cajoling by custard aficionados to franchise, Ted Drewes will not compromise on quality and remains a two store operation in Saint Louis.

Chocolate frozen custard on a cone

Chocolate frozen custard on a cone

Albuquerque native Kurt Nilson attended a Saint Louis area university where he discovered and fell in love with the premium frozen custard at Ted Drewes.  Before moving back to the Duke City, he completed courses at the Frozen Dessert Institute so that he could bring one of his favorite parts of the Midwest back to his beloved high mountain desert home.  He figured frozen custard would be perfect for those scalding Burque summer days.

Nilson launched Chillz in June, 2009, the height of the summer’s blistering onslaught.  Situated directly across Central Avenue from the University of New Mexico, it’s two doors down from Walker’s Popcorn Company, another favorite of Midwest transplants who may have frequented Garrett’s Popcorn, a Chicago staple.  In 2012, Nilson sold his interest in the shop he founded to his partner, an affable Minnesotan well acquainted with custard.

Chocolate and vanilla frozen custard on a waffle cone topped with raspberries

Chocolate and vanilla frozen custard on a waffle cone topped with raspberries

Though nearly eighty years behind Ted Drewes in experience, Chillz has actually two-upped the elder statesman of frozen custard by offering three flavors every day to Drewes’ one flavor (vanilla).  Chillz features a flavor of the day in addition to chocolate and vanilla.  The flavors of the day are inventive and exciting.  Chillz has even taken to creating ballots on which customers can vote for the flavor of the day they’d next like to see.  You can cast a vote for up to five choices on each ballot.  The menu, scrawled on the wall, includes more than thirty toppings–from the unusual (gummy bears, cinnamon toast crunch, Lucky Charms) to the standards (hot fudge, toffee, Oreos).

There are some things you should know about frozen custard–the real stuff, the stuff Chillz makes and serves. Sure, it may look like ice cream, but there are vast differences. First, eggs are added to make frozen custard–1.4 percent egg yolk, in fact. Second, it is much lower in butterfat content than conventional ice cream: ten percent compared to sixteen percent. Through a churning process, the custard is blended with air to increase its volume, but it not nearly as airy as the franchised soft-serve ice cream served throughout New Mexico. Frozen custard isn’t churned as long as ice cream and isn’t nearly as cold. The result is a thicker and creamier texture than ice cream as well as a softer consistency.

A turtle sundae made with chocolate custard and the flavor of the day for June 26th, key lime

Chillz makes its frozen custard fresh every day as well as its waffle bowls and cones.  The menu also includes sundaes, shakes, floats, baked treats (cookies, Rice Krispy treats and brownies) and something which, at first browse, might sound unappetizing, but is quite good–concretes.  In his phenomenal blog, Barry Popik describes concretes as “custard blended with any of dozens of ingredients.  Concretes are blended so thick that they and their spoon do not fall out when their cup is turned upside down; servers often demonstrate this before handing customers their order.”  If this description sounds familiar, you’ve probably had a Blizzard shake at Dairy Queen which is made with the soft-serve ice cream and not real frozen custard.

Real frozen custard–Chillz custard–is exquisite. It’s as smooth as a baby’s bottom with an amazing taste and texture. The chocolate has a rich, indulgent and expensive taste (but at a reasonable price). The raspberries provide a tangy yet surprisingly complementary contrast to the sweet (but not cloying), creamy, oh-so-good custard. This custard is so good you’ll want at least a couple of scoops; some will want even more. For them, Chillz has a gurgitator’s challenge few will surmount.

Chillz09

S’mores with chocolate custard

The Chillz Challenge: eight scoops, eight waffles, eight toppings in thirty minutes and your frozen feast is free.  You’ll also get your photo prominently displayed on Chillz’ wall of fame, Web site, Facebook and MySpace sites.  The current record-holder is Stephanie Torres, a petite dynamo who completed the Chillz Challenge in just over eight minutes.  I’m easily twice her size and couldn’t approach her eating feat on my best day.

As of July 28, 2013, some fifteen competitors have surmounted the challenge for which, to date, no UNM athlete has manned or womaned up.  Neither did Man Versus Food star Adam Richman who didn’t include Chillz on his itinerary when he visited the Duke City in 2010. Richman who doesn’t ever eat ice cream or ice cream-like products during the “off season” (when he’s not taping his show). In fact, he finds sweet challenges the most difficult, particularly when they involve rich, dairy product.

Banana Split made with Fudge Caramel Eclair Custard

Banana Split made with Fudge Caramel Eclair Custard

Much as I love custard, it’s challenge enough to polish off a turtle sundae and it’s only got two scoops of the sinfully rich custard.  My turtle sundae, made with one scoop of the exquisite chocolate and one scoop of the flavor of the day for June 26th, key lime, was wonderful, an exemplary rendition of the popular dessert.  The key lime makes for an unconventional turtle sundae, but other ingredients (hot fudge, toasted pecans, whipped cream) are right out of the recipe book for sundaes.

Chillz has an excellent rendition of a banana split. It’s pretty much a standard banana split only it’s made with custard instead of ice cream.  If the flavor of the day happens to be fudge caramel eclair, it makes an outstanding foundation for the strawberry, chocolate fudge and pineapple toppings.  Chocolate custard, on the other hand, is a terrific foil for the S’mores: marshmallow, hot fudge, graham cracker, whipped cream and a cherry.  It’s wonderful!

More than a dozen competitors have surmounted the Chillz Challenge

More than a dozen competitors have surmounted the Chillz Challenge

In July, 2013, Andrea Feucht, author of the must have Food Lover’s Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos wrote an article for The Guardian, one of the largest daily British newspapers, in which she named the top ten restaurants, cafes and diners in Albuquerque.  Andrea, a Wisconsin native, thinks so highly of Chillz that it made her hallowed list.

In recent years, the influx of Midwesterners has added much to the Duke City dining scene. From the aforementioned Walker’s Popcorn Company to Pizza 9 (home of sloppy and sumptuous Chicago style Italian beef sandwiches) and now Chillz, Albuquerque may not yet compete with Chicago, but then the Windy City doesn’t have anything like our chile. They don’t have Chillz either. We do, and for that, Duke City diners will be grateful every time the mercury approaches the century mark and every day it doesn’t. At any time of year Chillz is a great destination.

Chillz Frozen Custard
2720 Central Ave
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 265-5648
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 27 July 2013
1st VISIT:  6 February 2010
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET:  Chocolate Custard, Vanilla Custard, Banana Split, S’mores


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