Swiss Alps Bakery – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Swiss Alps Bakery & Cafe on Candelaria and San Pedro

Admit it.  The second thing that comes to mind when you hear the term “Swiss Alps” is the scene from one of cinema’s most heartwarming movies.  It begins with a distant camera drawing closer to a verdant mountainside backdropped by steep, snow-capped peaks.  Soothing music grows louder as the camera pans in on a lone figure with arms outstretched.  The chappeaued figure twirls and looks skyward as a voice in the background sings “The hills are alive with the sound of Griswolds.”  Never mind that Clark Griswold’s dream sequence for the comedy classic European Vacation was actually filmed in the Austrian Alps, not the Swiss Alps.

The first thing that comes to mind, of course, is the Swiss Alps Bakery & Cafe, a Duke City mainstay for more than three decades.  If you don’t remember Swiss Alps being around for that long, the bakery actually got its start as the Black Forest Bakery.  For nearly the first two decades of its existence, the Black Forest Bakery was ensconced in a strip mall on Menaul.  In 2012, Jessica Espat-Johnson bought the bakery and relocated it to a larger location on the northeast corner of San Pedro and Candelaria.  The move allowed her to transform the bakery from a grab-and-go operation into a sit-and-stay cafe-style milieu that includes a pet-friendly patio for al-fresco dining.

Magnificent Baked Goods on Display

Note:  Albuquerque has become surprisingly dog-friendly.  Bring Fido, the nationwide dog travel directory lists 64 restaurants in the Duke City that welcome dogs at their outdoor tables.    Weather-permitting, our four-legged son Dude (he abides) accompanies us for al-fresco dining at many of these restaurants.  Invariably we run into other dog lovers who, like us, take their dogs everywhere they can.  Without exception, the dog people we’ve met are warm, friendly and parentally proud of their dogs.  Look for “Dog Friendly” on the “Restaurants by Category” section of the navigation menu on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog and if you know of other dog-friendly restaurants, please pass them on to me.

During our long overdue inaugural visit in April, 2017, my Kim, our delightful dachshund Dude and I had the pleasure of sharing the patio with Bodie, a sheepdog cross;  Massie, a German shepherd and their dog parents.  Nary a growl or snarl was uttered by any of the three furry, four-legged children who luxuriated in the attention and pampering of six dog parents.  We also shared restaurant intelligence–specifically what Duke City restaurants are most dog friendly.  The couple at the table to our left raved about their favorite items at Swiss Alps, a cafe they frequent every weekend weather-permitting.

Monte Cristo Sandwich with Chips and Pickle Spear

The Swiss Alps Web site boasts immodestly about its breads: “Baked with only the freshest ingredients, and a sprinkling of love, Swiss Alp’s signature breads are unmatched in quality, freshness, and taste.”  As Muhammad Ali once said “it’s not bragging if you can back it up.”  Swiss Alps can back it up with some of the freshest, most delectable bread anywhere in New Mexico.  The line-up of hot-from-the-oven fresh breads and rolls includes brötchen, German rye, sourdough, pumpernickel, Challah, brioche and several other choices.  We can certainly vouch for the sourdough which makes a very good toast in the morning.

Fresh pastries are on display in two well-lit pastry cases under glass.  There you’ll find turnovers, butter croissants, elephant ears, coffeecake, Danish, eclair, fruit tarts and more. Cookies galore also await you: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, sugar cookies, peanut butter, biscochitos and other seasonal specials.  The Bakery can make any cake you wish to order.  House specialties include a Black Forest cake, mocha cakes, tiramisu, fruit cakes, carrot cake and German chocolate.  Holiday specials are also available.

Ul-Pretz-Imate with White Cheddar Poblano Soup

Breakfast and lunch menus are served all day long.  There are only five items on the breakfast menu including a quiche and stuffed croissant of the day.  The lunch menu would put many a sandwich shop to shame and not only because all sandwiches are constructed with house-made bread.  There are three types of sandwiches: panini style served on a baguette, grilled sandwiches and cold sandwiches.  All sandwiches are served with a pickle spear, chips and your choice of a side.  Sandwiches are available in half or full sized.  Meats are supplied by Boar’s Head.

Swiss Alps’ Monte Cristo (turkey, Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard with a side of raspberry jam served on marble rye bread) is rather unique in several respects. That’s a good thing. What a crime it would have been to dip the marble rye in an egg batter as is done with the traditional Monte Cristo. Too many Monte Cristo sandwiches end up looking like ham and cheese between soggy French toast. We loved that the marble rye was lightly toasted, not pan-fried or worse, deep-fried. It meant the bread was unadulterated. We also loved the use of Swiss cheese instead of the more traditional Gruyere or Emmenthal. We especially loved the accompanying raspberry jam, made on the premises. With a bit of lavender, it could have passed for having been made by Heidi’s Raspberries.

Top: Ham and Cheese Croissant, Turkey an Green Chile Croissant; Bottom: Croissants

Reflecting back on how sugary breakfast cereals once gave me a hyperkinetic boost of energy followed by a serious crash makes me wish breakfast sandwiches had been more prevalent in my youth. As with many of my generation, the Egg McMuffin was the first breakfast sandwich to catch my fancy though it didn’t take long to figure out a much better sandwich alternative could be built with just a modicum of effort. Unfortunately the “Ul-Pretz-Imate” (a creative play on the word “Ultimate”) wasn’t around back then. This sandwich, we were informed by a couple of the dog parents, truly is the best part of waking up. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to a Swiss Alps pretzel hoagie roll crammed generously with two eggs, Black Forest ham, bacon and three cheeses? It’s even better with a smear of chipotle mayo we were advised. Available only on Saturdays, it’s a sandwich which earns its name. The salty, chewy pretzel would be a treat all by itself, but this sandwich is truly a sumptuous sum of all its delicious components. It paired well with the Cheddar-Poblano soup.

Is there a better breakfast (or any meal) idea than a stuffed croissant of the day, especially if the croissant is light and buttery. Swiss Alps’ version of the croissant isn’t especially flaky which well suits those of us Oscar Madison types who draw crumbs to our wardrobes like light draws moths.  We picked up two stuffed croissants for breakfast and regret not having sprung for a couple more.  Simplicity itself, the ham and cheese stuffed croissant is a ham and cheese sandwich elevated.  If you’ve ever had a “stuffed” sandwich where there’s very little between the bread, you’ll appreciate this stuffed croissant with its generous amount of ham and cheese with great melting properties.  Even better is the turkey and green chile stuffed croissant with a nice (but not too piquant) roasted flavor.

Cheese Turnover and Biscochito

Since Dagmar Mondragon closed her eponymous German restaurant and bakery, we’ve mimicked Sergeant Schultz in our search for strudel. Though Swiss Alps doesn’t offer strudel, it does feature the next best thing–turnovers. What’s the difference, you ask. Strudel is a pastry made from multiple, thin layers of dough rolled up and filled with fruit while turnovers are semi-circular pastries made by turning one half of a circular crust over the other, enclosing the filling—usually fruit. Alas, some avaricious diner had absconded with all the apple turnovers, but the cheese-filled turnover is no consolation prize. It’s absolutely addictive, as delicious as any turnover we’ve had in years. Even without the cheese filling, this would have been a superb turnover thanks largely to a terrific crust. Kim’s postprandial sweet choice was a biscochito, a super-sized version of New Mexico’s official state cookie. Large and thick, it kicks sand on the traditionally small and thin anise cookies New Mexicans love.

Longitudinal studies have shown that starting your day off on the right foot and in the best possible mood does impact the rest of your day. You (and your dogs) can’t help but be in a great mood all day long if you start your day with a visit to the Swiss Alps Bakery and Café, truly one of the best reasons to get up in the morning.

Swiss Alps Bakery & Cafe
3000 San Pedro, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881-3063
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 April 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Ul-Pretz-Imate,  White Cheddar Poblano Soup, Monte Cristo, Cheese Turnover, Biscochito

Swiss Alps Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mogu Mogu – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mogu Mogu, a Unique Japanese Create Your Own Concept

In the 1970s, comedian Norm Crosby based his schtick on the use of malapropisms (the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect). The “master of the malaprop” would mispronounce keywords in familiar idioms and clichés, in the process giving new meaning to what he was trying to convey. Here are some examples: As a famous stand-up comic, he appreciated standing “ovulations” when he performed. When his dad explained the facts of life to him, his dad drew a big “diaphragm.” When he went to a tailor, it’s because his pants needed an “altercation.” When people couldn’t read or write, Crosby attributed the problem to “illegitimacy.”

In real life, however, most people don’t realize their own fox paws. My Kim, for example, would give Norm Crosby a run for his money though her malapropisms are wholly innocent and not designed to elicit a laugh. On a sweltering summer day in Arlington Heights, Illinois, for example, she once ordered “soba” tea from the Mitsuwa Marketplace. Initially the young lady at the counter was confused, but once she figured out that Kim actually wanted “boba” tea, she couldn’t help but giggle. Recently at a Whole Foods Market, she asked an employee where she could find “Maricopa” almonds when what she really wanted was marcona almonds. Then there was the time she ordered a “Chimi-chingona” from a Mexican restaurant when she wanted a chimichanga. “Chingona,” if you’re not versed in Spanish slang is a term meaning “badass.”  Where she learned that word is beyond me.

The Prep Station From Where You Can Select All Your Favorite Ingredients

Lest you think my Kim is a bit scatter-brained, when I told her of my visit to Mogu Mogu, she immediately reminded me that Mogu Mogu must be a Japanese onomatopoeia (the formation of a word—such as cuckoo or boom–from a sound associated with what it is named). Mogu Mogu, it turns out is an onomatopoeia in English, too, translating from Japanese to “munch munch.” Moreover, it is one of the most exciting new dining concepts to launch in the Duke City in recent months. My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, explains that “Mogu Mogu serves some of the freshest and tastiest food in ABQ with a Japanese flair.”

Alas, you won’t find Mogu Mogu in some bustling, centrally-located shopping center. Situated in the Journal Center area on Masthead just west of Jefferson, it’s pretty much off-the-well-beaten-and-eaten path for most of us who don’t work in the immediate area. Further, it’s operating hours—Monday through Friday from 11AM to 2:30PM—mean its hours also aren’t convenient for many of us. Perhaps cognizant of these limitations, Mogu Mogu is located in an 800-square-foot space on the ground level of the 10,000 square-foot office building that houses Kinesio, the therapeutic tape company whose product graces the sore limbs and torsos of many an Olympic, professional and amateur athlete.

Rice Bowl With Curry and Just About Everything Else

Owner Tomoko Kase actually served as a vice president at the Kinesio company before being called away by the lure of owning and operating her own restaurant. Her business acumen served her well in that she understood how underserved the burgeoning Journal Center is by fast-casual restaurants. Mogu Mogu is essentially a “create your own” concept designed to give guests simple, fresh and fast meals. It’s a concept similar to that of Poki Poki and Hello Poke, two restaurants specializing in Hawaiian poke bowls. It’s an experience coupling personalization and experimentation with Japanese ingredients and culinary techniques. As so eloquently stated on the Web site, Mogu Mogu offers “the convenience and value of fast food, all without the greasy regret and stained shirts at the office.”

Guests have the opportunity to create their own bowl, sushi burrito or sandwich from an assortment of proteins, veggies, toppings and sauces. Your first of several tough decisions is to choose a base for your meal from among several rice, noodle or lettuce options. The “middle” section of your meal comes next with your choice of one protein and two veggies. Then you can go wild on the toppings (including some premium toppings for an additional pittance) and sauces. Larry, the percipient professor (who can recite Pi to about 8,000 digits) quickly figured out you can make a minimum of 15,840 possible combinations using one choice from each of the four steps: base, middle (proteins and veggies), toppings and sauces. As he astutely pointed out “ if you create a boring bowl, you have only yourself to blame.”

Fried Rice, Roasted Salmon and Almost Everything Else

23 March 2017: While my bowl was hardly boring, I have only myself to blame for not having built a bowl as exciting as the one my friend Bill Resnik constructed. Picking a base of rice bowl with curry really limited my options. Essentially, half of the bowl was dedicated to Japanese curry (which I dearly love) and the other half to brown rice. It didn’t make sense to top the curry though the mad scientist in me would otherwise have piled on as many ingredients as the bowl would hold. I did top the rice with overnight ginger pork (a nice complement to the curry) and every topping on the menu (green onion, cilantro, cabbage, edamame mix, pickle with bonito, kimchi, jalapeno, crispy noodles and pickled veggies), but my sauce was essentially the curry. As far as Japanese curry goes, Mogu Mogu’s version is terrific, as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Duke City. The curry and the rice should have been my focus, not the hodgepodge I created (and no, it wasn’t bad at all). It just wasn’t as good as Bill’s (seething jealousy here).

23 March 2017: Bill’s bowl started with an fried rice for which he selected roasted salmon as his protein and both veggie tempura and curry roasted veggies as his veggie choices. His topping selections were virtually everything but Mogu Mogu’s kitchen sink and his sauce choices were Wasabi mayo and Asian dressing. Throughout our meal I eyed Bill’s bowl with both envy and lust and probably a few other cardinal sins. Bill has become a master of the “create it yourself” poke bowl and now the Mogu Mogu bowl. I hate him!

Another Creative Concoction

17 April 2017:  Dining at Mogu Mogu is akin to having a delicious new adventure every time you visit.  It’s the type of adventure that offers many forks in the road, each potentially more delicious than the other.  The forks of which I speak, of course, are the 15,840 possible combinations using one choice from each of the four steps: base, middle (proteins and veggies), toppings and sauces.  It’s not inconceivable to fill out the paper menu then change your mind several times as you pass the prep station where gleaming silver trays with sundry ingredients are on display.  During my second visit, fried rice was the base I originally selected but one gander at the Asian salad and a change of mind was inevitable.  The Asian salad is a beauteous bounty of mixed greens and such surprises as blackberries.  It was too good to pass up.  Neither was the roasted salmon or the standard and premium toppings (yes, every single one of them) with soy wasabi and mango Habanero.  The veggie tempura (green chile and eggplant) are exceptional.  So was the entire creative concoction.

23 March 2017: In addition to the bowl, sushi burrito or sandwich of your own making, Mogu Mogu offers two sides—potstickers (five per order) and spring rolls (two per order). The spring rolls may be the one item on the menu that belies Mogu Mogu’s “without the greasy regret” or at least that was our experience.  Don’t get me wrong.  They weren’t sopping with oil, but there was enough of it to warrant a napkin or two.  The spring rolls, about six-inches long and rather thick, are engorged mostly with cabbage and served with a rather cloying sauce.  They would have been much tastier with say a wasabi mayo.

Spring Rolls

There are some ten-thousand workers in the Journal Center area.  On the day of our inaugural visit it seemed about a third of those workers were queued up to have Mogu Mogu build a delicious meal for them based on their preferences.  It’s an option which should be available to more Duke City diners.

Mogu Mogu
4001 Masthead Street
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 200-9141
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 April 2017
1st VISIT: 23 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Create Your Own Bowl, Spring Rolls

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

Middle Eastern Food & Kababs – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Middle Eastern Food in Albuquerque

What do you do when you’ve just finished saving the world? Because warding off a vicious onslaught of alien invaders is bound to make you hungry, you just might have shawarma. That’s what the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest superheroes did. Lying on his back amidst the rubble of a demolished building after helping vanquish a phalanx of evil extraterrestrials, Iron Man doesn’t revel in victory or proclaim “We’re number one!” He asks his superhero colleagues “You ever try shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I want to try it.” After an intense and lengthy fight scene, his seemingly innocuous statement breaks the tension and reminds viewers that after working hard, even superheroes deserve a well-earned meal.

After credits have rolled, the entire Avengers team is shown assembled at the shawarma joint, most still attired in full superhero regalia. The battle weary Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) eat (and ostensibly enjoy) their shawarma while the restaurateurs go about the business of sweeping the floor and cleaning up. As the Avengers’ collective exhaustion has rendered them silent, it’s hard to tell whether or not they enjoyed the shawarma. They’re too tired and beaten even to utter such customary expressions of appreciation as “mmm” or “yum” (perhaps Rachael Ray has copyrighted that superpower).

Chicken Shawarma Plate

Because some of the Avengers movie was filmed in Albuquerque, my Kim and I wracked our brains trying to figure out where in the Duke City the “shawarma joint” could have been located. It didn’t look like any local shawarma joint with which we’re acquainted. We also wondered how a “genius millionaire playboy philanthropist” such as Iron Man’s alter-ego Tony Stark could have lived into his early 50s and not know what shawarma is. Thanks to a number of Middle Eastern Restaurants throughout Albuquerque, most of our fair city’s savvy diners not only know what shawarma is, they can tell you where to find the best shawarma in town. Yes, the Duke City does have several options…and most of them will elicit utterances of “mmm” and “yum.”

Talk about the effectiveness of product placement in Hollywood blockbusters. Worldwide increases in shawarma sales have been attributed to the Avengers movie. According to TMZ, sales of shawarma at one Hollywood shawarma joint, went “through the roof,” shooting up some 80 percent after the movie opened. Whether or not shawarma sales in Albuquerque were similarly impacted by the Avengers isn’t known, but it’s a certainty that if it took the Avengers movie to get you to try it for the first time, your second, third and fiftieth times ordering it will be because good shawarma has addictive properties.

Salad

As of May, 2016, Duke City diners have another shawarma joint where they can assemble. Sporting the descriptive appellation of Middle Eastern Foods & Kabobs, it’s housed in the space which once served as home to Kasbah Mediterranean Cuisine and prior to that to Guicho’s Authentic Mexican Food. Though it has a Central Avenue address, you’ve got to turn north onto Monroe to park in one of the restaurant’s few slots. The restaurant is on the smallish side, but has an homey appeal with shades drawn to keep the room cool. Music videos play from a television in the dining room. You’ll be invited to seat where you wish and a menu will be delivered promptly.

Menu offerings are relatively sparse, listing three appetizers, four plates, four kabob plates, a house salad, three sandwiches and one specialty dish (rack of lamb) not always available. Where the menu lacks in variety, it excels in price structure. There are only two items on the menu priced north of ten dollars. Everything else is priced for the year 2010. There are no burgers on the menu nor is there anything prepared with red or green chile.  Meats are certified Halal which means the animal has to be killed and handled in accordance with  Muslim religious rules. These rules make the meat halal, or permissible.

Lentil Soup

22 July 2016: Cost-conscious diners will appreciate the bargain-rich plates. The chicken shawarma plate, for example, is served with two dolmas, freshly grilled pita bread, hummus and your choice of salad or fries. It’s a lot of food. Though you’ll be tempted to spear the bite-sized strips of seasoned chicken with your fork, the more traditional way to eat shawarma is to create small “sandwiches” with the pita bread. A little hummus and a bit of tzatziki sauce and your taste buds will perform a happy dance. Sumac, that delightfully lemony reddish spice is sprinkled liberally onto the hummus though for me, even a bit more would have been better. For the dolmas (rice and dill wrapped in grape leaves), only tzatziki sauce will do. The salad if pretty routine stuff (chopped Romaine, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers sprinkled with feta cheese and lightly dressed), but very satisfying.

25 July 2016: There’s a tiny café in Israel employing a unique way to promote reconciliation. The restaurant offers a 50-percent discount to any table in which Arabs and Jews elect to sit together. That’s promoting peace one falafel at a time. When good falafel is served, it’s hard not to think of peace and love and other good things. Falafel (small orbs constructed of soaked chickpeas, coriander, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper) is one of the most popular foods in the world. Experience it for yourself in the form of a falafel plate (two dolmas, freshly grilled pita bread, hummus and your choice of salad or fries) at the Middle Eastern Foods & Kabobs restaurant.

Falafel Plate

25 July 2016: The menu offers a soup of the day served with pita bread. On my second visit, my server brought me a complimentary bowl of the restaurant’s vegetarian lentil soup, a warm and delicious elixir. Never mind that the day’s temperature was steadily climbing near the century mark, a good, hot soup has cooling properties that make the exterior heat tolerable. You can imagine just how much better that soup will be on a cold winter day. 

16 April 2017:  You don’t have to utter “Abra Kebab Ra” in order to find good kabobs in the Duke City, but you might think it’s sheer magic to find four kabob plates on the menu: lamb kabob, ground beef kabob, chicken kabob or a mixed kabob plate.  What could be better than choosing a skewer from two of the three (lamb, chicken, beef)?  The lamb and ground beef combination is a great choice!  Meats are very nicely seasoned although both my friend Nader and I thought they were overdone, probably having spent too much time over high heat.  As a consequence they were a bit on the dry side.  The seasoning was a saving grace.  Skewered vegetables (red, green and yellow peppers as well as onions), on the other hand, were perfectly done.  Served with heshweh, pita and salad, the mixed kabob plate is almost large enough for two though you won’t want to share this delicious bounty.  Heshweh is a surprising dish–long-grained Basmati rice, pine nuts, short wheat noodles, onions, raisins and green peas.  It’s a delightful treat.

Mixed Kabobs with with Heshweh, Salad and Pita

After an arduous day of waging war against tight deadlines and fighting work challenges, savvy diners make like the Avengers and assemble at Middle Eastern Food & Kabobs for shawarma and so much more.

Middle Eastern Food & Kabobs
4801 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-5151
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 April 2017
1st VISIT: 22 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Falafel Plate, Chicken Shawarma Plate, Lentil Soup, Mixed Kabob with Heshweh

Middle Eastern Food & Kababs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

ECLECTIC URBAN PIZZERIA AND TAP HOUSE – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My Friends Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver and Bruce Schor Leaving the Magnificent Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House

Looking around our table, my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott astutely pointed out the relative scarcity of pizza at our table. Considering the Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap Room may have been the most eagerly awaited pizzeria to open in Albuquerque in years, you’d think a phalanx of foodies would  be devouring our weight in pizza…and while three pulchritudinous pies did grace our table, so did such eclectic fare as pho, chicken wings, roasted chicken and Chimichurri skirt steak a la plancha.   Despite the term “eclectic” on the pizzeria’s appellation,  the menu’s vast diversity actually surprised us.

It’s a testament to his tremendous creativity and talent that Chef Maxime Bouneou can still surprise diners who for nine years reveled in his fabulous Italian creations at Torinos @ Home, the restaurant he founded with his beautiful bride and partner Daniela.  Surprises at Torinos were usually of the “I can’t believe how good this is” variety.  At Eclectic, surprises fall under the “I can’t believe he can prepare this so well” category, emphasis on “this.”  Frankly we shouldn’t have been surprised at the diversity of dishes he prepares so well.  Maxime isn’t a great chef who prepares great Italian food.  He’s a great chef who can prepare virtually anything!

Daniela and Maxime Bouneou

Maxime’s pedigree as a chef is very impressive though more diners are acutely aware he wowed (absolutely blew away is more like it) Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives than know that in his native France, he worked in Michelin two- and three-star restaurants.  Maxime’s ability to coax unbelievable deliciousness out of everything he prepares isn’t just a matter of talent.  He and Daniela are committed to using the highest quality, locally procured organic ingredients wherever possible.  Moreover, he absolutely loves what he does and continually works at improving his craft.

Daniela is the yin to Maxime’s yang.  They complete one another with a work and life synergy few couples ever achieve.  It’s been that way since they met in Nice, France where she was working as maitre d’ at a four-star hotel and he was the hotel’s promising sous-chef.  They were married shortly thereafter and moved to Santa Fe where they launched Torinos @ Home in 2006.  While the kitchen has always been Maxime’s domain, Daniela runs the “front of the house” with an incomparable elan.  Her buoyant personality makes her the perfect hostess where she shines unlike no other in New Mexico.  To say the Bouneous were beloved is an understatement.

An Eclectic Dining Room

In February, 2016, Maxime and Daniela sold Torinos, an event their adoring patrons believed warranted an apron flying at half mast. For months, we all speculated as to where they would land and even if they would remain in New Mexico.  Fortunately the Bouneous have fallen in love with the Land of Enchantment and in early April, 2016 announced the forthcoming launch of their next restaurant venture, an undertaking they named “Eclectic. Urban Pizzeria and Tap House.”    For months, legions of Facebook friends anxiously awaited the next snippet of news about the Bouneous return.  Along with a Web site depicting construction progress, the Facebook page was both a big tease and an appetite-whetting medium.

On Saturday, August 27th at precisely 11AM, Eclectic opened its doors, a “soft opening” in which Daniela and Maxime may have set a one-day record for most hugs dispensed (although Tim Harris might have something to say about that).   Guests were as happy to see the Bouneous as they were to sample their culinary fare.  By Eclectic’s official September 17th launch date, it’s probably accurate to say many of us fed by the Bouneous for years will already have fallen in love with Eclectic, a restaurant which more than lives up to its name.

Spicy Eclectic Olives Mix

Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House is located on Menaul, about three blocks east of University.  Because there isn’t a direct turn-in to the restaurant from east-bound Menaul, you’ll have to double back if you took the University exit.  And because the pizzeria doesn’t have vivid, eye-catching signage and its storefront is a bit recessed from the street, you might miss it if you’re headed west from Carlisle.  If you are headed west from Carlisle and you see Twisters, you’ve gone just a bit too far.  Though your inaugural effort to find Eclectic might engender increased familiarity with Menaul, you’ll never again pass it by.  Nor will you forget it.

Eclectic’s ambiance is industrial, but warm with blonde woods, distressed red bricked walls, hand-scrawled menus on the wall, a corrugated bar and industrial style polished concrete floors.  Table legs are made from metal pipes, the type used in plumbing.  Menus on clipboards hang from hooks on each table.  Large south-facing windows let in sunlight.  Seating is more functional than it is comfortable though we’ve lingered long and happily during our first two visits with no ill effect.  Even al fresco dining is available thanks to a pet-friendly patio that doubles the pizzeria’s seating capacity.  This is just one cool place to be, especially if you’re dining with friends.

Wings Hot and Tangy.  Photo courtesy of Kimber Scott

31 August 2016:  My friends Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and Bruce Schor who, because of this blog, enjoyed a kinship without ever having met, accompanied me on our inaugural visit.  Walking into the restaurant was like old home week, a reunion of new and old friends.  No sooner had we stepped in than we espied the charismatic Ryan Scott, his winsome wife Kimber and their precious angel Judah.  Daniela and Maxime greeted us all like long-lost family.  That’s pretty much how they treat everyone–and one of the reasons Eclectic will soon become Albuquerque’s favorite pizzeria and watering hole.  Well that and the food.  Oh, the food… 

While a disclaimer cautions that the menu is subject to change without notice, in our experience every item on that menu is an absolute winner, a perfect ten.  The first section of the menu is titled “Start With” and it included eight starters, each as appealing as the other.  There are ten pizzas on the menu, including a “build your own” option.  Save for the Reina Margherita, a vegetarian pizza, and the Quattro Formaggi, the pizzas are unlike any you’ll find in the city.  Instead of the de rigueur “meat lovers” pizza for example, you’ll find a Nordik pizza with smoked salmon and capers.  There are four items on the “Not A Pizza” section of the menu, entrees truly befitting the term “eclectic.”  Those include roasted chicken, fish and chips, Chimichurri skirt steak a la plancha and beer braised short ribs.  Three sides are also available as well as four decadent desserts.

Hot “PHO” YOU

31 August 2016: As we perused the menu, we enjoyed a bowl of spicy, eclectic olives (some with pits). Brine-cured green and reddish, the olives are meaty, fresh and rubbed with a pleasantly piquant chile.  It’s not often, if ever, the flavor combination of briny and piquant is discussed on this blog, but the combination is surprising (there’s that word again).  The piquancy level of the chiles is a degree or two of magnitude more intense than pimentos stuffed into olive centers (as in the olives used on martinis), but without compromising on aroma and flavor.  Bruce Schor graciously allowed me to eat the single Thai bird pepper that helped give the olives their piquancy.  It was an eye-opener.

31 August 2016:  If he’s not Albuquerque’s foremost authority on chicken wings, Ryan is certainly their most prolific “appreciator.”  My friend loves chicken wings, but not just any chicken wings.  They’ve got to be better than good.  When chicken wings earn the Ryan Scott seal of approval, you know they’re imbued with greatness.  Ryan loved the “get your hands dirty” sriracha-lime wings at Eclectic.  The unlikely combination of intense piquancy coupled with tangy, citrusy lime works surprisingly well with an optimum balance of two strong flavors.  These meaty wings are accompanied with a buttermilk ranch dressing so good you’ll want to spoon it out of the ramekin, but it’s wholly unnecessary on the wings.

Big Dips and Dough

31 August 2016:  “Don’t tell me Maxime does pho, too?”  If that sentiment wasn’t outwardly expressed, it was certainly contemplated.  Yes, Maxime does pho and it’s one of Daniela’s favorite items on the starters menu.  Listed as Hot “PHO” YOU, it’s a spectacular soup though it could be debated as to whether it is or isn’t pho.  Pho is technically a noodle soup and there are no noodles on this piping hot dish nor will you find the distinctive, aromatic essence of star anise, but those are technicalities.  Call this “faux pho” if you will, but you’ll also be calling it absolutely delicious.  Instead of the swimming pool-sized portion served at Vietnamese restaurants, Eclectic’s version is served in a small bowl with  ladle.  Maxime’s interpretation of pho is made with generous pieces of chicken, bamboo shoots, cabbage, nuoc mam, garlic and cilantro.  It will blow you away!

31 August 2016: My friend Sr. Plata was on the first day of a low-carb diet when he espied big dips and dough on the menu.  Needless to say, his low-carb effort was delayed by one day.  Served with focaccia bread sticks is a triumvirate of terrific dips: humus, smoked trout and goat cheese, each a magnificent complement to the best focaccia you’ll find in the Duke City.  If the notion of “smoked trout” dip channels memories of slick-talking salesman Dan Aykroyd hawking a Bassomatic, you’re probably not alone.  Don’t let that notion stop you from enjoying this magnificent dipping sauce.  Great as the dips are, the foccacia is fabulous–a precursor to the quality of the pizza crust to be enjoyed later.

Eat Your Brussels Carley (Photo Courtesy of Kimber Scott)

31 August 2016:  There are two versions of Brussels sprouts on the menu, one with bacon and one without.  Sporting the curious appellation “Eat Your Brussels Carley,” they’re delicious with our without the pork candy.  Named America’s “most hated vegetable” in a 2008 survey conducted by Heinz, Brussels sprouts are almost universally reviled.  Many diners hate them without ever having tried them (probably because they heard someone else express their disdain for this villainous vegetable).  Andy Griffiths even wrote an anti-tribute to Brussels sprouts.  Entitled “Just Disgusting!,” its lyrics posit: “Who wouldn’t hate them? They’re green.  They’re slimy.  They’re moldy.  They’re horrible.  They’re putrid.  They’re foul.  Apart from that, I love them.”  You’ll certainly love Maxime’s version!

Mac & Cheese Jalapeño

1 November 2016: A Google search for “Ode to Macaroni and Cheese” will fruitfully return results, some of which are inspired and creative. One especially catchy ode was put to music, taking liberties with the Celine Dion song “Because You Loved Me.” I half expected my friend Bill to belt out a chorus or two of that ode. That’s how much he enjoyed Eclectic’s mac & cheese jalapeno dish. Anyone who’s been comforted by the warmth and deliciousness of macaroni and cheese can certainly understand that. Macaroni and cheese has uplifting qualities that make it the most revered of comfort foods…and if ever there was a poster child for how mac and cheese should look and taste, it would be Maxime’s version. Served in a cast iron pan, this turophile’s dream is a medley of cheeses: Fontina, Gorgonzola, Cantal and Mozzarella atop of which sit several sliced jalapenos. A little truffle oil gives it earthy notes your taste buds will appreciate. This dish is decadent enough to satisfy a nostalgic “back to childhood” pang for mac and cheese but it’s also sophisticated enough for grown-ups. What really makes this dish stand out, however, is that it’s both cheesy in a melty, gooey way (but not to the extent of ballpark nachos) and it’s caramelized, especially at the bottom of the pan. Caramelized cheese is so good, it could be used on a caramel apple. 

Fish Tacos

1 November 2016: There’s a disclaimer on Eclectic’s Web site which cautions that “menu is subject to change without notice.” You’ll want to visit Eclectic’s Web site daily so you’ll be up-to-speed on what the daily special is. In the past week, daily specials have included such alluring offerings as a green chile cheeseburger, patty melt, oyster po’ boy and the Tuesday special—tacos. Tacos, which come in all shapes, sizes, colors and price points have become as American as apple pie and baseball. At Eclectic, soft, steamed white corn tortillas are engorged with your choice of carne asada, chicken or fish and they’re value-priced so you can afford two or ten of them. Filled generously with planks of tender, fried Pollock and cabbage slaw, these beauties are served with a wedge of lime, a perfect foil for the fish.

Roasted Chicken (Photo Courtesy of Kimber Scott)

31 August 2016: For many gastronomes the very notion of roasted chicken elicits if not an outward yawn, an ennui.   Leave it to Maxime to enliven what is often a ho-hum dish.  A generously applied pasilla chile and lime rub precedes a deeply penetrating heat roasting in the brick oven.  The pasilla imbues the chicken with a unique flavor.  Pasilla, the dried form of the chilaca chili pepper, is an aromatic, brownish red chile that smells somewhat like prunes and has a mild, rich and almost sweet taste with just a hint of residual bitterness.  It’s increasingly finding favor among bold chefs such as Maxime who are skilled at building concordant flavors with diverse ingredients.  The roasted chicken is served with a green mango chutney which complements the chicken very well. 

Fish & Chips

1 November 2016: Had King George III’s government attempted to tax fish and chips, it’s conceivable the revolutionary war would have started earlier (presuming that the colonists brought fish and chips across the pond). It’s become increasingly rare in cafes and restaurants across the fruited plain to find a menu that doesn’t offer fish and chips, an indication that Americans, too, love this dish. Most of the time fish and chips at American restaurants are passable…or at least better than what you’ll find at Long John Silver’s. Every once in a while, you find a version of fish and chips so good, you wonder if maybe one of Her Majesty’s culinary staff prepared it. Eclectic’s version is such a dish. Instead of the heavily-breaded, golden-hued planks with a mountain of French fries to which you might be accustomed, what arrives at your table are driftwood-sized logs that are more Dijon-colored than canary gold. That’s because Maxime uses Stout on his batter. Not only does the Stout impart a darker hue, it tempers the strongly flavored Pollock, a lovely whitefish with a flaky texture. Instead of British “chips” (French fries), the fish is served with housemade potato chips, infinitely better than you’ll find at any grocery store. 

Oyster Po Boy with Curry Fries

9 December 2016: During the eight years we lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I must have consumed at least one boatload’s worth of  po’ boys.  What differentiates New Orleans’ most famous sandwich from your run-of-the-mill sub sandwich is its humble origin as a sumptuous sustenance provided to striking streetcar drivers.  Because of the abundant local resources of the Gulf Coast and bayous, fried seafood–particularly shrimp and oysters–po’ boys are the most popular option.  In New Mexico, it may be easier to find a prize pearl inside an oyster than to find an outstanding oyster po’ boy or sandwich.  Leave it to the genius of Maxime Bouneau to construct one that’s every bit as good as the very best you’ll find in New Orleans.  Nestled in Maxime’s incomparable soft, chewy, delicious focaccia are a netful of oysters, a single lettuce leaf and a housemade remoulade you’d swear came out of Louisiana.  The oyster po’ boy is served with a ramekin of tangy coleslaw which (hmm, wish I’d thought of this sooner) would go well inside the po’ boy.  Even better, ask for a side of curry fries, the best you’ll have anywhere.

Green Chile Cheeseburger

15 April 2017:  On June 16, 2017, the Albuquerque Isotopes will officially change their names for the day in honor of New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger. On that day, the Isotopes will become the Albuquerque Green Chile Cheeseburgers and will sport a custom uniform adorned with a special green chile roaster patch on the left sleeve , a New Mexico state flag with a toothpick for a pole on the right sleeve and a black hat with a burger. It promises to be the hottest promotion in the history of the franchise, but it won’t be as hot as a green chile cheeseburger at Eclectic. Maxime doesn’t chop and dice the chile he uses on the burger. He unfurls an entire chile and nestles it atop a molten slice of Pepperjack cheese which blankets a thick beef patty. Lettuce, red onion and tomatoes are served on the side. The chile has a pleasant piquancy with enough heat to get this volcano-eater’s attention. It’s also got a nice roasted flavor that hearkens to mind the aromas of green chile being roasted under our salubrious skies. This is a green chile cheeseburger which goes best with truffle fries. If you’d like additional heat, don’t opt for the standard American mustard. Ask for a dollop or two of the whole grain mustard which has got the kick of horseradish, but won’t take anything away from the great flavor of the green chile cheeseburger.

Corn Grits

15 April 2017: When perusing Eclectic’s menu, it surprised us to find corn grits. Considering Maxime cut his teeth In European restaurants, we would have expected polenta. “Aren’t grits and polenta the same thing?”, you ask. Well, they’re both made from stone-ground cornmeal, but they’re traditionally made from two different types of corn. Southern grits are traditionally made from dent corn while polenta is made from flint corn which has a finer texture. Texturally, grits can come across as somewhat mushy, while polenta tends to be more coarse and toothsome. At any regard, both can be delicious if prepared correctly. Maxime prepares grits as well as most chefs in the Deep South do. Imbued with gorgonzola, a veined Italian blue cheese with a strong, sharp flavor and cream to temper that sharpness, the grits are surprisingly good. They shouldn’t be. Everything Maxime prepares is excellent or better. 

Pate and Focaccia

15 April 2017: Maxime’s focaccia bread is the best we’ve ever had! It’s better-than-bakery-quality bread that goes well with virtually anything you can imagine, but is wonderful all by itself. Though we could subsist happily on the big dips and dough, our very favorite starter, the pate & focaccia also beckons. The pork pate, a small, dense brick of ground pork, unctuous pork fat, herbs and spices fashioned into a spreadable mini-loaf is terrific on its own, but elevated in flavor when spread on the focaccia. At under ten dollars, it’s a bargain. The pate and focaccia are served with an eye-watering whole grain mustard that will clear your nasal passages as well as a small ramekin of cornichons, the delightful miniature sour French pickles made with mini gherkin cucumbers, each about two inches in length. The cornichons have an addictive crunch and an acidic bite which balances the richness of the pate.  

Build Your Own Pizza: Gorgonzola, Sausage

31 August 2016:  Eclectic’s “Build Your Own” pizza offers more options than just about any pizzeria you’ll ever find–and not just the boring “usual suspects” line-up of toppings.  The build your own starts with tomato sauce, mozzarella and Cantal (a raw cow’s milk cheese with a pleasant milky aroma and a nutty, buttery flavor that finishes just slightly acidic).  It’s the canvas atop which you can build your own masterpiece.  Bruce (to avoid confusion with the other Bruce (Sr. Plata), let’s call him Bruce 1.0) added pork sausage and imported Gorgonzola, both excellent choices.  The first thing you’ll appreciate about an Eclectic pizza is the aroma which precedes it out of the brick wood-burning oven.  The taste and texture deliver on the promises made by the aroma.  Waifishly thin, the pizza is imprinted with a pinto pony char and just a slight cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza.  Both the sausage and imported Gorgonzola are first-rate.

North Shore

31 August 2016: Who says pizza has to be based on tomato sauce?  Certainly not Maxime who also offers one based on cilantro-pesto and another based on buttermilk.  Yes, buttermilk!  Unable to decide from among five tempting options, I asked the more decisive (and infinitely cuter) Kimber to order for me.  Her choice, the North Shore (cilantro pesto, roasted chicken, smoked bacon, pineapple, cantal and mozzarella cheese) was outstanding!  The cilantro pesto has a real zip that impregnates the wondrous crust thoroughly.  As always, the combination of pineapple and bacon proved magical, the two disparate ingredients playing off one another in contrasting harmony.  The bacon is thick and smoky, wholly unlike the tiny bacon bits some pizzerias use.  The true test of pizza greatness, however, is how it holds up to refrigeration–essentially how good it is for breakfast.  The North Shore is just as good cold the next day as it was out-of-the-oven.  This is true pizza greatness! 

The Nordik Pizza

6 September 2016: “How about dinner.  I know a place that serves great Viking food.”  Those words, uttered by the immortal Police Squad Lieutenant Frank Drebben gave me pause to reflect on Viking food and whether or not any restaurant in America actually serves it.  Not even Google  the Infallible (doesn’t that sound like a Viking name?) could find a single Viking restaurant across the fruited plain.  If a Viking restaurant did exist, they’d be well advised to copy Maxime’s Nordik Pizza (buttermilk, smoked salmon, capers, red onion, cantal and mozzarella cheese).  Only a pizzaioli genius could conceive of such a masterpiece.  He hadn’t finished his first slice when my friend  Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, declared it second only to the Funghi & Tartufo from Piatanzi as his favorite pizza in the world.  It is indeed a delicious pie, albeit one not everyone will enjoy.  The smoked salmon, in particular, has an intensely smoky, fishy flavor and aroma. 

Make Your Own Pizza

6 September 2016:  As a self-admitted mad scientist in the kitchen, experimentation with ingredient combinations brings me as much joy as frustration, as many successes as failures.  When the ingredient combinations don’t complement one another, it’s “curses, foiled again!”  Dazzling Deanell, on-the-other-hand, seems to have a Midas touch.  She always seems to know what to order at restaurants and, as we discovered at Eclectic, she knows how to put together a perfect pie.  The make your own beauty pictured above includes roasted red peppers, black olives, mushrooms and sausage.  Sounds pretty standard, right?  Not when the sausage is so magnificently fennel-kissed with notes of pleasant piquancy.  Excellent ingredients make for an excellent pizza.  Sausage will evermore grace any pizza we order at Eclectic. 

Paysanne

6 September 2016:  When my Kim espied a pizza named “Paysanne,” she thought the menu’s creator may have misspelled “Paisano”, an Italian term for compatriot.  While that might make good sense, the pizza’s actual name really is “Paysanne” and if there’s one term which defines Maxime’s genius it might be this one.  Paysanne describes meals prepared simply.  Even Maxime’s most complex dishes and most creative combinations aren’t a mishmash of designer ingredients thrown together.  Take the namesake “Paysanne” pizza, for example.  It’s constructed with buttermilk, smoked bacon, mushroom, red onion, olives, cantal and mozzarella cheese.  Simple, right.  It’s simply delicious, a flavorful feast for the eyes and taste buds.

Beer Braised Short Ribs

2 September 2016: My father-in-law loved short ribs, maybe even more than Adam did.  He would have flipped over the beer braised short ribs at Eclectic.  Martha Stewart once declared “there is perhaps no purer beef flavor than that of a short rib.”  Ironically, short ribs were once disdained by chefs as “poor man’s food.”  Under the right hands, however, this fairly modestly priced cut can be coaxed to rich, unctuous tenderness and complexity thanks to a basic braise.  At Eclectic, the short ribs are served sans bone, but somehow they retain the silken richness of bone-in short ribs.  Braised in beer, cherries and Pasilla chiles, the ribs are available in three sizes: small, medium and large.  The medium is the size of a small roast with huge flavors.

Rhubarb Cobbler

2 September 2016: With only five desserts on the menu, you’d think it would be easy to decide which one to order.  Under Maxime’s deft touch, they’re all bound to be great.  Bread pudding not being an option made the choice easier for me.  With fresh memories of the sumptuous peach cobbler at The County Line Restaurant there could only be one choice.  Served in a cast iron pan, the rhubarb cobbler is superb!  With a lip-pursing tartness, the rhubarb is counterbalanced by the sweetness of the ice cream and the savoriness of the pie crust.

Friends of Gil: Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver and Bruce Schor

Eclectic Urban Pizzeria may be the new kid on the block, but it may already be the answer to the supplications of pizza lovers across the Duke City for a transformative pie, one that’s not merely very good, but truly outstanding.  As Ryan pointed out, however, pizza may not even be the best item on the menu.  Repeat visits are a must!

ECLECTIC URBAN PIZZERIA AND TAP HOUSE
2119 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 322-2863
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 April 2017
1st VISIT: 31 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy eclectic olives mix, Wings hot and tangy, Hot “PHO”YOU, Big dips and dough,Eat your Brussels Carley, Roasted chicken, North Shore, Beer Braised Short Ribs, Rhubarb Cobbler, Nordik Pizza, Paysanne Pizza, Fish & Chips, Fish Tacos, Mac & Cheese, Oyster Po’ Boy, Curry Fries, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Corn Grits, Pate and Focaccia

Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pana’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pana’s Cafe for Excellent New Mexican Food

The term “red or green” has connotations beyond New Mexico’s sacrosanct chile.  For restaurateurs across the Duke City, red or green can spell the difference between a good or bad reputation and even success or failure.  All food service establishments across the city must display the results of the most recent restaurant inspection conducted by the Albuquerque Environmental Health Department.  Those results are displayed on a “current grade” sticker in a visible inspection, typically the front door.  Savvy diners look for a green sticker which signifies that a food establishment received a passing grade at their most recent inspection.  It means the restaurant staff has demonstrated skills and knowledge that create a safe and sanitary food service environment. 

A red sticker, on the other hand, means the food service establishment has been downgraded for non-compliance with the Food Sanitation Ordinance. The dreaded red sticker can be the proverbial kiss of death. Although food service establishments are given the opportunity to correct critical violations, sometimes the damage to reputation is done. For years, the “red or green report” was a weekly staple of KOAT Action 7 News with appropriate dramatic emphasis accorded restaurants earning red stickers. As with inspections of any type, restaurateurs who strive consciously to maintain a safe and sanitary food service environment look forward to proving their mettle.

Pana’s Dining Room

Despite my years of reviewing restaurants I’d never actually witnessed a restaurant inspection until my inaugural visit at Pana’s Cafe.  It was the cafe’s first inspection.  Inspector Rosanna Trujillo was the consummate professional, providing constructive feedback, dispensing praise, imparting training and providing helpful tips as warranted.  She was the antithesis of any negative perception about restaurant inspectors you may have.  When she completed her inspection–no violations–owners Joe and Michelle Repichowski were so proud they immediately posted a photo of the inspection results on their Facebook page.  That’s not something you see many restaurants do.  Then again, Pana’s Cafe isn’t like many other restaurants.

Pana’s Cafe is ensconced in the space which previously housed Patricia’s Café and before that Choroni Café. The café is set back from heavily trafficked San Mateo and doesn’t especially stand out visually among the multitude of stores and shops with which it shares space in a timeworn shopping center. Where Pana’s Café does stand out is with the New Mexican fare it serves. It’s New Mexican food with a pedigree. The restaurant is named for Michelle’s mother whose sister Mary has owned and operated the immensely popular Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen for decades. Joe admits Pana’s recipes are essentially the same family recipes which have made Padilla’s beloved in the Duke City.

Salsa and Chips

Unlike the venerable Padilla’s, Pana’s Café isn’t serving to overflow crowds—at least not yet. As with many relatively new mom-and-pop restaurants, sometimes word is slow to get around. Pana’s launched in January, 2016, exactly four days after Patricia’s Café shuttered its doors. Remnants of its previous tenant remain on the walls where the north wall is painted with a mural depicting the Santuario de Chimayo. On the south wall are painted three other murals, each with a New Mexico theme. Pana’s Café is fairly small in an intimate sort of way. The menu is somewhat abbreviated, too, but it’s got many of the traditional New Mexican favorites. Cumin is added only to the carne adovada.

Pana’s is currently open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday. Breakfast is served from 8AM through 11AM and lunch is served from 11AM through 3PM. Among the smattering of breakfast items are pancakes, huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos. Lunch plates–which include beans, rice and two sopaipillas—feature such traditional New Mexican favorites as tamales, chile rellenos, enchiladas, tacos, burritos and a phalanx of ala carte items. “This and that” are available in the form of guacamole and chips, salsa and chips, a Frito pie or a hamburger with fries. As you peruse the menu, a bowl of salsa and basket of chips are ferried to your table. The chips are crispy and thick, ready to scoop up as much salsa as you’re able to lay on them. Alas, the salsa is a bit on the thin side and is better for dipping than for scooping. The jalapeno-based salsa has very distinctive flavor notes courtesy of cumin and bay leaves (yes, bay leaves). It’s not especially piquant, but it’s quite good.

Blue Corn Enchiladas with Red and Green Chile

16 June 2016: You can have your enchiladas constructed with cheese, ground beef, chicken or carne adovada and on either blue- or yellow-corn tortillas. Regardless of filling you choose, make it an early Christmas and ask for both red and green chile. For good measure ask for at least one fried egg (over easy) on top. The chile is hot! For a fire-eater, it’s not necessarily piquant, but it’s served piping hot, not lukewarm. It’s a very good, earthy chile, unadorned with seasonings that don’t belong on New Mexican food. Both the red and green are about even on the piquancy scale and both are absolutely delicious. The accompanying beans will remind you of those prepared by your abuelita while the Spanish rice is…well, it’s Spanish rice.

12 April 2017: What do you do when a combination plate asks you to select three items from among four choices?  You pay a little bit extra for the forth item, of course.  Pana’s combination plate offers three choices from among four equally delicious items: a cheese enchilada, tamale, chile relleno and ground beef taco.  That’s akin to ask you to pick three of your children to the exclusion of the fourth.   You just can’t do it!  All four items are exemplars of how they should be prepared.  The taco, a crescent-shaped corn tortilla housing well-seasoned ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce and tomato is excellent, the likely first item you’ll finish.  The tamale features features a nice balance between corn masa and chile marinated pork topped with shredded cheese and more of Pana’s addictive chile.  Puncture the chile relleno with your fork and it practically oozes molten cheese.  Cheese enchiladas are usually pretty boring to me, but not so at Pana’s where the red and green chile enliven the dish.  The chile is memorable!

Combination Plate

Complimentary sopaipillas are becoming increasingly rare in New Mexican restaurants. Lunch plates at Pana’s include not one, but two of them. They’re large, puffy and fresh with deep pockets beckoning for honey to be poured in. If you’re so inclined, you might also want to stuff your savory entrée into those deep pockets, a sort of stuffed sopaipilla in miniature.

14 April 2017: Every year on Holy Thursday at about 7PM, by brothers would set off on the 25-mile pilgrimage to the Santuario De Chimayo, a torturous walk through winding roads that climb and descend precipitously. They would arrive home the next day thoroughly exhausted–too exhausted, it turned out, to enjoy my mom’s traditional Good Friday lunch of tortas de huevo. That left more for me. Tortas de huevo are a traditional Lenten dish typically served on Fridays when New Mexican Catholics are expected to abstain from meat. Moreover, they’re absolutely delicious. Picture a sort-of egg fritter whipped into a light, fluffy texture and fried then topped with red chile. Five or six of these eggy chile delivery vehicles with pinto beans, quelites, calabasitas and fideos and there’s no way you can bemoan the fact that you didn’t have a single hamburger on a Lenten Friday.

Pana’s Magnificent Lenten Special

14 April 2017: Every Friday during Lent in 2017, Pana’s served all the aforementioned Lenten treats, preparing them nearly as well as my mom did. The quelites (lamb’s quarters, commonly referred to as wild spinach throughout Northern New Mexico), calabacitas (sautéed zucchini, onions and corn) and fideos (a pasta dish with short spaghetti noodles and a mild tomato sauce) made me wish Lent would last longer than forty days. The fideos rekindled many fond memories. Unlike spaghetti which is seasoned (sometimes heavily) with oregano and garlic, this New Mexican vermicelli noodle dish is lightly seasoned and light on the tomato sauce, too. Pana’s adds a few beans to the quelites, perhaps acknowledging that quelites are an acquired taste. To me, they taste like my mom’s home.  The calabasitas are fresh, crisp and addictive.

Joe and Michelle are the consummate hosts. Their customer-orientation became apparent when, despite having an inspector performing a white-glove routine on their café, they were timely to take my order, quick to replenish my beverage and ever present to ensure my dining experience was a good one.   Pana’s Café is the type of restaurant you pull for to succeed and not only because of its culinary lineage. It’s a very good New Mexican restaurant.

Pana’s Cafe
3120 San Mateo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)884-4260
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 April 2017
1st VISIT: 16 June 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chips and Salsa, Sopaipillas, Blue Corn Enchiladas with Ground Beef and Beans Christmas Style, Combination Plate (Ground Beef Taco, Cheese Enchilada, Tamale, Chile Relleno), Tortas de Huevo, Quelites, Fideos, Calabasitas

Pana's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hurricane’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Hurricane’s Cafe on Lomas

“What is it with you New Mexicans and your fascination for natural disasters?” my Maryland transplanted friend Jessie Miller once asked me. When I inquired as to what he was talking about, he elaborated that two of his favorite Duke City restaurants are named for natural disasters. “Natural disasters,” I asked. “I don’t know of any restaurants named “Forest Fire” or “Drought,” the only New Mexico occurring natural disasters that came immediately to mind. He laughed, “what’s ironic about the restaurants I have in mind is that they’re named for hurricanes and twisters, two natural disasters that don’t occur in Albuquerque.” I reminded him that our ubiquitous spring dust devils are, by definition, twisters.

“”Yeah, but you sure don’t have hurricanes in New Mexico.” I argued that the Land of Enchantment has proudly boasted of hurricanes for decades, adding that New Mexico’s hurricanes even had masculine names long before hurricanes on the Gulf and East Coasts did. “What names?” he asked? In as straight-face as I could muster, I recounted the names Al and Al, Jr., as in New Mexico music legend Al Hurricane and his son Al, Jr. Okay, that’s just me being a smart alec, but Al and Al, Jr. are about the closest a hurricane will ever get to New Mexico though their associated rainfall and resultant flooding have wreaked some havoc on our enchanted state.

Cyclone Burger, Hurricane’s Version of a Green Chile Cheeseburger

Hurricane’s Cafe and Drive-In has nothing to do with the godfather of New Mexico music. Nor, I’ve been told, is the restaurant named for the tropical cyclones that can bring torrential downpours, fierce winds and damaging tornados. Hurricane’s Café and Drive-In was launched in 1987, the brainchild of Greg Desmarais and Gary Hines. When Hurricane’s expanded to eight restaurants, Desmarais and Hines parted ways. In 1997, Hines partnered with Ray Ubieta on a concept they named Twisters. While Twisters has expanded to some nineteen restaurants, including four in Colorado, only the original Hurricane’s remains. Still, in 2010, Desmarais was named the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s “Restaurateur of the Year” in recognition of his dedication to the community, for the hundreds of jobs he’s provided and for his active involvement in the restaurant industry.

Hurricane’s is situated on Lomas in a ‘50s style drive-in reminiscent of those depicted on American Graffiti and Happy Days. The restaurant got its start as Frank’s Drive-In, a popular cruising spot for high school students in the 60’s. Frank’s was renowned for its taco burgers, tater dogs, and fresh limeades, items which are now available on Hurricane’s expansive menu. Hurricane’s retained much of the motif which made Frank’s a Mother Road era classic. Covered parking stalls equipped with menu boards and intercoms are evocative of the car culture of the 50s and 60s though during every one of our visits, we didn’t espy a single person sitting in their cars awaiting their burger or burrito bounty. Perhaps the technology of yesteryear confuses diners or more likely, today’s social media connected restaurant-goers prefer to dine with others.

Patty Melt

As might be expected, Hurricane’s ambiance also brings to mind a bygone era replete with black and white checkerboard tile floors, old-fashioned louver blinds, red vinyl padded booths and a counter where you place your order. To protect the checkerboard tile floor, chair feet are padded with tennis balls. Tables and chairs fastened to the concrete are available beneath the covered patio for al fresco dining weather-permitting (though as previously mentioned, it’s amazing how many diners choose to eat indoors even in good weather and how many of them the smallish dining room will accommodate.

The two menu items for which the restaurant is best known are the “disaster burrito” and the Cyclone, Hurricane’s version of the green chile cheeseburger. Contrary to my friend Jessie’s assertion, the disaster burrito wasn’t named because of New Mexicans’ fascination for natural disasters. Many years ago, a food critic (not me) declared Hurricane’s foods a disaster. Desmarais’ good-natured response was “let’s show them a disaster.” The disaster burrito–a beef, egg and bean burrito smothered with pan-fried potatoes, red and green chile and topped with lettuce and tomatoes—is available in 1/8th, 1/4th, ½ and whole burrito sizes.

Onion Rings (Top) and Tater Gems

The disaster burrito made its national television debut in May, 2014 in a Travel Channel program called “Chow Masters.” In an episode entitled “Santa Fe Burritos,” three purveyors of bounteous burritos were pitted in a piquant melee: La Choza and Dr. Field Goods Kitchen in Santa Fe and Hurricane’s Cafe in Albuquerque (a suburb of Santa Fe?). Judging was based on creativity and flavor. The ten thousand dollar burrito winner was Dr. Field Goods who wowed the judges with a smoked goat chimichanga burrito in mole. Many locals would argue that the disaster burrito should at least have garnered a tie.

Not counting the taco burger, Hurricane’s menu offers five burgers.  The Cyclone, a New Mexico green chile cheeseburger (lettuce, tomato, pickles) is a very popular option.  Hungry diners will ask for their Cyclone “Earthquake burger” style meaning double meat and double cheese.  The cheese melts like a molten blanket over the beef patties.  If you like your green chile to bite you back, this isn’t the green chile cheeseburger for you.  The chile has about as much piquancy as a bell pepper though it does have a nice flavor.  Burgers and sandwiches are served with your choice of French fries, tater gems, coleslaw, cottage cheese or fruit cocktail.  For a pittance you can upgrade to onion rings, fried zucchini or a salad.

Fried Zucchini

If your preference is sandwiches (and burgers are NOT sandwiches), Hurricane’s offers ten choices.  My Kim’s favorite is the Patty Melt, a quarter-pound beef patty, cheese and grilled onions on light rye.  She prefers it over the green chile cheeseburger and hasn’t bought into my suggestion that a patty melt would be even better with green chile.  At any event, Hurricane’s version is quite good courtesy of a lightly toasted rye replete with plenty of rye grains.  The grilled onions aren’t quite caramelized to a brownish hue, but retain a slight crispness.  There’s plenty of melted cheese to bind all the sandwich elements into one cohesive whole.

Fried stuff–onion rings, tater gems and fried zucchini–are a cut above what you find at most burger emporiums.  The fried zucchini resembles the fried mozzarella you might find at an Italian restaurant, but bite into any of these golden hued little logs and the inimitable flavor of zucchini greets you.  The fried zucchini is served with a ranch dressing though it’s not absolutely necessary.  The biggest difference between tater tots and tater gems seems to be shape and size.  Tater gems are larger and more “roundish.” 

Serving Albuquerque for thirty years now, Hurricane’s Restaurant & Drive-In shows no surcease in popularity.  Visit almost any time of day on any day in which it’s open and you’ll be among like-minded devotees of this very popular drive-in.

Hurricane’s Restaurant & Drive-In
4330 Lomas Blvd., N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-4248
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 April 2017
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Cyclone Burger, Patty Melt, Tater Gems, Onion Rings, Fried Zucchini

Hurricane's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Backstreet Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Behind this Entrance to Old Town is the Backstreet Grill and its Capacious Patio

Old Town Albuquerque.  Locals love it.   We appreciate its unique architecture and have tremendous affection for its character and personality.  We hold its religious celebrations in reverence and admire the passion with which its secular fiestas are celebrated.   We delight in reminding “colonists” that it’s older than many New England cities which dominate history books.  Old Town is where we take all our friends and family who visit us.  Much as we love it…and we do love it, many of us don’t visit Old Town as much as its proximity and charm might warrant.

Ask locals why they don’t frequent Old Town and the more “honest” ones will likely tell you it’s because it’s no longer solely ours.  We have to share it.  While we don’t consider Old Town a “tourist trap,” we feel “trapped by visitors” when we can’t find convenient parking and when maneuvering around a shop is akin to an obstacle course with the primary obstacle being visitors walking around with mouths agape and eyes distracted by our local culture.  It’s a real quandary because we love visitors, too.  We’re very proud that they’ve chosen to spend a little bit of time (and hopefully a lot of their money) in this little paradise we call home.

Backstreet Nachos

The Old Town Merchants Association recognizes the value of local residents who visit and recommend Old Town throughout the year.  In 2015, the Association announced a “We Love Locals” promotion, a tangible way (that includes gift baskets, hotel stays, dining certificates, shopping sprees, guided tours and more) to show their appreciation.  Ever the proud gastronome, the emphasis of my promotional efforts would have centered on all the great restaurants in the Old Town area.  Yes, there are great restaurants in the Old Town area, several of which rank among the city’s most highly esteemed.

If its been years since you last visited Old Town for the sheer pleasure of dining in one of its esteemed eateries, it’s time to get reacquainted with dining at one of the city’s greatest treasures.  Perhaps you might want to take the love of your life to Restaurant Antiquity, named in 2015 as “one of the thirteen most romantic restaurants in America” by TABELog, a highly regarded online foodie community.  Two Old Town area restaurants–La Crepe Michele and Duran’s Central Pharmacy–were touted in 2015 by national real estate resource Moveto as among “15 Albuquerque Restaurants Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.”

Cup of New Mexican Gumbo

There’s probably no better way for locals and visitors alike to immerse themselves in culture than by partaking of our incendiary and incomparably delicious cuisine.  Old Town’s New Mexican restaurants include long established standards such as Monica’s El Portal, Ben Michael’s Restaurant, and La Placita Dining Rooms. There are a number of “new kids on the block,” too.  Recent restaurant additions (perhaps since your last visit) to the Old Town area include the Quesadilla Grille (2010), Vinaigrette (2012), Central Grill & Coffee House (2014) and Backstreet Grill (2012).

After our inaugural visit, my Kim was so impressed that she chided me for not having taken her to the Backstreet Grill before.  My pathetic and pitiful excuse was that I’d been tortured for nearly a decade with songs from the Backstreet Boys, one of the most popular boy bands of the 1990s.  Knowing full well that I actually liked “I Want It That Way,” (forgive the earworm) she didn’t buy my excuse.  Truth is, I’d wanted to try the Backstreet Grill for more than a couple of years, but didn’t want the commotion and hullabaloo of  teeming masses in an all too confining space (seating for fewer than 20 guests).

The Backstreet Supreme

When the Backstreet Grill moved from its Lilliputian location to a more capacious venue in June, 2014, my excuses started to make even less sense than some Backstreet Boys lyrics.  It wasn’t until discovering there’s a “back way” to get to the Backstreet that we finally made it.  The back way involves parking not in the Old Town Plaza (and good luck finding a spot there), but in the commodious parking lot south of the Albuquerque Museum.  From a parking lot space close to Old Town Road, you’ll espy an archway with a viga on which the Backstreet Grill name is scrawled.  It’s literally feet from the parking lot to the restaurant though the noisy world seems further and you’ll hardly notice the parked cars with an east-facing view that includes the verdant Tiguex Park.

The Backstreet Grill has grown up and out since its initial launch in 2012.  Now situated in Old Town Plaza’s former carriage house building, it can accommodate nearly 200 diners.  Weather permitting, many of them opt to dine al fresco in a spacious patio shielded from the sun by towering trees.    The interior dining room is resplendent in dark, masculine woods with a matching ceiling.  Both booth and table seating are available, the latter offering more personal space.  Walls are festooned with vintage black-and-white photographs of Old Town when the area was much more pastoral and certainly would not have been considered a tourist draw.

Duck Tacos

It didn’t take long for us to realize the amiable and extremely knowledgeable server attending to us was chef-manager Christopher “Chris” James. When we peppered him with our usual litany of questions (i.e., does the chile contain cumin) about the menu, his answers were a give-away.  With a rare precision, in-depth knowledge and passion, he explained nuances of the dishes which interested us.  More importantly, not only does he understand his dishes, he can “sell” them.   Chef James is a friendly and peripatetic presence at his restaurant, simultaneously overseeing the kitchen operation while lending a hand wherever it’s needed.  

Peruse the menu and you’ll quickly discern what while it’s got elements of both, it’s neither New Mexican nor Mexican cuisine.  Chef James calls it “an innovative hybrid” that showcases ingredients, dishes and techniques from throughout the Southwest as well as Baja California and coastal Mexico.  Call it a hybrid if you’d like, but in short order, you’ll be calling it delicious.  The menu is segmented into several distinctive categories: breakfast, starters, soups and salads, tacos and burritos, burgers and sandwiches, the Mexican pizza and sides.  Read solely the names of each dish and you might be inclined to think “been there, done that,” but study the composition of each dish and you’ll fully gain an appreciation for the chef’s creativity.

Tenderloin Steak

16 October 2015: The triple-layered Backstreet Nachos, for example, are a wide departure from the gloppy cheese and vapid jalapeño-based nachos found at ballparks and bad restaurants. Think chile con queso, smoked pork shoulder, Hatch green chile and corn and black bean relish garnished with queso fresco, toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and cool ranch sour cream.  All nachos should aspire to such deliciousness, such innovation, such sheer bravado.  Every ingredient lends something to the plate, a melding of tried and true flavors that go very well together both texturally and flavor-wise.  The cool ranch sour cream tempers the fiery Hatch green chile while the toasted pumpkin seeds and corn and black bean relish lend delightful textural properties. 

26 March 2017: In 2015, an Albuquerque man craved his mom’s posole so much that he ignored her commands to stay away from her posole, broke into her home and stole it. The posole pilferer was later arrested on a residential burglary charge. Perhaps someone should warn the Backstreet Grill to keep its New Mexico Gumbo under lock and key. It’s good enough to risk breaking and entering. So what does gumbo have to do with posole? The Backstreet Grill’s signature New Mexican gumbo is chock full of Andouille sausage, chicken, rice, okra, Hatch green chile and posole. The posole and green chile no only make this gumbo uniquely New Mexican, but they elevate it in flavor. The posole imparts its corn-imbued savory, hearty qualities to what would be a very good gumbo.

Deconstructed Shrimp Tacos

16 October 2015: Several years ago uber chef Dennis Apodaca showed Albuquerque the delicious possibilities of incorporating rich, fatty duck into New Mexican and Mexican dishes at his pioneering restaurant Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place).  Perhaps the most popular dish at the Backstreet Grill also utilizes delectable duck in an innovative way.  Three duck tacos (red chile braised duck legs, topped with corn and black bean relish, mango mole sauce, Cotija cheese, cilantro and toasted pumpkin seeds stuffed into three corn tortillas) may have you craving canard for your next meal.  The mango mole sauce performs some sort of magic on the shredded thin shards of duck deliciousness, imparting that magic on your happy taste buds.  The cool element that seems to define contemporary tacos is provided by the ubiquitous corn and black bean relish.

16 October 2015: Some of those ingredients make their way onto one of the most innovative pizzas in the city. The Backstreet Supreme, described as “the original that started it all – fully loaded and awesome” earns its name. The canvas for this masterpiece is a fourteen-inch flour tortilla with a base of mozzarella and Menonita cheese topped with smoked pork shoulder, corn and black bean relish, pineapple pico de gallo, Hatch green chile, toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and Cotija cheese. The cheesy triumvirate lends elements of creaminess and saltiness in nice proportion to other flavor profiles. When the pineapple pico de gallo makes its presence known, it’s a perfect foil for the Hatch green chile. Now, a flour tortilla “pizza crust” means some dry, brittle edges, but they won’t get in your way of enjoying this delicious orb. Supreme seems to be a common descriptor for pizzas. This one earns it!

Sweet Potato Maple Layered Cheesecake

26 March 2017: Because of my indifference to steak, my Kim has threatened to take away my “man card.” Having been born and raised in Chicago, the “Hog Butcher for the World,” she loves meat and pork in all their forms while my tastes are far more eclectic. Her initial shock when I ordered the tenderloin steak at the Backstreet Grill was replaced by the realization that I would only order the steak if it’s served with a phalanx of “meat disguisers.” True enough, the nine-ounce portion of lean, juicy tenderloin steak is seasoned with smoked Spanish paprika and topped with a roasted pineapple demi-glace. The Spanish paprika (pimento) imparts not only a pleasant piquancy, but a slightly woodsy flavor that tempers the tangy-sweetness of the roasted pineapple. The combination is a steak sauce several orders of magnitude superior to what you’ll find at most restaurants (especially those who rely on commercially bottled sauces). Tenderloin, of course, is a juicy, tender and tasty cut of beef that needs no amelioration (unless you’re not of a pronounced carnivorous bent). On the side is a brick of thyme-grana scalloped potatoes and warm, seasonal vegetables.

26 March 2017: As is her custom, my Kim had her Baja Shrimp burrito “de-constructed,” meaning she wanted the tortilla on the side. She cuts the tortilla into “New Mexican spoons” which she uses to scoop up as much of the burrito ingredients as she wants. Don’t ask me how this makes sense to her? Just trust that it does. The Baja Shrimp burrito is prepared “California style” with sautéed tequila-garlic shrimp, lettuce, rice, pineapple pico, cilantro and sour cream ranch sauce served with tomatillo salsa verde. What my Kim enjoyed most were the pineapple pico and sour cream ranch. What she didn’t like (especially the cumin-infused rice), she pushed to the side.

16 October 2015: Desserts are limited, but interesting, especially the Spanish red chile flan.  Alas, sometimes seasonality trumps interesting–as in the case of a sweet potato maple layered cheesecake.   This wedge-shaped cheesecake is ultra-rich and decadent.  It’s not meant for one person alone.  As with so many cheesecakes served at so many restaurants in Albuquerque, this one isn’t baked on the premises, but comes from a restaurant supplier. 

The Backstreet Grill may just be the restaurant that brings locals back to Old Town and once there, it’s a good bet you’ll be back.

Backstreet Grill
1919 Old Town Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 842-5434
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 March 2017
1st VISIT: 16 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
LATEST VISIT: Duck Tacos, Backstreet Supreme, Backstreet Nachos, Sweet Potato Maple Layered Cheesecake, Tenderloin Steak, Deconstructed Shrimp Tacos, New Mexico Gumbo

Back Street Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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