Pollito Con Papas – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pollito Con Papas on Gibson Just West of Louisiana

I think a rotisserie is like a really morbid ferris wheel for chickens.
It’s a strange piece of machinery.
We will take the chicken, kill it, impale it and then rotate it.
And I’ll be damned if I’m not hungry because spinning chicken carcasses
make my mouth water. I like dizzy chicken.
Mitch Hedberg

Comedian Mitch Hedberg may have meant it in a funny vein, but it’s no joke that Americans are finding rotisserie chickens  not only sexy and sumptuous, but convenient, flavorful and oh, so easy to prepare.  The latter three were reasons most cited by consumers for liking rotisserie chicken.  In 2015, the National Chicken Council survey estimated that 900 million rotisserie chickens are sold each year in the United States, a number that’s expected to exceed one billion by 2018.  According to Lohud, a trade publication, nearly 700 million of those birds will be sold in supermarkets. At $5 a pop, that’s $3.5 billion in sales.

Since 1980,  the per capita consumption of poultry–and not just rotisserie chicken–in America has increased significantly.   According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Chicken Council, Americans are eating more chicken than ever.  The per capita consumption of chicken has risen from 48 pounds in 1980 to an estimated almost 91 pounds in 2017, an increase of more than 75-percent.  This increase is attributed to consumers desiring to eat leaner proteins.

Monica and Rene Coronado, The Heart and Soul of Pollito Con Papas

In the coastal nation of Peru, restaurants and roadside stands featuring pollo a la brasa (an entire chicken prepared on a rotisserie charcoal oven) are as ubiquitous and beloved as burgers are in America.  In the world culinary stage, this is significant because Peru (yes, Peru!) has been widely recognized by the cognoscenti as a delicious dining destination and a culinary trend-setter.  In fact, Frommers Travel Guide recently proclaimed Lima, Peru as the “top food and drink destination for 2012,” declaring that “Lima is now drawing a new flock of visitors who travel all the way to Peru just to eat.” Peruvian cuisine. In 2005, Bon Appetit declared Peruvian “the next hot cuisine,” extolling its “vibrant ceviches, crispy, spiced rotisserie chickens and packed-with-flavor empanadas” then encapsulating its declaration with “this is one cuisine we could eat every day.” 

What’s surprising is not that the culture-rich cuisine of a small, multi-ethnic nation rarely on the world’s stage is receiving such acclaim, it’s that it’s taken so long.  Peru’s culinary traditions, after all, began in pre-Columbian times. Peru was home not only to the oldest known civilization in the Americas (the Norte Chico civilization flourished as early as the 30th century BC) but later to the largest civilization in the Pre-Columbian Americas–the Incan empire.  Immigration melded the culture and cuisine of the Spanish, Basque, African, Moorish, Sino-Cantonese, Japanese and in the 19th century, the Italian, French and British with Peru’s indigenous peoples, the descendants of the pre-Incas and Incas, to combine the flavors of four diverse and distinct continents.

Chimichanga engorged with Peruvian-style chicken

With our typical “land of mañana” attitude, Albuquerque hasn’t been as quick to embrace Peruvian cuisine as have larger American metropolitan areas–not that we’ve had much opportunity.  In the year Peruvian was declared “the next hot cuisine,” the Duke City’s first (and only) Peruvian restaurant both opened and closed.  Albuquerque–you’ve got a second chance!  In 2011, Rene and Monica Coronado launched Pollito Con Papas on the southeast intersection of Broadway and Avenida Cesar Chavez.  In August, 2012, the Coronados moved their restaurant to Gibson Avenue, just east of San Pedro.  The specialty of the house is Peruvian style chicken.  It’s addictive!

The Coronados have the pedigree to make this delicious concept work.  The vivacious Monica is originally from Peru.  Her face practically glows with pride as she discusses the cuisine of her place of birth and the successes of her family in the restaurant business.  One cousin owns the fabulous and famous El Pollo Rico Restaurants in the Arlington, Virginia area.  El Pollo Rico is one of the highest rated rotisserie chicken restaurants on the entire East Coast where Peruvian style chicken has been all the rage for years.  One of her brothers, Enrique Servan is the chef at Restaurante Serrano a highly regarded Peruvian-Spanish fusion restaurant in Berlin, Germany.  Chef Servan is considered an ambassador to the world for Peruvian cuisine and has been pegged to showcase Peru at the 2017 Peru to the World Expo in New York City.

Half a Chicken with Fries

The Coronados are new to the restaurant business, but they did a lot of homework prior to launching their eatery.  Before embarking on their restaurant venture, the couple visited Peru (where Rene admits to having gained 12 pounds on one visit).  There Rene visited several rotisserie chicken restaurants, gleaning as much information as he could from the owners.  Because local ordinances in Peru tend to be somewhat more liberal than those in America, Rene quickly recognized he would have to modify his method of  preparing rotisserie chicken.  He wouldn’t, for example, be able to bring onto the premises and use the 18 outdoor grills–ranging from smokers to barrel-style–he used for years to prepare chicken in his backyard. 

One area in which the Coronados don’t have to compromise in the least is in the uniquely wonderful marinades and sauces used in the preparation and serving of the chicken.  More impressively, they do not serve frozen poultry–apparently an anomaly because city inspectors were nonplussed  over the fact they had never before seen a restaurant launch its operation without a freezer.  Each chicken is simultaneously brined and marinated for at least ten hours in a bath of several ingredients (vinegar, cumin, salt and pepper are discernible, but that constitutes fewer than half the ingredients in the marinade).  The chicken is served with a creamy light green Ahi sauce of medium-piquancy and maximum addictiveness.   If the ahi sauce doesn’t have enough heat for you, the terrific staff at Pollito Con Papas can bring you  sauce made with the incendiary rocoto chile.  For true volcano-eaters, an even more combustible chile piquin is available, but only those of us with asbestos-lined tongues can handle it.

Boneless thighs–marinated for eight hours

The entire Pollito Con Papas menu is comprised of whole chickens; boneless, skinless marinated chicken thighs; fresh, hand-cut wedge fries with ketchup; chicken- or vegetarian-style potatoes; and chicken engorged chimichangas all served with that wondrous green sauce.  By design, the restaurant does not serve tortillas, pico de gallo, or other popular New Mexico extras.  Rene’s objective is “to keep it super simple but incredibly delicious.”  “We just give our customers a taste and explain how our chicken is prepared and how we are able to provide a delicious meal at a reasonable price due to the fact that we have minimal waste. Where else can you feed four people good quality food for less than ten dollars a person-our price includes tax.” Where else indeed?

Pollito Con Papas’ new home as of August, 2012 is in a much more heavily trafficked street and in a much more capacious building with generous parking than its predecessor.  One thing that won’t change is the friendliness of the affable owners.   When my friend Ryan Scott, the dynamic host of the galluptious Break the Chain YouTube program and I discuss what we love most about mom-and-pop restaurants, near the top of the list is the warmth and hospitality of mom and pop themselves.   The Coronados didn’t need years of restaurant experience to understand this formula very well!  It comes from the heart!

Boneless/Skinless Grilled Thigh with Chicken Stuffed Potato

Consider the chimichangas your appetizer. Reminiscent of egg rolls on steroids, the chimichangas are sliced diagonally and are engorged with the restaurant’s wonderful marinated chicken.  There’s no scrimping on the chicken which is so very finely chopped that the chimichangas become very dense and tightly packed.  You’ll want to deluge the chimis (an Arizona diminutive) in the Ahi sauce or maybe one of the other sauces only New Mexican fire-eaters will appreciate. 

The half-chicken–breast, wing and thigh–is an even better way to enjoy the marinade in which the chickens are prepared. The lengthy marinade process ensures deep penetration of flavors so it’s not just the skin which absorbs the ten ingredient melange of flavors.  The brining and marinade process ensure every single bite is redolent with deliciousness while the process of slow-cooking makes a moist, delicious, non-greasy and very healthy chicken that doesn’t rely solely on salt for its flavor (as grocery store rotisserie chicken tends to do).  The fact that each chicken is fresh and never frozen further seals in flavors and gives the chicken a texture you won’t find in poultry previously frozen (which tends to become desiccated after thawing).  The accompanying papitas are fresh and hand-cut on the premises.  They’re Texas thick and golden hued, better with the green sauce being a better condiment than the ketchup. Peru, by the way, is where potatoes were first domesticated.  There are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes grown in Peru today so it stands to reason Pollito Con Papas fries are among the very best in Albuquerque.

Lomo Saltado

8 May 2017: The boneless, skinless marinated thighs are a best bet for bone-phobic diners.  Chicken thighs, not breasts as is the common misconception, are the most moist, tender and flavorful piece on a chicken.  These thighs are oh so mouth-watering moist and the flavor profile is a nice balance of spiciness, savoriness, and peppery qualities with discernible hints of sweetness and tanginess, too.  The discernment of flavors is an adventure in pure deliciousness.  French fries aren’t the only papas with which those wondrous chicken breasts.  The chicken stuffed potato is an amazing marvel of culinary creation–poultry perfection enveloped by seasoned mashed potatoes all nestled under a coarse cassava breading. Texturally, the exterior is somewhat reminiscent of tater tots while the fluffy interior is cloud-like and creamy at the same time. These stuffed potatoes are in a class of their own.  Vegetarians appreciate the vegetarian stuffed potatoes, easily the best in Albuquerque.

8 May 2017: Make sure to follow the restaurant’s Facebook page to find out what the specials on Thursday and Saturday are.  Consider yourself blessed if that special is Lomo Saltado an exemplar of the Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine. A century or more before Asian fusion cuisine became a culinary fad, Chinese immigrants arrived in Peru looking for work. They integrated their own culinary techniques and ingredients to Peru’s diverse culinary vernacular. The most visible aspect of the Chinese influence on the Peruvian table is Lomo Saltado, a Peruvian stir-fry. The bravado of this dish is that it dares offer two starches–rice and potatoes–in one dish, a juxtaposition Americans might find a bit strange. This hybrid stir-fry is made with thinly sliced beef, tomatoes, peppers and onions blended in a pan with soy sauce and get this, French fries (another Peruvian passion). It’s a very interesting dish made even better with the Peruvian condiments (ketchup need not apply).

Seco de Pato with Yuca and Rice

16 September 2017:  Rene congratulated me on being the first guest ever to try a new special, seco de pato with yuca and rice.  If my inaugural experience is any indication, this is a very special special.  Interestingly the term “seco” translates from Spanish to “dry,” but this decadent duck is anything but dry.  Seco de pato is a duck stew prepared with cilantro, Peruvian yellow pepper and Peruvian spices served with a side of white rice and yuca.  As with all confit duck dishes, the unctuous duck fat penetrates deeply into the rich, delicious duck meat (and by the way, there’s no such thing as white meat in duck).  The spice blend elevates the duck flavor, imbuing it  with even more finger-licking personality.   Even after polishing off the duck, there’s plenty of sauce left with which to enjoy the white rice.

16 September 2017:Picarones may resemble donuts, beignets and even onion rings, but they’re uniquely wonderful and addictively delicious.  Known as “Peruvian donuts,” these golden-hued rings are made from sweet potatoes and squash then drizzled with fig syrup.  Consider it heresy if you will, but picarones are better than just about any American donuts you’ll find.  Texturally, they’re a delight to eat with a crispy exterior which contrasts perfectly with the doughy interior.  Then there’s the fig syrup–sweet, but not cloying.  Because the picarones themselves are on the savory side, the syrup imparts match made in heaven qualities.

Picarones

16 September 2017:  My beverage of choice during my first four visits was Inca Kola, a yellowy, sweet, slightly fruity carbonated beverage which invites you to “immerse yourself into a micro vacation.”  As with RC Cola, it’s a terrific departure from the usual Coke and Pepsi suspects.  Perusing the menu, I saw that Pollito Con Papas also offers Peruvian chicha, a purplish-black beverage made with Peruvian purple corn and infused with pineapple, lime and apples as well as cloves and cinnamon.  When the weather turns colder, chicha is served hot.  It’s the perfect winter beverage, but it’s equally delicious any time of the year.  As with the stuffed potatoes, chicha is a process- and time-intensive item to prepare, a labor of love so to speak.

In its October, 2014 issue, Women’s Day magazine named Albuquerque as home to one of the country’s up-and-coming food scenes. Taking input from Yelp, the magazine evaluated cities with a large proportion and variety of highly rated new restaurants, delis, grocery stores and other purveyors of comestibles. The article didn’t cite the usual suspects in the pantheon of outstanding New Mexican restaurants. Instead, Women’s Day touted a “handful of new Peruvian, Costa Rican and Cuban spots” which have “reenergized local palates.” Three Duke City restaurants were singled out: Pollito Con Papas, Guava Tree Cafe and Pasion Latin Fusion.

Inca Kola at left, Peruvian Chicha at right

A Nogales native, Rene joined the Air Force several decades ago in hopes of being able to travel across the globe.  The Air Force sent him to Kirtland Air Force Base, a few hundred miles away.  He’s been in the Kirtland neighborhood ever since.  Among his most faithful and most frequent guests are officers and airmen from Kirtland, some of the finest gentlemen you’ll ever meet…which reminds me it’s time for a very special public service announcement:

The Team Kirtland Home Away from Home sponsors “Adopt an Airman,” a terrific program that matches first-term Airmen and enlisted students at Kirtland Air Force Base with volunteer civilian host families. For many of these outstanding young men and women, it can be their first time away from home and families can offer friendship, mentoring and engagement with larger groups. Host families provide home-cooked meals, recreational activities such as Lobo or Isotopes games, recreation such as hiking, fishing, or golf. Families and airmen are matched based on mutual interests. If your family is interested in adopting an airman, visit the Kirtland Home Away From Home site to learn more and apply.

There is nothing fancy about Pollito Con Papas. It has none of the over-the-top veneer, flash and panache of the well-financed corporate chains. What it does have is a wonderful product–likely the very best chicken you’ll have in New Mexico. This is four-star quality food prepared by very nice people and served in the most humble surroundings. Whether you order it for take-out or enjoy it at the tiny eatery, the operative word is enjoy and you WILL enjoy it immensely.

Pollitos Con Papas
6105 Gibson, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-765-5486
Web Site
| Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 September 2017
1st VISIT: 26 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $
BEST BET: Boneless Thighs, Half Chicken, French Fries, Chimichangas, Inca Kola,  Lomo Saltado, Seco de Pato, Peruvian Chicha, Picarones, Pomegranate Cheesecake, Chicken Stuffed Potato

Pollito Con Papas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pho Lao – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pho Lao, Albuquerque’s Only Lao Noodle Restaurant

One definition of audacity is “the state of being bold or daring—particularly with disregard for danger, rudeness or pressure.” Audacity is nine-year-old fourth grader Akilan Sankaran (son of my friend Sridevi)  unflinchingly spelling such words as “rejoneador” and “mnemonic” to win the New Mexico Spelling bee over eighth graders who’d participated in the annual event as many as six times.  Audacity is a miniature dachshund protecting its family from the menacing mailman who dares trespass daily into the family’s territory. Audacity is Homer Simpson eating fugu, a blowfish which can be toxic if not properly sliced.

It may not be as bold or daring as the aforementioned examples, but your humble blogger recently demonstrated great audacity. When my friend and colleague Tuan Bui asked me to pick a restaurant where we could enjoy pho-nomenal pho, I didn’t take him to one of the Duke City’s tried and proven Vietnamese restaurants, but to a Lao restaurant which itself demonstrates audacity by calling itself “Pho Lao.” Having grown up in Vietnam and still partaking frequently of his mom’s very authentic Vietnamese food preparations, Tuan certainly knows more about pho than I ever will. My restaurant choice would either expose me as a phony (or pho-ny) or would validate my reputation as a virtuoso of Vietnamese victuals.

Pho Lao’s Dining Room

30 March 2017: What made my choice especially daring is that during my inaugural visit a few months earlier, I literally couldn’t immediately discern the nuances of the Lao Noodle Soup. That’s because my appetizer precedent was the most incendiary papaya salad I’ve ever had. It made me cough and sputter and drew a gusher of tears from my eyes, but it was so darned delicious it was impossible to stop eating it. My vaunted taste buds and tongue would recover I hoped. As with all Lao-style papaya salad, a large mortar and pestle is used to pound garlic and chilies together along with a very pungent fermented Lao fish sauce. With the addition of shredded green papaya, juicy tomato slices and lime juice, the papaya salad is replete with intense flavors: pungent, piquant, sour, sweet, salty and especially umami (from the fish sauce). Sharing the bowl with the papaya salad is a mound of shredded cabbage, not so much a palate cleanser but a balm for the burn.

Papaya salad, by the way, may be more closely associated with Thai cuisine, but its origin is Lao. The same thing goes for sticky rice and larb, two foods which have become ubiquitous in Thai restaurants. Bordered on the east by Vietnam and on the west by Thailand, Laos is a landlocked nation for which the Mekong River forms its border with Thailand. Unlike Thai cuisine, Lao food tends to be much lighter—no sweet and heavy curries or stews. Strong flavors—bitter, sour, spicy, salty and umami–are a hallmark of Lao cuisine with the blandness of sticky rice balancing out those strong flavors. Contrary to Thai cuisine, in Laos very little sugar is used in cooking with more dishes tending toward a bitter flavor profile.

Papaya Salad

So, why doesn’t Pho Lao showcase the foods of Laos? That was attempted before when the restaurant first launched and was known as the Mekong Noodle House. Albuquerque, it seems, didn’t give the Noodle House and its Lao-centric menu the type of reception it gives the phalanx of pho-bulous Vietnamese restaurants throughout the Duke City. Ergo, the name and concept change to Lao Pho. Ensconced in a timeworn strip mall just north of Chuck E. Cheese, Lao Pho has resembled a ghost town during my first two visits.  It almost pained me to realize that so many Duke City diners were eating at entirely pho-getable restaurants when this paragon of deliciousness was virtually empty–despite a very favorable review from the Albuquerque Journal.

Pho, by the way, may have had its origin in Vietnam, but you’ll also find pho on menus throughout Laos, albeit pronounced “fer” and made with different spices and herbs flavoring the broth.  As with its Vietnamese counterpart, Lao pho is served with sprouts, Thai basil, jalapeño, romaine, and fresh lime.  In a heading entitled “Noodle Soups,” Pho Lao’s menu lists five phos, a Lao noodle soup, tom yum soup, tom kha soup and wonton ramen soup.  The menu also lists six rice dishes, two of which showcase Lao beef jerky and Lao pork sausage (both of which you’ve got to try).  Stir-fry dishes on the menu include the ever popular Pad Thai as well as chow mein and fried rice.  Only three appetizers grace the menu–spring rolls, egg rolls and the aforementioned papaya salad.

Lao Noodle Soup

30 March 2017: With my mouth still on fire from the combustible papaya salad, it took a while before my taste buds would be able to discern all the flavors of the Lao noodle soup, the one soup for which the noodles are made by hand.  Fortunately this enchanting elixir arrives at your table scalding hot so it’s advisable to wait for it to cool.  There are so many elements to this Lao variation of a chicken noodle soup you’ll absolutely love.  The hand-made noodles about as thick as Italian bucatini and have a rich, almost buttery flavor.  Texturally, the noodles are an absolute delight to slurp up.  They have a very nice mouth feel.  The chicken, a combination of white and dark eat, is in larger pieces than you’ll find in most chicken noodle soup and it’s plentiful.  Most enjoyable is the broth with its intense poultry flavor punctuated by green onions and cilantro.  This is one soup that may almost make having a cold something for which to look forward.

5 September 2017: At the recommendation of the amiable Pany, our hostess and chef, both Tuan and I ordered the Pho Lao Combo (rice noodles, sliced fresh beef, tripe, beef meatballs, well-done beef in beef broth topped with green onion, cilantro and fried garlic).  If you’re of the carnivorous persuasion this is the soup to order.  From both a flavor and textural perspective, it offers the most variety.  As with Vietnamese pho, the broth announces itself on the way to your table with a fragrance so enticing your mouth may water in anticipation.  That’s courtesy of a bone broth simmered slowly and enhanced with the spice combination of sugar, cinnamon, star anise, clove and cardamom–not as prevalent as with Vietnamese pho, but still there and oh, so delicious.

Pho Lao Combo

So, did my audacity pay off?  Well, my friend Tuan was certainly blown away by Pho Lao though neither of us could finish our swimming pool-sized bowls of pho.  He admitted Lao pho is as good as (if not better than) the pho served at all but a couple Duke City Vietnamese restaurants he’s tried.  Being far less foolhardy than I, he finished less than half the insanely piquant papaya salad, saving the remainder for later.  That meant he could taste his pho from the start not when the burn quelled. 

Denizens of the Duke City should show some audacity of their own by visiting this excellent restaurant and enjoying some of the most sumptuous soups in town.  Pho Lao is in the same rarefied air as the best Vietnamese and Thai restaurants in Albuquerque!

Pho Lao
3115 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881-2326
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 5 September 2017
1st VISIT: 30 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papaya Salad, Lao Noodle Soup, Pho Lao Combo
REVIEW #998

Pho Lao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Maya – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Maya for the Finest in MesoAmerican Fusion Cuisine From Chef-Genius Dennis Apodaca

My precocious niece doesn’t miss a beat. Ever attentive to adult conversation, she often stumps my brother and me with her surprisingly deep and thought-provoking questions. Case in point, when she overheard me telling my brother Mario about the Mesoamerican-inspired cuisine at Maya, she asked what I have against Americans. Perplexed by her assertion, I gently asked what she was talking about. “First you said Americans are ugly (obviously remembering a discussion Mario and I once had about the “ugly American syndrome”) and now you’re calling them messy, too.” From the mouth of babes…

Her comment got me thinking about the last time we saw a great chef who wasn’t a bit on the “messy” side. No, not like the Charlie Brown character Pig Pen, but with a light dusting of flour or a splash of sauce bespattered on their white coats or aprons. Hands-on chefs–those who not only conceptualize their menus, they prepare everything themselves—don’t always embody the axiom that cleanliness is next to godliness. These do-it-all chefs are veritable whirling dervishes in the kitchen—chopping, shredding, grating, slicing, dicing, mincing, broiling, boiling, simmering, frying, sautéing, plating… It’s inevitable that a smattering of sauce or a sprinkling of crumbs will land on those immaculate whites.

Chef Dennis Apodaca and Partner Cecilia Schmider

Practicing chefs wear those little stains like edible badges of honor, emblematic of the noble profession. When Chef Dennis Apodaca stepped out from the kitchen at Maya, it made us happy to see a small chile stain on the sleeves of his jacket. It meant he was in the kitchen preparing meals for his guests. Cooking, as savvy Duke City diners know, is something Dennis does better than just about anybody else in New Mexico. Even though having been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program has made him more of a public persona, it’s in the kitchen where he’s most comfortable. It’s where he plies his craft with incomparable skill and dedication.

My friend Carlos once described Dennis as “a five-star chef in a one-star kitchen.” That’s an apt description for how Dennis has been able to coax incredible flavors at Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s), a timeworn, ramshackle eatery with no freezer, oven or even burners. Not surprisingly, “five-star chef” was also the term used by Cecilia Schmider in describing her partner in Maya, the downtown venture that promises to blow the lid off the Duke City dining scene. If you loved Dennis’s culinary skills at Eli’s Place, you’ll be blown away by what he’s doing in the more expansive digs at Maya.

Salsa and Chips with a Side of Guacamole

Cecilia explained that the name Maya was inspired by the bright, vibrant cuisine prepared by the dynastic Mesoamerican civilization and their descendants. Bright, vibrant and colorful are apropos terms for Maya, but so are inviting and homey. While Dennis conceptualized the menu—a fusion of New Mexican, Mexican and neo Latin cuisine–Cecilia took the reins in designing the 1,500 square-foot milieu. The restaurant environs are a perfect home for Dennis’s inspired cuisine. Surprisingly, this is Cecilia’s inaugural foray into the restaurant world, having previously worked in retail jewelry and before that as a speech pathologist.

Maya is situated on the first floor of the commodious Imperial Building on Second and Silver. You might recognize the mixed-use Imperial Building as the home of the Silver Street Market, Downtown Albuquerque’s only grocery store. Immediately next door and in partnership with Maya is The Monk’s Corner which features libations brewed at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu. A reciprocal arrangement between The Monk’s Corner and Maya means guests of either may partake of both—Maya’s diners can enjoy their cuisine with libations from The Monk’s Corner and vice-versa.

Burrito Ahogado

Maya’s menu is hung on framed slate boards on the wall behind the counter where you place your order. It’s an uncomplicated menu devoid of the overly descriptive ingredient lists which seem to characterize contemporary menus. Weekly specials for each day of the week are listed first then appetizers. On the second slate board you’ll find ensaladas, a section called “Nuevo Mexico” which showcases culinary fare from the Land of Enchantment (prepared in the inimitable Dennis Apodaca manner, of course) and finally sides such as papas, fries and slaw. Tortas with salsa headlines the third slate board along with tacos. Three smaller slate boards are dedicated to desserts, “to warm you up,” and specials. It’s not a huge menu, but you’ll have a hard time deciding just which of the beguiling dishes to order.

2 January 2017: Long-timers among us fondly remember Dennis’s stint as chef at the long defunct Fajitaville where he got us addicted to chips and salsa so unlike those offered by New Mexican restaurants. He’s still at it. Chips and salsa are always a good bet at one of his restaurants, but you’ll want to make it a threesome with guacamole. One of the salsas is akin to a pico de gallo with fresh, chopped tomatoes, red onions and jalapeno. The other is a smoky fire-roasted salsa with a terrific flavor. Neither is especially piquant, but both are addictive. The guacamole is thick, creamy and redolent with the freshness of avocados in-season.

Guajillo-Pecan Mole Chilaquiles

2 January 2017: As we mulled what entrees to order (knowing they would all be fabulous), we asked Dennis for advice. He recommended either of the specials. Both sounded so good we couldn’t select just one. First to hit our table was a Burrito Ahogado which translates to smothered or drowned burrito. It’s unlike any burrito we’ve had at any of Dennis’s other restaurants. Though vegetarian, it’s a burrito carnivores will love, too. The burrito is engorged with collard greens and corn swimming in a spicy tomato broth with a garnish of pickled carrots and red onions and a sprinkling of cobija cheese. My Kim, who’s never been a fan of collard greens, absolutely loved these. The spicy tomato broth will tantalize your taste buds with a pleasant piquancy and nice acidity. This is one special which should be on the daily menu.

2 January 2017: Of course that could be said about the other daily special, Guajillo-Pecan Mole Chilaquiles. When Dennis makes mole, you’re well advised to order it. His mole has a profound earthiness and a discernible depth of complex flavors working together very harmoniously. The use of guajillo bespeaks of the authenticity he pursues in his cooking. Guajillo, the dried form of the mirasol chile, is a mild, slightly sweet chile with notes of berries and tea. It’s an excellent basis for mole with which he covers tortilla chips. As you enjoy the mole, you’ll find it’s been garnished with finely chopped pineapple, cobija cheese, shaved radishes and more, all of which combine to give you different flavor profiles in every bite. This mole dish is served with papitas and the best refried black beans we’ve had. This is a mole worthy of Oaxaca.

Duck Cubano

2 January 2017: While there isn’t a protein Dennis can’t make interpret into its self-actualized best, one of his favorites has long been duck. Duck enchiladas, you might recall, is one of the dishes with which he wowed Food Network glitterati Guy Fierri. When my Kim saw Duck Cubano on the Tortas menu, she couldn’t wait to see what delicious liberties Dennis would take with the traditional Cuban sandwich. True to form, the pressed sandwich was stuffed with roast beef, ham and cheese but it also had bacon and instead of yellow mustard, it was constructed with pickled mustard seeds and spicy mayo. To say it’s one of the tastiest Cubanos we’ve ever had is an understatement. There’s deliciousness in every morsel.  The duck is plentiful, rich and delicious with nary a hint of sinew or excess fat. The Cubano is served with a side of housemade chips and a tangy tomatillo-avocado dressing. 

5 January 2017:  A former Intel colleague from Las Cruces used to chide me about being a “Norteño,” a term she used to label Hispanics who grew up in Albuquerque or north thereof.   She insisted that other than me (and she thought me weird), she’d never met a Norteño who liked mole, perhaps the most Mexican of all dishes.  While it’s true that very few Norteños grew up eating mole, Mexico’s legendary multi-ingredient sauce with its nuanced complexity and deep flavor profile, I was sure her contention was ill-founded and absolutely fallacious.  Unfortunately aside from myself, I couldn’t think of a single born-and-bred Norteño who enjoyed mole.  To this day, only a handful of my Norteño friends, all of whom have red and green chile running in their veins, admit to enjoying mole.

Kale & Collard Greens Enchiladas

While not a Norteño by ethnicity, my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott grew up in the Duke City where he was weaned on red and green chile, attended Albuquerque High and counts several Norteños among his many friends.  Although I knew he didn’t like mole, I thought surely he’d like Dennis’s mole.  Alas, he’s more Norteño than I’d thought (an maybe I’m just a little bit weird).  To his credit, he did sample a forkful of the special of the day, kale and collard greens with guajillo chile mole, and didn’t spit it outt or disparage my taste buds (which are besotted with the guajillo chile mole which manages to make even kale (never did jump on that kale bandwagon) palatable). 

5 January 2017:  Ryan did like the Caramelized Onion and Poblano Raja Queso, another special of the day.   This is a wonderful departure from the de rigueur con queso served in many New Mexican restaurants.  It has a perfect degree of meltedness.  It scoops easily and there are no foot-long cheese strings to get passed before you can eat it.  The chips are thick, crispy and have a just-right amount of salt.  This would make an excellent party dip.

Fried Snapper and Fried Broccoli on Sweet Corn Rice with Mole

7 September 2017:  The genius of Dennis Apodaca is such that he can coax deliciousness out of ingredient combinations perhaps no one else would consider.  Inventiveness has always been one of the many traits he’s always exemplified.  So, when you see something on the Maya menu that doesn’t immediately whet your appetite, try it anyway.  You might happen upon a surprisingly wonderful hodgepodge of ingredients that work very well together.  Such was the case when my friend Bill Resnik and I enjoyed yet another Apodaca original: fried snapper and fried broccoli on sweet corn rice with mole lightly sprinkled with cotija cheese.  Though my preference would be for enough of Dennis’s mole in which to to swim, he served just enough of the enchanting elixir to allow the other ingredients to display their own deliciousness.  The fried snapper and fried broccoli are coated in a light batter and are perfectly prepared, the broccoli a crisp al dente.  The sweet corn rice would be a star on its own.

7 September 2017:  When two fellow gastronomes whose opinions on food I trus, st explicitly rave about Maya’s Wagyu beef green chili (SIC) cheeseburger, the question isn’t “when are you going to try it?,” but “why haven’t you tried it already?”  First, the sage epicure Sarita listed it as one of the best dishes she enjoyed in 2016.  Then Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, ranked it sixth best among New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburgers.  In all honesty, wagyu beef burgers have never done much for me, but that’s probably because it takes a chef of Dennis’s caliber to coax optimum deliciousness out of the mouth-coating unctuousness and nearly obscene richness of this beef.  Prepared to your exacting degree of doneness and served virtually naked save for white Cheddar and green chile, this is a magnificent burger which emphasizes all the delicious qualities of beef paired with a flavorful (but not piquant) chile.  There’s no mustard, tomatoes, onions or other miscellany to impede your enjoyment.  If you love beef, you’ll love this burger.

Wagyu Beef Green Chili (SIC) Cheeseburger

2 January 2017: There are only four desserts on the menu, all of which would tempt Job. My Kim, who’s got the sweet tooth in the family (which stands to reason considering she’s so much sweeter than me) wanted the cinnamon doughnuts which are served with a chocolate ganache and a crushed cherry compote. Because the ganache wasn’t ready, we were given cajeta (sweetened caramelized goat’s milk caramel) instead. What a great stroke of fortune! The cajeta proved magnificent, absolutely delicious with the slight sour component found in goat’s milk complementing the sweetness of the caramel. The cherry compote provided a tangy component which cut the sweetness of the doughnuts. In all, this is an excellent dessert. 

5 January 2017:  Maya is open seven days a week.  From Monday through Saturday doors open at 11AM and close at 10PM.  Featured fare on Sundays (10AM – 2PM) is brunch, long a staple of Eli’s Place…and if you’ve frequented Dennis’s flagship restaurant, your mouth is probably salivating at the prospect of pancakes.  No one in New Mexico makes pancakes quite as good as Dennis’s masterpiece orbs.  Whether it’s blue corn, lemon-ricotta or pumpkin, he’s a true griddle master.  It surprised me to hear that in the three months Maya has been open, only a couple orders of pancakes have sold.  Dennis will soon be introducing Dutch Boy-style pancakes (though they’ll have a more apropos name).  The sample he gave us was terrific with a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar and a tangy cherry compote on top.

Cinnamon Doughnut with Cherry and Cajeta

Our inaugural visit transpired on a national holiday when only one other couple was at the restaurant at the time. As they walked out, Gil and Julia Clarke introduced themselves, indicating they are long-time readers of Gil’s Thrilling… They were as nice as could be. Gil kidded that one of the drawbacks of me getting to be well known is having to eat cold food. Meeting readers has always been a huge—and humbling—privilege for me. It is a thrill to hear from you—whether it be in public at a restaurant or through your comments on this blog.

The next time you visit Maya, check Dennis’s whites for the chef’s badge of honor and relish the opportunity to enjoy the magic and creativity of one of New Mexico’s very best hands-on chefs. Maya is a find!

Maya
205 Silver, S.W., Unit F
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 938-6292
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2017
1st VISIT: 2 January 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Guajillo-Pecan Mole Chilaquiles, Cinnamon Doughnuts, Chips and Salsa, Guacamole, Duck Cubano Torta, Burrito Ahogado,  Caramelized Onion and Poblano Raja Queso, Kale & Collard Greens Enchiladas, Wagyu Green Chili Cheeseburger

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

Olympia Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Olympia Cafe on Central Avenue

For culinary diversity, it’s hard to beat the University of New Mexico (UNM) area in which restaurants with a broad socioeconomic appeal are congregated. Aside from academic enrichment, this area is nurturing a refreshing open-mindedness toward the cuisines of the world.  That seems to be a commonality in areas within easy walking distance of large urban universities.  Perhaps restaurateurs recognize that students–especially the oft-maligned millennials–are not only willing to open up their minds to new knowledge, but their wallets and their minds to new culinary experiences.

The UNM area inaugurated many of us from rural parts of the state to wonderful new taste sensations.  The heretofore enigmatic mysteries of the Orient unraveled themselves the first time we tasted the sweet and sour variations of Chinese food and braved cultural taboos to actually consume raw fish.  The first time we sampled real pizza ((my friend Captain Tuttle can attest to this), we cursed Chef Boyardee and Pizza Hut for deigning to call their tomato sauce slathered cardboard “pizza.”  We lost a bit of our naivete and innocence with each bite of each and every new culinary adventure we experienced.  Life for many of us would never be the same.

Place Your Order At The Front Counter

I dare say that for many UNM students, especially those from rural areas, their first tastes of Greek cuisine occurred at the Olympia Cafe on Central Avenue.  The Olympia Cafe is a venerable elder statesman among UNM area restaurants, launching in 1972.  That’s when Spiros and Marina Counelis began serving Greek cuisine directly across the street from New Mexico’s largest university.   In 2009, Spiros finally embarked on a well-deserved retirement–which lasted less than a year before he and his family launched Zorba’s Fine Greek Dining in the Heights Village shopping center at Montgomery and Juan Tabo. 

The Olympia Cafe was purchased by Charles Akkad who, for the most part, continued in the traditions established by his predecessor.  The greatest change Akkad made was in expanding operating hours.  Olympia is now open Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 10PM and on Sunday from 12PM to 8PM.  It’s a more accommodating schedule for those of us who neither live nor work in the UNM area.  Alas, in preparing this review, I came across a “Go Fund Me” page to save the Olympia Cafe which has apparently suffered severely from the erosion of business wrought by the ART project.

Front Dining Room

Even the thought of losing the Olympia Café sends shudders down the spines of the many loyalists this café has cultivated over the years. It seems imponderable that one could drive Route 66 and not be greeted by the unmistakable aromas of well-seasoned Greek cuisine wafting onto Central Avenue. Those aromas are not only a welcome respite from the choking haze of automobile emissions, they’re a prelude to deliciousness. Step into the restaurant and the first thing you see is a counter in which you place your orders. The specials of the day are scrawled on a slate board on a restaurant wall while the daily menu is situated just above the counter.

After the aromas, the next thing you’ll notice is the restaurant’s liveliness. During lunch hour rushes, the Olympia Cafe is bustling with activity. A salvo of orders is quickly filled by a well-practiced kitchen staff.  It doesn’t take very long.  Insofar as ambiance, picture lots of Mediterranean blue touches. In the front dining room a life-sized mural depicts a pulchritudinous athlete setting a torch alight. Seating is more functional than it is comfortable.

Gyros

You won’t be seated long before your number is called and you can walk to the counter to pick up your order.  Portion sizes are prolific.  It may take two of you to carry back the serving trays and their bounteous loads.  That’s especially true if you order one of the restaurant’s terrific appetizers and a dessert, too.  The best way to maximize your experience and appreciation of Greek cuisine is by ordering one of the menu’s combination combos (there are three combo platters on the menu, including one vegetarian).  The most diverse of those combo platters is the Olympia Platter, a combination platter of Moussaka, Pastichio, Gyros meat with tzatziki sauce and dolmathes.  A small Greek salad replete with feta cheese is also part of this platter. 

Pastichio might be described as the Greek answer to lasagna.  It’s a baked macaroni casserole layered with ground beef and topped with cheese and a cream topping.  All too often this entree is surprisingly dry, sometimes the byproduct of over-heating. That’s not the case at Olympia where it is moist and delicious, even tasting made to order.   Another casserole dish on the Olympia combo is Moussaka, a baked eggplant and ground beef casserole also topped with a cream sauce.  Moussaka is a very common dish in the Mediterranean region, but it’s vastly different in every country in which it is served.  The Greek version is my favorite.  Made correctly, the filling has a smooth and rich consistency and the eggplant is baked to perfection (not an easy feat).  Undercooked eggplant may leave your mouth with a metallic taste sensation that can last for hours.  At Olympia, the sole sensation you’ll experience is the desire for a second portion.

Greek Salad

6 September 2017: Perhaps the most popular entree at the Olympia Cafe as at other Greek restaurants are gyros, slices of beef and lamb broiled on a vertical split then wrapped in a pita with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki sauce. The beef and lamb amalgam is moist, tender and very well seasoned, but what enlivens it with flavor is the tzatziki which is made of finely chopped cucumber and dill and mixed with natural yoghurt. There’s a tinge of sweetness to the yoghurt along with the fresh, cool taste of the cucumber that goes very well with the meat.  If anything, we would have appreciated even more of the tzatziki.

In its annual food and wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded the Olympia Cafe a hot plate award for its chicken souvlaki.  Hot plate awards are accorded annually to some of the city’s most delicious dishes as seen by the magazine’s editors and staff.  The magazine describe this dish as “fit for the gods.”

Galatoboureko, baked custard between crisp filo topped with a light syrup

If you have any room left over, dessert options abound.  My favorite Greek dessert even though I’m still not able to pronounce it is Galatoboureko, baked custard between crisp phyllo topped with a light honeyed syrup.  The custard is rich and delicious but not at all cloying.  Galatoboureko is a Cypriot delicacy and one of the best desserts anywhere.

If your own life broadening experiences have yet to include Greek cuisine, the Olympia Cafe is a great restaurant in which to experience one of the world’s first and most delicious cuisines.

Olympia Cafe
2210 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 166-5222
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2017
1st VISIT: 20 October 2008
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING:  18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Olympia Combo, Gyros, Galatoboureko

Olympia Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sauce Pizza & Wine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sauce Pizza and Wine in the Uptown Area

To celebrate the 100 year anniversary of pizza in America, James Beard Award-winning food writer Ed Levine ate nothing but pizza for an entire twelve month period, taking a representative pulse of the best from among thousands of pizza purveyors. His terrific tome, Pizza A Slice of Heaven, published in 2010, provides a definitive guide to a beloved staple that in its elemental form is simplicity itself–bread, cheese and whatever toppings a pizzaioli artisan might care to add. To the surprise of cognoscenti and plebeian alike, Levine declared the best pizza in the fruited plain (and the world, for that matter) to be made in the unlikely town of Phoenix, Arizona where the intensely brilliant Chris Bianco plies his trade as no other.  Yes, that Phoenix, Arizona!

In the dozens of business trips I made to the Phoenix area while working for Intel, convivial colleagues introduced me to a number of wholly forgettable models of pizza mediocrity.  “All-you-can-choke-down” seemed to be their primary criteria for assessing the quality of pizza.  I gleaned the impression that save for  Pizzeria Bianco, nary a good pizza was to be found in the 9,071 mile expanse of metropolitan Phoenix.  None of my colleagues had ever even heard of the anointed purveyor of peerless pies  and when I explained where Pizzeria Bianco was located, none would venture that far…especially when prodigious portions of the all-you-can-eat variety were in much closer proximity.  Eventually I made it to Pizzeria Bianco on my own and confirmed what Ed Levine had proclaimed.

Italian Chopped Salad with Basil Lemonade

When we heard a Scottsdale-based restaurant chain specializing in pizza would be expanding to Albuquerque, misgivings quickly set in.  If this interloper was comparable in quality to the cavalcade of barely passable pizzerias to which my colleagues introduced me, surely savvy Duke City diners would spurn it.  With the sobriquet Sauce–subtitled with “Pizza and Wine”–the burgeoning franchise currently has eight locations in the Phoenix area and four in Tucson with  Albuquerque being the first city outside of Arizona to which Sauce has expanded.  The franchise is located at The Corner @ Winrock, an Uptown property in the sprawling Winrock complex.  Sauce is situated in a 3,000 square-foot space on the corner of Indian School and Uptown and has a capacious dog-friendly patio.

The Sauce menu is so much more than pizza and wine.  Twelve signature pizzas constructed from handcrafted toppings, made-from-scratch sauces and dough prepared fresh daily, might be the first thing to which your eyes gravitate, but you’ll probably peruse the salads menu rather closely, too.  Prepared fresh daily, the ten composed salads aren’t all of the run-of-the-mill variety and the dressings are all house-made.  Locally-sourced, fresh-baked bread from Fano Bread Company is the canvas upon which the four paninis are made.  Pasta paramours have five choices, including a macaroni and cheese option which appears to be very popular.  Soups, sides and desserts are also very intriguing.  Guests order at a counter but an attentive server staff will deliver your order, refill drinks and bus tables.

Prosciutto and Fig Pie

If you’re tired of designer greens-based salads, Sauce has an Italian Chopped salad (pepperoni, sopressata, smoked mozzarella, pepperoncini, kalamata olives, yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, red onions, roasted garbanzo beans and roasted garlic vinaigrette) that will make a believer out of you.  Sure, chopped salads (which include ingredients which have been chopped to be uniform then either composed or tossed) have been around for a long time, but peruse the aforementioned ingredients and you’ll probably note combinations heretofore unseen to you.  These ingredients coalesce into a  delicious whole in every bite.  There are plenty of surprises in this salad, among them the crunch of the roasted garbanzo beans, the smokiness of the mozzarella and the potency of the roasted garlic vinaigrette, for example.

From among Sauce’s signature pizzas, several are sure to pique your interest.  Among them are the Prosciutto & Fig (black mission figs, goat cheese and fresh arugula).  The idea of tossing arugula atop a pizza was almost certainly conceived by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.  It’s an idea oft duplicated, especially in California.  Not among my favorite toppings, arugula nonetheless adds a bold, peppery flavor to each pie.  While the black mission figs counterbalance the tanginess of the goat cheese and the saltiness of the prosciutto, a fig jam would have been preferable to sliced fig halves.  Our favorite aspect of each slice was the pizza crust, especially the cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza.  The cornicione is not only is soft and chewy, it’s got granules of sea salt that enhance its just baked bread flavor and aroma.

Lasagna Pie

Noting that “nothing ruins a pizza faster than the wrong toppings,” The Cheat Sheet, an online presence dedicated to “providing audiences the information they want in an approachable, entertaining way” compiled a list of the fifteen most hated pizza toppings many people think take a pie from delicious to disgusting.  Among them are spinach (described as making a pizza soggy while imparting very little flavor) and mushrooms (another topping which adds very little flavor).  Both spinach and mushrooms adorn the Lasagna Pie along with ricotta, meatballs and fresh garlic.  These ingredients seem more at home on a true lasagna than atop a beauteous crust.  Still, the one ingredient we enjoyed least was the meatballs which lacked the personality of say, a spicy sausage.

My Kim didn’t get much argument from me that along with the Chopped Italian, the best item on the Sauce menu is the gelato from Van Rixel Brothers. That could be said about almost every restaurant in which Van Rixel gelato is offered.  What’s so great about this gelato?  Aside from having a lower butterfat and sugar content than ice cream, texturally it’s also much denser than ice cream with a much more intense and concentrated flavor.  High-quality artisan gelato retains its texture (from delicate ice crystals) for only a few days which is why great gelato is usually made on the premises or at least locally (the Van Rixel Brothers are Albuquerque-based), not shipped from afar. Two winning flavors we enjoyed are lavender-lemon gelato and chocolate gelatoSauce’s portion size was very generous.

Left: Lavender-Lemon Gelato; Right: Chocolate Gelato From Albuquerque’s VanRixel Brothers

Sauce Pizza & Wine has redeemed Phoenix pizza in my eyes.  It’s not only better than any of the pizza parlors to which my Arizona colleagues took me, it’s a very good addition to the Duke City pizza scene.  The Italian Chopped salad alone is worth a visit (or six) while the basil-lemonade is a best in town caliber beverage.

Sauce Pizza & Wine
2100 Louisiana Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-5402
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lavender-Lemon Gelato, Chocolate Gelato, Strawberry-Basil Lemonade, Chopped Italian Salad, Prosciutto-Fig Pizza, Lasagna Pizza

Sauce Pizza & Wine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fresh Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fresh Bistro on Fourth Street

Life is similar to a bus ride.
The journey begins when we board the bus.
We meet people along our way of which some are strangers, some friends and some strangers yet to be friends.”
~Chirag Tulsiani

Perhaps no mobile conveyance in the Land of Enchantment has ferried as many interesting people on as many colorful journeys as the “Road Hog,” the psychedelic bus which shuttled its passengers from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock to Llano Largo, New Mexico. The Road Hog’s 1969 arrival in Llano Largo heralded the start of the “summer of the hippie invasion” as The Taos News called it. There unwashed masses settled into a Utopian agrarian commune they called the Hog Farm. The Road Hog with its familiar duck hood ornament and Grateful Dead-style tie-dyed design became a common sight in Peñasco, my childhood home. Sadly, for want of a part nowhere to be found, the Road Hog is slowly rusting away at its home in Llano Largo.

If the Road Hog represented the counter culture and anti-American bourgeois of the 60s, the KOB TV mobile News bus represented the staid establishment. For years, the classic Fageol Twin Coach (circa 1955), emblazoned with the station’s call letters proudly reminded viewers that KOB TV was the first station across the Land of Enchantment to broadcast in color. Ultimately, more sleek and maneuverable motorized conveyances came along and the KOB TV bus became obsolete. It wound up a rusty, hollowed-out scrap heap in La Hoya, New Mexico where the time-weathered bus seemed fated to fade into oblivion. Unlike the Road Hog, however, the former News bus didn’t remain in the “island of misfit buses.”

Fresh Mobile Bistro, Forty Feet of Fine Dining Excellence

Where others saw an unused, unloved, unwashed motorized mess, Corrales Chef Jon Young and his radiant bride Melissa, saw their opportunity to become a part of the food truck revolution sweeping across the fruited plain. In 2014, they purchased the vintage bus and began the painstaking process of transforming it into a mobile food kitchen where Jon could ply his passion for creative fine dining. The renovation process required the patience of Job. Obsolete parts had to be retooled by hand. In fact, the entire refurbishment process was arduous and manual.  With Jon and Melissa working assiduously, the ugly duckling slowly began blossoming into a graceful swan. Timeworn seats gave way to swanky booths more comfortable and spacious than first class airline seats. A small, but fully functional kitchen was installed at the back of the bus. Kitchen utensils such as a spatula and spoon were converted into door handles.

Alas, sometimes bad things happen to good people. During the restoration project, Melissa was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. Healing became their focus and priority with the conversion project taking a back-burner for a while. Their dream was postponed for about a year. Today, the reservations-only luxury bus themed after the famous Orient Express is home to creative fine dining that comes from the heart of a very determined, very talented chef with a high likeability quotient. Spend just a few minutes with Jon and Melissa and you’ll find yourself rooting for them to succeed in a very tough business.

The Interior of Fresh Mobile Bistro

At an early age, the precocious chef knew he was destined to become a chef. While watching Julia Child prepare omelets on television, he complained to his mom that the revolutionary chef had stolen his idea. By age fourteen, he was slinging pizza dough in his hometown’s beloved Village Pizza. Later on, he took a job as a dishwasher at what was then New Mexico’s finest restaurant, the Casa Vieja, also in Corrales. Renowned chef Jean-Pierre Gozard started Jon at the very bottom—washing dishes. When a busboy left, Jon moved up and continued a steady ascent up the kitchen ranks. Like a sponge, he absorbed as much as he could from the fiery Gozard, acquiring classic French culinary techniques without having to attend a credentialed culinary school.

If Jon has a high likeability quotient, Melissa’s is off the charts. She is a buoyant bundle of energy with smiling eyes. Gracious and kind, she’s the restaurant’s hostess, operations manager and ambassador. A native New Mexican like Jon, Melissa has an entrepreneurial background. She keeps things moving efficiently and steadily with an attention to detail which ensures a smooth operation.  Moreover, she’s got a smile and a kind word for every guest.  Her sweet sister Jahqwah, also an ebullient whirling dervish and perpetually smiling beauty, was our server during our first two visits.  She took very good care of us.

Chef Jon Young

Fresh Bistro, not to be confused with its mobile sibling Fresh Mobile Bistro, is located on Fourth Street in the converted home which previously housed Desert Grows.  Several small and smartly appointed dining rooms evoke a homey feeling.  Modern impressionist portraits festoon the walls while fresh flowers adorn the tables.  Towering deciduous trees and yawning umbrellas shield guests from New Mexico’s dazzling (Hi Deanell) sun in a capacious patio where our dachshund The Dude (he abides) enjoyed the rapt attention of other guests.  A lone troubadour regaled us with easy listing and folk tunes.

Fresh Bistro, the brick-and-mortar restaurant, is actually a spin-off of Fresh Mobile Bistro, the bus, which is parked behind the restaurant.  The full-service restaurant actually spawned because of the popularity of the mobile kitchen.  It was only natural that Chef Young would need a more expansive canvas for his edible art.  Before launching their traditional sit-down restaurant, the Youngs operated much as other mobile food kitchens, albeit one in which diners were embraced by quiet luxury evocative of a small Parisian cafe.  Ironically the mobile Bistro parked often at La Casa Vieja where the chef learned to master French culinary techniques.

Melissa Young and her jaunty sister Jahqwah with our debonair (and uncharacteristically camera-shy) dachshund Dude

Whether you dine in the restaurant, on the patio or on the bus, you can be assured of a meal prepared from scratch by a very passionate chef who thrives on creating memorable meals that are as much a delight to the eye as they are to taste.  Reservations are required to dine on the bus where you’ll be transported to a timeless and rare elegance and indulgence with seasonal menus that will take you on a gastro-tour of taste.  Jon lovingly prepares each dish to order, imparting sage tidbits along the way.  Chef Young describes very clearly and accurately just where your taste buds will discern various elements of your meal.    The mobile bistro offers six-  and ten-course dinners, all served at an old-world pace to allow guests to fully appreciate each course.

Fresh isn’t solely the name on the marquee.  It’s an operational model and a philosophy.  The Youngs source as many ingredients from local growers so that most of what their guests enjoy is local, in season and, of course, fresh.  Structurally, the menu is similar to the menus at other bistros with appetizers, salads, soups, pastas, entrees and desserts.  Where you’ll notice the differences is in reading the vivid descriptions of each item–tantalizing descriptions punctuated with cooking techniques and premium ingredients.  It’s practically an invitation to drool.

Lavender French Toast

Coincidentally, our inaugural visit (on a Saturday when brunch is featured fare until two o’clock ) was on the day the village of Los Ranchos was celebrating its annual lavender festival. Lavender is a rarity among flowering plants in that it goes as well with savory dishes as it does decadent desserts. It has a penetrating floral and spicy aroma with a flavor profile similar to rosemary and thyme. It’s got a residual bitterness that’s overridden by its flavor and aromatic bouquet. To some, it tastes like soap (the same thing is often said about cilantro). To others, lavender can do no wrong. We were determined to enjoy this versatile, fresh, floral, clean flower in as many dishes as we could find.

16 July 2017: French toast are described on the menu as “sourdough bread topped with sweetened mascarpone cheese topped with your choice of fruit and powdered sugar” with fruit choices being bananas, peaches and strawberries. When our savvy server suggested lavender, we jumped at the opportunity. Syrup need not apply for a place on these four golden slices of eggy bread flecked with lavender. Sweetened mascarpone made them sweet enough with the lavender often making its presence felt in tempering any residual sweetness. In the spectrum of sweet that runs from mild to cloying, these French toast were…just right.

Monte Cristo Sandwich with Salad

16 July 2017: Similar to French toast, the bistro’s Monte Cristo is lightly dipped in egg batter then grilled. This beauteous sandwich is constructed on sourdough bread and filled with ham and Gruyere cheese. It’s topped with a cherry-brandy reduction. More commonly, a Monte Cristo is topped with a small amount of powdered sugar and traditionally served with a ramekin of raspberry or strawberry jam you can apply yourself. There’s nothing common about this sandwich. The cherry-brandy reduction is a superb complement to the savory elements of the sandwich, working with them instead of overpowering them with sweet notes. Both the rich, nutty Gruyere and the salty ham worked well, too.

16 July 2017: It’s a rarity in Albuquerque to find a brunch menu without any number of dishes showcasing the Land of Enchantment’s addictive red or green chile. On Fresh’s brunch menu there are only two. One is eggs Benedict served with carne adovada. The other is a dish created by the inventive chef. It’s called a Frenchilada and it’s a sort of New Mexico meets France featuring layers of crepes filled with chicken breast, green chile, mushrooms and roasted garlic cream sauce with an egg on top. This is a magnificent dish! Chef Young doesn’t shy away from piquant chile and he doesn’t use it sparingly. The foil to the chile’s heat is the mushroom’s earthiness. You’ll want to lick your plate to ensure you don’t leave behind any of the roasted garlic cream sauce.

Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas

16 July 2017: Perhaps the piece de resistance of our inaugural meal at Fresh was Chef Young’s lavender bread pudding. It may not be on Larry McGoldrick’s Bread Pudding Hall of Fame, but that’s only because the professor with the perspicacious palate hasn’t yet had it. This is a superb bread pudding, the antithesis of so many cloying versions of a dish whose genesis has been traced back to 13th century England. Sure it’s sweet, but not nearly overly so. It’s light, delicate and spongy, topped with whipped cream and surrounded by a pool of sweet, creamy sauce. The lavender has its desired effect of introducing the elements of flowery freshness to a bread pudding which would have been wonderful without it, but becomes transformative with it. 

Lavender Bread Pudding

26 August 2017:  Mycologist and author Paul Stamets who founded Fungi Perfecti to educate the world on the benefits of using mushrooms to improve the health of the planet and its people, once said “never underestimate the cleverness of mushrooms to find new food!”  Nor should you ever underestimate the talents of a great chef to use mushrooms in truly delicious ways.  Chef Young’s stuffed mushrooms are a must-have starter–four large mushrooms caps stuffed to overfilling with crab, ricotta cheese and fresh herbs in an addictive red wine reduction.  The crab, ricotta and herb mix is almost mousse-like in its consistency and ethereally light in its mouth feel.  The fleshy fungi are earthy and fresh.  Though we polished off the red wine reduction with our spoons, a few slices of bread would have been welcomed to sop up the soupy sumptuousness.

Stuffed Mushrooms

26 August 2017:  As has oft been chronicled on this blog, your humble blogger loves risotto–almost as much as one of George Costanza’s girlfriends did during one memorable Seinfeld episode.  So much so that I ordered the seared shrimp with chile and pineapple mostly to partake of the risotto.  Predictably, Chef Young understands the challenges and nuances of preparing a great risotto.  It’s rich and creamy with individual grains prepared at just past al dente–exactly as they should be.  Oh, and the seared shrimp were pretty good, too.  It’s not every chef who’s intrepid enough to embolden the sweet flavor of shrimp with a pleasantly piquant red chile and make the results pay big dividends.  Perhaps more chefs should take the risk.  The sweet, juicy pineapple, grilled to a light caramelization, are a terrific foil for the heat of the chile.  Then there’s the accompanying vegetables, best of which are asparagus spears.  They’re prepared as well as vegetables possibly can be and are crisp, fresh and delicious.

Seared Shrimp with Chile and Pineapple

26 August 2017:  During our inaugural visit to Fresh, Chef Young gave us a sample of  his housemade red chile barbecue sauce.  Just as he predicted, his barbecue sauce–emboldened with Chimayo chile–imparts a nice heat about four seconds after you’ve tasted it.  First, your taste buds will discern a smoky sweetness that will trigger a wanton desire for more.  Then the endorphin-generating heat kicks in and that wanton desire becomes unbridled lust.  It’s an outstanding barbecue sauce.  Now, we’ve seen red chile barbecue sauce before, but no other has the combination of heat and flavor this one does. 

My Kim ordered the red chile barbecue pulled pork sandwich so she could enjoy the nuances of the sauce even more.  This sandwich is engorged with a generous amount of pulled pork with nary any fat or sinew.  The sauce is counterbalanced by melted Cheddar cheese of medium sharpness on a canvas of fresh, soft bread.  How much did we enjoy this sandwich?  It made it to my list of list of highest rated sandwiches.  If on the menu, the perfect accompaniment is Chef Young’s French onion soup, an exemplar of this paragon of deliciousness.  The wondrous combination of sweet, caramelized onions and blistered, molten, cheesy blanket make this a favorite.

Housemade Red Chile Barbecue Pulled Pork

26 August 2017:  Just as it doesn’t have to be the Christmas season to enjoy crooner Andy Williams singing Christmas carols, it doesn’t have to be Christmas season to enjoy Buche de Noel, a traditional French dessert normally served at Christmas celebrations.  Chef Young offered it on an August day when the thermometer approached ninety-degrees.  It’s a wonderful early Christmas gift.  Often referred to as yule log or holiday log, this glorious cake is shaped and decorated to look like a tree log, albeit a chocolate log.  This deliciously light and moist chocolate sponge cake is filled with chocolate whipped cream, rolled into a cylinder, then frosted with chocolate ganache.  Sure it’s a chocolate overdose, but what a great way to go.

It Doesn’t Have to be Christmas Season to Enjoy Buche Noel

Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp describes his inaugural experience at Fresh (The Mobile Bistro) as “probably my favorite find in Albuquerque over the last year.” Larry McGoldrick tells us on his Yelp review that “Jon is a wizard in the kitchen. He has a passion for good, fresh, excellently prepared food, and that’s precisely what you’ll get here.” If you need further proof that the Fresh Bistro and its mobile sibling are a not-to-be-missed dining destination, read the Yelp reviews. Yelp critics tend to be a tougher crowd than I am and they give Fresh Bistro four-and-a-half stars. It’s a perfect ten in my book.

Fresh Bistro and its mobile sibling may be the culmination of the dreams of a very talented chef and his beautiful bride, but it’s a good bet you may find yourself dreaming about your next meal there.

Fresh Bistro
7319 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)
985-8449
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 August 2017
1st VISIT: 16 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lavender Bread Pudding, Lavender French Toast, Monte Cristo, Green Chile Chicken Frenchiladas, Stuffed Mushrooms, Buche Noel, Red Chile Barbecue Pulled Pork, Seared Shrimp with Chile and Pineapple

Fresh Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Marley’s Barbecue – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Marley’s Barbecue – Central Texas Barbecue

In Central Texas, Barbecue is more than a way to cook meat –
it’s a way of life, a path to salvation, and
a sure-fire way to start an argument at the dinner table.”
~Central Texas Barbecue

Texans hold certain truths to be self-evident: everything is bigger (and better) in Texas, the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team (who can argue with that?), George Strait is the king of country music, Nolan Ryan was the greatest baseball pitcher who ever lived and the best barbecue in the universe is pit-smoked along the Central Texas Barbecue Belt.  Although Texas may be “like a whole other country,” the rolling plains of Central Texas are like a whole other world when it comes to barbecue. 

That’s not to say pit masters at Texas’s three other barbecue regions–East Texas, South Texas and West Texas–don’t prepare great barbecue or that they don’t regard barbecue as practically a religion.  In fact, pit masters from each Texas barbecue region will defend the honor and bragging rights of their respective regions with the same vigor shown in 1836 by a small group of volunteer soldiers at The Alamo.

Low-and-Slow Smoke Magic Emanates From Two Grills

While conceding that there is great barbecue to be found throughout the Lone Star state, purists and aficionados almost unanimously agree that the state’s best barbecue is to be found in Central Texas with Austin as the region’s epicenter and pockets of barbecue excellence nonpareil found in such small towns as Lexington, Lockhart, Driftwood and Taylor.  Historically, it makes sense.  The Central Texas region was settled in the 19th century by German, Polish and Czech immigrants carrying forward their old country traditions for making sausage and smoking meats.

Central Texas barbecue has a number of distinguishing hallmarks.  First and foremost, beef is king.  That means moist, smoky brisket.  Secondly, barbecue means spice and seasoning rubs (heavy on salt and pepper), not sauces.  Some of the best bastions of barbecue serve their meats naked–no sauce.  Others will give you sauce on the side if you request it.   If you’ve got to have it, sauce is typically tomato-based complemented by vinegar and Worcestershire.  Thirdly, barbecue means low and slow cooking over Texas post oak wood or pecan woods, both of which impart mild smokiness.  For best results, the wood is “cured” for nine to twelve months which creates very little soot when it burns.

The comfy-cozy interior

June, 2014, saw the launch in Albuquerque of a new barbecue joint brandishing the name “Marley’s Central Texas Barbecue.” Located on the northeast corner of Montgomery and San Pedro (at the former home of the beloved Tickles & Snooks Wings & Things), Marley’s seemed primed for longevity at that location. Just over two years later, however, Marley’s moved to the North Fourth street location which previously housed Paddy Rawal’s OM. Accompanying the change of venue was a bit of a name change. No longer does the marquee boast of its “Central Texas BBQ” heritage. Now it’s just “Marley’s Barbecue” though the menu remains the same.

Restaurant employees still sport shirts emblazoned with the slogan “we smoke the good stuff.”  For the most part, the “good stuff” still comes from the Lone Star state.  The restaurant’s Black Angus beef is sourced from trusted Texas suppliers and sausage comes from Elgin, the self-proclaimed “Sausage Capital of Texas.”  The twin Heartland smokers which send smoky invitations to passing motorists come from Missouri, another barbecue-crazed state.  You’ll pass by them on your way into the restaurant.  The aromas are a preview of deliciousness to come.

Sliced Brisket and Elgin Sausage with Bacon Potato Salad and Coleslaw

Conspicuous by its absence is the Texas state flag used to accent the restaurant’s decor at its inaugural location. Other Texas accents remain include looped lassos and cowboy accoutrements on the walls as well as other stereotypical trappings (such as corrugated steel panels on the wall).  One of my favorite Texas accents is Big Red soda which, not coincidentally, is bottled in Austin.  I believe it’s a Texas state law that Big Red should be served with barbecue.

The menu is relatively small.  Meats–sliced brisket, chopped brisket, Elgin sausage (regular or “hot”), pork spare ribs and pulled pork–are available by the half-pound.  Sandwiches and plates are also available.  Sides include Texas pinto beans, coleslaw, fresh-cut fries, mac and cheese and bacon potato salad.  Your best bet is a combination plate, your choice of any two meats served with two sides.  Plates include sweet Vidalia onions, pickles and slices of white bread (often considered a veggie in barbecue circles).

Pork Spare Ribs and Elgin Sausage with Beans and Bacon Potato Salad

3 August 2014: The sliced brisket is moist and tender with a faint smokiness, a very pronounced smoke ring and a good amount of marbling around the edges (off-putting to some, absolutely necessary for others).  It doesn’t have the thick, peppery crust characteristic of some legendary Central Texas barbecue establishments, but for taste, tenderness and appearance, it’s a very good brisket.  Procured from the world-famous Southside Market in Elgin, Texas, both the regular and “hot” Elgin sausage live up to their reputation.  They’re succulent, smoky and delicious with a natural casing that’s easy to bite through, but not cut with the plastic utensils provided. 

28 August 2014: There’s yet another way to enjoy brisket at Marley’s and that’s in the form of a chopped brisket sandwich.  When the menu reads “chopped” it’s not “chopped” as in the Carolina style “hack” job done to pork.  In this case, the brisket is cut into very small cubes.  If anything, the brisket seems even more tender prepared in this fashion and a caramelization not as apparent on sliced brisket is readily discernible with the chopped brisket.  This sandwich is served with onions and pickles.

Chopped Brisket Sandwich with Coleslaw

28 August 2014: No longer on the menu, but perhaps they should be considering the recent taco craze, is brisket tacos. An order of brisket tacos yields three beauteous tacos made on housemade corn tortillas.  The tacos are engorged with chopped brisket and a pico de gallo.  The corn tortillas are quite good and are formidable enough to hold up against the moistness and volume of the brisket and pico.  The brisket is moist, tender and smoky.  Alas, the pico de gallo (tomatoes and green peppers) is rather insipid, lacking any heat.  Fortunately the barbecue sauce has just a tad of heat to lend.

3 August 2014: Although beef may be king in Texas, Marley’s pork spare ribs are no jesters.  While the menu describes them as “fall-off-the-bone tender,” they have just a bit of “give” on them as you pull them off the bone.  That’s the way it should be.  Far too often, fall-off-the-bone denotes overdone.  The ribs are tender and juicy with the spice and seasonings rub more pronounced (you’ll discern a bit more sweetness) than on the other meats.  None of the meats needed sauce to make them palatable, but Marley’s sauce is good for dipping bread into.   It’s sweet, vinegary and has a pleasing bite.

BBQ Nachos

3 August 2014: Sides are no afterthought.  The bacon potato salad, made with in-house cured bacon and a spice blend with personality, is very different from most potato salad served in New Mexico which tends to have a surfeit of mayo or salad cream.  Shawne Riley, a long-time friend of this blog, called the potato salad the “closest to my Texas grandmother’s I’ve ever had.”  We agreed the coleslaw was wonderful. Even with New Mexico green chile, the pinto beans have the flavor of Texas beans with sundry spices which detract from the natural flavors of the Land of Enchantment’s “other” official state vegetables (pinto beans and chile).

3 August 2014: As a proud native New Mexican well acquainted and enamored with our state’s fantastic pecan crop, try as I might it was difficult to remain impartial about our pecans, especially when a Texas city has the audacity to declare itself “the pecan capitol of the world.”  Alas, the pecan pie was rich, decadent and absolutely mouth-watering.  Nary a disparaging word can be said about it even though it wasn’t made with New Mexican pecans.  During a visit in August, 2017, my server informed me that pecan pie is no longer on the menu.  Instead, Marley’s now offers a strawberry-rhubarb pie (get it a la mode) which, while quite good–and quite Texan–didn’t please me as much as the pecan pie did.

The oak which generates inviting aromas

23 August 2017:  BBQ Nachos are the sole appetizer on the menu though a heaping portion is enough to constitute a meal.  Available with your choice of pulled pork or chopped brisket, the nachos are served atop a bed of tortilla chips covered with nacho cheese, jalapenos and the house barbecue sauce.   The chopped brisket is redolent with the fragrant aroma of oak and there’s plenty of it.  We found the sauce a bit on the sweet side with tangy notes that couldn’t quite tame the sweetness.  That’s probably why my Kim competed with me for the jalapenos–and she normally wouldn’t touch jalapenos with the proverbial ten-foot-pole.

Marley’s may not be the next best thing to eating at a barbecue restaurant in the Texas Hill Country of Central Texas, but in some ways it’s got those Lone Star bastions of bodacious barbecue beat. Within the air conditioned confines of Marley’s, we were especially grateful not to be waiting in line for two hours for one of Austin’s famous pilgrimage barbecue restaurants to open even as oppressive humidity sapped our energy and mosquitoes the size of helicopters consumed us as eagerly as we would the barbecue.

Marley’s Central Texas BBQ
7520 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-5962
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 August 2017
1st VISIT: 3 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Big Red, Pecan Pie, Sliced Brisket, Pork Spare Ribs, Elgin Sausage, Bacon Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Brisket Tacos, Chopped Brisket Sandwich, BBQ Nachos, Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie A La Mode

Marley's Texas Barbeque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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