San Pedro Middle East Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant, my very favorite Mediterranean restaurant in New Mexico

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant, my very favorite Mediterranean restaurant in New Mexico

The St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Magdalena, New Mexico is adorned with ceramic statues, most familiar and easy to identify…at least for lifelong Catholics like me.   After Sunday Mass one September, 2010 morning, we espied a statue of a saint clutching a curious implement to his chest.  None of the parishioners we asked had any idea who the statue represented.  Father Andy Pavlak, the parish vicar, confirmed the statue depicted Saint Lawrence  of Rome and the curious device he held was a gridiron, a metal grate used for grilling meat, fish, vegetables or any combination thereof.

Father Pavlak went on to explain why Saint Lawrence clutched the gridiron.  Saint Lawrence was one of seven deacons of ancient Rome who were martyred during the reign of Emperor Valerian.  The manner of death he suffered was especially gruesome.  The intrepid saint was grilled on a gridiron.  As his flesh cooked, Lawrence is said to have cried out, “This side’s done.  Turn me over and have a bite.”  That probably explains why Saint Lawrence is the patron saint of comedians, butchers and roasters. He is also patron saint of several parishes throughout the Land of Enchantment.

The dining area at the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant

The dining area at the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant

I suspect Saint Lawrence might also be the patron saint of grillmasters.  If so, I sure could use his divine intercession.  Like the administrators of his death, I seem to have a problem discerning when one side is done.  Consequently one side is usually charred to the consistency of coal while the other is as rare as the raw beef fighters apply over wounds acquired in the ring.  It doesn’t matter how closely I study the collective writings of Bill and Cheryl Jamison, America’s preeminent outdoor cooking experts, my results are disastrous.  On the grill, I’m a disgrace to my gender.

Because I’ve ruined thousands of dollars of meat, fish, poultry and vegetables, my Kim would just as soon see me wave the white flag of surrender (though I’d probably drop it on the grill and only one side would burn.)  Better still, she’d rather I take her to a restaurant in which bona fide grillmasters impart the olfactory-arousing direct application of heat to produce succulent results.  Frankly, that would be my preference, too…so, perhaps my ineptitude on the grill might be a subliminal thing.  Yeah, that’s what I’ll tell myself.

Purchase an assortment of seasoned snacks such as watermelon seeds

It’s no secret that some of the very best grilled meats anywhere are prepared to perfection in Middle Eastern restaurants.  Many Middle Eastern dining establishments have mastered the enviable art of imbuing meats with the pungency of exotic spices; a distinctive aroma inherent from woods with personality; a whisper-thin crust that seals in flavor and tenderness in a pleasantly pink interior; and any number of heavily spiced, flavorful sauces, all of which seem to highlight even more of the magnificence of meat in all its grilled glory.

In Albuquerque as in many other cities, Middle Eastern restaurants seem to fall into two stratum: opulent, lavishly adorned dining rooms or time-worn cafes in bedraggled edifices.   Experience shows that spit and polish alone don’t make the restaurant. Some of the very best Middle Eastern restaurants are often found in tumbledown buildings.  Perhaps the very best of these is the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant on the southwest corner of San Pedro and Montgomery in the Northeast Heights.

Dolmes: Six piece stuffed grape leaves served tahini sauce

The San Pedro Middle East Restaurant is ensconced in a stand-alone building that frankly could be home to just about any retail business.  Much of the building is dedicated to comestibles.  Its shelves are well-stocked with Middle Eastern spices, groceries and dry goods.  Adventurous cooks will enjoy walking up and down the aisles studying all the wonderful options, perhaps inspired by the olfactory arousing aromas coming from the small kitchen at the front of the complex.  The counter separating the kitchen from the store doubles as a counter in which patrons pay for their purchases or place their to-go orders.

Dine-in and carry-out options abound.  Should you decide to dine in, there are several comfortable booths and tables available.  The dining area is ensconced beneath a canopy reminiscent a large Bedouin tent, the biggest difference being that instead of Middle Eastern rugs, the canopy is made from Southwest themed rugs (Kokopeli anyone?).   The menu over the counter is abbreviated; you’ll be handed a laminated menu to take with you to your table.  From the window-side booths, your vantage point will be of busy San Pedro to your east.

Six-piece Falafel appetizer: fried garbanzo beans with herbs and spices served with a yogurt sauce

Six-piece Falafel appetizer: fried garbanzo beans with herbs and spices served with a yogurt sauce

The menu is surprisingly ambitions considering the relatively cramped quarters.  Reading from top-left, the first items to catch your eye are appetizers and small order items followed by a seven salads, only one of which you might see at any type of restaurant.  One entire page is dedicated to platters, both meat-based platters and vegetarian platters.  Platters generally include a meat or vegetarian entree with hummus or rice and one of the seven sensational salads.  Homemade fresh pita bread (which you can see being made at the kitchen) comes with several of the platters.

The last page of the menu is dedicated to sandwiches–non-vegetarian and vegetarian–and desserts.  It’s an intriguing menu, one you might expect to see at a larger Middle Eastern restaurant and not necessarily at a grocery store doubling as a restaurant.  Your hosts are brothers Muhammad and Abraham, who are as cordial and accommodating as any restaurant proprietors in the Duke City.  Both are more than happy to recommend various options and will check up on you periodically.  Trust their recommendations.

Lamb shawarma Platter served with Hummus

The appetizers section includes some de rigueur standards you’ll find at almost all Mediterranean restaurants.  The difference is that the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant prepares them better.  “Heresy,” you say.  After our inaugural visit on November 13th, we were so impressed that we had to return a week later to confirm what our taste buds were saying.  They were telling us this humble little establishment might be the very best Middle Eastern restaurant in Albuquerque.  Zomato readers seem to agree.  As of this writing (September 20, 2016), the restaurant has earned a 4.7 rating (out of 5), one of the highest in Albuquerque. Muhammad proudly points this out to new visitors.

14 November 2010:  The dolmes, a six-piece appetizer of stuffed grape leaves served with tahini sauce is one of those items at which this restaurant excels.  Decoratively plated so that the six dolmes form a pool for the tahini sauce, you can use the plastic fork to cut the dolmes into smaller, bite-sized pieces, but Muhammad will encourage you to eat your entire dinner the way it would be eaten back home in Palestine.  He would just as soon you dispense with your fork altogether.  Great advice!  The dolmes are fabulous!

Bakdunecea Salad

Unlike many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants in the Duke City, these dolmes are homemade, not from out of a can.  They have a very distinctive flavor with nary a hint of lemon.  The distinctiveness comes from a seven spice blend, one that’s just slightly different than many seven spice blends I’ve seen in Japanese and Arabic cooking.  This one is made with All Spice, Black Pepper, Cloves, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Fennel and Ginger, a blend which enlivens the vegetarian dolmes with a flavor punch that will wow your taste buds.  The dolmes are even better when dipped into the fresh, invigorating tahini sauce.

14 November 2010:  Another terrific starter is the six-piece falafel plate.  Falafel (chickpeas mashed with onions then fried to a nice crunch) are hemispherically shaped, like the top half of the Earth.  Bite into each falafel and you’ll experience the sensation of a slight crispy crunch followed by a soft, moist inside that tastes unlike any falafel I’ve ever had.  It’s the type of falafel which should be used to help broker peace in the Middle East.  They’re that good!  Seasoned with herbs and spices, they’re served with a luscious yogurt sauce which complements them wonderfully.

Housemade Fresh Pita Bread, Maybe the Best in Town

14 November 2010: For years, my local standard for Baba Ghanoug, roasted eggplant with tahini sauce, lemon juice and garlic, has been Yasmine’s Cafe, yet another terrific Palestinian-owned treasure.  If possible, the San Pedro Middle Eastern Restaurant’s version is even better.  It’s rich and creamy with a prominent garlic flavor.  In Middle Eastern fashion, you’ll want to cut up pieces of the wonderful housemade pita (still fresh and warm) and use the pita to scoop up as much Baba Ghanoug as you can fit into your mouth.  Each bite is an adventure in appreciation.

20 September 2016: For me, the highlight of the salad menu–and you can’t go wrong with any of the seven choices–was always the Bakdunecea Salad (parsley with tahini and lemon juice served with olive oil).  Though no longer offered on the menu, the accommodating staff might just whip it up for you if you ask nicely.    This salad has powerful qualities, a term you might not associate with parsley.  Parsley is usually thought up as an ingredient to chop up and sprinkle on entrees needing color.  It’s sometimes thought of in a decorative sense, not for its flavor enhancing qualities.  Used correctly and in combination with other ingredients (such as tahini), it is refreshing and assertive.

Kefta Kabob with Rice

20 November 2010: Another sensational salad is the Tabbouli (lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, onion, mint, cracked Bulgar wheat, fresh lemon juice and virgin olive oil).  Growing up in Peñasco with Lebanese neighbors, I was introduced to Tabbouli, Kibbeh and Tahini long before I’d ever had Chinese food or even my first Bic Mac from McDonald’s.  The Tabbouli may be the best I’ve ever had, reminding me in some ways of what a Middle Eastern pico de gallo might taste like.  It’s got remarkable freshening qualities, like a savory and delicious breath mint.

20 September 2016: It wouldn’t be a fantastic Middle Eastern restaurant without a sensational hummus (ground chickpeas with tahini sauce, lemon juice and garlic) and that, too, is available at the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant.  You can order it on its own as an appetizer or you can order one of the several platters with which the hummus is served.  The hummus encircles the meat platters like an island of creamy, garlicky goodness.  Muhammad taught us to use pita to scoop up heaps of meat and hummus with our hands.  It’s the only way to eat them.

Shisk Kafta Platter: ground beef, onion, parsley served with hummus, salad and homemade fresh pita bread

20 September 2016: The Lamb Shawarma (marinated slices of lamb) is terrific (as if that needs to be said).  Instead of shaved lamb as you’d find on Greek gyros, the lamb is sliced into smaller than bite-sized pieces, each blessed with a grilled smokiness and penetrated with seasonings that are so distinctively Middle Eastern.  Sprigs of fragrant, roughly chopped parsley impart fresh qualities which meld with the other ingredients to fashion a fabulous flavor profile.

Not since Banbury, England in 1987 have we had better shish kabob (cubes of extra lean beef served) than we’ve had on San Pedro.   In describing the grilling expertise at Middle Eastern restaurants earlier in this essay, I must have had this shish kabob in mind.  The meat is grilled to perfection.  At medium, it has just a slight hint of pink inside while its exterior texture is nicely charred. It’s the type of grilling expertise I lack.  It’s perfect grilling.

Chicken Tawook surrounded by the best hummus in Albuquerque

13 February 2011: Another exceptional platter which showcases the grilling process and exceptional seasoning is the chicken tawook platter, marinated juicy cubes of chicken breast with garlic sauce served with hummus, salad and the homemade fresh pita bread.  The chicken is moist and tender, absolutely impregnated with flavor though not so garlicky that it will wreck your breath.  Instead, the garlic melds wondrously with a hint of grilling.

27 March 2011: The chicken shawarma, an island of small-cut chicken pieces surrounded by hummus is yet another fabulous entree.  Similar to the chicken tawook, garlic is a prominent flavor as is the wondrous fragrance of grilling.  Parsley also fits prominently into the flavor profile, imparting an invigorating herbaceous freshness, but this dish is best when scooped up with hummus and that absolutely amazing pita.  Abraham tells me he makes some 700 pieces of bread on an average day.  I’ll typically have four of them each visit and take home another half dozen.  This is the best pita in New Mexico!

Chicken Shawarma

24 August 2011: Even on the rare occasion in which an item you don’t order is delivered to your table, you’ll want to try it before even thinking about sending it back.  Such was the case when my friend Ruben Hendrickson and I ordered dolmes and a strange looking dish with an even stranger name was placed before us.  As it turns out, the Foul Mudammas with Pita is an outstanding appetizer, one which will visit my table in the future. 

There’s nothing foul about this wonderful dish which is made with diced fava beans, fresh garlic, lemon juice and olive oil.  Given the same ingredients and asked to create something wonderful, there’s no way most of us could ever concoct anything nearly this good.  The humble fava hasn’t made significant inroads in the American diet, but in combination with the right condiments and spices, it’s more than palatable.  Fava beans have tremendous healthful benefits, too.

Foul Mudammas with Pita

20 September 2016: The San Pedro Middle East Restaurant is no slouch when it comes to desserts.  Trays of baklava behind a glass pastry case may elicit involuntary salivation.  Don’t hesitate to order the pistachio baklava.  This baklava is on par with the pistachio baklava at the Anatolia Doner Kebab House which means it’s the very best in New Mexico.  The salty pistachios are a perfect foil for the cloying honey, making this a dessert of complementary and contrasting flavors which go so well together.  Bite into the layers of luscious flaky phylo and you’ll be rewarded with a moist, delicious, wonderful way to finish an outstanding meal.

Pistachio Baklava

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant is reminiscent of the type of restaurant you’d find in an ethnic rich area of a large metropolitan area.  It is frequented by customers of all ethnicities, the common denominator being the recognition that this is a very special restaurant with incomparable food, terrific service and the type of grilling skills I envy.

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant
4001 San Pedro
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 888-2921
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 September 2016
1st VISIT:  13 November 2010
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Shish Kabob Platter, Lamb Shawarma Platter, Fresh Pita Bread, Bakdunecea Salad, Garden Salad, Dolmes, Falafel, Baba Ganouj, Shisk KaftaPlatter, Beef Shawarma, Tabbouli, Chicken Shawarma, Foul Mudammas with Pita, Fatoush, Pistachio Baklava

San Pedro Mart Middle East Grocery & Alquds Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Starr Brothers Brewing – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Starr Brothers Brewing in the San Antonio Commons (Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights)

Poets, musicians and authors have long rhapsodized about the loyalty of dogs, the most faithful and loving companions anyone can have. Their love is unconditional, their loyalty boundless.  They’re  truly man’s best friend.  Poets, musicians and authors obviously didn’t know Chato, the sleek and powerful best friend to the Dominican nuns who taught generations of Peñasco’s best and brightest at St. Anthony’s (my alma-mater).  No matter where they drove in their ancient rattletrap of a car, Chato sprinted along to ensure their safety.  When the nuns raffled off that car to raise money for the purchase of a newer, more reliable vehicle, Chato suddenly changed his lifelong residence from the convent to the home of the new car owners…..and everywhere that car went, Chato was sure to go.

In his own way Chato demonstrated the loyalty for which dogs are renowned, albeit to a car instead of to his people.  Among people–who tend to be the most fickle and disloyal of creatures–studies have repeatedly shown that beer is one of the things about which we as consumers tend to be most loyal.  According to a Nielsen (and you thought they only did television ratings) study conducted in 2015, 48% of beer drinkers purchased only one to three brands of their alcoholic beverage of choice in the year preceding the survey.  Only 15% of beer drinkers purchased ten or more brands of beer in the same period.

Dining and Bar Area

Not all beer drinkers are so brand monogamous.  Those who drink craft beers are much more likely to purchase a variety of brands. Almost one-third (32%) of all craft beer drinkers who buy beer at least several times a year bought seven or more brands in the year preceding the survey.  Younger, more frequent craft beer drinkers were found to be more brand “promiscuous,” as 37% purchased seven or more brands of beer in the year preceding the survey.  The survey revealed that younger beer drinkers were more apt to purchase a broader set of brands,  likely resultant from the more adventurous nature  of youth compared to older demographics.  Being younger, it’s conceivable as well that they have not established brand loyalty.

Albuquerque’s burgeoning craft beer industry means beer drinkers have many more choices than the beer drinkers of yore.  It seems a new brewery pops up every week with no surfeit in sight.  Indeed, the New Mexico Brewer’s Guild Map indicates there are (as of this writing) some sixty-six craft breweries across the Land of Enchantment with nearly half of them concentrated in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.  As  competition for beer buyers continues to intensify, breweries are looking for ways to differentiate themselves–to stand out from the crowd–from their brewing brethren.   The differentiator which resonates most with gastronomes, of course, is food.

Herbed Brie with Heidi’s Raspberry-Lavender Jam

Several Duke City breweries have elevated culinary offerings from the “pub grub” (typically deep-fried, stick-to-your-ribs fast foods) of yore to true gastropub fare–high quality, freshly prepared food that may surprise discerning diners.  They offer diverse menus, several orders of magnitude superior to what bar-goers of yesteryear were accustommed to.  In January, 2016, the Starr Brothers Brewing Company joined the fray, launching in an underserved Northeast Heights area in a sprawling 5,000 square-foot edifice.  Situated on heavily-trafficked San Antonio about a mile east of Cracker Barrel, Starr Brothers operates a full kitchen that features a wide-ranging menu showcasing some of the most surprising culinary fare of any brewery in the city.

“Small bites” to get you started include poutine, an artery-clogging Canadian French fry delicacy made uniquely New Mexican with red chile gravy and green chile; pizza constructed on naan flatbread and much more.  Our server informed us the Cubano has become an early favorite of the brewery’s habitues though the burger isn’t far behind in popularity.  Of more interest to my Chicago born-and-bred Kim is the Italian beef sandwich which we’ll return for  Where you’ll do a double-take is with the entrees, some of which seem more likely to be found in a Chicago chophouse than a brew pub in Burque.    The menu truly has something for every member of the family and indeed, several families were dining at Starr Brothers during our inaugural visit.

Bone-In Pork Chops

3 July 2016: My Kim often chides me for ordering items we’ve never previously had instead of tried and true favorites.  Sometimes it pays off and we uncover a new favorite.  Other times we wish we’d ordered one of the standards.  The herbed brie is in the former category, an appetizer we hadn’t previously enjoyed elsewhere.  Molten brie is formed into four golf ball-sized orbs encased in panko breadcrumbs and served with Heidi’s raspberry-lavender jam.  To be honest, we might have regretted having ordered the brie (which lacks the sharpness this turophile enjoys) had it not been for the jam.  The lavender to raspberry is in perfect proportion to bless you with the invigorating and exiting floral qualities of lavender without detracting from the sweet, slightly tart flavor of the raspberries.

3 July 2016: In ordering the bone-in grilled pork chop (singular), we expected something closer to the waifishly thin pork chops served for breakfast in several Duke City eateries than what was delivered to our table.  Our server got her work-out ferrying a plate with two Flintstonian-sized chops with bone “handles” that looked like Lakota battle axes.  We were momentarily mesmerized and took proper pause to gape with awe and reverence at this porcine bounty (if only lamb chops were similarly sized).  Imbued in a brown sugar honey sweet ale sauce and topped with toasted pecans, the pulchritudinous pork chops are easily an inch thick and grilled masterfully so they’re still moist and tender on the inside.  Noting a little bit of raspberry-lavender jam remained, we used it as a sauce and found the combination absolutely magnificent.  Our accommodating server even brought us another ramekin of that wondrous jam.  The pork chops are served with mashed sweet potatoes.

Grilled Bistro Tender Steak with Fingerling Potatoes and Wilted Spinach

3 July 2016: We weren’t sure with what cut of meat we would be rewarded for ordering the “grilled bistro tender steak,” as “tender” tends to be an adjective, not a cut of steak.  Tender, it turns out, is a perfect descriptor for a slab of meat sliced into several medallions and served with fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach.  The steak is prepared to your exacting specifications with a medium degree of doneness providing moistness, flavor and tenderness.  It’s an excellent steak, especially around the “rim” where just a bit of caramelization appears.  The fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach are a perfect accompaniment.

3 July 2016: Starr Brothers is no slouch when it comes to desserts.  While the Polychinka (a crepe stuffed with caramelized banana and topped with nutella, chocolate ganache and powdered sugar) sounds most interesting, it’s hard to pass up bread pudding, especially when it’s described as “chef’s choice” made with the seasonal draft (which turned out to be strawberry ale during our inaugural visit).  At the risk of hyperbole, this is one of the best bread puddings in the city, a sure-fire addition to Larry McGoldrick’s bread pudding hall-of-fame.  Thick slices of bread impregnated with chocolate and berries are caramelized on the edges, moist and tender on the inside then topped with a premium vanilla bean ice cream.  Portion size is prodigious, but the bread pudding’s flavor profile is even larger.

Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding

13 September 2016:  In the Land of Enchantment, our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburgers transcend the seasons.  They’re enjoyed all year-round, however, two factors combine to make September the one month in which they’re enjoyed more than in any other.  The first factor is the freshly picked, recently roasted crop of green chile.  The second factor is the celebration of the green chile cheeseburger in two premier competitive events–Santa Fe’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown and the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge.  On September 12th, 2016, Laguna Burger earned bragging rights at the State Fair event, ending a two year reign by national chain Fuddrucker‘s.  Finishing second in the blind taste test adjudged event was Starr Brothers. 

Frankly had Starr Brothers not garnered such a prestigious honor, it would probably have taken several visits before the Starr Burger crossed my lips.  That’s not so much an indictment of the burger as it is a credit to how diverse and alluring the rest of the menu is.  My server became animated in describing the burger, touting it as the best in Albuquerque.  If it’s not the Duke City’s best, it’s on a very short list as one of the best.  This is a sensational burger!  The canvas is a brioche bun, a rich, eggy bread of optimal thickness–resilient enough to hold up against moist ingredients without becoming a dominant flavor.  Atop the bottom bun are chopped onions, a sliced tomato and fresh greens then comes a choice beef patty prepared to your exacting specifications.  The beef is topped with a green chile ranch aioli, molten melted cheese and strips of bacon in a crossed (X) pattern.  The green chile ranch aioli has a nice bite to it,  The beef patty is moist and seasoned well with a premium beef flavor (obviously not thawed).  You have your choice of a salad or fries with your burger.  The seasoned fries are addictive, with or without the uniquely flavored ketchup with its notes of smokiness and piquancy.

Award-Winning Starr Burger

Lest you think there are no Starr brothers or that they’re a pair of wizened and hirsute gentlemen like the Smith Brothers of cough drop fame, there really are Starr brothers.  They’re the children of owners John and Heather Starr.  If our inaugural visit is any indication, Starr Brothers Brewing is a rising star!

Starr Brothers Brewing
5700 San Antonio Drive, N.E., Suite B1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2752
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 September 2016
1st VISIT: 3 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding, Tender Steak, Pork Chops, Herbed Brie, Starr Burger

Starr Brothers Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

ChocGlitz & Cream – Albuquerque, New Mexico

ChocoGlitz & Cream in Albuquerque (Just Barely)

To whom should you turn when you want a recommendation you can trust for great ice cream?   Your natural inclination is probably to ask a kid.  Kids, particularly those in the age group two through twelve, consume more ice cream than any other American demographic.  Alas, kids in the aforementioned age group are like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercials. They like everything (except maybe coffee flavored ice cream) and aren’t quite as discerning as ice cream paramours in other age groups.  So, why not trust an adult for a recommendation?  Research has shown that contrary to children, adults tend to prefer the same few flavors for which they’ve developed a preference over the course of their lives (talk about getting set in their ways and losing the sense of adventure).

So, to whom does this overgrown kid in an adult’s body turn for advice on great ice cream?  Would you believe I get my ice cream advice from Stefan, one of my two favorite baristas at Rio Rancho’s sublime Cafe Bella.  Here’s why.  Baristas tend to have rather refined palates–they have to considering coffee has almost twice as many flavor characteristics discernible by human senses than wine does–and are able to discern flavor nuances and qualities most of us can’t detect.   When barista extraordinaire Stefan, told me about his favorite place for ice cream, he didn’t just tell me he liked it.  He gave me a detailed flavor profile analysis, describing flavors, ingredients, textures, milk fat content and other qualities only a connoisseur would understand.

Deliciousness Everywhere you Turn

When we stepped into ChocGlitz for the first time, owner-chocolatier Celeste Davis asked how we found out about her charming establishment.  No sooner had we told her our barista recommended it than she responded with “oh, you must mean Michael” as in Michael Gonzales, the effusive owner of Cafe Bella.  Michael, it turns out, frequents ChocGlitz with his beautiful family.  It didn’t surprise us in the least that culinary professionals we respect so much would visit ChocGlitz which just might be Albuquerque’s very best chocolate and ice cream shop.  It’s almost Rio Rancho’s very best chocolate and ice cream shop, too, being situated just south of the Presbyterian Rust Medical Center on Unser Blvd. near the demarcation line between the Duke City and the City of Vision.

ChocGlitz & Cream opened its doors in July, 2014 and almost immediately began garnering not only local accolades, but national attention.  In February, 2015, ChocGlitz staffers created a five-foot chocolate sculpture depicting trees, fairies and woodland creatures for a Food Network program called Outrageous Chocolate.  That painstaking effort took a bit longer than 200 hours.  While Celeste doesn’t have to take nearly as much time in crafting the tempting chocolates on display daily at the shop, it’s obvious hers is a labor of love…and of deliciousness.   ChocGlitz literally surrounds you with eye candy everywhere you turn.

Caramel Apples for Kids of All Ages

Celeste hand-crafts almost all the chocolates sold at the store using fair-trade certified chocolate (ensuring cocoa farmers are paid fair wages and don’t use child or slave labor).  ChocGlitz offers a treasure trove of beguiling treats such as fudge, caramel apples, caramel corn, chocolate-dipped Oreos, hand-made truffles, cheesecakes and many other chocolate specialties.  A whopping 95-percent of the chocolates sold at ChocGlitz are made on the premises with a handful of fair-trade chocolates (and such rarities as Mallow Cups) brought in to complement the locally made product.  All ice creams are also made on the premises.

21 November 2015: With a sensory overload of aromas and sights threatening to engulf us, we started our ChocGlitz adventure with ice cream: a scoop each of raspberry-red chile and salted caramel on a waffle cone for me and a scoop each of egg nog and pumpkin spice, also on a waffle cone for my Kim.  The raspberries for the raspberry-red chile ice cream come from Heidi’s Raspberries in Corrales so you know they’re of the highest quality.  Common denominators in all four ice cream flavors are smoothness, creaminess, delicateness and richness.  These are the hallmark of ice cream greatness, the qualities of which Stefan bragged.  Those qualities make for the type of ice cream with which you want to take your time, the type that releases its nuanced flavors as it melts on your tongue.  A good amount of milk-fat contributes the quality of “mellowness,” coupling with the natural flavors to seduce your taste buds, not attack them.

Left: Raspberry-Red Chile and Salted Caramel; Right: Egg Nog and Pumpkin Spice

21 November 2015: The Cracker Jacks jingle with which some of us grew up boasts of “candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize!  That’s what you get in Cracker Jacks!”  After sampling the bacon caramel corn at ChocGlitz, I became immediately convinced that Cracker Jacks got it wrong.  Instead of candy-coated peanuts, Cracker Jacks should have used bacon.  During the third annual Southwest Bacon Fest, ChocoGlitz introduced a number of bacon products which were very well received.  The bacon caramel combines two great ingredients–possibly the very best caramel corn you’ve ever had and bacon, that addictive pork candy America loves.

11 September 2016:  Though the raspberry-red chile ice cream could easily become a lifetime habit, how can you possibly know whether or not you’re going to enjoy another flavor more unless you try them all.  That’s my attitude and the sole reason for not ordering it again.  At ChocoGlitz there are no consolation prizes, no Miss Congenialities.  Every flavor is a winner.  That includes one scoop of malted milk balls ice cream and one scoop of Rocky Road on a waffle cone.  The malted milk balls ice cream, in particular, is rich and utterly addictive with a nice malted milk ball to ice cream ratio.

Chocolate Oreos and Walnut Clusters (Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate)

11 September 2016:  A cavalcade of chocolates in a glass display case would tempt the most disciplined of dieters.  Every conceivable chocolate confection possible is available including some of which Willie Wonka never imagined.  My Kim’s favorites are the chocolate Oreos covered in milk chocolate while my preference are walnut clusters, one milk chocolate and another dark chocolate.  They’re so good they’ve never made it home where we can have them with milk.  We’re barely out of the parking lot before they’re gone, pleasant memories left in their delicious wake.

If you’re not happy with the ice cream you’re finding in your neighborhood, there’s no guarantee your barista will be able to recommend something better.  That is, unless that barista has been to ChocGlitz & Cream, quite possibly the best chocolate and ice cream shop in the metropolitan area.

ChocGlitz & Cream
10660 Unser Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-898-GLTZ (4589)
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 11 September 2016
1st VISIT: 21 November 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Raspberry-Red Chile Ice Cream; Salted Caramel Ice Cream; Egg Nog Ice Cream; Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream; Bacon Caramel Corn; Dark English Toffee; Cashew Turtle

ChocGlitz & Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Crackin’ Crab Seafood Boil – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Crackin’ Crab Seafood Boil on Unser Boulevard in Albuquerque

There are certain notions people find too implausible or preposterous to believe. Case in point: during a recent lunch with my friend Bill Resnik, our waitress asked what we did for a living. Bill told her I was an actor, a premise our waitress found entirely credible—even to the point of recalling she may have seen me in an episode of Breaking Bad. When, however, I told her Bill was a porn star, she couldn’t contain her laughter. She practically fell over in hysteria at the image of my towering (6’5″) friend performing in a porno as if it was the most hilarious thing she’d ever heard. After she composed herself, she told me I was full of sh… er, excrement. My response: “full of sh..” was Bill’s porn name when he starred in diaper fetish movies. We thought we’d have to hose her down when even more raucous fits of laughter ensued.

Another notion New Mexicans find implausible is the idea that very good to excellent seafood can be found within the landlocked borders of the Land of Enchantment. Since the rapid fire succession closure in the early 2000s of Cafe Oceana, the Rio Grande Yacht Club and Seagull Street, many diners considered Pelican’s Restaurant the sole surviving seafood restaurant in the metropolitan area.  Just about the time the aforementioned trio were shuttering their doors, Mariscos Altamar began introducing Duke City diners to Mexican style seafood, a trend that caught on rapidly.  Then in 2013, Down N’ Dirty Seafood Boil filled a real niche by offering a product unique to the marketplace, something that can’t be found anywhere else in the area.  Its Cajun-style seafood boil concept was an immediate smash hit.

The Crackin’ Crab Dining Room

Just as as mighty forests start with one tiny fertile seed, niche markets tend to propagate as soon as entrepreneurs see an opportunity to get in on a good thing.  In 2015, just about the time Down N Dirty opened its second restaurant (Los Altos Plaza on Wyoming), an aptly named competitor–Crackin’ Crab Seafood Boil–opened its doors near the Century Rio 24 theater. It didn’t take Crackin’ Crab long to expand, launching its own second instantiation just as 2016 was dawning.  2015 also saw the launch of Crab N’ Draft in the International District.  In May, 2016, 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen in Nob Hill followed suit.

Detractors might say the market is already saturated, but those of us “glass half filled” types can’t get enough.  Landlocked Albuquerque has fallen in love with the seafood boil concept.  With existing and planned locations soon to blanket the metropolitan area, favorites are likely to be based as much on proximity as to quality of the product.  Living in Rio Rancho (almost as far north as you can go before you’re in the Santa Ana Pueblo), we longed for a seafood boil restaurant we didn’t have to drive thirty miles to reach.  With the opening of Crackin’ Crab at the McMahon Marketplace on Unser just north of the demarcation line between Rio Rancho and Albuquerque, our wish has been granted.

Family Bag

The name Crackin’ Crab speaks volumes about the concept.  At its mechanical essence, a seafood boil is little more than seafood, water (or beer) and spices (exquisite, flavor-packed, seafood enlivening spices).  At its spiritual essence, it’s so much more than that.  A seafood boil is about fun and frolic.  It’s about sharing succulent seafood with friends and family.  It’s about getting your hands and face dirty and enjoying every minute of it.  Even though the nearest sand and surf (Tingley Beach doesn’t count) is more than 800 miles away, Duke City diners can still enjoy the spirit of the seafood boil.  That spirit is alive and well at the Crackin’ Crab.

With an ambiance almost equal parts nautical and nondescript, the Crackin’ Crab is a sole, elongated dining room with a seating capacity of about fifty guests.  Weather-permitting, another twenty-five diners can enjoy themselves on the patio.  Several strategically placed wall-mounted flat screen televisions might get your attention early, but only until your seafood bounty arrives at your table.  “Pounds of Crackin'” is set at market price by the pound: blue crab, Dungeness crab cluster, snow crab cluster, king crab legs, lobster, black mussels, green mussels, crawfish (in season), clams, scallops and shrimp (headless or with heads).   You can’t catch this stuff on the Rio Grande.  If you prefer your seafood fried, a netful of fried options are also available: calamari, shrimp, seafood, oysters and softshell crab.  Landlubbers can have fried chicken tenders.

The Crackin’ Crab Dining Room

Any order combination of three pounds will also yield one corn on the cob, one sausage and one potato, but you can also order additional portions of each in any quantity you desire for a relative pittance.  Two sauce options are available to enliven your seafood boil–an Old Bay Cajun sauce and a lemon pepper sauce, both available in mild, medium or hot.  My penchant for piquancy goes out the window with seafood.  Any spice level beyond medium obfuscates the natural sweet and briny flavors of seafood.  At Crackin’ Crab even the medium sauce is as incendiary as hot chile at some New Mexican food restaurants. 

Your best bet whether you’re a value conscious diner or you want variety in your meal is the family bag, a veritable boatful of beauteous seafood.  Your yield is one pound of snow crab, a half pound of headless shrimp, a half pound of scallops and a half pound of black mussels along with one corn on the cob, one potato and one Andouille sausage.  That’s two-and-a-half pounds of succulent seafood for about forty dollars (as of this writing).  Being a lazy eater, my preference is for seafood requiring no peeling or cracking.  Extricating the sweet meat, no matter how delicious, is just too much work and I seem to lack the manual dexterity to use the cracking appliances provided.  My Kim would rather extract the crab meat for me than to see me wreak mass destruction on the claws.  

My favorite item in the family bag is the scallops (and not only because there’s no peeling or shelling involved).  Crackin’ Crab serves silver dollar sized scallops, each as sweet, rich and deliciously decadent as possible.  The shrimp are sizeable enough for the term “shrimp” to be an oxymoron while the black mussels probably benefit most from the Cajun sauce.  Because couples might not remain together if they had to split just one Andouille sausage, potato or corn-on-the-cob, you’re well advised to order at least two for each of you.  The spicy, smoked Andouille sausage is always a treat.

Crackin’ Crab has cracked the line-up of seafood boil restaurants par excellence in the metropolitan area. As if terrific seafood isn’t enough, when you’re done you can take your receipt two doors down to the outstanding chocolatier ChocoGlitz & Cream and you get a ten-percent discount on your order.

Cracking Crab Seafood Boil
10660 Unser Blvd, #B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 897-5790
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
BEST BET: Family Platter (One Pound Snow Crab, Half Pound Headless Shrimp, Half Pound Scallops, Half Pound Black Mussels, Corn on the Cob, Potatoes, Andouille Sausage) Bread

Crackin' Crab 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

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!

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.

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: 6 September 2016
1st VISIT: 31 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
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

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

Spinn’s Burgers & Beer – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Spinns Burger & Beer serves one of the very best burgers in the metropolitan area!

Like him or not, few would disagree that former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici was one of the most effective legislators on either side of the aisle.  Since his election to the United States Senate in 1972, “Saint Pete” as he is known by admirers and critics alike effectively directed the appropriation of significant federal largesse upon the Land of Enchantment. For many native New Mexicans, one of his shining moments came in 1983.  During a debate about the spelling of the word (chili or chile), Domenici clarified for the Congressional record that “chili” is “that inedible mixture of watery tomato soup, dried gristle, half-cooked kidney beans, and a myriad of silly ingredients that is passed off as food in Texas and Oklahoma.” 

Motivated by Dominici’s impassioned plea, on November 14, 1983 the Albuquerque Journal declared “The I’s of Texas are no longer on us.  ‘Chili is dead.  The only time we will use “i” will be when we quote the written word of some Texan.”  Not to be outdone, in January, 1988 a bipartisan bill was introduced in the New Mexico State Legislature threatening that any New Mexican who misspells “chile” as “chili will automatically be deported to Texas.  Ever an inclusive and progressive state, New Mexico’s tolerance for the aberrant spelling has been relaxed a bit, especially since some restaurants actually serve the Texan dish.  Spinn’s Burger & Beer comes to mind.

Something to see everywhere you turn

Many New Mexicans acknowledge that the word “chili” exists only as an aberration.   We spell the dish, plant and pod correctly–with an “e.” Place a bowl of hot Texas chili in front of a New Mexican and most of us would consume it (or attempt bravely to do so)–if only to deride it as anecdotal evidence that not only is its spelling incorrect, the product is inferior. Few of us will ever admit to admiring the concoction Texans proudly call chili and if we ever hit upon a bowl we actually like, we’re not going to tell anyone.

As a stubborn native New Mexican, I wouldn’t even begrudgingly admit to liking the Texas chili at Spinn’s Burgers & Beer–even if I did. The fact that I didn’t like it at all (the cumin was just overwhelming) makes writing about it more sincere. That chili is available as an appetizer in cup or bowl portions and even better (because the cumin is diluted a bit), as an option on Spinn’s Frank-n-Steins–plump, juicy sausages steamed in beer and available in three varieties, all served on poppy seed rolls and garnished as you like them.

A colorful mural littered with glitterati

The Frank-n-Stein is a jumbo all beef frank, the Polish-stein is a spicy Polish sausage (a dog that bites back) and the Brat-n-Stein is bratwurst steamed in beer and browned on the grill (have it with sauerkraut which is excellent). There are few hot dogs in Albuquerque as good as those offered at Spinn’s, a July, 2006 newcomer to the Albuquerque dining scene which closed in 2010 only to reopen in May, 2011, albeit in a smaller location within a mile of the original site.  In its new digs, Spinns has downsized significantly while retaining much of the charms which made it a very popular dining destination during its nearly four-year run.

The first restaurant venture for Texas born and bred entrepreneur Mike Spinn, the eponymous Spinns serves local hand-crafted Mable Micro Brew beers….but for me, the big draw is the food. Aside from “chili”  (my well-trained spellchecker is yelling at me about that horrid spelling), the menu includes gourmet burgers, flame-grilled Angus steaks and other Texas staples such as country fried chicken strips and gravy.

Green Chile Cheeseburger

The burgers start off as more than a third-pound of fresh ground Angus beef that’s never been frozen.  All burgers are served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions and mustard–all on the side so you can use them in the proportions you want.  Burgers are cooked medium-well unless you request otherwise.  Order the green chile cheeseburger with double meat and double cheese even though the menu indicates it’s made with green “chili” (why hasn’t Mike Spinn been deported to Texas for that offensive spelling).  It takes two hands to handle this baby  and five or six napkins to wipe your lips as you eat it.  There are two Wendy’s commercials which more aptly describe a burger at Spinn’s than they ever did at the perpetually third-place burger chain.  A Spinn’s burger answers the Wendy’s question “where’s the beef?”.  The beef overruns the bun at Spinn’s.  The second Wendy’s commercial befitting a Spinn’s burger is the one for the “hot and juicy” burger which required multiple napkins.

After our respective first bites during our inaugural visit, my friend Bill Resnik and I exclaimed almost in unison “Rex’s.”  Spinn’s burgers are indeed reminiscent of those served at Rex’s Hamburgers, an Albuquerque institution which closed in 2005 only to return in 2008. That’s a compliment.  That means the burgers are juicy and delicious.  While the green chili (aaargh!) is only mildly piquant (at least for this fire-eater), it is a flavorful addition to a delicious and well-seasoned burger (dare I say probably the very best burger on the Duke City’s west side). It’s also one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in the great state of New Mexico and would kick the butt of any burger in Texas.

Double-Double Texas BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger

A large lone star festoons one wall, an audacious display considering New Mexicans seem to have a bit of competitive disdain for their neighbor, but even the most proud New Mexican will embrace the Texas BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger.  This carnivore’s dream is best when served double-double style and prepared at medium.  Barbecue sauce is applied lightly–only enough to be faintly noticeable.  That allows the the meat and bacon to star.  The bacon is thick and smoky and the beef is juicy and flavorful.  Carbohydrate avoiders will love the beef at Spinn’s.

Few things go as well with burgers as French Fries, a culinary marriage that works best with crispy fries that don’t start off frozen and in a bag. At Spinn’s the fries are freshly cut and fried to order and are golden brown and delicious.  They’re easily some of the best fries in Albuquerque, by far better than the out-of-a-bag aberrations.   Spinn’s onion rings are large and sweet (possibly Vidalia onions) and are among the best restaurant onion rings on the West side.

Brat-n-Stein: A juicy Bratwurst in a gourmet dog bun

In addition to the Double/Double, Spinn’s signature gourmet burger line-up includes a Texas BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, a Queso burger (served open-face with queso), and an Armadillo Burger (a six-ounce all-beef patty, green chili, bacon and egg smothered in Texas chili and cheese placed on top of a flour tortilla) and a tortilla burger.  Extras include peppered bacon, avocados, cheese, mushrooms, green chili and an egg over easy.  You can also request a wheat bun on request.  The tortilla burger is excellent and an even better way to hold in all the juiciness of a very moist burger. 

Juiciness seems to be a hallmark of Spinn’s beef and not just on the burgers.   Spinn’s rendition of the Philadelphia Cheesesteak is one of the very best in the Duke City.  There are two ways you can have it–the conventional Philly style with onions and green peppers and New Mexico style with green chile.  An even better way would be to have it with onions, green peppers and New Mexican green chile.  The green chile has a nice bite to it, more than any other green chile Philly in town.  Spinn’s uses a very creamy white American cheese that goes very well with the beef.

Philly Cheesesteak New Mexico Style

My friend Señor Plata’s father once told him that chicken fried steak was something his family would eat during the great Depression.  It hasn’t stopped Señor Plata from enjoying it more than anyone I’ve met outside of Texas where chicken fried steak is practically a religion.  Texas born Mike Spinns obviously worshiped at that altar a few times.  His restaurant’s version is among the best in town.  The tenderized cube steak is thick and fork-tender.  It’s covered in a peppery gravy that  gives it wake-up qualities.  The chicken fried steak is served with two sides.

A large mural festoons the south wall of the Spinn’s location. Painted by popular local muralist Karen Deaton, it depicts several glitterati (including James Dean, Shirley Temple, Nat King Cole and Marilyn Monroe) enjoying themselves with beer and burgers.  On the mural’s bottom right corner was a sight familiar to anyone who’s driven in West Texas–an armadillo on its back. What most of us haven’t seen, however, is that armadillo quaffing a bottle of Lone Star beer while on its back. It’s a whimsical mural that kept your eyes busy while you waited for your food and beverage order. 

Spinns Chicken Fried Steak

I’m not sure Saint Pete would appreciate the menu’s malapropisms, but I’ll bet he’d like most of the food (except maybe the chili).

Spinn’s Burgers & Beer
4411 Montano Road, N.W., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 899-6180
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT
: 4 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chili Cheeseburger; Polish-Stein; Onion Rings; French Fries, Sweet Potato Fries, Texas BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, Philadelphia Cheesesteak (New Mexico Style), Chicken Fried Steak

Spinn's Burger & Beer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The County Line Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The County Line of Albuquerque, Just Two Miles From the World’s Longest Tramway

If you believe alcohol Prohibition, America’s federally mandated fourteen year social experiment with sobriety, ended with the passing of the 21st amendment in 1933, you would be wrong.  As of January, 2016, there were still about 200 “dry” counties (particularly in the Bible Belt) across the fruited plain with what most would consider excessively stringent liquor laws.  Residents of dry counties who want to indulge in their favorite adult beverage have but to drive to the county line of the nearest “wet” county where package stores and bars do a thriving business in alcohol sales. 

It might be a stretch to say that the “spirit” of the county line package stores and bars is alive and well at the County Line Restaurant Restaurant.  As with the package stores and bars at the “wet” side of the county line, the County Line Restaurant provides desired “goods” to customers otherwise unable to procure them.  The “goods” in this case is “bodacious barbecue,” and indeed there are many who contend that they have to drive to the County Line to get it.  A crowded parking lot certainly attests to the County Line Restaurant’s popularity as a purveyor of barbecue.

One of the County Line’s dining rooms

The County Line Restaurant was founded in 1975 in an old Austin, Texas speakeasy (a term coined during Prohibition that describes bars or nightclubs who dispensed alcohol illegally).  Today the County Line serves its award-winning barbecue in several Austin locations as well as in San Antonio and El Paso.  Albuquerque’s County Line (launched in 1980) is the furthest outpost from the original restaurant and the only one outside the great state of Texas.  Fortunately County Line aficionados across the fruited plain can obtain its legendary barbecue through the restaurant’s “Air Ribs” service which ships barbecue right to your door. 

Four principles define the County Line’s operational model: First: offer the highest quality smoked barbecue – ribs, brisket, sausage and chicken – with traditional sides of cole slaw, potato salad and beans. Second: provide these BBQ specialties in generous portions at reasonable prices. Next: offer friendly table service with linens and bar service. Finally: feature an authentic location that celebrates the heritage of Texas.  In 1975, the Texas State Legislature passed a resolution to recognize the County Line barbecue restaurant on “the occasion of its 30th anniversary of serving legendary barbecue to the state of Texas.”

House Bread

While virtually no one will dispute the superiority of Texas barbecue over New Mexico barbecue (though the Land of Enchantment’s barbecue is making endroads), Albuquerque’s County Line restaurant has something none of its Texas siblings have.  That’s a nearly unobstructed view of the spectacular Sandia Mountains which form a dramatic backdrop for the restaurant.  You’ll have to sit in the patio to enjoy that view, but because of the mountain’s proximity you’ll certainly appreciate how it acquired its name.  From inside the restaurant’s main dining rooms, the best views are panoramas of the city’s multi-hued summer sunsets and city lights the rest of the year.

The County Line’s ambience is stereotypical roadhouse with distressed wood appointments and legacy bric-a-brac strewn throughout. The cover of the menu is patterned after the “Big Chief” writing notebooks of my youth, complete with a stern countenanced Native American in full headdress (funny how the PC police haven’t gone on the warpath about that). It goes without saying that the menu is dominated by barbecue and smoked entrees, but you can also have any one of six third-pound Angus beef burgers and such Texas staples as chicken fried steak and chicken fried chicken.

Three Meat Platter: Brisket, Turkey, Pulled Pork

Three all-you-can-eat (AYCE) family style options are available only if the entire party on a table opts for one of the three AYCE choices: the “Country Style Meal,” “The Cadillac” and the “All You Can Stand.” All three options provide prodigious platters of barbecue meats bathed in a tangy sauce and are served family-style with the main differences being cost and entrees provided in each. The “Cadillac,” for example includes beef ribs, pork ribs, sausage, chicken and brisket for just under $30 a person.  The Cadillac is served with three sides: potato salad, coleslaw and beans as well as the County Line’s signature loaf of bread (white or wheat). 

For the non-gurgitators (competitive eaters) among us, smaller plates are available as are other sides.  Somewhat smaller than the AYCE options are the combo platters available with two, three or five meats served with your choice of two sides and the County Line’s complimentary bread.  If you want the restaurant’s “Famous Homemade Bread” it’s an extra charge, but worth the dough.  Among the sides, both the coleslaw and the potato salad are more tangy than sweet. Neither is particularly creamy, but they’re good alternatives to their runny, cloying counterparts served at some restaurants. The mushroom caps and corn-on-the-cob (in season) are excellent alternatives.  Even better (though not always on the menu) are ancho-maple glazed carrots with their sweet-piquant flavor profile.  You also won’t find better okra anywhere in Albuquerque than at the County Line.

Baby Back Ribs

The combo platters are an excellent option for those of us who like variety and don’t mind waddling out of the restaurant.  It stands to reason that one of the meats should be the marbled 2nd cut beef brisket.  Brisket is practically a religion in Texas and rightfully so.  The County Line’s brisket is among the best in the city, on par with the brisket at Powdrell’s.  The second (or the deckle) cut of brisket is the antithesis of any stringy, dry and chewy brisket you’ve ever had.  It’s juicy, succulent and pulls apart easily.  Moreover, it’s as flavorful as short ribs, but far less expensive.  Peppered turkey breast has been my favorite barbecued meat since the great Gary West of Rio Rancho’s Smokehouse introduced me to it.  The County Line’s version is terrific. 

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver is an aficionado of beef ribs.  At the County Line, beef ribs are Flintstonian in size and as meaty as ribs can be.  Baby back ribs, available in half- or full-rack sizes are also excellent.  A sweet and tangy sauce is lacquered on with the excess sauce lingering on the plate should you desire wetter ribs.  These ribs are nearly “fall-off-the-bone” tender with just a little pull that denotes a perfect degree of doneness.  Smoke permeates each morsel.  If you’re unable to finish your platter, fret not because they heat up nicely the next day and are just as delicious cold.

Peach Cobbler with Housemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Dessert options abound at the County Line.  Regardless of which post-prandial sweet you enjoy, ask for a side of the housemade ice cream.  It’s some of the very best in the city.  Echo that sentiment for the peach cobbler ala mode topped with vanilla bean ice cream. There’s just something special about the textural contrast of savory, flaky pie crust and sweet, tangy peaches.  Save for with a scoop or two of the vanilla bean ice cream, you can’t top this cobbler.

For more than a quarter-century, barbecue aficionados have made their way to the County Line Restaurant for a smoky taste of Texas with the magnificent panoramic views available only in the Duke City.

The County Line
9600 Tramway, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 856-7477
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 10
RATING: 19
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Babyback Ribs, Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Fried Okra, Ancho-Maple Glazed Carrots, Peppered Turkey Breast, Brisket, Pulled Pork

County Line Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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