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Marley’s Central Texas BBQ – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Marley’s Central Texas BBQ on the Northeast Corner of Montgomery and San Pedro

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.

The Texas proud interior

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.

Sliced Brisket and Elgin Sausage with Bacon Potato Salad and Coleslaw

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 has a pedigree which promises authenticity.  It starts with pit master Gene Woodson who cut his barbecue teeth in the Texas Hill Country.  Woodson lovingly tends to the smoker, slowly smoking meats anywhere from 15 to 18 hours over post oak obtained from an Austin area source.

Restaurant employees sport shirts emblazoned with the slogan “we smoke the good stuff.”  For the most part, the “good stuff” 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.”  Even pecans for the restaurant’s signature dessert, pecan pie, come from another central Texas city, San Saba which purports to be the “Pecan Capital of the World.”

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

Texans treat their flag with such reverence, respect and esteem that it’s not uncommon to see the state flag used to accent a home’s decor and furnishings.  The flag of the great state of Texas has a place of prominence in the dining room.  Other Texas accents include looped lassos and cowboy accoutrements on the walls as well as other stereotypical trappings.  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 pinto beans with fresh herbs and New Mexico green chiles, coleslaw 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).

Chopped Brisket Sandwich with Coleslaw

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.

Brisket Tacos

28 August 2014: The newest (as of August 28th) way in which Marley’s showcases its brisket is in 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.

Pecan Pie

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. 

Having visited about a month before I did, Shawne apprised me about an ordering process I might otherwise have found confusing.  Shawne observed that “everything about this place says, “order and pay at the counter, seat yourself and get your drinks, eat and throw away your trash afterward.”   Instead, a very pleasant and friendly wait staff will take care of your every need–even refilling your Big Red though the soda fountain dispenser is mere feet away.

Marley’s is the next best thing to eating at a barbecue restaurant in the Texas Hill Country of Central Texas. 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.  Give me New Mexico enchantment and Marley’s any day.

Marley’s Central Texas BBQ
6219 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-5962
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 August 2014
1st VISIT: 3 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Big Red, Pecan Pie, Sliced Brisket, Pork Spare Ribs, Elgin Sausage, Bacon Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Brisket Tacos, Chopped Brisket Sandwich

Marley's Central Texas BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thai Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Kitchen on the northwest corner of Alameda and Corrales Roads

Thai Kitchen on the northwest corner of Alameda and Corrales Roads

There is no good meat that their stupid cooks do not spoil with the sauce they make. They mix with all their stews a certain paste made of rotten prawns…which has such a pungent smell that it nauseates anyone not accustomed to it.”  No, that’s not a review published by a disgruntled diner on Urbanspoon or Yelp.  Nor is it Gil describing a chile dish to which liberal amounts of cumin were added.  This scathing indictment was written in 1688 by Gervaise, a Catholic missionary from France.  It was his tactless way of describing a Siamese meal at a diplomatic function he attended.

Much has changed since Gervaise disparaged and insulted the cuisine of what is today Thailand, the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized by a European power.  Gervaise, who would probably attribute the failure to conquer Thailand to the food, was probably not the first and he certainly wasn’t the only person to have criticized Thai food, but few have expressed it with such derision.

My friends Bill Resnik and Bruce

My friends Bill Resnik and Sr. Plata enjoying the last of their beverages after an excellent meal

Gervaise would no doubt be very surprised to discover how popular Thai food has become in the three centuries since his unsavory encounter.  Thai food ranked sixth in a recent survey designed to gauge the popularity of international foods across the world.  What’s most amazing about its popularity is that before the 1960s, Thai food wasn’t widely available outside Thailand’s borders.  That changed during the Vietnamese War when a large number of foreigners came to Thailand and were exposed to Thai food and culture. 

To accommodate pockets of Thai immigrants to America missing their beloved cuisine, small Thai restaurants began opening up in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.   By the early 1900s, there were more than 200 Thai restaurants in Los Angeles alone.   When my Kim and I moved back to New Mexico in 1995, we could count on one hand all the Thai restaurants in Albuquerque.  Today the Duke City boasts of some 23 restaurants serving Thai cuisine.  Among the elder statesmen, established in 1995, is Siam Cafe which, going into its second decade, remains one of the city’s most popular Thai restaurants.

Tod Mun Plar (Fish Cakes)

Tod Mun Plar (Fish Cakes)

May, 2014, saw the launch of Thai Kitchen on the northwest corner of the Alameda and Corrales intersection. The opening of a new Thai restaurant is reason enough for celebration, but even more so when the new Thai restaurant is the younger sibling of Siam Cafe, progenitor of some of the most enticing fragrances in town.   Thai cuisine aficionados will recognize the familiar smiling face of Art, the long-time host at Siam Cafe.  While his sister continues to own and operate Siam Cafe, Art is bringing the family operation to the burgeoning west side.

The Thai Kitchen is located at the former site of the Saffron Tiger Express, a popular Indian fast casual restaurant.  The most striking exterior feature of the Thai Kitchen is the steeple-shaped letter “A” on the word “Thai.”  It’s very representative of Thai architecture.  The restaurant’s interior may be the most beautiful of any Thai restaurant in town, a melange of soft, bright colors and dark masculine woods.  A statue of Buddha is poised on the capacious bar facing the seating area, a mix of booths and tables with good spacing.

Pork Satay

Pork Satay

Thai Kitchen’s menu is replete with many of the same items featured at Siam Cafe.  Alas, Art and his staff apparently don’t watch the Big Bang Theory because the menu doesn’t include mee krob, the favorite Thai dish of wunderkind Sheldon Cooper.   Because of the Big Bang Theory’s popularity, mee krob has become one of the most heavily requested items at Thai restaurants.  So has another Sheldon favorite, chicken satay with extra peanut sauce which can be found on the Thai Kitchen’s menu.

30 May 2014: You won’t lament the absence of mee krob for very long because there’s so much else to enjoy.  Start with Tod Mun Plar, one of the most popular appetizers in Thailand.  A deep-fried fishcake (tilapia) mixed with curry paste and fresh herbs, it’s served with a sweet-tangy cucumber salad, a surprisingly effective foil for the strong flavors of the thinly pounded fishcake. Tod mun plar seems to be an acquired taste among many diners. Though it’s among my favorite Thai appetizers, very few of my dining companions enjoy it so I end up being “stuck” with finishing it all (choruses of “awwww” here).

Tod Mun Plar (Fish Cakes)

Green Curry with Beef

22 August 2014: Shelton Cooper’s beloved chicken satay with extra peanut sauce is on the Thai Kitchen.  After a marinade in Thai spices and coconut cream, thinly-sliced chicken breasts are grilled on wooden skewers in a shish kebab fashion.  Four skewers of golden-hued chicken “Popsicles” are served with a traditional Thai peanut dipping sauce and a cucumber salad.  The contrast between the pungent, smoky satay and the sweet peanut sauce provides a nice balance of flavor though you should exercise restraint with the peanut sauce as too much will make the satay dessert sweet.  The cucumber salad is even sweeter. For better results, try the satay sans sauce.

30 May 2014: During an April, 2014 visit to Butcher & Bee in Charleston, South Carolina, this avowed Dagwood clone eschewed  a sandwich in favor of larb at one of the highest rated sandwich shops in America. Made well, Larb, the very popular “cooked salad” typically found on the menu at Thai and Lao restaurants, is better than almost anything.  Larb is essentially a meat dish, most often made with minced or ground beef, pork or chicken with healthful elements of a salad.  The Thai Kitchen’s larb is made with grilled chopped chicken, mint, cilantro, Thai chiles, greens, lime juice and fish sauce.  It’s a very refreshing salad with qualities that’ll make your mouth tingle with appreciation.

Massaman Curry

Massaman Curry

30 May 2014: During my inaugural visit to any Thai restaurant it doesn’t matter what the acknowledged specialty of the house is, I’m going to order a curry dish. Thai curry offers some of the most olfactory-arousing fragrances of any dish.   Prepared well, its flavors deliver on the promises made by the fragrances which precede it.  Thai Kitchen’s green curry certainly delivers on its aromatic promises, but not as much on the renowned Thai heat.  At “Thai hot” as I ordered it, the curry should have been the overpowering taste sensation.  Instead, the green curry delivered on yet another promise of Thai cuisine–that of balance.  With a harmony of flavors, the green curry was sweet, sour, spicy, salty and pungent, not in equal measures, but with good balance.  It’s a very good green curry. 

22 August 2014: The one curry which tends to appeal even to avowed curry haters is Massaman curry which, unless otherwise requested, is milder than other curries.  It’s also sweeter thanks to the influx of coconut milk, cardamom, cinnamon and sugar.  Xenophobes might be interested to know that one spelling of this curry is derived from an ancient form of the word “Muslim” and in fact, this dish is often referred to as “Muslim curry” in some areas.  It was indeed Muslim traders who brought the spices used in the dish from India and the Middle East to the southern portion of modern day Thailand.  Thai Kitchen’s version includes potatoes, tomatoes and your choice of pork, chicken, beef, tofu or vegetables.  The fragrance emanating from a bowl of Massaman curry is equal to the tongue-titillating flavors of this excellent elixir.

Larb

Larb

30 May 2014: In four visits to Thai Kitchen, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver has become so besotted by the spicy jungle noodle dish that he has yet to order any other entree.  It’s a dish as exotic as its name and even more delicious: flat noodles, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms and your choice of chicken, beef or pork infused with Thai spices which impart sweet, savory and piquant taste sensations.  The noodles are absolutely perfectly prepared and the vegetables are al dente and fresh. As with the aforementioned green curry, “hot” was discernible, but at this Thai restaurant, pain is not a flavor.

Tod Mun Plar (Fish Cakes)

Spicy Jungle Noodle

Gervaise would probably have found a myriad of things not to like about the Thai Kitchen (you can’t please some people), but most Duke City diners will thoroughly enjoy the Thai Kitchen, especially if they also love Siam Cafe.

Thai Kitchen
1071 Corrales Road, N.W., Suite 23
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-0059
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 22 August 2014
1st VISIT: 30 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Noodle Jungle, Tod Mun Plar, Green Curry, Larb, Massaman Curry, Pork Satay

Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Basil Leaf – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Basil Leaf on Eubank just south of Constitution

“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed Popemobiles
through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East,
eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds?
Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew,
the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head?
I know what I want. I want it all.  I want to try everything once.”
- Anthony Bourdain

Genesis 11 recounts a time when the entire world had a common language and dwelt as one people.  Alas, hubris overtook the generations of survivors of the great flood who decided, with great unity of purpose, to build a city named Babel with a tower that would reach to heaven itself.  God immediately knew this “stairway to heaven” was essentially a self-aggrandizing monument to the people themselves, calling attention to their own abilities and achievements instead of giving glory to God.  Consequently, God confused their language, causing them to speak different languages so they would not understand one another.  He also scattered the people of the city all over the face of the Earth. 

Some Biblical scholars believe this event marks the point in history when God divided the Earth into separate continents.  Whether or not you believe this Old Testament account, there’s no denying some good would ultimately came from such a division of humanity.  That may be especially true from a culinary perspective.  It stands to reason that a common language and proximal dwelling would limit the diversity of culinary thought and opportunities.  Conversely, the more the population spread out across the wide expanse of climatic and topographical variation, the more diverse the culinary opportunities.

The front dining room at Basil Leaf

Why then, in an increasingly connected and informed world, do so many people limit their culinary opportunities and refuse to deviate from their culinary comfort zones?  It’s a matter long pondered by many of us who look upon Anthony Bourdain’s aforementioned sagacity as a marching order–those of us who want it all, who want to try everything at least once.  Culinary bon vivants see the diversity of dining as an adventure, an experience to be cherished and repeated.  It’s because we have this sense of adventure that we love the diversity proffered by such  restaurants as the Basil Leaf on Eubank.  

Heck without the culinary diversity resultant from topographical and climatic variety around the world we might not even have basil itself. Basil is one of the most popular culinary herbs in the world, a richly aromatic, slightly spicy ameliorant to many of the best dishes proffered at all Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.  Also known as “hairy basil” and by its Thai name of “horapa”, it’s used in salads, soups, curries and as a garnish.  The aroma of Thai basil is stronger and sweeter than its Italian counterpart and it has a peppery flavor slightly reminiscent of star anise. It’s no wonder so many Thai and Vietnamese restaurants across the country are named for this diverse and revered herb.

Vietnamese Crepe with Pork

The Basil Leaf occupies one of those seemingly cursed restaurant locations in Albuquerque, a venue which has seen a number of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants give it the old college try before succumbing to both economic malaise and absence of culinary adventurers.  Perhaps the Basil Leaf  has the familial pedigree to succeed where others have failed.  Family members include Tony Trinh who owns and operates Relish, one of the Duke City’s most popular sandwich shops.  Other family members own and operate Pacific Rim, the only Vietnamese restaurant in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The menu at Basil Leaf isn’t quite the voluminous compendium you’ll find at other Vietnamese restaurants throughout the Duke City. The menu is segmented by related fare: appetizers, beef noodle soup (pho), rice dishes, stir-fried noodles, vermicelli, kid’s menu and beverages.  Unless you’ve got a predetermined notion what you’re in the mood for you’ll spend some time perusing the menu.  It’s a terrific menu promising a culinary adventure in every bite.

The very best clay pot rice dish in Albuquerque

For some reason, the Vietnamese crepe is listed as an appetizer.  Whether deliberate or an anomaly, you’ll marvel at the size of this golden-hued (courtesy of tumeric) beauty.  Resembling a well-engorged egg omelet, the half-moon shaped crepe takes up half the plate.  The other half is covered by fresh, crisp vegetables: a shredded carrot and daikon salad, whole leaf lettuce and sprigs of basil.  It’s much like the vegetable accompaniment for pho.  The Vietnamese crepe, made from coconut milk and rice flour, is stuffed with savory ingredients: bean sprouts, white onions and green onions and is served with fish sauce and your choice of tofu, shrimp, pork or chicken.  Though the crepe itself has a slightly sweet flavor, it’s rare that Vietnamese crepes are stuffed with sweet fillings or toppings.  Pan-fried so they’re just slightly crispy, the crepes have a mild flavor profile for which the tangy, acidic, slightly piquant fish sauce is a perfect foil.  At Basil Leaf, the Vietnamese crepe is an appetizer built for two, especially if you have any expectation of enjoying an entree, too. 

Alas, the best laid plans of gastronomes often go astray.  After consuming the entire crepe, my plan was to sample a few bites of my entree then take the rest home for my Kim to enjoy.  The Sizzling Clay Pot Rice dish had other ideas.  It would ensnare me with its preternatural deliciousness and it wouldn’t let me go until nary a grain of rice remained on the clay pot.  This is a dish which earns its name.  It remained almost too hot to eat even after the Vietnamese crepe was a memory  As you eat, the clay pot remains piping hot throughout your meal which allows the slightly smoky sauce of your choice of meat or tofu to caramelize and waft invitingly for the duration of your meal.  For this reason, clay pot cooking is popular throughout Asia where the clay pot is used as both pot and serving dish.  Aside from rice, this dish contains broccoli, Vietnamese sausage, mushrooms, cashews, cilantro and green onion along with your choice of pork, tofu, shrimp, beef, chicken or a combination thereof.  To the pork goes my highest recommendation.  It’s got a smoky, wok-fried flavor and light sweetness that comes from a sweet-savory-tangy marinade that renders the pork’s edges a reddish hue.  Only the Chicken with Chinese Basil in Hot Pot at China Luck is in the rarefied company of this fabulous hot pot dish.

Basil Leaf is the type of restaurant good enough to convert even the nay-sayers who rarely stray outside their culinary comfort zones.  Moreover, it’s the type of restaurant culinarily adventurous diners love best for its authenticity and oh, those basil-enhanced taste explosions.

Basil Leaf
1225 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 323-2594
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Vietnamese Crepe, Clay Pot Rice

Basil Leaf on Urbanspoon