America may be a multicultural melting pot, but thriving within its most populous metropolises are ethnic neighborhoods–pockets of diversity residing in two worlds, retaining many of the cultural and culinary traditions of their motherland while integrating into and pursuing the American dream. Cities such as Chicago have long realized that these ethnic enclaves offer a treasure trove of cultural and culinary experiences. Most of these neighborhoods welcome culinary tourism–the opportunity to showcase the cuisine of their homelands.
One such example is the city of Chicago which boasts of the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw (as many as 183,000 by some estimates) in the world. Storefronts and restaurants in “Little Poland” on Chicago’s far Northwest side are bedecked in the white and red flag of Poland. They offer everything from pierogies to kielbasa. Every Labor Day weekend Chicago celebrates its Polish heritage at the Taste of Polonia festival where Polish cuisine and culture are showcased.
Obviously Albuquerque doesn’t have the population to support a “Chinatown” or a “Little Poland,” but the Duke City does offer multicultural dining diversity. Although several of the city’s ethnic restaurants are clustered throughout the International District, many others are strewn throughout the metropolitan area where they’ve integrated into the fabric of neighborhoods which may or may not have an ethnic population base. One such restaurant is the Red Rock Deli which opened its doors in October, 2014 in the far Northeast Heights. Featuring the cuisine of Poland and Eastern Europe, the Red Rock Deli sits on Lomas just west of Tramway.
If you’ve ever been blessed with the opportunity to visit Chicago’s Little Poland, the Red Rock Deli will seem very familiar once you step within its doors. To your immediate right are shelves stocked with comestibles such as red borscht, sauerkraut, jams and so much more. Make sure to peruse the freezers where savory and sweet pierogies, stuffed cabbage and other items can be purchased. Other shelves are jam-packed with candy, cookies, beverages and other grocery items not usually found in Duke City stores.
Owner Mark Toczek spent his formative years in Poland before moving first to Germany then to Chicago (which he visits frequently to stock up on the items which grace his shelves and his deli’s menu). In 1995, he launched the Red Rock General Store in Blanca, Colorado just outside the Great Sand Dunes National Park about 1.5 hours north of Taos. The Red Rock General Store has long been TripAdvisor‘s highest rated restaurant in the area.
Mark, who launched the Red Rock Deli in October, 2014, is an effusive and hands-on owner with a high likeability quotient and a welcoming smile for everyone. He operates the deli with his mother Jadwiga. While the walls are papered with imagery depicting New York’s subway system (a remnant from the years in which the store housed a Subway restaurant), the menu is proudly and prominently Chicago and not just the Little Poland section of the Windy City.
Our eyes immediately gravitated on the menu to the Italian Beef sandwich, a Chicago staple. Also catching our eyes was menudo, a New Mexico favorite among intrepid diners. The menu has four sections, the first of which lists three Polish sausage options. Six hot dogs (including Chicago-style and a New Yorker) precede twelve sandwich options (including Angus hamburgers) on the menu. The “specialties” section of the menu lists the Polish specialties along with the aforementioned menudo and blood sausage.
It’s not often (if ever) the term Russian Roulette elicits salivation, but at the Red Rock Deli you just might find yourself drooling at the mention. Russian Roulette is a mix of six different kinds of pierogi (a sweet Russian Roulette option offers six different kinds of pierogi with sweet stuffing) from among the nine variants of savory stuffing available at Red Rock. For a pittance, you can have the pierogi fried with onions and bacon. It’s a winning combination.
The pierogi are about the size of a Chinese dim sum dumpling or about two bites worth. They’re served with a generous dollop of sour cream, not that it’s needed when you can scoop them up with crispy bacon and onions fried to a pearlescent sheen. Among the nine available options with which the pierogi can be stuffed are potato, sauerkraut, ground meat, cabbage and spinach. All are very good with our very favorite being the spinach stuffing. In our increasingly cosmopolitan world in which the unusual and unique are embraced, it’s nice to enjoy old-fashioned and traditional pierogi.
Of the three Polish sausage options, we couldn’t pass up the one anadiplotic name–Polish Polish, a hot dog style sandwich with Polish sausage, brown mustard and pickled jalapeños. What you’ll notice first about the Polish Polish is the bolillo-style bread which resembles the bread used on Sonoran hot dogs. Mark procures this bread from Colorado. It’s so good you’ll want to use it on all your future sausage and hot dogs. It has a dense and crusty exterior and a soft, pillowy interior. The Polish sausage nestled within that bread is procured from Chicago and is sliced diagonally. It’s a coarse, garlicky and smoky sausage with a natural casing that snaps when you bite into it. The pearlescent onions and pickled jalapeños complement the sausage very well.
For my Chicago born-and-bred Kim, only a Chicago-style hot dog would do though by omitting the tomatoes, pickles, jalapeño (normally sport peppers are used) and even the celery salt, you could hardly call it a traditional Chicago hot dog. Its only claims to Chicago were the neon green relish, mustard and a Vienna Beef hot dog directly from Chicago. Vienna Beef hot dogs have a natural casing that gives them a discernible snap when you bite into them. The same delightful buns used on the Polish Polish sheath the hot dog which extends beyond the bun by a good inch on both sides.
Among the foods most expatriated Chicagoans tend to miss most–no matter where they may settle–is the uniquely Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich, about which Thrillist wrote “Some cities were built on rock ‘n’ roll, but Chicago was built on big, greasy meat mountains on rolls.” The Italian Beef sandwich features thinly-sliced, slow-roasted roast beef dripping with homemade Italian gravy on a dense, long Italian-style roll. There are at least four Duke City eateries now serving Italian Beef sandwiches and (with apologies to Pizza 9) perhaps none of them make a better one than the Red Rock Deli. Quite simply, it’s got all the elements of an authentic Chicago Italian beef sandwich and can be prepared with your choice of sweet peppers or hot giardiniera (or both). It’s Chicago good!
Dessert options include the aforementioned sweet pierogi and nalesniki, crepes stuffed with sweet farmer cheese fried in butter and served with sour cream and powdered sugar. Texturally similar to cottage cheese, farmer cheese is a fresh, dry-curd cheese with a tangy flavor. Stuffed into crepes topped with powdered sugar, this dessert is rich and delicious without the cloying flavor of too many crepes.
The Red Rock Deli is a welcome addition to Albuquerque’s increasingly diverse culinary scene. You need not know anything about Polish cuisine. If you love a great hot dog, a terrific sandwich or a Chicago style deli, you’ll be right at home.
Red Rock Deli
13025 Lomas Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 21 November 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Italian Beef Sandwich, Classic Hotdog, Polish Polish, Nalesniki, Russian Roulette