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Paddy Rawal’s OM- Fine Indian Dining – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Behind the glass, Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining Restaurant

It wasn’t New Mexico’s Chamber of Commerce winter weather that enticed Chef Pramad “Paddy” Rawal to remain in the Land of Enchantment. In fact, when he first landed at Albuquerque’s International Sunport, he wondered if he had gotten on the correct flight. Albuquerque was as frigid as his home in Michigan which he had left just hours prior. Attired in clothing more appropriate for a balmy spring day, Paddy had certainly not anticipated the winter snap that kept New Mexicans indoors for several days on that uncommonly cold December in 2010.

Paddy was in New Mexico to visit his artist friends Dick and Jane in Santa Fe. Michigan transplants themselves, his friends had long tried to influence Paddy to leave the Wolverine State and open up a restaurant in Santa Fe. They wined and dined their guest and did their best to point out the charms of the capital city, but Mother Nature would not cooperate. Then they took him to a couple of New Mexico’s most highly regarded Indian restaurants. That’s when he came to the conclusion that what passes for good Indian food in New Mexico wasn’t good enough for his friends. Four months later, Paddy opened up Raaga Fine Indian Dining in Santa Fe.

The interior of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant in Albuquerque

From day one Raaga has been a huge critical success in The City Different, beloved not only by a very grateful Dick and Jane, but by Santa Fe’s savvy, well-traveled dining public. The feeling is very much mutual. Paddy has fallen in love with Santa Fe and sees himself as potentially retiring in New Mexico. Considering the well-traveled Paddy has worked as a chef in India, Egypt, Dubai, Australia and Michigan, that’s quite a testament to enchantment and to much better weather than what first welcomed him to the state.

With the November 1st, 2012 launch of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant, Duke City diners have begun to experience for themselves what Santa Fe diners now know and what East Lansing diners have been missing since Paddy closed his two Michigan eateries. OM may be in a class of its own in New Mexico when it comes to fine Indian dining! A number of infatuated patrons, including Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, have already become confirmed habitues. In short order, OM will have legions of pleased patrons.

Chef Paddy Rawal brings Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken to our Table

The main reason, of course, is the cuisine. Boasting of rich, intricately flavored dishes prepared with the finest spices, freshest herbs and highest quality ingredients, OM takes Northern Indian fare to new heights, even incorporating local Southwest elements as well as Chinese dishes to create imaginative and sophisticated fusions of deliciousness.   There are two aspects of Indian cuisine at which OM exceeds.  One is in the use of spices, the true legacy of India’s culinary heritage.  While the primary function of spices is to enhance the flavor of food, it is experience and tradition which determine their optimal use, whether it be to season food, enhance its texture or introduce color.  The other aspect is in the preparation of sauces, each one designed to bring out the finest qualities of the ingredients on which they’re used.  

The other reason OM will, in short order, become a Duke City favorite is Paddy Rawal himself. A peripatetic presence, Paddy is the consummate host and a veritable whirling dervish who is seemingly everywhere at once. He wears the stains of spilled sauces on his chef’s coat as a badge of honor, evidence that he himself is preparing the incomparable cuisine himself. Expect him to check up on you frequently to ensure your dining experience is as good as it can be. Paddy is a very engaging, charming and modest fellow, quick to turn compliments about his cooking into something praiseworthy he noticed about you. Interacting with satisfied customers is imperative to him.

Stuffed Dried Fruit Naan and Chana Chaat with Mango Lasi

The OM menu offers an exciting culinary journey into superior taste and flavor, into subtle nuances and exotic complexity, into delicate spice blends and rich, creamy sauces.   All dishes can be ordered mild, medium, hot, hell or any variation thereof (medium plus for example). A daily lunch buffet–at a ridiculously low price considering the quality–features various vegetarian, vegan and meat dishes as well as rice, salad, naan and dessert.  Now if you’re sniggering at the seemingly contradictory notion of a fine dining restaurant offering a buffet, you’ll salute Paddy’s prowess at making all-you-can-eat a sublime offering.  With a menu that showcases vegetarian and vegan options as well as seafood and meat entrees, there truly is something for everyone at OM.

12 November 2012:  Thus far, Albuquerque’s favorite OM appetizer is chana chaat, one of the most popular of Indian street foods and not only because it can be served as a side dish, snack or salad. OM’s rendition combines chickpeas, cucumber, blueberries, whole wheat crisps, tomatoes, mint chutney and sweetened yoghurt. It’s a refreshing adventure in bright and lively flavors and textures, an absolute delight because so many flavors coalesce on your taste buds.  Those flavors are both contrasting and complementary, flavors that play off each other.

Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken (Bone-In Chicken, a Thigh and a Breast)

My mom, a tortillera in the most traditional sense  may disown me for this, but I’ve come to prefer naan to tortillas, even those she prepares with love on her seasoned comal.  OM offers nine varieties of naan, a flat, leavened bread made of white flour and baked in a tandoor; and roti, its wheat counterpart which is cooked on  a flat griddle. Now, three baskets of naan is far too many for a meal for two, but when you can’t make up your minds, order to your hearts’ content because you’ll have wonderful naan for later. Three distinctive varieties with which we fell in love are the rosemary-olive oil naan, stuffed cheese naan and stuffed dried fruit naan.  Each has its unique flavor profile with the commonality being a pinto pony-like char and a light burnishing with clarified butter (ghee).  Whether you nosh on the naan, dip it into a chutney or use it to sop up a superb sauce, you’ll savor every bite.

While Ancho and Amchur in combination may sound like a suppressed sneeze, they’re actually spices which Paddy employs.  New Mexicans are more familiar with Ancho, a powder made from a type of chile that lends a rich, subtle piquancy to foods.  Amchur, a greenish-yellowish powder of dried mangoes, lends the quality of fruity-sweetness, but not to a cloying degree.  The qualities of these two complementary spices are well in evidence on the Ancho-Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken.  The spices penetrate deeply into the bone-in thigh and breast, imparting a slight piquancy and tanginess to the tandoor grilling.  As if the moist, tender, delicious chicken isn’t wonderful enough, OM includes a sauce which also utilizes those spices.  It makes a terrific dipping sauce for the chicken or for the naan.

Seafood Korma (Scallops, Shrimp, Mahi Mahi, Cashew Cream Sauce)

Korma Sutra might be an appropriate descriptor for the Seafood Korma which just may have a foodgasm effect on your taste buds. Korma, a Northern Indian specialty, is a mild and creamy curry sauce with a distinctively rich, almost silky flavor.  The basis for Korma is a mixture of yoghurt, cream and pureed cashews blended with toasted spices.  OM prepares it to your specified level of piquancy, however, ask for any potency beyond  medium and you risk degrading the rich, complex flavors of the spice and sauce meld.  The seafood–scallops, shrimp and mahi mahi–is slowly simmered in the sauce so it’s infused with flavor.  This may well be the most memorable Korma dish I’ve had, besting my previous favorite from an Indian restaurant in London.  The portion size is generous so you’ll be taking some home.  You’ll luxuriate in the aromas that fill your kitchen.

Desserts, if you manage to save room for them, are outstanding!  The carrot pudding (halwa), a wonderfully unique dessert composed of grated carrots and ground nuts prepared in butter and boiled milk then lightly sweetened with raisins, is my early favorite.  Served warm, it showcases the natural sweetness of carrots while removing any residual bitterness.  At the other end of the spectrum texturally is mango kulfi, an Indian ice cream that is more dense and “more frozen” than American ice creams.  Besides mango, the most pronounced flavor comes from sweetened condensed milk complemented with cardamom.

Carrot Pudding and Mango “Kulfi” (House-made ice cream)

18 February 2013: Paddy pays tribute to the Land of Enchantment with a stuffed Poblano, a New Mexican-Indian fusion appetizer served with a side of mint-coriander chutney.  You’ll recognize the “innards” as the contents with which Indian Samosas are stuffed: spiced mashed potatoes and peas.  The Poblano barely registers on the Scoville Scale of piquancy, but the chutney seems to bring out whatever heat is inherent with the pepper.  While this is a nice dish, my native pride would have preferred a nicely roasted New Mexico Hatch green chile. 

As noted above, OM specializes in naan, the wonderful Indian flat bread prepared in a tandoor.  Roti is the whole wheat alternative, a wedge-shaped bread often found in Malaysian restaurants, too.  OM’s roti is quite good though not as moist and buttery as the naan.  Still, it’s not a bread any diner would kick off their plate.  As with naan, the roti goes very well with chutneys, especially the tamarind.

Stuffed Poblano with Mint-Coriander Chutney

Stuffed Poblano with Mint-Coriander Chutney

OM’s menu includes a number of Indian-Chinese fusion dishes.  Ask Paddy why he would combine the flavors of two ancient culinary traditions and he will remind you he’s a chef–not a chef who specializes in Indian food, but a chef formally trained in more than ten different cuisines.  He hopes someday to launch, perhaps in San Francisco, a restaurant showcasing a fusion of Italian and Indian food.  Paddy has already conceptualized several dishes he hopes to introduce to intrepid diners. 

You don’t have to be an adventurous diner to appreciate OM’s Chilli (SIC) Chicken, boneless chicken sauteed and cooked with ginger and garlic then finished in a tomato-based Szechuan sauce.  Appearances can be very deceptive.  At first glance you might think the crimson sauce will be as cloying as most Chinese sweet and sour sauces, but that’s certainly not the case.  The sauce has a savory-tart flavor profile, emphasizing the sour (but not overly so) aspects of sweet and sour.  The all white meat boneless chicken is tender and moist.  Vegetables–red and green peppers, onions–are perfectly prepared. 

Chilli Chicken

Chilli Chicken

Diners who enjoy Thai curry, but who don’t necessarily appreciate the qualities of Indian curry will almost certainly enjoy OM’s Chicken Madras, perhaps the one dish most responsible for winning over converts to Indian cuisine.  Named for the city of Madras, it’s a dish as varied as the hundreds of recipes from which it’s prepared.  This hearty tomato-based curry is redolent with the spices of curry leaves, ginger, mustard, coconut milk and peppercorn.  It can be prepared to the degree of heat you desire, but too much piquancy and you might not appreciate the richness and sophistication of the flavors.  Chicken Madras may be the perfect winter entree, as heart-warming an entree as your favorite winter soup. 

OM, by the way, is not an abbreviation.  It represents a mystical Sanskrit sound of Hindu origin, a sacred chant considered the “primordial seed” of the universe.  Om is considered the “root mantra” from which all other mantras emerge.  Ancient sages believed that through chanting om, one can experience the infinite within themselves. 

Chicken Madras

Chicken Madras

In 2012, Raaga was selected as one of the best new restaurants in America by Kunda Eats, the only restaurant in New Mexico honored. It will surprise absolutely no one if OM garners a similar accolade in 2013.  Duke City diners will beat a path to this restaurant, already one of the best in the city in any genre–and the path is familiar, too.  OM is located at the former site of Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine.

Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining
7520 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2013
1st VISIT: 12 November 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 24
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Chana Chaat, Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken, Seafood Korma, Carrot Pudding, Mango Kulfi, Mango Lassi,


View Paddy Rawal’s ‘OM’- Fine Indian Dining on LetsDineLocal.com »

Paddy Rawal's 'OM'- Fine Indian Dining on Urbanspoon

Ezra’s Place – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Ezra’s Place, the second restaurant launched by extraordinary chef Dennis Apodaca

When it comes to food, most bowling alleys strike out.  Ardent keglers are subjected to such catastrophic “cuisine” as perpetually rotating hot dogs seared to a leathery sheen under a heat lamp inferno, soppy messes of nachos bathed in gloppy processed cheese topped with gelatinous jalapeños and greasy onion rings with the texture of fried rubber bands and as oily as well-slicked lanes.  Getting something edible at most bowling alleys is as tough as picking up a seven-ten split.

Los Ranchos de Albuquerque has somehow managed to buck the national trend of bad bowling alley food–or at least the Lucky 66 Bowling Alley on Fourth Street has.  The Lucky 66 (then known as Sun Valley Bowl) was once the home of Sadie’s Dining Room, one of the Duke City area’s most popular dining destinations.  After Sadie’s split for more commodious confines, Dean’s Mexican Food moved in and fed Duke City bowlers and diners in the know for a few years.  When Dean’s departed, other victual vendors tried, but couldn’t pin down the secrets to success in serving food at a bowling alley

The interior of Ezra’s Place, hardly your typical bowling alley restaurant

Visitors to the historical Fourth Street bowling alley will notice colorful signage on the exterior north-facing wall of the yawning complex and might initially attribute it to some of the city’s very creative taggers, but it’s not some gang named Ezra’s staking its territory with graffiti that’s at work here.  Ezra’s Place is the second Fourth Street restaurant venture of the phenomenal chef Dennis Apodaca, braintrust behind Sophia’s Place, one of the city’s very best restaurants.

Ezra’s Place is named for Dennis’s son, a well-mannered teenager who helps out on weekends.  Sophia’s Place is named for Dennis’s daughter so if the naming conventions formula holds true, he probably won’t open another restaurant since he’s only got two children (and a lovely step-daughter who also helps out at both restaurants).

Salsa, chips and guacamole at Ezra's

Salsa, chips and guacamole at Ezra’s

Ezra’s Place is antithetical to Sophia’s in terms of seating capacity.  While Sophia’s is tiny and crowded, Ezra’s is capacious.  Ezra’s Place launched in late September, 2008, but the word got out quickly and it wasn’t long before Dennis’s dining disciples made the pilgrimage almost directly across the street from Sophia’s.

It’s not only the seating area that’s capacious.  The kitchen at Ezra’s dwarfs the confining kitchen at Sophia’s (although as Guy Fieri said, “little place, huge flavors.”)  As a result, Dennis has been able to expand his menu and feature even more of the creative and funky, New Mexican influenced dishes that have garnered him acclaim as an Über chef.  He’s also been able to expand hours of operation and serve dinner five nights a week.  Ezra’s Place is open from 11AM to 9PM Tuesday through Saturday and from 9AM to 2PM on Sundays.

Chiliquiles with red chili-roasted tomato sauce and black beans with bacon

As at Sophia’s, the ambiance at Ezra’s is colorful and interesting.  Unframed and very colorful paintings festoon the walls.  Most, particularly those of anthropomorphic dogs will have you do a double-take in an appreciative sort of way.  The restaurant is situated on a second level of the brightly illuminated bowling alley, but the sound of pins crashing down is muffled by distance.  What you’re more likely to hear are compliments to the chef and utterances of sheer enjoyment.

The Saturday and Sunday brunch is like a “best of” from among some of the wonderful specials with which Dennis tantalized taste buds at Sophia’s.  There are only about a dozen standard items on the brunch menu plus the special (in every sense of the word) pancakes and scrawled on a slate board near the entrance are brunch specials, some of which I don’t recall ever seeing at Sophia’s.

Sour cream and lemon pancakes

Because brunch means breakfast and lunch, you can also order from the expansive lunch menu, adding another dozen or so options from which to choose.  We had the pleasure of sharing our inaugural brunch at Ezra’s Place with Sandy Driscoll, our friend from Los Angeles.  Brunch is best with friends like Sandy who have sophisticated palates and a great sense of adventure–friends from whose plates you can sample, friends who won’t order the same thing you do.  It allows for trying more of the menu and comparing notes on what’s good and what’s not as good.

We didn’t find anything at Ezra’s for which the adjective “good” would suffice. Everything started at “great” and got better from there. Greatness would certainly be ascribed to the fried calamari with the house dipping sauces.  Each whisper-thin, batter-coated ringlet is surprisingly fresh with the perfect texture that’s neither too chewy or too crispy, but a balanced medium.  Two sauces accompany the calamari.  The first is a Balsamic reduction with equal pronouncements of sweet and tangy.  This one is so good that I tried it with pancakes and it passed muster.  The second is a jalapeño Ranch dressing.  This one has a piquant bite to it, but also a hint of dill.  No doubt Dennis made these dipping sauces from scratch as he’s apt to do with most things on the menu.

Two fried eggs over medium, pork chop topped with green chile, refried black beans, papitas and a tortilla

In New Mexico, chips, salsa and guacamole are the three amigos people most want on their dinner tables.  The chips are homemade and served warm.  They’re also thin and low in salt, a healthful, delicious combination.  Neither of the salsas–a roasted tomato and chipotle salsa and a salsa fresca akin to a pico de gallo–are particularly piquant, but both are very flavorful and tend to complement rather than dominate the flavors of anything to which they are added.

The special pancakes of the day is a brunch tradition at Sophia’s Place and it continues at Ezra’s.  With any luck, you’ll visit Ezra’s when the featured pancakes are the ricotta and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with fresh berries.  The tartness of the berries and lemon create a palate pleasing harmony with the maple syrup (yes, the real stuff). The sour cream changes the texture of standard pancakes by adding moistness while retaining the fluffiness inherent in great pancakes.

Chiles Rellenos

Chiles Rellenos

Some of the aforementioned specials which sometimes graced Sophia’s menu are standard offerings at Sophia’s.  One such special at Sophia’s but standard at Ezra’s are the chiliquiles with red chili-roasted tomato sauce served with black beans and two long strips of crispy bacon.  Chiliquiles are an interesting dish, seldom prepared the same way by different cooks.  Dennis’s rendition holds true to some of the dishes traditional aspects, but being the maverick (eat your heart out John McCain) he is, he also imparts his own creative flair into what is otherwise a simple dish.

The basis of chiliquiles are soft tortillas on top of which eggs (any style) are added.  In Dennis’s version, the chili-roasted tomato sauce is actually layered below the eggs which are topped with queso fresco.  This dish truly brings with it an explosion of flavors, textures and contrasts–the medium piquancy of delicious red chile, the acidity and tanginess of a homemade tomato sauce and so much more.  It is a very enjoyable entree.

Two shrimp tacos (Santa Barbara shrimp) with a guacamole salsa, refried black beans and a greens salad

A chile relleno trio sure to tantalize your taste buds starts with chilaca chiles, a mild to medium-hot chile with a rich flavor.  Fully mature the chilaca chiles have a dark greenish or maybe even dark brown appearance.  When dried, these chiles take on a dark, wrinkled skin and are known as pasilla chiles.  What Dennis does with the chilaca chiles is akin to culinary wizardry, stuffing them three ways.  One is stuffed with black beans refried in duck confit (a flavor escalation that places the beans in rarified company as some of the very best I’ve ever had).  One is stuffed with tomatillo and one with a roasted tomato and red chile sauce.  All three are topped with goat cheese and Asadero cheese then drizzled with a creme fraiche.

From the lunch side of the menu, you might want to try the Poblano chili relleno with calabasitas, Asadero cheese and tomatillo sauce.  The poblano has slightly more piquancy than a bell pepper, but when roasted properly imbues the qualities of freshness and fruitiness to an entree.  This is a poblano on steroids, a corpulent pepper engorged with fresh calabasitas and Asadero cheese.  The tomatillo sauce is a Dennis Apodaca specialty, one which he demonstrated for host Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Wagyu Beef Burger with Grilled Onions and Blue Cheese accompanied by Ezra’s famous shoestring fries

The tomatillos are grilled and blackened while Dennis prepares the foundation for the sauce (onion, garlic, chipotle adobo and pure honey).  He then adds the tomatillos to the mix and allows them to simmer for a few minutes before blending the entire amalgam then reducing it.  This is a spectacular sauce with a lot going on.

One of the seemingly de rigueur offerings at many inventive Southwestern restaurants in New Mexico is duck quesadillas,  a very good idea not always executed well.  For me, the standard has always been the Coyote Rooftop Grill in Santa Fe.  It shouldn’t surprise me that Dennis does them better.  The duck is as tender as a bird’s heart with none of the gaminess and fattiness of duck at the hands of chefs who don’t have Dennis’s skills.  He’s generous with the duck to which he applies a sweet-savory barbecue sauce wholly unlike the vinegar-tomato sauce you’ll find at barbecue restaurants.  The tortillas are browned to a nice crispness and have the brown spot appearance of a pinto pony.

Duck Quesadillas

Duck Quesadillas

Served with the quesadillas is a fresh salad, a hallmark of Dennis’s restaurants.  Ezra’s  salads are always crafted with fresh, crisp greens and a subtle dressing that marries well with the greens so that their flavor is what you get with every forkful, not some sweet or tart flavor suppressor.  The quesadillas also include a fresh pico de gallo and some of the very best guacamole in America.  The guacamole has a nice lime and cilantro infusion to complement the buttery richness of fresh, creamy avocado.

Sophia’s was home to my favorite pastrami sandwich in Albuquerque.  Ezra’s one-ups Sophia’s with a grilled Ezra pastrami sandwich. Lightly toasted Sage Bakehouse sourdough bread is the canvass on which sauerkraut, pastrami and homemade Thousand Island dressing imprint their deliciousness.  Rather than masking the flavor of sauerkraut as some restaurants do by sweetening it or saucing it highly, Dennis allows the sauerkraut to be sour–not lip-pursing sour, but with a definite tang.  The Thousand Island dressing is thick, rich and somewhere between sweet and sour.  This sandwich is served with a mountain of Ezra’s fries, julienne fries that are one of the restaurant’s most popular draws.  In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Ezra’s a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its julienne fries  as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Grilled Ezra Pastrami Sandwich with Ezra Fries

Grilled Ezra Pastrami Sandwich with Ezra Fries

On October 23rd, 2011, the New York Times travel section celebrated “36 hours in Albuquerque.”  The article was perhaps a revelation to residents of Metropolis who may not be cognizant of all there is to see and do…and eat in the Duke City.  Likening the “lush farmland” “along the banks of the Rio Grande” to a “quiet oasis,” the Times indicated those farmlands provision the city’s “vibrant organic movement” with “heirloom beans, corn and more.”  The Magazine praised the “bowling alley location, farm to table produce and a chef-owner with Chez Panisse credentials” at Ezra’s as adding “up  to hipster overload” anywhere but Albuquerque.

The aforementioned Sophia’s is one of a handful of restaurants in Albuquerque I believe can compete in larger, more culinarily sophisticated markets.  Ezra’s, if possible, could be even better.  That’s because Dennis Apodaca now has a bigger canvas for his art, a more expansive venue in which to display his vast talents.

Ezra’s Place
6132 Fourth, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
 LATEST VISIT: 12 July 2012
1ST VISIT: 23 November 2008
# OF VISITS:
7
RATING
: 25
COST
:  $$
BEST BET:
Poblano Chili Relleno, Breakfast Burrito, Breakfast Sandwich, Fried Calamari, Ezra Pastrami Sandwich, Ezra Fries, Chile Rellenos Three Ways, Chips and Salsa, Guacamole, Pork Chops and Eggs, Shrimp Enchiladas

Ezra's Place on Urbanspoon

Village Subs – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Village Subs in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

Village Subs in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

To paraphrase John 15:13, “No greater love a man has than this, that a man give up his life for a….sandwich?”

In an uproariously funny episode of the television show Friends, Joey, Chandler and Ross go on a ride-along with Phoebe’s policeman boyfriend. Believing a back-firing muffler was actually a gunshot, Joey (sitting in between his two friends) dives, seemingly to protect Ross from harm.  Naturally Chandler was upset that Joey would choose to protect Ross instead of him…until he learns that Joey was actually trying to protect his sandwich.  In the finest tradition of Dagwood Bumstead, Joey Tribbiani loved sandwiches; they were his favorite food.

I don’t know how many Americans would “take a bullet” for their sandwich, but America is most definitely a nation of sandwich lovers. According to one of my favorite books, American Sandwich by the fabulous Becky Mercuri, Americans consume more than 45 billion sandwiches per year, with the average American consuming 193 sandwiches per year.

A foot-long tuna salad sandwich.

A foot-long tuna salad sandwich.

That’s a lot of sandwiches! One restaurant that has serving a lot of sandwiches is Village Subs, appropriately situated in the village of Los Ranchos De Albuquerque.  Allow me another paraphrase, this time of an African proverb: “it takes a village to make a great sub!” Or at least that’s been my experience of late. Aside from the now defunct Deli Mart, there has been a tremendous dearth of truly outstanding sandwich shops in Albuquerque’s west side where I live and work.

Village Subs occupies the space once held by Fremont’s Fine Foods, a sacrosanct shopping and dining destination now in San Mateo’s Courtyard. It seems to be the hub of an otherwise nondescript shopping center much of which has been left vacant by former tenants who set up shop elsewhere.  It’s hard to miss Village Subs. A cerulean blue awning competes with New Mexico’s incomparable sky blue. Several wall-mounted chairs hug the restaurant’s east-facing wall. As capacious as the restaurant is, it’s a good thing the yellow lettering on the awning doesn’t list what this sub shop’s true name should be.

A bounteous Italian sub

That would be Village Subs & Pizza & Wings & Italian & Ice Cream and so much more. The true test of a restaurant’s greatness is not in the size or diversity of the menu; it’s in the quality of its product (more on that later).  The floors at Village Subs are black and white checkered tile reminiscent of a 1950s era diner. Throwback floors are appropriate because this sup shop is a bit of an anachronism with service that’s both enthusiastic and cordial. It’s a welcome change from the rehearsed wait “schtick” to which you’re subjected at the industry leading chain.

Not everything is old-fashioned at Village Subs. It’s one of an increasing number of restaurants in the Duke City providing free wireless internet (WiFi) access. Village Subs is larger than most of the city’s sub shops. Counter space is divided into two distinct sections–an area in which you order main entrees and another in which ice cream is featured fare.

The Club Sub: Ham, Turkey, Bacon, American cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced onion and tomatoes.

No ordinary ice cream is this. It’s Blue Bunny Ice Cream, the largest family-owned and operated ice cream manufacturer in the United States. The Blue Bunny folks have been creating ice cream since 1913 and now distribute their 500 tantalizingly tasty ice cream flavors, frozen dairy desserts and delectable novelties throughout all 50 states and Mexico.  If you’re watching the scale, Blue Bunny makes lighter, sugar free and low or no fat versions of favorite flavors.

On a white board directly above the food ordering counter is a hand-scrawled menu listing the wide array of items available to hungry diners. Pizza is a relatively new addition to the menu and it’s available by the slice with a wide variety of toppings available.

Sausage, Pepper and Onion Sub

Sausage, Pepper and Onion Sub

Your biggest challenge will be in deciding what to order, especially if you’re cravings are for an appetite sating, two-fisted, ingredient-packed sandwich of greater proportions than most sandwiches in the Duke City.  The sandwich selections includes cold subs, hot heroes and several specialty sandwiches, all made with bread baked fresh daily, topped with your choice of veggies and served with a pickle spear and a pepperonici.  Subs are available in two sizes: ten-inches and six-inches.  What will surprise you most about these behemoth sandwiches is that they’re priced two to three dollars less than many other sub sandwiches in the Duke City.

The ingredients on a great sandwich have to work well together and it all starts with the bread. At Village Subs, the bread is quite good though no longer baked on the premises. Both white and whole wheat bread are available.  Wrap some of that bread around tuna salad and you’ll have a sandwich any landlubber or sea-faring wanderer would love. The tuna is made with diced celery, onion and a sweet pickle relish. Add crisp lettuce and fresh tomato and it’s even better.

A slice of pizza with sausage.

A slice of pizza with sausage.

Another good cold sub is named solely the “Italian” and it’s generously endowed with ham, Capacola ham, salami, Provolone cheese, onions and roasted red peppers then embellished with mayonnaise, oil and vinegar.  Italian subs consisting of assorted luncheon meats are popular throughout America and it’s easy to see why. A great Italian sub features a coalescence of flavors and aromas that any American meat-eater will enjoy. The Village Sub’s version is one of the better ones in town!

If a hot hero is more your style, the Sausage, Pepper and Onion hero might just have your number. It’s a messy assemblage of ingredients you’ll probably have to eat with a fork because those ingredients push the bread to its capacity and despite being toasted, may leave it a bit soggy (in a very good way).  The sausage is spicy, maybe even a little bit piquant. Green and red peppers and onion are grilled to perfection. Melted Mozzarella cheese blankets the entire sandwich.

Pastrami sandwich

Pastrami sandwich

As with many sandwich restaurants (or restaurants of any kind for that matter) we have not been enamored of every item on the menu. The sandwich which we found disappointing is the pastrami sandwich. We weren’t expecting Chicago Jewish deli caliber pastrami, but it would have been nice to find something good by Albuquerque standards. Listed as a “specialty sandwich,” a few stiff slices of pastrami were topped by melted Swiss cheese and were laid out between two slices of good light rye bread.

Village Subs committed three of the criminal offenses you can commit in serving a pastrami sandwich–not providing deli caliber mustard (squeeze jar mustard is a no-no), using relatively thick slices of pastrami instead of thinly sliced shards and using pastrami with no marbling. There’s a lot of flavor in the marbling of a good pastrami and there wasn’t much flavor in this one.

Green chile cheeseburger

Green chile cheeseburger

Contrary to the notion that all it takes to make a good green chile cheeseburger are the component parts named in that sandwich, a good green chile cheeseburger is much more than a sum of its parts.  Village Subs understands that and crafts a burger with a neon green chile that packs plenty of capsaicin kick, two slices of American cheese, grilled buns, mustard, ketchup, onions, tomatoes and pickles. At about medium well, the beef still retains the requisite juices inherent in good beef.

Milk shakes and malts are both available at Village Subs and they can be made from all available ice cream flavors. Our early favorites are mint chocolate chip and coffee, both of which are rich and delicious. Best of all, they’re served cold to beat the heat.

Mint-chocolate malt and chocolate shake

Mint-chocolate malt and chocolate shake

It may not take a village to make a great sub, but the Village certainly knows the secret to making Joey Tribbiani’s favorite food (and one of mine, too).

Village Subs
7901 4th Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 10 August 2011
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 17
COST: $
BEST BET: Tuna Salad Sub; The Italian Sub; Sausage, Peppers & Onion Sub; Mint Chocolate Malt; Chocolate Shake; Pizza by the Slice

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