Pollito Con Papas – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pollito Con Papas on Gibson Just West of Louisiana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chimichanga engorged with Peruvian-style chicken

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

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

Half a Chicken with Fries

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

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

Boneless thighs–marinated for eight hours

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

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

Boneless/Skinless Grilled Thigh with Chicken Stuffed Potato

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

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

Lomo Saltado

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

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

Seco de Pato with Yuca and Rice

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

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


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

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

Inca Kola at left, Peruvian Chicha at right

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Pride Chicken – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Golden Pride restaurant near UNM.

The Golden Pride restaurant near UNM.

For years Albuquerque’s cruiser culture has made Central Avenue a favorite destination for showing off souped-up cars and causing windows to rattle and eardrums to hurt from the pounding bass in audio systems that reverberate far and wide.  My friend Carlos who understands urban subcultures more than most tells me cruising Central Avenue isn’t solely about seeing and being seen.  It’s about fried chicken, more specifically Golden Pride, Barbecue, Chicken and Ribs (Golden Pride for short).  Central Avenue  has a Golden Pride location on the Duke City’s far west (a couple blocks east of Coors) and one on the far east side (just west of Eubank).   It’s about 12 miles as the crow flies from the east side Golden Pride to its sibling on the west, but it could take you a good half hour (longer in rush hour) to drive that distance.  That’s a lot of good cruising.

A third location on Juan Tabo may be off the cruiser’s beaten path, but it’s close to family neighborhoods which flock to this poultry palace when in the mood for fried fowl.  Still another location, on Lomas just east of University, is an institution for UNM students, faculty and staff.  Students appreciate the free high-speed wireless internet connectivity and even more, they appreciate the restaurant’s low prices.  It’s a departure from the college student food pyramid which typically ranges from vending machine offerings to Red Bull, coffee, sodas and ramen noodles galore.

The counter where you place your order at the UNM area Golden Pride.

The counter where you place your order at the UNM area Golden Pride

Owned by Larry and Dorothy Rainosek, the good folks who bring us the Frontier Restaurant, Golden Pride offers both fried and BBQ chicken.  It also offers the Frontier’s famous sweet rolls, as good a reason for getting up in the morning as there is.  Golden Pride has been serving Albuquerque since 1973 and carries other Frontier items: green chile stew, tortillas, carne adovada and posole, for example.

Just how popular is this restaurant?  According to an Albuquerque Business Journal article published in 2003, Golden Pride has grown at an average of 20 percent per year.  The four restaurants go through 35 tons of green chile and seven tons of red chile powder each month.  Sure, that article was published more than a decade ago, but if traffic is any indication, there certainly appears to be no surcease in sight to the popularity of the Golden Pride brand.

An order of ribs and two sides: coleslaw and spicy beans.

An order of ribs and two sides: coleslaw and spicy beans.

That same article reports that more than fifty percent of Golden Pride’s daily meals are served before 11AM and that its patrons consume about 160,000 burritos each and every month.  These are staggering numbers, but they don’t completely spell out just what makes this restaurant so very popular.  I surmise Golden Pride’s popularity is based in part on convenience (four strategically placed locations), value (reasonable cost for hardy portions) and quality (many items are quite good).  These aren’t unknown secrets to success; they’re the hallmark of most restaurants which stand the test of time.

The Golden Pride concept is based on Gil’s Fried Chicken, owned and operated by Larry Rainosek’s brother Gil, in San Marcos, Texas.  The name must be reflective of the golden coating on every piece of fried chicken served at the restaurant. The fried chicken is somewhat thickly coated but doesn’t have the “run down your arms greasiness” of Church’s or other chain purveyors of poultry.  It’s a juicy chicken (and quite good) once you get past that coating (which I surmise seals in the juices).  

Award winning burritos are a staple at Golden Pride.

Award-Winning Burritos Are A Staple at Golden Pride.

The BBQ chicken definitely has a pronounced smoky taste (even though you won’t find a smoker on the premises) and is even better than the fried chicken.  Moist and delicious, the BBQ chicken is offered with a thin, tangy and just ever so slightly piquant barbecue sauce which is wholly unnecessary, but quite good.  White meat pieces include chicken legs and thighs which most restaurants prefer to breasts because breasts tend to be rather on the dry side.  Both the fried chicken and the BBQ chicken are available in quantities of two, three, four ten, sixteen or twenty pieces.  Value meal options include your choice of two sides and even if you opt for chicken only, you still get the restaurant’s yeasty rolls.

Several sides, ranging from passable to very good are available.  You can actually taste the cabbage and carrots on the coleslaw at Golden Pride which is not drowning in salad cream as you might find at KFC.  Mashed potatoes, on the other hand, are so thick, they’re difficult to pry away from the spoon–a pity considering the chicken gravy is actually quite good.  The green beans with bacon are my Kim’s favorites.  She must really like them because she doesn’t share them with me.

Award winning burritos are a staple at Golden Pride.

Fried Chicken with Sides of Mashed Potatoes with Gravy and Green Beans with Bacon.

If a restaurant serves 160,000 burritos a month, it’s got to be doing something right.  Duke City Fix readers have an idea what that might be and rave about the #9, the restaurant’s best seller.  The #9 is crafted with bacon, cheese, egg, hash browns and green chile–a combination that just might make anyone a morning person.  The #9 is indeed an excellent burrito.  My brother, an architectural engineer at Sandia, tells me that breakfast runs yield more orders of the #9 than any other burrito.  For folks on the run, it’s got another thing going for it–it’s as portable as a burger (but better, by far, than most).

The carne adovada adovada burrito is engorged with plenty of shredded pork marinated in Golden Pride’s chile.  While the pork is tender and the chile is pleasantly piquant, there’s a pronounced bitter aftertaste I surmise to be resultant from a surfeit of oregano.  It’s not an endearing quality for an otherwise very good burrito.  Of all chile impregnated dishes, carne adovada generally has the most mild, never acerbic flavor.

BBQ Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

My opinion of the Frontier-Golden Pride carne adovada isn’t universally shared.  Author Michael Stern who co-wrote the definitive 500 Things To Eat Before It’s Too Late listed the Frontier Restaurat’s (ergo, Golden Pride’s) carne adovada as the third best carne adovada in America. Calling it “the great bargain carne adovada–no less delicious for its $1.99 price–is a burrito at the Frontier in Albuquerque,” which he described as having “just enough chile-infused meat intense enough to turn the tortilla that wraps it the color of sunset.”

Tacos are available in either a fried hard corn shell or a soft flour tortilla.  The soft flour tortilla based tacos are about as large as Golden Pride’s burritos.  My favorite is engorged with ground beef, green chile, cheese, lettuce and tomato–pretty much the standard taco.  As for the hard-shelled tacos, you can’t go wrong with the chicken tacos.  The chicken is moist and shredded.

A carne adovada burrito from Golden Pride.

A carne adovada burrito from Golden Pride.

Whether or not Albuquerque’s cruiser culture frequents Central Avenue because of Golden Pride Chicken is irrelevant. Golden Pride is beloved by the cruiser in all of us who want good food at value prices.

Golden Pride Chicken
1830 Lomas, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-2181
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 January 2016
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Chicken Gravy, BBQ Chicken Value Meal, Fried Chicken Value Meal, #9 Breakfast Burrito, Green Chile Stew, Green Beans with Bacon, Sweet Rolls

Golden Pride on Urbanspoon

Stroud’s Restaurant & Bar – Fairway, Kansas

Stroud’s Restaurant & Bar, the home of P-A-N fried chicken since 1933

Kansas City is often referred to as the “world’s barbecue capital.”  With more than 100 barbecue restaurants, its reputation for outstanding barbecue is known far and wide.  It’s not as commonly known that Kansas City can also strut its stuff about its fried chicken.  In fact, Travel Channel television host Adam Richman has joked that KC actually stands for “killer chicken.” The killer chicken tradition started with Stroud’s Restaurant which not surprisingly, began in 1933 as a barbecue shack in Kansas City.  On Independence Day a few years later, founder Helen Stroud added skillet fried chicken.  It sold out immediately and has been on the menu ever since.  Ironically, barbecue is no longer on the menu.

Fittingly both of my visits to Stroud’s have been during the month of September which the National Chicken Council has designated “National Chicken Month.” For more than twenty years, the Council has increased its promotion of chicken sales during September, turning what was once a slow month as the summer grilling season slows, into a month in which sales are booming. John T. Edge, author of Fried Chicken: An American Story praises this strategy, advising that “as the air gets crisper, so should your food.”

The welcoming interior of Stroud’s Restaurant & Bar

Fried chicken is one of America’s comfort food favorites with a timeless appeal that evokes nostalgic memories of home-cooking and family gatherings.  In a poll administered by About.com, respondents listed among their favorite 25 comfort foods, four of which are served at Stroud’s: chicken pot pie, chicken soup, fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  It’s the home-style cooking aspects of dining at Stroud’s that has made it a family favorite for generations.  Meals are served family-style in capacious bowls meant to be passed around between friends and family.  Even the red checkered tablecloths seem to signify a welcoming warmth.

Even as America’s culinary diversity and the sophistication of diners’ palates continue to grow, so does the appreciation for home-style cooking, comfort food and especially fried chicken. While it may seem the only fried chicken you can find throughout the fruited plain is served by the Colonel and his eleven herbs and spices and other chains, you can still find home cooking style restaurants serving chicken if you look.  The pantheons of pan-fried chicken were even celebrated in 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late: and the Very Best Places to Eat Them, a terrific tome by Michael and Jane Stern who advise that “if you’re looking for the most effulgent chicken dinner in the land, there’s only one place to go: Stroud’s of Kansas City, Missouri.”

Chicken Noodle Soup

In 1998, Stroud’s was one of the inaugural winners of the James Beard Foundation‘s “America’s Classics” award which honors legendary family-owned restaurants across the country.  Considered the Academy Awards of the culinary world, the James Beard awards have been earned by a very exclusive “who’s who” in the competitive culture of cuisine.  Stroud’s has also been recognized by the Wall Street Journal, Gourmet Magazine, Bon Appetit, Playboy Magazine, Conde Naste Traveler and Esquire Magazine among others.  It’s the type of restaurant to which diners make pilgrimages, perhaps signifying the need for diners to reconnect with memories of comfort food favorites.

So, what is it that makes Stroud’s unique and special?  Sure, its chicken is pan-fried in a heavy cast iron skillet to a crispy golden hue, but there’s so much more than that.  One of the restaurant’s mottos is “we choke our own chickens,” a double-entendre laced reference to the fact that Stroud’s still does things the old-fashioned way with no short-cuts, using the same recipes as in 1933.  Missouri grown chickens are hand-trimmed before they’re dredged in a simple batter mix of flour, salt and pepper (who needs eleven herbs and spices?).  Each piece of chicken is only partially submerged in the skillet and receives plenty of individual attention as it fries on the pan.

Fried chicken (all white meat, all breasts)

The results are a light, delicate crust.  This is not a greasy, heavily-breaded crust, just one that seals in moistness and flavor, a flavor ameliorated by a well-seasoned skillet.  Each piece of chicken cooks for about ten minutes per side and all chicken is made-to-order so this is no fast food chicken joint.   Bite into the crust and you’ll soon be reaching for napkin because this is one beautifully juicy chicken.  After his first bite of Stroud’s chicken, Adam Richman called it “whole body-licking good,” meaning it is several orders of magnitude better than the Colonel’s finger-licking good chicken.  There may be no better chicken in America.

Stroud’s strains its grease from the skillet in which the chicken is fried to extricate the cracklings (residual fried bits from the chicken) for making their gravy.  This gravy is transformative, the very best I’ve had on mashed potatoes anywhere.  Laced with pepper, its prevalent flavor is that of the fried chicken from which the cracklings were obtained.  Cracklings are, after all, concentrated flavor.  Fresh soybean oil, two cups of flour and a splash of milk  followed by a vigorous wisking are what it takes to make this smooth, thick ambrosia.  It’s gravy so good, you’ll want to drink it up and smother everything in it.

Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Green Beans

Chicken dinners are served family style with three pieces of chicken–one breast and two cook’s choice pieces.  As an old-fashioned “have it your way” institution, Stroud’s also offers all-dark meat and all-white meat options, including an all-breast option that features three beautiful “D” cup breasts (these are not your chain variety “A” cup breasts).  In addition to the aforementioned chicken and gravy, a chicken dinner comes with your choice of potato (mashed, baked, French fries, cottage fries), your choice of a side salad or chicken noodle soup, green beans and cinnamon rolls, all served in heaping helping size on overflowing bowls.

Before your dinner is delivered, your side salad or chicken noodle soup arrive.  The chicken noodle soup is among the best chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had.  It’s redolent with the flavor of chicken, both from the thick shards of chicken and the broth in which those shards swim.  The perfect accompaniment for gravy, of course, is mashed potatoes.  Stroud’s mashed potatoes are the real thing, not some reconstituted flakes out of a box.  They’re stick-to-the-spoon thick, not light and fluffy.  The pan-drip made gravy is also rather thick, but neither are lumpy.  The green beans are made with bacon which imparts its inimitable flavor upon fresh, thick, perfectly prepared green beans.  Dip the green beans into the gravy and you’ll swoon at the resultant deliciousness.

A basket of housemade cinnamon rolls

It’s your choice as to whether the basket of cinnamon rolls is delivered with your dinner or afterwards.  Savvy diners will opt to have these golden beauties delivered with their meal to make sure they have room in their stomachs for them (plus they’re great with the gravy, too).  The cinnamon rolls are yeasty and buttery with a coating of cinnamon and absolutely no icing.  Stroud’s menu may have alternative dessert options, but most people are too sated to ask.

Stroud’s elevates chicken from the level of comfort food to the level of sublime sensation.  Best of all, it’s prepared in a homey environment by very attentive servers who treat you as a welcome guest.

4200 Shawnee Mission Parkway
Fairway, Kansas
(913) 262-8500
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fried Chicken Dinner

Stroud's on Urbanspoon

El Pollo Picante – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

El Pollo Picante in the Journal Center area

Pollo asado, marinated grilled chicken, has been a staple in Mexico for years, but save for those pockets within metropolitan areas heavily populated by scions of Mexico, it hasn’t made significant inroads throughout the fruited plain. Mexican grilled chicken restaurants seem to fly under the radar, unbeknownst to much of the local populace outside the Mexican neighborhoods in which they’re clustered. Many grilled chicken shops–even in Albuquerque– operate in ramshackle, lilliputian buildings not much larger than roadside stands.

In the 1980s, El Pollo Loco, a Mexican grilled chicken chain expanded into the United States, launching in about a dozen states including New Mexico. Today, the chain operates in five western states (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas and California) as well as in Illinois (and in episodes of Breaking Bad), but despite expanding beyond its grilled chicken niche to include burritos, quesadillas, salads and more, it hasn’t been able to compete significantly with the popular pseudo Mexican concept restaurants.

Empty tables at 11:30AM. It’s almost criminal for a restaurant which services such good chicken!

After Albuquerque’s erstwhile El Pollo Loco restaurant–which operated on San Mateo (in the location which currently houses Siam Cafe)–closed, it would be more than a decade before another Mexican grilled chicken restaurant would open in a heavily-trafficked commercial area.   In May, 2012, El Pollo Picante launched in the Market Place at Journal Center just a few doors down from Torinos @ Home. My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, a discerning diner, was one of the restaurant’s first guests, enjoying it so much, he’s returned several times…and he brought me with him.

El Pollo Picante is owned and operated by Steve and Cindy Lee, a genial Korean brother and sister who know what they’re doing behind a grill.  Whether you’re visiting for the first time or have become a regular, you’ll receive the type of personalized attention you can’t help but appreciate.  Cindy will take your order while Steve mans the gas-fired grill visible from the counter where you order, evoking the captivating aroma of marinated chicken being expertly grilled.  To anyone who’s ever enjoyed Mexican grilled chicken, that aroma is an aphrodisiac, a siren’s call.  It’s an irresistible lure.

A half chicken, beans, rice, pico de gallo and salsa

The aroma is a preview of poultry perfection.  It’s mouth-watering truth in advertising.    The marinade penetrates deeply into the meat, turning the skin an ochre hue and imbuing it with a seasoned flavor.  If you’re of the habit of discarding grilled chicken skin, this skin will break you of that habit.  It’s crispy without being dry and it’s thoroughly delicious.   The hot flames of the grill sear in all the spices and tangy goodness of the marinade. A half-chicken order (dark meat) gets you two wings, two legs, two thighs and two thighs.  As with all chicken–grilled, roasted, rotisseried, baked or fried–the most moist and juicy pieces are the thighs.  You can also request all white meat if you prefer.  The breasts are snowy white, tender and surprisingly moist.

At the risk of committing sacrilege, El Pollo Picante’s Mexican grilled chicken blows away the chicken at El Pollo Loco and the Chicken Flameante at Taco Cabana. Similar to those restaurants, Polo Picante chicken is accompanied by Mexican inspired sides: beans, Spanish rice and corn tortillas. These sides are wholly unnecessary. They’re also not especially good…maybe the caliber of airline food (not the peanuts and pretzels). Luckily they’re served with pico de gallo and salsa. These are good and do greatly improve the flavor of the beans and rice.

Teriyaki Beef

When it first opened, El Pollo Picante’s menu was pretty much limited to Mexican grilled chicken, but has since expanded to include teriyaki chicken and beef as well as a curry plate, all Korean style. My friend Señor Plata and I are applying our charm to convince Cindy that the menu should also include KFC. No, not that greasy chain chicken. KFC stands for Korean Fried Chicken and it’s the rage among savvy diners in Los Angeles. The pairing of Mexican grilled chicken and KFC would make El Pollo Picante a formidable poultry presence.

While researching the blogosphere for information about El Pollo Picante, I happened upon a refreshing new food blog called “Once Again We Have Eaten Well.”  Written by Edward Sung (a long time friend of this blog) and his lovely better half Hannah Walraven, Once Again… is a delightful change of pace from the mundanity of most food blogs.  The blog employs a novel conversational approach so entertaining and realistic, you’ll  find yourself transported to the table with Edward and Hannah. It’s almost as good as being there with them.

El Pollo Picante
7600 Jefferson Street N.E., Suite 5
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 1 August 2012
1st VISIT: 30 July 2012
BEST BET: Half Chicken

El Pollo Picante on Urbanspoon

Wings ‘N Things – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Tickles & Snooks Wings 'N Things

Tickles & Snooks Wings 'N Things

The “language of love.”  It can reduce the most eloquent of women to twaddling teeny boppers and the most macho of men to cooing grade schoolers.  It is most active–some would say most infantile–when the biochemical pathways of love are waxing to a peak during the relationship stages between infatuation and falling in love.  It’s when cute nicknames–those mushy, syrupy terms of endearment–are created and used in place of actual names, when phone calls don’t end because neither party can hang up.

Not even Jerry Seinfeld was exempt from the language of love.   Renown for his cooly detached approach towards commitment and for breaking up with women for the the most picayune of reasons, Seinfeld may have, in fact, taken the language of love to new depths (or heights, depending on your perspective).  In his eponymous television sitcom, Seinfeld nauseated his friends George and Elaine with his openly affectionate behavior, baby talk and especially a term of endearment they found particularly offensive–Schmoopie.

The interior at Wings & Things--west wall festooned with car images

The interior at Wings & Things--west wall festooned with car images

The only thing that could cool his ardor was a thickly-accented, stone-faced chef renown for enforcing a strict protocol of queuing, ordering and paying for Manhattan’s best soup.  Rather than incur the “Soup Nazi’s” ire and be subjected to the dreaded admonishment “No soup for you,” Seinfeld pretended he didn’t know the object of his affection, his Schmoopie.  Her transgression– violating the Soup Nazi’s queuing process by kissing Seinfeld at the soup line.

Just as love morphs and changes over time, the language of love undergoes its own transformations, usually reflecting the stages of that crazy little thing called love.  Whether the relationship stage is infatuation, lust, romance or attachment, stage appropriate terms of affection are used.  Newly smitten lovers tend to idealize the object of their affection, amplifying their virtues and downplaying their flaws.  The terms of endearment at this stage tend to be especially mushy–sobriquets such as “Tickles and Snooks.”

Wings & Things at the food court in Albuquerque's Cottonwood Mall (Photo courtesy of Bill "Roastmaster" Resnik)

When Barbara Trembath, one of my most trusted foodie sources, told me about a new restaurant named “Tickles & Snooks Wings ‘N Things,” my ears perked up.  En route to obtaining a Psychology degree (would you like fries with that), I once wrote a thesis on the language of love, hence the little diatribe to start this review. You’re probably grateful that the rest of this essay won’t be an exploration of terms of endearment in a relationship, but an essay on a surprising restaurant with something for everyone.

Tickles and Snooks are pet names used for each other by Rusty (Snooks) and Tikashi (Tickles) McConnell, the dynamic entrepreneurial duo who recently purchased Wings & Things in a small nondescript strip mall on Montgomery just east of San Pedro.  The name “Tickles and Snooks” is the most cutesy aspect of the restaurant which has a decidedly masculine feel to it.  The walls on the walls are festooned with framed photographs of muscle cars which share wall space with tools of the auto racing trade. The drawers on a Craftsman tool chest is where the restaurant’s silverware is kept.  A potted plant rests on that chest.

Eight Spicy Barbecue Wings

Eight Spicy Barbecue Wings

Rusty, a native Ohioan, and Tikashi, originally from Mobile, Alabama (and who previously worked as a project manager for ESPN) are a well-traveled couple with a budding business portfolio that includes Tickles and Snooks Sweet Creations & Event Titillations, a catering enterprise offering a dazzling array of cakes for all occasions.  In assuming the mantle at Wings ‘N Things, they are taking on an established business that previously received “best wings in Albuquerque” acclaim from several sources.  In August, 2010, they launched a scaled down version of Wings ‘N Things at the Cottonwood Mall with much of the menu intact.

Barbara, my savant source, gave me the scoop: “Not gourmet, but very good food. Wings, tenders, pizza, a very close to authentic cheesesteak ( with Whiz if you want ) and some seafood (oyster po boy, shrimp, fish and chips ) and will be starting to do breakfast soon.”  She liked it so much, she put Wings ‘N Things on her fairly exclusive restaurant rotation, a select line-up of favorite dining establishments she visits with some regularity–the few, the proud, the most delicious.

The "Wall of Pain" shows several anguished eaters unable to finish the Armageddon Challenge.

My personal rotation has long been bereft of chicken wings thanks, in some measure, to a rather disappointing visit to a chain wings restaurant pitched by Dallas Cowboys hall of fame quarterback Troy Aikman.  Sure Albuquerque is in the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan desert but that’s no reason chicken wings and legs should be so wrinkly dry.

Wings ‘N Things offers more than thirty different flavors of wings from which to choose–some such as Carolina BBQ, Chile Lime, Curry, Lemon Garlic, Wasabiyaki–heretofore unavailable in Albuquerque.  Sauces, which can be sampled before ordering, come in heat intensity ranging from mild to nuclear and everything in between.  The most incendiary sauce is a raging inferno level of heat called Armageddon.  Armageddon has more Scoville units than all the competitors put together. I’ve only managed a sample–a toothpick dipped into an incendiary combination of ghost peppers (the hottest peppers in the world), Scotch Bonnet peppers, habaneros and maybe napalm.  Though I pride myself on having an asbestos-lined mouth, I certainly won’t be participating in the Armageddon challenge.

The Maspero (seafood platter with large catfish filet surrounded by calamari rings and Creole seasoned Gulf shrimp and oysters on a bed of beer-battered fries)

The Maspero (seafood platter with large catfish filet surrounded by calamari rings and Creole seasoned Gulf shrimp and oysters on a bed of beer-battered fries)

The Armageddon Challenge will tattoo your tongue with pain and sear your taste buds with a fiery intensity bordering on cruel and inhumane punishment. It will moisten your brow with profuse sweat, traumatize your nervous system and stain your face with tears. It will contort that face into a misshapen tangle of emotions. You will suffer a painful post-traumatic stress disorder the day after–a true after-burn. To say it’s definitely not for the faint of heart is a vast understatement The challenge–six wings in six minutes with a six minute after-burn which starts after you’re done with the six wings–if you get that far. Few people–about one in seven–get that far.

My friend Bill Resnik was one of the first to surmount the challenge.  I’ll let him describe the experience: “So Rusty brings out these Armageddon wings – 6 of them soaking in sauce.  He hands me some plastic gloves, a really nice thing to do as I was to discover later.  He also brought a dish of ice cream and a wet washrag to use after the after-burn.  The clock started and I started eating.  Hoooooo Boy!  The first 5 seconds were OK, then an assault of epic proportions filled my head.  My lips, mouth, tongue, sinuses and eyes were screaming as I silently uttered the prayer, “Dear God, please don’t let me choke or get the hiccups!”

Fried Mussels with Marinara Sauce (Photo by Bill "Roastmaster" Resnik)

My strategy was to get those firecrackers down as quickly as I could and deal with the aftermath later. I finished my 6 wings in about 4 minutes. The only thing harder than taking a huge bite was chewing it, and the only thing worse than that was swallowing it. The 6-minute after-burn started after the initial 6-minute eating period. NOT after I took my last bite, so I got an 8-minute after-burn. The pain peaked about 2 minutes after I finished eating and I knew the challenge was a painful downhill ride from there. By the end of the 6 minutes, I was feeling pretty good (endorphins are great!) and I didn’t have an urgent need to dive into the ice cream or the glass of water in front of me.”

Overall, it was a lot of fun. If you finish, you get your picture on the wall (my eyes were so red I looked like I’d been smoking reefer all my life) and you get this cool tee-shirt. Of course you get bragging rights and the knowledge that you have lived through something that not everyone who attempts will be able to complete.”

Gator Bites - a half pound of alligator tenderloin dredged and fried in a Creole Cajun seasoned with a Remoulade or Zesty Orange Sauce (Photo by Bill "Roastmaster' Resnik)

Sure enough, the restaurant’s northernmost wall is dedicated to photographs of the survivors of Armageddon, a motley crew of anguished victims expressing stunned expressions akin to the tortured souls in Dante’s Inferno. Another wall, aptly titled “The Wall of Pain” celebrates the game competitors who tried and failed the challenge. They look even worse than the survivors–much worse.

Wings are available in quantities of eight (one flavor) to one-hundred (four flavors). If you prefer your chicken boneless, chicken tenders are available in the same flavors as the wings and in quantities of three to twenty-five. Wings ‘N Things is no one-trick pony. The menu also features five pizzas (with such clever sobriquets as Sleepin’ With The Fishes and Fugetaboutit), including a build your own option. The five item seafood menu–including New Orleans style Po Boys (catfish, oyster, shrimp or shrimp and oyster)–sounds more Mississippi Gulf Coast than desert Southwest, but it’s certainly welcome.

Seared and lightly crusted tuna

The menu’s half-pound burgers, made with fresh, hand-formed beef, are an impressive lot with such offerings as a Philly Cheese Burger, Pastrami Burger, Pizza Burger and even a Caribbean Jerk Burger. Carnivores can even request a second half-pound beef patty if they desire. A number of subs and wraps are also available as are salads, everything from a standard garden salad to a meat lover’s salad. As of this writing, however, none of the Tickles & Snooks cake creations are available on the menu at Wings ‘N Things.

The menu’s wonderful diversity is to be celebrated, but a visit would be incomplete without sampling the name on the marquee, the amazing wings. With more than thirty flavors available, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide which to order. Don’t hesitate to accept the offer to sample a few of the sauces. You’ll find these sauces aren’t the dumbed down, lacquered on sauces served at some chains. Wings ‘N Things’ sauces have audacious personalities. They’re intensely flavored, heavily spiced, generously applied and some are eye-watering and nasal-clearing.

Heather Pomme Frites (Beer Battered Fries Dressed in Garlic Parmesan)

Heather Pomme Frites (Beer Battered Fries Dressed in Garlic Parmesan)

The “Spicy BBQ” flavor sounds fairly innocuous, but it packs a piquant punch. It won’t water your eyes or bring sweat to your brows, but it will leave an impression on your taste buds. Wings are well saturated in the sauce which means eating them is a messy proposition. Fortunately each table has a roll of paper towels with which to wipe off your fingers and mouth. It goes without saying that the wings are moist, but they would be so even without any sauce. They are also meaty and delicious with a tangy and smoky sauce that doesn’t completely obfuscate the flavor of the wings themselves.

The flavor intensity isn’t solely focused on piquancy. The Spicy Lemon sauced wings manage to be both lip-pursing tangy and salute-worthy piquant to totally make you scrunch up your face in the throes of intense flavor-wrought delight. For sheer sublime magnificence, however, you can’t beat the curry sauce. It’s an Indian curry, an aromatic, olfactory arousing bouquet with no discernible cumin aftertaste. Whether served with chicken tenders (pictured below) or on wings, it’s an excellent curry, sure to win over even people who don’t think they like curry. It’s also an excellent dipping sauce for fries.

Chicken Tenders with a sublime curry sauce

Chicken Tenders with a sublime curry sauce

Now, the name “Heather Pomme Frites” sounds benign enough, but don’t let the name fool you. These aren’t the garden variety boring fries so typical in Albuquerque. The fries are beer-battered then dressed in a garlic parmesan sauce that will knock your socks off, especially if you love garlic. There’s enough garlic here to ward off a family of famished vampires. It’s breath-wrecking garlic at its very best. The fries are then sprinkled with a generous amount of shredded parmesan for a cheesy kick that complements the garlic flavor very well.

Having visited New Orleans more than seventy times during the eight years we lived in Mississippi, we quite naturally became enamored of the Crescent City’s cuisine, particularly its Cajun and Creole offerings. The seafood section of Wings ‘N Things’ menu rekindled our hopes that we could relive memorable meals of years past. Though only seven items comprise Wings ‘N Things seafood selections, four of the seven possess names which could have come out of a menu at one of our favorite New Orleans eateries.

Caribbean Jerk Burger

Caribbean Jerk Burger

That Southern-inspired line-up (thank you, Tikashi) includes Po Boys (choice of catfish, oyster, shrimp, or shrimp and oyster), Billy Bob’s Belly Buster (a large filet of fish sandwich), The Maspero (a combination seafood platter) and The Decatur (Creole seasoned Gulf shrimp). One of those four, The Maspero, shares a name with one of our favorite New Orleans Po Boy establishments, Cafe Maspero, which is within easy walking distance of Jackson Square. The Maspero is a seafood platter with a large catfish filet surrounded by calamari rings and Creole seasoned Gulf shrimp and oysters on a bed of the restaurant’s signature beer-battered fries.

The starters section of the menu includes three seafood items–seared ahi tuna, fried mussels and gator bites.  The seared tuna appetizer features four generously-sized medallions of lightly crusted tuna as red, rare and beautiful as sashimi-grade tuna.  The crust is a sheath of paprika, fennel, rosemary and other spices we couldn’t discern.  It’s a flavor-rich component to the freshness of the tuna.

The "New Mexican," a pizza with green chile and pepperoni

Anyone who tells you alligator tastes like chicken hasn’t had good alligator.  Tickles & Snooks serves good alligator–an entire half-pound of alligator tenderloin dredged and fried in a Cajun Creole seasoning and served with a Remoulade or Zesty Orange sauce (ask for both).  The texture of alligator is somewhat more chewy than say chicken tenders.  It’s lightly coated in a crispy batter, but when you bite down on each tasty morsel, there’s very little crunch.  It doesn’t have an especially wild flavor and may, in fact, remind you of a chewy white fish.  The Remoulade and Zesty Orange sauces are excellent accompaniment.

A more conventional starter for seafood lovers is fried mussels though at first glance, they hardly resemble mussels rolled in flour and battered.  Each mussel resembles an oblong chicken nugget.  Each is lightly battered with a golden-hued, slightly sweet sheath that keeps the mussels moist and delicious.  They are surprisingly less “fishy” tasting than most fresh mussels and are fun to pop in your mouth and devour.  Though served with a marinara sauce, they might be better with the restaurant’s piquant homemade Remoulade.

Fried pickles

One of the most recent additions to the seafood line-up (as of March 24th, 2010) is inspired by Rusty’s love of Japan, an island nation with which he is very familiar from his travels with the semi-conductor company for which he works.  The Ichiban is a quarter-pound Ahi tuna steak blackened and seared to perfection topped with a Wasabi butter infused slaw and served on a sourdough bun accompanied by a “sweet Tsunami” sauce and sweet potato fries.

Though not quite of the caliber of seafood plucked out of the Gulf Coast then making the short trek to a New Orleans cafe, the Maspero, a combination seafood plate is quite good. The catfish filet is light and flaky with a delicate flavor, a cut above other catfish we’ve had in New Mexico (most of which have the texture of sawdust). The Creole seasoned shrimp are fresh, sweet and have a nice snap of freshness to them. The oysters are a bit on the dwarfish side, but nonetheless have that distinctive briny flavor and characteristic sliminess that doesn’t go away when you fry them. All were lightly breaded in a well-seasoned coating. The seasoned fries are just the way we remembered them from the Gulf Coast where seasoned is the preferred way to have fries.

Pastrami sandwich: Rusty smokes and brines the pastrmi himself

The Maspero comes with a make-it-yourself cocktail sauce (because the restaurant’s house version is too strong for many patrons) of ketchup and horseradish as well as tartar sauce (pretty standard stuff) and an eye-watering Wasabi butter sauce with which Rusty became enamored during extensive travels to Japan.

Japan is where Wings ‘N Things procures its Akaushi beef. If you’ve never heard of Akaushi beef, you’re probably not alone. It’s a richly marbled, very tender and flavorful beef used in Kobe restaurants throughout Japan. Akaushi, a Japanese word meaning “Red Cow” are considered a national treasure in Japan and is the ONLY natural 100-percent source verified Kobe beef in America. It is not American wagyu beef. The menu offers three Akaushi burgers.

The Caribbean Jerk Burger is but one of the intriguing non-Akaushi burger selections on the menu. It’s a half-pounder seasoned with the house jerk rub topped with Pepper Jack cheese and Tikki slaw. Years of experimentation at home with jerk burgers has taught us that ground beef is not a great canvas for jerk seasonings, no matter how good the beef or the seasonings might be. Our best results have come from ground pork which allows the jerk rub to shine. The result at restaurants are similar to what we’ve experienced at home. That holds true for the jerk burger at Wings ‘N Things. That’s not to say the burger isn’t good; it just would be much better with ground pork and with a sweeter apple-based slaw.

The Junk Yard Dog: a quarter-pound all-beef hot dog battered and deep-fried then topped with onions, mushrooms, bacon, pepper Jack cheese, sauerkraut and Cheddar cheese on a hoagie roll

The Junk Yard Dog: a quarter-pound all-beef hot dog battered and deep-fried then topped with onions, mushrooms, bacon, pepper Jack cheese, sauerkraut and Cheddar cheese on a hoagie roll

While we liked the Caribbean Jerk burger well enough, we loved the Junk Yard Dog, a quarter-pound all-beef hot dog battered and deep-fried in the tradition of northern New Jersey hot dogs then topped with a phalanx of fantastic ingredients: onions, mushrooms, bacon, pepper Jack cheese, sauerkraut and Cheddar cheese on a hoagie roll.  The hoagie roll is sturdy enough to hold in all the deliciousness, but it’s unlikely your mouth can open wide enough to take in everything at once so you’ll eat bits and pieces of the ingredients in various combinations.  Thank you to Tina Chavez for recommending this hunky hot dog.

The menu, which is constantly evolving (frog legs were added in May, 2010) is amazingly diverse with something for all appetites. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that everything on the menu, at least all I’ve tried, is good enough to be the featured item on the menu at most restaurants. That goes for the pizza, too. The New Mexican pizza whose chief ingredients are green chile and pepperoni, is terrific, an incendiary chile on a chewy, no-char, well sauced crust. The pizza is sauced all the way to its edges; it’s not just slathered on indiscriminately. Available in a personal-sized seven-inches or a full sixteen inches, it’s a very good pizza.

Tickles & Snooks Wings ‘N Things may sound like a children’s fantasy movie, but it’s replete with adult flavors that may have you uttering some terms of endearment of your own.

Wings ‘N Things
6219 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1st VISIT: 7 March 2010
LATEST VISIT: 17 November 2010
: $$
BEST BET: Caribbean Jerk Burger, The Maspero, Spicy BBQ Wings, Spicy Lemon Wings, Curry Chicken Tenders, Heather Pome Frites, The Junk Yard Dog,The New Mexican, Ahi Tuna, Gator Bites, Fried Mussels

Tickles and Snooks Wings & Things on Urbanspoon

Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits

Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits

Shortly after Louisiana and Mississippi were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, one of the local television stations in South Louisiana actually aired an interview with a woman from New Orleans. The interviewer was a woman from a Boston affiliate, so she asked the interviewee how such total and complete devastation of the churches in the area had affected their lives.  The woman replied,” I don’t know about all those other people but we get our chicken from Popeye’s.” The look on the interviewer’s face was priceless.  That anecdote rings with truism

Contrary to the images the name might conjure, Popeye’s is not a nautical themed restaurant which serves spinach.  That might be why the restaurant’s full appellation is “Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits.”  In reality, Popeye’s is named for the irascible character Popeye Doyle from the movie “The French Connection.”   It is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Al Copeland who founded the New Orleans style poultry palace in 1972 after a failed venture featuring mild, Southern-fried chicken.

New Orleans style chicken is imbued with the exciting, spicy flavor about which Cajuns are passionate.  In our eight years of living in Mississippi, we rarely dined at Popeye’s, preferring local alternatives with even more incendiary cayenne pepper producing heat.  Considering no one loves the heat of piquant foods like New Mexicans, you would think Popeye’s would be embraced yet the 1990s saw Albuquerque’s Popeye’s restaurants succumb to closure.

Fried chicken, biscuit and fried catfish

Fried chicken, biscuit and fried catfish

November 12, 2005 saw the launch of the first of twelve planned Popeye’s restaurants in the Duke City.  If the opening day pageant of vehicles (including ours) snaking around the building at a crawl for up to two hour waits portends future success, Popeye’s is here to stay–for good this time.

At first glance Popeye’s fried chicken resembles the fried chicken you can find at any grocery store. Its crispy coating is akin to the Colonel’s extra crispy offering.  That crispy exterior belies the juiciness within.  Popeye’s fried chicken is moist, tender and infused with cayenne, that spicy seasoning Cajun Americans have come to love although some fire eating New Mexicans might wonder what the hullabaloo is all about because the chicken is fairly tame compared to the incendiary foods on which they were weaned.

Biscuits, which share prominence on the restaurant’s marquee, are buttery with a light golden hue.  Unlike the biscuits proffered by Popeye’s competitors, they don’t crumble on your hands.  Sides include “Cajun” battered fries, “Cajun” rice, mashed potatoes and “Cajun” gravy as well as red beans and rice, another Louisiana favorite.

Fried chicken, dirty rice and coleslaw

Fried chicken, dirty rice and coleslaw

The “Cajun” rice, known as “dirty rice” in the deep South is a blend of meats, shallots and seasonings.  Popeye’s version is among the worse we’ve had, a pitiful pretender that any self-respecting Cajun would toss out.

Popeye’s coleslaw tastes surprisingly like the Colonel’s with a similar surfeit of cloying salad cream.

Our former home state of Mississippi seemingly competed with New Mexico for last place in every ignominious list compiled, but one category in which it leads the nation is in production of pond-raised catfish.  We learned during our eight years in the Deep South what great catfish tastes like and it certainly isn’t what Popeye’s puts on the plate.  The Popeye’s version is desiccated and somewhat flavorless in comparison to what we became accustomed to.

A dessert offering called “Mississippi Mud” might be appropriately named because that’s where it belongs–on the bottom of the murky river for which it is named.  We enjoyed Mississippi Mud throughout the South and will argue that Popeye’s version is a misnomer.

The chicken is the reason most poultry patrons visit Popeye’s and why they return in droves.

Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits
10074 Coors, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 30 April 2007
BEST BET: Spicy Fried Chicken

Marco Pollo Charbroiled Chicken – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Marco Pollo serves some of the best rotisserie chicken you can have.

Marco Pollo Charbroiled Chicken

While eating a store-bought rotisserie chicken is somewhat more appealing than than consuming the very last one of Quickie Mart’s perpetually rotating, alutaceous (seared to a leathery sheen under a heat lamp inferno) hot dogs, the prospect of a desiccated rotisserie chicken carcass for dinner is hardly tempting. Experience has taught us that while slightly less leathery, restaurant rotisserie chicken would be a challenge for the most advanced desalination technologies. That’s what we expected during our inaugural visit to Marco Pollo Charbroiled Chicken.

Were we ever in for a pleasant surprise! As it turns out, Marco Pollo serves some of the best char-broiled chicken we’ve had in a long time. Best of all, Marco Pollo is the first instantiation of a local restaurant chain with the gloss and grandiosity of a national franchise. It is not related to a similarly named chain enterprise out of Texas.

Marco Pollo Charbroiled Chicken is the brainchild of Mark Harden, a plucky local entrepreneur who managed New Mexico’s Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in the ’80s and later ran the now defunct (in New Mexico at least) Pollo Asado. Harden created the recipes, marinades and concept for a restaurant venture he hopes to expand further. The concept includes a red and yellow plumed mascot who very closely resembles the famous San Diego Chicken.

Under plexiglass in each of the restaurant’s circular tables is a map of the world with clever cartoon illustrations of local interest events, fauna, flora and personalities. A child with an imagination (even a 48-year old child like me) could get lost for hours circumnavigating the globe and interacting with all the wonder depicted on each table.

Marco Pollo’s menu is replete with poultry a plenty–not only the charbroiled chicken in which the restaurant specializes, but chicken wings, chicken burritos, chicken tacos, chicken enchiladas, chicken nachos and more. The chicken is marinated in a garlic, fruit and spice mix developed by Harden then is grilled over an open flame. Charbroiled chicken is available in quarter, half or whole sizes. You’ll want to have some left over for dinner so order the 12-piece chicken which includes three large side items and tortillas.

Unlike its store-bought brethren, Marco Pollo’s charbroiled chicken is moist, tender and delicious. The garlic, fruit and spice mix (while perhaps just a bit too salty) permeates throughout the chicken, not just the skin. Despite being truly finger-licking good, this is a multi-napkin chicken.

Except for the Lara Flynn Boyle thin tortillas, the sides were excellent. The Fiesta coleslaw is made with a sweet salad dressing and is crunchy and crisp. The rice was perfectly cooked with just a hint of spice. The best side, however, was the sweet corn and zucchini (calabasitas) which melded sweet yellow corn and fresh zucchini in a marriage of sweet and savory contrasts.

The restaurant’s salsa bar features a pico de gallo salsa with mushy tomatoes, a house salsa with little bite and an avocado salsa which lacked salt but was better than the other two. You’re free to abscond to your table with as many chips as you can carry.

A separate part of the capacious restaurant is dedicated Galileo’s Galley which serves frozen custard and Italian ices. Italian ice flavors are rotated daily, but the soft-serve frozen custard is available in chocolate and vanilla every day. If you can’t make up your mind which to have, ask for an Italian parfait in which vanilla custard is layered with the flavor of the day Italian ice. We’ve lucked out during our visits and have had both lemon and watermelon flavored Italian ices that complement the velvety smooth and creamy (and dreamy) ice cream wonderfully.

All adventurous culinary explorers should navigate to Marco Pollo soon!

Marco Pollo Charbroiled Chicken
9880 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 29 October 2006
COST: $$
BEST BET: Charbroiled Chicken, Rice, Fiesta Cole Slaw, Sweet Corn & Zucchini, Italian Parfait

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