Walker’s Popcorn Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Walker’s Popcorn Company on Central Avenue in the UNM area

Who doesn’t love popcorn? Along with hot dogs, apple pie, hamburgers and barbecue, it’s been an American favorite–or should I say tradition–for generations. A humble treat, popcorn can grow in other parts of the world where other corn can’t. It was grown in the Americas, China, Mexico and India long before Columbus journeyed to America. According to urban myth, it was brought to the “first” Thanksgiving” (at least the one taught about in history books) by the Iroquois and since then, a tradition has existed of bringing popcorn to peace negotiations as a token of good will. Today Americans consume over seven billion quarts of popcorn every year.

For generations, throngs of Chicago residents have stood in long lines to get the world’s best popcorn at Garrett Popcorn Shop. A resilient lot, they stand there regardless of frosty air, oppressive humidity, turbulent winds and every other way in which Mother Nature vents her wrath. The popcorn at Garrett is transformative.  It’s life-altering.  It’s a religious experience.  After each visit to Chicago, we crave Garrett for months and though there is no equal, Albuquerque has a popcorn shop which does somewhat assuage our craving.

Generations of Walkers make popcorn

Walker’s Popcorn Company has been serving Albuquerque since October 1st, 2003 with a popcorn specialty store–which might not be Garrett’s (a truly incomparable shop)–but it’s pretty darn good in its own right. Appropriately enough, it’s owned by former residents of McHenry, a northwest suburb of Chicago. The Walkers are passionate about popcorn and pop their product daily the old-fashioned way, in small batches using great ingredients to ensure you always receive an unfailingly fresh popcorn product.

The Walker’s popcorn flavors are innovative and unique. You no longer have to imagine what popcorn might taste like if flavored with hot cinnamon, watermelon, tangerine or green apple because Walker’s has these flavors and many more. It’s not quite the Baskin Robbins of popcorn, but you get the picture. Traditionalists can have their plain buttered popcorn or cheddar cheese flavored popcorn if they’re daring, but you’re well advised to venture into the realm of sensory exploration. Skeptics will be quickly disarmed when they find the fruit flavored popcorn actually has a fruity taste.

A three popcorn combination from Walker’s

Expatriated Chicagoans (like my wife) order their popcorn Chicago style (cheddar tossed with caramel) by the gallon tin size. The sharp cheddar taste and caramel sweetness mingle beautifully and will leave your hands an orange, sticky mess. New Mexico style popcorn features green chile tossed with caramel. The green chile is, in fact, more piquant than what is served in many New Mexican restaurants. A green chile enchilada popcorn is also available.

Walker’s popcorn will put to shame any popcorn made in a movie theater and especially the popcorn sold at the malls around Christmas time (that popcorn should be used as packing material for gifts). It just may have you swearing off the piteous microwave mediocrity. Seasonal specialties include a biscochito flavored popcorn (that does include the flavor of anise and cinnamon) and a licorice flavored popcorn that’s popular around Halloween. Other store specialties include fudge and caramel apples.

Walker’s Popcorn Company
2720 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-7672
LATEST VISIT: 3 November 2012
BEST BET: Green chili and Caramel, Cheddar and Caramel, Cheddar and Buttered, Biscochito Flavored Popcorn

Garrett Popcorn Shop – Chicago, Illinois

The world famous Garrett Popcorn Shop on the Magnificent Mile

The favorite weather conditions for many Chicago natives correlates directly to their personal climatic ideals for standing in long lines. Chicagoans are a patient lot.  They’re used to standing in long lines, sometimes for as long as two hours…and that’s not to meet come of the city’s glitterati such as Oprah Winfrey or Mike Ditka.  They exercise Job-like patience to buy a bag or six of Garrett popcorn.  They stand in line in frosty air, in oppressive humidity and in turbulent winds.  To paraphrase the US Postal Service creed, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays Chicagoans from the decadent devouring of their favorite popcorn.”

If you don’t think any popcorn is worth waiting two hours for (especially with lake effect weather pelting your face with icy sleet), you haven’t had popcorn from the world-famous Garrett Popcorn Shop.  It’s probably not even fair to call it “popcorn” because it’s so much more than that.  It’s ethereal in its decadence and gourmet in its sophistication.  It’s the type of popcorn you crave and dream about. It’s the only popcorn to make it onto “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” an annual segment in which the mega-star shared noteworthy products with her audience.

My friends Paul and Bill admire all the popcorn

Garrett popcorn launched its now storied operation in 1949.  In addition to its ten Chicago locations (including one at O’Hare International Airport), Garrett has shops in Las Vegas and New York City as well as an international presence in Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong and Malaysia.  For those of us unable to visit one of the shops, we can still order popcorn online or over the phone.  My favorite location is the one just east of Michigan Avenue, queue length be damned.  Within a block of the shop, you’ll start to smell the buttery, rich fragrance of freshly popped popcorn wafting toward you like a sensuous siren’s call.

There are many things which make Garrett popcorn unique.  First, it’s all air-popped in small batches so it remains fresh and warm when you order it.  No fats or oils are used in their patented popping process and Garrett even grows its own corn.  Never mind the eleven secret herbs and spices.  Perhaps no recipe is as closely guarded as the Garrett popcorn recipes.  Blended with natural flavorings, the popcorn comes in four varieties: plain, buttery, caramel (with cashews, macadamias or pecans) and cheese.  The shop’s best-selling popcorn (and Oprah’s favorite) is a mix of caramel and cheese popcorn, the “Chicago Mix.” By the way, don’t dare call it “caramel popcorn!”  It’s CaramelCrisp, a trademarked name for popcorn that deserves to be distinguished.

The Chicago Mix is absolutely addictive, my very favorite popcorn anywhere!  The popcorn isn’t overly sticky or clumpy.  Instead you can pluck individual popped kernels from the distinctive bags or tins…and an unpopped kernel is as frequent as a validated chupacabra sighting.  Nor will you find that annoying “cheese dust” on the CheeseCorn (also trademarked), which is buttery, rich and oh, so cheesy.  It’s a wonderful contrast to the grown-up sweetness of the CaramelCrisp, a sweetness not smacking of sugar, but of a balance of caramel and salt.  In combination, the CaramelCrisp and CheeseCorn are the best Chicago duet in town.  It’s irresistibly delicious.

I suppose there are people somewhere who don’t like or appreciate popcorn and suspect it’s because they’ve been subjected to the barely edible movie theater variety or worse.  A trip (or ten) to Garrett Popcorn Shop will make a believer out of any skeptic.

625 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois
(888) 476-7267
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 5 September 2012
BEST BET: Chicago Mix

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