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Hominy Grill – Charleston, South Carolina

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The world-famous Hominy Grill

In May, 2011, Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine invited some of the most prolific culinary bloggers across the country (including yours truly) to a culinary “throw-down” of sorts. We were asked to provide a fun and humorous argument as to why our particular regional cuisine reigns supreme. Why, for example, is New Mexican food better than Cajun food in the Louisiana Bayou, barbecue in Texas or Pittsburgh’s old world cuisine? We were asked to put on our best used car salesperson hat and sell our region hard. 

It certainly wasn’t difficult to sell the incomparable cuisine of my beloved Land of Enchantment.  In fact–and this won’t surprise any of my readers–the biggest challenge was the magazine’s imposed limit of 500 words.  For me that’s sometimes just an intro.  At the risk of immodesty, my feature on New Mexico’s “chile country” provided the most persuasive arguments  though that may not have been the case had a blogger representing Lowcountry cuisine been invited to the throw-down. 

Two minutes after this picture was taken, every seat in this dining room was occupied

Two minutes after this picture was taken, every seat in this dining room was occupied

Far be it for me to back down from a challenge so just what is it about Lowcountry cuisine that leads me to believe it might have an advantage–maybe even several advantages–over New Mexican cuisine.  For one, no other cuisine has the depth and breadth of influences found in Lowcountry cuisine.  While New Mexican cuisine is the synthesis of Spanish and Native American culinary traditions, Lowcountry cooking combines strong African (slaves and their descendents) and Caribbean influences. Lowcountry cuisine is rich in seafood diversity–crabs, shrimp, fish, and oysters–and of course, barbecue. 

From its onset, Lowcountry cooking has practiced farm-to-table principles, relying  on fresh, high-quality, local ingredients: seafood caught in briny waters, livestock raised in its verdant pastures and produce grown in the area’s distinctively fecund soil.  For generations of cooks and chefs in coastal South Carolina and Georgia, farm-to-table isn’t just a slogan or aspirational movement, it’s how cooking has always been done.   Moreover, Lowcountry cooking is done by hand with a meticulous attention to detail. New Mexican cuisine, we must admit, was once rooted in true farm-to-table traditions, but has moved away from them over the years.

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Steaming cup of coffee and cup of she crab soup

From 2009 through 2010, Lowcountry chefs in Charleston garnered the James Beard “Best Chef of the Southeast” award for three consecutive years, a feat only one other culinary region (New York) has accomplished.  Among restaurants featuring New Mexican cuisine, only Mary & Tito’s Cafe and The Shed have earned James Beard awards, both selected for the “Americas Classic Award” which honors “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community, and that have carved out a special place in the American culinary landscape.”  No chef plying his or her art exclusively with New Mexican cuisine has ever won.

Robert Stehling, owner-chef of the Hominy Grill was the first of the three contemporary high priests of Lowcountry cuisine to earn the James Beard award.  Remarkably, he did so by serving classic Lowcountry cooking–including breakfast–in a very modest restaurant setting.  There is nothing pretentious, avant-garde, or high-end in Chef Stehling’s approach.  If anything, his approach to Lowcountry cuisine is very down-to-earth, simple and straight-forward.  His exceptionalism is in just slightly upscaling the way Lowcountry moms and chefs have cooked for generations.

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Charleston Nasty Biscuit with fried chicken breast, cheddar cheese & sausage gravy

Far from being housed in a stately Southern manor, the Hominy Grill is located in a circa 1800s edifice that formerly operated as a barbershop.  It’s reputedly one of the toughest tables in town to snag and not just because of the James Beard notoriety.  The Hominy Grill has been featured on a Food Network special hosted by Alton Brown honoring “America’s ten best regional classics.”  Rachael Ray came calling for her $40 A Day series.  So did Adam Richman for a taping of the Travel Channel’s Man Vs. Food program.  Anthony Bourdain stopped by when taping No Reservations for the Travel Channel.  You get the point.  Celebrity anointed restaurants tend to attract teeming and hungry masses.

Arriving half an hour early on a calm Sunday morning made me first in line on a queue that would eventually stretch along the sidewalk.  Despite two dining rooms and a patio for delightful al fresco dining, the Hominy Grill isn’t especially commodious, but it is extremely well-staffed and efficient.  Orders are taken and delivered quickly.  You won’t even finish your first mug of coffee before your food starts to arrive.  The coffee, a special Hominy Grill blend, is amazing–so much so that I’m borrowing from Coffee Review: “Remarkable aromatic balance and big, suavely sweet acidity make this a remarkable blend despite its relatively light body and short finish. Dark chocolate, aromatic wood, tart, cherryish fruit carry from aroma through cup with poised authority.”  It’s truly one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever enjoyed.

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Chocolate Pudding

The Hominy Grill blend coffee is served steaming hot unlike the tepid blends New Mexican restaurants tend to serve.  It’s a perfect accompaniment to a steaming bowl of she crab soup.  Yes, she crab soup.  Since you might be curious as to how one can tell “he” from “she” crabs, the telltale sign is the eggs from the female crab which give it a unique flavor.  Considered one of Charleston’s signature dishes, she crab soup is a wonderfully light yet creamy elixir flavored with sherry complemented by chives and brimming with crab.  When my Kim accuses me of being crabby, I’ll forever think of this magnificent soup.

One of the Hominy Grill’s most famous dishes goes by the head-scratching name “Charleston Nasty,” a misnomer if there ever was one.  This sinfully rich, traditionally made and absolutely delicious entree should be called “The Charleston Awesome.”  The Charleston Nasty showcases the seasoned pork sausage Chef Stehling makes from scratch every morning.  The sausage is crumbled onto a pan then sauteed with onion and bell pepper.  A little flour and chicken stock finished with a smidgeon of heavy cream and you’ve got the gravy which is slathered on a mile-high biscuit bisected by a Southern-fried (in a skillet) chicken breast topped with shredded Cheddar cheese.  This is a breakfast sandwich for the ages!

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Sunflower Toast and Raspberry Jam

Invariably, on the rare occasions in which we visit Chinese restaurant buffets, my very favorite item is the  chocolate pudding.  That’s an indictment on how bad Chinese buffets tend to be because the chocolate pudding (forgive me Bill Cosby) is extremely pedestrian.  When Food Network glitterati Alton Brown mentioned on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” that his favorite chocolate dessert was the chocolate pudding at the Hominy Grill, I knew this was not the chocolate pudding of Chinese buffets.  Brown called it “the cashmere of chocolate pudding,” as apt a description if there ever was one.  Made with Callebaut dark chocolate and vanilla bean-soaked Bourbon then topped with homemade whipped cream, it’s a very adult chocolate pudding.  It’s dense with an intensely dark chocolate addictive flavor.  Chinese buffet chocolate pudding just won’t do any more. 

Seeing raspberry jam within easy reach among the condiments at my table meant toast was a must-have.  The challenge was in selecting the bread canvas for the raspberry jam: white, wheat, rye or sunflower.  Sunflower, not often found in the Land of Enchantment, was a no-brainer.  It was also a great choice, a terrific landing place for the homemade raspberry jam.  The jam was very much reminiscent of Heidi’s, a New Mexico institution.  That means it was great!

Admittedly, Lowcountry cuisine has a lot going for it with exemplary restaurants such as the Hominy Grill garnering legions of fans. It would have been easy to make a case for Lowcountry cuisine reigning supreme among all regional cuisines, but my heart and appetite will forever remain loyal to the incomparable cuisine of the Land of Enchantment.

Hominy Grill
207 Rutledge Avenue
Charleston, South Carolina
(843) 937.0930
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 13 April 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: She Crab Soup, Charleston Nasty Biscuit, Chocolate Pudding, Sunflower Seed Toast and Raspberry Jam

Hominy Grill on Urbanspoon

The Range – Bernalillo, New Mexico

My friend Karen Baehr and the Range

My friend Karen Baehr stands next to the range at The Range

The phoenix of ancient Egyptian mythology was a sacred firebird of beautiful red and gold plumage said to live for centuries. At the end of its life, the phoenix built itself a nest of cinnamon twigs which it then ignited. Both the phoenix and the nest burned fiercely and were reduced to ashes from which a new phoenix arose.  Similarly, the Range Cafe in Bernalillo was claimed by a fiery conflagration only to rise up from the ashes to exceed its former glory to become one of the most popular restaurants in New Mexico.

Like the phoenix, the Range is a rare breed–one of the few locally owned and operated (non-chain) restaurants which at any given time (make that, almost all the time) has diners lining up for a seat. That may be because the Range offers the “familiar” in serving comfort foods and local favorites and serves them in the profuse portion sizes American diners love.

Creative art abounds at the Range Cafe

The original Range debuted in September, 1992 in Bernalillo’s main street, Camino Del Pueblo. The restaurant was an instant success, quickly becoming more than a local favorite.  Not quite three years later (on May 30, 1995), the Range went up in smoke–a huge conflagration consumed the entire restaurant. The community let it be known that they wanted their favorite restaurant rebuilt and held fund-raising events to help with the process.

Two months after the fire, the Range was back in business, albeit in a temporary location directly across the street from the church, thereby making it unlawful to obtain a beer and wine license. In April, 1996, the Range negotiated to rent a circa 1905 property which once served as the warehouse of the Bernalillo Mercantile. By December of that year, the Range officially re-opened at its present address, 925 Camino del Pueblo in the heart of downtown Bernalillo. Like the majestic phoenix, the Range rose from the ashes and has been going strong ever since.

Stuffed Range Toast

Stuffed Range Toast

The Range shares building space with Rose’s Pottery House owned by life-long Bernalillo resident Antoinette Silva. Part museum, part art gallery, it features contemporary and ancient Pueblo pottery and art. It’s a must stop before or after dining at the Range.  During its nearly 80 year history, the building, now covering a full city block, served as a general store, movie theater, auto repair shop and permanent home to one of the finest collections of Native American and Hispanic art in New Mexico.

After obtaining a liquor license, the Range opened the Lizard Rodeo Lounge, a welcoming, non-smoking gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The Lounge includes a full-service bar and offers a full service-menu as well as live, free entertainment featuring local New Mexico bands.  Every Thursday is open mike night for all aspiring stars.

A "short" stack

A “short” stack

A contemporary Southwestern artsy ambiance enhances your entire dining experience. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to catch your eye. Even the chairs and tables are functional art. While the milieu may seemingly scream “contemporary western,” ergo “home on the range,” the restaurant is actually named for the other kind of range–the one on which you prepare food. Several old stoves as well as stove art festoon the restaurant. Art and ambiance not withstanding, it’s the wonderful food that’s the big attraction. Not only are the portions profuse and most menu items familiar, they are generally delicious and reasonably priced. 

The Range is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Matt DiGregory whose other popular restaurant ventures in the Duke City area include the Standard Diner and now defunct and much missed Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen.  The entrepreneurial restaurateur is a visionary innovator whose restaurant concepts defy local stereotypes.  His idea to combine fine cooking (such as applying French culinary techniques to the preparation of meatloaf) with comfort food was years before its time.

A trio of salsa, con queso and guacamole with blue corn tortilla chips

The Range trio of guacamole, salsa and con queso with blue corn chips

Breakfast

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the Range’s eye-opening, belly-busing breakfasts are a good way to start off the day, but if you’re inclined to get sleepy after a big meal, you might want to split breakfast with someone you love. That’s because the Range’s portions are humongous.  The most popular entree on the voluminous Range menu, by the way, is the huevos rancheros.  It’s possible the Range sells more huevos rancheros than any other restaurant in New Mexico.  Diners come from miles around to partake of these award-winning treasures.

The gargantuan breakfast burrito includes three large eggs scrambled with either ham, sausage or grilled veggies, wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with white cheddar and your choice of red or green chile. It is accompanied by Range fries and pinto beans. Both the red and the green chile at the Range can be about as piquant  (or as mild) as you’d get at some New Mexican restaurant, depending on the season and batch. It may open your eyes in the morning.

The Range’s version of green chile chicken stew

Even larger than the breakfast burrito, if that’s possible, is a breakfast entree called the “Range Roundup” in which a homemade biscuit is topped with crumbled, crisp bacon and sausage, two eggs fixed your way smothered in chile and white cheddar cheese with Range fries and pinto beans.  This entree should come standard with an angioplasty.

2 May 2009: For a week’s worth of calories, try the stuffed Range toast–three brick-sized slices of cinnamon raisin bread with a rich egg batter, grilled and stuffed with strawberries and bananas then topped with homemade apple/peach butter, whipped cream and maple syrup. These are among the most decadent French toast in New Mexico and should be shared.

Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla

Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla

2 May 2009: Should you opt instead for pancakes “Short stack” is a misnomer for the two large pancakes (the size of manhole covers) that leave very little of your plate uncovered. These syrupy orbs, like most Range portions, are big enough to share (they could feed a developing country).

Appetizers, Soups and Salads

2 April 2008: Lest I forget, one of the best ways to start a meal at the Range is with the trio of guacamole, salsa and con queso with blue corn tortilla chips. The salsa is about medium on the piquancy scale, but it is fresh, rich and delicious. The guacamole is buttery and fresh, the product of excellent ingredients. Only the con queso, which lacks creaminess, disappoints. It’s a bit on the thick side and includes no ameliorants to contrast the cheesiness.

Range Quesadilla

Range Quesadilla

28 May 2012: You can’t mention comfort foods without a prominent spot on the list for soups. The soups–especially the cream of mushroom soup and the cream of carrot soup–are among the very best you’ll find in New Mexico. These are the type of soups you love most on a cold winter day, but which are great any time of year. Thick, rich, hearty and replete with fresh ingredients, they’re an elixir for whatever (if anything) ails you. I’m not quite as fond of the Range’s green chile chicken stew, perhaps a misnomer because it’s described on the menu as a “soup that serves like a meal.”  It really is a soup as it’s not thick and creamy as most traditional green chile stews tend to be.  Within a thin soupy broth, you’ll find blue corn tortilla chips, potatoes, carrots, celery, tendrils of chicken and a barely discernible chile. 

20 November 2009: The motto of the Range Cafe is “ordinary food done extraordinarily well.” Ordinary doesn’t have to be boring or the “same old thing” everyone else serves. The Range Cafe takes some liberties with New Mexican cuisine and comfort food favorites. Take for example the shrimp scampi quesadilla, sauteed shrimp marinated in tequila, lime and garlic combined with tomatillo, pico de gallo, corn and white Cheddar cheese grilled on a flour tortilla and served with sour cream and guacamole. The shrimp is sweet and succulent, blending in extraordinarily well with the other flavor combinations. 

Green Chile Strips (breaded whole chiles served with a cool, creamy jalapeno dipping sauce), a Range Cafe appetizer favorite

4 April 2014: Vegetarians and Catholics out on a Lenten Friday aren’t left out in the cold when they crave quesadillas.  The Range Quesadilla is everything any discerning diner desires in a quesadilla save for a meaty protein.  A large, grilled flour tortilla is folded over artichoke hearts, red bell pepper, tomato, green chile and white Cheddar then served with the tasty triumvirate of salsa, guacamole and sour cream.  Even avowed carnivores will enjoy this terrific tortilla treat, but if they must have a protein, it’s also available with chicken.

28 May 2012: Another appetizer catering to New Mexican tastes is a plate of green chile strips, breaded whole chiles served with a cool, creamy jalapeño dipping sauce.  Served four to an order, each of the green chile strips is at least six inches of piquancy and deliciousness.  Unlike some chile rellenos, the batter is thin, light and doesn’t fall off the chiles.  The jalapeño dipping sauce is cool heat, a perfect accompaniment for chilephiles who know the only way to improve on a heat-generating food is with even more heat. 

Asian Salad

Asian Salad

4 April 2014: The Range menu features ten salads ranging from the familiar and traditional (taco salad, Caesar and wedge) to the innovative (Grilled Salmon Berry and Quinoa).  The Asian Salad–fresh spinach and mixed greens with cabbage, carrots, jicama, cucumber, snow peas, sliced almonds and frizzled onions tossed in sesame ginger dressing–probably falls in the latter category.  It’s an exceptional salad highlighted by freshness and diversity of ingredients.  Alas, those ingredients have a similar flavor profile and the salad would probably benefit from a mild cheese.

Entrees

The aforementioned meatloaf, christened Tom’s meatloaf in honor of Range co-founder Tom Fenton, is a comfort food standard served with garlic mashed potatoes and a delicious mushroom gravy. The meatloaf is a substantial brick-sized slab of moist deliciousness. Like most Range entrees, it’s served almost out-of-the-stove hot. The mashed potatoes are made with real potatoes, not the powdery stuff and surprise, surprise…you can actually taste the garlic.

Mac and cheese with a unique Range twist, green chile

Mac and cheese with a unique Range twist, green chile

Another comfort food specialty, the chicken fried steak (a fresh beef cube steak breaded and smothered with cream gravy) is as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Land of Enchantment’s Rio Grande valley. Even Texans (for whom chicken fried steak is a religion) enjoy the Range’s Texas-sized version which even has the size (everything’s bigger in Texas) they appreciate. This chicken fried steak is tender enough to be cut with a fork.

20 November 2009: Recognizing that mac and cheese are everyone’s favorite, the Range makes theirs with a special New Mexico unique twist–green chile. The macaroni is rigatoni, the size of a culvert. The cheese is creamy and delicious with a prominent white Cheddar flavor though it’s entirely possible more than one cheese is used. The entire bowl–and it’s the size of a hub cap–is covered with ground parmesan. The green chile is a bit mild on the piquancy scale, but it’s a delicious chile that complements the mac and cheese very well.

Trout

The Range Trout

Although comfort foods hold a prominent place on the menu, my favorite entree (when on the menu) is the Thai shrimp noodles with semi spicy peanut sauce and julienne vegetables. It’s an entree as good as you’ll find at some Thai restaurants and like many Thai entrees, has a flavor profile that includes a nice balance of sweet, savory and piquant flavors.

The Range burger starts with an eight-ounce fresh ground chuck patty flame grilled to order.  It’s topped with shaved ham, green chile strips and melted white cheddar cheese on a fresh, homemade bun.  It is one of six inventive burgers on the menu, the most unique being a Relleno Burger topped with a blue corn chile relleno and green chile sauce.  Obviously these are not boring burgers. The ground chuck patty is what all burgers in the area should aspire to be.

The Rio Grande Gorge: 8-ounce ground chuck beef patty served open face on a tortilla, topped with red or green chile sauce, Cheddar, grilled onions, black beans, Range fries with queso

An eight-ounce ground chuck patty is also a key component of the Rio Grande Gorge in which the patty is served open face on a tortilla, topped with red or green chile sauce, Cheddar, grilled onions, black beans and Range fries with queso. It sounds great–and for the most part it is, save for the queso which tops the Range fries which is of Velveeta quality.

2 April 2008: Dinner specials are generally so good you’ll wish they were on the standard menu. One example is the Range’s trout which is topped with capers, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes in a light white wine sauce. The trout is flaky and grilled to perfection. The natural brininess melds perfectly with the tanginess of the ingredients topping the trout. A lime and cilantro infused Basmati rice makes for excellent accompaniment to this dish.

The dessert case is an edible work of art.  You'll want to lick the glass.

The dessert case is an edible work of art. You’ll want to lick the glass.

Desserts

Desserts, are so good, they’re almost indecent!  The Range bakes only with real butter, fresh cream, real vanilla, fresh fruits and fine chocolates. Anything can be made a la mode for a pittance.  The Range’s dessert case is one of Bernalillo’s most popular attractions, one that should be displayed on tourist guide books.  Not only is each dessert esthetically pleasing (drool eliciting), they’re all delicious.

The roadhouse chocolate cake is among the most moist cakes you’ll find anywhere while the “Life by Chocolate” cake defines the word decadent. Featuring milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, Belgian white chocolate and raspberry mousse layered together and glazed with a rich ganache, this is the type of dessert your dentist warned you about as a child and your dietician cautions against today.

Key Lime Pie at the Range

20 November 2009:  If you’re served green key lime pie, there’s a good bet either food coloring was added or the pie mix came out of a box.  In the Florida keys, no restaurant can expect to stay in business for long if it serves green key lime pie.  Key lime pies should always be pale yellow, usually a good indication that actual key lime juice is used.  The Range’s key lime pie is very reminiscent of those we enjoyed so much when traveling through Florida where the key lime pie has been designated by the state legislature as “the official pie of the state of Florida.”  The Range’s version has a tart, but not lip-pursing, flavor.  It’s also very aromatic, another sign of authenticity.

4 April 2014: In New Mexico, chefs and cooks love showing off the versatility of green chile.  One of the most delicious is in apple pie, an idea which makes good sense considering chile (a member of the nightshade family) is closer related to fruits than it is to vegetables.  The Range’s green chile apple pie with piñon streusel in a flaky pie crust is among the best.  The green chile packs the type of piquant punch that titillates the back of your throat.  For the faint of heart and tongue, this pie should be served a la mode.

Green chile apple pie with piñon streusel in a flaky pie crust

Green chile apple pie a la mode

The Range expanded from its Bernalillo location by launching at two Albuquerque locations, both of which experience the same overflow crowds as the original. Rather than creating a separate entry for each, I’ll update this listing for any visit to the Range, regardless of location.

This is a restaurant about which seldom a disparaging word is heard. Like the Phoenixes rise from the ashes, it continues to ascend in the estimation of its many patrons.

The Range
264 Camino Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 867-1700
Web Site


LATEST VISIT: 4 April 2014
# OF VISITS: 24
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Desserts, Meatloaf, Mushroom Soup, Mac and Cheese, Shrimp Scampi Quesadilla, Range Quesadilla,

Range Café on Urbanspoon

Hartford Square – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Hartford Square, a delightful cafe on Broadway just north of Central

The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star.”
~ Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Dante Alighieri’s 14th century poem Divine Comedy postulated the existence of nine circles of Hell, each circle appropriate to the sins of the damned.  The fourth circle, for example, is reserved for hoarders and wasters whose punishment is to spend eternal life rolling giant boulders at one another.  While gastronomy is a virtue and not a sin, were there to have been a circle in Hell for gastronomes, there’s no doubt it would have been to spend eternity eating in chain restaurants where we would be subjected to the tedium and monotony of forevermore eating homogeneous foods.  It would certainly make prophetic my words “I’ll be damned if I ever eat at Chili’s or Applebee’s.”

Gastronomes need the spice of life that is variety.  Unlike gluttons who eat and drink excessively or voraciously, (and therefore spend eternal life in the fourth circle of Hell where they wallow in muck and mire) gastronomes need not consume food in large quantities.  Instead, we (and I’m including the faithful readers of this blog here) need the diversity that comes from foods with varying food profiles.  We need restaurants like Hartford Square.

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The very active exhibition kitchen at Hartford Square

Fittingly Hartford Square’s motto is “variety is the spice of life” and it’s not a motto that graces the menu and its Web site solely for the sake of pandering to an adventurous demographic.  It’s the restaurant’s modus operandi.  Hartford Square changes its menu every week, based on what is abundant and available.  For gastronomes whose favorite dish is the next new adventure in deliciousness, it’s a formula that works.  We like being surprised and rather than fretting the absence of a favorite dish, we celebrate the new dish which took its place. Visiting Hartford Square is almost like visiting a new restaurant every week.

The menu is simple and short.  It’s the antithesis of the compendium menus which promise all things to all diners and fall woefully short.  The only aspect of the menu that’s even remotely formulaic is that you’ll always find outstanding pastries, soups, salads and main course dishes.  Hartford Square embraces farm-to-table concepts; most of its food is local (often organic), seasonal and healthy.  Local sources–Kyzer Farms, Michael Thomas Coffee, Chispas Farms, Old Windmill Dairy and more–are exemplars of quality, freshness and social consciousness.

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Pumpkin Donut and Michael Thomas Coffee

Hartford Square is ensconced in a 1,200 square-foot ground-floor storefront at the Belvedere Urban Courtyard condos to the immediate north of the old Albuquerque High.  The restaurant is wider than it is deep with the exhibition kitchen occupying more than half of the space.  To maximize seating, a bar-like counter with stools provides the best views in the house, allowing guests to watch the assiduous staff preparing various dishes in small batches throughout the day.  If great fortune is smiling on you, that might mean warm scones just out-of-the-oven.

Hartford Square is named for founder-owner Sarah Hartford, a New Mexico resident for two decades but with roots in New England.  On any given visit, you might see East Coast influences throughout her menu.  You will see a distinctive menu unlike that of any other restaurant in Albuquerque.  That might even mean no red or green chile on any dish–even on burritos.  This is a vive la difference approach gastronomes, much as we love our red and green, have embraced.

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Boston Baked Beans with Piccalilli Relish and Macaroni & Cheese

The first thing your eyes will probably fixate upon when you walk into Hartford Square is a glass case showcasing pastries and main dishes.  Then if your eyes need confirmation as to what they’re ogling, menus are scrawled overhead, describing each dish.  Atop the gleaming steel counter where you order as well as on top of the pastry case, you’ll espy covered pastry plates so tempting they may evoke wanton lust (and if you don’t curb that lust, maybe a future trip to the second circle of Dante’s Hell).  Pastry chef Acacia Prechtel is the talented creator of the restaurant’s artisinal pastries, all so good you might be prompted to propose marriage to her if not to one of those pumpkin donuts. 

The house coffee is sourced from Michael Thomas Coffee Roasters on Carlisle.  It’s a very highly regarded coffee which author Andrea Feucht lauded in an article for London’s The Guardian.  Not being quite the coffee connoisseur Andrea is, to me the coffee didn’t have the smoothness and richness of my favorite coffees at Cafe Bella.  Ironically, it was a glowing recommendation from Cafe Bella’s affable proprietor Michael Gonzales which prompted my inaugural visit to Hartford Square.  Where the coffee did is job superbly is as a wonderful complement to the best pumpkin donuts we’ve had anywhere.  The coffee and the donuts brought out flavor notes in one another we didn’t discern on their own.

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Stuffed Mushrooms

Having lived for two years in a Boston suburb, it made sense for old-times-sake that I’d try the Boston Baked Beans (simmered all day in molasses, mustard, cider vinegar, bacon and salt pork) and Piccalilli relish which somewhat countermands the sweetness of the beans.  Despite the city’s “Beantown” sobriquet, not all Bostonians like Boston Baked Beans which are often almost as sweet as the candy-coated peanuts which share their name.  Hartford Square’s rendition is among the very best I’ve had anywhere even without the housemade Piccalilli relish made from pickled vegetables and spices.  This is a relish so good it should be bottled and sold. 

When you order Macaroni & Cheese you don’t always know what you’re going to get.  Sometimes the dish is creamy and moist.  At other times, it’s got a good cheesy caramelization and crust.  The latter is how our macaroni & cheese was served.  Frankly it’s the way we like it because it generally means you get a stronger cheese flavor, one not diluted by cream or milk.  If we wanted runny mac & cheese, we’d open up a box of Kraft dinner (because Kraft dinner will never cross my lips, that’s a lie that will land me in the eighth circle of Hell.)

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Chicken Pot Pie

If you’re a fan of fleshy fungi, you’ll love Hartford Square’s stuffed mushrooms, individually priced mushroom caps stuffed generously with locally sourced Italian sausage.  The wonderful contrast between moist, woodsy mushrooms and nicely seasoned, tangy sausage is memorable.  To keep peace in the family you’ll want to order at least two each for every diner at your table.

Without having paused to photograph the chicken pot pie, we might not have noticed the six-petaled flowery display on the pie’s top crust.  That’s how eager we were to confirm that it tasted as good as it smelled and looked.  Puncture that crust with your fork and fragrant steam escapes, a portend to deliciousness.  The chicken pot pie is moist and unctuous, a panoply of smaller than bite sized pieces of tender chicken and fresh vegetables (carrots, potatoes, celery).

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Lemon Poppy seed Scones and Cinnamon-Apple Streusel Coffeecake

We’ve had scones all over England as well as in New England and have uncovered scones in the Land of Enchantment that are competitive with the best.  Hartford Square’s lemon poppy seed scones are right up there with the scones at Sugar Nymph’s in Peñasco and at Albuquerque’s Daily Grind.  That’s rarefied company.  What makes these scones so wonderful is their feather-light texture and the fact that they’re not overly sweet.  Best, we got them right out-of-the-oven when they were warm and delectable. 

A commonality among the pastries (aside from their deliciousness) at Hartford Square is that none are overly sweet.  They’re all imbued with natural flavors.  On the cinnamon-apple streusel coffeecake, it’s a pleasure to see real apples sliced into small cubes and not a surfeit of pectin from a box.  While pectin is a naturally occurring thickener, its gelatinous qualities can be off-putting when pectic is used to excess.  The streusel is moist and delicious, as good as any we’ve had in Albuquerque. 

If Dante Alighieri can posit nine levels of Hell with each circle appropriate to the sins of the damned, surely there are at least nine levels of Heaven. Gastronomes will be in one of them. So will Hartford Square.

Hartford Square
300 Broadway Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 265-4933
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 January 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pumpkin Donuts, Lemon Poppyseed Scones, Cinnamon-Apple Streusel Coffeecake, Boston Baked Beans with Piccalilli Relish; Macaroni & Cheese; Stuffed Mushrooms; Chicken Pot Pie


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