Sherman’s Deli & Bakery – Palm Springs, California

Sherman’s Delicatessen and Bakery, a Palm Springs Mainstay

Not everyone appreciated my friend Bob’s stark honesty as much as I did.  For nearly twelve years, Bob was my most trusted source for information on the Santa Fe dining scene.  He was also a huge advocate for my writing, even when his reaction to one of my particularly “long way around” missives was “what?.”  From a style perspective, he was a “get to the point” guy while your humble blogger sometimes (okay, okay, always) takes a circuitous, raconteur’s route to get somewhere.   Bob often chided me for not liking cumin on New Mexican food, once telling me “when you fault a place for cumin it immediately moves up on my list of places to try.”  Perhaps because of the scarcity of just-off-the-boat seafood in our landlocked state, he frequented Pappadeaux which I told him for my tastes should be renamed “pappa don’t.”  For years I tried getting Bob to submit comments to the blog (“to elevate the dialogue” I pleaded), but he preferred our one-on-one conversations.

Our differences of opinion extended far beyond restaurants.  A former executive at Universal Studios, Bob couldn’t understand my high regard for the irreverent comedy Blazing Saddles.  His tastes were far more artistic and less sophomoric.  We didn’t always agree on which candidates for political office were the lesser evils, but concurred that the lesser of two evils is still evil.  One thing upon which we always agreed was the dearth of real New York style delis in the Land of Enchantment.  It’s a subject about which we commiserated frequently.  Having lived in both Los Angeles and New York, Bob missed the piled high pastrami and behemoth brisket sandwiches offered by delis at both conurbations.   When we last broke bread together (he finally talked me into joining him at Pappadeaux), he confided his desire to escape Santa Fe’s winters and move to Palm Springs which he told me had a number of authentic delis, the type of which he loved and knew I would, too.  

The Perpetually Busy Main Dining Room

My friend Bob made it to Palm Springs six months before I did.  He passed away in June, 2017.  When we stepped into Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, I told my Kim “Bob is here and he’s happy that we’re here, too.”  I missed my friend and wished we were enjoying the pastrami together…although it’s a given we would have disagreed on something, perhaps whether or not caraway seeds have a place on rye bread (I’ll take the pro to his con).  Despite our differences of opinion, Bob and I were both, in his words, “your mileage may vary” guys.  We liked and respected one another so much that our differences just made for more interesting conversation.  

It’s unlikely we’d get much conversation in at Sherman’s. For one thing, it’s a very loud, very crowded restaurant. Both the interior dining room and outdoor, dog-friendly patio are rather on the noisy side. Besides, who wants to talk much when you’ve got a mountainous meal in front of you?  Were I able to get a word in, I would probably have mentioned that a framed photograph of him should have been hanging on the walls beside the numerous glitterati (Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Barry Manilow, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Rita Hayworth, Red Skelton, Marilyn Monroe and countless other celebrities) who have frequented Sherman’s. His retort would probably have been to remind me that his role wasn’t “star,” but “star-maker.”

Homemade Sweet & Sour Cabbage With Beef

Sherman’s is an old-fashioned kosher-style Jewish deli to which savvy patrons pilgrimage from all over the world.  Sherman Harris launched his eponymous restaurant in 1963 when Palm Springs was the playground for Hollywood icons.  Harris himself became a Palm Springs institution for his restaurant and philanthropic endeavors, earning a star on Palm Springs’ Walk of Stars on Palm Canyon Drive.  Today, Sherman’s is owned and operated by his children Sam Harris and Janet Harris who have carried on the famous Sherman’s legacy of great food and great customer service.  While Bob, an old friend, was the first to tell me about Sherman’s several years ago, confirmation on its greatness came from Loren Silver, big brother to my friend Sr. Plata.  Loren raved about the freshly baked breads and breakfasts.

When Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri roared into Palm Desert in his signature red hot Camaro for a taping of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (the episode first aired on May 12, 2017), one of his three area destinations was Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, albeit not the original, but a satellite just a few miles from the flagship.  In an episode entitled “Turkey, Taters and Dogs,” “Triple D” showcased Sherman’s turkey pastrami and latkes (more on these treasures below).  Fieri raved about Sherman’s delicious rye bread, up to 100 loaves a day baked  in-house.  He also helped prepare the turkey pastrami, a two day process (24 hours of brining followed by 24 hours wrapped up in spices, followed by it’s final destination: the smoker).

Corned Beef, Pastrami, and Turkey with Cole Slaw and 1000 Island Dressing

Having been privileged to serve as a judge for the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souperbowl (the next event will be held on Saturday, January 27th, 2018  from 11 am to 2 pm.) on eight occasions, I’ve enjoyed some of the very best soups prepared and served by many of the Duke City area’s very best restaurateurs.  One soup never served to our esteemed panel has been sweet and sour cabbage with beef, a Jewish staple for generations.  It’s long been one of my favorite soups though I didn’t have a bubbie to prepare it for me.  Sherman’s sublime version is served hot and in plentiful portions.  Shards of beef, tender white cabbage, pearlescent onions and endless delicious define this elixir about which Sherman’s says “this outstanding soup is one that has made our reputation what it is today.”

Another soup not yet featured at the Souperbowl is an old-fashioned matzo ball soup, often considered the quintessential Jewish comfort food.  Made with chicken stock and matzo balls, a type of dumpling made by mixing chicken fat, matzo meal, water, and spices to taste, it’s a popular choice for Passover, but some of us like it all year-long.  Sherman’s matzo ball soup is served in a swimming pool-sized bowl and arrives at your table steaming hot.  It’s a soup so good you’d order it on one of Palm Springs’ many sweltering summer days.

Corned Beef, Pastrami & Swiss on Light Rye

You might think there’s a shortage of beef across the Land of Enchantment considering the parsimonious portions of meats with which New Mexico’s restaurants adorn their sandwiches.  Clara Beller’s “where’s the beef” lament should be the battle cry of diners who have got to feel cheated by meats folded over so as to give the appearance of more meat.  A typical sandwich at Sherman’s has several times more meat than most sandwiches in Albuquerque.  The #17 (corned beef, pastrami and turkey with cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing on buttery, grilled light rye), for example, is a skyscraper-sized behemoth with perhaps as much as three-quarters of a pound of each of the three meats.  It’s really three sandwiches in one.  Understandably, my favorite was the pastrami which is sliced thin and brined beautifully with caramelized edges. 

My Kim’s choice, another wonderful sandwich was constructed with pastrami and corned beef with cole slaw on grilled rye bread.  Sans turkey, this sandwich better showcased the sweet tanginess of the cole slaw, a moist, creamy version.  It also gave us the opportunity to better appreciate the light rye with the caraway seeds my friend Becky Mercuri appreciates on New York rye.  Sherman’s rye comes unadorned, but you have your choice of mustard–either Beaver brand deli mustard or honey mustard.  Both are terrific.  Because Sherman’s sandwiches are so large, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to open your mouth wide enough to enjoy them as you would other sandwiches.  These are best enjoyed with knife and fork or deconstructed.  That pastrami is heavenly…where my friend Bob is now enjoying his.

Latka with Sour Cream and Applesauce

If the term “latka” conjures images of the television sitcom character Latka Gravas, you need to visit an authentic Jewish kosher-style deli…and soon!  Latka (more commonly spelled “latke”), traditional Jewish potato pancakes often served during Hanukkah, are a specialty of Sherman’s (which graciously shows how they’re made on this video).  Sherman’s latkas are the very best we’ve ever had!  Served with apple sauce and sour cream, the latkas are absolutely addictive, so good you won’t want to share them.  They’re crispy (almost caramelized) on the outside and fluffy and light on the inside.  Sherman’s thinks so highly of their latka that they offer a specialty sandwich in which a generous serving of Corned Beef or Pastrami is made into a sandwich with two homemade potato latkes in place of bread.  We had our latka on the side, but could easily see the appeal of latkes in place of bread.

My Kim jokes that my favorite part of “adultery” (her wordplay for adulthood) is not having to wait until after a meal to have dessert.  Indeed, it’s not uncommon for me to have dessert before enjoying any savory fare.  The temptation to do so was certainly rife at Sherman’s which has one of the most alluring dessert cases we’ve ever seen with slabs of beauteously frosted cakes, pulchritudinous pies, craveable cookies and sumptuous specialty items such as bobka, cannoli, sticky buns, cinnamon rolls and Boston Cream pie (which I blame for my “freshman fifteen” after having lived in the Boston area for two years right out of high school).  Sherman’s rendition is as good as many decadent cake slices I enjoyed in Boston.  Layered with custard and topped with chocolate ganache, the Boston cream pie is as moist and tender as any in the Bay State.

Boston Cream Pie

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery is an old-fashioned kosher-style deli, the type of which my friend Bob and I would wander in the desert for forty years to visit.  It’s an outstanding deli and bakery.

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery
401 East Tahquitz Canyon Way
Palm Springs, California
(760) 325-1199
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Corned Beef, Pastrami, and Turkey Sandwich; Corned Beef, Pastrami & Swiss on Light Rye; Latka; Homemade Sweet & Sour Cabbage With Beef; Boston Cream Pie
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1015

Sherman's Deli & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monte Carlo Steakhouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Package Liquor Store

The Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Package Liquor Store

“Last night I broke the seal on a Jim Beam decanter
That looks like Elvis.”
~George Jones

Having spent much of his career in an inebriated state, Country music icon George Jones actually lived the life experiences that inspired much of his music.  After one of his four divorces, Jones sat alone in a rather empty home, his ex-wife having absconded with almost everything–furniture, china, glassware and more.  Among the few items left behind were a small table, a Jim Beam whiskey decanter bearing the likeness of Elvis Presley, and a Fred Flintstone jar of jelly beans.  After dumping the jelly beans, the “Possum” used the jar as a glass into which he poured the entire contents of the Jim Beam decanter.  The imaginary conversations he had with Elvis and Fred Flintstone during his impaired state were the inspiration for the song “The King is Gone.” 

Only among avid collectors will you generally find Jim Beam decanters sporting the likeness of The King.  The Duke City’s most prolific collectors of vintage adult beverage decanters, bottles and signage is the Monte Carlo Steak House on Route 66.  Kitschy mirrors emblazoned with the logos of beer distributors, anthropomorphic alcohol decanters, faux wood walls, garish neon signs, Velvet Elvis and stereotypical “leatherette” booths may have been born in another era, but they never go out of fashion because the Monte Carlo is one of the most comfortable and welcoming restaurants in the city. To those in the know, it’s also one of Albuquerque’s very best steak houses.

Taking you back 40 years–the interior of the Monte Carlo Steakhouse

“Those in the know” now include a nation-wide audience who watched the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode entitled “Where the Locals Go” in which “local hot spots” got the inimitable Guy Fieri treatment.  Contrary to the episode’s title, not all locals go to the Monte Carlo–or at least they didn’t until after the show’s premier.  In fact, many people even within the confines of the Duke City had never heard of the Monte Carlo until the Food Network introduced it to them.  It truly was one of Albuquerque’s best kept secrets.  As Fieri did, you can enter the steak house through a bustling package liquor store (which doubles as a veritable museum for even more collectibles).  You can also enter directly through an entrance on the restaurant’s west side.  One of the first things you’ll notice is a full-service bar which probably can’t concoct the libation of your choice, but can dispense long-neck Budweiser, Schlitz and Pabst like there’s no tomorrow.  The volume is turned way down on the restaurant’s televisions, but then you probably couldn’t hear them amidst the din of an eclectic crowd.

One of my propeller-headed, Jedi-worshiping, 40-something Luke Skywalker wannabe colleagues uttered “come out of the light and into the darkness, Luke” when he stepped into the Monte Carlo Steakhouse from a bright, sunlit Duke City afternoon. It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the dimly lit beef and beer palace by the Rio Grande–and when they do adjust, you’ll wonder if you stepped out of a portal into the 1960s.  The Monte Carlo Steakhouse is an anachronism, a bona fide throwback to a bygone era–and indeed, the restaurant has been in business since 1970.

Greek Olives and Feta Cheese

There are no distinctions between the lunch and the dinner menu and even though the menu stipulates that baked potatoes and rice pilaf are available only after 5PM, you can generally have either with your lunch. Lunch specials are available Monday through Friday while a prime rib–regarded by many as among the city’s very best–is the evening special Thursday and Friday.  Aside from the aforementioned baked potato (perfectly done) or rice pilaf, each dinner also includes one slice of Texas toast.

The parking lot is generally crowded with mechanical conveyances of every type, size and description and waiting lists tend to be long, especially on weekends.  Despite nearly overflow crowds, the wait staff is among the most accommodating and friendly in the city.  Many regulars opt for the bounteous Greek appetizer plate in lieu of the standard fried appetizers (zucchini, onion rings, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese sticks) and are rewarded with a platter of salami strips, Greek olives, Pepperoncini, tomatoes and one solitary dolma (stuffed grape leaf) all drizzled with Kalamata olive oil.  Sadly, this otherwise outstanding precursor does not include pita bread.

Salad

Steak dinners are accompanied by your choice of soup or a fresh dinner salad (perfunctory iceberg lettuce only, not the fancy designer lettuces upscale steak houses proffer) made with shredded red cabbage, tomato, carrot slivers and your choice of dressing.  For a full Greek experience, a good bet is the zesty Greek dressing which is liberally sprinkled with bits of fetid Feta cheese.  Among the restaurant’s most popular soups is the creamy green chile chicken soup, a swimming pool-sized bowl of soul-warming soup served hot.  Thickened heavily (probably with corn starch), it is replete with chicken pieces.  The green chile lacks piquancy but has a nice flavor.  Soup and salad not withstanding, this is a meat and potatoes establishment in the anachronistic traditions of the 70s.  Observing the offerings–burgers, steaks, ribs and even a cheesesteak, Fieri noted “you don’t come to this joint for a tomato and avocado on whole wheat.

The menu defines the degree of doneness for each charbroiled steak–from the “cold center” of a rare steak to the “cooked throughout” description of a well done steak–and includes a disclaimer that the restaurant is not responsible or meat ordered well done. The chef is truly master of his broiler domain, typically achieving the exacting specifications requested by discerning diners who would think nothing of sending back a steak not prepared the way they asked for it.

A lovely slab of beef and French fries

We can’t imagine ever sending the steak back.  The bone-in 20-ounce Porterhouse steak is charbroiled to perfection with just enough marbling for flavor.  Unless otherwise requested, each steak is prepared with Seasonall, an all-purpose seasoning (no MSG) used liberally.  An excellent alternative is asking for salt, pepper and garlic on each side of your steak. While on the grill, the chef will also brush on some melted butter.

One of the things that makes a Monte Carlo steak stand out is the fact that the restaurant still cuts its own steaks fresh daily, a practice begun by founder Michael Katsaros when the restaurant launched nearly thirty years ago.  The Katsaros family still runs the restaurant.  After his first bite of a ribeye, Guy Fieri’s uttered then reiterated the statement “that’s just great.”  You’re probably thinking “he’s the host of the show and is supposed to be enthusiastic about the restaurants featured,” but his sentiment pretty much echoes that of most people who discover the Monte Carlo Steak House.

Louie's Special, maybe the best steak sandwich in town.

Fieri also pointed out that “it ain’t just killer steaks that get hand-cut here.”  The souvlaki, “made with mama’s classic Greek recipe with a family twist” is made from pork tenderloin cut at the restaurant.  Each souvlaki portion is 12 to 14 ounces of some of the most tender and delicious, albeit non-traditional, skewered meat you’ll ever have.  The souvlaki is allowed to age for five to six days in a marinade of lemon juice, white wine, salt, pepper, garlic salt, oregano and vinegar before it hits the grill.  After it’s done on the grill, it’s brushed on with a mix of olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Watching this inspired creation, Fieri exclaimed “I hear the national anthem of flavor town going off right about now.”  In between utterances of “wow” and “this is monster flavor, he called the flavor “so deep and so rich” and after a few forkfuls, he proclaimed “I’m moving in.”

3 November 2016: The charbroiled green chile cheeseburger is a role-model for how this most sacrosanct among New Mexico’s many sandwiches should be prepared. There are too many green chile cheeseburgers in which green chile barely registers on the Scoville scale with about as much piquancy as a bell pepper.  This green chile bites back with a pleasant piquancy heat lovers will respect.  What really sets this cheeseburger apart, however, is the freshness and moistness of the beef patty which is essentially ground steak, a thick third-pound of beef prepared to your exacting specifications. Wholly unlike the desiccated Frisbees served at some burger establishments, these meaty orbs are oh so wonderfully juicy–even if ordered at medium.  Monte Carlo’s green chile cheeseburger was selected for inclusion on both the 2009 and 2011 editions of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  It’s one of the favorite green chile cheeseburgers of Cheryl Jamison, the scintillating four-time James Beard Award-winning author and architect of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger initiative.  Mine, too.

Green Chile Cheeseburger, one of the very best in New Mexico

Another “not to miss” entree is the Greek style chicken. The loquacious Fieri admitted to “not having talked much or taken a breath” while sampling this perfectly prepared poultry which he described as “killer,” one of the adjectives he uses effusively when he really likes something. He also noted that “it’s about as basic as you can make it” and “as tender and juicy as you can get it.” The key is getting it. If you haven’t visited the Monte Carlo Steakhouse, it’s worth the drive from anywhere in the Duke City area just for this chicken.

3 November 2016:  If you have to work overtime to make up for an extended lunch hour to drive across town for a lunch special, it’s worth it, especially if the lunch special is the hamburger steak with grilled onions.  My friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik describes it as “75-percent as good as its counterpart at San Antonio’s fabled Owl Cafe.”  Bill, who matriculated at New Mexico Tech loves the Owl’s hamburger steak almost as much as he loves his car.  To compare the Monte Carlo’s rendition is a high compliment indeed.   Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver had his hamburger steak smothered in grilled onions and roasted green chile, two components which made his lunch even more memorable though the incendiary green chile did have him reaching for coffee more often than usual.

Hamburger steak and Onion Rings

The spaghetti’s golf ball sized meatballs have a little flavor “je ne sais quoi” that most diners try to figure out. The secret is a bit of Greek mint which just seems to invigorate the meatballs with flavor. Fieri called it a “money meatball.”

The meats are so well flavored, the service so accommodating and the ambiance so 60s, you’ll wonder why anyone would visit an inferior chain restaurant for a lesser steak or spend nearly $100 for a steak dinner at one of those hoidy toidy, fancy schmanzy restaurants.  Fieri called the Monte Carlo “just an average off-the-hook steakhouse with homemade Greek.”  Everyone else calls it special.

Monte Carlo Steak House
3916 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 831-2444
LATEST VISIT: 3 November 2016
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Greek salad; Greek Appetizer Plate; Porterhouse Steak; Green Chile Cheeseburger; Hamburger Steak

Monte Carlo Steak House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place) – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Dennis and the lovely Sophia at the viewing of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring his outstanding restaurant

Dennis and his daughter, the lovely Sophia at the viewing of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring his outstanding restaurant (Photo courtesy of Sandy Driscoll)

Picture yourself as a first-year marketing student assigned by your professor to perform a marketing analysis of Eli’s Place and its enigmatic chef-owner Dennis Apodaca.  Essentially you’ve got to figure out the rhyme and reason behind the restaurant’s success.  “Easy assignment,” you think to yourself, “Eli’s Place is successful because it serves some of the best, most delicious food in Albuquerque.”  Your research quickly reveals, however, that Eli’s Place actually violates many of the time-honored, trusted and fundamental marketing tenets of growing and successful businesses.  From a marketing perspective, it just shouldn’t work as well as it does. 

Any Marketing 101 student can tell you, for example, the importance of brand identity.  A brand is one of the most valuable and important assets of a restaurant. It needs to be carefully cultivated to ensure it properly and authentically reflects the values, attributes and passions of a business.  Eli’s Place received an enormous boost to its brand identity in 2008 when the Food Network came calling.  Being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is generally worth a fortune to any restaurant.  So what does Dennis Apodaca do?  In 2015, he renamed his restaurant, eschewing the well-established and nationally known brand name Sophia’s Place in favor of Eli’s Place.

Eli’s Place may not be as visually appealing as other restaurants, but it serves beautiful food

Then there’s the restaurant itself.  From an esthetic perspective, it isn’t nearly as inviting and attractive as those modern venues with their pristine veneer or the effusive, over-the-top flamboyance of the chains.  It’s virtually homely.  Heck, it doesn’t even have a sign telling you you’ve arrived at your destination.  The parking lot can get muddy during inclement weather which can sometimes render the outdoor patio useless.  Step inside the Lilliputian edifice and during peak hours, you’ll be challenged to find a seat.  It just doesn’t make sense that Eli’s Place works as well as it does.

The main reason for its success, of course, is gifted proprietor and chef Dennis Apodaca, an accomplished restaurateur despite (or maybe in spite of) not following a tried-and-true template. Sure, he may be an enigma to any marketing student, but to savvy diners he’s one of the very best chefs in New Mexico.  Dennis has a very impressive pedigree that includes stints at some of the best restaurants in San Francisco and Santa Fe, having worked for several world-famous, cutting-edge chefs in some of America’s most renown restaurants.  Those include Mark Miller, the high priest of modern Southwest cuisine and founder of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe and the pioneering Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse, the original California cuisine (focusing exclusively on organic, locally produced foods in season) restaurant in Berkeley, California.

The interior of Eli’s Place. Note the poster signed by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri

Apprenticing under luminary chefs may make apparent the genesis of some of his culinary influences, but it’s also obvious that Dennis loves his craft and plies it with enthusiasm and style.  I heard him speak once of his annual pilgrimages to New York and of dining at such restaurants as Katz’s, a Manhattan deli I hold in reverential esteem. Like most great chefs, he is always in pursuit of new ideas and techniques.  Dennis launched the restaurant he named for his then eight-year-old daughter Sophia on December 3rd, 2002 (and which he renamed for Sophia’s own son in 2015).  It’s situated at the former site of the once very popular, but now defunct Fajitaville, a restaurant at which he served as chef before launching his own operation. As popular as it was, you don’t hear many former Fajitaville patrons lament the change. That’s because they’ve been completely won over by Apodaca’s inventive, eclectic and funky menu–a menu that includes a range of sophisticated salads and soups, extraordinary sandwiches and lots of pleasant surprises.

Dennis is also a stickler for using fine ingredients, many of which are flown in and delivered daily to his charming North Valley restaurant. He insists on the preparation of each meal to order; you won’t find anything sitting under a heating lamp here.  You also won’t find a freezer in the premises.  Dennis believes in ultra-fresh. His menu is replete with specials of the day which change frequently, usually crafted from fresh ingredients he procures from the farmer’s markets.  Eli’s also does not have an oven or burners, just two grills, but sheer magic is created on those grills.

Chips and salsa at Eli’s

On August 25th, 2008 the Food Network’s Guy Fieri taped a segment at Sophia’s for his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program.  On a signed poster which hangs on one of the restaurant’s walls, Fieri wrote “little place, huge flavors.”  That pretty much says it all, not that Fieri didn’t say quite a bit more about Sophia’s.  After that segment aired on Monday, November 24th, 2008 getting a seat at this fabulous restaurant became even more difficult.  Guy Fieri pegged it correctly when he called him “a hands-on chef who’s doing things his own way.”  That includes touches like making his own butter and crafting all his culinary creations by hand.

24 November 2012: One holdover from Dennis’s days at Fajitaville are some of the best salsas in town.  An order of salsa and chips rewards diners with two salsas–a roasted tomato salsa and a pico de gallo style salsa coupled with housemade chips served warm.  Neither of the salsas are especially piquant, but both are redolent with freshness and flavor.  The chips are lightly salted and oversized for Gil-sized portions of salsa.  Unfortunately you’ll run out of salsa before you run out of chips.

Grilled Sirloin and Green Chile Sandwich on Sage Bakehouse Bakery Bread with Shoestring Fries

Grilled Sirloin and Green Chile Sandwich on Sage Bakehouse Bakery Bread with Shoestring Fries

Breakfast and lunch entrees are served all day which is a great thing because you never know when the urge will hit for a world-class sandwich. Sage Bakehouse bread, a New Mexico treasure, is the foundation upon which those sandwiches are built. Each sandwich is served with your choice of potato salad, green salad or homemade shoestring potatoes (a must-have).  Don’t desecrate those shoestring potatoes with ketchup. Ask instead for a small bowl of Eli’s red chile and dip your fries into that. Some of the best chile and some of the best fries in town–you can’t go wrong with that combination.

Eli’s grilled pastrami sandwich is a poor man’s version of the aforementioned Katz’s in which pastrami is piled on skyscraper high. Even though Eli’s doesn’t lay the pastrami on as thick as at Katz’s, it’s also not apportioned in waifishly thin shreds like the sandwiches the chains proffer. In Albuquerque only California Pastrami serves a better pastrami sandwich (although it dropped just a bit in my estimation when packets of mustard replaced the gourmet mustard once dolloped on the sandwich). Apodaca gets his pastrami flown in from Chicago where this brisket derivative is best made.

Chipotle Chile Bacon Cheeseburger

The green chile cheeseburger at Eli’s

30 August 2008: Also exceptional is the green chile bacon cheeseburger on hard-crusted Sage Bakehouse bread. As the hack comic Banya would tell Jerry Senifeld, “it’s the best, Jerry, the best.” In a city and state in which green chile cheeseburgers are a religion, Dennis Apodaca is a high priest, serving something just a bit different. This cheeseburger is a two-fisted edible piece of art with an explosively delicious taste.  The green chile is not so assertive that it prevents the salty sweetness of the bacon to sneak out. Instead they meld together wonderfully. The texture of the lightly toasted Ciabatta bread is a nice departure from the traditional soft burger buns. The bacon is crispy and thick. There’s no iceberg lettuce in this masterpiece; it’s salad quality mixed greens. The hamburger patty hasn’t seen  the inside of a freezer; it’s hand-formed and thick, prepared to your exacting specifications.

27 September 2016: Burger aficionados will also love Eli’s chipotle cheeseburger, a work of art and absolute beauty.  It’s got the piquancy (maybe even more) of a green chile cheeseburger with the inimitable flavor of chipotle.  If you’re not sure what a chipotle is, it’s merely a smoked, dried jalapeño.  It’s a versatile pepper, adding depth, complexity and a kick to meats, and a savory counterbalance to sweets.  At Eli’s, the chipotle doesn’t come out of a jar.  It’s the real thing, smoked at home and rehydrated to textural perfection.  This chipotle cheeseburger is simple, a thick hamburger patty, molten cheese and chipotle.  That’s it…and that’s enough.

Sophia's Breakfast Burrito

The breakfast burrito, Albuquerque’s very best

The simply named Breakfast Sandwich on (what else) toasted Sage Bakehouse bread is a concordant composition of fried eggs, bacon, cheese and fresh salsa that will help make your day start off on the right foot. It may well be the best breakfast sandwich in Albuquerque, not that there is a plethora of competition in the breakfast sandwich arena.

10 April 2008: Eli’s breakfast burrito has done something I had thought impossible. It supplanted Milton’s breakfast burrito as my favorite breakfast burrito in New Mexico. The primary reason is a wondrous red chile, a deep, earthy, sweet and utterly delicious chile of medium piquancy. This chile is in rarified company with Mary & Tito’s legendary red which I’ve long considered the best in the Duke City area. It’s the type of chile you might want to lick off your plate so as not to leave any of it behind. If Dennis were to offer New Mexican food exclusively, it would probably be the best in the city. Make sure you order your burrito “smothered” so you won’t be lamenting that there isn’t enough chile on your plate. In its September, 2011 edition, the staff of Albuquerque The Magazine undertook the enviable task of selecting the Duke City’s very best breakfast burrito. Eli’s was rated tenth best. To paraphrase the immortal words of former world boxing champion Max Schmeling’s manager Joe Jacobs, “they waz robbed!”

Huevos Mexicanos

There’s only one thing wrong with Eli’s red chile. It’s that the red is so good, many of us may never again order the breakfast burrito “Christmas style” (with both red and green chile). That would be sad because the green chile is outstanding in its own right. It’s a fruity chile with a comal roasted aroma and flavor. The breakfast burrito is crafted from organic eggs, potatoes, cheese and salsa. You can have it with your choice of bacon, pork carnitas, chicken, beef or vegetables.

23 November 2010: The daily specials on Eli’s menu truly earn the accolade “special.” Such is the case with a breakfast enchilada with turkey sausage, Cojita cheese and poblano chile. The melding of these ingredients make for an outstanding breakfast entree that I may have to bide my time to see returned to the menu. Fortunately, there’s always something else intriguing and invariably delicious to mollify my appetite.

Another special special, duck enchiladas with a green chile cream sauce

Duck enchiladas served with a green chile cream sauce

30 August 2008: Another very special special are the duck enchiladas served with a green chile cream sauce (pictured above). Somehow Dennis manages to segregate the least fatty parts of the duck while retaining all its characteristic flavor and he engorges corn tortillas with the delicious canard. A generous dollop of mildly piquant green chile sauce crowns the enchiladas with even more flavor. This special is served with black beans studded with Cojita cheese as well as a mixed greens and mango salad. This is just Dennis and his free spirited whimsy; he loves to play with ingredients and has a knack for making seemingly disparate ingredients meld together in perfect flavor synchronicity.

The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives taping took place on a day in which the special of the day was another version of duck enchiladas, this time with tomatillo sauce. Watching the step-by-step construction of this entree revealed the depth of Dennis’s talent, but even more so, just what a perfectionist he is. Every preparation step is meticulous and well practiced, obviously the result of extensive experimentation until everything is absolutely to the chef’s exacting standards.

Scallop Tacos with beans, rice and a salad

The duck, which is left in the bone and skin, is seasoned and rendered in duck fat for several hours then is de-boned by hand and seasoned again (lime, cilantro, Mexican red chile, sugar, salt and other ingredients) on the flat top.  Two legs per order of succulent duck meat are then placed on two soft corn tortillas with Asadero cheese then topped with the tomatillo sauce, toasted pumpkin seeds, scallions and queso fresco.  Fieri uttered “really good” three times punctuated with “an explosion of flavors” and “you’ve got it going on with this one.”

10 April 2015: A Washington Post writer recently proclaimed, “Ok so who in the hell doesn’t do a scallop taco?” He obviously hasn’t been around the restaurant scene in Albuquerque where scallop tacos are a novelty. In fact, Dennis is just one of a handful of chefs in the landlocked Land of Enchantment I know of daring to depart from the de rigueur fish taco (which is rarely done well in New Mexico). His version starts with gigantic sea scallops which he tucks into soft, pliable corn tacos then garnishes with a mild salsa, avocado slices and Crème fraîche. There are two scallops per taco, two tacos per order and they’re at least twice as good as the best fish taco I’ve ever had.

Sophia's shoestring fries with red chile

Eli’s shoestring fries with red chile

Eli’s scallop tacos are inspired–an amalgam of flavor combinations which work very well together.  The pearlescent scallops are grilled so they have a nice char on top and at bottom while retaining an opaque clarity that means they’re absolutely perfect.  I’ve tried in vain several times to duplicate Dennis’s wizardry with scallops, but have concluded begrudgingly that my scallop skills are rudimentary compared to the chef. 

The Saturday and Sunday brunch menu features several items not available during weekdays. These weekend specials have made Eli’s an intensely popular dining destination. You might have to wait in line ten to fifteen minutes to place your order then another half hour for your order to reach your table. It’s worth the wait.

Chilaquiles

20 April 2008: One of the best reasons to get up on a weekend are Eli’s Special Pancakes, priced daily and served with fresh fruit and real maple syrup. Those special pancakes might be sour cream and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with blueberries. The tartness of the blueberries and lemon create a palate pleasing harmony with the maple syrup. The sour cream changes the texture of standard pancakes by adding moistness while retaining the fluffiness inherent in great pancakes. 

23 November 2008: Eli’s pancakes will cure the early morning blues (or anything else that ails you).  A large stack (four) of pumpkin pancakes with pinon nut butter topped with assorted berries may be the very best pancakes you’ll ever have.  They’re stick to your ribs pancakes, the panacea for cold mornings.  Cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice emphasize the flavor of pumpkin while the berries provide a tangy contrast.  The syrup brings together the complementary tastes of sweet, tangy and pumpkiny.  Share these with people you love.

Turkey Sausage Enchiladas with Red and Green Chile

One of the things that makes Dennis’s pancakes a panacea is his homemade butter, a culinary rarity that blew even Guy Fieri away. Fieri who has probably seen just about everything on his road tours seemed amazed that Dennis would go to that extent. After sampling Eli’s homemade butter (made from separated heavy cream mixed with toasted pine nuts, dried cherries and honey), Fieri called it “outstanding.” 

4 November 2012: Other brunch favorites include Eli’s version of chilaquiles and a very unique interpretation of Huevos Rancheros called Huevos Mexicanos.  This dish is constructed from corn tortillas topped with two eggs prepared any way you want them then slathered with green chile stew.  The green chile stew is terrific, the type of which you’d appreciate at any time, but especially on a cold wintery day.  The chilaquiles are simplicity itself though its flavors are complex and delicious.  Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican dish with which Eli’s takes a few liberties, topping the eggs and tortilla chips with red chile instead of the more conventional salsa.

Lemon and sour cream pancakes with blueberries

Sour cream and lemon pancakes with a piñon butter topped with blueberries

You’ve got to experience this gem for yourself to find out what so many diners know–Eli’s Place is one of Albuquerque’s very best restaurants of any genre. Overflow crowds and accolades don’t tell the whole story. That lies in each and every wonderful morsel of pure deliciousness fashioned by the inventive hands of the chef and owner.  Eli’s Place and its superbly talented owner-chef Dennis Apodaca may be an enigma to marketing students, but to those of us who love great food, he’s a luminous star, one of the very best.

Pumpkin pancakes with pinon nut butter

ELI’S PLACE
6313 4th, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 27 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 20
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grilled Pastrami Sandwich, Breakfast Sandwich, Chipotle Bacon Cheeseburger, Simple Noodles, Breakfast Burrito, Special Pancakes, Scallop Tacos, Chilaquiles, Huevos Mexicanos, Grilled Sirloin Sandwich, Pork Carnitas Tacos,

Eli's Place (New Name for Sophia's Place) Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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