The Acre – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Acre, Vegetarian Comfort Food Carnivores Will Love

Toula: Actually, um Ian’s a vegetarian. Uh, he doesn’t eat meat.
Aunt Voula: He don’t eat no meat? HE DON’T EAT NO MEAT?! *Long silence* Oh that’s ok, I make lamb.
~Big Fat Greek Wedding

A cross-sectional study conducted in 2006 by medical researchers in Austria concluded that “vegetarians are less healthy and have a lower quality of life than meat-eaters” and that “there is an association between a vegetarian diet and an increased risk of certain chronic diseases.” The “chronic diseases” cited in the study were allergies, cancer and mental illness. While this study and its methodologies have largely been discredited, my former colleague Matt Mauler, a fanatical meat-and-potatoes paramour, likes to cite this study when someone “preaches” the virtues of vegetarianism. He especially revels in emphasizing the part about mental illness. “You’ve got to be crazy not to love cheeseburgers, steak and pork chops,” he snorts with derision.

The only vegetables Matt likes are those with which he tops his favorite comfort foods: pizza (lots of mushrooms and black olives followed by a six-pack chaser), burgers (only lettuce unless you consider bacon and cheese vegetables) and Chicago hot dogs (enough sport peppers to choke a dragon). Every other vegetable may as well be hemlock, poison ivy or poison sumac. Though he disagrees vehemently with Anthony Bourdain’s “commie” politics, Matt celebrated when the celebrity chef, author and television host called vegetarians “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.” Similarly, Matt has always loathed Lady Gaga, but praised her fashion sense when she donned a dress made of raw beef at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.

Cheeseburger with Chips

Surprisingly, Matt’s attitude (and that of Anthony Bourdain) toward vegetarians isn’t uncommon…and attitudes are even more visceral toward vegans. The internet is rife with rancorous railing against the 3.2 percent of adults (an estimated 7.3 million people, including about 1 million vegans) across the fruited plain who follow a vegetarian- or vegan-based diet. It’s as if the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence should exclude “those v. people.” As with all stereotypes, much of Matt’s enmity toward vegetarians and vegans is based on the perception of a threat to a belief system—in this case, his belief that “if God didn’t mean for us to eat animals, He wouldn’t have made them out of meat.”

Should Matt ever read this review, he’ll probably “have a cow” (wouldn’t that be appropriate?) to learn about The Acre, an Albuquerque vegetarian restaurant with the audacity to describe its cuisine (not the word he’d use) as “comfort food,” and worse to declare that its “fresh, hearty, traditional American cuisine” will “satisfy even the most devoted carnivore.” Being a staunch, unwavering meat-eater, he would view those assertions as “fighting words” or “blasphemy” but would never consider taking it as a challenge to sample the cuisine, if only to prove his contentions as to how bad vegetarian food is. Nope, readers of Gil’s Thrilling… will never see Matt’s shadow cross over The Acre’s doors. You’re not missing much.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Gorgonzola Cream, Piñon, Parmesan

You are, however, missing some of the very best vegetarian food in Albuquerque if you don’t visit The Acre, where as we discovered, those claims of “comfort food” and “satisfying devoted carnivores,” are all true. My friend and colleague Elaine and I had to do a double-take when we perused the menu which was teeming with some of Matt’s comfort food favorites: cheeseburger, grilled cheese, mac n’ cheese, enchiladas and more.  Also available were vegetarian versions of a hot dog (marinated, braised carrot dogs), meat (less) loaf and several sandwiches which sound so good, you might not miss meat at all.

The Acre is the brainchild of executive chef-owner Sean Weed, a former private chef in New York and 26-year veteran of the restaurant industry.  Nostalgia –memories of time spent as a youth at his grandparents’ farm in Pennsylvania where true fresh “farm to table” food was grown and served–provided the impetus for his restaurant.  Situated in a 1,440 square-foot space, part of which previously housed the India Palace, The Acre is seasonal, local and in this omnivore’s estimation, so good it defies labels.  It’s the antithesis of the stereotypical vegetarian restaurants which showcase tofu, sprouts and kale (and which help perpetuate beliefs of folks like Matt).

Fresh Peach Crumble with Snickerdoodle Ice Cream

It hasn’t been for lack of trying that I’ve never enjoyed a vegetarian burger.  Most range from barely edible to downright awful.  The Acre’s cheeseburger propels all the others into my repository of bad memories.  The “beef” substitute is a beet-black bean combination which might not make you forget your favorite 80-percent lean ground chuck to 20-percent fat content ratio, but it shouldn’t.  It’s very good on its own with a moistness and flavor yes, even carnivores will enjoy.  The burger also includes Cheddar, avocado, lettuce, tomato and onion with mustard and ketchup on the side.  It’s served with potato chips.

From among the “mains” section of the menu, deciding whether to have mac n’ cheese, enchiladas or pasta will prove a challenge akin to selecting one favorite from among your three favorite Dallas Cowboys.  Ultimately, the seasonality of the pasta dish won me over.  Though labeled strictly “pasta” on the menu, this dish is so much more: roasted butternut squash, Gorgonzola cream, piñon and Parmesan.  Frankly, the dish had me at “roasted butternut squash,” a very underrated ingredient at Duke City restaurants.  Vibrant, sweet, creamy and earthy, the roasted butternut squash, cut into small cubes, melds wonderfully with the sharp and robust Gorgonzola cream and nuttiness of the Parmesan.  This dish is reminiscent of so many rich, delicious pasta dishes found at Italian restaurants.

Green Chile Apple Crisp with Snickerdoodle Ice Cream

The Acre’s five desserts (as well as cookies and milk and an ice cream of the day) alone might convert carnivores to a life of vegetarianism…or at least to increased open-mindedness.  Elaine’s choice was the  Fresh peach crumble (brown sugar, vanilla).  Though fresh peaches were a bit out of season, at least they weren’t canned…and who doesn’t love a good crumble.  For someone who espouses green chile as an ingredient which goes well with everything including desserts, my only logical choice was the green chile apple crisp showcasing Hatch green chile.  It was a bit too incendiary for Elaine’s tastes, but perfect for this fire-eater.  Besides, the snickerdoodle ice cream was there to quell any burn.

Vegetarian food for carnivores?  You bet!  The Acre’s vegetarian food is food for everyone who appreciates fresh, local and thoroughly delicious food.

The Acre
4410 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 299-6973
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cheeseburger, Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta, Green Chile Apple Crisp, Peach Cobbler
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1018

The Acre Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Vibrance – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Dog-Friendly Patio at Vibrance

My Chicago born-and-bred brother-in-law Chuck considers being asked to lunch at a vegan restaurant akin to being asked to a Green Bay Packers pep rally. It’s a violation of a Windy City cultural norm–as inappropriate as telling a Chicagoan that: ketchup belongs on hot dogs, Mike Ditka and Da’ Bears could never beat the Detroit Lions, calling Mike Royko a mere journalist and that it’s okay to ridicule Harry Carey’s rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballpark.” As with many Chicagoans, Chuck is an avowed meat and potatoes zealot (fanatic isn’t strong enough a word). Because he never would have acceded to my request to dine at a vegan restaurant, I waited until he answered “I’m up for anything” when I asked what he’d like for lunch. Yeah, it’s duplicitous and politician-like, but my Kim and I genuinely believed Chuck would like Vibrance.

Vibrance.  Even the name bespeaks of veganism (or militant veganism to a carnivorous Chicagoan). Ask any vegan and they’ll tell you their lives are indeed more vibrant since they made the lifestyle change to veganism. They’ll tell you they’ve improved their heart and gut health, lost weight, lowered blood sugar levels and reduced their risk of heart disease. None of these benefits holds water with a staunch carnivore, especially one from Chicago. You have to understand that not only is Chicago, the “City of Big Shoulders,” it’s the city of gargantuan Porterhouse steaks, colossal slabs of ribs and pizzas as large as the tires on a tractor-trailer. Chicago is much prouder of its “Hog-Butcher to the World” sobriquet than it is to another nickname, “The Big Onion” (onions are vegetables).

Salad

Those of you who subscribe to the Rudy’s Country Store & Barbecue mantra “we didn’t claw our way up to the top of the food ladder only to eat vegetables” might not want to read further lest you risk reading such four-letter words as: vegan, raw food, gluten-free and non-GMO. Vibrance is all that and more. It’s an all-vegan restaurant whose specialty is living foods made from sprouted beans and seeds. Vibrance makes raw desserts, gluten-free baked goods and cooked foods. Since July, 2016, it has offered organic vegetarian specialties which are mostly locally sourced—as are featured artists who regale diners with live music.

Vibrance is located in the former home of Los Equipales, one of the city’s very best Mexican restaurants. Before housing Los Equipales, the previous tenant at the walled-in citadel-like complex was a branch of the Sunwest Bank. When you drive through the open gate for the first time, there’s very little signage to confirm that you’ve arrived at your destination. The situation is made a bit more confusing because savvy diners park under the adjacent overhang which once served as the bank’s drive-through. Then there’s an expansive dog-friendly patio physically separated from the restaurant.  When you locate the restaurant, you’ll be impressed by an interior awash in vibrant colors, framed art and flourishing green plants. You’ll be more impressed by the aromas wafting through the air.

Ratatouille, Sweet Potato Curry, Vegetarian Lasagna

The Vibrance menu describes every item (probably for the carnivores among us who need to know what meat dishes the vegan items might approximate). Only one appetizer is currently listed, a salad roll described as two veggie filled rolls in rice paper with ginger, garlic and cashew sauce). Doesn’t that sound like something carnivorous lovers of Asian cuisine will enjoy? Entrees are global in scope: Asian salad, hummus plate, Italian mushroom pocket, curried lentil and sweet potato stew and more. The daily menu also includes a chocolate turtle cheesecake. Is it any wonder Kim and I believed Chuck would enjoy the heretical departure into the realm of vegan dining?

Besides, my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and Dazzling (and vibrant) Deanell had raved about their Vibrance experiences. Larry’s astute assessment: “OK, you carnivores. Get over your animal desires and go here. It will blow your mind. Did mine!.” Vibrance has earned a 4.5 star rating on 28 reviews from Yelp reviewers, many of which are admittedly of the carnivorous bent. TripAdvisor contributors also rated Vibrance 4.5 stars on 17 reviews. The Albuquerque Journal restaurant critic described Vibrance as “the next generation of health food restaurant, moving far beyond the cliché of brown rice and steamed veggies into the realm of gourmet vegetarian fare.”

Stir-Fried Vegetables with Cheesecake

Two other reasons we believed Chuck might enjoy Vibrance is that he had grown tired of “everything smothered in red and green chile” and that on Sundays, Vibrance offers an all-you-can-eat buffet. For a trencherman of Chuck’s caliber, a buffet is a challenge. His eyes became as big as saucers at first glance of the gleaming silver trays in which featured fare was kept warm. They wandered quickly to the desserts where vegan cheesecake looked every bit as luscious as its carnivore’s counterpart. Believing he’d be slaking his thirst with “regular” tea, he filled his glass with kombucha, a fresh, organic, lightly effervescent sweetened tea replete with healthful probiotics.  He loved it!

In three trips to the buffet, he sampled virtually everything available. His grumbling and snarling were quickly replaced by exclamations of “wow, this is good” with virtually every new item. The three of us probably enjoyed the curried lentil and sweet potato stew most. Not only does the curry have its characteristic pungency, it’s got a pleasant bite that blends very well with the sweet potatoes. We also enjoyed the ratatouille which looks nothing like the dish served in the animated movie of that name. The vegetarian lasagna drew much appreciation as did the stir-fried vegetables. From among the more “salady” items, the sauerkraut (made with purple cabbage) stood out as did the pepitas with which we topped our greens.

If Vibrance can make a believer out of a staunch carnivore from Chicago, it will make a believer out of you. This is a vegetarian restaurant diners of all stripes will love.

Vibrance
4500 Silver Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-3401
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sunday Buffet

Vibrance Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Patio – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Patio on Harvard Avenue

For more than a quarter century, award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt had the type of job any aspiring sojourner would envy.  He hit the road on a motor home, crisscrossing  the fruited plains where waving fields of wheat passed in review and snow-capped mountains reached for cobalt colored skies.  Observing that “thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything,” Kuralt avoided the interstates, instead traversing America’s back roads and byways in search of real people with interesting stories to tell.

Kuralt loved New Mexico, which he noted in his terrific tome America, is really a misnomer.  In his estimation, New Mexico “should be called Precambria for the sea that crashed upon its shores for tens of millions of years, or Mastadonia, for the mammals that later roamed its plains..; or Sandia for the mountain where the camp of an ice age hunter, the earliest known American was found in a cave…New Mexico is old, stupendously old and dry and brown, and wind-worn by the ages.”

Chips and Salsa

Kuralt also loved the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment.  In his book America, he declared the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico “one of the best food tips” he’d ever gotten.  During his peridoc visits to the Duke City, the peripatetic wanderer also frequented Old Town’s La Placita restaurant which he considered one of his favorite feeding stations.  In 1988, the legendary newsman featured El Patio in a CBS “Sunday Morning On The Road” segment.

El Patio was then but ten years old, but already becoming a formidable presence in the Duke City dining scene.  It was then one of the few New Mexican restaurants in the UNM area, but that wasn’t solely the reason it garnered rave reviews and legions of loyal fans.  Discerning UNM students appreciated the authenticity and deliciousness of the food; for many of them, it represented a home away from home where they could get cooking as good or better than mom’s.  Those former students have raised a generation, many of whom followed their parents to UNM and to El Patio.

Frito Pie

El Patio is ensconced in a converted home just south of Central Avenue on Harvard Drive.  A telltale sign you’ve made it to the popular restaurant on this relatively low traffic drive is the can’t miss Taos blue Mexican picket fence.  Beyond the fence lies the patio (El Patio), essentially the entire front yard, which is shaded by tall trees, a welcome respite from the sun’s heating rays.  El Patio’s patio also welcomes dogs.

For the duration of its three decade plus, El Patio has been family owned and operated.  Founding owners Dave Sandoval (a fellow Taoseño) and wife Gloria Sandoval remain involved, but much of the day-to-day operation has been transitioned over to their progeny, sons Thomas and Christopher who have made some changes, including the addition of a catering service and a sales operation which markets El Patio’s fabulous salsa and green chile.  Both can be purchased in the restaurant and at several stores throughout the Duke City.

Carne Adovada plate (no beans)

Thomas Sandoval, the elder sibling, is the chef while Christopher is the restaurant’s front-end man.  Thomas acquired his culinary skills literally at his maternal grandfather’s apron strings.  His grandfather taught him well.  El Patio’s food is as good today as it was decades ago when it first blew me out of the water.

Interestingly, El Patio considers itself primarily a vegetarian restaurant, but that distinction isn’t readily apparent in its meat dishes which are as good, if not better, than meat-based New Mexican entrees at other restaurants.  Even the most ardent carnivores, however, should at least try the vegetarian entrees which go a long way toward showcasing the delicious versatility of New Mexican cuisine.  The restaurant’s vegetarian enchiladas, for example, are made with spinach instead of meat.  The spinach imparts a spring-like freshness and healthful, but surprisingly (at least to meatatarians) delicious qualities to the enchiladas.  The Frito pie is also meatless, but you won’t miss the meat.  It’s one of the best Frito pies in town.

Carne Adovada Taco

Many pundits rank El Patio among the top four or five New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque, leaving one to wonder if voters on “best of” polls mistakenly stuff the ballots for “El Pinto” when meaning to vote for El Patio which is several orders of magnitude better.  You’d think after the “dangling chad” episodes during the 2000 presidential elections in Florida, more extreme care would be taken in the voting process.

Salsa isn’t complementary at El Patio, but it’s worth the paltry pittance for which you pay for it, especially considering the attentive wait staff is on the ball to replenish each ramekin just as you’re running low.  The salsa is jalapeno based, but I believe it includes a tinge of red chile powder.  In any case, this is a wonderful salsa, some of the very best in the city.  This flavorful salsa has a nice piquant bite that will get your attention without dulling your taste buds for your entrees.  The accompanying chips are low in salt, crisp and formidable enough to scoop up ample amounts of salsa.  In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at El Patio the seventh best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

30 June 2017: The restaurant’s most popular entree, according to the menu, are the green chile chicken enchiladas.  El Patio is so accommodating (one of the main reasons for its popularity), you can have dual meat–beef and chicken–enchiladas and you can have them Christmas style and on blue corn tortillas with the requisite fried egg on top.  This best of all worlds approach for one of New Mexican cuisine’s most versatile entrees is my favorite way to have them.  The shredded chicken is moist and delicious, prepared to absolute perfection.  The beef is ground hamburger, not shredded beef as Mexican restaurants will serve on enchiladas, but the beef is well-seasoned and not refried as some restaurants are apt to do.  The red chile is rich and flavorful at about a medium level of piquancy.  The green chile has a fresh, fruity taste.  Both are par excellence.

31 December 2011: Carne Adovada is available in several dishes, including on a smothered or hand-held burrito. Because the chile with which carne adovada is smothered is oftentimes not the same chile in which the pork is prepared, my Kim will never order a smothered carne adovada burrito. She contends it allows her to better enjoy the purity of the adovada. El Patio’s adovada is outstanding, well worthy of a visit from my friend Ruben Hendrickson whose quest for the perfect carne adovada continued until his passing on 30 May 2016 (I miss you, dear friend). The pork is spoon tender (that means even more tender than fork-tender) and absolutely delicious, a benchmark which competes with some of the very best in the city.

Combination Plate

1 July 2017: El Patio’s combination plate is the best way to introduce newcomers to some of the best the restaurant has to offer.  A veritable platter is brimming with two cheese enchiladas engorged with chile, a chile relleno and a taco (thankfully served on a small plate) all topped with shredded Longhorn Cheddar and your choice of chile.  Longhorn Cheddar is what makes the cheese enchiladas some of the very best you’ll ever have.  It’s a good melting cheese with a nice degree of sharpness and terrific cows’ milk flavor.  The chile relleno is especially noteworthy.  A single sweet-piquant chile is stuffed with even more of that luscious Longhorn cheese then battered lightly and deep-fried.   It’s quite good.  So is the taco.  Given your choice of carne advocada, chicken or ground beef (all good), opt for the carne adovada.  It’s prepared on a hard-shelled corn tortilla that crumbles quickly, but that’s why God invented forks.

Each entree is served with pinto beans (not refried), boiled and peeled potatoes and lots of garnish (lettuce and tomato).  The potatoes have a consistency near being mashed.  Similar to the boiled potatoes at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, they appear to be an anomaly at first in that they’re not crisply fried, but by your second forkful, you’ll be hooked.  The potatoes have a sweet-savory marriage that makes them a joy to eat.  The beans are perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious.

Fajitas

1 July 2017:  There’s a short list of fajitas on our list as best in the Duke City.  Topping our current list are the fajitas at El Patio.  Among the many reasons we esteem these so highly is the full half-pound of marinated steak, as tender and flavorful as any fajita beef we’ve ever enjoyed.  The marinated steak is hand-cut and sauteed with green and red peppers, mounds of onions, and diced tomatoes. They’re served with guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, salsa, a side of potatoes and two flour tortillas (white or wheat).  Oh, and there’s plenty of Longhorn cheese, too.

Entrees also include complementary sopaipillas.  Large, cloud-like and puffy, they emit wisps of steam as you cut into them to form a pocket for honey.   Kudos to El Patio for serving real raw honey, not that aberrational honey-flavored syrup.   These sopaipillas are not doughy as some sopaipillas are made, but rather have thin walls that are easy to penetrate, but not so thin that they’re sieves for the honey. If you don’t imbibe adult beverages, the watermelon limeaid is a very nice alternative.  It’s more tangy than it is sweet and it’ll quell your thirst on the dog days of summer.

Sopaipillas

We’ve found service at El Patio extremely capable and more than accommodating, but then we tend to visit when the restaurant first opens (11AM seven days a week) and the choicest seating is available.  Experience has taught us that this extremely popular restaurant fills up quickly–and for good reason.  This is one of Albuquerque’s very best New Mexican restaurants, a genuine gem.

El Patio
142 Harvard Dr SE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-4245
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Sopaipillas, Beef and Chicken Enchiladas Christmas Style, Carne Adovada Burrito, Chicken Taco, Combination Plate, Carne Adovada Plate, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Watermelon Limeaid, Frito Pie, Fajitas

El Patio de Albuquerque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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