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Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pete Powdrell, Albuquerque's barbecue legend

Pete Powdrell, Albuquerque’s legendary barbecue king

If you believe in forever
Where baby backs are never bland
If there’s a barbecue heaven
Well you know Mr. Pete is lending a hand, hand, hand.

Shortly after Arthur Bryant died in 1982, the Kansas City Star published a cartoon depicting St. Peter greeting Arthur at the gates of heaven and asking, “Did you bring sauce?” A quarter of a century later, I can imagine St. Peter asking Pete Powdrell if he brought the secrets to his extraordinarily tender brisket.  What the legendary Kansas City barbecue giant Arthur Bryant was to sauce, Pete Powdrell was to beef. Albuquerque’s indisputable king of barbecue was called home on December 2nd, 2007, but he left behind an indelible legacy that extended far beyond serving some of the best barbecue in the west.

Pete was a second-generation sharecropper who in 1958 escaped the small town racism of Crosbyton, Texas to start a new life in Albuquerque. Fifty years later, Pete’s circle of friends and mourners included most of New Mexico’s political power brokers as well as tens of thousands of customers who loved his barbecue and the gentle man perpetually attired in overalls who prepared it.

Powdrell’s restaurant on Fourth Street is on the National Historic Register

To chronicle Pete’s life (and someone should) would be to celebrate the sheer determination and drive of a man whose greatest of many gifts may have been perseverance. He literally had not much more than the clothes on his back when he arrived in Albuquerque with his wife and eleven children, but he was determined to make a good life for his family. Mission accomplished!

Since 1962, the Powdrell family has operated several barbecue houses in the Duke City. Their initial restaurant venture, a take-out diner on South Broadway, launched four years after the family relocated to Albuquerque. The inspiration for Pete’s original, authentic Southern-style barbecue was family recipes he began perfecting during backyard and church cookouts in Texas. Those recipes dates back to the 19th century near Baton Rouge, Louisiana where his grandfather Isaac Britt began the Powdrell family legacy of incomparable barbecue.

Salad with blue cheese dressing

Salad with blue cheese dressing

The word “institution” is bandied about too easily these days, but in Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House, Albuquerque has a bona fide institution that continues to stand the test of time against the formidable onslaught and riches of corporate pretenders, many of whom fall by the wayside while Powdrell’s continues to thrive.  Drive by Powdrell’s and the wafting fragrance of hickory smoke literally invites you to step inside and partake of old-fashioned barbecue.  Not coincidentally, Pete’s son Joe will tell you his father was much like the hickory wood used at the restaurant–hard, stubborn and consistent.

The reason for Powdrell’s continued success–some of the very best barbecue in the west served by a warm family in welcoming milieus.  East side residents frequent Powdrell’s on Central Avenue between Eubank and Juan Tabo while west dwelling citizens visit Powdrell’s on North Fourth where barbecue is served in a stately brick home on the National Historic Registry.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Ann Powdrell, who was eleven years old when the family traversed the winding Route 66 in their move to Albuquerque, takes care of the kitchen in the Fourth Street restaurant.  She is a sweet, gentle woman with a raconteur’s gift for enthralling guests with stories about her fabled family.  On an infrequent slow lunch hour, she might even show you the veritable museum collection of family memorabilia upstairs.  More than likely, however, she’s in  the kitchen preparing the dishes which help make Powdrell’s the legendary barbecue restaurant it is.

Powdrell’s hasn’t been a local secret in a long time, but it’s a claim to fame of which we’re all proud. Over the years Albuquerque’s finest gift to Route 66 barbecue tradition has garnered a lot of recognition from beyond the Duke City.  In 2004, Sunset magazine published an article celebrating the west’s best BBQ. Calling the west a “barbecue frontier,” the magazine trumpeted Powdrell’s baby back ribs slathered with tart, spicy sauce.  Culinary sojourner Michael Stern, co-founder of the Roadfood Web and publishing dynasty loved Powdrell’s beef, proclaiming that “it isn’t the extraordinary tenderness that will make you happy; it’s this meat’s flavor.”  In his thematic tome, Dr. BBQ’s Big-Time Barbecue Road Trip! author Ray Lampe hits the road and introduces America to the best barbecue in the fruited plains. Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House was one of only four New Mexico venues singled out by the self-professed Dr. BBQ.

The combo platter

The combo platter

My first impression of this very special barbecue was formed in the late 1970s while living on the south side of Central Avenue not more than three hundred yards from Mr. Powdrell’s. With the most faint of breezes, the aroma of succulent meats smoked low and slow wafted toward my cramped quarters like an irresistible siren’s song. It was a tantalizing temptation no one could resist. The genesis of the olfactory arousing aroma was indeed hickory smoke-saturated meats, the memory of which imprinted themselves on my taste buds with an ineffaceable permanence. In Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House, barbecue Nirvana beckoned and I answered.

Over the past few decades my travels have allowed me to experience barbecue from the four American epicenters of barbecue excellence: Texas, Memphis, Kansas City and South Carolina. Though I have found barbecue that is more lauded and more famous, only Mr. Powdrell’s has the taste of being home.  It’s that way for generations of Duke City residents.

Chicken Dinner-One half pound of barbequed chicken

Chicken Dinner-One half pound of barbequed chicken

The stately brick home on North Fourth street which houses Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House still looks very much like the family dwelling it once was. From the built-in china cabinets to the hardwood floors, it is an inviting setting for dining, an invitation infused by the provocative hickory smokers near the parking lot.

In describing the west’s barbecue as “unburdened by the orthodoxy of such hot spots as Texas and the Carolinas,” Sunset magazine may have well been describing Powdrell’s where the menu has a whole lot of Texas, a little bit of Memphis with a touch of Kansas City for good measure. In other words, the menu has a bit of everything then some.

Powdrell10

Chicken Wings Powdrell’s Style

Being “unburdened”, Powdrell’s can serve such non-traditional starters as mushrooms prepared in butter as well as all the favorite fried appetizer favorites.  It also serves some of the best blue cheese dressing in Albuquerque, a dressing ameliorated by just a bit of feta with some very high quality blue cheese.  It’s perfect–neither too thick nor too thin and runny, not too strong or sour.  It’s the blue cheese dressing Goldilocks would choose.

9 February 2008: The menu includes a veritable smorgasbord of sumptuous sandwiches generously engorged with smoke-infused meats slathered with a tangy sauce. The sandwiches are excellent, but most diners queue for barbecue dinners, all of which are served with two sides and Texas toast.  A half-rack of baby back ribs at Powdrell’s is the antithesis of “competition” baby backs which tend to be overly sweet (sometimes almost candied).  A reddish glaze covers the moist, succulent pork on Powdrell’s baby backs which are so good you’ll discharge the bones like cartridge shells.

Babyback Ribs with French Fries and Texas Toast

9 February 2008: The combination platter (pictured above) features a pound or more of some of the best Mr. Powdrell’s has to offer–chicken, ribs, sausage, links and some of the very best brisket in the world.  The brisket is the pièce de résistance, indisputably the very best in town (and nothing else is even close). It is smoked at low heat for eighteen hours and when done is refrigerated then heated again. The process somehow imbues the brisket with an uncommon tenderness that belies what can be a leather-tough cut of meat.  Michael Stern is absolutely right in declaring the flavor of this meat to be your source of happiness. This is an absolutely delicious brisket that would convert the most staunch of vegetarians.

29 January 2010: If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of truly outstanding chicken wings in Albuquerque, Powdrell’s will make a believer out of you.  These wings are imbued with a hint of smoke before being deep-fried to seal in that smokiness and flavor while melting off that layer of fat just underneath the skin.  They are then glazed with a tangy, spicy barbecue sauce so unlike the sauces wings restaurant describe as “inferno,” “nuclear” and the like, but which don’t deliver.  Powdrell’s sauce has the zesty tanginess of orange peel, the pleasant piquancy of peppers and the sweet-savory goodness of ingredients that work very well together.  The wings are moist, meaty and utterly delicious.

Special of the Day: Catfish, Brisket and two sides (Fried Okra and Corn on the Cob) with Texas Toast

The perfect accompaniment for those wings is a dish of black beans and rice quite unlike what you might see at a Cajun restaurant where such a dish isn’t prepared with smoked sausage, celery and a tomato sauce base. Ann Powdrell describes it as one of those dishes her mother created out of whatever was in the refrigerator. You’ll describe it absolutely delicious.

1 July 2011: Not even the very best restaurants do all things well though the great ones tend to come close. At Powdrell’s as at most restaurants in Albuquerque, the Achilles Heel seems to be catfish. It’s the one dish I’ve enjoyed least at Powdrell’s and that’s not solely because of my eight years in Mississippi (America’s catfish capital) helped me appreciate the qualities of catfish done well. The coating on the catfish made it very difficult to cut into, normally an indication the inside is dry (it was). Fortunately the catfish was offered as a special of the day along with another meat. The brisket was as wonderful as the catfish was disappointing.

Broiled Trout

1 July 2011: Much better is an entree of broiled trout which is as tender and moist as the catfish is tough and dry.  Two delicious filets are served with two sides and Texas Toast.  The filets are brushed lightly with butter and served with a nice char.  A squeeze of lemon or a small application of tartar sauce and you’re good to go.  The only drawback to eating broiled fish, no matter how good it may be, is being surrounded by the fragrant bouquet of bodacious barbecue.  You may want some of Powdrell’s barbecue sauce on the trout, too.

Powdrell’s meats are the antithesis of the type of meat to which I refer as Ivory Snow in that it’s NOT 99 and 44/100 percent pure. You’ll find a fatty or sinewy meat here or there and plenty of dark meat, but that’s, in part what Duke City diners have loved about Powdrell’s for generations. It’s a bit sassy and a bit imperfect, but always comforting and delicious.

The Rockin’ Po-Boy

9 December 2014:  If you have a predilection for poultry, Powdrell’s is your hook-up and if you consider barbecue chicken to be the least exciting among available meats, this one may make a convert out of you.  The chicken (breast, thigh, wing) is moist, tender and delicious with the tangy house sauce generously slathered on.  The perfect accompaniment for the chicken is (you may want to be seated for this) deep-fried macaroni and cheese.  It’s not one of the available sides, but you should spring for it anyway. 

29 September 2010: In 2010, Powdrell’s East Side location was selected by Duke City voters as the inaugural winner of the city’s “rock this restaurant” challenge, qualifying for a complete make-over.  It’s a testament to just how beloved this bastion of barbecue has become over the years.  In honor of its selection, Powdrell’s introduced an “everything but the kitchen sink” sandwich called the “Rockin’ Po-Boy,” a beefy behemoth that would test the mettle of a professional gurgitator. Available in six- or twelve-inch sizes, this sandwich is engorged to its spilling point with beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked turkey, onion rings, French fries and coleslaw slathered with barbecue sauce.  There’s obviously no need for sides because they’re inside the sandwich.  You’ll be hard-pressed to finish this hard rockin’ sandwich.

Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House
5209 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-8086
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 9 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 13
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Barbecue Brisket, Chicken Wings, Rockin’ Po-Boy, Babyback Ribs, Okra, Corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw

Mr. Powdrell's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

The Mine Shaft Tavern – Madrid, New Mexico

The Mine Shaft Tavern is a very popular eatery and watering hole on the Turquoise Trail

The Mine Shaft Tavern, home to one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico

“You load sixteen tons and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter, don’t you call me cause I can’t go.
I owe my soul to the company store
.”

Those immortal lyrics, hauntingly performed by crooner Tennessee Ernie Ford describe with a poignant reality, the plight of the American miner even onto the 20th century.  By payday, which came at month’s end, miners did indeed owe their souls to the company–for the company house in which they were living, for groceries to feed their families, for doctor bills and even for the tools they used to mine.

They were paid in scrip which could only be spent at the company store, leaving them no choice but to buy from the companies. Despicably, this allowed the company to gouge the miners with vastly over-inflated prices, leaving miners with families inextricably in debt to the company.  When they got paid at month’s end, any money left after settling their debts to the company was insufficient to last through the following month. This vicious cycle was perpetuated the following month when miners again had to pay the company first and were lucky to have anything left for their families.

The capacious Mine Shaft Tavern Dining Room

Although many miners of the age toiled under hazardous working conditions and in virtual indentured servitude  while despotic mine owners and managers benefited from their labors, Madrid’s superintendent of mines Oscar Huber was a unique sort.  Under his direction, the citizenry of Madrid enjoyed unlimited electricity in their homes courtesy of the company-owned power plant, paved streets, schools, a company store and even a hospital.  Commerce was still controlled by the company, however, so miners wages ultimately returned back to the owners’ pockets. 

When given the opportunity, the miners played as hard as they worked. In 1922, Huber built the first illuminated baseball park (still in use today) west of the Mississippi.  The stadium served as home to the Madrid Miners, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers who played a game in the park in 1934.  Madrid was also home to one of the most elaborate and famous Christmas light displays in America.  From the 1920s through the advent of World War II, Madrid miners lit up the sky with 150,000 Christmas lights powered by 500,000 kilowatt hours of electricity provided by the company’s coal-fed generators.   Commercial planes used to divert from their normal routes in order to fly over Madrid so passengers could enjoy the pageantry.

The famous bar at the Mine Shaft Tavern

The last “company town” building erected in Madrid was the Mine Shaft Tavern whose doors opened in 1946. Within the tavern only those familiar with the difficult mining conditions pause to reflect on that heart-wrenching aspect of Madrid’s colorful history. Other patrons are there to have a good time thanks to tavern quality food and libations which flow freely.

The Mine Shaft Tavern is especially popular with old hippies and Harley Davidson enthusiasts whose “hogs” take up many of the parking spaces. The bikers congregate on the porch where they have an excellent vantage point from which to admire their bikes and those of their fellow easy riders. The tavern’s dimly lit interior appears relatively unchanged since the 1940s with canned lights that are indeed made from tin cans. Above the longest stand-up bar in New Mexico, a series of paintings by renown artist Ross J. Ward depicts Madrid’s colorful history.

A better view of some of the paintings just above the bar

From a culinary perspective only, our inaugural visit to the Mine Shift Tavern back in 2005 was a disappointment.  The menu was rather lackluster and the quality of fare was pedestrian.  It might best be described as “company store quality.”   Marked improvement was evident during my second visit in 2011 when I dined at the Mine Shaft Tavern for a “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” article in New Mexico Magazine.  What a difference a change of ownership can make!  In 2009, Lori Lindsey purchased the Mine Shift Tavern and has made it not only “Madrid’s living room,” but one of its best dining rooms.

The menu features “New Mexico Roadhouse Cuisine” showcasing a number of specialty burgers, grilled pizza and specials such as enchiladas, fish and chips and a smoked barbecue sandwich.  Dinner specials are available from Thursday through Sunday after 5PM.  They include a Wagyu “Baseball Cut” Sirloin, Shrimp Brochette and Wild Mushroom Pasta.  If it’s been a while since your last visit to the Mine Shaft Tavern, you might be surprised at how much more varied and inviting the menu now is.  The kitchen’s “mission statement says it best: We take pride in making food from scratch using quality and organic ingredients whenever possible.  Our famous burgers and “Kobe” comes right off the Turquoise Trail, from Bonanza Creek Ranch and Lone Mountain Ranch.”

The Mine Shaft Tavern Stage

With a New Mexican beef pedigree like that, you’ve got to order one of the Tavern’s six specialty burgers which are available from your choice of half-pound Angus, New Mexico Wagyu, Buffalo or Veggie.  The newest specialty burger was created in 2014 for the second annual green chile cheeseburger smackdown in Santa Fe.  It’s called the “Mad Chile Burger” for good reason–because most New Mexicans are absolutely mad about green chile.  The more, the better!  If this describes you, you’ll love the duo of roasted green chile and lightly battered and fried green chile strips.  The Mad Chile Burger also includes a half-pound black Angus Chuck, aged Cheddar and Chipotle Dijonaisse on a Brioche Bun with garnish (pickles, tomatoes, lettuce) on the side.

When I ordered the Mad Chile Burger, my server (who also happens to be owner Lori Lindsey’s niece) was very prophetic in telling me it would be the winning green chile cheeseburger in the Smackdown two days later.  I was skeptical until my second bite when the Chipotle Dijonaisse kicked it.  With the heat-generating triumvirate of roasted and chopped green chile, battered and fried green chile and Chipotle Dijonaisse, this burger blesses you with three times the love and three times the flavor you get from most green chile cheeseburgers.  The battered and fried green chile strips, similar to a chile relleno without the cheese, are especially addictive.  The Chipotle Dijonaisse has the tanginess of mustard with the piquant kick of chipotle, a combination which renders mustard unnecessary.  In fact, to add anything else to this burger would be to desecrate it.  It is simply one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico.  Smackdown attendees obviously agreed, according the Mad Chile Burger the “people’s choice” award for 2014.

The Mad Chile Burger with black and tan onion rings

All burgers are served with your choice of fresh cut French fries or coleslaw.  For a pittance more, you can substitute a salad, sweet potato fries or black and tan onion rings.  Better still, order an appetizer-sized Hatch green chile basket, the same fried, fire-roasted Hatch green chiles found on the Mad Chile Burger.  Served with Ranch dressing, these green chiles will give you yet another reason to be mad about green chile.

Fittingly, the Mine Shaft Tavern is on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail and was also recognized by the New Mexico Tourism Department as a Culinary Treasure.

The Mine Shaft Tavern
2846 State Highway 14
Madrid, New Mexico
(505) 473-0743
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 10 September 2014
1st VISIT: 30 May 2005
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Mad Chile Burger, Black and Tan Onion Rings

The Mine Shaft Tavern on Urbanspoon

El Comedor De Anayas – Moriarty, New Mexico

El Comedor de Anayas on Historic Route 66 in Moriarty

For years, one of the Land of Enchantment’s most renowned launching pads for political campaigns and careers has been Moriarty’s El Comedor De Anayas, a venue in which political power brokering has long been transacted over hot coffee and New Mexican food.  Anyone and everyone who’s aspired to political office has held court at this venerable institution which translates from Spanish to “Dining Room of the Anayas.”

Launched in 1953 (one year before Moriarty was incorporated), El Comedor has long been the home away from home for two dynastic Torrance county political powerhouse families–the Anayas and the Kings, progenitors of two governors, a state treasurer, an attorney general, a land commissioner,  state legislators, university regents and virtually every other local office of which you can conceive.

Photos of some of the political glitterati who have visited El Comedor

Framed and signed photographs of the many political glitterati to have stumped at the famous restaurant during their time on the rubber chicken circuit are on display at a wall of fame (shame or infamy, might be more apropos in some cases) just off the dining room.  The smiling countenances of Governors Toney Anaya, Bruce King, Jerry Apodaca, David Cargo, Bill Richardson, Gary Johnson and others share space with broad-toothed photographs of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton who announced his inaugural run for the presidency within the restaurant’s hallowed walls. 

Another wall is dedicated to luminaries of stage, screen and song such as Michael Martin Murphy, Charlie Pride, George Strait, Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash.  Likely because of his shyness, there is no photograph of my friend and favorite Moriarty area celebrity Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott.   Still another wall pays tribute to family members and local residents who have served in the service of their country as members of the armed forces.  No visit to El Comedor would be complete without perusing these sacrosanct walls.

Ground beef and cheese quesadilla

Founders Lauriano and Filandro Anaya were the first of four generations of Anaya family members to own and operate El Comedor de Anayas.  In 2013, the fabled restaurant changed hands, but much of the veritable photographic museum of New Mexico politics remains.  It’s what gives El Comedor its charm.  Well, that and the wagon wheel chandeliers, shelves brimming with bric-a-brac and walls festooned with burnished copper kitchen ware.

For sheer character and history, however, you can’t beat the rotosphere that lights up above the restaurant’s exterior.  Installed in the 1960s, it is very much reminiscent of the neon-spangled era of Route 66 and in fact, remains the only such rotosphere on Route 66.  When first launched, locals called it “Sputnik” while others have likened it to an old U.S. Navy mine.  In any case, it’s a vibrant, multi-hued star which beckons diners and visitors to El Comedor de Anayas.  When running, the spiked globe rotates horizontally and each hemisphere rotates around a vertical axis in opposite directions.

Beef Fajitas

As has been the case throughout its venerable tenure, the featured fare is New Mexican cuisine with a smattering of cowboy dishes (chicken fried steak), burgers and sandwiches, too.  New Mexican items are prepared sans cumin, always a good sign for hard-line traditionalists like me.  Pinto beans from local area farms are served with many items.   Dishes are reasonably priced with only a few in the vicinity of ten dollars. 

Appetizers include such New Mexico standards as chips and salsa, guacamole, quesadillas and con queso as well as spicy onion rings.  The quesadillas are rather simply adorned, essentially a large tortilla folded over melted cheese and your choice of chicken or beef.  Unless you request it, salsa isn’t standard accompaniment.  Make sure you request it.  Not only is the salsa lively and tasty, the quesadillas benefit greatly from it.

Pack’s Green Chile Enchiladas with Chicken and Sour Cream

Beef, chicken or a combination thereof fajitas are a good choice for visitors whose heat tolerance is on the ketchup level (as was the case with my mother-in-law).  Served in a sizzling skillet with grilled onions and green peppers, the beef has a terrific grilled flavor though a few gristle-laden beef strips detracted from our enjoyment.  The fajitas are served with all the “fixings:” shredded cheese, flour tortillas, sour cream and guacamole.  The guacamole is very good, much more than the personality lacking mashed avocados passed off as guacamole at some restaurants. 

Though tepid by New Mexican standards, the curiously named Pack’s Green Chile Enchiladas might be a bit too incendiary for out-of-state visitors.  This entree features three rolled enchiladas stuffed with shredded chicken, cheese and sour cream then topped with shredded cheese.  We found the cheese-sour cream amalgam somewhat gloppy, reminiscent of the melted cheese used at ballparks on nachos.  The highlight of this entree is easily the beans which are served in a hard corn shell shaped like a bowl.  The nearby Estancia Valley grows the very best frijoles (pinto beans) in the country and they’re available at El Comedor.

Carnitas

You don’t always know what to expect when ordering carnitas at New Mexican and Mexican restaurants.   We’ve had everything from fried ground beef to small ribs delivered to our table when ordering them.  At Comedor de Anayas, carnitas are cubes of pork served with a tortilla, Spanish rice and beans.  The carnitas are seasoned very well with flecks of pepper lending personality.  The Spanish rice is one of those take-or-leave items most New Mexicans see only in restaurants.

El Comedor De Anayas is on the New Mexico Culinary Treasures Trail, a celebration of restaurants which have stood the test of time–independent spots that have become beloved in their neighborhoods and beyond.

El Comedor De Anayas
1005 Old Hwy 66
Moriarty, New Mexico
(505) 832-4442
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pinto Beans, Guacamole, Salsa

Comedor de Anayas on Urbanspoon