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Amadeo’s Pizza And Subs – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Amadeo's Pizza & Subs

One of the most exciting times in America’s history was during its Westward expansion when young, unattached men of the time followed the advice of newspaper magnate Horace Greeley and went west in search of opportunity and adventure. Able-bodied young men forged a path through the wilderness to conquer the untamed west and build another pillar in the manifest destiny inspired foundation upon which America now stands.

We felt that sense of adventure when we trekked Westward in search of Amadeo’s Pizza And Subs, a pizzeria heretofore unbeknown to us until we read the comments of “a voice crying out of the wilderness” on the long defunct Albuquerque Tribune’s Food City.  Responding to a call to all pizza paramours, that voice respectfully dissented from popularly preferred pizzerias and cast his lot behind Amadeo’s, a restaurant almost as far West as you can go in Albuquerque and not at all easy to find. Nestled within the confines of a nondescript shopping center, Amadeo’s is named for its founder Amadeo Garcia (a fellow Air Force retiree) and is run by his scions. It’s been around since 1987, but many of us residents north of I-40 who rarely venture south of that interstate divide had never heard of it–our loss.

Carry-Out, Delivery and Dine-In Available at the Amadeo’s on Osuna (across the street from Sandia Prep)

Amadeo’s Pizza and Subs absolutely blew us away during our inaugural visit, reminding me in some ways of the wonderful pizzas of my transitional period between youth and adultery in Massachusetts. A second, third and subsequent visits proved our first impression was spot on. Amadeo’s serves some of the very best pizza in Albuquerque, if not New Mexico! Amadeo’s isn’t much for esthetics and on the day of our inaugural visit, it certainly wasn’t the unmistakable aroma of great pizza that ensnared us because a neighboring business’s sewage back-up problems relegated the restaurant to an odoriferous state. During our subsequent visit, we were treated to the intoxicating aroma of garlic and the olfactory-memory triggering bouquet of baking dough.

A green (maybe even Boston Celtic green) and white checkerboard tiled floor and green booths seemed so contrary to the stereotypical green and red of many self-proclaimed New York style pizzerias (which Amadeo’s is not). A noisy gaming arcade with shoot-em-up sounds emanating from tinny speakers competed with music piped in overhead from equally tinny sounding speakers.  Framed posters of works by Van Gogh and Monet didn’t upscale the ambiance, but it’s obvious from the plaques and trophies on the wall that Amadeo’s is an altruistic enterprise which supports the city’s youth.

Two slices of garlic and green chile pizza

Two slices of garlic and green chile pizza

Fast forward to 2015, eight years after our inaugural visits and no longer do we have to trek westward for an Amadeo’s experience.  The pizza that not that long ago was mostly a secret well kept by its neighbors is now an expansive operation with five locations.  Not all of them offer dine-in services.  Some are strictly carry-out or delivery with catering services available at all locations.  The carry-out business is robust.

Not only has Amadeo’s become a formidable presence in the Duke City, its menu has expanded greatly, too.  It’s a menu replete with appetizers (spicy chicken wings) and specialties (stromboli, calzone), fresh salads, pasta (spaghetti, ziti), sandwiches (prepared on six- or twelve-inch sub rolls or a 4.5-inch Ciabatta bun (Osuna location)) and of course, pizza.  TAmadeo’s makes its dough fresh from scratch daily and prepares each pizza by hand, a painstaking process that results in a better product. They use only 100% mozzarella cheese and make their sauce from scratch in the store. Quality shows. The true test of an outstanding pizza is whether or not it retains its great tastes after sitting in the refrigerator for a few hours. Amadeo’s pizza does! It’s as great cold as it is just out of the oven.

Daily Special: Slice of Pepperoni Pizza, Eight Twists and a Medium Drink

The designer pizza of our inaugural visit was a circular masterpiece comprised of Canadian bacon, green chile, garlic and black olives on a crusty canvas slathered by a lively and tangy tomato sauce. The thin, buttery crust is perfect for folding ala New York style. The ingredients are top-notch, especially the roasted garlic cloves and slightly caramelized red onions which gave the pizza a memorable taste (and aftertaste).  Rarely have we ranted as much about the garlic on any pizza.  Its freshness and eye-watering qualities caught our olfactory attention. The green chile isn’t particularly piquant, but it, too, lends a nice, complementary flavor to an outstanding pie. It’s a neon green color and is spread generously on each slice. By the way, if you judge pizza crust by the char around its edges, this one has the right amount to appease any pizza aficionado. 

The pizzeria’s ten specials are a very popular draw for diners either short on time or short on funds.  For well under a ten-spot, you can eat very well.  One of the more filling (and delicious) specials is a one-item slice and eight twists (what some pizzerias call knots).  Second to the memory-inducing flavor of wondrous baked bread, the most prominent flavor on the twists isn’t garlic, but Parmesan.  The twists are terrific on their own, but go even better with Amadeo’s housemade marinara (or you can opt for Ranch dressing).

Unlike the young men of Greeley’s time, you don’t have to brave the unknown in search of your fortune.  Just locate a nearby Amadeo’s and you’ve struck it rich.

Amadeo’s Pizza And Subs
809 89th Street
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 831-9339
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 18 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Stomper with garlic, onions, Canadian bacon, green chile and black olives

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Richie B’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Richie B’s on Montgomery and Louisiana

If you’ve ever wondered why New Yorkers fold their pizza slices in half lengthwise (aka the “fold hold”) and if you’ve ever  attributed that practice to Big Apple quirkiness, you owe it to yourself to visit Richie B’s, a New York-style pizzeria on Montgomery and Louisiana.  Now, the Albuquerque metropolitan area has plenty of claimants to New York-style pizza, but can you name a single one in which you’ve actually HAD to utilize the fold hold to eat a slice? New Yorkers have mastered the fold hold because true New York-style pizza is thin-crusted and cut into wide slices (usually wider than your face) which taper down to a perfectly pointed (and invariably “floppy”) bottom.

I’ve seen friends and colleagues employ the fold hold simply to double the amount of pizza they can consume in one bite (then wonder why they finished off their pizza twice as fast). I’ve also seen them utilize “The Travolta” method—layering one slice on top of another and eating both simultaneously—again, to double the amount of pizza in each bite.   I’ve also seen the more “civilized” (or haughty) among us (Mayor di Blasio should be impeached for doing so) use knives and forks on a slice; they’ve obviously forgotten or don’t care that God intended for pizza to be a finger food. NOTE:  If you’re not acquainted with “The Travolta” method, you may not have been paying close attention to the opening sequence of Saturday Night Fever.

The dining room at Richie B’s is studded with New York City memorabilia

At Richie B’s, each slice is so large and so wide that the holding and eating method which makes most sense  is the fold hold. It’s not only the best way to trap the prodigious toppings, gooey cheese and dripping sauce within its crusty confines, it’s also the only way to avoid the mess made by an overloaded pizza on a thin-crusted slice.  At Richie B’s, the slices are very thin, very wide and very overloaded. That’s especially true of the aptly named Supreme, a beauteous behemoth topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, red peppers and olives, all with the sheen of olive oil and garlic.

It’s humanly impossible to pick up, hold and consume the Supreme unless you actually fold it in half lengthwise. For one thing, the only triangle-shaped man-made object that’s larger is the Great Pyramid of Giza. Because of the length and width of each slice coupled with the generosity of ingredients piled on, physical laws dictate that each foldable slice flops, not unlike a fish out of water.  This is the antithesis of the ironing board stiff pizza crust that won’t buckle under a ten-pound weight.  Not even the cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza, is stiff.

The Supreme

We’ve established that Richie B’s pizza is long, wide and floppy. That’s a given for many New York-style pizzas. “How does it taste?” you ask. Ann Marie Allen, who called me out on Zomato and recommended I get myself “over here pronto and review this place” says it’s “fantastic and the best pizza I’ve ever had!” Similar rousing endorsements adorn both Zomato and Yelp. My preliminary assessment is that this is a very good pizza, but it’ll take a few more slices to gauge its nuances. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. 

As for its authenticity, Richie B’s is true New York by way of Dothan, Alabama brought to you by an Albuquerque native. That would be Preston Smith who was working as a contractor at Fort Rucker, Alabama near Dothan where he discovered the original Richie B’s and “the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.” He also struck up a friendship with the owner, an entrepreneur-showman whose career path included a ten-year stint portraying Conan the Barbarian at Universal Studios. Before moving back to Albuquerque, Preston purchased the naming rights and recipes. The rest, as the proverbial “they” say, is history. Should Richie B’s do as well as Preston expects, he hopes to expand throughout the Duke City.

Green Chile Philly

To say Preston is passionate about pizza is an understatement. For his venture, he chose a deck oven instead of a conveyor oven. Deck ovens are generally the oven of choice for traditional sit-down pizza restaurants. They require much closer babysitting than conveyor ovens, but tend to distribute heat more evenly and give the pizzaioli greater control over temperature and air flow. It makes a great difference. Preston is also very passionate about Richie B’s “Viper Sauce” which can be used on virtually everything (much like green chile) save for dessert.

Richie B’s menu lists six custom pies available in 18- and 25-inch sizes. Also available are three twelve-inch sub sandwiches, two of which feature Boar’s Head meats. The other is a Philly cheesesteak. Also on hand are a garden house salad and a number of sides (including whole garlic pickles and stuffed cherry peppers) as well as cannoli and New York-style cheesecake. Although not expressly stated on the menu, Hatch green chile (from the Young Guns folks) can be added to virtually anything else on the menu. 

Onion Rngs

It would be audacious and probably laughable (much like Denver declaring its green chile the equal of New Mexico’s) to proclaim Phillys in Albuquerque the equal of or superior to those in Philadelphia, but we’ve got something even the City of Brotherly Love doesn’t have.  Albuquerque adorns its Phillys with green chile, an ingredient which improves everything with which it comes into contact.  Restaurants such as Philly’s N Fries and Davido’s Pizza & More have made Green Chile Phillys an edible art form. 

You won’t find a Green Chile Philly at Richie B’s, but you can certainly request chile on the restaurant’s twelve-inch Philly Cheesesteak (grilled top sirloin, onions, mushrooms and sweet peppers topped with mozzarella and Provolone cheese served with a side of Viper Sauce.  It’s a very good sandwich bringing together ingredients meant to be together.  The Viper sauce, while more than interesting, is wholly unnecessary.  It’s an excellent dip for the onion rings, one portion of which will serve a family. 

Richie B’s is located at Louisiana Plaza in a storefront that’s somewhat obfuscated from both Montgomery and Louisiana, but Duke City pizza paramours will discover it and they’ll return in droves for a pizza they’ll have to employ the fold hold to eat.

Richie B’s
7200 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 312-8579
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 June 2015
1st VISIT: 8 June 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Supreme, Green Chile Philly, Onion Rings

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J.J.’s Pizza – Albuquerque, New Mexico

J.J.'s Pizza on Menaul

J.J.’s Pizza on Menaul

“Locally owned and operated.”  It’s a concept I celebrate on my blog in paying homage to intrepid moms and pops who risk it all to compete with the ubiquitous corporate chains.  I trumpet the fact that locally owned and operated restaurants can be unpredictable, that they prepare food to order instead of thawing something out which was shipped from corporate headquarters hundreds of miles away, that you can get to know the great families who own them, that those families have very personal investments and take immense pride in their products.

Justin (JJ) Salazar’s ideas as to what constitutes “locally owned and operated” mirror my own.  In his words, local should mean that “a business is owned by someone who lives in town (not just a mailing address), that there is no parent company (franchise) taking the proceeds to another town, and that the owner works in the business.”  JJ knows that “nobody cares as much as an owner and that it does no good if the owner’s not in the store.”  He plans on passing on his business to his children so you know his heart is in his investment.

The interior of JJ’s

J.J. grew up in Albuquerque, just a couple of blocks from Central Avenue in the UNM area where he frequented Nunzio’s, then the undisputed best independent pizzeria in town.  As a teenager he was fascinated with the art and science of cooking, particularly the chemistry and processes that create different breads.  This knowledge served him well as he moved up the ladder from driver to general manager in one of the busiest Pizza Hut franchises in New Mexico.

His time at Pizza Hut served to intensify his appreciation for independent pizzerias, an appreciation he would nurture in California where he immersed himself in studying and training for the day he would launch his own independent pizza restaurant.  It would take borrowing from every source he could find before J.J. would realize his dream, the type of personal investment many mom and pop restaurant owners make in their restaurants.  The price of a dream can be very costly.

Before there were video games....

Before there were video games….

From the outside, J.J.’s Pizzeria resembles many other independent pizzerias with little of the flash and panache of the behemoth pizza chains which are ultimately more style than substance and whose copycat products reflect the impersonal investment of their parent chain.  When you walk in, don’t expect the typical rehearsed wait schtick of insincere chains.  J.J. himself greets you as he might a guest at his home.  It’s yet another aspect of independent restaurants I appreciate.

Positioned above the counter at which you place your order is a menu which at first browse resembles the menu of many a pizzeria.  Pizza is available in small (a personal size eight-inch beauty), medium, large and extra large sizes.  A panoply of specialty pizzas includes meat lovers options (including a barbecue beef pizza) as well as vegetarian friendly pizzas.  You can also construct your own from a phalanx of available ingredients.  Eleven different hot subs, calzones, salads and even spaghetti are also available.

The Ranchero Pizza at J.J.'s

The Ranchero Pizza at J.J.’s

On one corner of the restaurant are positioned three video games.  No, not the modern hand-held video games.  J.J.’s got the precursors of today’s innovative digitally enhanced multi-platform games.  These are the video games of the 1980s, the type of which could be found in drugstores, laundromats and game rooms two decades ago.  J.J. grew up playing these games and still has a soft spot in his heart for them.

So what makes J.J.’s pizza different?  It certainly starts with the crust.  Dough is made fresh from scratch in the store every day, a recognition that living dough makes better bread than frozen dough.  The crust has deep hues of brown and gold, the speckled char to which all great pizzas aspire.  The crust is baked in a Middleby Marshal PS260 pizza oven which cooks hotter meaning the dough never comes out doughy and all the toppings are cooked thoroughly.   Only 100 percent never-frozen, real mozzarella cheese is used on each pizza.

A large pizza: half Ranchero and half barbecue beef

A large pizza: half Ranchero and half barbecue beef

1 July 2009: During my inaugural visit, J.J. himself recommended the Ranchero (pictured above), a personal sized pizza topped with pepperoni, ground beef, bacon and green chile.  It was an astute recommendation from an obviously very proud owner.  The Ranchero is an excellent pizza!  It arrives at your table steaming hot and cooked all the way through.  The crust is pliable, with enough bend that it can probably be folded like New York style pizza.  It is a terrific crust, the type of which will remind you of great bread right out of the oven.  The sauce is thick, well-seasoned and hearty.  The ingredients, particularly the green chile, are top notch.  The green chile has a nicely roasted flavor and just a bit more piquancy than most Duke City pizzas.

23 August 2009: Being an independently owned and operated family business means you have the latitude to do what you want; you don’t have to follow the corporate regimen.  If you ask for a unique combination (within reason), JJ’s can prepare it for you.  You can, for example, ask for a half Ranchero (pepperoni, ground beef, bacon, green chile) and half barbecue beef and it will be delivered to your table.  The barbecue beef pizza is topped with handfuls of barbecue beef and red onion, each slice offering some of both.  The beef has a faint smokiness and is imbued with a sweet and tangy sauce.  It’s the type of beef which would go well in a barbecue beef sandwich–which is a good thing because the menu offers it as one of eight hot subs–ranging in size from five-inches to ten-inches–on the menu.

Meatball Sub

 

21 April 2015: The hot subs include turkey, Italian, roast beef, Albuquerque turkey, BBQ, club, ham and meatball.  If the meatball sub is any indication, JJ’s is no slouch in the sandwich department.  You’ll want the ten-inch meatball sub which arrives at your table sliced in half.  A generous number of meatballs smothered in a thick marinara are nestled in a lightly toasted roll and topped with shredded mozzarella.  There’s very little, if any, filler in the meatballs which are just slightly larger than bite-sized.  Because the marinara is so thick and tomato-rich, this may be the least messy meatball sub in town.  Not quite fully melted, the shredded mozzarella is a nice change from the gooey, molten blanket of cheese which usually tops meatball subs.  It’ll be hard to top this sub!

Albuquerque has a surprising number of very good independent pizzerias.  When J.J. Salazar entered the fray, he knew his product had to be a cut above in order to compete. It is!  If personal investment, a terrific product and owner involvement count for anything–and they should–J.J.’s Pizza will continue to win over a discerning Duke City market.

J.J.’s Pizza
4111 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 883-6962
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 21 April 2015
1ST VISIT: 1 July 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Ranchero, BBQ Beef Pizza, Cinna-Munchies, Meatball Sub

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