Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 875 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 7000 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Witch’s Brew – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Witch’s Brew Coffee House

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
~Macbeth Act 4 Scene 1

Each of the lunch ladies at the Peñasco Elementary School cafeteria undoubtedly earned a pair of wings, a harp, and a halo for all they were subjected to from the recalcitrant kids who lined up for our daily gruel. Whenever (and it was quite often) something unappetizing was served, we would burst into a chorus of “double, double, toil and trouble. Dump this slop on the double.” Most of us were six or seven years old and had certainly never heard of the three witches immortalized in the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth. We’d improvised the little ditty from something we’d heard on an episode of Bewitched (or was it Gilligan’s Island?), a situation comedy of the 1960s.

It wasn’t those sainted lunch ladies who first came to mind when I espied the sign for “Witches Brew,” a coffee house in the Altura Park neighborhood. Now much more geriatrically advanced (and ostensibly more “grown up”) I tried to recall the remarkably precise and detailed incantation (was it “eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, tongue of dog?”…) uttered by Macbeth’s three witches as they concocted the most famous witches brew of all. Alas, my mind was too cluttered with the “dump this slop on the double” chant of my childhood.

From the dining room

Fittingly Witch’s Brew occupies the space previously held by another mythical character, the long defunct Blue Dragon, a coffee house and eatery whose eight year absence has made Duke City hearts grow fonder. As with its predecessor on Girard, Witch’s Brew is quirky and comfortable, a homey milieu in which you can procure enchanting eats and bewitching coffee. The dining room is an upgrade, offering cozy booths that seem tailor-made for long visits as you luxuriate over a pizza or sandwich. The cynosure of another expansive room is a pool table. Walls are festooned with the works of local virtuosos plying their craft in various artsy mediums.

Esthetics and ambiance aside, what sets Witch’s Brew apart is its vibe, the sense of déjà vu and belonging you feel when you first step into the joint. Even if you never set foot in the Blue Dragon, there’s something more than vaguely familiar about Witch’s Brew. For the more seasoned among us, perhaps it’s the sense of nostalgia gleaned from having studied assiduously in similar venues even as live music or a poetry slam unfolded (sometimes rather loudly) in the background.

Apricot Teacake

If you need help getting started in the morning, the Witch’s Brew can hook you up with hot Red Rock Roasters coffee or an 18-hour cold-brewed coffee as well as an assortment of eye-opening breakfast sandwiches and pastries. Return for lunch and you’ll revel in a selection of pizzas baked in the same Baker’s Pride oven once used by the Blue Dragon. The menu, scrawled on a slate board, also offers soups, burritos, salads, nachos and much more. You’ll be hard-pressed to tear your eyes away from the pie case which may be replete with pies, cakes, cheesecakes, Danishes, fruit and several types of cookies.

Feast your eyes on the apricot teacakes then let your taste buds confirm what your eyes tell you. These are perhaps even better than they look—thick, dense, apricot-infused teacakes with a generously slathered on apricot glaze. These aren’t artificially ripened, overly sweetened canned apricots, my friends. They’re imbued with Mother Nature’s freshness and the musky tartness of apricots that not long ago hung from a branch on a tall apricot tree.

Granola with Fruit

It wasn’t that long ago, granola was ascribed with such characteristics as rustic, tree-hugger bran, organic, natural and boring. Today, artisans and innovators are doing interesting things with granola, elevating it from the aforementioned to something inspired and maybe even chic. Witch’s Brew’s take on granola is neither. It might be easier to find Forrest Fenn’s treasure than to find something other than oats on the plate and we love our fruits and nuts, too. The yogurt itself is unsweetened which is a major plus as are the fruits (kiwi, watermelon, grapes, apple slices) served on a separate bowl.

What Bohemians and long-ago frequenters of the Blue Dragon want to know is if the venerable oven can still weave its magic on a pizza. If you believe pizza ovens have a memory and that, like a good pan, they can be “seasoned,” the answer is “the magic is still there.” There are a number of pizza options on the menu, including a taco pizza (black bean-red chile sauce, roasted chicken and al-fresco toppings) and a white pizza sans tomato sauce, but with plenty of garlic. You’re sure to find one you’ll love.

Pizza Margherita

Traditionalists and historians will enjoy the Pizza Margherita, the acknowledged progenitor of every pizza. Tradition dictates that the Margherita is adorned simply in the colors of the Italian flag: white from mozzarella, red from tomato sauce and green from basil. Add the color of char around the braided cornicione (the edge or lip of a pizza) and a bit of golden sheen from semolina flour and you’ve got a beauteous pie, one that’s chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside. The pie itself is rather thin, but it doesn’t wilt when picked up. Though the tomato sauce is generously applied, it doesn’t overwhelm the cheese. Thankfully salt isn’t a prominent part of this pie’s flavor profile.

Some would argue that the premise of a combination pizza is to get as many ingredients on one pie as you possibly can. Others look for combination pizzas to have a more thematic (Hawaiian, meat lovers, veggie, for example) appeal. Still others look for combinations that work well together. That’s what the combination pizza at Witch’s brew does. Constructed with pepperoni, black olives, onions and mozzarella, it’s not a profligate pile-up of ingredients, but the toppings do go very well together.

Combination Pizza

The Witch’s Brew is an enchanting coffeehouse in the heart of the Land of Enchantment. One can only wonder what type of ditty the Gil of my childhood would have composed about its culinary alchemy.

Witch’s Brew
1517 Girard Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 835-5072
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 July 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Combination Pizza, Pizza Margherita, Granola with Fruit

Click to add a blog post for Witch's Brew on Zomato

DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Da Vinci’s Pizza Cafe on Indian School and Girard

For more than two years, Dan Brown’s brilliant and controversial novel, The DaVinci Code was a permanent fixture as number one on the New York Times best seller list. Brown’s magnus opus postulates the existence of a clandestine society in Europe which, for centuries, has been the guardian of a hallowed bloodline whose lineage descended from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. This secret society included such luminaries as Leonardo DaVinci, Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei. While many people may consider this terrific tome heretical, at its very least the DaVinci Code spawned a renaissance (rebirth of learning) in the Renaissance (period of European history between the 14th and 17th centuries when a cultural rebirth occurred).

In 2005, renaissance man (a man with extraordinarily broad and comprehensive knowledge) John Mickey launched DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza in Albuquerque’s far Northeast Heights and his brainchild is spawning a renaissance  (rebirth again) of its own among pizza enthusiasts–so much so that it was named the best new restaurant in the Alibi‘s 2005 Readers Choice issue. What makes this accolade doubly impressive is that his restaurant was tucked away for its first eight years in operation in the Shops at Mountain Run and until 2009, was available only for carry-out and delivery.

The front dining room at Da Vinci’s

In 2014, DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza moved to a more centrally located location in Altura Park a few blocks north of the University of New Mexico.  Now situated in a repurposed auto repair shop/gas station, DaVinci’s has classed-up the area’s pizza availability with dine-in, carry-out and delivery of a diverse and expansive menu.  Even better, the restaurant is now open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with much more than pizza.  Breakfast offerings, for example, include two breakfast calzones as well as a number of breakfast pizzas and a coffee-espresso menu designed to help get you started on a sleepy morning.

Though the name DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza is no longer subtitled “where every pizza is a work of art”  the menu still lists its pizzas under the categories “The Masterpieces” and “Premium Masterpieces.”  All but two pizzas (the Hawaiian and the Green Chile Bacon Cheeseburger) are named for a famous artist of the Renaissance era, some contemporaneous with the eponymous Leonardo himself.

The Veronese

Children of the 90s who have come to associate the names Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello and Leonardo with anthropomorphic turtle brothers who live in the sewers of New York City might not know that these names gracing pizzas are named for artists, but they’ll certainly consider each pizza a work of edible art.  Pizzas are available in small (12″), medium (14″), large (16″) and colossal (18″) sizes and can be created on a canvas of either white or wheat crust.  Meat and veggie toppings are available for build-your-own pizzas.  You can also order pizza by the slice.

We learned that DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza is like a breath of fresh air, so uniquely different in concept and execution that it should continue to be more than competitive in a glutted carry-out and delivery pizza market currently defined by mediocre national chains. Visiting DaVinci’s will also affirm that four walls and a hovering wait staff don’t define a great dining experience; we’ve enjoyed our pizza at a nearby park where we took in the sights of romping dogs, playing children and nature’s finery.  We’ve enjoyed it in one of the restaurant’s several tables.

The Alberti

Gourmet pizza isn’t a stereotypical, haphazardly thrown together menagerie of fru-fru ingredients, it’s the culinary arrangement of top quality sauces, seasonings, cheeses, meats and toppings that work harmoniously to craft a delicious pie. DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza offers 43 different toppings, some of which aren’t used anywhere else in Albuquerque. The Botticelli, for example, includes rosemary roasted potatoes. Best of all, the inventive array of DaVinci’s creations are fashioned on a crispy New York style canvas substantial enough to hold hefty portions.

Owner John Mickey is justifiably proud of his pies which are meticulously monitored so they’re extricated from the oven at the precise time to ensure just the right amount of char and optimum doneness of ingredients.  Mickey trains his staff to be attentive to each pie.  He wants a remarkable consistency in each pizza.  A perfectionist with a keen attention to detail, he spent more than two months experimenting until he crafted the perfect whole wheat crust.  He’s added a gluten-free crust, too, but it’s currently available only in the 12-inch size.

The Boticelli

Gourmet pizza also isn’t necessarily crafted on a canvas of dough topped with tomato sauce. In Connecticut and other Northeastern states, the traditional white pizza (pizza bianca) generally has no sauce, just a covering of mozzarella cheese on top of garlic, olive oil and herbs with whatever other toppings a pizzaioli might add. DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza is introducing Albuquerque to pizza sans tomato sauce and while not a new experience for us, might be a revelation for some Duke City diners so accustomed to plebian tomato sauce based pizzas.

4 July 2010: The aforementioned Alberti easily lives up to its “masterpiece” billing with standard ingredients that work together exceptionally well and made the additives we requested more than welcome. The standard Alberti features Fontina and mozzarella cheeses, roasted garlic, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, goat cheese, parsley and Kalamata olives on an olive oil base to which we  have added Canadian bacon and Italian sausage. This jazzy, grease-free pizza with its exceedingly fresh and ingeniously non-traditional toppings and olive oil blessed crust is fabulous in every respect.  The marriage of Fontina and goat cheeses is particularly memorable.

Breakfast Calzone with Red and Green Chile

4 July 2010: The Boticelli is yet another example of John Mickey’s creativity.  The description–marinated chicken on a bed of rosemary roasted potatoes, red onions, covered with a blend of mozzarella and Kasseri cheese over an olive oil base–sounds at first browse, as one dry pie.  Rosemary roasted potatoes and marinated chicken baked in a slate oven can’t possibly be moist, right?  Far from it.  This is a moist, cheesy pizza with right-sized ingredients baked for the optimum time to ensure a delicious pie with nary a hint of desiccation.

4 July 2010: Save for bread knots and chicken bites, DaVinci’s doesn’t have traditional “appetizers” but you can start  off your meal with one of three artisan salads or bread knots.  The Veronese salad (green leaf lettuce tossed with garbanzo beans, diced red pepper, Kasseri cheese, Genoa salami and red onions served with your choice of Ranch, Bleu Cheese or Italian dressing) is fresh and delicious, an excellent starter.  A small salad is big enough for two to share.  DaVinci’s has two dessert offerings, cannoli and tiramisu, neither of which are homemade, but both of which are highly recommended by the owner.

10 July 2015: DaVinci’s breakfast calzones are a unique offering whose time has definitely come.  Though not named for any Renaissance artist, the breakfast calzone (eggs, bacon or sausage, Cheddar, onion and red or green chile) is itself a masterpiece, one reminiscent of New Mexico’s ubiquitous breakfast burrito, albeit on a different canvas.  There’s only one thing which can improve this calzone and that would be offering a ‘smothered” option so you have chile inside the calzone as well as topping it.  The chile isn’t especially piquant, but that’s the case in many breakfast burritos, too.

For most Duke City diners, a non-rush hour drive to DaVinci’s Gourmet Pizza is closer than it used to be.  It’s a drive savvy diners should take often.

DaVinci’s Gourmet
2904 Indian School, N.E.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site
(505) 275-2722
LATEST VISIT:  10 July 2015

COST: $$
BEST BET: The Alberti with Canadian Bacon & Sausage; The Michelangelo, The Boticelli, The Veronese (salad), Breakfast Calzone

Click to add a blog post for Da Vinci's Pizza Cafe on Zomato

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
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Stomper with garlic, onions, Canadian bacon, green chile and black olives

Click to add a blog post for Amadeo's Pizza & Subs on Zomato