Sauce Pizza & Wine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sauce Pizza and Wine in the Uptown Area

To celebrate the 100 year anniversary of pizza in America, James Beard Award-winning food writer Ed Levine ate nothing but pizza for an entire twelve month period, taking a representative pulse of the best from among thousands of pizza purveyors. His terrific tome, Pizza A Slice of Heaven, published in 2010, provides a definitive guide to a beloved staple that in its elemental form is simplicity itself–bread, cheese and whatever toppings a pizzaioli artisan might care to add. To the surprise of cognoscenti and plebeian alike, Levine declared the best pizza in the fruited plain (and the world, for that matter) to be made in the unlikely town of Phoenix, Arizona where the intensely brilliant Chris Bianco plies his trade as no other.  Yes, that Phoenix, Arizona!

In the dozens of business trips I made to the Phoenix area while working for Intel, convivial colleagues introduced me to a number of wholly forgettable models of pizza mediocrity.  “All-you-can-choke-down” seemed to be their primary criteria for assessing the quality of pizza.  I gleaned the impression that save for  Pizzeria Bianco, nary a good pizza was to be found in the 9,071 mile expanse of metropolitan Phoenix.  None of my colleagues had ever even heard of the anointed purveyor of peerless pies  and when I explained where Pizzeria Bianco was located, none would venture that far…especially when prodigious portions of the all-you-can-eat variety were in much closer proximity.  Eventually I made it to Pizzeria Bianco on my own and confirmed what Ed Levine had proclaimed.

Italian Chopped Salad with Basil Lemonade

When we heard a Scottsdale-based restaurant chain specializing in pizza would be expanding to Albuquerque, misgivings quickly set in.  If this interloper was comparable in quality to the cavalcade of barely passable pizzerias to which my colleagues introduced me, surely savvy Duke City diners would spurn it.  With the sobriquet Sauce–subtitled with “Pizza and Wine”–the burgeoning franchise currently has eight locations in the Phoenix area and four in Tucson with  Albuquerque being the first city outside of Arizona to which Sauce has expanded.  The franchise is located at The Corner @ Winrock, an Uptown property in the sprawling Winrock complex.  Sauce is situated in a 3,000 square-foot space on the corner of Indian School and Uptown and has a capacious dog-friendly patio.

The Sauce menu is so much more than pizza and wine.  Twelve signature pizzas constructed from handcrafted toppings, made-from-scratch sauces and dough prepared fresh daily, might be the first thing to which your eyes gravitate, but you’ll probably peruse the salads menu rather closely, too.  Prepared fresh daily, the ten composed salads aren’t all of the run-of-the-mill variety and the dressings are all house-made.  Locally-sourced, fresh-baked bread from Fano Bread Company is the canvas upon which the four paninis are made.  Pasta paramours have five choices, including a macaroni and cheese option which appears to be very popular.  Soups, sides and desserts are also very intriguing.  Guests order at a counter but an attentive server staff will deliver your order, refill drinks and bus tables.

Prosciutto and Fig Pie

If you’re tired of designer greens-based salads, Sauce has an Italian Chopped salad (pepperoni, sopressata, smoked mozzarella, pepperoncini, kalamata olives, yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, red onions, roasted garbanzo beans and roasted garlic vinaigrette) that will make a believer out of you.  Sure, chopped salads (which include ingredients which have been chopped to be uniform then either composed or tossed) have been around for a long time, but peruse the aforementioned ingredients and you’ll probably note combinations heretofore unseen to you.  These ingredients coalesce into a  delicious whole in every bite.  There are plenty of surprises in this salad, among them the crunch of the roasted garbanzo beans, the smokiness of the mozzarella and the potency of the roasted garlic vinaigrette, for example.

From among Sauce’s signature pizzas, several are sure to pique your interest.  Among them are the Prosciutto & Fig (black mission figs, goat cheese and fresh arugula).  The idea of tossing arugula atop a pizza was almost certainly conceived by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.  It’s an idea oft duplicated, especially in California.  Not among my favorite toppings, arugula nonetheless adds a bold, peppery flavor to each pie.  While the black mission figs counterbalance the tanginess of the goat cheese and the saltiness of the prosciutto, a fig jam would have been preferable to sliced fig halves.  Our favorite aspect of each slice was the pizza crust, especially the cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza.  The cornicione is not only is soft and chewy, it’s got granules of sea salt that enhance its just baked bread flavor and aroma.

Lasagna Pie

Noting that “nothing ruins a pizza faster than the wrong toppings,” The Cheat Sheet, an online presence dedicated to “providing audiences the information they want in an approachable, entertaining way” compiled a list of the fifteen most hated pizza toppings many people think take a pie from delicious to disgusting.  Among them are spinach (described as making a pizza soggy while imparting very little flavor) and mushrooms (another topping which adds very little flavor).  Both spinach and mushrooms adorn the Lasagna Pie along with ricotta, meatballs and fresh garlic.  These ingredients seem more at home on a true lasagna than atop a beauteous crust.  Still, the one ingredient we enjoyed least was the meatballs which lacked the personality of say, a spicy sausage.

My Kim didn’t get much argument from me that along with the Chopped Italian, the best item on the Sauce menu is the gelato from Van Rixel Brothers. That could be said about almost every restaurant in which Van Rixel gelato is offered.  What’s so great about this gelato?  Aside from having a lower butterfat and sugar content than ice cream, texturally it’s also much denser than ice cream with a much more intense and concentrated flavor.  High-quality artisan gelato retains its texture (from delicate ice crystals) for only a few days which is why great gelato is usually made on the premises or at least locally (the Van Rixel Brothers are Albuquerque-based), not shipped from afar. Two winning flavors we enjoyed are lavender-lemon gelato and chocolate gelatoSauce’s portion size was very generous.

Left: Lavender-Lemon Gelato; Right: Chocolate Gelato From Albuquerque’s VanRixel Brothers

Sauce Pizza & Wine has redeemed Phoenix pizza in my eyes.  It’s not only better than any of the pizza parlors to which my Arizona colleagues took me, it’s a very good addition to the Duke City pizza scene.  The Italian Chopped salad alone is worth a visit (or six) while the basil-lemonade is a best in town caliber beverage.

Sauce Pizza & Wine
2100 Louisiana Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 639-5402
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lavender-Lemon Gelato, Chocolate Gelato, Strawberry-Basil Lemonade, Chopped Italian Salad, Prosciutto-Fig Pizza, Lasagna Pizza

Sauce Pizza & Wine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Village Pizza – Corrales, New Mexico

Village Pizza in Corrales

Research has proven that taste buds are dulled by high altitude and cabin pressure, so as an aircraft climbs, our sense of taste diminishes by as much as 30 percent. That explains why many passengers praise airline food on flights in which meals are actually served.  It’s probably not that the food is good; it’s more likely that their sense of taste is diminished.  Alas, it’s not solely high altitude and cabin pressure which can diminish the sense of taste.  On this blog I’ve catalogued some of those factors: the use of spices (i.e., cumin) that mask the purity, earthiness and richness of red chile; the use of inferior ingredients that can’t mask the lack of quality; the impairing effects of alcohol on the senses of smell and taste; improper preparation time and so forth.  One factor I have not touched upon is “too much of a good thing.”

At Village Pizza, the pizza buffet is so inviting, so tempting, so alluring that you’re bound to consume more than you should.  In all its glory and splendor, the pizza buffet is as enticing as the sirens of Greek mythology who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices.   Willpower will wane.  Diet be damned.  Resistance is futile!  You can’t help but make repeat visits to this paragon of pizza perfection with occasional and frequent detours to the salad bar or to the tureen of green chile chicken stew, a magical elixir. The Village Pizza is a bit of a paradox–luring patrons with so much (maybe too much) of a good thing while daily demonstrating that willpower is not enough.

The sprawling dog-friendly patio

18 July 2009:  If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of ingredients (particularly meats) on restaurant pizza, you’re overdue for a visit to Village Pizza, the antithesis of the “where’s the ingredients” pizzas throughout the Duke City area.  It would be easier to locate Forrest Fenn’s fabled treasure than to locate more than a handful of pepperonis on many pizzas.  At the opposite extreme of these chintzy, cheap pies is the Village combo , described on the menu as “a real combo piled with smoked ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, hot or mild green chile, bell peppers, red onions, ground beef and hot or mild sausage,” the emphasis should be on “piled.”

When we first undertook the monumental task of finishing the Village Combo, our initial impressions were that moderation might be in order.  It’s the first time my Kim and I were ever intimidated by a pizza.  The ingredients on this baked behemoth were stacked so high we didn’t know whether to eat them, make a salad out of them or organize an expedition to climb them.  Perhaps only Joey Chestnut, the renowned greatest eater in history could have polished off this prodigious pie in one sitting.  Over time, we’ve come to appreciate that the Village Pizza strives to provide its loyal guests not only with great food and portions, but with great value.

The pizza buffet is a very popular draw

Geographically, the Village Pizza lies pretty close to the heart of the village, but villagers might argue that it actually is the heart of the village.  It’s where families congregate to share food, fun and fellowship.  Village Pizza has probably hosted more anniversaries and parties than any other venue in the village.  Cognizant of its location and of environmental concerns, Village Pizza gives discounts to diners who ride their bike or horse to eat at this converted home.  Exterior signage reads “Human Only Patio?  No!  Bring Your Lovable Canine Pal.”  That’s what we do and our debonair dachshund The Dude (he abides) couldn’t be happier.

The restaurant has two large dining rooms as well as a capacious outdoor patio.  During buffet hours, all three can be quite crowded and at times rather “festive.”  Towering assiduous trees provide sun-shielding shade, but our favorite spot is beneath the covered portal where our backdrop is the preternatural photography of Kim Jew, a Corrales resident widely regarded as one of the Land of Enchantment’s most talented photographers.  Just as the Land of Enchantment provides the most beautiful subject matter for Jew’s photographs, the Village Pizza’s dough is the canvas upon which beautiful ingredients are heaped.

The Village Pizza, A Pie So Large It May Take a Village to Finish

In Corrales it may be said that if it takes a village to bake a great pizza, that village is the Village Pizza and if pizza dough is the canvass on which great pizza is made, Village Pizza creates the canvass on which masterpiece pizzas are made.  The dough–conventional or whole wheat–is made on the premises.  Thin, regular or “thick” varieties shaped into 12″, 14″ and 16″ sizes (three sizes, three thicknesses) are available for appetites of varying capacities.  Each pizza is hand-tossed and baked in slate ovens.  Fresh ingredients and real cheese are a standard as is the generosity of ingredients.  An array of exotic ingredients such as eggplant, artichoke hearts, feta and roasted pine nuts are available for pizza aficionados who don’t want a conventional pizza.  Village Pizza even offers a “take and bake” option so you can bake the pie at home.

The homemade sauce is very good, obviously made from rich tomatoes at the peak of freshness.  It is seasoned very well with basil, garlic and other complementary ingredients.  If you prefer pizza sans tomato sauce, the restaurant can accommodate you there, too.  In addition to the original red sauce, you can have a wonderful bianco (garlic and ricotta) sauce or pesto if you please.  There’s even a “gourmet” sauce option where you can choose two from the sauce triumvirate of tomato, bianco or pesto.

Two Slices from the Pizza Buffet

An all-you-can-eat buffet is available every day from 11AM – 2PM and Monday and Tuesday nights from 5PM until closing.  The buffet, which includes pizza, soup, salad and breadsticks, is one of the biggest draws to this Corrales institution.  Whether you order off the menu or opt for the buffet, your portions will be profligate.  Village Pizza is not a restaurant you visit if when you want a small meal.  Though we often eschew buffets, this is one we enjoy–even when having to share a dining room with a passel of party-goers. 

Several types of pizza are available on a large silver table spotlighted by heating lamps.  You needn’t worry about the pizza growing stale or cold because it doesn’t spend much time on the table.  A procession of hungry diners forms quickly after the pizza is replenished.  The buffet features many of the most popular pizzas–pies adorned with green chile, pepperoni, cheese and more.  The Hawaiian-style pizza (pineapple, Canadian bacon) is quite good, showcasing the contrast of tangy-sweet pineapple and salty-savory Canadian bacon.  Alas, the green chile would barely register on the Scoville scale.  It’s got virtually no heat and that’s a mortal sin in New Mexico.

Green Chile Stew from the Buffet

The salad bar allows you to indulge your creativity with a melange of fresh ingredients.  The foundation for your salad starts with either a conventional iceberg lettuce or spinach base.  Trays of ingredients include discs of pepperoni, sliced mushrooms, sliced black olives, chopped green peppers, flower seeds and some of the largest, most juicy pepperoncini (which packs more punch than the chile) in the area.  Salad dressings include all the usual suspects and a raspberry vinaigrette we enjoyed for dipping the bread sticks. 

Soup of the day is a celebrated event when the featured fare is green chile chicken stew.  A large crock of piping hot green chile chicken stew has its own place separate from the buffet as well as its own legion of admirers who queue up to ladle it onto their bowls.  This is a good green chile stew even though we were hard-pressed to glean any piquancy or smokiness.  What is discernible, however, is finely cut chicken and a thick broth.  We love that this stew is served hot, a much welcome respite from the chill of winter.

Calzone at Village Pizza in Corrales

Calzone at Village Pizza in Corrales

As someone for whom Spanish was the first and only language I knew until starting school, the word “calzone” has always amused me.  In Spanish and in Italian, a calzone is a trouser, so the first time I saw “calzone” on the menu of an Italian restaurant, confusion and humor abounded.  After having consumed one, it could have been called ropa interior (underwear in Spanish) and it wouldn’t have mattered.  This wondrous Italian turnover crafted from pizza dough baked golden brown and stuffed with rich Ricotta absolutely captivated me.

Village Pizza’s rendition, the Corrales Calzone, is much like those calzones with which I fell in love in Massachusetts.  It’s made from hand-formed dough whose outer borders are formed into bread knots you can tear off and dip into the accompanying red sauce.  The golden brown bread is heavenly, very much reminiscent of bread right out of the oven.  The calzone is about the size of a flattened football so there’s plenty of room in which to stuff it with mozzarella and Ricotta cheeses.  It’s brushed with pesto after it’s baked.  As with the pizza, you can have your calzone with additional ingredients.  Spicy sausage is a good choice here.

Tequila Lime Chicken Wings with Pico de Gallo and Sour Cream

Tequila Lime Chicken Wings with Pico de Gallo and Sour Cream

The menu features four appetizers: breadsticks, nachos (yes, nachos), chicken wings and a veggie plate.  The chicken wings are available in two varieties, a tangy honey barbecue sauce and tequila lime.  The tequila lime chicken wings are served with blue and yellow corn chips, sour cream and pico de gallo.  Unlike what most fried foul fanatics fantasize about, these are not deep-fried and therefore, don’t have a crispy texture.   The skin has a bit of an unappetizing “elastic” feel as you bite into it.  Discard the skin and you’ll find the tequila lime flavors do penetrate into the delicious, albeit chintzy chicken meat. 

There aren’t many dessert options on the menu, but it’s unlikely unless their to-go boxes are full, many diners will have room left over for dessert.   One option is a parfait-like dessert, a frothy chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream, piñon and two cherries.  It’s available in three sizes up to 16-ounces which means it’s big enough to share.

A chocolate mousse parfait at Village Pizza

A chocolate mousse parfait at Village Pizza

In January, 2014, Village Pizza branched out to the southwest corner of Griegos and Rio Grande which served for years as the home of Geezamboni, a popular barbecue restaurant.

Village Pizza
4266 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 898-0045
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 30 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tequila Lime Wings, Village Combo Pizza, Chocolate Mousse Parfait, Salad Bar, Green Chile Chicken Stew

Village Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Farina Alto – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Farina Alto in the Northeast Heights

Much thought, deliberation and market research usually goes into the naming of a business, but every once in a while, one linguistic aspect or another isn’t fully explored to the nth degree. Take for example  Chevrolet’s problems marketing the Nova in Latin America where the term “no va” means “it won’t go” in Spanish. Even though the Nova sold quite well, the car’s name wasn’t without irony and humor.  (Yes, I know the Nova story is an urban myth, but it helps illustrate my point.) Worse, a slogan for Frank Perdue chicken, “it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken,” translated (also in Spanish) as the equivalent of “it takes a sexually aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”

Obviously, the “Alto” portion of Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar in Albuquerque is intended to accentuate the “Heights” where the restaurant is located. Alto, after all, translates in both Italian and in Spanish to “high” or “ high up” as in the foothills. Lesser known is the fact that “alto” also translates in Spanish to “stop.” That’s what you’ll read in Spain on octagonal red signs that in America read “stop.” So, Farina Alto not only translates to Farina at the Heights, but perhaps not intentionally to “Farina. Stop!”. Could it be the folks who named Farina Alto knew just what they were doing because stopping at Farina for lunch or dinner is a great idea?

The Sprawling Dining Room

Farina Alto is the younger, more cosmopolitan sibling of Farina Pizzeria, the East Downtown (EDO) area Italian restaurant which took the Duke City by storm when it launched in 2008 and continues to be regarded as one of the Duke City’s best and most inventive pizza restaurants. As with its elder sibling, Farina Pizzeria is owned by restaurant impresarios Pat and Terry Keene, founders and owners of the Artichoke Café, long one of Albuquerque’s most highly regarded fine dining experiences.

Situated in the edifice which previously housed the Pacific Rim Asian Bistro, Farina Alto is easily–at 6,500 square feet–three times the size of the original Farina. Its operating hours are expanded, too, with lunch and dinner served seven days a week. Unlike at its elder scion, Farina Alto’s seating isn’t in personal space proximity and a capacious patio is available for overflow crowds and diners who prefer al fresco dining. Few, if any, vestiges of the Pacific Rim remain. In the area which once served as a sushi prep area, you’ll now find a wine cave and a curing room for the high quality meats and oils used throughout the restaurant’s menu.   Alas, only the chef and sous chef enter the curing room so my pleas for a tour were gently rebuffed.

The Dog-Friendly Patio

Farina Alto launched on Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 with an expanded menu featuring fresh, locally-grown ingredients.  Aside from ingredients of the highest quality, another factor which makes it “Farina-style” is the oven which bakes the restaurant’s signature thin pies in an inferno of heat–650 to 800 degrees.  By virtue of their thin crust, these twelve-inch orbs don’t require a lot of oven-time.  The thin crust also means you’re likely to see more char on the pizza’s edges and bottom than you would on a thicker crust.  The taste of char should be relatively innocuous, even pleasant, but it’s also an acquired taste.  If you accept it, if you like it, you’ll enjoy Farina’s pies because char is a flavor.

12 May 2013: Other restaurant standards ported over from EDO include some of the very best meatballs in town.  The notion of meatballs at an Italian restaurant conjures images of baseball-sized orbs made from veal, pork and beef and deluged by red sauce.  Farina’s meatballs al forno Balsamico are the antithesis of that stereotype.  This oven-baked deliciousness features four pine nut studded meatballs per order immersed not in tomato sauce, but in a sweet, tangy, savory Balsamic sauce.  The meatballs are accompanied by toasted crostini which you’ll use to dredge up any of the remaining sauce.

Meatballs Al Forno Balsamico

12 May 2013: Another EDO favorite which has moved on up to the East side is the pasta e Fagioli, a non-vegetarian bean and pasta soup.  Translating simply to pasta and beans, this Italian comfort food standard is simmered until rich, flavorful and redolent with a melange of ingredients working very well together.  The pasta e Fagioli is topped with ground Italian basil and served hot.  It is available in cup and bowl sizes.

FarinaAlto03

Pasta e Fagioli: (non-vegetarian) bean and pasta soup

25 January 2015: Since the mid-1960s “invention” of Buffalo chicken wings at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, there has been no surcease to the popularity of chicken wing pieces that have been deep fried and slathered in a spicy hot sauce.  Perhaps to stave of monotony, many restaurants have tried their hand at inventing the “next big thing” in the chicken wing arena.  Farina Alto’s effort involves chicken wings and legs rubbed with a red chile flake and thyme seasoning then tossed in an elderberry reduction and roasted in an oven.  The result is rather insipid chicken wings whose primary qualities are stickiness and sweetness.  The red chile flake is lost in the sweet, lacquered-on reduction.  The accompanying celery and blue cheese are a better bet.

Oven-Roasted Chicken Wings

3 July 2017:  There are over 3,000 different varieties of olives (and that’s a conservative estimate) with flavor profiles that are sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent.  Though I’ve prided myself on a discerning palate able to detect nuanced differences on many foods, olives have always been one of foods so similar in flavor that I can’t tell the difference–especially when roasted and served in olive oil.  That’s how Farina Alto serves them.  The oven-roasted Italian olives appetizer includes several varieties, some small, others large, some green, some black and some brown.  The Castelvetrano olives stand out, but more for their bright green appearance than their flavor.  The generous bowlful also included Gaetas and Ligurias.

Oven Roasted Italian Olives

In his Local IQ review of Farina Pizzeria, Kevin Hopper wrote of the pizza “each pie’s individual ingredients come together to form a synergistic symphony of flavors.”   Each pie is crafted in the tradition of artisan pizzaiolos who  know what they’re doing in crafting pies with ingredients so complementary, they dance on all 10,000 of your taste buds with alacrity.  Other pizzerias use similar ingredients (for example: pepperoni, salami, mozzarella) to less acclaim, the difference being the high quality of the ingredients used at Farina Alto.

12 May 2013: The carnivore’s choice for pizza is the simply named Carne which does translate to “meat” in both Italian and Spanish.  A triumvirate of magnificent meats–pepperoni, salami and prosciutto–share space on a canvas of perfectly charred dough with a lightly applied tomato sauce and mozzarella.  Selfishly I love when my Kim orders meaty pizzas on which pepperoni is an ingredient because she doesn’t like pepperoni.  Make that she doesn’t like inferior pepperoni.  She loved the pepperoni at Farina Alto which means I didn’t get much of it.  The Carne is a pulchritudinous pie.

FarinaAlto04

Carne (pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, tomato sauce, mozzarella)

12 May 2013: For turophiles (connoisseurs of cheese), one cheese just won’t cut it.  Give us quattro formaggio (four cheeses) when you can or due (two) formaggio if the cheeses complement one another.  On the Formaggio di Capra, the two cheeses-farmhouse goat cheese and mozzarella–most definitely complement one another. Other ingredients on this masterpiece are leeks, scallions and crisp pancetta (a salt-cured pork belly meat).  The pancetta isn’t nearly as smoky as American bacon tends to be, lending instead an infusion of pure pork flavor.  It goes especially well with the smooth, savory-tangy farmhouse goat cheese. 

FarinaAlto05

Formaggio di Capra

25 January 2015: Several years ago, restaurants across the fruited plain tried to start a “breakfast pizza” trend. They couldn’t pull the wool over American consumers who weren’t fooled by “new Coke” and ultimately weren’t swayed by quiche-like frittata dishes marketed as “breakfast pizza.” Ever the skeptics, we didn’t know what to expect from Pizzeria Alto’s breakfast pizza.  As it turned out, it’s truly a pizza in the finest traditions of pizza.  It’s also breakfast in that breakfast ingredients (a fried egg over easy, roasted potatoes, apple wood smoked bacon) meld deliciously with the tomato sauce, green chile, leeks and the cheesy due of aged mozzarella and Fontina on a crispy, smoky pizza dough canvas with plenty of the characteristic Pizzeria Alto char.  This is a breakfast pizza the way it should have been made years ago!

Breakfast Pizza

25 January 2015: Conan O’ Brien recently joked that “a new study says that children are suffering bad health effects from eating too much pizza.  The study was explained in a pie chart which children immediately tried to eat.”  It’s not only children who partake of too much pizza.  When it’s as good as Farina Alto’s Salsiccia (tomato sauce, local fennel sausage, oven-roasted onion, Mozzarella and Provolone cheese) even Job would be tempted to overindulge.  True to the pizza’s name, the fennel-enhanced sausage is what makes this pizza special even though some may decry this pie as just a bit salty. 

Salsiccia

3 July 2017:  If you’re not in a mood for pizza, Farina Alto offers a number of pasta alternatives such as spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and rigatoni.   Also available is one of the most pretty-as-a-picture chicken Parmesan dishes in town.  By the way, the “Parmesan” portion of the name doesn’t mean it’s made with Parmesan cheese.  The dish is instead named after the Italian region of Parma where the dish is said to have originated.  This version is fairly typical–a breadcrumb coating, mozzarella and a marinara sauce.  Seasoning is where Farina Alto’s version falls short.  Our dish lacked the flavor punch from oregano, garlic and other Italian herbs and seasonings that says “I’m Italian.”  The dish was even a bit lacking in the salt department.

Chicken Parmesan

12 May 2013: Farina Alto’s dessert menu is limited only in the number of options available.  The deliciousness is unlimited.  Among the most popular options is the gelato, an Italian frozen dessert somewhat similar to ice cream.  The difference between gelato and ice cream is subtraction; gelato usually is not made with cream and usually has a much lower fat content.  Although other flavor options are available, you can’t go wrong with plain vanilla and not just as a metaphor.  The vanilla and the chocolate are exemplars of how good and how pure these two flavors can be, how intensely chocolatey and vanilla pure gelato can be.  The gelato is served with a chocolate biscotti which is also intensely chocolatey.

12 May 2013: It’s not likely any foodie will ever conceive of an Albuquerque tiramisu trail.  There just aren’t that many trail worthy options save for Torinos @ Home, Joe’s Past House and the Farina family.  Though it’d be a short trail, it would be a delicious one.  Farina Alto’s tiramisu is an excellent rendition: Savoiardi cookies soaked in espresso with marsala zabaglione.  The strong espresso is perhaps why tiramisu translates to “pick me up” in Italian.  This is an adult dessert, just sweet enough for interest.

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Tiramisu

Great pizza at the Heights can now be found on the gentle up-slope leading to the Sandias. It’s a pizzeria and more whose very name beckons you to stop.

Farino Alto
10721 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 298-0035
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 3 July 2017
1st VISIT: 12 May 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Tiramisu, Gelato, Meatballs al Forno Balsamico, Pasta e Fagioli, Carne, Formaggio di Capra, Salsiccia, Breakfast Pizza

Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Irrational Pie – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Irrational Pie Parked in Front of Marble Brewery

Jethro Bodine, the country bumpkin with diverse career aspirations (brain surgeon, street car conductor, ‘double-naught’ spy, Hollywood producer, soda jerk, and bookkeeper) on the Beverly Hillbillies television comedy graduated highest in his class by a whole foot or more.  You couldn’t get much past the sixth grade educated “six-foot stomach.”  When a math teacher posited the theory of π r2 (pi r squared), Jethro wasn’t fooled: “Uncle Jed, them teachers is tryin’ to tell us that pie are square. Shoot, everybody knows that pie are round, cornbread are square.”

Jethro isn’t the only educated person to find pi irrational.  The first to do so was Swiss polymath Johann Heinrich Lambert who proved that the number π (pi) is irrational: that is, it cannot be expressed as a fraction a/b, where a is an integer and b is a non-zero integer.  It’s quite possible that the only people who understand that sentence are my friends Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and Bill Resnik, a New Mexico Institute of  Technology-trained mathematician.   For me, all math beyond statistics is irrational; it makes absolutely no sense.

Hickory Burns Hot and Fragrant

I did know enough to grin like the proverbial cat who ate the canary when apprised of a food truck named Irrational Pie.  It’s apparent owner Josh Rood-Ojalvo is not only a pretty bright guy, but that he’s got a pretty good sense of humor.  Eight out of ten (my proficiency at statistics on display here) probably couldn’t tell you what the name “Irrational Pie” means…not that pizza aficionados should even care.  Ten out of ten pizza paramours will love the pizzas proffered at this playfully named purveyor of pies.  That’s pie, not pi.

Since it launched in January, 2014, you can find Irrational Pie parked at some of your favorite breweries and at such events as Tasty Tuesdays, a fun, food and frolic fest that brings people together out-of-doors.  You can’t miss this food truck whose “mascot” is a neon-green moose whose antlers frame the truck’s name.  This is a truck which announces its presence well in advance of when you actually see it.  The aroma of hickory burning is akin to a siren’s call beckoning sailors.  That aroma may remind you of the campfires of your childhood.  Irrational Pie burns hickory not only because of its olfactory properties, but because it burns hot which means you won’t wait long for your pie.

Irrational Pie Menu

You can’t miss the oven in which that fragrant hickory burns so brightly. It’s a 3000-pound brick-based behemoth made in Italy and it occupies the back-end of the truck’s interior.  The enticing smoky aroma emanating from that oven will waft over you, perhaps triggering involuntary salivation.  As you queue up, you’ll have the opportunity to peruse the menu scrawled on a slate board.  There are only a handful of pies listed, but you can also customize your pie with the toppings of your choice.  You  won’t have to wait long before you made-to-order pie is delivered to your table. 

The dough for each pizza is made from scratch with local, organic ingredients whenever possible.  Each pie is a personal-sized ten-inch pizza with the pepperoni-green chile pizza being the best seller.  Seasonal specials are available with fresh ingredients specific to the time of year.  One ingredient (two if you count green chile) not to be missed is wood-roasted onions.  The tomato sauce which graces each pie isn’t your typical thin, runny sauce, but has the texture and flavor of finely crushed and seasoned tomatoes.  It does make a difference.

Sausage, Onion and Green Chile Pie

As has become characteristic of thin pizzas prepared at high heat, your pie will have a nice amount of char along the edges (in New Mexico, char is a flavor).  The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is pronounced and uneven, soft and chewy, and best of all, has the flavor and aroma of just baked bread.  My introductory pizza, constructed with sausage, wood-roasted onions and green chile (a no-brainer) quickly thwarted my plan to save two or three slices for later.  The wood-roasted onions are cut into strips about an inch-long so you can really taste their sweet properties.  The green chile has a pleasant piquancy and nice roasted flavor while the sausage is generously applied.

My Kim’s choice was the Margherita (the forerunner of pizza everywhere) to which she added those wood-smoked onions.  As with all Margherita pizzas, it’s constructed with mozzarella, basil and smashed tomatoes.  Wood-roasted onions should also be requisite though it would no longer be a Margherita.  By any name, this is an excellent pie–even without any of my favorite proteins (pepperoni, Canadian bacon, ham, sausage, etc.).  It’s so good even my Kim (who’s far more disciplined about saving a couple slices for later) finished the entire pie…though being of clearer mind than her hungry husband, dissuaded me from ordering something from the Salvadoran food truck parked next door.  That’s an adventure for later.

Margherita Pizza with Wood-Roasted Onion

Whether you’re of a rational or emotive bent, Irrational Pie is an excellent option.  It’s never irrational to enjoy one of the best pizzas in the Duke City.

Irrational Pie
(Location Varies)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
CLOSED FOR GOOD: 21 August 2017
LATEST VISIT: 29 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $
BEST BET: Margherita with Wood Smoked Onion Pie; Sausage, Green Chile and Wood-Smoked Onion Pie

Irrational Pie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

ECLECTIC URBAN PIZZERIA AND TAP HOUSE – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My Friends Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver and Bruce Schor Leaving the Magnificent Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House

Looking around our table, my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott astutely pointed out the relative scarcity of pizza at our table. Considering the Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap Room may have been the most eagerly awaited pizzeria to open in Albuquerque in years, you’d think a phalanx of foodies would  be devouring our weight in pizza…and while three pulchritudinous pies did grace our table, so did such eclectic fare as pho, chicken wings, roasted chicken and Chimichurri skirt steak a la plancha.   Despite the term “eclectic” on the pizzeria’s appellation,  the menu’s vast diversity actually surprised us.

It’s a testament to his tremendous creativity and talent that Chef Maxime Bouneou can still surprise diners who for nine years reveled in his fabulous Italian creations at Torinos @ Home, the restaurant he founded with his beautiful bride and partner Daniela.  Surprises at Torinos were usually of the “I can’t believe how good this is” variety.  At Eclectic, surprises fall under the “I can’t believe he can prepare this so well” category, emphasis on “this.”  Frankly we shouldn’t have been surprised at the diversity of dishes he prepares so well.  Maxime isn’t a great chef who prepares great Italian food.  He’s a great chef who can prepare virtually anything!

Daniela and Maxime Bouneou

Maxime’s pedigree as a chef is very impressive though more diners are acutely aware he wowed (absolutely blew away is more like it) Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives than know that in his native France, he worked in Michelin two- and three-star restaurants.  Maxime’s ability to coax unbelievable deliciousness out of everything he prepares isn’t just a matter of talent.  He and Daniela are committed to using the highest quality, locally procured organic ingredients wherever possible.  Moreover, he absolutely loves what he does and continually works at improving his craft.

Daniela is the yin to Maxime’s yang.  They complete one another with a work and life synergy few couples ever achieve.  It’s been that way since they met in Nice, France where she was working as maitre d’ at a four-star hotel and he was the hotel’s promising sous-chef.  They were married shortly thereafter and moved to Santa Fe where they launched Torinos @ Home in 2006.  While the kitchen has always been Maxime’s domain, Daniela runs the “front of the house” with an incomparable elan.  Her buoyant personality makes her the perfect hostess where she shines unlike no other in New Mexico.  To say the Bouneous were beloved is an understatement.

An Eclectic Dining Room

In February, 2016, Maxime and Daniela sold Torinos, an event their adoring patrons believed warranted an apron flying at half mast. For months, we all speculated as to where they would land and even if they would remain in New Mexico.  Fortunately the Bouneous have fallen in love with the Land of Enchantment and in early April, 2016 announced the forthcoming launch of their next restaurant venture, an undertaking they named “Eclectic. Urban Pizzeria and Tap House.”    For months, legions of Facebook friends anxiously awaited the next snippet of news about the Bouneous return.  Along with a Web site depicting construction progress, the Facebook page was both a big tease and an appetite-whetting medium.

On Saturday, August 27th at precisely 11AM, Eclectic opened its doors, a “soft opening” in which Daniela and Maxime may have set a one-day record for most hugs dispensed (although Tim Harris might have something to say about that).   Guests were as happy to see the Bouneous as they were to sample their culinary fare.  By Eclectic’s official September 17th launch date, it’s probably accurate to say many of us fed by the Bouneous for years will already have fallen in love with Eclectic, a restaurant which more than lives up to its name.

Spicy Eclectic Olives Mix

Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House is located on Menaul, about three blocks east of University.  Because there isn’t a direct turn-in to the restaurant from east-bound Menaul, you’ll have to double back if you took the University exit.  And because the pizzeria doesn’t have vivid, eye-catching signage and its storefront is a bit recessed from the street, you might miss it if you’re headed west from Carlisle.  If you are headed west from Carlisle and you see Twisters, you’ve gone just a bit too far.  Though your inaugural effort to find Eclectic might engender increased familiarity with Menaul, you’ll never again pass it by.  Nor will you forget it.

Eclectic’s ambiance is industrial, but warm with blonde woods, distressed red bricked walls, hand-scrawled menus on the wall, a corrugated bar and industrial style polished concrete floors.  Table legs are made from metal pipes, the type used in plumbing.  Menus on clipboards hang from hooks on each table.  Large south-facing windows let in sunlight.  Seating is more functional than it is comfortable though we’ve lingered long and happily during our first two visits with no ill effect.  Even al fresco dining is available thanks to a pet-friendly patio that doubles the pizzeria’s seating capacity.  This is just one cool place to be, especially if you’re dining with friends.

Wings Hot and Tangy.  Photo courtesy of Kimber Scott

31 August 2016:  My friends Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and Bruce Schor who, because of this blog, enjoyed a kinship without ever having met, accompanied me on our inaugural visit.  Walking into the restaurant was like old home week, a reunion of new and old friends.  No sooner had we stepped in than we espied the charismatic Ryan Scott, his winsome wife Kimber and their precious angel Judah.  Daniela and Maxime greeted us all like long-lost family.  That’s pretty much how they treat everyone–and one of the reasons Eclectic will soon become Albuquerque’s favorite pizzeria and watering hole.  Well that and the food.  Oh, the food… 

While a disclaimer cautions that the menu is subject to change without notice, in our experience every item on that menu is an absolute winner, a perfect ten.  The first section of the menu is titled “Start With” and it included eight starters, each as appealing as the other.  There are ten pizzas on the menu, including a “build your own” option.  Save for the Reina Margherita, a vegetarian pizza, and the Quattro Formaggi, the pizzas are unlike any you’ll find in the city.  Instead of the de rigueur “meat lovers” pizza for example, you’ll find a Nordik pizza with smoked salmon and capers.  There are four items on the “Not A Pizza” section of the menu, entrees truly befitting the term “eclectic.”  Those include roasted chicken, fish and chips, Chimichurri skirt steak a la plancha and beer braised short ribs.  Three sides are also available as well as four decadent desserts.

Hot “PHO” YOU

31 August 2016: As we perused the menu, we enjoyed a bowl of spicy, eclectic olives (some with pits). Brine-cured green and reddish, the olives are meaty, fresh and rubbed with a pleasantly piquant chile.  It’s not often, if ever, the flavor combination of briny and piquant is discussed on this blog, but the combination is surprising (there’s that word again).  The piquancy level of the chiles is a degree or two of magnitude more intense than pimentos stuffed into olive centers (as in the olives used on martinis), but without compromising on aroma and flavor.  Bruce Schor graciously allowed me to eat the single Thai bird pepper that helped give the olives their piquancy.  It was an eye-opener.

31 August 2016:  If he’s not Albuquerque’s foremost authority on chicken wings, Ryan is certainly their most prolific “appreciator.”  My friend loves chicken wings, but not just any chicken wings.  They’ve got to be better than good.  When chicken wings earn the Ryan Scott seal of approval, you know they’re imbued with greatness.  Ryan loved the “get your hands dirty” sriracha-lime wings at Eclectic.  The unlikely combination of intense piquancy coupled with tangy, citrusy lime works surprisingly well with an optimum balance of two strong flavors.  These meaty wings are accompanied with a buttermilk ranch dressing so good you’ll want to spoon it out of the ramekin, but it’s wholly unnecessary on the wings.

Big Dips and Dough

31 August 2016:  “Don’t tell me Maxime does pho, too?”  If that sentiment wasn’t outwardly expressed, it was certainly contemplated.  Yes, Maxime does pho and it’s one of Daniela’s favorite items on the starters menu.  Listed as Hot “PHO” YOU, it’s a spectacular soup though it could be debated as to whether it is or isn’t pho.  Pho is technically a noodle soup and there are no noodles on this piping hot dish nor will you find the distinctive, aromatic essence of star anise, but those are technicalities.  Call this “faux pho” if you will, but you’ll also be calling it absolutely delicious.  Instead of the swimming pool-sized portion served at Vietnamese restaurants, Eclectic’s version is served in a small bowl with  ladle.  Maxime’s interpretation of pho is made with generous pieces of chicken, bamboo shoots, cabbage, nuoc mam, garlic and cilantro.  It will blow you away!

31 August 2016: My friend Sr. Plata was on the first day of a low-carb diet when he espied big dips and dough on the menu.  Needless to say, his low-carb effort was delayed by one day.  Served with focaccia bread sticks is a triumvirate of terrific dips: humus, smoked trout and goat cheese, each a magnificent complement to the best focaccia you’ll find in the Duke City.  If the notion of “smoked trout” dip channels memories of slick-talking salesman Dan Aykroyd hawking a Bassomatic, you’re probably not alone.  Don’t let that notion stop you from enjoying this magnificent dipping sauce.  Great as the dips are, the foccacia is fabulous–a precursor to the quality of the pizza crust to be enjoyed later.

Eat Your Brussels Carley (Photo Courtesy of Kimber Scott)

31 August 2016:  There are two versions of Brussels sprouts on the menu, one with bacon and one without.  Sporting the curious appellation “Eat Your Brussels Carley,” they’re delicious with our without the pork candy.  Named America’s “most hated vegetable” in a 2008 survey conducted by Heinz, Brussels sprouts are almost universally reviled.  Many diners hate them without ever having tried them (probably because they heard someone else express their disdain for this villainous vegetable).  Andy Griffiths even wrote an anti-tribute to Brussels sprouts.  Entitled “Just Disgusting!,” its lyrics posit: “Who wouldn’t hate them? They’re green.  They’re slimy.  They’re moldy.  They’re horrible.  They’re putrid.  They’re foul.  Apart from that, I love them.”  You’ll certainly love Maxime’s version!

Mac & Cheese Jalapeño

1 November 2016: A Google search for “Ode to Macaroni and Cheese” will fruitfully return results, some of which are inspired and creative. One especially catchy ode was put to music, taking liberties with the Celine Dion song “Because You Loved Me.” I half expected my friend Bill to belt out a chorus or two of that ode. That’s how much he enjoyed Eclectic’s mac & cheese jalapeno dish. Anyone who’s been comforted by the warmth and deliciousness of macaroni and cheese can certainly understand that. Macaroni and cheese has uplifting qualities that make it the most revered of comfort foods…and if ever there was a poster child for how mac and cheese should look and taste, it would be Maxime’s version. Served in a cast iron pan, this turophile’s dream is a medley of cheeses: Fontina, Gorgonzola, Cantal and Mozzarella atop of which sit several sliced jalapenos. A little truffle oil gives it earthy notes your taste buds will appreciate. This dish is decadent enough to satisfy a nostalgic “back to childhood” pang for mac and cheese but it’s also sophisticated enough for grown-ups. What really makes this dish stand out, however, is that it’s both cheesy in a melty, gooey way (but not to the extent of ballpark nachos) and it’s caramelized, especially at the bottom of the pan. Caramelized cheese is so good, it could be used on a caramel apple. 

Fish Tacos

1 November 2016: There’s a disclaimer on Eclectic’s Web site which cautions that “menu is subject to change without notice.” You’ll want to visit Eclectic’s Web site daily so you’ll be up-to-speed on what the daily special is. In the past week, daily specials have included such alluring offerings as a green chile cheeseburger, patty melt, oyster po’ boy and the Tuesday special—tacos. Tacos, which come in all shapes, sizes, colors and price points have become as American as apple pie and baseball. At Eclectic, soft, steamed white corn tortillas are engorged with your choice of carne asada, chicken or fish and they’re value-priced so you can afford two or ten of them. Filled generously with planks of tender, fried Pollock and cabbage slaw, these beauties are served with a wedge of lime, a perfect foil for the fish.

Roasted Chicken (Photo Courtesy of Kimber Scott)

31 August 2016: For many gastronomes the very notion of roasted chicken elicits if not an outward yawn, an ennui.   Leave it to Maxime to enliven what is often a ho-hum dish.  A generously applied pasilla chile and lime rub precedes a deeply penetrating heat roasting in the brick oven.  The pasilla imbues the chicken with a unique flavor.  Pasilla, the dried form of the chilaca chili pepper, is an aromatic, brownish red chile that smells somewhat like prunes and has a mild, rich and almost sweet taste with just a hint of residual bitterness.  It’s increasingly finding favor among bold chefs such as Maxime who are skilled at building concordant flavors with diverse ingredients.  The roasted chicken is served with a green mango chutney which complements the chicken very well. 

Fish & Chips

1 November 2016: Had King George III’s government attempted to tax fish and chips, it’s conceivable the revolutionary war would have started earlier (presuming that the colonists brought fish and chips across the pond). It’s become increasingly rare in cafes and restaurants across the fruited plain to find a menu that doesn’t offer fish and chips, an indication that Americans, too, love this dish. Most of the time fish and chips at American restaurants are passable…or at least better than what you’ll find at Long John Silver’s. Every once in a while, you find a version of fish and chips so good, you wonder if maybe one of Her Majesty’s culinary staff prepared it. Eclectic’s version is such a dish. Instead of the heavily-breaded, golden-hued planks with a mountain of French fries to which you might be accustomed, what arrives at your table are driftwood-sized logs that are more Dijon-colored than canary gold. That’s because Maxime uses Stout on his batter. Not only does the Stout impart a darker hue, it tempers the strongly flavored Pollock, a lovely whitefish with a flaky texture. Instead of British “chips” (French fries), the fish is served with housemade potato chips, infinitely better than you’ll find at any grocery store. 

Oyster Po Boy with Curry Fries

9 December 2016: During the eight years we lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I must have consumed at least one boatload’s worth of  po’ boys.  What differentiates New Orleans’ most famous sandwich from your run-of-the-mill sub sandwich is its humble origin as a sumptuous sustenance provided to striking streetcar drivers.  Because of the abundant local resources of the Gulf Coast and bayous, fried seafood–particularly shrimp and oysters–po’ boys are the most popular option.  In New Mexico, it may be easier to find a prize pearl inside an oyster than to find an outstanding oyster po’ boy or sandwich.  Leave it to the genius of Maxime Bouneau to construct one that’s every bit as good as the very best you’ll find in New Orleans.  Nestled in Maxime’s incomparable soft, chewy, delicious focaccia are a netful of oysters, a single lettuce leaf and a housemade remoulade you’d swear came out of Louisiana.  The oyster po’ boy is served with a ramekin of tangy coleslaw which (hmm, wish I’d thought of this sooner) would go well inside the po’ boy.  Even better, ask for a side of curry fries, the best you’ll have anywhere.

Green Chile Cheeseburger

15 April 2017:  On June 16, 2017, the Albuquerque Isotopes will officially change their names for the day in honor of New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger. On that day, the Isotopes will become the Albuquerque Green Chile Cheeseburgers and will sport a custom uniform adorned with a special green chile roaster patch on the left sleeve , a New Mexico state flag with a toothpick for a pole on the right sleeve and a black hat with a burger. It promises to be the hottest promotion in the history of the franchise, but it won’t be as hot as a green chile cheeseburger at Eclectic. Maxime doesn’t chop and dice the chile he uses on the burger. He unfurls an entire chile and nestles it atop a molten slice of Pepperjack cheese which blankets a thick beef patty. Lettuce, red onion and tomatoes are served on the side. The chile has a pleasant piquancy with enough heat to get this volcano-eater’s attention. It’s also got a nice roasted flavor that hearkens to mind the aromas of green chile being roasted under our salubrious skies. This is a green chile cheeseburger which goes best with truffle fries. If you’d like additional heat, don’t opt for the standard American mustard. Ask for a dollop or two of the whole grain mustard which has got the kick of horseradish, but won’t take anything away from the great flavor of the green chile cheeseburger.

Corn Grits

15 April 2017: When perusing Eclectic’s menu, it surprised us to find corn grits. Considering Maxime cut his teeth In European restaurants, we would have expected polenta. “Aren’t grits and polenta the same thing?”, you ask. Well, they’re both made from stone-ground cornmeal, but they’re traditionally made from two different types of corn. Southern grits are traditionally made from dent corn while polenta is made from flint corn which has a finer texture. Texturally, grits can come across as somewhat mushy, while polenta tends to be more coarse and toothsome. At any regard, both can be delicious if prepared correctly. Maxime prepares grits as well as most chefs in the Deep South do. Imbued with gorgonzola, a veined Italian blue cheese with a strong, sharp flavor and cream to temper that sharpness, the grits are surprisingly good. They shouldn’t be. Everything Maxime prepares is excellent or better. 

Pate and Focaccia

15 April 2017: Maxime’s focaccia bread is the best we’ve ever had! It’s better-than-bakery-quality bread that goes well with virtually anything you can imagine, but is wonderful all by itself. Though we could subsist happily on the big dips and dough, our very favorite starter, the pate & focaccia also beckons. The pork pate, a small, dense brick of ground pork, unctuous pork fat, herbs and spices fashioned into a spreadable mini-loaf is terrific on its own, but elevated in flavor when spread on the focaccia. At under ten dollars, it’s a bargain. The pate and focaccia are served with an eye-watering whole grain mustard that will clear your nasal passages as well as a small ramekin of cornichons, the delightful miniature sour French pickles made with mini gherkin cucumbers, each about two inches in length. The cornichons have an addictive crunch and an acidic bite which balances the richness of the pate.  

Build Your Own Pizza: Gorgonzola, Sausage

31 August 2016:  Eclectic’s “Build Your Own” pizza offers more options than just about any pizzeria you’ll ever find–and not just the boring “usual suspects” line-up of toppings.  The build your own starts with tomato sauce, mozzarella and Cantal (a raw cow’s milk cheese with a pleasant milky aroma and a nutty, buttery flavor that finishes just slightly acidic).  It’s the canvas atop which you can build your own masterpiece.  Bruce (to avoid confusion with the other Bruce (Sr. Plata), let’s call him Bruce 1.0) added pork sausage and imported Gorgonzola, both excellent choices.  The first thing you’ll appreciate about an Eclectic pizza is the aroma which precedes it out of the brick wood-burning oven.  The taste and texture deliver on the promises made by the aroma.  Waifishly thin, the pizza is imprinted with a pinto pony char and just a slight cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza.  Both the sausage and imported Gorgonzola are first-rate.

North Shore

31 August 2016: Who says pizza has to be based on tomato sauce?  Certainly not Maxime who also offers one based on cilantro-pesto and another based on buttermilk.  Yes, buttermilk!  Unable to decide from among five tempting options, I asked the more decisive (and infinitely cuter) Kimber to order for me.  Her choice, the North Shore (cilantro pesto, roasted chicken, smoked bacon, pineapple, cantal and mozzarella cheese) was outstanding!  The cilantro pesto has a real zip that impregnates the wondrous crust thoroughly.  As always, the combination of pineapple and bacon proved magical, the two disparate ingredients playing off one another in contrasting harmony.  The bacon is thick and smoky, wholly unlike the tiny bacon bits some pizzerias use.  The true test of pizza greatness, however, is how it holds up to refrigeration–essentially how good it is for breakfast.  The North Shore is just as good cold the next day as it was out-of-the-oven.  This is true pizza greatness! 

The Nordik Pizza

6 September 2016: “How about dinner.  I know a place that serves great Viking food.”  Those words, uttered by the immortal Police Squad Lieutenant Frank Drebben gave me pause to reflect on Viking food and whether or not any restaurant in America actually serves it.  Not even Google  the Infallible (doesn’t that sound like a Viking name?) could find a single Viking restaurant across the fruited plain.  If a Viking restaurant did exist, they’d be well advised to copy Maxime’s Nordik Pizza (buttermilk, smoked salmon, capers, red onion, cantal and mozzarella cheese).  Only a pizzaioli genius could conceive of such a masterpiece.  He hadn’t finished his first slice when my friend  Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, declared it second only to the Funghi & Tartufo from Piatanzi as his favorite pizza in the world.  It is indeed a delicious pie, albeit one not everyone will enjoy.  The smoked salmon, in particular, has an intensely smoky, fishy flavor and aroma. 

Make Your Own Pizza

6 September 2016:  As a self-admitted mad scientist in the kitchen, experimentation with ingredient combinations brings me as much joy as frustration, as many successes as failures.  When the ingredient combinations don’t complement one another, it’s “curses, foiled again!”  Dazzling Deanell, on-the-other-hand, seems to have a Midas touch.  She always seems to know what to order at restaurants and, as we discovered at Eclectic, she knows how to put together a perfect pie.  The make your own beauty pictured above includes roasted red peppers, black olives, mushrooms and sausage.  Sounds pretty standard, right?  Not when the sausage is so magnificently fennel-kissed with notes of pleasant piquancy.  Excellent ingredients make for an excellent pizza.  Sausage will evermore grace any pizza we order at Eclectic. 

Paysanne

6 September 2016:  When my Kim espied a pizza named “Paysanne,” she thought the menu’s creator may have misspelled “Paisano”, an Italian term for compatriot.  While that might make good sense, the pizza’s actual name really is “Paysanne” and if there’s one term which defines Maxime’s genius it might be this one.  Paysanne describes meals prepared simply.  Even Maxime’s most complex dishes and most creative combinations aren’t a mishmash of designer ingredients thrown together.  Take the namesake “Paysanne” pizza, for example.  It’s constructed with buttermilk, smoked bacon, mushroom, red onion, olives, cantal and mozzarella cheese.  Simple, right.  It’s simply delicious, a flavorful feast for the eyes and taste buds.

Beer Braised Short Ribs

2 September 2016: My father-in-law loved short ribs, maybe even more than Adam did.  He would have flipped over the beer braised short ribs at Eclectic.  Martha Stewart once declared “there is perhaps no purer beef flavor than that of a short rib.”  Ironically, short ribs were once disdained by chefs as “poor man’s food.”  Under the right hands, however, this fairly modestly priced cut can be coaxed to rich, unctuous tenderness and complexity thanks to a basic braise.  At Eclectic, the short ribs are served sans bone, but somehow they retain the silken richness of bone-in short ribs.  Braised in beer, cherries and Pasilla chiles, the ribs are available in three sizes: small, medium and large.  The medium is the size of a small roast with huge flavors.

Rhubarb Cobbler

2 September 2016: With only five desserts on the menu, you’d think it would be easy to decide which one to order.  Under Maxime’s deft touch, they’re all bound to be great.  Bread pudding not being an option made the choice easier for me.  With fresh memories of the sumptuous peach cobbler at The County Line Restaurant there could only be one choice.  Served in a cast iron pan, the rhubarb cobbler is superb!  With a lip-pursing tartness, the rhubarb is counterbalanced by the sweetness of the ice cream and the savoriness of the pie crust.

Friends of Gil: Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver and Bruce Schor

In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2017, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Eclectic Urban Pizzeria & Tap House a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its Chocolate Chile Shake as one of the “dishes…that’s lighting a fire under the city’s culinary scene.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor. 

Eclectic Urban Pizzeria may be the new kid on the block, but it may already be the answer to the supplications of pizza lovers across the Duke City for a transformative pie, one that’s not merely very good, but truly outstanding.  As Ryan pointed out, however, pizza may not even be the best item on the menu.  Repeat visits are a must!

ECLECTIC URBAN PIZZERIA AND TAP HOUSE
2119 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 322-2863
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 April 2017
1st VISIT: 31 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy eclectic olives mix, Wings hot and tangy, Hot “PHO”YOU, Big dips and dough,Eat your Brussels Carley, Roasted chicken, North Shore, Beer Braised Short Ribs, Rhubarb Cobbler, Nordik Pizza, Paysanne Pizza, Fish & Chips, Fish Tacos, Mac & Cheese, Oyster Po’ Boy, Curry Fries, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Corn Grits, Pate and Focaccia

Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Forghedaboudit – Deming, New Mexico

Forghedaboudit–far more than New York pizza, pasta and wings. This is one of the very best Italian restaurants in America!

Several years ago, former New York Times food editor Sam Sifton posited the “Pizza Cognition Theory” which declared “the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes (and somehow appreciates on something more than a childlike level) becomes, for him, pizza.  He will defend this interpretation to the end of his life.”  Because Sifton grew up in Brooklyn Heights, New York and was exposed to great pizza at a very early age, the Pizza Cognition Theory makes sense  It makes sense, in fact, for everyone whose introduction to the sheer magical deliciousness that is pizza transpired at a venue which prepared truly transformative pizza.   But what about the rest of us whose grew up in rural American and who may not have had our first “great” pizza until our shadows darkened the doors at Pizza Hut…or Domino’s or Papa John’s?  Surely, the Pizza Cognition theory holds no personal weight for us.

The Garduño siblings were first introduced to pizza in the dark ages when our mom prepared an “Appian Way” pizza from a Chef Boyarde “Pizza Kit,” a cache of crust mix, tomato sauce, a mixture of Parmesan and a dry spice mix in a box.  Surely, we wondered, this can’t be what those urban sophisticates in Albuquerque were raving about.  Back then, the Duke City’s premier pizza parlors were Shakey’s and Peppino’s on Indian School and Wyoming, almost (who can ever forget the Peppino’s annoyingly catchy jingle: “The p-pizza’s p-perfect at Peppino’s, the p-pizza’s p-perfect at Peppino’s p-pizza joint.”).

Forghedaboudit! You won’t find better pizza anywhere in the Southwest!

I was in high school when a Pizza Hut opened up in Taos, some 25 miles from our home in Peñasco.  For teenagers, Pizza Hut was as close as we could come to being treated as adults. We would be escorted to tables  adorned with red and white checkered tablecloths and a lit candle.  We were even waited on by a person who brought us silverware and refilled our beverages.  We thought Pizza Hut was pizza self-actualized, as good as it could possibly get.  What does that say about my rural naivete?   Had I not joined the Air Force immediately out of high school, Pizza Hut might have forever been my ideal, my reality.   The pizza of my Pizza Cognition Theory might have been Pizza Hut’s Supreme.

Plucking me out of the bumpkinly backwoods and plopping me just outside of Boston was the best thing the Air Force ever did for me.  For two years, I was perpetually wide-eyed and mesmerized at seeing all those sights and cultures which heretofore existed for me only on the printed page.  Moreover, I was introduced to a panoply of delicious and exotic dishes, most of which are still not available in Peñasco.  My very first “real” pizza from Steve’s House of Pizza in Bedford immediately shattered any ill-founded misconceptions I may have had about Pizza Hut’s pizza actually being great.  Within a year, my ceiling for what constitutes life-altering pizza was forever raised with the first bite of Frank Pepe’s transformative white clam pie in Hartford, Connecticut.  Pepe’s has been named America’s very best pizza on numerous occasions by numerous national online and print publications, most recently having a four-year run as America’s best pizza according to the Daily Meal.

Robert and Kimberly Converted a 100-Year Old Structure into a Homey Restaurant

It would be another twenty-seven years before another pizza as wonderful as Pepe’s would cross my lips–in of all places, Phoenix, Arizona.  Just as Pepe’s has, Pizzeria Bianco has earned critical acclaim as the best pizza in the land on multiple occasions and by multiple sources.  In 1995, to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of pizza in America, celebrated author Ed Levine ate nothing but pizza for an entire twelve month period, ultimately concluding that Pizzeria Bianco served the best pizza in the world.  Not just Arizona or even the United States, but the entire world.

In 2013, our friend Sandy Driscoll introduced us to Pizzeria Mozza, a landmark restaurant that almost immediately became the toughest reservation to get in Los Angeles.  The brainchild of a triumvirate of culinary legends (including Food Network glitterati Mario Batali), Pizzeria Mozza has also garnered “best pizza in America” acclaim by both the cognoscenti and the general public.  By now you might be thinking “Gil’s obviously a pizza snob.  He only considers pizza great if it’s won national awards.”  I’ll admit that thought has crossed my mind, too.  How I’ve longed for New Mexico to have a pizza that competes for my affection with the pizzas par-excellence I’ve encountered in my travels.

Another View of the Dining Room

In February, 2017,  when Kimberly Yacone contacted me  about visiting Forghedaboudit, the popular restaurant she and her husband Robert own and operate in Deming, skepticism set in.  I knew that a year earlier, Forghedaboudit had earned a second place finish at the National Buffalo Wing Fest for their unique maple-bacon wings, but wings do not a great pizzeria make.  Five weeks later, Robert contacted me with the amazing news of Forghedaboudit’s tremendous success at the 33rd annual International Pizza Expo, the largest gathering of pizza professionals in the world with more than 7,000 in attendance from 36 countries.  The International Pizza Challenge at the Expo is the pizza equivalent of Memphis in May, the world barbecue championship.  It’s considered the best pizza-making competition in North America–the pinnacle of pizza.

Competing against sixty other pizzaioli from the Southwest Region (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas), Kimberly prepared a pepperoni and sausage pie adjudged “Best Traditional Pizza” in the entire region.  In addition to its win in the Southwest region, Forghedaboudit placed second in the United States and fourth in the world in the traditional pizza category.  An esteemed panel of judges composed of impartial chefs, food critics (far more credentialed than me) and others from the pizzeria industry scored each pie for taste (crust, sauce, cheese, toppings and overall taste) and appearance (bake and visual presentation).

Robert and Kimberly Yacone with Kitchen Manager Ray Chavira

It wasn’t solely the judges who were enamored of Forghedaboudit’s pulchritudinous pizza.  A phalanx of pizzaioli from the highly competitive field approached Robert and Kimberly in hopes of gleaning the secrets to their magnificent pies.  When word got out about the heralded dining destination off I-10, foodies and curiosity-seekers began to beat a path to the restaurant.  We arranged to visit Forghedaboudit on April 8th, 2017, still dubious about a pizza from the desert hamlet of Deming being the best in a region that boasts of Pizzeria Bianco.  Oh, we of little faith. 

Arriving well before the restaurant’s opening so I could take photographs, we were greeted warmly at the door by Robert and Kimberly.  As is typical for all great restaurants, the Yacones and their loyal staff (including several members of the family) were there early to begin the meticulous hand-on prep work required to give their guests a memorable dining experience.  The Yacones were proud to showcase the Italian cuisine which, for four years, has been winning over the hearts and appetites of locals and sojourners alike.  Robert related that travelers frequently traverse I-10 from Las Cruces and even Tucson to partake of the restaurant’s culinary treasures.  As if confirmation of Robert’s contention was necessary, we met a couple who drove in from Silver City because they craved the restaurant’s tomato soup.

If these pizza ovens could talk…

Considering that type of guest loyalty, a high degree of popular and media acclaim and the restaurant’s recent successes, you might expect that the restaurant would be helmed by an experienced, classically trained chef.  Instead, until his early retirement some seven years ago, Robert was a very successful broker in the Big Apple.  After relocating to Deming, he and Kimberly found themselves craving and unable to find the authentic New York Italian food and dining experiences they had enjoyed for years…what Robert terms as “the real places, the real meals, the real ingredients that distinguish the true Italian menu from its embarrassing imitators across the country.”  They began hawking pizza and salads from their home kitchen.  Savvy Deming diners quickly clamored for more.

In 2013, the Yacones purchased a hundred-year-old building in Deming’s historic district.  Determined to do it right “as it’s been done for generations and even centuries by Italians across the world,” they converted the timeworn edifice into a magnificent milieu perfect for serving incomparable meals to their guests.  The ambiance is homey, very much reminiscent of the New York “red sauce” restaurants with which I fell in love with half a lifetime ago.  You can’t help but appreciate the intimately lit dining room with its red and white checkered tablecloths and framed posters of big and small screen Italian crime legends.

The award-winning pepperoni and sausage pizza, one of the very best pizzas we’ve ever had.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the sprawling kitchen of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon restaurant at the Venetian in Las Vegas. The gleaming, almost antiseptically immaculate kitchen is often staffed by as many as sixty people working in the kitchen and its various stations.  Forghedaboudit’s kitchen is Lilliputian in comparison, but it’s optimally organized for efficiency and it’s neat, clean and a harmonious hub of activity.  Robert has cultivated a very trusted kitchen staff led by kitchen manager Ray Chavira which allows him to step out and glad-hand with his guests.  He’s as gregarious and genial as any restaurateur we’ve met.  The elegant Kimberly, who runs the front of the house, has a very gracious and easy manner with guests.  Both have a very high likeability quotient.

When Forghedaboutit first opened, Robert hoped to introduce diners to such New York favorites as braciole, but Deming diners weren’t immediately receptive.  After I joked that maybe he belongs in Little New York (Rio Rancho), he reminded me that Rio Rancho is in great hands with his friend Joe Guzzardi of Joe’s Pasta House.  With Joe Guzzardi in the north and the Yacones in the south, New Mexico is in great hands!  By year’s end, the Yacones hope to launch a second instantiation of Forghedaboudit, this one in Las Cruces.  We may just have to move to the City of Crosses.

Award-Winning Wings–The Very Best in New Mexico

During our tour of the kitchen, we were fortunate enough to watch the construction of the first pizza of the day which Robert contends is always the best pizza.  The canvas for the restaurant’s terrific pizza is a dough fashioned from a combination of two flours–Antimo Caputo, the Neopolitan flour favored by many of the International Pizza Expo winners and King Arthur flour, favored by pizzerias throughout the East Coast– as well as a bit of malt.  In perfect proportion, the flour and malt give the dough a strong rise, great texture, and lovely brown crust.  Forghedaboudit employs a two oven method of preparing its authentic New York style pizza.  The pizza starts its journey on an Italian browning stone dusted with white corn meal inserted into an Imperial convection oven to ensure even heating throughout.  When the cheese is melted and the crust displays a golden sheen, the pizza is transferred to a smaller oven where it acquires the charring so many aficionados love.

Now, did the International Pizza Expo’s best traditional pizza in the Southwest live up to its billing?  Let me put it succinctly–You betcha!  It ranks up there with Frank Pepe’s, Pizzeria Bianco and Pizzeria Mozza as the very best pizza I’ve ever had.  Yeah, I’m prone to hyperbole, but this pizza absolutely blew me away.  With a perfect texture somewhere between chewy and crispy, a delightful golden brown color and just enough cornicione (an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza), the crust is a magnificent canvas for the pepperoni and sausage.   For the first time in memory, my Kim didn’t scrape off the pepperoni and give it to me.  That’s how good the thinly sliced orbs are.  The sauce has the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness ameliorated by a judicious touch of oregano and garlic.  As are many of the ingredients, the Parmesan is imported from New York.  It’s first rate with perfect melting properties and very little oil.  One of the toughest determinants for pizza greatness is how well it holds up the next day when you’re craving pizza for breakfast.  Forghedaboudit’s pepperoni and sausage pie is every bit as wonderful cold as it is out of the oven!

Meatballs and Garlic Bread

For years I’ve used “Gil’s Thrilling…Year in Food” as a medium (and sometimes bully pulpit) to showcase restaurants and dishes in the Land of Enchantment which have garnered “best of” notice from national media cognoscenti.  I’ve lamented the fact that almost invariably, the anointed dishes come from Santa Fe or Albuquerque.  When Forghedaboudit competed and earned a second place finish in the National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival in (where else) Buffalo, New York, it should have put to rest the question “where can you find the best chicken wings in New Mexico.”  Take that Santa Fe!  Put that in your pipe and smoke it Albuquerque!  Now, if only the national media would discover Deming.  The only wings better can only be found on angels.  Forghedaboudit offers four dry-rub coated wings (that’s sans sauce): Bourbon BBQ, Jerk, Valencia Habañero and the award-winning maple bacon.  When you’re done, you’ll want to pick up a few rubs and spices to take home.

Just as wonderful as the award-winning pizza and maple bacon chicken wings are Forghedaboudit’s meatballs, two large orbs in a wondrous sauce and a molten blanket of cheese.  The sauce is simply amazing.  A large pot of this enchanting elixir been simmering at low temperature for about four hours when the meatballs arrived at our table.  The sauce is made from California-raised Roma tomatoes seasoned with garlic, oregano and laurel leaves.  Perfectly seasoned and of exemplary texture, the differentiator–what makes these  meatballs special–is the meat itself.  Neither of us could discern extraneous filler or flavor-altering binder.  These meatballs taste like meat, albeit delicious, wonderfully seasoned,  truly delicious meat.  Accompanying the meatballs was an extraordinary garlic bread with soft, buttery properties that’ll make grown men swoon.

Chicken Carbonara

Should an analysis of all that flows through my veins ever be performed, doctors might be surprised at just how much carbonara (as well as salsa) does flow through those veins.  Carbonara, one of the most rich, decadent and creamy of all Italian dishes just may be my very favorite of all Italian sauces.  It’s essentially pasta coated in a rich, creamy sauce of eggs, cheese, pork, and black pepper.  Forghedaboudit’s version is made with both bacon and chicken along with fresh green peas with a generous sprinkling of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano artfully garnished with assorted seasonings.  The pasta is perfectly al dente while the sauce is an exemplar of creamy decadence and deliciousness.  Carbonara has been described as ” perhaps the most impossible culinary dish to cook well.”  Perhaps the author of that blurb needs to visit Forghedaboudit where the impossible is made delicious.

When Robert ferried a bowl of New England clam chowder to our table, the immediately obvious question was “why not Manhattan clam chowder.”  Robert, after all, is a proud New Yorker.  His explanation made perfect sense: “Mention clam chowder and seventy-five-percent of people think New England clam chowder.”  My next question, “why no potatoes.”  He explained that the starch in the potatoes breaks down and renders the soup overly thick and gummy, requiring water to thin it out.  This isn’t a problem in New England because of how quickly restaurants turn around a pot of clam chowder.  Not only is he a great chef, he’s an alchemist.  Instead of potatoes, Forghedaboudit’s clam chowder is made with corn, carrots, celery and other fresh vegetables.  A netful of clams also graces what may be the best clam chowder I’ve had outside of New England.  “Best” is just par for this outstanding restaurant!

New England Style Clam Chowder–No Potatoes

We thought we’d be visiting Forghedaboudit for award-winning pizza and wings. When Robert apprised me that “we’re much more than pizza and wings,” little did we know how right he was. Forghedaboudit is one of the very best Italian restaurants to grace the Land of Enchantment. If you’re not already planning your trip to Deming, you’re missing out on a fabulous dining experience hosted by two of the most genial restaurateurs you’ll ever meet.

Forghedaboudit
115 North Silver Avenue
Deming, New Mexico
575-275-3381
Web Site | Facebook Page | Twitter
LATEST VISIT: 8 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pepperoni and Sausage Pizza, Meatballs, Garlic Bread, Chicken Carbonara, New England Clam Chowder

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

Pizzeria Luca – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pizzeria Luca which launched in November, 2011 also goes by Luca Italian Bistro & Wine Bar

Can there truly be too many pizzerias? Perhaps only among pizzeria owners who don’t want much competition might you hear that ridiculous notion about one of America’s essential food groups. Take for example one monopoly-minded pizzeria owner in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania who had a resolute belief that there was too much competition in the area and determined to do something about it. It apparently didn’t dawn on him that by serving a better pizza or lowering prices, his business might improve. Instead, in the tradition of villainous scofflaws everywhere, he decided to sabotage his rivals.

Alas, his exploits only proved fodder for late night talk show hosts who lampoon stupid criminals. In perpetrating his nefarious misdeed, the perfidious proprietor of the poor-performing pizzeria created such a ruckus that his intended victim quickly investigated and discovered a bag full of mice had been deposited in his drop ceiling. As luck would have it, two uniformed officers were dining at the presumably palatable pizzeria at the time. They quickly apprehended the would-be rodent rapscallion and charged him with criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, harassment and cruelty to animals. There’s no indication as to whether his room mate at the local hoosegow was Mr. Murphy or whether the competitor’s pizza was served for dinner.

Pizzeria Luca is proud to offer a traditional East Coast Italian pizzeria experience in an upscale yet casual environment

So, just how many pizzerias are there?  With more than 65,000 pizzerias (58 percent of which are independent and 42 percent of which are chains) in the United States, pizzerias make up nearly seventeen percent of all restaurants in America and gross over 30 billion dollars per year, accounting for greater than ten percent of all food service sales.  Independent pizzerias account for 52 percent of those sales totals. In 2005, the average store earnings for all pizzerias was nearly $450,000.  The “big four” pizza chains–Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s and Little Caesars–represent nearly 37 percent of industry sales at nearly $11 billion per year.  The top fifty pizza chains across the United States own 42 percent of all pizzerias and control greater than 48 percent of all pizza sales.

According to PMQ Pizza Magazine’s “Pizza Power Report” for 2010, Americans consume approximately 3 billion pizzas per year.  That translates to a whopping 100 acres of pizza each day–an astounding 350 slices per second over each of the 86,400 seconds in each day. 93 percent of Americans eat at least one pizza per month with the most popular ingredient being pepperoni.  The United States has an average of one pizzeria per 4,350 people across the fruited plain.  Surveys indicate 45 percent of pizza orders are take-out, 36 percent are delivery and 20 percent are dine-in. Sixteen percent of all pizzas ordered across the country were ordered on-line.

Zuppe di Vongole

In its 2010 Food and Wine edition, Albuquerque The Magazine chronicled its search for the best pizza in the Duke City area, reviewing and rating some 37 independent restaurants (and subjecting themselves to take-out pizza from five chains).  That’s barely scratching the surface.  Urbanspoon lists 151 pizza restaurants in the metropolitan Albuquerque area which translates to one pizza restaurant for every 6,012 residents (based on the 2011 census estimate of 907,775 as of 2011).  That pales in comparison with the 2,070 pizza restaurants in New York City or the one pizza restaurant per 3,600 residents in Miami. 

According to Slice, a Serious Eats blog, there are 21 regional styles of pizza.  In the Duke City, perhaps the most prevalent regional style–or at least the one most often claimed–is New York-style characterized by having a puffy, bread-like, outer crust which quickly tapers down to a very thin, crisp middle).   When Pizzeria Luca, a locally owned company which launched in October, 2011, purported to offer a traditional “East Coast Italian pizzeria experience” in an upscale yet casual environment, it was interesting to note that the pizza itself is certainly not New York style nor does it resemble any of the East Coast pizzas with which I’m familiar. It’s only the look and feel that bears a resemblance to Metropolis.

Antipasto: Artisan cheese plate with salami, olives, fresh fruits and baked rustic bread

Pizzeria Luca is ensconced in a shopping center on the far Northeast Heights not too far from the Duke City’s first Jinja restaurant and the über popular Trader Joe’s.  From the outside the pizzeria is fairly inconspicuous despite the prevalence of the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag.  Step inside the doors and you might indeed get the impression that you’ve stepped into a cosmopolitan setting that will tell you you’re not in Kansas any more.  It’s a setting quite unlike that of any other pizzeria in Albuquerque.

The restaurant’s high-ceilings bear the popular exposed industrial-style ductwork that seem to express modernity.  The height of the ceiling seems exaggerated because the back wall more closely resembles an external wall with its distressed brick and faded Pizzeria Luca signage, two vintage touches.   Floors are tiled in large red and white squares not unlike nostalgia restaurants. To your left is a serpentine wine bar whose cynosure is a semi-circular wine tower sporting some 56 different wines from Italy, Washington and California (none from New Mexico as of this writing).  A flat screen television seems somewhat out of place next to the wine tower.  Televisions, by the way, can also be found in the pizzeria’s restrooms though if you don’t know this, you might freak out to hear the voice of the opposite gender as you walk in. Walls are adorned with movie posters.  The musical stylings of Italian crooners of the 1930s are piped in via the restaurant’s sound system.

Fricassee di Funghi

The menu offers seven appetizers including an antipasto and littleneck clams in a white wine-based broth.  Nine salads (insulate), mostly of the designer variety are also available as are five panini sandwiches available in half or full sizes.  The sandwiches are crafted from house-prepared meats served on fresh baked bread.  Five pasta dishes adorn the menu not including a “doggie plate” consisting of a housemade meatball with dry kibble.  There are seven pizza options as well as a “build your own pie” option which starts with mozzarella and marinara.  You can also have a large slice if you prefer.  

14 March 2017: One of the very best appetizers served at any Italian restaurant in the metropolitan area is Luca’s Zuppe di Vongole (littleneck clams in white wine, butter and spicy plum tomato sauce).  There are only eight or nine clams in the dish, but this appetizer can be quite filling by itself.  That’s because the broth has so much personality you’ll keep your spoon busy.  You’ll also use the accompanying garlic bread to sop up as much of that broth as you can.  The clams themselves are fresh and clean, but they’re brought to life with the acidity of the spicy plum tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and other seasonings.

The Modena

27 November 2011: The antipasto, a piccole piastre is described on the menu as an artisan cheese plate with salami, olives, fresh fruits and baked rustic bread.  It’s the fresh fruits that make it some what unique for Albuquerque.  Four slices of lightly toasted bread with shaved cheese and parsley flank a bed of mixed greens drizzled with a light balsamic dressing atop of which and within you’ll dig out sliced strawberries, olives, raspberries, salami slices, more shaved cheese, a whisper-thin slice or two of prosciutto and slices of hard cheese.  As with all good appetizers, it serves very well to make you look forward to your entrees in hopes they’ll be as good, if not better.

30 November 2013: Mushrooms are one of those foods that are all too often “typecast.”  For the most part, chefs tend to accentuate their woodsy-earthy qualities.  While these qualities make them a delicious accompaniment to complementary foods, a few chefs take mushrooms in a separate direction and prepare them with a flavor profile almost antithetical to their woodsy-earthy notes.  One way not often seen in the Duke City is sautéed seasonal mushrooms in a lemon-caper sauce, a dish called fricassee di fungi.  Thinly cut mushrooms are sautéed in a rich butter and garlic sauce with lemon juice and plenty of capers.  The natural woodsy-earthy flavor profile of the mushrooms prevents this dish from being too tart or tangy, just enough to be discernible.  It’s a delicious partnership.

Pesto Pizza

27 November 2011: The pizzas are as clever as the antipasto platter with inventive ingredient combinations festooning each fourteen- or sixteen-inch pie.  Even the Margherita, the pizza which started it all, is unique for Albuquerque in that it’s made with mozzarella di bufala (fresh water buffalo mozzarella).  For turophiles,  only the tasty, creamy, milky buffalo mozzarella will do on pizza in which mozzarella is called for.  At my request, the accommodating pizzaioli added it to the Calabria (Prosciutto di Parma, shallots, Fontina, truffle oil and marinara) I ordered.  That meant two of my very favorite pizza ingredients in the world–buffalo mozzarella and Prosciutto di Parma–were available in one pie in Albuquerque. 

19 March 2017:  Our initial impression of the Modena (Italian sausage, pepperoni, crimini mushrooms and roasted garlic) from 2011 was that it was a very good pie with much to like about it.  While first impressions are often lasting, they can be superseded by subsequent impressions.  When my Kim ordered that pizza six years later, she wondered how our initial impressions could have been so wrong.   Our second Modena lacked personality.  From the crust to the ingredients, the seasonings didn’t assert themselves much.  The garlic, basil and oregano were barely discernible.  Even the roasted garlic cloves were rather anemic.  The sole saving grace was the buffalo mozzarella Kim requested though there wasn’t nearly enough to sate her.

Luca Signatura Speciale: Macaroni and imported cheeses with truffle oil, topped with prosciutto and homemade bread crumbs

Luca Signatura Speciale (Don’t call it macaroni and cheese)

19 March 2017:  What the Modena lacked in personality, the Pesto (pesto sauce with buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts) pie more than made up for it.  Pesto is, however, not everyone’s cup of tea.  If you like the aromatic properties of basil, you’ll appreciate the basil-olive oil marriage.  Toss in a handful of piñon with its own woodsy fragrance and you’ve got the essence of   invigorating freshness.  The third component on the pie is sun-dried tomatoes with their tangy acidity and fruity sweetness.  Alas, a larger portion of buffalo mozzarella would have added an almost (but not quite) sour taste to complement the other flavors.

30 November 2013: While the menu makes a big deal out of the restaurant’s signature macaroni and cheese menu, don’t be surprised if your server doesn’t.  Ask what the best pasta dish is on the menu and you might be surprised to hear “macaroni and cheese,” which is called something else–something more elegant and enticing–on the menu.  On the menu it’s called Luca Signatura Speciale and it’s a triumvirate of imported cheeses with truffle oil topped with prosciutto and homemade bread crumbs.  The cheeses accentuate the sharp and pungent qualities of cheese without compromising on richness.  It’s an adult macaroni and cheese, as far removed from Kraft macaroni and cheese as the Lobo Lair is from San Diego State University boosters.

Baked Ziti

14 March 2017:  The menu offers two ziti dishes–Ziti Pollo (ziti pasta with grilled chicken and green chile; tossed in basil cream sauce, topped with mozzarella and baked) and Baked Ziti (with meat sauce or marinara, ricotta, Parmigiano and mozzarella cheese).  Served in a casserole dish, Luca’s rendition is very reminiscent of baked ziti as it’s prepared and served in the East Coast. That means it’s served piping hot with a blanket of molten cheese melted atop layers of pasta and rich, red sauce. Rhee Drummond, the Food Network’s “Pioneer Woman” likens baked ziti to be “almost like a lasagna that forgot to use lasagna noodles. Messy. Gooey. Decadent. Ridiculous. In every sense of the word.” That’s how you’ll find the baked ziti at Luca.

14 March 2017: The Eggplant Parmesan is simply magnificent–three medium-thickness eggplant medallions topped with marinara sauce and house-fresh mozzarella.  You can easily puncture the light and crispy breading with a spoon, but there’s nothing mushy about the interior of this dish, just a silky smooth, delicious eggplant. The sauce is redolent of tart and juicy fresh tomatoes, a perfect foil for the melted mozzarella.  Fittingly, the Eggplant Parmesan is served with a side of spaghetti and a piece of garlic bread.

Eggplant Parmesan

27 November 2011: Dessert options include some of the “usual suspects” such as cannoli (traditional or chocolate) and tiramisu.  The tiramisu is made in-house and doesn’t really distinguish itself (remember, Albuquerque is home to several restaurants proffering truly outstanding tiramisu–Torinos @ Home, Joe’s Pasta House and Farina Pizzeria, for example).  The cannoli is similarly just okay, nothing about which to write home. 

Cannoli and Tiramisu for dessert

Perhaps because of the wine bar, Pizzeria Luca is most decidedly a restaurant in which young urban professionals will feel right at home, toddlers in tow.  It’s the type of pizzeria which will many will call home away from home, a hang-out type, making it a good candidate for expansion–and indeed the ownership group is planning on several sites in the Albuquerque area.  That’s a great thing for the Duke City because as everyone knows, you can’t have too many pizzerias!

Pizzeria Luca
8850 Holly Avenue, N.E., Suite J
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-797-8086
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2017
1st VISIT: 27 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Antipasto, Calabria, Modena, Cannoli, Tiramisu, Fricassee di Funghi, Luca Signatura Speciale, Eggplant Parmesan, Baked Ziti, Zuppe di Vongole

Pizzeria Luca and Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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