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California Pizza Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

California Pizza Kitchen, an Uptown Favorite

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. This is Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog, champion of the mom-and-pop restaurant, defender of the independently owned eatery, supporter of the family owned and family operated diner…and this is a review of a chain restaurant. No, this blog has not been hijacked by some corporate cabal bent on corrupting the American diet with homogeneous mediocrity…and no, this review was not written under duress or the promise of free food. It was written of my own free will, sound mind and full accord. Lest you condemn this seemingly traitorous affront, hear me out.

Several years ago, I made my own version of a Faustian pact. Faust, for the non-English majors among you was a scholar who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. In my case, I made a deal with my Kim to take her to the Olive Garden once a year in exchange for all the strange and exotic restaurants I want to visit the rest of the year. I sure got the rotten end of that deal! On Labor Day 2015, my Kim decided to collect my soul, er….have me make good on my promise and take her to the Olive Garden.

Thai Chicken Tortilla Egg Rolls

In the traditional deal with the devil motif, when Satan comes to collect the witless pawn’s immortal soul, the pawn begs, bribes, cajoles and barters to no avail. Unlike the pawn, however, I had one barter up my sleeve. “Rather than the Olive Garden, wouldn’t you rather go to a better chain restaurant, one in proximity to the best gelateria in town?,” I pleaded. Much as she’d wanted to try the California Pizza Kitchen, it was the promise of gelato that sealed our bargain—a one-year reprieve from the Olive Garden.

Sadly, I must admit to many close encounters of the third kind familiarity with the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK). Back in the days when I traveled to Phoenix quite regularly for business, CPK was, by far, the best restaurant in the Sky Harbor. With that distinction, it held a captive market. Those of us from New Mexico wouldn’t deign to eat at the Phoenix-style Mexican food restaurants on the concourse and other options were even less palatable. Besides, several CPK offerings were actually pretty good.

Pear & Gorgonzola Pizza

If California Pizza Kitchen at the Sky Harbor, an express fast food to go operation, is better than Olive Garden anywhere it stood to reason (at least in my convoluted mind) that CPK in a casual-dining ambiance would be far better than the CPK at the Sky Harbor, ergo much better than the Olive Garden. Albuquerque’s CPK, situated in the heart of ABQ Uptown, is an expansive sit-down establishment in which menu items are prepared to order. That menu is much more expansive than at the Sky Harbor, offering everything hearth-baked pizzas to salads, pastas, entrees, soups and sandwiches.

Frankly, my expectations (which tend to be rather low for chain restaurants) were exceeded in every way. Service was first rate—not the saccharine, rehearsed wait shtick with which some chains insult diners, but personable, friendly and attentive service. Seating, while in near personal space proximity, was reasonably comfortable. Delivery was well spaced, meaning there was ample time between delivery of our appetizer and delivery of our entrees. Beverages were replenished faithfully. Best of all, our meal was delicious.

Jamaican Jerk Pizza

The appetizer which first caught our eye bore the name tortilla spring rolls.  What a great idea!  Why have we limited ourselves to boring tortilla roll-ups, tortilla pinwheels stuffed with cream cheese and sundry ingredients?  There are three types of tortilla spring rolls, the most enticing of which was the Thai Chicken Spring Rolls, flour tortillas sprinkled with herbs and baked in the hearth oven stuffed with bean sprouts, scallions, carrots, cilantro and mozzarella served with an addictive peanut sauce.  The peanut sauce is the topper, both literally and figuratively.  As good as peanut sauce at many Thai restaurants, it’s the perfect dip for an otherwise very good starter, elevating it into an excellent introduction to CPK.

CPK’s pizzas are categorized as “original hand-tossed” and “crispy thin crust.” Though there are plenty of traditional toppings, we opted for pies topped as no other pizzas we’ve seen in New Mexico are topped.  These are true California pizzas, constructed from imagination and creativity (not that the Land of Enchantment’s pizzaiolo don’t have these qualities).  The first was a Pear and Gorgonzola pie (Bosc pears, sweet caramelized onions and hazelnuts topped with chilled field greens in Gorgonzola ranch dressing).  Wow!  This salad on a pizza is a winner thanks largely to the creamy, sharp Gorgonzola ranch which penetrated through the greens onto the thin crusted pie.  The Bosc pears are sliced thin and are caramelized by the baking process, rendering them even sweeter, a nice contrast to the Gorgonzola.

Perhaps even more creative is a Jamaican Jerk Chicken pizza (spicy-sweet Caribbean sauce, authentic Jamaican spices, Nueske’s applewood smoked bacon, red onions and bell peppers).  Make sure to ask for pineapples (from the fruit, not a can) for a tangy-sweet complement to the assertively wonderful ingredients that come standard with this beauteous pizza.  Though you might be tempted to tell your server “Jamaican me crazy with this pizza,” your servers have all heard that before.  Nueske’s applewood bacon is porcine perfection, as good a bacon as you’ll find anywhere.

My Kim enjoyed California Pizza Kitchen so much, our Faustian deal might just have to be amended.  It’s a deal with which this anti chain crusader can probably live and it’s so much better than the Olive Garden.

California Pizza Kitchen
2241 Q Street, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 883-3005
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Jamaican Jerk Pizza, Gorgonzola & Pear Pizza, Thai Chicken Tortilla Egg Rolls

California Pizza Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria – Albuquerque, New Mexico


Amore Neopolitan Pizzeria

Naples, Italy leaves nothing to chance, boasting of more than fifty official patron saints. Among the more well-known of the beatified intercessors to whom Neapolitan citizens petition are Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Pascal Baylon (San Pasqual, if you will). This litany of saints is among the who’s who among Catholic saints. You might think one of these sanctified patrons would also serve as the official “mascot” of Naples, but that sacrosanct honor is reserved for someone almost antithetical to the saints.

The official mascot of the city of Naples is a harlequin clown named Pulcinella. Perpetually hungry and nearly destitute, Pulcinella earned a reputation as a bungler with a rare joie d’ vivre, requiring only a slice of pizza and a jug of wine to make him happy. The character Pulcinella originated in a 17th century puppetry play. He is characterized by a long, hooked nose which he turns up at authority figures. Attired in white, up to and including his hat, Pulcinella is the embodiment of the street wise, crafty guy. In Naples, nicknacks representing this beloved Neapolitan character can be found virtually everywhere.


The high heat oven in which pizza is prepared

It’s only fitting that a depiction of the official mascot of Naples adorns the wall of one dining room of Amore Neapolitan Pizza, the Duke City’s sole purveyor of Neapolitan style pizza. Pulcinella is depicted with a jug of wine on one hand and an entire pizza on the other with his mandolin resting against his leg. The pizza has been personalized for his New Mexican home as green chile is laid out on the pizza in the shape of the Land of Enchantment’s Zia sun. In the background, as in the state flag, red rays spread out against a field of yellow.

Amore—yes, that’s Amore as in “when the moon hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie”—is located on the fringes of Nob Hill in the space formerly occupied by the very popular Bailey’s on the Beach which closed in May, 2013. Pulcinella himself may have picked the colors for the sun-shielding canopies on the rooftop patio, one of the Duke City’s favorite venues for watching an enchanted sunset. The cynosure of the front dining room is a red-tiled Ferraro clay oven imported from Italy. The oven is the high-heat catalyst in which some of the city’s most perfect and pulchritudinous pizzas are baked.


Pulcinetta, the official mascot of Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria

High heat—905 degrees hot–is one of the secrets to perfect Neapolitan pizzas. When a pie goes into the wood-burning oven, it doesn’t stay there for very long. Your pie will be ready in sixty to ninety seconds. It does help that the genuine Neapolitan dough, sourced directly from Italy, is hand-formed to the supermodel thinness of slightly more than one-eighth of an inch. The high heat renders the crust crispy, but not overly so. The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is soft and chewy. Best of all, the pizza has the flavor and aroma of just baked bread.

Amore doesn’t scrimp on ingredients. They’re of exceedingly high quality with an emphasis on sourcing locally wherever possible. That doesn’t apply to the canned tomatoes which, like the flour, are imported from Italy. The tomato sauce for each pizza is made from those canned tomatoes. It makes a difference. So does the house-made, hand-stretched mozzarella which is placed strategically on the pie. There’s neither too much or too little of the mozzarella on pies which call for it.


Burrata (Available Fri, Sat, Sun)

Outstanding ingredients, however, are wasted if the pizzaioli don’t know what to do with them. Owners Gabriel and Kimberly Amador lived in Naples where they consumed their share of Neapolitan style pizzas. When they decided to open a pizzeria which would showcase the pizza style with which they fell in love, they sought out and were trained and certified by Robert Caporuscio, President of the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN). APN certification, which can be obtained only in Naples or New York City, is the highest certification for pizza chefs in Italy.

15 August 2015: In the two years (2013 – 2015) between visits, we gleefully noted just how much the menu had expanded from sixteen wood-fired pizzas, three of which—Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”, il Duke “Duke City Style” and Diavola “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami”— include a beloved local ingredient you won’t find in Naples, but which many New Mexico natives consider their pizzas to be naked without. Those ingredients are red and green chile. The menu includes eight “specialty” pizzas, three of which are named for Caporuscio.  Undoubtedly by popular demand, there are now six “New Mexico Style” pizzas.  For traditionalists who can’t have pizza without tomato sauce, the menu lists ten Pizza Rosse (tomato sauce) pies.  The menu also includes calzones, lunch specials and so much more.

Pizza Sushi

Pizza Sushi

31 August 2013:  Before you get to the pizza, there’s antipasti on which to nosh. The antipasti menu lists only four items, including a “pizza sushi” which honors Amore’s predecessor by nestling Bailey’s blackened mahi in a pizza roll topped with fresh apple-papaya slaw. The pizza sushi more closely resembles a blackened mahi egg roll sliced diagonally, but by any name, it would be delicious.  The blackening spices used on the mahi give it the type of piquant bite New Mexicans love.

27 July 2013:  If you visit on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you’ll want to indulge in the Burrata, described on the menu as “fresh, house-made mozzarella filled with soft cheese.” Burrata is typically far more creamy, rich and soft than the version served at Amore. As a mozzarella goes, Amore’s version is very good, but as a burrata, it’s not quite there.


Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”

27 July 2013: The Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”, on the other hand, is one of the very best pizzas I’ve had in the Land of Enchantment. It’s constructed with a white cream sauce, house-made mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, corn and New Mexico green chile. The green chile doesn’t hold back on flavor or piquancy. It’s sourced from an organic chile farm in the Socorro area and it’s pure delicious dynamite. Corn niblets lend elements of sweetness and freshness while the white cream sauce proves a worthy alternative to the fabulous tomato sauce. The crust, especially the cornicione, is an absolute delight. It’s bread as good as you’ll find at any bakery, so good you could eat an entire pizza sans ingredients. 

31 August 2013: Because “red or green” is the official state question of the great state of New Mexico, it’s apropos that the pizza menu include a pizza incorporating red chile, too.  That would be the Diavola, sub-titled “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami.”  Diavala, an Italian term for female devil, is apropos, too.  In addition to spicy salami, the tomato sauce is tinged with red chile and topped with house-made Mozzarella, Pecorino Romano and olio.  The red chile and spicy salami combination won’t water your eyes, but you will feel a pleasant warmth on the back of your throat.  The Mozzarella and Pecorino Romano pairing is genius, a perfect foil for the heat of the red chile and spic salami.

Diavola “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami” Tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella, salami, pecorino romano, red chile, olio

Diavola “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami”

27 July 2013: The pizza crust is a perfect canvas for some of the best ingredient combinations you can find. My play-it-safe bride’s pizza, the Capricciosa “An Italian Classic” showcased tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, artichokes, mushrooms, Italian cooked ham, olives, basil and olio. There’s an interplay of several flavors in each bite, but the difference makers are the tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella and that wondrous pizza crust. If all bread tasted as good, I’d weigh 400 pounds. 

31 August 2013:  No Neapolitan-style pizzeria could be complete without featuring the pizza that started it all.  That would be the the Margherita, first crafted in 1889 when an Italian pizzaiolo created a pizza reflecting the colors of the Italian Sabauda flag and named it for his queen.  More than a century and a quarter later, it is widely acknowledged that the red (marinara sauce), white (white mozzarella cheese) and green (fresh basil) pizza crafted that fateful day is the progenitor of every pizza crafted ever since. Amore’s rendition does great honor to the progenitor of all pizzas.  To call it “plain” would be to undervalue a great, great pizza.


Capricciosa “An Italian Classic”

14 August 2015: Less than a decade ago, burrata was virtually unavailable in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment.  My friend Sandy Driscoll would tell me about this rich, buttery cheese she enjoyed in restaurants throughout the Los Angeles area.  We often thought of ordering it and having it shipped to us, but this is a cheese that’s meant to be consumed while it’s still fresh–as soon as possible after it’s made.  As far as cheeses go, burrata is relatively new and not just to New Mexico.  It wasn’t made until the 1920s then it took a while before it made it across the pond from Italy to the United States. 

Amore not only offers burrata as an appetizer, but features it as the showpiece of a pizza named in honor of Robert Caporuscio, mentor and inspiration to owners Gabriel and Kimberly Amador.  The Maestro “Robert’s Burrata Pie” is constructed with Pecorino Sardo (D.O.C.), a rare sheep’s cheese from Sardinia (D.O.C., by the way is a patent nobility accorded to only 26 Italian cheeses; it means the cheese is now protected to maintain the original conditions of the cheese); Italian white truffle, Porcini mushrooms, grape tomatoes, house-made burrata, basil and olio.  We’ve had “quattro formaggio” (four cheese) pizzas that are less cheesy than this pie, a salty, creamy orb of pure deliciousness so good and so rich you won’t leave a slice behind.


Maestro “Roberto’s Burrata Pie”

In recent years, Farina has been anointed by some of the cognoscenti and diners alike as the Duke City’s favorite gourmet thin-crust pizza, but with the 2013 launch of Firenze Pizzeria and now Amore, the competition for best in the city has heated up. You’ll fall in love with Amore!

Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria
2929 Monte Vista Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 554-1967
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 14 August 2015
1st VISIT: 27 July 2013
COST: $$
BEST BET: Burrata, Pizza Sushi, Capricciosa “An Italian Classic”, Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”, Margherita “The Original”, Diavola “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami”, Tropica “Island Delight”, Maestro “Roberto’s Burrata Pie

Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Witch’s Brew – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Witch’s Brew Coffee House

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

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

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

From the dining room

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

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

Apricot Teacake

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

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

Granola with Fruit

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

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

Pizza Margherita

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

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

Combination Pizza

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

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

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