Marley’s Barbecue – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Marley’s Barbecue – Central Texas Barbecue

In Central Texas, Barbecue is more than a way to cook meat –
it’s a way of life, a path to salvation, and
a sure-fire way to start an argument at the dinner table.”
~Central Texas Barbecue

Texans hold certain truths to be self-evident: everything is bigger (and better) in Texas, the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team (who can argue with that?), George Strait is the king of country music, Nolan Ryan was the greatest baseball pitcher who ever lived and the best barbecue in the universe is pit-smoked along the Central Texas Barbecue Belt.  Although Texas may be “like a whole other country,” the rolling plains of Central Texas are like a whole other world when it comes to barbecue. 

That’s not to say pit masters at Texas’s three other barbecue regions–East Texas, South Texas and West Texas–don’t prepare great barbecue or that they don’t regard barbecue as practically a religion.  In fact, pit masters from each Texas barbecue region will defend the honor and bragging rights of their respective regions with the same vigor shown in 1836 by a small group of volunteer soldiers at The Alamo.

Low-and-Slow Smoke Magic Emanates From Two Grills

While conceding that there is great barbecue to be found throughout the Lone Star state, purists and aficionados almost unanimously agree that the state’s best barbecue is to be found in Central Texas with Austin as the region’s epicenter and pockets of barbecue excellence nonpareil found in such small towns as Lexington, Lockhart, Driftwood and Taylor.  Historically, it makes sense.  The Central Texas region was settled in the 19th century by German, Polish and Czech immigrants carrying forward their old country traditions for making sausage and smoking meats.

Central Texas barbecue has a number of distinguishing hallmarks.  First and foremost, beef is king.  That means moist, smoky brisket.  Secondly, barbecue means spice and seasoning rubs (heavy on salt and pepper), not sauces.  Some of the best bastions of barbecue serve their meats naked–no sauce.  Others will give you sauce on the side if you request it.   If you’ve got to have it, sauce is typically tomato-based complemented by vinegar and Worcestershire.  Thirdly, barbecue means low and slow cooking over Texas post oak wood or pecan woods, both of which impart mild smokiness.  For best results, the wood is “cured” for nine to twelve months which creates very little soot when it burns.

The comfy-cozy interior

June, 2014, saw the launch in Albuquerque of a new barbecue joint brandishing the name “Marley’s Central Texas Barbecue.” Located on the northeast corner of Montgomery and San Pedro (at the former home of the beloved Tickles & Snooks Wings & Things), Marley’s seemed primed for longevity at that location. Just over two years later, however, Marley’s moved to the North Fourth street location which previously housed Paddy Rawal’s OM. Accompanying the change of venue was a bit of a name change. No longer does the marquee boast of its “Central Texas BBQ” heritage. Now it’s just “Marley’s Barbecue” though the menu remains the same.

Restaurant employees still sport shirts emblazoned with the slogan “we smoke the good stuff.”  For the most part, the “good stuff” still comes from the Lone Star state.  The restaurant’s Black Angus beef is sourced from trusted Texas suppliers and sausage comes from Elgin, the self-proclaimed “Sausage Capital of Texas.”  The twin Heartland smokers which send smoky invitations to passing motorists come from Missouri, another barbecue-crazed state.  You’ll pass by them on your way into the restaurant.  The aromas are a preview of deliciousness to come.

Sliced Brisket and Elgin Sausage with Bacon Potato Salad and Coleslaw

Conspicuous by its absence is the Texas state flag used to accent the restaurant’s decor at its inaugural location. Other Texas accents remain include looped lassos and cowboy accoutrements on the walls as well as other stereotypical trappings (such as corrugated steel panels on the wall).  One of my favorite Texas accents is Big Red soda which, not coincidentally, is bottled in Austin.  I believe it’s a Texas state law that Big Red should be served with barbecue.

The menu is relatively small.  Meats–sliced brisket, chopped brisket, Elgin sausage (regular or “hot”), pork spare ribs and pulled pork–are available by the half-pound.  Sandwiches and plates are also available.  Sides include Texas pinto beans, coleslaw, fresh-cut fries, mac and cheese and bacon potato salad.  Your best bet is a combination plate, your choice of any two meats served with two sides.  Plates include sweet Vidalia onions, pickles and slices of white bread (often considered a veggie in barbecue circles).

Pork Spare Ribs and Elgin Sausage with Beans and Bacon Potato Salad

3 August 2014: The sliced brisket is moist and tender with a faint smokiness, a very pronounced smoke ring and a good amount of marbling around the edges (off-putting to some, absolutely necessary for others).  It doesn’t have the thick, peppery crust characteristic of some legendary Central Texas barbecue establishments, but for taste, tenderness and appearance, it’s a very good brisket.  Procured from the world-famous Southside Market in Elgin, Texas, both the regular and “hot” Elgin sausage live up to their reputation.  They’re succulent, smoky and delicious with a natural casing that’s easy to bite through, but not cut with the plastic utensils provided. 

28 August 2014: There’s yet another way to enjoy brisket at Marley’s and that’s in the form of a chopped brisket sandwich.  When the menu reads “chopped” it’s not “chopped” as in the Carolina style “hack” job done to pork.  In this case, the brisket is cut into very small cubes.  If anything, the brisket seems even more tender prepared in this fashion and a caramelization not as apparent on sliced brisket is readily discernible with the chopped brisket.  This sandwich is served with onions and pickles.

Chopped Brisket Sandwich with Coleslaw

28 August 2014: No longer on the menu, but perhaps they should be considering the recent taco craze, is brisket tacos. An order of brisket tacos yields three beauteous tacos made on housemade corn tortillas.  The tacos are engorged with chopped brisket and a pico de gallo.  The corn tortillas are quite good and are formidable enough to hold up against the moistness and volume of the brisket and pico.  The brisket is moist, tender and smoky.  Alas, the pico de gallo (tomatoes and green peppers) is rather insipid, lacking any heat.  Fortunately the barbecue sauce has just a tad of heat to lend.

3 August 2014: Although beef may be king in Texas, Marley’s pork spare ribs are no jesters.  While the menu describes them as “fall-off-the-bone tender,” they have just a bit of “give” on them as you pull them off the bone.  That’s the way it should be.  Far too often, fall-off-the-bone denotes overdone.  The ribs are tender and juicy with the spice and seasonings rub more pronounced (you’ll discern a bit more sweetness) than on the other meats.  None of the meats needed sauce to make them palatable, but Marley’s sauce is good for dipping bread into.   It’s sweet, vinegary and has a pleasing bite.

BBQ Nachos

3 August 2014: Sides are no afterthought.  The bacon potato salad, made with in-house cured bacon and a spice blend with personality, is very different from most potato salad served in New Mexico which tends to have a surfeit of mayo or salad cream.  Shawne Riley, a long-time friend of this blog, called the potato salad the “closest to my Texas grandmother’s I’ve ever had.”  We agreed the coleslaw was wonderful. Even with New Mexico green chile, the pinto beans have the flavor of Texas beans with sundry spices which detract from the natural flavors of the Land of Enchantment’s “other” official state vegetables (pinto beans and chile).

3 August 2014: As a proud native New Mexican well acquainted and enamored with our state’s fantastic pecan crop, try as I might it was difficult to remain impartial about our pecans, especially when a Texas city has the audacity to declare itself “the pecan capitol of the world.”  Alas, the pecan pie was rich, decadent and absolutely mouth-watering.  Nary a disparaging word can be said about it even though it wasn’t made with New Mexican pecans.  During a visit in August, 2017, my server informed me that pecan pie is no longer on the menu.  Instead, Marley’s now offers a strawberry-rhubarb pie (get it a la mode) which, while quite good–and quite Texan–didn’t please me as much as the pecan pie did.

The oak which generates inviting aromas

23 August 2017:  BBQ Nachos are the sole appetizer on the menu though a heaping portion is enough to constitute a meal.  Available with your choice of pulled pork or chopped brisket, the nachos are served atop a bed of tortilla chips covered with nacho cheese, jalapenos and the house barbecue sauce.   The chopped brisket is redolent with the fragrant aroma of oak and there’s plenty of it.  We found the sauce a bit on the sweet side with tangy notes that couldn’t quite tame the sweetness.  That’s probably why my Kim competed with me for the jalapenos–and she normally wouldn’t touch jalapenos with the proverbial ten-foot-pole.

Marley’s may not be the next best thing to eating at a barbecue restaurant in the Texas Hill Country of Central Texas, but in some ways it’s got those Lone Star bastions of bodacious barbecue beat. Within the air conditioned confines of Marley’s, we were especially grateful not to be waiting in line for two hours for one of Austin’s famous pilgrimage barbecue restaurants to open even as oppressive humidity sapped our energy and mosquitoes the size of helicopters consumed us as eagerly as we would the barbecue.

Marley’s Central Texas BBQ
7520 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 23 August 2017
1st VISIT: 3 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Big Red, Pecan Pie, Sliced Brisket, Pork Spare Ribs, Elgin Sausage, Bacon Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Brisket Tacos, Chopped Brisket Sandwich, BBQ Nachos, Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie A La Mode

Marley's Texas Barbeque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Papaburgers – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

Papaburger, an El Paso institution now open in Albuquerque

Back in the 1960s, A&W’s Papa Burger was a rite of passage for me.  By age nine, I had surmounted the phased progression through A&Ws burger family–Baby Burger, Mama Burger and Teen Burger–and was ready to prove my mettle with the largest of A&Ws burger family, one beefy behemoth only my dad, a paragon of masculinity, had ever ordered.  Earning the right to order one was acknowledgement that I was growing into a man.  Polishing one off brought newfound respect from my younger brothers, both of whom longed for the day  my dad would order a Papa Burger for them.

In the 1960s, A&W’s burger family signified a formidable line-up of burgers served in more than 2,000 A&W restaurants throughout the fruited plain and Canada.  Each member of the burger family was represented by cartoonish fiberglass statues, the largest of which was the Papa Burger, a bald, vested gentleman holding a large frosted mug on one hand and a gigantic burger on the other.  Papa Burger stood eight and a half feet tall and the frothy mug of root beer was three feet tall.

 Bright and colorful interior at Papaburgers

Bright and colorful interior at Papaburgers

Driving on Chavez Avenue just west of Fourth Street and espying a restaurant called Papaburgers brought a nostalgic pang to my heart. That nostalgia made me hopeful that A&W was preparing to mount a challenge to the Big Three (McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King) and would no longer be relegated to sharing space with abhorrent chains.  Though I disdain chains, A&W still represents growing up to me.  The name on the marquee dashed those hopes quickly.  It read “Papaburgers” not Papa Burgers.  No, this was an A&W offshoot.

Papaburgers has its roots in El Paso, Texas where in 2008, entrepreneur Eric Zubia launched the first instantiation of what has become one of the Sun City’s most popular burger joints.  As of this writing, ninety percent of visitors to El Paso’s Zomato Papaburgers page indicate they like it with some being effusive in their praise.  Sadly, as of this writing, I’d venture to say fifty percent of Albuquerque diners still have no idea about this terrific burger restaurant (unless they read Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog), of course.

My friend Bruce "Sr. Plata" enjoys a double meat burger with avocado and green chile

My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” enjoys a double meat burger with avocado and green chile

That’s not entirely their fault.  Albuquerque’s Papaburgers, open only since November, 2009 is ensconced in a nondescript shopping center where it’s barely visible from heavily trafficked Fourth Street.  Get the word out!  This is a very good burger joint, one that is rapidly becoming an Albuquerque favorite.  In El Paso, customers queue early and often to get their burger fix in a restaurant with limited seating.  In Albuquerque, you can still walk up to the counter, place your order and sit where you want.

Finding a seat  is no problem in the Los Ranchos Papaburgers, a sprawling corner edifice which doubled its space within two years of opening to accommodate all the diners who discovered this unique bastion of burgers.  In three years, the ambiance has gone from prosaic to rather busy with a lot to see everywhere you turn.  The menu is sparse, about a dozen items, but there are always specials on the board.  A jukebox and an old-fashioned video gaming console make the expanded dining room just a bit noisy at times.

The Andre Burger Fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard with Butter-Garlic Fries

When Eric Zubia mentioned possibly expanding into the Albuquerque area, his Rio Rancho-based uncle Silver and aunt Adriana Zubia leapt at the opportunity.  As with the original Papaburgers, the freshness of ingredients is a strong point of emphasis.  Each burger is made to order on a flattop grill from freshly ground beef in which finely chopped onions are integrated right into the meat.  The burgers are adorned with lettuce, tomato, pickles, more onions and your choice of mustard or mayo.  The restaurant’s eponymous Papaburger can be topped with American or Swiss cheese. 

Your table haul should also includes plenty of green chile sauce which you can add to your burgers, fries, hot dogs or onion rings.  The green chile is mild by any piquancy scale, but it’s got a garlicky kick potent enough to ward off a family of vampires.  Papaburgers’ version of a green chile cheeseburger is called the Chiara Burger (named for Eric Zubia’s goddaughter).  Instead of finely chopped chile, the burger is crafted with long green chile.  It’s lacking in the piquancy New Mexicans love.

Frito Pie

Frito Pie

During our inaugural visit back in 2009, my friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik took one bite of the Papacheeseburger and declared “it’s just like Lotaburger.”  Considering his devotion for Lotaburger (which he considers New Mexican comfort food), that’s a high compliment.  As with Lotaburger, the ingredients are extremely fresh–crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, lip-puckering pickles, eye-watering onions.  The biggest difference is the onions incorporated right into the beef.  Bill’s sole complaint is that the beef was slightly overdone, sometimes a problem with thin beef patties. 

17 July 2017: You can request double meat with any burger or you can try something entirely different–the Andre Burger (named for Eric Zunia’s godson).  Hamburger meets hot dog in this unique offering–fresh ground beef with onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, chili, weenies, American cheese and mustard.  As if weenies isn’t unique enough, the chili also includes beans.  It’s not a burger for everyone, but if you have a penchant for the slightly different, this is a burger you will absolutely love.

Jalapeño Fries

Jalapeño Fries

You’ll love it as a composite of terrific ingredients and you’ll love the interplay among those ingredients.  The chili is mild, but has a nice garlicky flavor that almost completely obfuscates the hint of cumin.  The weenies are of the thin-sliced variety, not those flavorless two-inch in circumference meat tubes that seem to be in fashion today.  I liked them so much, my second visit order was a Papadog.  Papadogs are described as a “round hot dog” and are served on hamburger buns.  The buns are toasted and sandwich between them, weenies sliced in half then topped with pinto beans and chili with ground beef.  A smear of mustard and several sliced pickles adorn the bottom bun.  Though somewhat unconventional, this is a good hot dog that warrants return visits. 

Papaburgers is no one-trick pony.  The menu, though limited, also includes a grilled chicken sandwich basket, chicken nuggets and a grilled Papacheese Green Chile sandwich.  Sides include French fries, onion rings and chili cheese fries.  The fries and onion rings are out of a bag, but are quite good when doused in the green chili on each table.   Perhaps the most intimidating item on the menu is an all-beef Chili Cheese Foot Long Coney from Nathan’s.  Bob of the Village People who’s consumed over 550 feet of hot dog from The Dog House Drive In won’t have to consume quite as many to get to 550 feet.  It’s a beefy behemoth.

More Than A Foot Long of Nathan's Hot Dog

More Than A Foot Long of Nathan’s Hot Dog

Papaburgers may have nothing to do with the A&W of my youth, but it’s a rite of passage in its own way–as Food Network star Guy Fieri might say, “a passage to flavortown.”  These are seriously good burgers!

Papaburgers
6601 4th Street, Suite P.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 17 July 2017
1st VISIT: 25 February 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST:  $ – $$
BEST BET: Andre Burger, Papacheesebasket, French Fries, Onion Rings, Papadog

Papaburgers 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

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