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Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

The Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub in Rio Rancho

If you’ve ever wondered why the term “pink elephants” has long been recognized as a euphemism for a drunken hallucination, credit author Jack London. In his autobiographical tome, he described himself as “the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants.”

When we first heard of the Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub in Rio Rancho, we wondered if it, too, was  a euphemism for adult beverage overindulgence.  Frankly, the reason behind the name is almost as good as Jack London’s euphemism.  The sobriquet was bestowed upon co-owner Peter Apers by his mentor as he was teaching Apers to play the blues on guitar.  One of that mentor’s favorite television personalities was Caine, the David Carradine character in Kung Fu whom the Shaolin master called “grasshopper.”  Hence “Blues Grasshopper.”

The cozy, comfy confines of the Blue Grasshopper

In 2014, Livability.com named the Duke City as “America’s best mid-sized city in the country for beer.”  With nearly thirty brewery and tap room restaurants (as of this writing), Albuquerque metropolitan area  cerevisaphiles certainly have their pick as to where to imbibe their favorite beer.  Initially the Blue Grasshopper served beers from other local breweries, but with the advent of a new year (2015), they now have their own beer on tap. 

So besides its name, what distinguishes the Blue Grasshopper from all the competition?  Two things come to mind immediately.  The first is the nightly live entertainment showcasing the best in local talent in several genres: pop, rock, jazz, country and more.  The second is pizza, nine twelve-inch pies prepared in a wood-fired oven imported from Italy.   There isn’t much else on the menu and what there is might best be described as “bar snacks.”

Bar Snack

As long as there have been bars, pubs, taverns, bodegas and beer halls, there have been bar snacks, the type of which are served at the Blue Grasshopper.  Salty and flavorful, these bar snacks are intended to make you want more adult beverages.  A bowl of these bar snacks features pretzel sticks, hard and dry pumpernickel and rye bread pieces; and cheesy, salty and garlicky bite-sized pieces of goodness that will tide you over until your pizza is out of the oven. 

Although you can choose all the ingredients with which to build your own pizza, the nine pies on the menu will sate most of us.  Pies range from the simple (cheese pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella) to the gourmet (chicken pesto with pesto sauce, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella and chicken).  Hatch green chile can be added to any of them.  All pizzas are made-to-order.

The Margherita

If you want the pizza that started it all, you’ll order the Blue Grasshopper’s version of the Margherita (tomato sauce, garlic, fresh basil, mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sliced fresh tomato).  It’s a pretty basic pizza which would be improved with even more fresh basil.  The crust has a light char and is is chewy, but formidable enough to hold up against the weight of copious ingredients. The combination of tomato sauce and fresh, sliced tomatoes is a nice touch as is the cheese blend.

Copious ingredients is what you’ll find on Greg’s Special, a pie topped with pepperoni, spicy Italian sausage, black olives, green olives, Hatch green chile, tomato sauce and mozzarella.  What a pleasant surprise to enjoy both black and green olives with all their similarities and dissimilar flavor properties.  The Hatch green chile has a nice roasted flavor and just enough piquancy to be discernible.  The olives, green chile and tomato sauce are all acidic with only the mozzarella and crust to temper those properties.  Still, it’s an excellent pizza.

Greg’s Special

Launched in October, 2014, the Blue Grasshopper occupies the space which previously housed a Quizno’s Sandwich Restaurant.  No vestiges of the previous tenant remain in the  formerly narrow and long retail strip center space which has been expanded to 2,000 square-feet with a seating capacity of 60 or so. Long gone are the sandwich assembly stations and bread ovens. In their place is a single pizza oven imported from Italy.  It’s a pizza oven from which emerge pizzas cerevisaphiles and pizza aficionados will enjoy.

Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub
4500 Arrowhead Ridge Drive, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 463-3169
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 February 2015
# OF VIS
ITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Margherita Pizza, Greg’s Special, Snack Mix

Blue Grasshopper on Urbanspoon

Giovanni’s Pizza & Subs – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Giovanni’s, arguably the very best New York style pizza in the Duke City

Frequent and lengthy business trips to California in 1997 nearly ruined me forever for a food that belongs on America’s food pyramid (never mind the government’s nutritional aspects)–pizza.  Despite an open mind and willingness to try anything, the heretical toppings adorning Golden State pizzas quelled and quashed what I had thought to be an everlasting love.  Even today, I’m traumatized by nightmares of pesto impregnated  crust desecrated with sushi grade sashimi, artichoke and the designer vegetable de jour.

Returning to the Land of Enchantment with the taste of pizza parodies fresh on my mind, it was weeks before I could bring myself to even contemplate partaking of the pie Italians (and those who wish they were) consider sacred.  Then we discovered Giovanni’s Pizza & Subs, a neighborhood pizzeria in the finest tradition of East Coast pizzerias.  Giovanni’s is one of several Duke City area pizzeria claimants to proffering “New York style” pizza. In my estimation and that of several Metropolis transplants of my acquaintance, it’s also the very best.

The “I love me” walls at Giovanni’s

New York Yankee memorabilia, framed Mafioso movie photos and an “I Love Me” wall replete with dozens of favorable review clippings and awards told us this restaurant might be more than just another “New York style” claimant.  Could the fact that the pizzeria’s proprietors, the Zito family moved to Albuquerque from Italy via Queens possibly portend the best of both the birthplace of pizza and the city in which it is incomparably crafted?  As they say, the proof is in the pie.  On paper–or rather, on the walls–there are accolades a plenty attesting to the greatness of Giovanni’s.

In its annual food and wine issue for 2010, Albuquerque The Magazine undertook the enviable quest of selecting the very best pizza in Albuquerque.  The magazine staff ordered a pepperoni pizza at each pizzeria visited, rating it on taste, appearance, authenticity and creativity.  A pizza “playoff” ensued among the five finalists with each one serving a specialty pie of their choice as well as a pepperoni pizza.  The premier pizza in Albuquerque, the very best from among nearly 40 pizzas rated,was Giovanni’s.  That surprised virtually no one who knows and appreciates pizza greatness.

Sicilian style crusted pizza topped with garlic, onion, Canadian bacon and green chile (on one side)

Later in the year–November 10, 2010, in fact–Giovanni’s made it to the national spotlight.  USA Today asked local experts to name just one great pizza parlor in each state and the District of Columbia.  The New Mexico selection was none other than Giovanni’s Pizzeria.  According to USA Today, “local foodies agree that Giovanni’s Pizzeria in Albuquerque makes the best pies. This is New York style thin-crust pizza crispy with a blackened spot or two and a good, yeasty taste.  But being New Mexico, green chile shows up frequently as a topping.  Specialty pizzas include the New Mexican with chicken, ricotta, garlic, red onions and green chile.  Both dough and toppings are made fresh daily in house.”

USA Today didn’t ask just any uncredentialed local expert to name New Mexico’s best pizza, nor was that task assigned to some nameless, faceless writer in New York City.  Giovanni’s pizza was recommended by Sally Moore, author of Culinary New Mexico, “the ultimate food lover’s guide” and one of my most trusted sources for information on New Mexico’s specialty food stores, cooking classes, wineries, bakeries, tortilla makers, food festivals and restaurants.”  Earlier in the year, USA Today trusted Sally to name New Mexico’s very best burger as well.

A beautiful slice

National notoriety is nothing new for Giovanni’s which has been named one of America’s Top 100 Independent Pizza restaurants more than a dozen times by Pizza Today, a highly respected trade publication which honors the industry’s highest grossing independent pizzerias.  Giovanni’s is as close to an authentic New York style pizzeria as you’ll find in the desert hamlet of Albuquerque, a practitioner of pizzeria perfection considered by many to be the best of its genre in the city.  It holds a special place in my heart because it restored my love of pizza.

Giovanni’s is renowned for its specialty pizzas, some of which aren’t offered anywhere else in the city.  The White Pizza (pizza bianca) features three heaping layers of cheese (mozzarella, Romano and ricotta), a rendition more than slightly different from the white pizza made famous in Connecticut which is crafted with fresh topneck clams, garlic, Romano cheese and olive oil–no tomato in sight.  Giovanni’s white pizza is almost too rich with its surfeit of  oleaginous cheese.  Better tasting and better for you is the green pizza, a spinach pie with a thick layer of Popeye’s favorite vegetable (Gilligan’s, too).

A large pizza with garlic, green chile, black olives, onions and Canadian bacon

Giovanni’s traditional pizzas are baked on a thin crust topped with ingredients of your choosing and baked in an oven until the crust has more than a hint of pinto pony char and the cheese has fully melted.  Thin crust here doesn’t mean some emaciated model-thin gourmet pizza crust you can almost see through.  This is New York style thin crust which means you can fold it in half horizontally and eat it sandwich style as they do in Metropolis.  It means a crust that you’ll have to hold from  both the top and from its tapered bottom.  It’s a challenge to hold in all the ingredients because Giovanni’s ingredients are piled on generously.  Unlike at some pizzerias, you don’t need to mount an expedition to find some of the ingredients you request.

Giovanni’s sausage, Canadian bacon and pepperoni are excellent while the garlic enriched tomato sauce is prominent without detracting from other ingredients.  More often than not, the green chile on your pizza will actually bite you back, an increasing rarity even among restaurants serving New Mexican food.  During a 2006 visit, a wandering vagabond came into Giovanni’s and asked for a slice of our green chile pizza.  Never one to deny a hungry man, I gave him two.  One substantial bite later and he was begging for water.

An Italian Burrito

6 February 2015: Italy meets New Mexico in a unique to Giovanni’s specialty called an Italian Burrito.  As explained by a server, it’s essentially a calzone shaped like a burrito.  That, and the beauteous char marks, are where the similarities end.  Instead of a tortilla wrapped around sundry New Mexican ingredients such as ground beef and beans, it’s a pizza crust wrapped around sausage, green peppers and green chile with a thin and watery tomato sauce more reminiscent of tomato sauce than marinara.  This burrito deserves a more substantial sauce or alternatively a thick dipping sauce.  The crust is a highlight.

Dessert options are limited, but who needs a compendium of confections when you’ve got some of the very best cannoli in New Mexico.  The cannoli is homemade–cylindrical tubes engorged with a sweetened, rich ricotta cheese sprinkled with confectioners sugar and decorated with semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Homemade cannoli, among the very best in town

Giovanni’s warrants and receives a salute from the many airmen from nearby Kirtland who patronize this restaurant heavily.  It’s the life’s blood of the nondescript and dying shopping center in which it is tucked away.  Were it anywhere else in the city, it might be plying its pizza to overflowing crowds.

Giovanni’s Pizza & Subs
921 San Pedro, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-1233
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 6 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 12
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Pizza, Cannoli, Italian Burrito

Giovanni's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Farina Alto – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Farina Alto for outstanding pizza and so much more in Albuquerque’s 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. 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?

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Farina Alto is one sprawling edifice

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.

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Meatballs al Forno Balsamico

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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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. 

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Formaggio di Capra (leeks, scallions, crisp pancetta, farmhouse goat cheese & mozzarella)

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

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, Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria, Sara’s Pastries & Deli 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: 25 January 2015
1st VISIT: 12 May 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Tiramisu, Gelato, Meatballs al Forno Balsamico, Pasta e Fagioli, Carne, Formaggio di Capra, Salsiccia, Breakfast Pizza

Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon