Rudy’s Country Store & Barbecue – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rudy’s Real Texas Bar-B-Q

I first sampled Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q’s products in 1993 in Leon Springs, Texas, a San Antonio suburb on the fringes of the magnificent  Texas Hill Country. At the time Rudy’s was just beginning to make inroads toward becoming a significant barbecue presence in Texas where beef and brisket are king.  Back then Leon Springs appeared to be a test ground for new restaurant concepts–and in fact, it is the site of the first Romano’s Macaroni Grill and the first Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q (as well as a concept called Nacho Mama’s which might have been the best of the lot.)

Before it was Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q, however, it was just Rudy’s Country Store. The country store was opened in 1929 by Rudolph “Rudy” Aue, the son of the founder of Leon Springs. The country store included a gas station, garage and grocery store.  In 1989, Rudy’s added Bar-B-Q to its country store’s name. Rudy’s was transformed into a meat market selling meats prepared on 100% oak-fired pits.

The sprawling dining room

My first impression was that this intriguing country store concept would be a perfect fit for for Albuquerque which until recent years has had pretty slim pickings when it comes to great barbecue. It took more than a dozen years for those hopes to be realized.  Today, Rudy’s now has two stores in the Duke City. This expansive enterprise also has restaurants in Colorado, Kansas, Arizona, Oklahoma and throughout the great state of Texas.

Rudy’s still offers Texas style tangy barbecue in a country store setting. Unlike many Texas barbecue bastions which seem to prefer acrid mesquite woods, Rudy’s meats are prepared using only oak, a slower-burning wood than mesquite.  Rudy’s meats are also imbued with a nice smoke ring characteristic of good barbecue. Those meats are flame cooked pit-style. The meats are dry-rubbed, not slathered with sauce before being placed in the smoker. The meats are characteristically moist, tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. You can purchase them in increments: quarter-pound, half-pound, pound or more if you so desire.  With a half-pound, you can build two to three stacked sandwiches.

The counter where you place your order

The meats are delicious with or without sauce (sause is how it’s spelled on Rudy’s menus). There are two kinds of sause–a hot sause which is better, bolder and more peppery than its counterpart, labeled “sissy sause.” New Mexicans who adore green chile give the hot sauce a healthy respect and might insult wimps who use the sissy sauce by calling them Texans.  To some, the secret to the deliciousness in Rudy’s barbecue starts with the distinctive sause and its peppery flakes which imbue a sweet tanginess and zesty kick (especially if you use the hot sause).

Surprisingly Rudy’s markets itself as the world’s worst barbecue. There are at least two explanations for this slogan’s genesis. Some surmise that this is just a clever advertising ruse intended to be taken ironically, not literally. It’s as much a “rib” as the meaty ribs on the menu. The other explanation is that “worst” is a play on the German word “wurst,” a type of sausage prepared in the Texas hill country by Germans who first settled this part of Texas in the mid-1850s.

A Half Pound of Brisket

A great meal features a pound or more of very good smoked meat wrapped in butcher paper with accompanying bread slices (rather ordinary wheat or white bread) that make for several sandwiches.  Rudy’s brisket is probably the number one selling item on the menu. It is tender, juicy, and melts in your mouth. You can smell the oak that’s used to smoke it in every bite.   The pork and brisket are very good, links are terrific and ham is excellent. If you’re a ham fanatic, Rudy’s serves some of the best in town.  A light, sweet glaze contrasts with the porcine saltiness of the ham to dance on your taste buds.

Seating is family-style on wooden picnic tables, but no one seems to mind sitting with strangers.  Perhaps that’s because most patrons are too busy with the entrees, but more than likely it’s because the environment seems to inspire friendliness.  Aside from the indoor seating with a view of the prep tables where the slicing and cutting is done, Rudy’s offers covered porch seating.  Our debonair dachshund The Dude enjoys the covered porch during inclement days that aren’t fit for man or his best friend.

A Half Pound of Pork

Between the unholy hours of seven and ten in the morning, Rudy’s offers “grab and go” tacos which you can customize with your favorite smoked meats.  Once you’ve had tacos made with smoked meats, you might never again be satisfied with ground beef tacos (or any Taco Bell faux-simile thereof).  The grab and go options include bacon, egg and chile; sausage, egg and chile; brisket, egg and chile; jalapeño sausage wrap; sausage wrap; carne adovada wrap; chop taco and beans and cheese.  Any option with chile–red or green–is best.

Rudy’s also serves something called the “brown cow taco” which is made from barbecue brisket (or you can substitute pulled pork), chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese and sour cream inside a warm flour tortilla.  It’s a much larger taco than the other breakfast tacos and can be ordered any time of day.  The Turkey Joe taco is somewhat similar except that it’s constructed from the smoked turkey and Ranch dressing.  Both are full-meal-sized and quite good.

Rudy’s Sissy Sause and Bar-B-Q Sause

The menu includes several sides: potato salad, green bean salad, coleslaw, corn-on-the-cob, green chili stew, pinto beans, cream corn, new potatoes and a jumbo smoked potato (nearly the size of a football).  The buttery boiled potatoes are a popular favorite which many guests seem to love.  The cream corn, which is also quite good, uses large niblet corn and a sweet, creamy, buttery sauce.

Rudy’s employees wear shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “We didn’t claw our way to the top of the food ladder only to eat vegetables.” That’s the way most diners feel as well.  The walls nearest the entrance are festooned with accolades proclaiming the self proclaimed “world’s worst barbecue” Albuquerque’s very best several years running by publications such as Albuquerque The Magazine, The Alibi and Local IQ.

Sausage, Bacon and Green Chile Breakfast Taco

Since man cannot live on barbecue alone, a collection of sure to please desserts are available: banana pudding, pecan pie, chocolate pudding, buttermilk pie, Rice Krispy treats, ice cream and peach cobbler.  Buttermilk pie, despite its deeply Southern roots has become somewhat of a big hit at Rudy’s in New Mexico.  This custard pie with its faintly caramelized top is almost cloying in its degree of sweetness, but it’s perfect for sweet-toothed diners.

Rudy’s was one of the first restaurants to introduce Albuquerque diners to Stewart’s sodas which come in several varieties including a root beer which was named the top root beer at the 2006 World Cup of Root Beer.  Stewart’s sodas evoke nostalgic tangs among people who grew up with Nehi sodas and their colorful variety.

Pecan Pie and Banana Pudding

Rudy’s is perhaps the best Texas import to land in the Land of Enchantment since UNM basketball star Kenny Thomas transferred from El Paso to Albuquerque High School.  It’s become a barbecue landmark in its two Duke City locations.

Rudy’s Country Store & Barbecue
10136 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-7113
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 25 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Brown Cow Taco, Pork Sandwich, Brisket, Ham

Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Red Chimney BBQ – Carlsbad, New Mexico

Red Chimney BBQ in Carlsbad, New Mexico

Depending on your lifestyle choices and temperament, some of the slogans emblazoned on bumper stickers or tee-shirts seen over the years at Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew  will either make you laugh or rankle your ire.   “Meat is murder – tasty, tasty murder.”  “Animal rights – Animals have the right to be tasty.” “Gardening: Cultivating a piece of land in order to barbecue.” “If you can’t stand the heat, go get me a beer!”  Obviously no similarly themed bumper stickers or tee-shirt slogans  will ever be seen at vegan or vegetarian festivals. They are, however, part and parcel of my former colleague Matt Mauler’s casual (and for that matter, formal) attire.   You might remember Matt from my review of The Acre. More than anyone you’ll ever meet, he celebrates meat in all its magnificence while damning and cursing any vegetable that isn’t fried. He also loathes vegans and vegetarians.

Several years ago, Matt told me about a barbecue restaurant in Carlsbad which prepares meat “just like back home.”  Back home for Matt was Paducah, Kentucky.  It was “almost heaven, the best place in the world” according to the proud Bluegrass State transplant and self-professed redneck.  Some of our other colleagues liked to tease the irascible Matt with references to Hazard county (home of Daisy Duke), Deliverance and even Bugtussle (which is actually in Missouri).  His retort: “at least we have good barbecue,” a dig at what he perceived to be a dearth of great barbecue restaurants in the Land of Enchantment…except for that one Kentucky style barbecue restaurant in Carlsbad.

Sprawling Red Chimney Dining Room

Matt would know Kentucky barbecue greatness.  On the fourth Friday and Saturday in September, his birthplace celebrates Old Market Days, a charitable event which includes a contest called “Barbecue on the River.”  In her wonderful tome Food Festival USA, my dear friend Becky Mercuri explains that “if a spirit of hospitality and goodwill accompanied by great barbecue appeals to you, you’ll want to be in Paducah, Kentucky during the annual Old Market Days.”  “And if you can’t make it to Paducah,” Matt advised, “drive six hours south to Carlsbad and get the next best thing.”

“The next best thing” comes from the Red Chimney Bar B Que on North Canal Street.  It’s nearly impossible to miss, especially if you’re driving by with your windows down.  That’s how your nostrils will imbibe the hazy smoke plumes emanating from Red Chimney which waft into your motorized conveyance like a sweet Kentucky smoke signal beckoning you to try a combo platter.   Similar to its rival Danny’s Place, the parking lot at the Red Chimney is always packed.  The vehicle of choice in Carlsbad appears to be large, high-profile trucks, contemporary horses for modern-day cowboys.

Piled High Chop Mix

Danny and Kathryn Fowler launched Red Chimney in 1952 and ran it until 1993.  A year later, under the auspices son Ted, the restaurant was rebuilt  into a more capacious log cabin on the same property.  Today this bastion of bodacious barbecue is into its third generation of  family ownership and tradition with Ted’s daughter Jill and her husband Edgar at the helm.  Kentucky-style barbecue was well-received by Carlsbad six decades ago plus and remains beloved today.  Along with the aforementioned Danny’s Place, Red Chimney is a destination restaurant, another reason to visit the gateway to the world’s most spectacular caverns.

So what distinguishes Kentucky barbecue from barbecue anywhere else in the fruited plain?  Author Ken Berry explains that in Kentucky, “we cook up just about any animal that has meat on it.”  That includes mutton (sheep over a year old) which wasn’t to be found on Red Chimney’s menu.  Nor was burgoo, which Berry describes as an “everything but the kitchen sink’ rich stew made with several meats and vegetables.”  Kentucky is a large state with regional specialties so why lament what’s missing from the menu.  Our focus became enjoying the very interesting, very inviting menu which has earned aficionados for decades.

Fort Knox Potato

My choice was a plate called Piled High Chop Mix, chopped brisket, pork and ham mixed with the restaurant’s signature barbecue sauce and served with two sides (smoked mac and cheese, hush puppies and pinto beans for me).  Don’t mistake this for a typical three meat plate in which the trio of meats are separate entities.  “Chop Mix” means the finely chopped meats are jumbled together in a tangle of meaty tendrils.  Tossed in this manner and heavily sauced, it was a challenge to discern where one meat ends and another starts.  Every bite included a bit of each.  It was an interesting melange, but for me a one-time experience.  The hush puppies were interesting, too, wholly unlike those we experienced throughout Mississippi.  Instead of deep-fried orbs, these were cylindrical (cigar-like) in shape.  The smoked mac and cheese was my favorite thing on the plate.

My Kim enjoyed a Fort Knox Potato, described as “the potato that holds something better than gold.”  Instead of gold, the potato is loaded with smoked chop mix, butter, sour cream, Cheddar cheese and crisp red onion.  The smoked chop mix was the element of this football-sized dish Kim liked least.  What she enjoyed most was the through-and-through tenderness of the potato and the “usual fixings” of butter, sour cream and Cheddar cheese.  Had we read the menu more closely, we would have seen that another meat could have been substituted.  Next time…and there will be a next time.

Cherry and Apple Cobbler A la Mode

One of the reasons we’re so hopeful for a return visit is the cobbler, available in apple, cherry and peach. Have it a la mode for an even better taste experience.  It’s a housemade sourdough cobbler very popular among guests.  The interplay of sourdough, fruit and creamy, cold vanilla ice cream makes for a very enjoyable experience.  Oh, and to quell the thirst inherent with visiting the desert southwest, have a chocolate shake with your meal.  It’s served thick, cold and absolutely delicious. 

Red Chimney doesn’t have much, if anything, for vegetarians and vegans.  It truly is an altar for meats.  Kentucky barbecue is good stuff and Red Chimney is where you can get it.

Red Chimney BBQ
817 North Canal
Carlsbad, New Mexico
(575) 885-8744
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Piled High Chop Mix, Fort Knox Potato, Chocolate Shake, Cherry Cobbler A La Mode, Apple Cobble A La Mode

Red Chimney Pit Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Danny’s Place – Carlsbad, New Mexico

Danny’s Place: Home of New Mexico’s Best Barbecue

For some reason, national print and online publications and even the Food Network can’t seem to fathom that the Land of Enchantment has outstanding cuisine outside the shining pinnacles of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.   To some extent the media may be justified in perceiving the City Different and Duke City as offering the quintessence of what makes New Mexico a culinary Mecca.  Obviously, Santa Fe and Albuquerque enthrall hungry visitors armed with voracious appetites (especially for our incendiary red and green chile), but to discount the cuisine at other cities throughout our diverse state is just plain lazy.  Santa Fe and Albuquerque do not have exclusivity when it comes to extraordinary restaurants and cuisine.  Phenomenal eateries and cuisine can be found throughout the Land of Enchantment.

When it comes to naming New Mexico’s best restaurants and best cuisine, the mantra embraced by national media seems to be “round up the usual suspects.”  Invariably, a short list of “anointed” restaurants from Santa Fe and Albuquerque is repeated ad-nauseam whenever a “best this” or “best that” list is compiled. The list of anointed restaurants is short, exclusive and predictable. It’s hard to break into the list if a restaurant isn’t from Santa Fe or Albuquerque.  If you need further proof, read Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food, where each and every month you’ll learn of more well-deserved accolades being accorded to a restaurant in Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

Danny’s Place for Real Pit BBQ

Credit Dan Gentile of Thrillist for actually doing his homework and reaching out to local experts across the fruited plain to compile a list of where the best barbecue in each state is to be found. The local expert for the Land of Enchantment, in this case, was a blogger of some repute who goes by the handle “nmgastronome.”  When Dan approached me, it would have been easy to declare some bastion of bodacious barbecue in Santa Fe or Albuquerque as our state’s very best, but that would have been falling into the trap of singling out only restaurants in the anointed cities.  Besides, doing so would have been disingenuous.  The very best barbecue my Kim and I have experienced in the Land of Enchantment comes from Danny’s Place in Carlsbad.  I built a pretty good case for Thrillist which declared Danny’s Place as serving New Mexico’s best barbecue for 2015 and 2016.

Here’s what Dan had to say about the best barbecue in the Land of Enchantment: “If you want to know about New Mexican cuisine, you talk to Gil Garduño. The verbose restaurant reviewer who can’t write his own name in under 100 words said the best in show was a toss-up between Danny’s and Sparky’s, but Danny’s partially gets our nod because of the gall involved in tearing up a Dairy Queen franchise agreement when they wouldn’t let him add his own smoked meats to the menu. Forty years later, Danny’s now retired, but his son Tim is running the show and still cranking out the smoked meats that put the rest of the state to shame.”

Kitchen Accoutrements Adorn the Walls

You’ve got to admit a highly regarded barbecue restaurant which got its start as a Dairy Queen is a pretty good story.  Danny’s Place is so much more than a good story.  If, however, you insist on  categorizing it as a story, it would be a tale of a bold independent spirit bolstered in his righteous quest by a small community which believed in his product.  The protagonist of our story is Danny Gaulden, a maverick and hero to many in the barbecue community.  On August 1, 1975, Danny launched Carlsbad’s sole Dairy Queen, but because his true passion and calling was barbecue, he incorporated low-and-slow meats into the menu.  Danny’s barbecue wasn’t advertised in any form of the local menu or anywhere outside the restaurant.  Nonetheless, word quickly got around far-and-wide as to where to find the best barbecue in New Mexico.

To say Dairy Queen was unhappy about the maverick owner who served outstanding barbecue is an understatement.  Even though Danny had one of the original franchise contracts with Dairy Queen and was thus permitted to sell barbecue, corporate bureaucrats were duly upset when they had to field requests from other franchisees to diversify their own menus.  Danny fought the good fight, but in February, 2004, he decided to strike out as an independent barbecue restaurant owner.  He tore up his agreement with Dairy Queen and has never looked back.  Danny’s Place is one of the most popular eateries in Southeastern New Mexico.  Competitive barbecue chefs from across the fruited plain pilgrimage to this legendary establishment.  Though Danny has retired, he left his legacy in the hands of his son Tim.

Two Meat Combination Dinner: St Louis Cut Pork Ribs and Brisket

It goes without saying that there is no vestige of Dairy Queen at Danny’s Place.   Walls are adorned with country kitchen bric-a-brac.  You can study those kitchen accoutrements later.  The fragrant bouquets emanating from the kitchen will command your immediate attention and maybe a napkin or two to wipe the salivation on your chin.  Meats are slow cooked over sweet hardwood on a 100% wood-fired pit.  All dinners–one, two or three meats–are served with rolls, pinto beans and your choice of one side with pickles and onions on request.  Sandwiches are also available as are such “special dinner plates” as the “Flip Plate” (Danny’s invention over 30 years ago and a local favorite… a flour tortilla buttered and fried on the grill and filled with a hamburger patty, two cheese slices, green chile, onions, and salsa.)

10 March 2017:  A two meat barbecue platter will sate even the most ravenous diners.  Make one of those meats brisket.  It’s Texas quality–replete with flavor and lightly smoked with no residual bitterness.  A pinkish smoke ring around the brisket marries well with a nice bit of bark on the outside edge.  Texturally, the brisket is tender with a perfect amount of “stretch” to it.  Another excellent meat option is Danny’s St. Louis cut pork ribs, four meaty bones with sauce practically lacquered on.  The meat pulls off the bones easily and needs no additional sauce.  The sauce, by the way, is fabulous–vinegar-based with a pronounced sweetness and a piquancy that sneaks up on you.  The potato salad has sweet notes, too.  It’s memorable!

Three Meat Dinner: Ham, Pulled Pork and Turkey

10 March 2017: Even better than the two meat dinner is the three meat dinner.  The pulled pork is blessed with a dry rub comprised of salt, pepper and other spices rubbed liberally on the pork.  Both the ham and turkey are sliced thinly and are imbued with a light smoke.   As with all of Danny’s meats, absolutely no sauce is needed though that sauce is so good you’ll want to drink it up.  Worthy accompaniment to the three meats is the coleslaw, a sweet-tangy mound light on creaminess but big on flavor and crispness.  Also terrific is the fried okra.

9 March 2018:  Aside from reading about it on Gil’s Thrilling…how do you know there’s greatness in a restaurant?  For me, much of it has to do with memorability, how well a restaurant’s dishes are remembered over time.  My taste buds seem to be imbued with a memory for recalling the flavors they’ve enjoyed most.  For almost exactly a year, my taste buds beckoned for a return visit to Danny’s and more of that sensational brisket.  One day shy of a year later, my taste buds confirmed what they rediscovered–that Danny’s brisket is the best in the state, some of the best in the country.  This time the brisket was piled on between golden-hued buns about five-inches around.  Light saucing ensured my enjoyment would be concentrated on the smokiness of the brisket.  Caramelized around the edges, the brisket is tender, moist and absolutely an annual tradition we can wrap our taste buds around.

Barbecue Brisket Sandwich

9 March 2018: For my Kim, only a pulled pork sandwich would do. She fell in love with pulled pork during our frequent forays to barbecue joints in the Deep South.  Danny’s Place prepares pulled pork (too much alliteration?) as well as many of our favorite restaurants in Dixie.  The pulled pork is much more heavily sauced than the brisket is, but Danny’s sauce is so balanced and delicious that you can drink it.  Each tender tendril of pork is impregnated with a light smokiness.  Each is cloud-like in its texture.  Each is absolutely delicious, a pulled pork sandwich that exemplifies porcine perfection.

8 March 2018:  If you’ve ever seen the Travel Channel’s food programs, you know the focus tends to be on mighty excess (humongous portions) and strange eats.  Though no longer in the latter category, deep-fried Twinkies are hardly mainstream.  They’re common fare at state fairs (no pun intended) and you’ll find them at Danny’s Place.  My Kim had never tried tried them…and after her inaugural experience, isn’t likely to try them again.  Not surprisingly she enjoyed the fried dough (reminiscent of a donut) much more than she did the cloying filling.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Whether or not the national media will ever acknowledge culinary greatness in New Mexico exists outside of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Danny’s Place is in rarefied air as not only New Mexico’s very best barbecue restaurant, but one of the best in the country.

Danny’s Place
902 South Canal Street
Carlsbad, New Mexico
(575) 885-8739
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 March 2018
1st VISIT: 10 March 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: St Louis Cut Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork, Ham, Turkey, Brisket, Brisket Sandwich, Pulled Pork Sandwich, Deep-Fried Twinkies

Danny's Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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