TFK Smokehouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico

TFK Smokehouse Parked at a Brewery Near You

Every summer, a predictable ritual takes place. After hibernating comfortably since the previous autumn, men attired in aprons emblazoned with the slogan “kiss the cook” will selflessly volunteer to “cook” a meal. This, of course, means barbecue, a decidedly masculine affectation and the only type of cooking most men can be entrusted to do. When this ritual is completed and guests are sated, lavish praise and thanks are heaped upon the “chef.” In truth, the only aspects of this ritual for which men are typically responsible is getting the grill lit, placing the meats on the grill and turning them (after our female better halves warn us that the meats are burning). Normally all the preparatory work—buying the food; preparing the salad, vegetables and desserts; preparing the meat for cooking; organizing plates and cutlery; preparing the plates—is done by our wives and girlfriends. Ditto for the post-dining rituals—clearing the table, doing the dishes and putting everything away. Insouciant clods that men are, we can’t figure out why our ladies are upset when we asked how they enjoyed their “night off.”

While most of us endowed with the XY-chromosome pairing can identify with the scenario described above (which some women might find entirely accurate), Katie Calico and her husband Chris White have a more egalitarian relationship when it comes to the barbecue ritual. The two own and operate the TFK Smokehouse trailer, an endeavor which requires equally exhausting effort from both of them. Watching them prepare then serve meals out of their barbecue mothership nearly wore us out. They perform the same type of prep work the brick-and-mortar restaurants do, but they do so in a much more confined space, a food truck other food truck vendors refer to as “The Cage” for its mix of industrial meets artistic design.

Burqueño Cheesesteak with Coleslaw

TFK, by the way, doesn’t stand for “Truck Food Kitchen” as we had surmised before meeting Katie. It stands for “Talking Fountain Kitchen,” in honor of Katie’s erstwhile venture, Talking Fountain Gallery and Boutique. Before launching the TFK Smokehouse in November, 2013, Katie owned and operated the gallery on Lead Avenue. She explained that “talking fountains” don’t speak on their own; for centuries, fountains have served as meeting places in which citizens of Rome could express themselves—even during Mussolini’s regime. The idea of expressing yourself any way you can resonated deeply with Katie who continues in that spirit even though her primary focus is now culinary arts.

The TFK Smokehouse is reflective of the creativity formerly on display at her gallery. Once a flatbed trailer sporting stainless steel tables, the Smokehouse underwent a significant make-over. Many of the display fixtures and racks from the defunct art gallery were repurposed for the truck along with other artistic treasures. The result is a rather unique food truck that belies any stereotypes you may have about food trucks…at least in terms of appearance. From a functional standpoint, however, the Smokehouse is everything you would expect a great food truck to be. The aromas wafting from this mobile conveyance are akin to smoke signals beckoning you to sample the fruit wood-perfumed fare.

BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich

When we asked to which style the Smokehouse subscribes from among the four regional pillars of American barbecue (Memphis, Texas, Kansas City, Carolinas), Chris told us they employ the St. Louis style of barbecue. On a per capita basis, St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce than any city in the nation and boasts of former world barbecue champion Super Smokers among other purveyors of outstanding barbecue. He added that the influence of molasses is readily apparent on their sauce. It’s also apparent that savvy diners keep track of where the Smokehouse will be parked. In the time it took us to finish our lunch, dozens of diners had queued up and ordered food either to go or to consume at one of La Cumbre Brewing Co’s shaded picnic tables.

In that time, the most frequently ordered item appeared to be the Burqueno Cheesesteak (smoked prime rib with grilled onions, green chile and Asadero cheese on a toasted baguette). In this town only the transcendent green chile Philly from Philly’s N’ Fries is even in the same ballpark as this behemoth sandwich. Several elements make this a special sandwich. First and foremost, it really is made with prime rib, not some inferior cut of beef. That prime rib is lightly smokes so as not to detract from the native deliciousness of that cut. Secondly, the green chile actually bites back. You probably won’t be reaching for water (unless you’re from Colorado), but you’ll definitely get a little endorphin rush. Third, the toasted baguette is courtesy of Albuquerque’s premier bakery, Golden Crown Panaderia. No one in this town knows bread as well as Pratt and Chris Morales.

Pint-Size BBQ Bella Sandwich with Potato Salad

On the date of our inaugural visit, the Smokehouse menu featured six sandwiches, each served with a side item (your choice of cole slaw, potato salad or kettle chips).  Roasted green chile can be added to any barbecue sandwich for a dollar more.  It’s a very worthwhile investment especially with the BBQ beef brisket sandwich (smoked beef brisket on a bed of cole slaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet BBQ sauce on a toasted bolillo roll.  This is a very good sandwich with contrasts (the crunchy, tangy cole slaw and the sweet sauce, for example) which work very well together.  The brisket is shredded into tender tendrils of moist, juicy beef.  True to its genesis, the St. Louis style sauce is very much on the sweet side.  Thankfully other elements provide a nice counterbalance.

For lesser appetites, the Smokehouse offers “pint” sized barbecue sandwiches for about half the price of the standard-sized sandwiches.  These pint-sized treasures are available in your favorite meats (brisket, pork, chicken).  A vegetarian-friendly sandwich christened the Bella (balsamic-glazed portabella mushrooms on a bed of coleslaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet sauce on a toasted bolillo roll) is another superb option.  The balsamic glaze imparts vinegary notes that work very well with the sweet sauce.  The portabella mushrooms have a meaty texture and earthy flavor, but it’s just a bit obfuscated by the sauce. 

More than most Albuquerque area food trucks the TFK Smokehouse does a terrific job of posting on its Facebook page where it’ll be on any given weekend.  Alas, the page also includes photos of some of the featured fare.  It’s food porn that’ll have barbecue aficionados salivate with lust.  That lust is justified.  The TFK Smokehouse is one of the city’s very best food trucks.

TFK Smokehouse
(Location Varies)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 369-8668
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: BBQ Bella Sandwich, Burqueño Cheesesteak, BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, Coleslaw, Potato Salad

TFK Smokehouse 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.)

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

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. 

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: 10 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: St Louis Cut Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork, Ham, Turkey, Brisket

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

Stack House BBQ – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho

One of my Psychology professors cautioned students about the danger of “amateur diagnosis,” the practice of assigning specific psychoses and neuroses to people we meet solely on the basis of our cursory familiarity with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  He explained that it often takes an experienced practicing psychiatrist several sessions to arrive at a diagnosis and many more sessions before treatment proves effective.  His point–a little knowledge can be dangerous–applies in virtually every arena of knowledge in practicum.  Reflecting back on all the times my rudimentary conclusions were ultimately proven incorrect, it’s a point well driven. 

When my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, Dazzling Deanell and Beauteous Barb decided to pursue Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) certification, the words of my Psychology professor resonated in my memory.  Sure, we’d all been eating barbecue most of our lives, but how much did we really know about passing judgement on barbecue?  Not much, it turned out.  Over the course of several hours, our KCBS instructor imparted sage knowledge and proven techniques to help us understand thee three most important and very nuanced elements of competitive judging: taste, texture and appearance.   Much like getting a Psychology degree, obtaining KCBS certification gave us a modicum of knowledge.  Applying what we learned in such competitions as Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew built upon that knowledge.

Long lines queue up for terrific ‘cue

Recently when Larry and Deanell rhapsodized poetic about the barbecue at the Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho, my first questions were “how would that barbecue rate in a KCBS barbecue competition?” Larry gave it nines in taste, texture and appearance. Deanell one-upped Larry, indicating the Stack House BBQ’s ‘cue warranted all tens (and she knows what it is to be a ten). They invited me to discover for myself whether their ratings were hyperbole or justified.  Alas, during my inaugural visit, I was suffering the ravages of a bad cold which rendered my taste buds untrustworthy and enfeebled my olfactory senses.  You can’t judge barbecue if you can’t imbibe its aromas and taste its subtle flavor qualities. 

Having a bad cold tends to exacerbate my desire for chile, the more piquant the better.  In the throes of even the most egregious colds, I’ve been known to drive to Santa Fe for some of the Horseman’s Haven‘s combustible chile.  The Haven’s Level II chile, affectionately known as “El Diablo” is about the only thing that can quell the stuffiness of a head cold.  While the Stack House doesn’t offer anything quite as incendiary as El Diablo, the menu does include two pepper-infused items: Frito pie and jalapeño sausage.  From what my compromised palate could surmise, both were probably quite good though it would take a return visit or ten to know for sure. 

Pit Master Extraordinaire Greg Janke Slices Brisket with Surgical Precision

My return visit transpired exactly one week after my inaugural visit, so eager were my Kim and I to experience the bodacious barbecue about which Larry and Deanell had raved.  We had the great fortune to spend time discussing all things barbecue with proprietor-pit master Greg Janke.  Like me, Greg is an Intel alum, having toiled at the technology giant for 23 years, five years longer than I.  Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Greg left Intel in April, 2016 and five months later–on Friday, September 23rd–he launched Stack House BBQ. 

Greg’s transition from technologist to restaurateur wasn’t as challenging as one might think.  In fact, Greg admits, working at Intel prepared him very well to own and operate a restaurant.  Even in such technically demanding areas as Automation where he rose through the ranks, Intel employees have the opportunity to hone their business and customer orientation skills (not to mention the discipline to work long hours).  There is, of course, nothing in the semi-conductor arena which translates directly to the mastery of smoking meats in the low-and-slow manner.  Greg began smoking meats at home several years ago, eventually earning praise from friends and the confidence to enter the arena of competition.

Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs

In each of the past two years, Greg has competed at Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew, a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event.  In 2016, he finished seventeenth overall in a field of thirty-one, faring especially well in the pork category where he placed eleventh.  As much as the judges in the blind taste foodfest may have enjoyed his barbecue, it was event-goers who convinced him to launch his own barbecue restaurant.  In each of the event’s two days, he sold out–every morsel of magnificent meat–well before day’s end.   Moreover, many of them lavished praise and encouragement, essentially convincing Greg that he belonged in the barbecue restaurant arena.

Just seven months previously, Rub-N-Wood had shuttered its doors, leaving the City of Vision without a barbecue restaurant.  Now, Rio Rancho without barbecue is akin to Hillary not wearing a pantsuit.  It just doesn’t and shouldn’t happen.  Barbecue became a Rio Rancho tradition in 1983 when the great Gary West launched Smokehouse BBQ  at 4000 Barbara Loop, a location which would henceforth become synonymous with great barbecue. He owned and operated the stately home of seductive smoke for nearly a quarter-century before moving on. With Roger Bell at the helm, Rub-N-Wood moved in and pleased palates for nearly three years.  The hazy smoke plumes which had so long emanated from 4000 Barbara Loop resumed on a lazy, late September day when Greg assumed the role as Rio Rancho’s proprietor of the pit.  It was a day warranting celebration.

Half Chicken

As had transpired during the Pork & Brew, Greg sold out his first few days of operation.  Barbecue aficionados quickly embraced his Memphis meets Texas approach to smoking meats.  What’s not to love!  Greg uses a combination of oak and cherry woods to impart a unique flavor to his barbecue.  He developed a rub that includes some twelve ingredients that penetrate deeply into the meats and imbue them with flavor-boosting, crust-forming properties.  Not only that, the Stack House BBQ restaurant is an inviting milieu for meat lovers.  It may well be the most pristine barbecue restaurant in which you’ve ever set foot.  If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, Greg is probably being fitted for a halo as you read this.  In addition to the immaculate nature of the premises, service is friendly and attentive (another Rio Rancho tradition exemplified by the terrific staff at Joe’s Pasta House among others).

The Stack House menu is rather limited.  Meats–brisket, chicken or pulled pork–are available by the half or full pound.  Also available are sausage, jalapeño sausage, half-a-chicken and baby back ribs (available in quantities of three, half a rack or a full rack).  You can also opt to have your meats on a sandwich.  Then there’s the aforementioned Frito pie.  Sides are pretty much what you’d expect at a barbecue joint: potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, corn on the cob, chile, beans, mac and cheese and fries (including chile cheese fries).  A baked potato, with or without meat, can also be had.  Limited applies solely to the number of items on the menu board, not to how great they taste.

Sides: Green Beans and Potato Salad

7 October 2016: You won’t mind getting your hands dirty handling the baby back ribs on which Greg’s magical rub is liberally applied.  These ribs are messy and they’re magnificent, each meaty morsel pried away easily from the bone.  They’re not fall-off-the-bone tender, having just the right amount of give that signifies the perfect degree of doneness.  Make no bones about it, these baby back ribs are (as Larry would say) competition-worthy, needing neither sauce nor amelioration to improve upon them.   The sauce, by the way, is terrific, a sweet and tangy complement to the richly satisfying smokiness of the ribs.

7 October 2016: With the emphasis on pork and brisket, chicken is often a sorry afterthought at some barbecue establishments.  Not so at the Stack House where the full-flavored half-chicken is a main-event item.  Quite simply, it’s fantastic, some of the very best we’ve had in New Mexico!  Peel back the blackened skin (delicious in its own right) and you’ll be rewarded with moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat chicken…and there’s plenty of it.  A nice-sized half-chicken (breast, thigh and leg) won’t leave much for sharing–not that you’ll want to.  Update: Because the half-chicken didn’t always sell out, Greg decided to offer chicken thighs instead.  Aside from being the most moist part of the chicken, chicken thighs don’t have to spend as much time on the smoker as half chickens.

Frito Pie

In November 2016, Stackhouse began offering daily specials from Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday’s child is a pulled pork sandwich.  On Thursday, it’s a chicken sandwich.  Friday features beef back ribs (a whole pound) though you’re well advised to get them early.  When we attempted to order beef back ribs on December 2nd, 2016, Greg apprised us that on that very date, my friend Sr. Plata ordered two portions for lunch and took home another for dinner.  Sr. Plata enjoys the Stackhouse’s beef ribs so much, he may move in…at least on Fridays.  But I digress.  Saturday’s special is three baby back ribs while Sunday, it’s Frito pie.  All daily specials are value priced.

2 December 2016: New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie. The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat. Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it sometimes looks like a healthy lettuce and onion salad when prepared by some restaurants. Underneath the lettuce and chopped onions, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips.  At the Stack House, Greg dispenses with all the offending lettuce, tomatoes and onions.  Instead, this Frito Pie is constructed with only the good parts–lots of Fritos corn chips, ground beef, chile and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese.   The chile has a nice bite, just enough to get your notice.  This is a fat-fest all New Mexicans will enjoy.

Three Meat Platter: Brisket, Chicken Thighs and Pork

2 December 2016: For a veritable meatfest, your best bet is a three meat platter (pictured above).  Kim, my carnivorous better-half will vouch for the brisket, chicken thighs and pulled pork.  Though a half chicken would be her preference, the chicken thighs make for a good consolation prize.  They’re moist, tender and delicious with a light smokiness.  The best of the three may well be the brisket which is shredded and pulls apart easily.  As with brisket in Central Texas, the cradle of Southwest barbecue, this isn’t the most lean of brisket.  It’s got just enough fat for flavor.  Tender tendrils of deliciousness define the shredded pork, a tangle of white and dark meat.  All three meats are lightly smoked and are perfect vehicles for the Stack House barbecue sauce.

2 December 2016: My Kim has often threatened to take away my man card, especially when we prepare steak at home or order it at a restaurant.  While she immediately–and with great zest–attacks the steak, my focal point is usually a loaded baked potato with plenty of melting butter, sour cream and shredded cheese.  The Stack House does one better than local steak houses.  First, the baked potatoes are smoked–lightly impregnated with hickory-cherry smoky goodness.  Secondly, you can load them up with the aforementioned baked potato suspects and with your choice of smoked meat.  The pulled pork is a magnificent choice for the smoked baked potato.  You’ll wish all your baked potatoes were similar endowed.

Smoked Baked Potato with Pulled Pork

7 October 2016: Great barbecue restaurants know that to provide an excellent full-meal experience, smoked meats must be accompanied by worthy sides.  Stack House has a two-tiered pricing model for its sides, the most expensive being three dollars.  Sides are served on Styrofoam vessels and are generously portioned.  The potato salad may evoke memories of picnic meals long gone.  It’s a mayonnaise-based potato salad with a pleasant mustardy-vinegary tang.  Alas, the green beans could use a few bits and pieces of smoked meats and maybe a pinch of salt.  Much better is the cherry cobbler, replete with whole cherries and a crumbly and delicious crust. 

Cherry Cobbler

Stack House BBQ may ultimately become yet another destination restaurant in Rio Rancho, a port-of-call for barbecue aficionados from throughout the metropolitan area, if not the entire Land of Enchantment.  With its September launch, all is right in Rio Rancho once again.

Stack House BBQ
4000 Barbara Loop, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 903-7516
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 December 2016
1ST VISIT: 29 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Half Chicken, Cherry Cobbler, Apple Cobbler, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken Thighs, Frito Pie, Smoked Baked Potato

Stack House BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The County Line Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The County Line of Albuquerque, Just Two Miles From the World’s Longest Tramway

If you believe alcohol Prohibition, America’s federally mandated fourteen year social experiment with sobriety, ended with the passing of the 21st amendment in 1933, you would be wrong.  As of January, 2016, there were still about 200 “dry” counties (particularly in the Bible Belt) across the fruited plain with what most would consider excessively stringent liquor laws.  Residents of dry counties who want to indulge in their favorite adult beverage have but to drive to the county line of the nearest “wet” county where package stores and bars do a thriving business in alcohol sales. 

It might be a stretch to say that the “spirit” of the county line package stores and bars is alive and well at the County Line Restaurant Restaurant.  As with the package stores and bars at the “wet” side of the county line, the County Line Restaurant provides desired “goods” to customers otherwise unable to procure them.  The “goods” in this case is “bodacious barbecue,” and indeed there are many who contend that they have to drive to the County Line to get it.  A crowded parking lot certainly attests to the County Line Restaurant’s popularity as a purveyor of barbecue.

One of the County Line’s dining rooms

The County Line Restaurant was founded in 1975 in an old Austin, Texas speakeasy (a term coined during Prohibition that describes bars or nightclubs who dispensed alcohol illegally).  Today the County Line serves its award-winning barbecue in several Austin locations as well as in San Antonio and El Paso.  Albuquerque’s County Line (launched in 1980) is the furthest outpost from the original restaurant and the only one outside the great state of Texas.  Fortunately County Line aficionados across the fruited plain can obtain its legendary barbecue through the restaurant’s “Air Ribs” service which ships barbecue right to your door. 

Four principles define the County Line’s operational model: First: offer the highest quality smoked barbecue – ribs, brisket, sausage and chicken – with traditional sides of cole slaw, potato salad and beans. Second: provide these BBQ specialties in generous portions at reasonable prices. Next: offer friendly table service with linens and bar service. Finally: feature an authentic location that celebrates the heritage of Texas.  In 1975, the Texas State Legislature passed a resolution to recognize the County Line barbecue restaurant on “the occasion of its 30th anniversary of serving legendary barbecue to the state of Texas.”

House Bread

While virtually no one will dispute the superiority of Texas barbecue over New Mexico barbecue (though the Land of Enchantment’s barbecue is making endroads), Albuquerque’s County Line restaurant has something none of its Texas siblings have.  That’s a nearly unobstructed view of the spectacular Sandia Mountains which form a dramatic backdrop for the restaurant.  You’ll have to sit in the patio to enjoy that view, but because of the mountain’s proximity you’ll certainly appreciate how it acquired its name.  From inside the restaurant’s main dining rooms, the best views are panoramas of the city’s multi-hued summer sunsets and city lights the rest of the year.

The County Line’s ambience is stereotypical roadhouse with distressed wood appointments and legacy bric-a-brac strewn throughout. The cover of the menu is patterned after the “Big Chief” writing notebooks of my youth, complete with a stern countenanced Native American in full headdress (funny how the PC police haven’t gone on the warpath about that). It goes without saying that the menu is dominated by barbecue and smoked entrees, but you can also have any one of six third-pound Angus beef burgers and such Texas staples as chicken fried steak and chicken fried chicken.

Three Meat Platter: Brisket, Turkey, Pulled Pork

Three all-you-can-eat (AYCE) family style options are available only if the entire party on a table opts for one of the three AYCE choices: the “Country Style Meal,” “The Cadillac” and the “All You Can Stand.” All three options provide prodigious platters of barbecue meats bathed in a tangy sauce and are served family-style with the main differences being cost and entrees provided in each. The “Cadillac,” for example includes beef ribs, pork ribs, sausage, chicken and brisket for just under $30 a person.  The Cadillac is served with three sides: potato salad, coleslaw and beans as well as the County Line’s signature loaf of bread (white or wheat). 

For the non-gurgitators (competitive eaters) among us, smaller plates are available as are other sides.  Somewhat smaller than the AYCE options are the combo platters available with two, three or five meats served with your choice of two sides and the County Line’s complimentary bread.  If you want the restaurant’s “Famous Homemade Bread” it’s an extra charge, but worth the dough.  Among the sides, both the coleslaw and the potato salad are more tangy than sweet. Neither is particularly creamy, but they’re good alternatives to their runny, cloying counterparts served at some restaurants. The mushroom caps and corn-on-the-cob (in season) are excellent alternatives.  Even better (though not always on the menu) are ancho-maple glazed carrots with their sweet-piquant flavor profile.  You also won’t find better okra anywhere in Albuquerque than at the County Line.

Baby Back Ribs

The combo platters are an excellent option for those of us who like variety and don’t mind waddling out of the restaurant.  It stands to reason that one of the meats should be the marbled 2nd cut beef brisket.  Brisket is practically a religion in Texas and rightfully so.  The County Line’s brisket is among the best in the city, on par with the brisket at Powdrell’s.  The second (or the deckle) cut of brisket is the antithesis of any stringy, dry and chewy brisket you’ve ever had.  It’s juicy, succulent and pulls apart easily.  Moreover, it’s as flavorful as short ribs, but far less expensive.  Peppered turkey breast has been my favorite barbecued meat since the great Gary West of Rio Rancho’s Smokehouse introduced me to it.  The County Line’s version is terrific. 

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver is an aficionado of beef ribs.  At the County Line, beef ribs are Flintstonian in size and as meaty as ribs can be.  Baby back ribs, available in half- or full-rack sizes are also excellent.  A sweet and tangy sauce is lacquered on with the excess sauce lingering on the plate should you desire wetter ribs.  These ribs are nearly “fall-off-the-bone” tender with just a little pull that denotes a perfect degree of doneness.  Smoke permeates each morsel.  If you’re unable to finish your platter, fret not because they heat up nicely the next day and are just as delicious cold.

Peach Cobbler with Housemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Dessert options abound at the County Line.  Regardless of which post-prandial sweet you enjoy, ask for a side of the housemade ice cream.  It’s some of the very best in the city.  Echo that sentiment for the peach cobbler ala mode topped with vanilla bean ice cream. There’s just something special about the textural contrast of savory, flaky pie crust and sweet, tangy peaches.  Save for with a scoop or two of the vanilla bean ice cream, you can’t top this cobbler.

For more than a quarter-century, barbecue aficionados have made their way to the County Line Restaurant for a smoky taste of Texas with the magnificent panoramic views available only in the Duke City.

The County Line
9600 Tramway, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 856-7477
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 10
RATING: 19
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Babyback Ribs, Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Fried Okra, Ancho-Maple Glazed Carrots, Peppered Turkey Breast, Brisket, Pulled Pork

County Line Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sandia Chile Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

 Sandia Chile Grill, Smokehouse and Microbrewery

Sandia Chile Grill, Smokehouse and Microbrewery

If perspiration is (as the proverbial “they” have declared) the mother of invention, Mickey and Clinton Coker may just be two of the most glistening guys in the Duke City. Since 2004, the Cokers have “reinvented” their restaurant four times. If you’re thinking, they’re just try, try, trying again until they get it right, you couldn’t be more wrong. Mickey Coker, the entrepreneur behind the four make-overs, started with a culinary concept that was so wildly successful, it prompted almost immediate growth. His second effort, a brick-and-mortar operation, also achieved significant acclaim. Some might have considered the third Coker transition strictly a sideline…until it started garnering one award after the other. The fourth step in the evolution of the Sandia Grill may be the most revolutionary of all.

For Mickey Coker, the route to entrepreneur was inauspicious. He got his start selling New Mexican food at a gas station-convenience store. Yes, the very notion of a gas station-convenience store food conjures images of salty, cylindrically shaped dry meat snacks with the texture of sawdust and air-filled bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.  Now mention New Mexican food and gas station in the same sentence and the likely image would make all the sophomoric six-year-olds among us giggle, the notion of “gas” not having anything to do with petroleum.  Despite these stereotypes, Coker had the confidence in his New Mexico food products to launch his business in 2004, ensconced within the confines of a convenience store-gas station in the Winner’s Circle gas station at Harper and Barstow. A second location, on Montgomery just east of I-25, followed shortly thereafter.

Once strictly a New Mexican Restaurant, Now Showcasing Barbecue and New Mexican Food

From its onset, the Sandia Chile Grill’s made-to-order burrito concept elevated gas station dining from a fast food grab-and-gobble experience to a uniquely sublime New Mexico dining extravaganza, albeit one without on-the-premises seating. The aroma of tortillas on the grill quickly had patrons making a bee-line to the little grill that could at the back of the convenience store portion of the gas station. While relatively little space is required to operate what is essentially a to-go diner, Coker saw his business grow to the extent–as many as 4,000 meals in a busy month–that a real restaurant storefront was in order. He launched the Sandia Chile Grill restaurant at the Del Norte Shopping Center, essentially moving from the Winner’s Circle gas station not that far away.

A native New Mexican (born in Belen), Coker saw two obvious reasons for the name Sandia Chile Grill, the first being Sandia chile which grows in the Mesilla Valley. Sandia chile ranges from four to six-inches long and dries to a deep burgundy color.  It’s one of the most delicious of all red chiles and is served at such fabled New Mexican food treasures as Mary & Tito’s.   Sandia is also the name of the mountain range backdropping the city of Albuquerque.

Pulled Pork Sandwich with Twice Baked Potatoes and Calabasitas

At the restaurant, the staff had the room to operate and customers had comfortable seating in which to enjoy New Mexican food favorites. Though much of the restaurant’s business remained carry-out, it was nice to have had an alternative when you wanted it. As at the service station, burritos dominated the menu: breakfast burritos, steak burritos, steak and chicken burritos, chicken burritos, pork burritos and even veggie burritos. Some burritos were named for professional wrestlers (Ultimate Warrior, Undertaker, Junkyard Dog, Mankind and the Macho Man). There were also burritos named for Mexican western characters: El Matidor (sic), Bandito, Caballero and El Jeffe. The menu also included stuffed sopaipillas, enchiladas, tamales, rellenos and tacos–the New Mexican food essentials which couldn’t be prepared at the gas station sites.

In 2009, the facility was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to can all its chiles and sauces for nationwide distribution. In 2012, the Cokers opened a microbrewery on the premises–and an award-winning brewery at that. Within months after launching, they entered seven items in a New Mexico State Fair competition, earning five medals including a “best of show” in the professional division. The blue and red-ribbons are on display in the restaurant. The menu also began featuring several gluten-free items (nachos, green chile chicken stew, chicken quesadillas, chicken enchiladas, steak tacos and more).

House Sauces: Hot (with Habanero), Tangy (Mustard-Based) and Sweet

The Cokers determined that an even more natural accompaniment to award-winning adult libations than New Mexican food is barbecue. Yes, barbecue! Though their New Mexican dishes were beloved by the masses who frequented the Sandia Chile Grill, the Cokers are not ones to stay still. They transitioned to a smokehouse concept in March, 2014, positioning a smoker near the Wyoming entrance to the shopping center. Aficionados of Sandia’s New Mexican food weren’t left in the cold, however. The new menu also includes several popular New Mexican food favorites (burritos, enchiladas, stuffed sopaipillas, quesadillas, huevos rancheros and a green chile chicken bowl ) prepared with smoked meats instead of the more conventional meats used on New Mexican food.

Because the concept of transitioning from a New Mexican restaurant to a smokehouse may seem radical, you’re probably wondering if this is a haphazardly undertaken venture. In truth, the Cokers have had a smoker for more than a decade. That’s plenty of time to master low-and-slow smoke manipulation on meats. Brimming with confidence from the great reception their barbecue has received, the Cokers have plans for a larger smoker with a much greater capacity. The barbecue menu is replete with the essentials: pulled pork, smoked chicken, brisket, St. Louis ribs and street tacos. You can purchase them in increments ranging from a quarter-pound through ten pounds. You can also partake of a sandwich meal with two sides for a ridiculously low price. Three sauces–a tangy sauce similar to what you’d find in the Carolinas, a spicy sauce redolent with Habanero and a sweet sauce–are available though because it’s good barbecue, they’re wholly unnecessary.

Brisket Enchiladas

29 June 2015: The pulled pork sandwich features a hoagie type bun brimming with tender tendrils of pulled pork. It’s good to go as is though you might want to experiment with the three sauces to see if one suits your taste. The spicy Habanero-based sauce provides a “slow burn,” a deceptive “sneak up on you” burn that may water your eyes if you apply too much of the sauce. If you’re from New Mexico, you can handle it. Make one of the two sides the calabasitas. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill calabasitas. They’re prepared al dente and paired with a green chile as incendiary as the Habanero sauce. Another excellent side is the twice-baked potatoes which have a smooth, creamy texture and are punctuated with sour cream.

3 July 2015: The pairing of New Mexican food and barbecue is a match made in New Mexico and that’s about as close to heaven as there is on Earth.  One of the most surprisingly natural couplings is smoked brisket with “Christmas” style enchiladas, available in quantities of one, two or three.  Atop tortillas redolent with corn are heaping helpings of smoked brisket, shredded Cheddar, lettuce and the red and green chile with which Duke City diners fell in love when the Ultimate Warrior was on the menu.  The chile has a pleasant piquancy that doesn’t obfuscate the smokiness of the brisket.  Brisket enchiladas are a surprisingly good way to enjoy the best of two flavor combinations.

St. Louis Ribs with Macaroni and Cheese and Calabasitas

16 August 2015:  In the Duke City area, barbecue restaurants tend to favor baby back ribs over St. Louis ribs even though the St. Louis ribs are more substantial and meaty. So, what’s the difference? St. Louis ribs are actually spareribs that have been trimmed down, removing what is commonly known as the rib tips.  St. Louis ribs come from the belly section of the pig, near where the sacrosanct bacon can be found.  As their name suggests baby back ribs come from the back side of the pig, near where the loin is.  The St. Louis ribs at the Sandia Chile Grill aren’t quite as thick, meaty and substantial as other ribs of the kind we’ve had, but the meat they do have includes the caramelized “bark” barbecue aficionados love.  This is meaty magnificence at its best.

Mick Coker and his son Clinton are immensely proud of their New Mexican heritage and like most proud New Mexicans, know one of the day’s most difficult decisions is whether to have red or green chile…or both.   They help make that decision easier for their guests by offering excellent New Mexican cuisine showcasing both. They also showcase some of the best adult libations and barbecue in town.

Sandia Chile Grill
7120 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.,
Albuquerque, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 16 August 2015
1st VISIT:  18 August 2007
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pulled Pork Sandwich, Calabasitas, Twice Baked Potatoes, Brisket Enchiladas, St. Louis Ribs, Macaroni and Cheese

Sandia Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pepper’s Bar-B-Q & Soul Food – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pepper’s Ole’ Fashion BBQ on San Pedro

Like many Americans, Daniel “Pepper” Morgan has two passions in life–baseball and barbecue.   While these two passions seem inextricably bound in American culture, what separates Daniel from so many of us is that we excel at watching baseball and eating barbecue.  Daniel excelled at playing baseball, having made it to the Houston Astros Triple A farm club.  His barbecue is also par excellence, big league stuff–as good as any barbecue you’ll find in the Duke City area.

Though he has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, what Daniel is most exuberant about is cooking.  It’s a passion nurtured at the feet of his mother who cooked daily for more than five hundred students at the Texas State School in Denton.  It’s a love engendered from being around his grandmother’s kitchen from which the tantalizing aromas emanated that impressed themselves indelibly in his memories.  His grandmother, by the way, grew up in Stamps, Arkansas and called poet laureate Maya Angelu her best friend.

Dining Room at Pepper’s

Settling comfortably into middle age, Daniel continues to live the baseball dream, though now it’s vicariously through his son, himself leaguer  in the Miami Marlins system.  Unlike in sports where the ravages of age diminish an athlete’s skills, Daniel continues to improve upon the recipes passed on by his grandmother and mother.  When it comes to cooking, he’s at all-star, maybe MVP level.

Daniel’s restaurant is situated at the former digs of the Almost Gourmet Soul Food Restaurant on San Pedro just north of Central and directly across the street from the Alice K. Hoppes African American Pavilion” and one of the more bustling entrances to the New Mexico State Fairgrounds.  This part of San Pedro is very heavily trafficked, but that doesn’t necessarily work to the advantage of Pepper’s Ole’ Fashion BBQ.

The smoker at Pepper's from which emanates the fragrance of apple and hickory woods

The smoker at Pepper’s from which emanates the fragrance of mesquite, hickory and oak woods

The restaurant sits back in a relatively inconspicuous storefront location and sometimes southbound traffic is so heavy that it completely blocks northbound traffic’s visibility to the restaurant.  Coupled with an austere storefront parking, it’s not an ideal situation for a restaurant with so much promise.  There are so very few parking spots in front of the restaurant that prospective diners might be turned away.

Still, promise so rich can’t help but be actualized thanks to word of mouth from daring diners undaunted by the challenges of parking or navigating through traffic–diners such as Chris Astier who first visited shortly after the restaurant’s April, 2009 launch then recommended it highly to me.  Like me, Chris found ample parking just south of the strip in which the restaurant is situated.  Frankly, for barbecue this good I would have parked a mile away and walked to Pepper’s.

Two meat combo plate: chicken and chopped brisket with dirty rice, cornbread and macaroni and cheese

Two meat combo plate: chicken and chopped brisket with dirty rice, cornbread and macaroni and cheese

Parked in front of the restaurant until rather recently was a portable smoker from which emanated hazy smoke plumes which wafted into your motorized conveyance like a sweet Texas smoke signal beckoning you to try St. Louis style ribs, Texas style brisket and so much more.  It’s a wonder there weren’t more accidents on San Pedro caused by hungry diners rubber-necking to locate the source of the smoky siren’s call.

Daniel uses a combination of locally procured hickory, mesquite and oak woods to produce that smoky invitation he hopes will lure even more diners into his restaurant.  Hickory, the most common wood used in the “low and slow” smoking process imparts a pungent, smoky, almost bacon-like flavor and is especially good for pork and ribs.  Oak is slightly sweet and has a fruity smoke bouquet.  It is best used with beef, pork and poultry.  Fortunately, Pepper’s offers all of these.

Two meat BBQ combo platter: Southern fried catfish filets and St. Louis style BBQ ribs

Two meat BBQ combo platter: Southern fried catfish filets and St. Louis style BBQ ribs

The restaurant’s entrance leads to a tiny room with little more than a couple of tables and a counter at which you place your order.  Behind the counter you’ll see Daniel hard at work preparing made-from-scratch desserts and sides made fresh daily.  Step into the main dining room and it might feel a bit like a shrine to things important to Daniel: UNM sports, the Dallas Cowboys, and more.  Soothing jazz and soul plays in the background.

The menu is relatively small, but its size certainly belies the breadth of flavors prepared in the kitchen and on the smoker.  Your best bet is a two meat combination platter: two meats, any two veggies and a soda for one price.  The meats include Southern deep-fried catfish filets, BBQ brisket, smoked sausage, St. Louis style ribs, Texas style dry-rub ribs, smothered pork chops and chicken.  Sides are classic: collard greens, fried cabbage, baked beans, corn on the cob, southern potato salad, dirty rice, sweet potato cornbread, macaroni and cheese and sweet potato fries.  These are the dishes which most spell s-o-u-t-h to anyone who’s lived there.

Two Meat Combination Platter: Rib Tips, Fried Chicken, Pineapple Coleslaw and Dirty Rice

The sauce has almost equal proportions of sweet, savory, tangy and smoky qualities.  It is a light, thin sauce that imparts different qualities on different meats (if you’ve ever been to a restaurant in which all the meats taste virtually the same courtesy of the sauce, you’ll understand) and it’s not slathered on as some inferior barbecue restaurants do to hide the poor quality of their smoking process or meat.  At Pepper’s, the meats are allowed to shine with the sauce a complementary additive.  For example, on the brisket, the sauce seems sweeter than on other meats.  The brisket is sliced thickly and is tender with an enticing aromatic hint of smoke.

When a restaurant serves barbecue chicken that retains any semblance of moistness and tenderness, you know the smoke master has grasped the nuances of preparing this most confoundingly difficult meat to smoke well.  A bird that isn’t dry and leathery is a challenge for any pit master.  It’s a challenge Daniel has surmounted.  Peel back the slightly crisp skin and imbibe the flavor sensation of tender, moist and delicious chicken with that invigorating smokiness at which he’s so adept.

Smoked sausage and brisket with dirty rice and macaroni and cheese

Smoked sausage and brisket with dirty rice and macaroni and cheese

Having lived in Mississippi for eight years has meant eight years of withdrawal from delicious, deep-fried Southern catfish.  Mississippi, which seems to vie with New Mexico for 50th place in seemingly every category of notoriety, leads the nation in the aquaculture production of catfish.  The Magnolia State’s restaurants, unlike those in the Land of Enchantment, also know how to prepare it.  Our experience with catfish in New Mexico’s restaurants is that much of it tastes as if it’s been coated in sawdust or fried to a wrinkly, desiccated mess. The cornmeal coated catfish at Pepper’s actually reminded us of the catfish in Mississippi.  It is light, delicate and flaky.

The St. Louis style ribs are meaty and smoky with the sauce caramelization which typifies St. Louis style barbecue.  The ribs not only have a more liberal application of sauce, that sauce is almost lacquered on the ribs, a result of saucing and re-saucing them on the grill repeatedly.  Daniel spends hours “mopping and basting” meats with sauce in the smoke.  While redolent with smokiness, the smoke isn’t overpowering, lending its presence without detracting from the native flavors of the meats.

Two Meat Combination Platter: Fried Chicken, Smoked Chicken and Corn-on-the-cob

The smoked sausage is light on spices, but heavy on flavor.  Bite into a diagonally sliced piece and it snaps, juicy deliciousness springing forth from the pinkish meat.  The sauce has little influence on the sausage, a good thing considering the flavor concentration in the smoky, luscious links.  If your experience with smoked sausage is that no matter how “mild,” it engenders heartburn, try the links at Pepper’s.

The sides are worth a visit to Pepper’s all by themselves.  The dirty rice is exceptional, the best we’ve had outside Louisiana.  It is moist and redolent with the flavor of garlic, green onions, cayenne, paprika and other ingredients.  The macaroni and cheese is creamy and deeply cheesy, several hundred orders of magnitude better than any you’ll find out of the box.  It’s an adult macaroni and cheese even children will love.

Sweet potato pie and banana pudding

Sweet potato pie and banana pudding

As for desserts, they’re all made from scratch daily.  The sweet potato pie is the best we’ve had outside of Mississippi with a cinnamon and nutmeg sweetness in every bite.  Only my friend George Greenway in Biloxi makes sweet potato comparable to this one.  The banana pudding is also phenomenal: ripe bananas, a homemade custard and vanilla wafers moistened by the pudding.   Blueberry cobbler is is sweet, with just enough of a crunchy biscuit topping.  The pecan pie is as good as you’ll find in the Deep South. How can you beat that.

While Daniel may be from Texas, his barbecue defies stereotypes.  Some visitors will swear it’s Memphis style, others will swear its genesis is Kansas City.  Most, however, agree on one point–this is darned good barbecue.

Pepper’s Bar-B-Q & Soul Food
303 San Pedro, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 232-SOUL (7685)
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 May 2016
1st VISIT: 23 May 2009
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Southern Fried Catfish Filets, Chopped Brisket, Smoked Sausage, St. Louis Style Ribs, Chicken, Southern Potato Salad, Dirty Rice, Macaroni and Cheese, Sweet Potato Pie, Banana Pudding, Fried Chicken, Rib Tips

Pepper's Ole Fashion BBQ and Soul Food on Urbanspoon

Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pete Powdrell, Albuquerque's barbecue legend

Pete Powdrell, Albuquerque’s legendary barbecue king

If you believe in forever
Where baby backs are never bland
If there’s a barbecue heaven
Well you know Mr. Pete is lending a hand, hand, hand.

Shortly after Arthur Bryant died in 1982, the Kansas City Star published a cartoon depicting St. Peter greeting Arthur at the gates of heaven and asking, “Did you bring sauce?” A quarter of a century later, I can imagine St. Peter asking Pete Powdrell if he brought the secrets to his extraordinarily tender brisket.  What the legendary Kansas City barbecue giant Arthur Bryant was to sauce, Pete Powdrell was to beef. Albuquerque’s indisputable king of barbecue was called home on December 2nd, 2007, but he left behind an indelible legacy that extended far beyond serving some of the best barbecue in the west.

Pete was a second-generation sharecropper who in 1958 escaped the small town racism of Crosbyton, Texas to start a new life in Albuquerque. Fifty years later, Pete’s circle of friends and mourners included most of New Mexico’s political power brokers as well as tens of thousands of customers who loved his barbecue and the gentle man perpetually attired in overalls who prepared it.

Powdrell’s restaurant on Fourth Street is on the National Historic Register

To chronicle Pete’s life (and someone should) would be to celebrate the sheer determination and drive of a man whose greatest of many gifts may have been perseverance. He literally had not much more than the clothes on his back when he arrived in Albuquerque with his wife and eleven children, but he was determined to make a good life for his family. Mission accomplished!

Since 1962, the Powdrell family has operated several barbecue houses in the Duke City. Their initial restaurant venture, a take-out diner on South Broadway, launched four years after the family relocated to Albuquerque. The inspiration for Pete’s original, authentic Southern-style barbecue was family recipes he began perfecting during backyard and church cookouts in Texas. Those recipes dates back to the 19th century near Baton Rouge, Louisiana where his grandfather Isaac Britt began the Powdrell family legacy of incomparable barbecue.

Salad with blue cheese dressing

Salad with blue cheese dressing

The word “institution” is bandied about too easily these days, but in Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House, Albuquerque has a bona fide institution that continues to stand the test of time against the formidable onslaught and riches of corporate pretenders, many of whom fall by the wayside while Powdrell’s continues to thrive.  Drive by Powdrell’s and the wafting fragrance of hickory smoke literally invites you to step inside and partake of old-fashioned barbecue.  Not coincidentally, Pete’s son Joe will tell you his father was much like the hickory wood used at the restaurant–hard, stubborn and consistent.

The reason for Powdrell’s continued success–some of the very best barbecue in the west served by a warm family in welcoming milieus.  East side residents frequent Powdrell’s on Central Avenue between Eubank and Juan Tabo while west dwelling citizens visit Powdrell’s on North Fourth where barbecue is served in a stately brick home on the National Historic Registry.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Ann Powdrell, who was eleven years old when the family traversed the winding Route 66 in their move to Albuquerque, takes care of the kitchen in the Fourth Street restaurant.  She is a sweet, gentle woman with a raconteur’s gift for enthralling guests with stories about her fabled family.  On an infrequent slow lunch hour, she might even show you the veritable museum collection of family memorabilia upstairs.  More than likely, however, she’s in  the kitchen preparing the dishes which help make Powdrell’s the legendary barbecue restaurant it is.

Powdrell’s hasn’t been a local secret in a long time, but it’s a claim to fame of which we’re all proud. Over the years Albuquerque’s finest gift to Route 66 barbecue tradition has garnered a lot of recognition from beyond the Duke City.  In 2004, Sunset magazine published an article celebrating the west’s best BBQ. Calling the west a “barbecue frontier,” the magazine trumpeted Powdrell’s baby back ribs slathered with tart, spicy sauce.  Culinary sojourner Michael Stern, co-founder of the Roadfood Web and publishing dynasty loved Powdrell’s beef, proclaiming that “it isn’t the extraordinary tenderness that will make you happy; it’s this meat’s flavor.”  In his thematic tome, Dr. BBQ’s Big-Time Barbecue Road Trip! author Ray Lampe hits the road and introduces America to the best barbecue in the fruited plains. Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House was one of only four New Mexico venues singled out by the self-professed Dr. BBQ.

The combo platter

The combo platter

My first impression of this very special barbecue was formed in the late 1970s while living on the south side of Central Avenue not more than three hundred yards from Mr. Powdrell’s. With the most faint of breezes, the aroma of succulent meats smoked low and slow wafted toward my cramped quarters like an irresistible siren’s song. It was a tantalizing temptation no one could resist. The genesis of the olfactory arousing aroma was indeed hickory smoke-saturated meats, the memory of which imprinted themselves on my taste buds with an ineffaceable permanence. In Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House, barbecue Nirvana beckoned and I answered.

Over the past few decades my travels have allowed me to experience barbecue from the four American epicenters of barbecue excellence: Texas, Memphis, Kansas City and South Carolina. Though I have found barbecue that is more lauded and more famous, only Mr. Powdrell’s has the taste of being home.  It’s that way for generations of Duke City residents.

Chicken Dinner-One half pound of barbequed chicken

Chicken Dinner-One half pound of barbequed chicken

The stately brick home on North Fourth street which houses Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House still looks very much like the family dwelling it once was. From the built-in china cabinets to the hardwood floors, it is an inviting setting for dining, an invitation infused by the provocative hickory smokers near the parking lot.

In describing the west’s barbecue as “unburdened by the orthodoxy of such hot spots as Texas and the Carolinas,” Sunset magazine may have well been describing Powdrell’s where the menu has a whole lot of Texas, a little bit of Memphis with a touch of Kansas City for good measure. In other words, the menu has a bit of everything then some.

Powdrell10

Chicken Wings Powdrell’s Style

Being “unburdened”, Powdrell’s can serve such non-traditional starters as mushrooms prepared in butter as well as all the favorite fried appetizer favorites.  It also serves some of the best blue cheese dressing in Albuquerque, a dressing ameliorated by just a bit of feta with some very high quality blue cheese.  It’s perfect–neither too thick nor too thin and runny, not too strong or sour.  It’s the blue cheese dressing Goldilocks would choose.

9 February 2008: The menu includes a veritable smorgasbord of sumptuous sandwiches generously engorged with smoke-infused meats slathered with a tangy sauce. The sandwiches are excellent, but most diners queue for barbecue dinners, all of which are served with two sides and Texas toast.  A half-rack of baby back ribs at Powdrell’s is the antithesis of “competition” baby backs which tend to be overly sweet (sometimes almost candied).  A reddish glaze covers the moist, succulent pork on Powdrell’s baby backs which are so good you’ll discharge the bones like cartridge shells.

Babyback Ribs with French Fries and Texas Toast

9 February 2008: The combination platter (pictured above) features a pound or more of some of the best Mr. Powdrell’s has to offer–chicken, ribs, sausage, links and some of the very best brisket in the world.  The brisket is the pièce de résistance, indisputably the very best in town (and nothing else is even close). It is smoked at low heat for eighteen hours and when done is refrigerated then heated again. The process somehow imbues the brisket with an uncommon tenderness that belies what can be a leather-tough cut of meat.  Michael Stern is absolutely right in declaring the flavor of this meat to be your source of happiness. This is an absolutely delicious brisket that would convert the most staunch of vegetarians.

29 January 2010: If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of truly outstanding chicken wings in Albuquerque, Powdrell’s will make a believer out of you.  These wings are imbued with a hint of smoke before being deep-fried to seal in that smokiness and flavor while melting off that layer of fat just underneath the skin.  They are then glazed with a tangy, spicy barbecue sauce so unlike the sauces wings restaurant describe as “inferno,” “nuclear” and the like, but which don’t deliver.  Powdrell’s sauce has the zesty tanginess of orange peel, the pleasant piquancy of peppers and the sweet-savory goodness of ingredients that work very well together.  The wings are moist, meaty and utterly delicious.

Special of the Day: Catfish, Brisket and two sides (Fried Okra and Corn on the Cob) with Texas Toast

The perfect accompaniment for those wings is a dish of black beans and rice quite unlike what you might see at a Cajun restaurant where such a dish isn’t prepared with smoked sausage, celery and a tomato sauce base. Ann Powdrell describes it as one of those dishes her mother created out of whatever was in the refrigerator. You’ll describe it absolutely delicious.

1 July 2011: Not even the very best restaurants do all things well though the great ones tend to come close. At Powdrell’s as at most restaurants in Albuquerque, the Achilles Heel seems to be catfish. It’s the one dish I’ve enjoyed least at Powdrell’s and that’s not solely because of my eight years in Mississippi (America’s catfish capital) helped me appreciate the qualities of catfish done well. The coating on the catfish made it very difficult to cut into, normally an indication the inside is dry (it was). Fortunately the catfish was offered as a special of the day along with another meat. The brisket was as wonderful as the catfish was disappointing.

Broiled Trout

1 July 2011: Much better is an entree of broiled trout which is as tender and moist as the catfish is tough and dry.  Two delicious filets are served with two sides and Texas Toast.  The filets are brushed lightly with butter and served with a nice char.  A squeeze of lemon or a small application of tartar sauce and you’re good to go.  The only drawback to eating broiled fish, no matter how good it may be, is being surrounded by the fragrant bouquet of bodacious barbecue.  You may want some of Powdrell’s barbecue sauce on the trout, too.

Powdrell’s meats are the antithesis of the type of meat to which I refer as Ivory Snow in that it’s NOT 99 and 44/100 percent pure. You’ll find a fatty or sinewy meat here or there and plenty of dark meat, but that’s, in part what Duke City diners have loved about Powdrell’s for generations. It’s a bit sassy and a bit imperfect, but always comforting and delicious.

The Rockin’ Po-Boy

9 December 2014:  If you have a predilection for poultry, Powdrell’s is your hook-up and if you consider barbecue chicken to be the least exciting among available meats, this one may make a convert out of you.  The chicken (breast, thigh, wing) is moist, tender and delicious with the tangy house sauce generously slathered on.  The perfect accompaniment for the chicken is (you may want to be seated for this) deep-fried macaroni and cheese.  It’s not one of the available sides, but you should spring for it anyway. 

29 September 2010: In 2010, Powdrell’s East Side location was selected by Duke City voters as the inaugural winner of the city’s “rock this restaurant” challenge, qualifying for a complete make-over.  It’s a testament to just how beloved this bastion of barbecue has become over the years.  In honor of its selection, Powdrell’s introduced an “everything but the kitchen sink” sandwich called the “Rockin’ Po-Boy,” a beefy behemoth that would test the mettle of a professional gurgitator. Available in six- or twelve-inch sizes, this sandwich is engorged to its spilling point with beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked turkey, onion rings, French fries and coleslaw slathered with barbecue sauce.  There’s obviously no need for sides because they’re inside the sandwich.  You’ll be hard-pressed to finish this hard rockin’ sandwich.

Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House
5209 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-8086
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 9 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 13
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Barbecue Brisket, Chicken Wings, Rockin’ Po-Boy, Babyback Ribs, Okra, Corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw

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