Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits

Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits

Shortly after Louisiana and Mississippi were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, one of the local television stations in South Louisiana actually aired an interview with a woman from New Orleans. The interviewer was a woman from a Boston affiliate, so she asked the interviewee how such total and complete devastation of the churches in the area had affected their lives.  The woman replied,” I don’t know about all those other people but we get our chicken from Popeye’s.” The look on the interviewer’s face was priceless.  That anecdote rings with truism

Contrary to the images the name might conjure, Popeye’s is not a nautical themed restaurant which serves spinach.  That might be why the restaurant’s full appellation is “Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits.”  In reality, Popeye’s is named for the irascible character Popeye Doyle from the movie “The French Connection.”   It is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Al Copeland who founded the New Orleans style poultry palace in 1972 after a failed venture featuring mild, Southern-fried chicken.

New Orleans style chicken is imbued with the exciting, spicy flavor about which Cajuns are passionate.  In our eight years of living in Mississippi, we rarely dined at Popeye’s, preferring local alternatives with even more incendiary cayenne pepper producing heat.  Considering no one loves the heat of piquant foods like New Mexicans, you would think Popeye’s would be embraced yet the 1990s saw Albuquerque’s Popeye’s restaurants succumb to closure.

Fried chicken, biscuit and fried catfish

Fried chicken, biscuit and fried catfish

November 12, 2005 saw the launch of the first of twelve planned Popeye’s restaurants in the Duke City.  If the opening day pageant of vehicles (including ours) snaking around the building at a crawl for up to two hour waits portends future success, Popeye’s is here to stay–for good this time.

At first glance Popeye’s fried chicken resembles the fried chicken you can find at any grocery store. Its crispy coating is akin to the Colonel’s extra crispy offering.  That crispy exterior belies the juiciness within.  Popeye’s fried chicken is moist, tender and infused with cayenne, that spicy seasoning Cajun Americans have come to love although some fire eating New Mexicans might wonder what the hullabaloo is all about because the chicken is fairly tame compared to the incendiary foods on which they were weaned.

Biscuits, which share prominence on the restaurant’s marquee, are buttery with a light golden hue.  Unlike the biscuits proffered by Popeye’s competitors, they don’t crumble on your hands.  Sides include “Cajun” battered fries, “Cajun” rice, mashed potatoes and “Cajun” gravy as well as red beans and rice, another Louisiana favorite.

Fried chicken, dirty rice and coleslaw

Fried chicken, dirty rice and coleslaw

The “Cajun” rice, known as “dirty rice” in the deep South is a blend of meats, shallots and seasonings.  Popeye’s version is among the worse we’ve had, a pitiful pretender that any self-respecting Cajun would toss out.

Popeye’s coleslaw tastes surprisingly like the Colonel’s with a similar surfeit of cloying salad cream.

Our former home state of Mississippi seemingly competed with New Mexico for last place in every ignominious list compiled, but one category in which it leads the nation is in production of pond-raised catfish.  We learned during our eight years in the Deep South what great catfish tastes like and it certainly isn’t what Popeye’s puts on the plate.  The Popeye’s version is desiccated and somewhat flavorless in comparison to what we became accustomed to.

A dessert offering called “Mississippi Mud” might be appropriately named because that’s where it belongs–on the bottom of the murky river for which it is named.  We enjoyed Mississippi Mud throughout the South and will argue that Popeye’s version is a misnomer.

The chicken is the reason most poultry patrons visit Popeye’s and why they return in droves.

Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits
10074 Coors, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 30 April 2007
BEST BET: Spicy Fried Chicken

Señor Murphy Candymaker – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Senor Murphy

Senor Murphy Candymaker just south of the Santa Fe Plaza

In the Land of Enchantment, piñon is as valuable as gold if not more, particularly in recent years when drought conditions have ravaged acres of piñon forests.  Piñon trees produce good harvests every seven years or so with the best bounties being found at elevations between six and eight thousand feet.  The roasted flavor of good piñon is intense–sweet with a subtle hint of pine that will transport your mind and taste buds to New Mexico’s pine forests.

While nature has increased the scarcity of these nuggets, fortunately they are still plentiful at Señor Murphy’s.  For more than 30 years Señor Murphy has been hand-making some of the most seductively sweet confections in the country and shipping them all over the world from its Santa Fe base of operations.

The sweet smell of success begins with quality New Mexico ingredients such as red and green chiles as well as piñon nuts and is punctuated by the creativity and devotion of true master candy makers.  One of the largest candy manufacturers in New Mexico, Señor Murphy produces more than 70 tons of unique gourmet candies in over 100 varieties each year.

Señor Murphy’s piñon rolls and piñon toffee are absolutely divine with taste contrasts that complement one another perfectly.  Caramales, one of the store’s most popular selling items feature vanilla fudge dipped in caramel and rolled in piñon nuts then wrapped in corn husks to resemble New Mexico tamales, are a Christmas gift favorite.

Pinon Rolls

Pinon Rolls, New Mexico gold

In 2004, Señor Murphy launched a store in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district but moved to the Uptown area within a year.  Several of our visits have been to that destination although I will continue to update visits on this page rather than re-create an Albuquerque listing.

Señor Murphy Candymaker
1904 Chamisa Street
Santa Fe, NM

LATEST VISIT: 29 April 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Piñon Rolls, Piñon Toffee, Pecan Turtles

Consetta’s Green Restaurant – Jemez Springs, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Consetta's, the Green Restaurant

Consetta's, the Green Restaurant

In 1995 Jemez Springs was selected by the National Civic League as the “All America City” in recognition of its citizens’ collective grass-roots efforts to improve their quality of life. Nowhere is that more evident than at the aptly named Consetta’s Green Restaurant on scenic Route 4 which is traversed annually by more than two million visitors.

Consetta’s desire is to provide fine dining at reasonable prices. It is committed to decreasing man’s footprint on the Earth by serving as an avenue for ideas which exemplify how to be better stewards of the Earth’s resources. To that end, the sprawling compound on which Consetta’s sits hosts organic gardens in which are grown to the extent possible, the restaurant’s vegetables, herbs and salad ingredients.

Solar ovens, a solar hot water heater and other sustainable projects allow the compound to utilize as much renewable energy as possible. Only all natural, range-free chicken and sustainable seafood (seafood products that are prudently managed to provide greater supply and price stability while staving off depletion) are served.

The sign says it all...

The sign says it all...

At 6300 feet above sea level, Consetta’s is located in the picturesque Jemez River Canyon and is backdropped by majestic red mesas resultant from ancient lava flows more than a million years ago. From the restaurant’s outdoor deck, your immediate view is of green gardens nurtured by rainwater captured in a large cistern.

Beyond the gardens is a thirty-foot diameter Yurt (a circular tent of felt or skins on a collapsible framework). In the distance, the view is of stratified cliffs which display many layers of weathered sediment, alluvial and rock formations in craggy, multi-hued splendor.

Just as Jemez Springs is a geological wonder, Consetta’s is a culinary wonder, serving traditional Italian fare, pizza, sustainable seafood, organic vegetables, vegan, fresh baked bread, cold beer and local wines. The menu (which is printed on 100% tree-free paper) offers many sumptuous options while a slate board tempts you with daily specials.

For those who wish to enjoy their repast under the cottonwoods by the sometimes rushing, sometimes meandering Jemez River, specially prepared picnic baskets are available. Consetta’s is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Shortly after you place your order, a small loaf of homemade bread is brought to your table along with virgin olive oil and cracked pepper. The bread is unsalted but has a nice texture and is served warm. It’s a good precursor to a memorable meal.

Spinach with warm bacon drssing and much more...

Spinach with warm bacon drssing and much more...

A popular appetizer consists of tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil served with olive oil and Balsamic reduction. Similar to the bread, this appetizer is unsalted, not that salt is necessary because each ingredient is fresh and delicious.

Eschewing the Italian offerings, an excellent entree when on the seasonal menu is the blackened tilapia with fried polenta and a spring salad drizzled with a garlic citrus aioli. Tilapia, a sweet-tasting lean fish with a white flesh, is believed to be the fish Jesus fed to the multitudes at the Sermon on the Mount.

Consetta’s preparation appears to be divinely inspired with contrasting tastes competing for the rapt attention of my taste buds. The blackening isn’t quite as incendiary as you might find on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, allowing for the tilapia’s subtle brininess to shine. It is one of the best fish dishes we’ve had in New Mexico.

Pizza with artichoke hearts, green chile, sausage, onions.

Pizza with artichoke hearts, green chile, sausage, onions.

Another excellent option is pizza which is prepared to your exacting specifications. Although the sausage and mozzarella are purchased from the vendor, Consetta’s chefs prepare the pizza sauce and dough from scratch. The dough is antithetical to what you’ll find in New England in that there’s nary a speck of black.

It’s not underdone, however. A bit thicker than thin crust, the dough is a wonderful canvas for unfailingly fresh ingredients. The green chile has a “just off the comal” freshness and aroma. The artichoke hearts are tender and fleshy. The sausage is flecked with delicious red pepper and fennel. The tomato sauce is rich and spicy. We have been thoroughly pleased with our pie.

The lunch menu is relatively sparse in comparison to the dinner menu, but while the number of selections may be few, they are delicious. Always available is the pizza which after two visits we consider to be among the very best in northern New Mexico.

Chicken Florentine Panini

Chicken Florentine Panini

The lunch menu includes a scintillating spinach salad constructed with baby spinach grown on the premises, sweet pears, walnuts, tomatoes and blue cheese crumbles tossed in a warm bacon dressing. It is a fabulous salad!

The lunch menu also includes to focaccia sandwiches including a chicken Florentine panini, a four-ounce free-range chicken breast with spinach and provolone served with black rum baked beans (as good as any baked beans), a pickle and a mixed green salad. The salad comes with your choice of house made salad dressings: blue cheese, Balsamic vinaigrette (vegan) and Caesar. Blue cheese is my choice though the other options are nearly as good.

The restaurant’s must-have dessert has a Mafioso ring to it, but the “Fixer” is incorruptible. It’s a decadent caramel chocolate brownie a la mode and it derives even more richness from whipped cream and chocolate ganache.

Two other wonderful dessert options are the restaurant’s signature apple raisin cobbler a la mode. Tangy apples, sweet raisins and cold ice cream are sure to please the most discerning of sweet teeth. The hot fudge sundae is made with dripping dark chocolate for a wonderful contrast to the sweet vanilla ice cream.

You’ll be thoroughly pleased with a meal at Consetta’s Green Restaurant, a true corporate citizen for a better world.

Consetta’s Green Restaurant
1351 Highway 4
Jemez Springs, NM

LATEST VISIT: 22 April 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Blackened Tilapia, Pizza, The Fixer, Spinach With Warm Bacon Dressing, Chicken Florentine Sandwich

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