Deli Mart West – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Deli Mart, a feast for the senses!

The Deli Mart, a feast for the senses is much missed!

The human capacity for developing attachments can be a bit of a conundrum. Although my very being is eternally rooted in New Mexico, returning to America in 1987 after three years in England made me feel as if I had left my home behind.

Similarly after two years in Massachusetts, I returned in 1979 to my beloved New Mexico with a huge hole in my heart, pining for so many things about my first home as an adult.

Shelves stocked with wonderful products at Deli Mart

Shelves stocked with delightful treasures at Deli Mart

One of the things I missed most about the Bay State was the tremendously creative things that could be generously crammed inside a sub (make that “grinder”) roll. The polished art of crafting a sensational stuffed sandwich had not made its way to the Land of Enchantment.

I commiserated frequently with my great friend, New York native Adelchi Parisella who also longed for the incomparable sandwiches uniquely fashioned in the East Coast. Fortunately in 1980, we discovered Deli Mart, a New York style deli and market on Juan Tabo just north of Menaul.

The lingering aroma of fine deli meats and cheeses was so familiar, our olfactory senses went into overdrive trying to ingest them all. The well-stocked shelves offered culinary treasures to please chefs of all skill levels and the menu was replete with sandwiches with which we had both been intimate.

Muffalatta sans bread

A classic Italian sandwich with housemade mozzarella

Best of all, Deli Mart served a more than passable pastrami sandwich, albeit not as generously endowed as those I came to love on the East Coast and (gasp) served with lettuce and mayo.

The Juan Tabo store closed in the early 1990s, but Kim and I were fortunate enough to build a home in Albuquerque’s West side, a scant mile or so from the Alameda West Shopping Center home of the city’s second Deli Mart.

Italian wedding soup

Italian wedding soup

The menu features than 20 appetite sating sandwiches as well as several hot entrees such as lasagna, pasta fazool, baked ziti and manicotti. Fromage fanatics can feast on more than 60 cheeses from all over the world as well as on a fine selection of imported meats, olives, pastas, olive oils and such domestic favorites as potato salad and macaroni salad. If you’re craving cannolis or Italian pastries, Deli Mart has those, too.

I have both words of praise and condemnation for the lasagna–praise because it has all the elements shared by the best lasagna: wide strips of Barilla pasta layered with rich, creamy ricotta; savory homemade marinara and, since you can’t have enough cheese, a velvety mozzarella and Romano cheese.

Baked ziti

Baked ziti

My complaint is that the first time we had it, we were told to heat a take-out order of lasagna for six minutes when four minutes would have been enough. Remarkably even though the pasta and sauce desiccated on the edges, it was still some of the best lasagna we’ve had in the Land of Enchantment (as much a compliment to Deli Mart as an indictment of Italian food in New Mexico).

Deli Mart also serves hearty, wholesome soup, the type you might see a picture of if you look up the term “comfort food.” One of the most popular is wedding soup replete with hand-rolled meatballs, orzo and spinach in a chicken broth. Maybe even better is the cream of broccoli soup which will warm the cockles of your heart and goes down oh so smoothly.

Eight- and twelve-inch sandwiches are probably the most popular take-out or dine-in items. New Orleans transplants might consider it sacrilege to see a muffaletta prepared on a sub roll instead of the traditional round muffaletta bread and would probably have a coronary to see Deli Mart substitute the olive spread with relish and Italian dressing, but I’ve had a couple of them and certify them as more than passable. Adkins Diet proponents can even have their muffaletta sans bread (pictured above).

More than 25 years have now elapsed since I lived in Massachusetts, but frequent visits to Deli Mart trigger memory inducing experiences that take me back to my youth and my introduction to sandwich nirvana.

Deli Mart West
10131 Coors, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM
LATEST VISIT: 13 August 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pasta Fazool, Muffaletta, Pastrami Sub, Cannoli

Lamy Station Cafe – Lamy, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Lamy Station

The Lamy Station

History might best be defined as the interaction of people with one another and with their environments. Often those environments and the people indigenous to them are hardened by conditions and circumstances.

Fewer than 200 years ago, French and American traders endured tremendous hardship and peril on the route that came to be known as the Santa Fe Trail which connected New Mexico’s capital with the United States.

Large wagon trains ferried much coveted United States merchandise from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe, earning enormous profits in the process. Trade was made easier in the 1880s with the introduction of the famous Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) railroad.

Interestingly (and despite its name), the ATSF never quite reached Santa Fe. Its tracks followed the Santa Fe Trail but because of the steep grades of the hills surrounding Santa Fe, it was left off the main line and the railroad was built instead through Lamy. Santa Fe was connected later by an eighteen-mile spur line from Lamy.

The dining car

The dining car

Lamy, named for Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, educator, missionary and the first archbishop of the American territorial period, is still very much a train town. The Amtrak system still runs trails daily in each direction (west to Los Angeles and east to Chicago) and both trains stop at Lamy.

The train station at Lamy remains much the same as it was when a dozen passenger trains a day ran along the ATSF’s main line. Parked to the immediate west of Lamy’s long-brick waiting platform and train station is a permanently stationed museum and functioning cafe appropriately named the Lamy Station Cafe.

The Cafe is situated in a restored Atlantic Coastline dining car built in 1949 and named the Talladaga.

The Talladaga was lovingly restored by Michael Gintert, a lifelong lover of all things train. Gintert spent more than a year and a half painstakingly restoring the railroad car. He launched his restaurant in November, 2006. It offers a stationary trip to yesterday with a decor that is true to its lineage.

A steaming hot bowl of Texas chili

A steaming hot bowl of Texas chili

Trace that lineage and you’ll find that the original American diner–streamlined, elongated and narrow in appearance with chrome and stainless steel appointments throughout–was never intended to remain stationary.

As opposed to horse-drawn wagons equipped to serve hot food, the original diners were actual dining cars on railways. When dining cars were no longer fit for service, they were often used as inexpensive diners at a (stationary) location near a train station or alongside a railroad at another location.

From a historical perspective, the Lamy Station Cafe holds true with to the diner tradition of serving pretty generic American food such as hamburgers, sandwiches and popular breakfast favorites such as French toast and several egg dishes. Traditional New Mexican entrees such as breakfast burritos and reputedly one of the best green chile stews anywhere are also available.

For the best of both lunch and breakfast, visit the Cafe on Sunday for brunch when an abbreviated eye-opening menu makes it worth getting up. The Cafe is open only for breakfast and lunch. Brunch hours are 10AM to 3PM.

Breakfast burrito served Christmas style

Breakfast burrito served Christmas style

If the aforementioned green chile stew isn’t available, maybe some good old-fashioned Texas chili will just have to do. While insulting all things Texan is one of the favorite pastimes of any native New Mexican, even us born-in-the-wool natives will appreciate the Cafe’s chili (despite the atrocious spelling of the word).

Unlike traditional Texas chili con carne, the Cafe’s version includes kidney beans. It also features hamburger meat, oregano, cumin, garlic and chili in a tomato soup thin chili with a dollop of sour cream. No self-respecting New Mexican would prefer Texas chili when the “real stuff”, our native chile, is available, but this will more than do in a pinch.

For real New Mexico chile, the Cafe’s breakfast burrito smothered in red and (or) green chile is a must have. The wafting aroma of the green chile as the waitress passes by your table with a breakfast burrito bound for another diner will make you appreciate the relatively cramped quarters in which you’re seated.

There is no aroma in the world quite as intoxicating as that of blistering, spitting green chile when it’s roasting on a hot comal. A friend of mine who’s a rather famous and prolific author tells me she’d like to wash her hair in that aroma. One whiff of the Lamy Station Cafe’s green chile and you’ll wish for the same thing. The Cafe’s green chile is procured from a local distributor committed to using the freshest and finest local ingredients.

The Conductor breakfast

The Conductor breakfast

The red chile comes from Socorro and it’s an excellent dark red chile, rich in flavor and redolent with a sweet, earthy fragrance that characterizes the best red chile in New Mexico. As captivating as is the aroma of the green chile, the red chile may be even better. For the best of both worlds, you’ve got to order your breakfast burrito “Christmas” style.

A large tortilla completely enfolds perfectly scrambled eggs, tender potatoes and your choice of turkey sausage or bacon. It is topped with melted Cheddar cheese and served with your choice of pinto beans or potatoes. Although Yukon Gold potatoes is an option, the pinto beans are not to be missed.

If I’m rhapsodizing too much about the Lamy Station Cafe’s breakfast burrito, it’s because it is one of the ten best of its genre I’ve had in New Mexico and I’ve had hundreds.

Traditional American breakfasts include the Conductor, two eggs any style, bacon or turkey sausage, Yukon Gold potatoes and toast and jam or a tortilla.

Hot apple crisp with cold vanilla ice cream

Hot apple crisp with cold vanilla ice cream

The Conductor is beautifully plated. The bacon is crisp and stiff not floppy and limp. The eggs are perfectly seasoned and prepared to your exacting specifications. The Yukon Gold potatoes are of a beautiful golden hue and are perfectly tender without being mushy.

There are but a few dessert selections, but those few are magnificent.

The apple crisp is served warm and topped with a scoop of cold, rich ice cream. Using apples that retain some tartness among the prominent sweetness is the secret to great apple crisp which really should derive most of its sweetness from the crumbly, crunchy and crispy crust. This is a great apple crisp!

Even better might be the Cafe’s bread pudding which tastes like really great French toast topped with a rich, sweet caramel sauce. It’s in a stellar class among bread pudding in New Mexico, a dessert Santa Fean magazine once described as “sweet heaven on a plate.”

Lamy is an idyllic and charming milieu in which to dine in one of New Mexico’s least known historical settings. The Lamy Station Cafe is a real treasure!

Lamy Station Cafe
150 Old Lamy Trail
Lamy, NM
LATEST VISIT: 12 August 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Breakfast Burrito, Hot Apple Crisp, Bread Pudding, The Conductor

Cafe Trang – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe Trang Vietnamese Cuisine

Cafe Trang Vietnamese Cuisine

In years of dining in Vietnamese restaurants, we’ve always marveled at the close-knit extended family structure evident in the daily operation of Vietnamese restaurants. Getting to know the wonderful families that run those restaurants, we learned how the lives of individual family members are almost always intertwined with an extended family structure that might include grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and second and third cousins.

In most of Albuquerque’s Vietnamese restaurants, you’ll find family members working side-by-side to serve their customers. The welfare of the entire extended family unit is always more important than the interests of individual members (Mr. Spock would be proud).

Trang Nguyen, the beautiful restaurant owner (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Trang Nguyen, the beautiful restaurant owner (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

It was no surprise to discover that Trang and Phong Nguyen, proprietors of Cafe Trang, are related to the Nguyen families that own and operate May Cafe, May Hong and Cafe Dalat–not that we wouldn’t have been able to tell from the great cuisine. Launched in the summer of 2005, Cafe Trang is a beautiful restaurant in the esthetic sense, at least equal to the classy Cafe Dalat in terms of upscale trappings. It is spacious with modern appointments throughout, a veritable feast for the eyes.

Similarly, the alluring aromas emanating from the kitchen are a tantalizing tease for your nostrils; there may be nothing as intoxicating to your olfactory senses as the mingling of herbs, spices, meats, vegetables and other sundry ingredients as masterfully done at a great Vietnamese restaurant.

Bahn Mi at Cafe Trang (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Bahn Mi at Cafe Trang (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Sixteen different appetizers (including eight different spring rolls) make it difficult to narrow down to one or two, the precursory experience to your entrees. A safe, albeit non-adventurous bet is the spring roll combo which includes two shrimp sausage rolls and two pork sausage rolls.

Unlike other spring rolls we’ve had in Albuquerque, the shrimp isn’t boiled; it’s shrimp paste and it melds in beautifully with what appears to be fried egg roll wrap stuffed among the other spring roll ingredients.

Spring Rolls with fish and peanut sauces (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Spring Rolls with fish and peanut sauces (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Aficionados of Vietnamese barbecue might opt instead for the BBQ pork spring rolls in which the uniquely wonderful grilled pork taste stands out. The spring rolls are accompanied by a bowl of sweet, tangy and slightly piquant fish sauce and a bowl of peanut sauce. Both sauces are terrific.

Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) present another appetizer (or small entree) option. Served on a toasted 12″ French baguette (flown in twice a week from California), these sandwiches are a thing of beauty, packed with your choice of cold-cut meats, pate, Vietnamese butter, pickled carrots, daikon radish, cilantro, cucumber, sliced jalapeno peppers all drizzled lightly with soy sauce. The meat ball banh mi is a sensational sandwich, but a more interesting offering is the #1 which consists of Vietnamese ham, pate, BBQ pork and head ham. Cafe Trang’s banh mi is second perhaps only to the banh mi at May Hong.

A gigantic platter of noodles, grilled beef and onion

A gigantic platter of noodles, grilled beef and onion

The indescribable freshness of the spicy beef lemongrass soup might remind you of taking a steamy shower with a herbal infused soap, a sensation that envelops you body and soul.

Spicy beef lemongrass broth is ladled over rice vermicelli noodles then topped with thinly sliced beef, sliced pork and ham hock and sprinkled with chopped scallions, cilantro, herbs and sliced onions. This concordant concoction comes with a plate of thinly sliced purple cabbage, basil, cilantro, bean sprouts and lime which you can add to the steaming broth. A dozen basil leaves or more and you’ve got one of the tastiest, freshest soups this side of Saigon.

Deliciousness abounds at Cafe Trang

Several rice vermicelli bowls are not only fresh and healthy, but absolutely delicious. Each prodigious platter comes with tender rice vermicelli noodles topped with your choice of grilled items (order the #41, a house specialty which includes BBQ pork, two jumbo shrimp, two egg rolls and two grilled pork sausages), bean sprouts, lettuce, mint, cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon radish, scallion oil and chopped peanuts. The grilled jumbo shrimp were exceptional, as good as any “ala plancha” shrimp I’ve had anywhere, including Mexico.

If you prefer your vermicelli steamed, the #49 is the way to go. A prodigious platter of tiny steamed noodles formed together like a thin mesh is topped with barbecue pork, two jumbo grilled shrimp, one grilled shrimp sausage on sugar cane and two grilled pork sausages and accompanied with lettuce, herbs, cucumber, bean sprouts, pickled carrots and daikon radish. The trick is forming the noodles into “sandwiches” into which you pile on the sundry ingredients. It’s an absolutely uniquely Vietnamese specialty we’ve grown to love.

Atful plating at Cafe Trang (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Atful plating at Cafe Trang (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Another wonderful entree are the pan-fried noodle dishes with your choice of meat mixed together and stir-fried with a variety of fresh garden vegetables, including zucchini. Served in a family-sized platter, the crunchy noodles bond in delicious harmony with the other ingredients.

For dessert, Cafe Trang features several ice creams you won’t find at Baskin Robbins and they’re all marvelously invigorating: red bean, coconut, green tea and ginger ice creams are a perfect capper for a wonderful meal.

Albuquerque is blessed with a phalanx of wonderful Vietnamese restaurants tended to, for the most part, by close knit families that bring tremendous credit to their culture, not to mention bringing outstanding cuisine to a city which has welcomed them warmly. Cafe Trang is certainly a welcome addition.

Note:  Several photos on this review are courtesy of Sergio Salvador.  Please visit his Web site for more amazing photography.

Cafe Trang
230 Louisiana, Suite A
Albuquerque, NM
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 11 August 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Banh Mi, Spicy Beef Lemongrass Soup, Rice Vermicelli Bowl

Cafe Trang on Urbanspoon

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