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Fuddruckers – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fuddrucker's on Yale

Fuddruckers on Yale, one of three Fuddruckers in Albuquerque

The audacious proclamation on Fuddruckers door, logo and Web site, “The world’s greatest hamburgers available” may not be quite complete. Add the words “somewhere else” and most will agree, you probably have a more accurate description of this tremendously popular restaurant chain which actually trademarked the “world’s greatest hamburgers” logo.

Founded in 1980 by Phil Romano (of Romano’s Macaroni Grill fame), Fuddruckers has expanded to more than 250 locations across the world including such purveyors of American culture as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait.  The theme at most of the fast casual franchises is 1950s and 1960s rock and roll.  The ambience is Disneyesque, both from the sense that it’s family-friendly and that it’s loud (as in blaring, ear-splitting music loud) and fun (at least for some people).  Others might describe it as tacky, gaudy and over-the-top.  Ostensibly, Fuddruckers also serves good burgers.

Duke City diners have been heavily patronizing Fuddruckers since day one, so much so that there are now three Fuddruckers restaurants in the city (as well as one in Farmington).  Not long after its millennium year launch in Albuquerque, Fuddruckers supplanted all the indigenous burger joints to win the Alibi’s best burger award.  It also won the award in 2001 and has been a win, place or show vote-in just about every year since.

A circus-like atmosphere adds to the Fuddrucker's experience

A circus-like atmosphere adds to the Fuddruckers experience

Fuddruckers purports to be the original “build your own” burger establishment.  Its 100 percent USDA fresh ground beef patties are available in one-third, one-half, two-thirds and one pound sizes.  A self-service toppings bar lets you load up your burger with your favorite condiments.  For a pittance you can also add grilled onions, American bleu cheese, Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, Pepper Jack, Swiss Cheese, Smokehouse Bacon, Guacamole and Grilled Mushrooms.  Fuddruckers will prepare your burger to your exacting specifications.  Medium rare is medium rare and well done is well done.  If you don’t agree, take it back and they’ll re-do it for you.

The menu also features eight different specialty burgers such as the Fudd 66, Fuddruckers version of New Mexico’s revered green chile cheeseburger.  Fuddruckers obviously recognizes the importance of the green chile cheeseburger to the Land of Enchantment, because this burger isn’t available across the fruited plain.  Heat-seeking diners elsewhere have to settle for other specialty burgers such as the Inferno (sauteed jalapenos, onions and pepper jack cheese) and the Southwest burger (guacamole, pepper jack cheese and smokehouse bacon).

The hamburger buns are made from scratch every day and throughout the day.  It’s a treat watching the baker hand-form and roll the buns similar to how abuelitas have been preparing tortillas for their families every day for centuries.  The produce and “fixins” are unfailingly fresh and let you be burger artiste, crafting your burger your way.

Chocolate shakes at Fuddruckers

Chocolate shakes at Fuddruckers

It stands to reason that a chain claiming to serve the world’s greatest burgers would also think very highly of its shakes, not surprisingly christened the “world’s greatest shakes” on the menu and Web site.  Fuddruckers doesn’t just serve a chocolate shake, it serves a “Crazy for Chocolate” shake.  It’s not just a strawberry shake, it’s a “very berry shake” at Fuddruckers.  There’s no plain vanilla here; it’s a “dreamy vanilla” shake.  The “crunchy cookies and cream” shake is the only one not bearing a superlative adjective.

The shakes are thick and rich, but not necessarily as flavorful as their sobriquets might imply.  The chocolate shake is a bit on the cloying side and not very chocolaty (at least in comparison to the frappes served in New England).  Perhaps its best attribute is that it’s served cold enough to give you a case of brain freeze.  The shakes are also made with real ice cream and are served in a glass goblet with a cold tin on the side.  It’s much like getting a shake and a half.

The Fudd 66 Burger (Green Chile) with blue cheese and grilled onions

The Fudd 66 Burger (Green Chile) with blue cheese and grilled onions

Remember the Fudd 66 burger (the one with the green chile).  It has the potential to be a big burger if you’re careful as to what else you add.  The Fudd 66 burger pictured above  is adorned with grilled onions and blue cheese on a half-pound beef patty.  The combination sounds like something your gastronome about town would really enjoy.

Alas, what the burger elicited was recollections of the Wendy’s commercials of the late 70s in which old women wiped their mouths daintily after every bite.  The motto of these commercials was “juicy with lots of napkins.”  The Fudd 66 burger as I adorned it was juicy to the point of being run-down-your-arms juicy.  The beef (prepared at medium) was juicy, the grilled onions were juicy and the green chile (which was plentiful) was also juicy.  Unfortunately the buns are sieve-like; they don’t prevent any of the copious run-off.

A better option would have been the Fudd 66 sans American bleu cheese and grilled onion–just as it’s offered on the menu.  Alternatively, the Black & Blue burger (smokehouse bacon, bleu cheese, Balsamic green onions) would have been a good choice.  In fact, it’s my favorite of the specialty burgers offered at Fuddruckers.

One half-pound All American burger

One half-pound All American burger

If you’re not in the mood for burgers, Fuddruckers does serve a passable quarter pound hot dog although it can be overly salted and may call to mind the naval term “salty dog.”

The fries are Texas-sized and generously salted.  If you’d rather not be so singularly focused, you can also order “frings”, a basket including both fries and onion rings.  The onion rings are thick and crunchy, but nothing special.

The great etymologist Barry Popik explains in his fabulous blog that Fuddruckers is a made-up name and that in its early days the restaurant sometimes called itself “Freddie Fuddruckers.”  He believes the name was possibly influenced by the 1970s Texas cocktail called the “Freddie Fudpucker.”  Fuddruckers is one of those tongue-twisting names for which invectives are often substituted, but this is strictly a family-friendly, G-rated restaurant most people will like.

Fuddruckers
4855 Pan American Freeway
Albuquerque, NM
344-7449

LATEST VISIT: 26 September 2009
# OF VISITS: 11
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Blue Onion Burger

Fuddruckers on Urbanspoon

Steve’s House of Pizza – Bedford, Massachusetts

Steve's House of Pizza, home of the very best tuna sub in the universe

Steve's House of Pizza, home of the very best tuna sub in the universe

Memories
Pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories
Sweetened through the ages just like wine
Quiet thoughts come floating down and settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touch them and they burst apart with sweet memories
- The Lettermen, 1969

Memory–our ability to recall information, personal experiences and processes–isn’t always reliable or necessarily as sweet as The Lettermen might have you believe.  Memory has, in fact, been shown to be very fallible.  Studies have concluded that memories are often constructed after the fact and that they’re often based as much, if not more, on our emotional state at the time as they are the actual experience being committed to memory.

While stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base, I had so many tuna grinders (what New Englanders call subs) from Steve’s House of Pizza in nearby Bedford, Massachusetts, that my great friend Paul Venne told me I’d soon grow gills.  While my friends and colleagues were bingeing on Big Macs and wolfing down Whoppers, weekly (at least) visits to Steve’s sustained me.

Leaving Massachusetts I pined for those grinders for more than twenty-years.  Could a simple grinder really have been as good as my taste buds remembered it to be?  In 1999, I had the great fortune to re-visit Steve’s and confirmed the tuna grinders were as good as my memories told me they were.  Best of all, I shared Steve’s wonderful tuna grinders with my Kim who was nearly equally captivated by the amazing things the Greek proprietors could do in transforming simple tuna to the realm of sublime.

The ovens which have been preparing perfect sandwiches for generations

The ovens which have been preparing perfect sandwiches for generations

Upon returning to Albuquerque, we called Steve’s crew and asked for the recipe for those superb subs.  My tale of woe and of love unrequited by any tuna sub other than Steve’s must have impressed them because I didn’t have to beg, plead, cajole or even bribe them for the recipe.

Alas, there is a triumvirate of things Steve’s couldn’t give us–the heavy duty, high volume, fast recovery Blodgett pizza oven in which the grinder rolls are heated; the cloud-like grinder rolls unique to the East Coast and most importantly, the tuna which tantalized my taste buds for two years.  As such, we were unable to duplicate the magic though we have made better tuna grinders than we used to.

Even though Steve’s House of Pizza has had three different owners since the restaurant opened just a few years before I landed in Massachusetts in 1977, it has also had amazing continuity.  The recipes were handed down with every change of ownership and are still in use today.  The current owner (pictured above), like the original owner, is Greek and has the same gregarious nature.  He was thrilled when I recounted my experiences at Steve’s some thirty years previous and even happier when the tuna grinder he personally prepared for me met my expectations and then some.

The best tuna sub in the universe and beyond

The best tuna sub in the universe and beyond

So what makes this the best tuna grinder in the world, at least in my estimation?  It’s not only the aforementioned Blodgett oven or the fact that it toasts each grinder roll to absolute perfection so that the outside crust is just discernibly hard and the inside is delicate and light.  It’s not only the oil packed tuna adorned only with salt and pepper and with just enough mayo to bind it all.  It’s not only the shredded lettuce and white onion embellishment that dressed every grinder I ever had.  It’s a combination of the above and more.

Tuna is a rich and meaty fish with a nice amount of fat for flavor.  It is very high in protein as well as in Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids.  It’s no wonder flocks of seagulls follow the tuna boats as they came near shore in Gloucester, one of my favorite haunts for fresh seafood.

Though the name on the marquee is Steve’s House of Pizza, a high volume of the walk-in or call-in traffic is for excellent grinders.  Steve’s introduced me to pastrami, another of my life’s passions.  It introduced me to scrambled egg grinders (available with pepper, ham, and pepperoni) which are available for lunch and dinner, too.  More than any other restaurant in Massachusetts, Steve’s allayed my longing for green chile…though I often fantasize about having one of those tuna grinders with New Mexico’s favorite fruit.

A cheese pizza from Steve's House of Pizza

A cheese pizza from Steve's House of Pizza

Having grown up in the remote mountains of Northern New Mexico,  I was essentially a culinary virgin.  Until my years in Massachusetts, the only only pizza I had ever eaten outside of Pizza Hut was out of the box, a wafer thin Chef Boyardee product with a cardboard-like crust. Is it any wonder Pizza Hut was my baseline for good pizza?

Steve’s House of Pizza also introduced me to very good pizza Greek style.  Greek style means a drizzle of olive oil across the top.  Add pepperoni and its grease might make the pizza a bit, shall we say…moist.  Steve’s serves a thin crust pizza with a generous portion of cheese and a sweet-savory tomato sauce with a nice application of garlic.  The crust is crunchy around the edges and doesn’t fold over in the style of New York pizza.  Alas, I didn’t sample it during either of our two September, 2009 visits, but Kim did and she liked it, though she kept reaching over for bites of my tuna sub.

Those visits in 2009 validated that memories can indeed be sweet, accurate and absolutely delicious.

Steve’s House of Pizza
30 Shawsheen Avenue, Suite 11
Bedford, Massachusetts
(781) 275-2419
1st VISIT: 22 September 2009
LATEST VISIT: 25 September 2009
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Tuna Sub, Pastrami Sub, Italian Sub, Pizza

Mario’s Italian Restaurant – Lexington, Massachusetts

Mario's Italian Restaurant in Lexington, Massachusetts

Mario's Italian Restaurant in Lexington, Massachusetts

“People think Chef Boyardee is a great man. I think he’s nothing but a pasta hater.
What true lover of pasta could turn it into mush and shove it in a can? That’s not pasta. That’s just plain wrong.”
~ Author Unknown

Chef Boyardee and I go way back.  As mentioned (hopefully not ad-nauseam) on this blog, my arcadian upbringing in Northern New Mexico did not include a lot of Italian food–or at least the real stuff.  The first pizza my brothers and sisters ever had was way back in the dinosaur days before there was a Pizza Hut around every corner and a Tombstone pizza in every freezer.  It was courtesy of Chef Boyardee and it came in a box with pizza flour mix in a hermetically sealed bag, a can of grated cheese and a can of “true Italian sauce from chef’s own recipe.”

Chef Boyardee pizza didn’t “make our faces light up” when we saw “America’s favorite pizza–Chef Boyardee pizza“–slide out of the oven as it did the family depicted on the commercials.  It looked like a strange, oversized tortilla slathered with tomato sauce.  If possible, it actually tasted worse than it looked.  Perhaps because of the altitude (8,000 feet), the pizza didn’t exactly have the “crunchy crust outside” and wasn’t “so tender inside” as commercials depicted it.  Rather the crust was cracker-like and the sauce akin to a thick, overly-seasoned tomato sauce.

Chef Boyardee’s culinary creations next crossed my lips in 1984 while living in Swindon, England.  Often too lazy to cook for myself during my last carefree year of bachelorhood, I indulged on a diet of breakfast cereal (Jerry Seinfeld would be proud) and Chef Boyardee canned pastas.  That is until I told Kim, then my fiancee who made me promise to “give up that crap.”   Though it took considerably more effort, I began over-compensating by preparing such dishes as paella.

Italian bread and butter at Mario's

Italian bread and butter at Mario's

But, I digress.  In 1977 I moved to Bedford, Massachusetts, a town incorporated in 1729 and about fifteen miles northwest of Boston.  A world of new and different culinary delights began the education of my virginal taste buds.  Instead of Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, I was dining on lobster and fried clams.  The enticing aromas and exotic flavors of Chinese food and the malodorous emanation of fermented kimchi were practically extraterrestrial to me, but like the proverbial kid in a candy store, I tried everything.  Perhaps more surprisingly, I liked everything.

Italian food–real Italian food–was my favorite and no one in the Bedford area did it better than Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Lexington, Massachusetts.  Walking into Mario’s was like walking into heaven.  The olfactory arousing bouquet of pastas simmering in a perfect marriage of tomato sauce, garlic, basil and oregano greeted you before the door like a sumptuous siren’s call.  Mario’s was but five or six years old at the time, but a very popular dining destination for incomparable lasagna and a unique twist on baked ziti.  Many of the entrees were served in casserole dishes, something else this culinary virgin had never before experienced.

If love means never having to say you’re sorry, Mario’s meant not having to navigate the maddening cavalcades of traffic all the way to Boston’s North End for terrific Italian food.  Mario’s was a welcome respite from the rigors of the work day.  It was a relaxing milieu in which the service was exquisite and food was served hot and in family-sized portions.

Lasagna at Mario's

Lasagna at Mario's

During our 2009 vacation to the Boston area, we were determined to eat nothing but Italian food and seafood.  That meant a trip to Mario’s was an absolute must.  Despite a thirty year span between visits, our rental car hastened through traffic as if on auto-pilot and speed.  We would pay tourist tribute to the famous Lexington Minuteman statue later; nothing would deter us from Mario’s.

One step in the door and was as if nothing had changed in thirty years.  Mario’s familiar brick facade gave way to a narrow corridor which leads to the hostess station from which a friendly attendant will escort you to your table, complete with red and white checkerboard table cloth.  Perusing the menu was a futile exercise in familiarity because we knew what we were going to have.  It’s what just about everybody who visits Mario’s has.

But first, a basket of thinly sliced Italian bread with foil-wrapped butter was delivered to our table.  It’s always best to save a slice or three to use for sopping up the surplus tomato sauces for which Mario’s is known, but a slice or two with butter will abate your hunger.

A unique baked ziti at Mario's

A unique baked ziti at Mario's

The first “must have” entree is lasagna with sausage.  The lasagna is a thick, brick-sized slab of noodles and ricotta cheese topped with a meaty marinara sauce.  The sausage is actually served on the side and, like the lasagna, is drenched in the meaty marinara sauce.  It is a wonderful sausage with a discernible hint of fennel and other Italian seasonings.

There are several things that make this lasagna special.  First of all, it’s served steaming hot, but not at the expense of “rubberizing” the lasagna noodles.  The ricotta is rich, but not overly so.  The sauce has a rich, tomatoey flavor that accentuates the sweetness of tomatoes, not the acidity.  It is Italian comfort food at its best.

Commonly known as Greek Lasagna, Baked Ziti is a base layer of pasta seasoned ground beef with tomato sauce, topped with a creamy cheese Béchamel Sauce all cooked to a golden brown.  It is the most popular entree at Mario’s, but unlike ziti at other restaurants, it’s served slab-style similar to traditional lasagna.  Instead of traditional ziti pasta, it is made with lasagna noodles.  Top it with Mario’s magnificent meat sauce and you’ve got maybe the best ziti around.

Italian sausage at Mario's

Italian sausage at Mario's

Mario’s makes returning to the Bedford-Concord-Lexington area feel like coming home.  It won’t take me another thirty years to make that return trip home to the restaurant which introduced me to real Italian food.

Mario’s Italian Restaurant
1733 Massachusetts Ave
Lexington, Massachusetts
(781) 861-1182
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 September 2009
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lasagna with Sausage, Baked Ziti