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Tesuque Village Market – Tesuque, New Mexico

The world famous Tesuque Village Market

The world famous Tesuque Village Market

The most successful Indian revolt in North American history occurred on August 10th, 1680. On that day, more than 8,000 warriors from the various Native American pueblos in New Mexico put aside deep historical differences and banded together to drive the Spaniards from their ancestral lands. This event is celebrated each year in Tesuque Pueblo.

Tesuque Pueblo played an integral role in the rebellion. Two Tesuque runners were dispatched by pueblo leaders to enlist support for the revolt. The runners carried knotted deer hide cords to the various pueblos, each knot signifying a day. On each successive day, one knot was untied. When the final knot was untied it signified the day of attack.

The annual celebration of this event includes a relay run reenacting the famous run. Runners depart from Tesuque plaza carrying a knotted cord made of yucca and an ear of corn. The yucca cord symbolizes the spirit of the people and the ear of corn their physical body. It is an inspiring event.

Always packed

Always packed

Led by Diego Jose de Vargas, the Spanish returned to New Mexico in 1692 and within a year regained full political control of New Mexico. Their return marked a significant change in Spanish policy toward the Pueblos. The Spanish became more civil toward the Pueblo peoples, allowing them to maintain sovereign rule over their own villages. More importantly, the Spanish did not force the Pueblos to accept Christianity.

The venerable Spanish village of Tesuque was founded in 1740 and is situated a few miles south of the current Pueblo and just north of Santa Fe, the heart of Spanish colonial occupation. Today, the village is a haven for the wealthy. A pantheon of Hollywood celebrities and famous artists now make Tesuque their home (or in many cases, their home away from home).

Ironically, Tesuque is a Tewa word which refers to the village’s river’s alternating from and disappearance into the sand. That word may also describe the behavior of many of the village’s celebrities. They appreciate the fact that Tesuque is a place to which they can escape and are not bothered by locals who respect their privacy.

Guacamole, salsa and chips

Guacamole, salsa and chips

For celebrity sighting there may be no better venue than the Tesuque Village Market in the center of the village. Established in 1969, this combination market, deli, bakery and restaurant has the sort of neighborhood feel many Santa Fe restaurants lack.

Moreover, it’s so laid back and unassuming that it’s not uncommon to see pristine Range Rovers and BMWs parked next to careworn pick-up trucks which are hosed down only when it’s time to remove salt residue after a snowfall. That speaks volumes to its broad appeal.

Like much of the village, the Tesuque Village Market is blanketed by a canopy of centuries old cottonwoods. The on and off again river for which the village is named is within easy walking distance.

World famous tortilla soup

World famous tortilla soup

After three decades under an ownership which some say had become indifferent, the Tesuque Village Market was purchased in 2006. Its new owners previously owned restaurants in Los Angeles and New York. With credentials like that come expectations of improved service with no degradation in the quality of the New Mexican food for which the restaurant has long been known.

The restaurant portion of the Market complex includes a relatively small dining room into which a surprising number of diners can be seated comfortably, albeit in close quarters.  It’s not uncommon to wait for a table to become available inside the restaurant which, in the summer, is fine because the porch accommodations include tables and chairs.

In the winter the porch is enclosed (you could call it that) in a thick plastic sheathing with a couple of small fireplaces working assiduously to cut through New Mexico’s sometimes bitter cold. Imbibing the seductive fragrance of wood smoke make this my preferred seating area.

Carnitas and papitas

Carnitas and papitas

In November, 2006, the pulchritudinous Food Network glitterati Giada Delaurentis had lunch at the Tesuque Village Market. As one can assume, her legion of fans visiting her restaurant stops make it a point to order exactly what she had during her weekend sojourn to the City Different.

Giada started off with the restaurant’s guacamole and chips–an excellent choice made even better with the addition of salsa. The guacamole is thick and buttery with a prominent infusion of lime. Fortunately the chips are formidable enough to scoop large amounts. The chips have a pronounced corn flavor and are low in salt. They are infinitely better than grocery store tortilla chips, many of which are direly in need of desalinization. The salsa is somewhat thin and only mildly piquant, but with a fresh cilantro influence.

Giada also had the tortilla soup, regarded by some as the best in the area (they obviously haven’t tried the tortilla soup at the Ó Eating House). The gastronomic goddess proclaimed the soup as “awesome,” calling it “a burst of Southwest flavor.”

Breakfast burrito served Christmas style

Breakfast burrito served Christmas style

This burst of Southwest flavor is made with roasted tomatoes, onions, Anaheim green chiles, red chile powder, jalapenos and cumin in a chicken broth. The finishing touch is a garnish of Cojita cheese, creme fraiche and tortilla chips.

Fresh corn tortilla chips are also blended with the soup. This gives it a thicker consistency than most soups. It is indeed a fine soup with a good smoky taste, but would be even better by subtracting the tablespoon of cumin called for on the recipe.

Hopefully I’ve now appeased the dining diva’s devotees and can proceed with the rest of my observations. The menu certainly offers a variety of options, all reasonably priced. Everything is made-to-order and portion size means you’ll have leftovers to take home.

Patty Melt with potato chips

Patty Melt with potato chips

On Sundays, the breakfast menu is available until noon, but an accommodating wait staff will fulfill your need for tortilla soup or chips and salsa even during breakfast hours if you so desire. The youthful wait staff is on-the-spot and friendly.

One breakfast entree for which you’ll be grateful you got up are the carnitas de puerco (pork carnitas). These cubes of porcine perfection are absolutely delicious–moist, tender and well-seasoned. Each morsel is an adventure in taste bud appeasement.  The carnitas are accompanied by two eggs and some of the very best papitas around. Similar to the carnitas, the papitas are cubed and golden brown. They have the taste and texture of oven-roasted potatoes, skin intact.

Forget what you’ve heard or read about blue corn pancakes, the quintessential New Mexican breakfast entree is the breakfast burrito. The Tesuque Village Market’s rendition is an excellent representation of why New Mexicans get up early in the morning.  The breakfast burrito is available with your choice of meat: chorizo, pork, beef or chicken and with red or green chile. Christmas style (red and green chile) is the preferred choice for many diners–for good reason (but not necessarily for this critic).

Sopressata with Gruyere on Sourdough

Sopressata with Gruyere on Sourdough

The Tesuque Village Market’s red chile has just enough of a hint of cumin to turn off (it doesn’t take much) my cumin disliking taste buds. It’s better red chile than at many New Mexican restaurants, but I’m fanatically anti-cumin in New Mexican food that just a little bit will do me.  Much, much better is the green chile which is an iridescent green and which has a piquant bite that will snap you out of any residual morning drowsiness you may have. It’s a fruity, earthy green chile laden with capsaicin blessed goodness.  The breakfast burrito is topped with shredded Cheddar and white cheeses and is engorged with potatoes and your choice of meat. It is served with the Market’s terrific papitas and a garnish of tomatoes and lettuce.

Lunch and dinner options are also varied. Lunch options include hot and cold sandwiches made with your choice of bread (not that anyone would choose anything other than Sage Bakehouse bread). Burgers and New Mexican entrees are also available.  A menu above a spacious and well-provisioned deli case lists several sandwich options, but there’s also a “build your own” option which will appeal to adventurous diners who understand deli meats and cheeses.

Those include wine-infused sopressata, a coarsely ground, salty Italian dry-cured salami I’ve been hooked on for years.  Fromage fanatics will also appreciate the cave-aged Gruyere cheese, a sweet, earthy and creamy cheese which is as addictive as any French cheese.  Sandwich them together between two glorious slices of Sage Bakehouse toasted sourdough bread, add a bit of lettuce and tomato and you’ve got a terrific sandwich.  Another winner is the market’s green chile infused patty melt with caramelized red onions.  The green chile has a kick to it and the light rye bread is perfectly toasted and delicious.

Chocolate Eclair

Chocolate Eclair

Pedestrian desserts at otherwise excellent restaurants may have the effect of making a great meal anti-climatic. That is, a boring dessert may render a stellar meal far less.  That’s certainly not the case at the Tesuque Village Market where dessert is a stand-out. An oversized under glass display case showcases a wide array of tempting desserts, all of which will beckon even the most sated diner.

Desserts include various pastries: pies, cakes, mousse, tarts and even flan. Many are big enough to share (not that you’d want to) and are deliciously decadent. An enormous chocolate éclair filled with rich, satisfying vanilla custard and topped with a luscious dark chocolate sprinkled with nuts is one such dessert. I’m surprised the dessert case isn’t laden with tongue-tracks.

The Tesuque Village Market is sometimes an overlooked dining option just outside of Santa Fe (maybe some of that has changed since Giada’s visit), but it’s worth a visit or ten.

Tesuque Village Market
Route 22 & Bishops Lodge Road
Tesuque, NM
988-8848

LATEST VISIT: 28 February 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tortilla Soup, Salsa and Chips, Guacamole, Breakfast Burrito, Éclair, Carnitas

Tesuque Village Market on Urbanspoon

Frattellis – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Fratelli's in Rio Rancho

Fratelli's Pizza by the Slice or Whole Pies

In New York City, pizza by the slice is as ubiquitous as towering skyscrapers. Many of the city’s nearly 3,000 pizzerias serve pizza by the slice. Most have been doing so since the end of WWII when recently returned American veterans who served in Italy craved the sliced pizza they had enjoyed during their service.  Heck, in the Big Apple, you can even find pizza by the slice proffered by sidewalk vendors. At about two bucks a slice, it’s usually pretty decent thin-sliced pizza blanketed with cheese.

A widespread presence doesn’t mean the practice is universally approved of. The other school of thought snubs its nose at the thought of serving by the slice, the triangle-shaped, tomato sauced pie Americans consume at the rate of 100 acres a day. Many traditionalists, particularly artisan Pizzaiolis with coal-burning oven pedigrees disdain the practice of pizza by the slice, scoffing that the practitioners of this sacrilege have reduced the art of pizza making to a fast-food assembly-line pretense.

While several pizzerias in the Albuquerque metropolitan area serve pizza by the slice, the lack of historical ties to the genesis of America’s pizza might be the reason you don’t hear the slice versus no slice debate rage on.  On August 1st, 2006, Rio Rancho saw the launch of A&K Frattellis in which pizza by the slice isn’t an after-thought; it’s a primary draw. The A&K stood for Aaron and Kyle, the five- and three-year old scions of the restaurant’s owner at the time. Frattelli is Italian for “brother” so the name just makes sense. It also makes sense that a pizzeria in Rio Rancho would serve pizza by the slice; after all, isn’t Rio Rancho still called “Little New York” after all these years.

The western wall at Fratellis serves as an oversized menu

The western wall at Fratellis serves as an oversized menu

The A&K portion of the name was dropped when Fratellis was sold, but the formula–gigantic slices of delicious pizza delivered quickly to your table; efficient and friendly service; and reasonable prices–remains.  It’s one of Rio Rancho’s most popular restaurants of any genre, one which transcends generations as evidenced by the number of happy families which make it their choice for pizza.

24-inch pizzas are the genesis for individual slices which you can order for a shade under three dollars (a two slice special and a drink goes for just over six dollars, including tax) and top with your favorite ingredients for a mere pittance. Each slice is huge, nearly as big as an entire pizza at pizzerias which specialize in thin-sliced gourmet pizza. It comes out of the oven hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth.

The menu also features five house pies including the Hawaiian Pie (Canadian bacon and pineapple), the New Mexican Pie (pepperoni and green chile) and the New York Pie (pepperoni, beef, sausage, onion, mushroom and black olive). Ask for it and free fresh garlic will be added to any pizza.

Up close and personal pie

Combination pizza from Fratelli's

Several salads and a football-sized calzone are also available and there’s also stromboli, meatball hero, subs, bread sticks, cheese sticks, Italian desserts and more.  The entire menu is available for carry-out or for dining-in.  Delivery is also available on large orders.

The menu, by the way, is prominently displayed on the wall by the restaurant’s entrance as a green, white and red banner (the color of the Italian flag) hoisted by a mustachioed chef.

The pizza is usually terrific. The crust is thick enough to sustain ingredients which are generously piled on, but thin enough so that you can fold it laterally (another sign of New York style pizza).  t has just a hint of char and its outside edges are heavily populated with the airy holes that seem to define good pizza. The sauce is applied lightly and is an excellent complement to all other ingredients.

A slice of Hawaiian pizza

A slice of Hawaiian pizza

If the New York Pie (not slice) is any indication, Frattellis crafts a fine pie (we normally order pizza by the slice). The sausage is replete with fennel, the pepperoni is tangy and nicely spiced, the mushrooms are deliciously fleshy fungi and the green chile (on my half of the pie) has a comal roasted taste without being particularly piquant.

A friend and colleague from New York consumed a slice and joked afterwards that the pizza contained triptophan, the sleep inducing chemical found in turkey. You can easily share a slice with a friend. Each slice is 12-inches at the top and tapers down to a perfectly pointed bottom. Two slices and you just might fall asleep, the contented sleep of someone who just had a great meal. Be forewarned, however, that sometimes individual slices tend to be hard-crusted, a sure sign they’ve been sitting under a heat lamp.

Fratelli’s joins several terrific pizzerias in the City of Vision. It will give the others a run for their money–any way you slice it!

Frattellis
3301 Southern Blvd
Rio Rancho, NM

LATEST VISIT: 19 November 2007
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 19
COST: $
BEST BET: New York Pie, Pepperoni Slice, A’s Favorite

Frattellis Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Venezia’s Pizzeria – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Venezia's Pizzeria

Venezia's Pizzeria in Rio Rancho

Being within walking distance of my place of employment makes this old fashioned pizzeria an easy choice while excellent pizza and a surprisingly varied menu for such a small storefront makes it the right choice!  It’s the right choice for Rio Rancho residents, many of whom have their familial roots in New York City just like Venezia’s Pizzeria has.  Moreover, Venezia’s has deeper roots in the mother country where pizza was invented.

The pizzeria is, in fact, named not for a family named Venezia, but for Venice (Venezia in Italian), Italy, the fabled city on the water which the New York Times has described as “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man.”  A mural on the wall depicts the romantic city of canals and gondolas.  The mural shares space on the walls with certificates of appreciation for the restaurant’s community involvement and sponsorship of youth activities.

On the pizzeria’s northeast corner stands a large plastic statue of the Statue of Liberty complete with stola, crown and sandals. New York City transplants in Rio Rancho appear preternaturally drawn to Lady Liberty’s beckoning, “Give me your huddled masses yearning to…eat pizza.”  Some of them will tell you Venezia’s is the next best thing to being in Metropolis.

A slice of cheese pizza

A slice of cheese pizza

Family patriarch Adolfo Venturino and his wife Maria migrated to America from Italy in 1964 and lived in New York until 1977 when they were enticed to the desert hamlet by the slick brochures and dubious salesmanship of the American Realty and Petroleum Company (AMREP for short).  AMREP’s laid it on as thick as a syrupy marinara sauce to attract hundreds of New Yorkers (among others) to the then untamed western fringes overlooking the Rio Grande.

In 1978, Maria began working in the kitchen of Adolfo’s brother Frank, at Venezia’s Pizzeria which quickly became a little piece of home for the many New York transplants.  For seventeen years, Venezia’s thrived in the City of Vision, but in 1995, Frank moved to Arizona to be near his children.  Venezia’s remained shuttered until the millennial year when Aldo and Renato Venturino, the sons of Adolfo and Maria, reopened the restaurant with the support and blessing of their uncle.

Though Frank launched Venezia’s Pizzeria stores in Chandler and East Mesa, Arizona, the Rio Rancho version of the pizzeria he founded is ensured continuity with the stabilizing presence of Maria in the kitchen. Maria is still at it a decade later, preparing her now famous marinara sauce–a sauce which is perfectly seasoned, not too tangy or overwhelming, a sauce which complements pasta perfectly.

Lasagna with garlic bread

Lasagna with garlic bread

Unlike other claimants to “New York style pizza,” Venezia’s has the pedigree and product to pull it off.  The crust is foldable and chewy (ala New York style) while the ingredients are unfailingly fresh.  Battleship sized slices are triangle-shaped wedges that puff up like a bantam rooster at the edges and taper to a thin bottom.  The outer crest is crisp, the rest chewy with a nice char at its underside.  Venezia does a robust take-out business, but the lunchtime crowd generally comes in for slices right out of the oven with their favorite toppings.  These slices will burn the roof of your mouth if you don’t let them cool down a bit, but they’re so good, few diners wait.

It’s almost an established law of nature that if a restaurant serves great pizza, it serves mediocre sandwiches and vice-versa.  There are some sandwiches which defy that unwritten, unproven law.  One is Venezia’s meatball sub, a nine-inch behemoth served out of the oven on bread that’s soft on the inside and crispy-crunchy on the outside.

Unlike some meatball sandwiches, this one doesn’t swim in sauce.  In fact, the sauce is conservatively applied; it doesn’t run down your arm or smear your face.  The meatballs are huge and they’re also meaty, not filler-based.  A blanket of melted mozzarella cheese helps keep the meatballs in place.  It’s a much better meatball sub, by far, than you’ll find at any of the chains.

Cheese Ravioli from Venezia's in Rio Rancho

Cheese Ravioli from Venezia's in Rio Rancho

It’s also unusual for a pizzeria ensconced in a relatively small storefront anywhere to provide such a varied menu, one that extends far beyond pizza and sandwiches.  The pasta menu would give much larger Italian restaurants a run for their money with an ensemble that includes baked ziti, cheese ravioli, meat lasagna, spaghetti with sausage (meat sauce or marinara), and fetuccini Alfredo.  The pasta menu is mostly of the “red sauce” variety that most associate with Italian comfort cooking.

Mama Maria makes her pasta dishes, homemade meatballs and marinara sauce from scratch in the tradition of wholesome old world traditions she learned in her Italian hometown.  The personal touch shows in sauces that are simmered to bring out the enticing aromas and delicious flavors with which Italian food is associated.  The ricotta stuffed cheese ravioli in that homemade marinara sauce is delicious with a dozen or so tablet-sized raviolis nestled in sauce.  The raviolis are not al dente nor are they too mushy, just perfectly-sized pillows of rich, savory ricotta.

Lasagna is another Venezia’s favorite, a brick-sized slab of pasta layered with ricotta then covered with melted mozzarella and covered in meat sauce.  The plastic utensils cut into the lasagna like a knife cutting into butter save for the melted cheese which stretches beyond your plate like pulled taffy. The ricotta is applied rather parsimoniously, my only complaint about lasagna, a dish for which Garfield the cat and I both share an affinity.

Baked ziti with garlic bread

Baked ziti with garlic bread

Baked ziti has a reputation as being somewhat of a “cheesy gut bomb” prone to dryness.  Sure, it’s an indulgence, a rich, heavy and filling diet-devastator, but made right, it can be terrific.  Venezia’s version is a good one, a rich tomato sauce, oodles of noodles and rich cheese coalescing into a flavorful, not overly heavy entree.  I’ve had baked ziti almost nauseatingly rich.  This one is rich, but not overly so.  It’s got a nice balance of ingredients in proper proportion to enhance flavors.

Venezia’s Pizzeria is a Little New York institution which has expanded into Albuquerque.  In 2004 Venezia’s expanded its operations to include two Northeast Heights restaurants, both of which are highly esteemed.

Venezia’s Pizzeria
1690 Rio Rancho, Suite E
Rio Rancho, NM
892-2026

LATEST VISIT: 5 March 2010
# OF VISITS: 16
RATING: 18
COST: $
BEST BET: Pizza, Meatball Sub, Cheese Ravioli, Lasagna

Venezia's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon