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Marble Brewery – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Marble Brewery on First Street just north of downtown

During a recent visit to The Grill restaurant on Menaul, my friend and fellow culinary sensuist Larry McGoldrick received a very warm greeting from proprietor Phil Chavez who mistook Larry for me (not that Phil wouldn’t otherwise have welcomed Larry warmly as he does all his guests).  My good-natured friend didn’t return Phil’s warm welcome with a frosty retort as some people might have done.  It was, after all, an honest case of mistaken identity.  Larry and I are practically doppelgangers for one another–at least in terms of our passion for mom-and-pop restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment.

In a karmic example of “turnabout is fair play,” my Kim and I were looking for a downtown area restaurant to visit whose doors we hadn’t previously darkened.  When we espied the Marble Brewery on First Street, I commented, “Larry really likes this place.  We should try it.”  Another case of mistaken identity.  The brewery Larry holds in such high regard is the Nexus Brewery though we didn’t figure that out until perusing the Marble Brewery’s menu and not seeing any of the dishes Larry recommended so highly.

The comfy confines of the Marble Brewery

Situated on the northwest intersection of Marble and First Streets, the Marble Brewery will never be mistaken for a restaurant which also happens to produce award-winning beers.  It was never intended as such.  Its stated mission is “to provide bold, hand-crafted ales and lagers to New Mexico.”  Sounds simple enough, but the proof is in the imbibing. In 2010, Draft Magazine listed the Brewery’s “From the Wood” as one of the “top 25 beers of 2010.”  That’s high praise for a brewery plying its craft only since 2008.

The Brewery’s line-up includes seven house beers and a variety of seasonal draft and bottled beers, all self-distributed throughout the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas.  Distribution to other parts of the Land of Enchantment is handled by the National Distributing Company of New Mexico, a business partner.  You’ll find Marble Brewery’s best on tap and in the bottle in hundreds of restaurants, bars and retail locations throughout New Mexico. 

Chama Chili Texas-style chili made with cubes of sirloin simmered with pinto beans and red chile and served with homemade tortilla chips.

The Marble Brewery is located in the former Starco Industrial Supply Building in the McClellan Park Industrial neighborhood.  Among the visionaries who recognized the area’s potential as a re-purposed warehouse arts district and magnet for locals were the scions of Santa Fe entrepreneur Gerald Peters who also owns the Duke City’s Chama River Brewing Company.  The Peters brothers oversaw the remarkable conversion of the 6,700-square-foot building circa 1950s.  Few vestiges remain of its previous life.  Instead you’ll find a welcoming pub with distressed wooden plank floors and an outdoor beer garden.

Even though we found the Marble Brewery through a classic case of mistaken identity,  dozens of patrons frequently make their  to this popular watering hold–and not just locals.  The New York Times Travel Magazine also managed to find the marble Brewery.  In October, 2011, during 36 hours in Albuquerque, the travel magazine described the brewery as “a consummate New Mexican bar: benches, banjo players or salsa drummers, and lots of dogs and advised visitors to “rehydrate, after dancing, with a goblet of barrel-aged ale.”  In a February, 2012 post on her Tasting NM blog, scintillating author Cheryl Jamison wrote about not having developed a taste for beer until a tasting event at Marble Brewery’s Albuquerque headquarters “shocked me with the number of their well-crafted beers that I found appealing.” 

Turkey, Bacon and Green Chile Smoked turkey: Apple wood smoked bacon, cheddar and jack cheeses with green chile on sourdough bread.

In a scant four years, the brewery has expanded its brewing capacity from 2,500 barrels a year to 10,000 barrels.  The pub’s menu has not grown similarly, but as the online menu emphasizes, “Marble Brewery is not a restaurant, as there is no kitchen on site. All of our food has been prepared by Chef Steven Shook at the Chama River Brewing Co. Feel free to bring your own food to enjoy here, we just ask that you clean up after yourself. Marble Brewery also affords our loyal clientele the liberty of ordering deliverable food from a number of quality restaurants located in the Downtown Albuquerque area. Ask your bartender for more information.”

One of the Chama River Brewing Company’s most popular appetizers, Chama Chili is but one of three “snacks” available on the pub menu.  Along with the whopping total of three grilled sandwiches, it may not seem like a formidable menu, but then most patrons don’t visit the Marble Brewery for its food. Soft drink aficionados won’t find much variety either.  The only soft drink available is IBC brand root beer.  The Chama Chili isn’t our beloved piquant New Mexico-style chile (as in spelled correctly with an “e” at the end).  It’s a Texas-style chili (there goes my spell-checker again) made with cubes of sirloin simmered with pinto beans and red chili served with homemade tortilla chips.  As Texas-style chile goes, this is actually quite good.

Cuban: Pulled pork, ham, pickles and chipotle mayo on a telera roll.

One good thing about a limited menu is that it won’t take you long to decide what you want to have.  One very nice sandwich option is a turkey, bacon and green chile smoked turkey made with applewood smoked bacon, Cheddar and Jack cheeses with green chile on sourdough bread. Frankly it’s a better sandwich than you’ll find in many a sandwich shop. The green chile isn’t especially piquant as perhaps it should be for the quantity of melting cheese, but the blending of flavors and ingredients makes for a good pub-quality sandwich reminiscent of many of the sandwiches we had when we lived in England. All sandwich orders include salsa and chips.  If you like Gil-sized scoops of salsa for your chips, you’re out of luck because there’s just not much salsa in your order.

One sandwich we didn’t see in England is one which seems to have become almost de rigueur in Albuquerque sandwich restaurants.  That’s the Cuban.  The Marble Brewery’s version is fairly standard with pulled pork, ham and pickles with a little twist–chipotle mayo–on a pressed Telera roll.  It’s also a good sandwich (probably even better if you’ve quaffed a few pints), albeit not one which might make your “best of” sandwich list.  That’s not the objective here.  The point is you can have good pub quality food in an award-winning brewery.

Marble Brewery
111 Marble, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 243-2739
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 29 January 2011
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET: IBC Root Beer; Chama Chili; Cuban; Turkey, Bacon and Green Chile Smoked turkey

Marble Brewery on Urbanspoon

Los Cuates – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Los Cuates New Mexican Restaurant launched in 1989

Of the five variations of twins that occur commonly throughout the world, the most common fraternal (non-identical) occurrence is male-female twins which transpire in about 40% of all twins born. Fraternal twins may share up to 50% of their genes and generally are no more similar or dissimilar than any other two siblings.  Although technically not twins because they were “born” four years apart, the Duke City’s most famous twins are the Los Cuates restaurants (cuates being the Spanish word for twins), named for Antoinette and Marcus, the fraternal male-female twins of founder Frank R. Barela, an inspiration for all of us who started at the bottom and worked our way up. 

Barela got his start in the restaurant business in 1971 as a busboy at Silvano’s, a legendary Duke City purveyor of New Mexican food.  In 1985, he bought Silviano’s and renamed it Los Cuates after his newborn children.  In 1989, he took over another Albuquerque landmark of the era, Cocina De Carlos Mexican Restaurant, across the street from his first eatery. Because of the two restaurant’s twin-like proximity, he also named it Los Cuates…not Los Cuates I and Los Cuates II, just Los Cuates.

The famous salsa and chips at Los Cuates

From the very beginning, Los Cuates has been one of the most popular New Mexican restaurants in the city.  In its halcyon days, diners lined up before opening while late-comers waited for a table to come open. The restaurant’s logo of a little boy and girl twins astride a burro has been, for years, a very familiar landmark to Albuquerque diners who certify their love of the diner’s food on the Alibi’s annual “best of” poll. One category Los Cuates has practically owned since the inception of the poll is best chips and salsa.

The salsa is indeed unique–wholly unlike the traditional New Mexican salsa of tomatoes, onions, garlic and either green chile or jalapenos. Los Cuates salsa is based on ancho chiles (known as chile pasilla in the Michoacan area and in California), an aromatic, brownish red chile that smells somewhat like prunes and has a mild, rich and almost sweet taste with just a hint of residual bitterness. It’s an “either you love it or you don’t” type of salsa with plenty of fans and detractors. Count me among those who love the uniqueness of this pre-prandial treat though I don’t quite love it as much in its bottled state–in part because the ingredient list reads like it belongs in a chemistry lab.

An enchilada trio--carne adovada, chicken and ground beef--served Christmas style on blue corn tortillas

A basket of chips and a small plastic bowl with the dark red salsa is placed on your table shortly after you’re seated. The complementary sweet and piquant salsa is satiny smooth, not at all chunky like most restaurants serve. It’s not the most piquant salsa in Albuquerque, but definitely leaves a pleasant, capsaicin-kissed impression on your tongue and taste buds. The chips are unfailingly crisp and faithfully replenished.

In Albuquerque, a New Mexican restaurant won’t survive on its salsa alone, no matter how storied that salsa may be. Fortunately Los Cuates’ menu is replete with traditional favorites prepared from recipes passed on through generations. When your entree arrives at your table, it’s steaming hot with no evidence of pre-made, pre-heated dryness that’s become all too common in other restaurants. There’s a freshness to everything at Los Cuates.

The famous Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVLR) enjoys huevos rancheros at Los Cuates

One of the entrees Los Cuates does exceptionally well is enchiladas (beef, chicken or cheese) crafted with blue corn tortillas. These aren’t your gloppy, boring enchiladas. Not only are the beef and chicken seasoned well and absolutely delicious on their own, the accompanying red or green chile lends a rich savoriness. The chile isn’t the sinus-clearing, eye-watering stuff I like, but at least the chile is discernible in its flavor profile and not corn-starchy.  During a visit to the Los Cuates on Albuquerque’s Northwest side, I happened upon a special of the day that included a trio of enchiladas–carne adovada, chicken and ground beef.  They were quite good.

Anything with chicken is a good bet at Los Cuates. That includes the stuffed sopaipillas. Deep pockets are formed in pillow-like sopaipillas then those pockets are generously engorged with flavorful and moist chicken which is then topped with melted cheddar cheese and your choice of red or green chile.  The chicken is so fresh and moist, it’s reminiscent of stewed chicken.  A platter includes refried beans and rice. Portions are enormous.

Carnitas

Many entrees include complementary sopaipillas which arrive at your table steamy warm. Intrepid diners risk burning their fingers and the roof of their mouths so they can attack these puffy pillows of goodness with honey. There’s no need for dessert when you’ve got these gems though Los Cuates does a nice job with natillas, the smooth, sweet custard dish.

Note: While walking the La Luz Trail in July, 2002, Frank Barella collapsed and died of a heart attack at age 50. His restaurant was placed in a trust for several months until purchased by two well-established Duke City restaurateurs–Larry Gutierrez of Little Anita’s and George Daskalos of Milly’s Restaurant. The new ownership vowed “everything would stay the same–recipes and staff. Shortly after this changing of the guard, a few long-time Los Cuates staffers launched their own restaurant, Mis Amigos which has since closed.

Sopaipillas at Los Cuates

There are some who say Los Cuates just isn’t the same restaurant it once was–and in fact, in 2005, the twins became triplets with the launch of yet a third restaurant.  The third in the Los Cuates line (8700 Menaul Blvd, N.E.) opened in 2005 at the former site of the city’s only Godfather’s Pizza restaurant.  Five years later, the original Los Cuates at 5016 Lomas, N.E., closed, eventually to be replaced by Silvano’s, a full-circle turn few would have expected. 

2011 was a year of major expansion for Los Cuates which launched a Santa Fe restaurant in May within the confines of the Lodge of Santa Fe Hotel.  In November, Los Cuates found a home within the Albuquerque International Airport.  Located immediately before the security checkpoint, the Sunport’s Los Cuates makes it possible for your first meal when you land or your last meal before you take off to be New Mexican food.  Cheryl Jamison, one of America’s most lauded food authors and a frequent flying bon-vivant praised the restaurant on her Tasting NM blog.  Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos, who has enjoyed the huevos rancheros at the Sunport Los Cuates also sees it as a boon to travelers.

Los Cuates in Albuquerque's Northwest side (10051 Coors Blvd, N.W.)

In January, 2012, Los Cuates expaned to Albuquerque’s sprawling far Northwest side within one mile of Corrales and two miles of Rio Rancho. Situated in the nearly 8,000 square-foot edifice which previously housed Copeland’s on the West side’s “restaurant row,” it is the most ostentatious of all the Los Cuates restaurants. Whether the twins, now quintuplets, will continue to expand remains to be seen. The restaurant’s popularity shows no sign of decline in its popularity and remains a formidable and favorite presence for New Mexican food.

Los Cuates
4901 Lomas, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
505 255-5079
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 25 January 2012
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, Sopaipillas, Stuffed Sopaipillas (chicken), Blue Corn Enchiladas (chicken), Carnitas

Los Cuates (Original) on Urbanspoon

Roper’s Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Roper's Restaurant on Central Avenue just east of Wyoming

Since the early 1980s when I was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, every vehicle I’ve owned has seemingly had a built-in auto-pilot with the destination 8810 Central, S.E. hard-coded. For years that was the address of the junior-most of two Albuquerque Milton’s restaurants, a classic American diner which consistently serves some of the very best diner entrees in the city. Milton’s was for me and my barracks-dwelling friends what Monk’s Cafe was to Jerry Seinfeld and his friends and what the Central Perk Coffee House was to the Friends cast. It’s where we commiserated with one another after a stressful day and it was where we celebrated good times.

When I returned to New Mexico after three years in England, one of the first destinations on my agenda was that familiar address on Old Route 66.  Instead of friends who were no longer stationed at Kirtland, my dining companion was Kim, my bride of two years.  As with many people who grew up in the “Hog butcher for the world,” (one of several nicknames for Chicago in Carl Sandburg’s 1916 poem “Chicago”), Kim is an unabashed meat and potatoes lover.  The menu, an array of hearty and homespun comfort foods and blue-plate favorites was tailor-made for her Midwestern constitution.  Mine, too, thanks to a selection of traditional New Mexican dishes.

Western themed Roper's Restaurant

Over time the Northeast Heights version of Milton’s which had long been my sanctuary and home away from home became Kap’s then the Acropolis Cafe and Kap’s again.  In 2004, yet another transformation ensued with Kap’s metamorphosing into a Cowboy themed restaurant named Roper’s. Alas, that makeover met with an inauspicious beginning thanks to a less than favorable review from the then Albuquerque Journal food critic, the brilliant rhapsodist Kelly Koepke.  Luckily my car’s auto-pilot doesn’t read restaurant reviews and has continued to find its way to Roper’s with us in tow.

Roper’s ambiance is definitely all cowboy–from barb wire framed prints of old west scenes to faux cow hides on the walls.  Both types of music–country and western– are played on the sound system.  Only a couple of the cheerful waitresses remain who over the years became part of the ambiance at whatever restaurant existed at the Wyoming and Central location.  Some of them moved on after more than 20 years in the same location but the current staff is very accommodating and attentive, seemingly tending to dozens of tables simultaneously. 

Con queso with chips

Roper’s menu continues the restaurant’s thematic paean to the Old West with “fancified cowboy grub” (thank you, Kelly)–or at least entrees named for Old West terms and places.  American and new Mexican entrees still rule the roost, though you’re not likely to find them sans sobriquet.  The eggs burrito breakfast I’ve ordered countless times over the past 25 years, for example, is now called the “Broken Arrow” and you can now ask for bacon, ham, sausage or cottage potatoes inside that burrito.  The burrito is smothered by green or red chili (or both).  It’s not quite  the same wonderful chile taste that captured my affection so many years ago (it probably has something to do with the menu’s atrocious Texas spelling of “chili”), but the Broken Arrow remains one of my favorite breakfast burritos in town.

Whether topped with red or green chili, Roper’s New Mexican entrees are still a good way to start a morning or end the day.   Despite the spelling “chili” (which my spellchecker tells me is so wrong) Roper’s chili bears no resemblance to the beef and cumin laden Texas chili.  It’s unadulterated New Mexican chile prepared as well as many New Mexican restaurants prepare it.  The menu even offers an extra hot green chile that actually got the attention of this chile masochist (in New Mexico pain is a flavor).  You can also have a green chile country gravy that goes very well with biscuits and chicken fried steak.

The Broken Arrow

Breakfast is served all day long and remains my favorite meal at Roper’s where an evening entree might well be pigs in a blanket (link sausages wrapped in pancakes and doused with syrup) or a Broken Arrow breakfast burrito.  A favorite appetizer over the years has been the con queso, a bowlful of hot melted cheese punctuated with a pleasantly piquant green chile and topped with chopped green onions and tomatoes.  Served with crispy chips, the con queso is rich and gooey, usually too rich to finish during the same meal in which it’s ordered. 

The marquee in front of Roper’s during a January, 2012 visit invited diners to try the restaurant’s green chile cheeseburger omelet.  For someone endeavoring to sample every one of the 66 green chile cheeseburgers on the 2011 edition of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, the marquee was an invitation to sample a creative variation on the beatified burger.  A multi-egg omelet is engorged with cheese and a large beef patty more akin to a hamburger steak than a burger patty then ladled with a generous dousing of green chile.  The beef is well seasoned and moist, legions superior to the previously frozen patties adorning too many green chile cheeseburgers throughout New Mexico.  This omelet is served with homestyle potatoes which you’ll enjoy most when you cover them with green chile.

Green Chile Cheeseburger Omelet with Home Fries

Roper’s features some of the most unique pancakes we’ve ever had including the “Mexican griddle cheese cakes” in which green chile, cheddar cheese and ham are baked right into the pancakes.  This unlikely combination of contrasting tastes is a great waker-upper. In its annual food and wine issue for 2011, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Roper’s Mexican Griddle Pancakes a “Hot Plate Award” as the “Hot Breakfast”  Albuquerque can’t live without.  If “gussied up” pancakes aren’t your style, you can still order a short stack–two fluffy pancakes just waiting for butter and syrup.  Short stack is a bit of a misnomer.  Even though these pancakes are stacked only three high, each golden orb is about six inches in diameter.  They’re also served warm in a winter weather comforting way. 

If anything, a short stack will short-change you from the enjoyment of pancakes optimized for creativity and flavor.  You’ll want as much of the Santa Fe pancakes as you can get.  These bounteous blue corn pancakes are made with green chile, sausage and Cheddar-Jack cheese.  “Not on my pancakes,” you say.  That’s what my Kim first thought before being playfully goaded into trying them.  She then proceeded to eat more than her share of the too-short-stack.  Most pancakes with syrup cross the border into cloying.  The combination of green chile, sausage and Cheddar-Jack add flavor dimensions of piquancy, savoriness and tangy-sharpness.  These pancakes are a winner.

The "Santa Fe" pancakes--green chile, Cheddar-Jack cheese, sausage and green chile

Roper’s lunch and dinner menu features many homestyle (particularly in Texas) favorites including pork chops, meatloaf, chicken fried steak and even liver and onions.  Sandwiches and salads are also available including an intriguing fried catfish salad which you don’t have to be from Texas to appreciate.

You don’t have to have a car set on auto-pilot to find Roper’s.  If you ever visited Milton’s on the Northeast Heights, you’re there.  Don’t expect Milton’s because that’s a tall order Roper’s doesn’t quite fill.  Still, it’s a nice diner that serves generous portions of hearty food.

Roper’s Restaurant
8810 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, NM
298-5143
LATEST VISIT: 15 January 2012
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $$
LATEST VISIT: Broken Arrow, Mexican Griddle Cheese Cakes, Enchiladas, Tamales, Con Queso, Green Chile Cheeseburger Omelet

Roper's Restaurant on Urbanspoon