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Dudley’s Barbecue – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The smoker in which porcine perfection is prepared

The United States Department of Agriculture defines barbecue as “any meat cooked by the direct action of heat resulting from the burning of hardwood or the hot coals therefrom for a sufficient period to assume the usual characteristics” including the formation of a brown crust and a weight loss of at least thirty percent.” To the citizens of the great state of North Carolina, that definition is heresy, an example of government ineptitude and maybe even reason enough to secede from the union.

Everyone in the Tar Heel state knows barbecue is all about pork. In fact, the words “barbecue” and “pork” are synonymous…and don’t ever call pork “the other white meat.” Doing so would be to utter fighting words (similar to suggesting to a Norteño that a little bit of cumin will improve chile) and to disparage centuries of tradition. You can get away with saying that in North Carolina tobacco is a vegetable, but to suggest beef as a viable barbecue option is blasphemy.

That's one perfect pig

North Carolinians go especially hog wild for pulled pork that’s been slow roasted for hours over low heat rendering it so tender that it’s “pulled” from the roast with one’s fingers or forks. In the state’s eastern region, the “whole hog” is barbecued with meat from every part of the pig–shoulder, butt, ham, cheeks–pulled and mixed together. North Carolina prides itself on the variety of its barbecue sauces (tomato-based, ketchup-based, vinegar-pepper based and mustard-based), depending mostly on geography.

My first exposure to a (tangy-offset with a bit of sweetness) mustard-based sauce occurred several years ago when a university professor colleague of my Kim’s sent her several bottles. Alas, she didn’t tell us we were to use the sauce exclusively on pork so we slathered it on brisket, turkey, sausage and even baloney (my favorite). Because of that transgression, there’s a warrant out for my arrest should I ever set foot again in the Tar Heel state.

Don Dudley in front of his smoker

When our friends Chris and Franzi Moore invited us to the Memorial Day 2012 christening of their new outdoor kitchen and covered patio, we were told to expect North Carolina barbecue catered by Dudley’s Barbecue. It was an opportunity for redemption; there would be no brisket, turkey, sausage or (gasp) baloney on which to slather the mustard-based sauce and embarrass myself. Instead, there was one 120-pound humanely-raised whole hog procured from Keyser Farms in Albuquerque’s South Valley. These are the same great folks who provide the fabulous pork belly served at Farm & Table.

Native North Carolinian Don Dudley is the pitmaster, lovingly tending to a 500-pound smoker and judiciously rationing a fragrant fruit and mesquite wood combination to maintain the low-and-slow balance which allows the pork to cook fully without burning or drying it out. Through indirect heat (not exposing the pork directly to the fire’s heat), he carefully controls the smoke so it imparts flavor and depth without overwhelming the sweet porcine flavor. Don does not sauce the pork on the smoker, leaving that choice to the person eating the pork. Besides, great barbecue should stand alone without sauce.

Pulled pork is a Dudley barbecue specialty

Dudley’s Barbecue does indeed stand alone (and stand out) with or without sauce. As Don carefully extricates every bit of pork from the butterflied carcass, he hands larger pieces to his lovely better half Penny who gently pulls the pork into tender, bite-sized tendrils and delivers bowlfuls to the waiting masses. Me, I stay pretty close to Don to make sure I try every edible portion of the pig–literally from snout to tail. Franzi, the beauteous barrister and my intrepid culinary kindred spirit (who prepared some fantastic side dishes–coleslaw, macaronis salad, cucumber salad, beans impregnated with mustard sauce) joined me in sampling bacon, pork cheeks, brains, crackling skin and even the pig’s eyes, a feat which impressed even Don.

Mostly, however, we all enjoyed the succulent, moist, absolutely delicious pork–from the pure as Ivory Snow bits (99 and 44/100 percent pure pork deliciousness) to the caramelized edges and especially the cherished bacon and pork cheeks, perhaps the very best parts of the precious pig. Don’s technique ensured just a faint hint of smoke, enough only to leave your mouth mirthful and your nostrils delightfully intoxicated. Don’s traditional mustard sauce, though wholly unnecessary, changes the pork’s flavor profile by imparting the tangy, sweet and slightly piquant elements. Penny gave me a small container to take home and none of it will touch brisket, turkey, sausage or even baloney.

Dudley’s Barbecue isn’t a storefront-restaurant operation, but it’s available for catering events large and small. You can experience Dudley’s for yourself at the upcoming Route 66 Summerfest and at other civic events. It’s barbecue as good as you’ll find anywhere in New Mexico.

Dudley’s Barbecue
Web Site
LATEST FEAST: 27 May 2012
BEST BET: Pulled Pork, Bacon, Brains, Pork Cheeks, Eyes

Mamba’s Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Mamba’s Kitchen on San Mateo

When my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott and I first visited Mamba’s Kitchen, we deliberated the genesis of the restaurant’s name. The possibilities were intriguing. The restaurant must be named for the black mamba, one of the world’s most venomous snakes, I thought. Ryan surmised then quickly dismissed the notion that the restaurant’s name honors Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star who calls himself the “Mamba” because he wants to have the type of basketball precision the snake has (it can strike with 99 percent accuracy at maximum speed, in rapid succession). Could it share the Mamba sobriquet with Beatrix Kiddo, the protagonist of the brilliant Quentin Tarantino movie Kill Bill, we wondered. Perhaps it’s named for Mambo Italiano, the 1954 hit song by Rosemary Clooney.

Because the edifice which is now home to Mamba’s Kitchen twice previously housed two soul food restaurants, we finally reasoned Mamba’s Kitchen must be a sort of hybrid Soul food-Mexican food fusion restaurant.  Clever though our conjecture was, the reason for the restaurant’s name is far more down-to-earth and beautifully innocent.  Mamba is actually named for the grandmother of restaurant founder and owner Rebecca Sandoval.  When a grandchild couldn’t pronounce “grandma,” he began calling her “mamba.”  Perhaps given a year or two Ryan and I might have figured that out.

Naquitos: bite-sized taquitos covered in chile con queso and jalapeños

Mamba’s Kitchen is the most recent occupant of a deep cranberry red home converted to a restaurant decades ago.  Previous tenants include the Mediterranean Cafe, A Taste of Soul and Quesada’s New Mexican Restaurant, the last two very short-lived restaurants seemingly on the brink of break-out success before closing all too quickly.  Mamba’s Kitchen, a family owned and operated restaurant appears to have more staying power largely because it subscribes to the motto “where it feels and tastes like home.”  It also offers a unique Mexican-New Mexican menu with traditional favorites interspersed among some surprises heretofore unseen in any other Duke City restaurant.

The surprises begin in the antojitos (appetizers) section of the menu where in addition to tacos, taquitos, chile con queso, guacamole salad and chips n’ salsa, you’ll find a hybrid of taquitos and nachos called Naquitos.  This is a must order item!  In fact, you’ll be best served ordering two.  Naquitos are bite-sized taquitos covered in chile con queso and jalapeños.  While that sounds simple enough, there’s quite a depth of complexity in the melding of flavors which go great together.  The taquitos are engorged with brisket, tender tendrils of delicious beef.  The chile con queso is not the gloppy, off-putting cheese from a can served in many a ballpark, but an amalgam of wonderful Mexican melting cheeses.  The jalapeños are freshly chopped, not baked or roasted.  This is one of those rare appetizers which stands out as a highlight of a meal and that’s saying something because everything we had at Mamba’s was memorable.

Asado Burrito: Deep-fried pork carnitas simmered in red chile, beans and chile

One of the specialties at Mamba’s Kitchen are burritos, and not just the standard, run-of-the-mill burritos you’ll find just about anywhere in the Duke City.  The menu offers Po’ Boy Burritos which bear no resemblance to the Po’ Boy sandwiches made famous in New Orleans.  These burritos are called Po’ Boy because they’re so budget conscious at under a dollar each.  They’re also stuffed with novelty ingredients, the complete antithesis of what you’ll typically find engorging the usual burrito suspects.  Simplicity itself, the Po’ Boys are available with such unique fillings as spam and egg, bologna and egg and hot dog and egg. 

Having grown up within the confines of the Picuris Pueblo reservation where I first experienced the delights of a fried baloney burrito, I can attest to its deliciousness (decades later barbecued baloney became my very favorite barbecued anything in Memphis, Tennessee).  The bologna and egg burrito at Mamba’s is a real treat though there wasn’t quite as much bologna as this barbecue aficionado would have liked.  My advice is to spring for a double portion of bologna and green chile.

New Mexico Burger: Cheeseburger topped with green chile, dressed with mayo and garnished with lettuce and tomatoes

If the Po’ Boy burritos are intended for all but the one-percenters, diners of all wealth demographics will easily be able to afford every burrito on the menu, the most expensive of which is still under five dollars.  Not counting the seven Po’ Boy burritos, there are ten burrito options on the menu.  The Asado Burrito is an early candidate for my favorite though in future visits the Fajita and Chicharron burritos might prompt a change of mind.  The Asado Burrito is engorged with deep-fried carnitas simmered in red chile, beans and cheese.  It’s a large burrito enrobed in a griddled tortilla with perfect pinto pony char.  The chile is relatively mild, but has a nice flavor.

There are five burgers on the menu including a taco or tortilla burger described on the menu as a cheeseburger cut in half to make two tacos or two tortilla burgers with green chile and lettuce.  Mamba’s version of a green chile cheeseburger is called the New Mexico burger and it’s dressed with mayo and garnished with tomatoes, lettuce and cheese.  It’s a very moist burger, somewhat reminiscent of the burgers at Griff’s, a long-time favorite.  The green chile has no real discernible bite, but has a nice roasted flavor.

Though not named for the quick-striking African serpent, Mamba’s Kitchen may just as quickly ensnare your affections and kill your hunger with delicious food priced reasonably and served by a very nice family.

Mamba’s Kitchen
513 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 25 May 2012
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Naquitos, Asado Burrito, Bologna & Egg Po’ Boy Burrito, New Mexico Burger with Fries

Mamba's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Jamon’s Frybread Cabana – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Jamon's Frybread Cabana, Indian Tacos & Brasilian Street Fare on Central Avenue

Jamon’s Frybread Cabana, Indian Tacos & Brasilian Street Fare on Central Avenue

Several years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, multi-player gaming meant sitting at a table and playing board and card games with friends actually sitting across the table from you as opposed to the disembodied online kind of ‘friends.” My compadre Brad and I had been trounced several times by our pop culture savvy spouses at Trivial Pursuit, a primitive game contemporaneous with throwing rocks at mastodons.  After four games, we finally had a chance to win one, but it came down to the toughest question Kim and Vicki could muster in a pop culture category which had been our downfall all night.  The question was “Who is called the Marilyn Monroe of South America?”   You could hear a pin drop when I calmly answered “Sonia Braga.”

Shockingly (for me), no one else at the table had even heard of Sonia Braga, a sultry seductress from Brazil…and tragically none of them had seen Gabriela and Flor and Her Two Husbands, two wonderfully spicy movies showcasing the raw voluptuousness of the sexy siren.  As if Sonia’s erotic qualities weren’t sufficiently alluring, in both movies her cooking was as integral to the plot lines as her lovemaking.  A stunning woman who can cook!  It’s no wonder Sonia epitomized the ideal Latin woman to American males in the 80s.  What red-blooded American man wouldn’t be reduced to a quivering mess watching a glistening (women don’t perspire) Sonia in the role of Gabriela as she cooked a sweet rice dessert in a clingy, curve-accentuating dress.

The interior of Jamon’s Frybread Cabana

A carnal association between Sonia Braga and the cuisine of Brazil remains imprinted in the engrams of my memory even today.  Alas, most of my experiences with the cuisine of Brazil have been at Churrascarias, the orgiastic celebrations of meats prepared on a rotisserie.  Watching skewered meats rotate slowly over an open flame is hardly as exciting as watching Sonia slowly stirring sweet rice over a wood oven (and if you don’t think that can be exciting, you need to see Gabriela). 

Rudy Vigil, one of my most trusted sources of information regarding visit-worthy new restaurant openings, recently told me about an exciting and quaintly named Brazilian restaurant which launched in March, 2012 on Route 66 just west of the Rio Grande.  He raved effusively about the food, described the colorful ambiance and even told me about the service but didn’t mention any pulchritudinous Sonia Braga lookalike preparing and serving it.  Drat!  It looks like I’m going to have to visit Brazil for myself.

Churrascos: Carne, Peru con Bacon, Sausage, Abacaxe (pineapple)

Despite the curious appellation, Jamon’s Frybread Cabana is as authentic as the cuisine of Brazil gets in Albuquerque.  The name comes about because owner James Trujillo previously served as the manager of the Pueblo Harvest Cafe, a peerless purveyor of Native American frybread.  A native New Mexican born in Las Cruces, James is also half Brazilian, having lived throughout South America for seven years, including three years in Brazil.  The fusion of  his two culinary loves–New Mexican style Native American cuisine (a prominent component of which is chile) and Brazilian street food–just made sense to him.  After my inaugural visit, it made plenty of sense to me, too.

Among the familiar menu offerings are Indian frybread and Indian tacos as well as red and green chile, pinto beans, taco salads and carne adovada which is used as a filling within a pastel.  In New Mexico the word pastel conjures images of pies and in a sense, pastels in Brazil are a form of a pie though they more closely resemble a sopaipilla.  The restaurant’s pastels are stuffed with such diverse fillings as pizza (pepperoni, mozzarella, Cheddar cheese and marinara sauce), BMT (basil, Mozzarella and tomato), hazelnut chocolate and banana and carne (ground beef seasoned with garlic and onions) as well as the aforementioned carne adovada.

Brazilian style rice, pinto beans and Frango Churrasco (chicken breast)

Brazilian options include several of the familiar churrasco items Duke City diners will recognize if they frequent Tucanos Brazilian Grill, heretofore Albuquerque’s only Brazilian restaurant.  There’s carne churrasco (sirloin tips infused with kosher salt), peru con bacon (grilled turkey breast wrapped with peppered bacon), verduras vinaigrette (grilled seasonal vegetables drizzled in Brazilian vinaigrette and dusted with Parmesan), frango churrasco (grilled chicken breast marinated in Brazilian citrus vinaigrette), sausage and  abacaxe (grilled pineapple slices glazed with a brown sugar and molasses syrup).

From the outside the restaurant still resembles any of a number of previous restaurant occupants, but step inside and the look and feel is most definitely not New Mexican.  Only the blonde bamboo ceiling is monochromatic.  The walls are festooned in bold, lively hues.  Along with Bailey’s on the Beach, it’s as close to a contemporary beachside eatery as you’ll find in landlocked Albuquerque.  Even the slate boards on which menu items are scrawled are colorful.  James will walk you through the ordering process and will describe the menu options if you need, but ordering is really as simple as one, two, three, four. 

Exquisite fry bread and two skewers (peru con bacon and sausage)

Option one is any two skewers, a half frybread and any side.  Option two is a Brazilian taco (fried corn tortillas filled with black bean puree, rice, your choice of ground beef, carne adovada or shredded chicken, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese), a side of red or green salsa and a twenty-ounce beverage.  Option three is any pastel, any side and a Brazilian taco.  Option four is an Indian taco (beef, chicken, carne adovada or vegetarian) and a beverage.  Every one of these combinations is comparably priced to a Big Mac, fries and a Coke (I looked it up) and infinitely better.  A number of a la carte options are also available. 

Murphy (anything that can go wrong will go wrong) accompanied us during our inaugural visit, but the true mark of character is how you handle adversity.  Because of a technical difficulty in the kitchen, the restaurant was unable to prepare fry bread and pastel, the two items we most wanted to try.  Rather than send his guests away hungry, James had his kitchen staff prepare a sumptuous repast of churrasco items along with rice, pinto and black beans, and red and green chile.  He then proceeded to serve us family style. 

Pastel filled with nutella and bananas

The churrasco items were all terrific, better than those at the aforementioned Tucano’s which tends to have heavy hand with the salt shaker.  The Peru con Bacon (grilled turkey breast wrapped with peppered bacon) was easily my favorite, but then almost anything which includes bacon takes its rightful place at the top.  The sausage was equally good and the abacaxe (grilled pineapple slices glazed with a brown sugar and molasses syrup) was excellent.  We missed the visual stimulation of seeing our grilled skewers atop the frybread as they’re usually served, but were very happy with what we did have. 

James’s New Mexican background is apparent in the red and green chile, neither of which utilize cumin, the foul demon despoiler of chile’s purity.  The red and green chile both have a piquant bite, not the perfunctory nibble of some restaurant chile. The red is especially incendiary.  The pinto beans are also very much New Mexican in form and flavor.  Much better than  Spanish rice at any New Mexican restaurant in town is the Brazilian style rice flavored with onion and garlic.  The only thing which could have improved on that rice is watching Sonia Braga prepare it.

My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott and James Trujillo, proprietor of Jamon’s Frybread Cabana

Six weeks after my inaugural visit, my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott convinced me I was already overdue for a return visit to the Frybread Cabana.  During his first visit Ryan had the good fortune not to be joined by the proverbial ill-fated Murphy as I had been.  As such, he became enamored of the frybread which he says is the very best he’s ever had, better even than the frybread served at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds.  He also enjoyed the pastel filled with nutella and banana, one of my favorite combinations in crepes.

In 2012, frybread became even more engrained into America’s culinary fabric than ever before when the FryBread House in Phoenix was one of five honorees for the James Beard Foundation Awards America’s Classics category given to restaurants with timeless appeal and that are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.   During my next visit to Phoenix, I hope to visit the FryBread House to see for myself if it’s as wonderful as the frybread at Albuquerque’s Frybread Cabana which is every bit as good as Ryan described. 

Roughly the size of a discus, the frybread is more reminiscent of a New Mexican buñuelo than it is a sopaipilla though it could be argued that save for their shapes, the three fried bread treats are essentially the same.  At the Cabana, the frybread is better than 95 percent of the sopaipillas in Albuquerque.  Though frybread doesn’t puff up as sopaipillas do, they’re excellent with honey.  Tear into the fresh, right out-of-the-fryer frybread and fragrant steam is released to intoxicate your nostrils with the unmistakable aroma of fried dough.  The flavor delivers on the promise made by the aroma.  These are indeed addictive.

Addictive would also describe the pastel, a deep-fried envelope filled with nutella and banana and eaten directly from your hand.  In Brazil, the pastel is a favorite snack or light lunch.  Pastels are rectangular, roughly the size of a Pop Tart (but it’s an insult to pastels to even mention them in the same sentence) and can be filled with either a sweet or savory filling.  Naturally, they’re served hot right out of the fryer.  Fillings are limited only by the imagination.  The Frybread Cabana offers pastels are filled with imagination and with love.  If the pastel filled with nutella and banana (as good as any crepe in town) is any indication, Albuquerque will love these decadent fried treats.

By the way, the curious appellation “Jamon’s” has nothing to do with ham, the Spanish translation of the word.  James explained that during high school a classmate called him “Jamon” for two years, teasing that “Jamon” was Spanish for “James.”  Duke City diners continue to discover that “Jamon’s” means a culinary adventure with a flavorful surprise in every order.

Jamon’s Frybread Cabana
3915 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 25 May 2012
1st VISIT: 7 April 2012
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Carne Churrasco, Peru con Bacon, Frango Churrasco, Abacaxe, Brazilian style rice, pinto beans, red chile, green chile, Frybread, Pastel with nutella and banana

Jamon's Frybread Cabana on Urbanspoon