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Bert’s Burger Bowl – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Bert's Burger Bowl in Santa Fe

Bert’s Burger Bowl in Santa Fe

The tee shirts worn by a nattily attired and enthusiastic wait staff at Bert’s Burger Bowl say it all: “Since 1954: One Location Worldwide.” Celebrating its golden anniversary in 2004, Bert’s seems to transcend time with a winning formula: great burgers, terrific service and reasonable prices. Generations of New Mexicans and visitors have made Bert’s a beloved Santa Fe dining destination.  It is such a beloved local institution that then-Representative Tom Udall entered it into the Congressional Record in September, 2004 to commemorate its 50th anniversary.

It’s easy to believe Bert’s popularity is an anomaly. It’s open only until 7PM six days a week and until 5PM on Sundays. There’s nowhere to sit inside the restaurant and if you’re in a hurry, you’re out of luck because every burger is prepared to order. So why do generations of burgerphiles make Bert’s Burger Bowl a popular indulgence? World famous chef Martin Rios of the Anasazi may have said it best in the May, 2007 edition of Santa Fean magazine, “no one beats these burgers.” That’s high praise indeed from a culinary artiste who has been named Chef of the Year by both the city of Santa Fe and the State of New Mexico.

Bert's kitchen is always busy

Bert’s kitchen is always busy

Bert’s claim to fame is the invention of the green chile cheese burger (something I don’t believe has been authenticated and is certainly in dispute because the Owl Bar and Cafe in San Antonio has been serving them up since 1945). It should stand to reason that the inventor of New Mexico’s favorite burger should do it exceedingly well and Bert’s does–so well, in fact, that it was one of 48 restaurants selected for the inaugural New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in 2009. Bert’s was a repeat selection for the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in 2011.

Each burger is made to order. It takes about 12 minutes per order (and as long as 15 minutes for the lamb burger) which means your burgers don’t sit under a heat lamp. The meat is invariably well seasoned and the condiments are unfailingly fresh with crisp onion, fresh tomato, pickle slices and piquant green chile (Bert’s uses 120 pounds per week). The green chile cheeseburger is the reason Guy Fieri of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives visited Bert’s in September, 2008.  The signed poster on display under glass at Bert’s displays Fieri’s sentiments toward that burger: “You gotta love Bert’s green chile cheeseburger.”

Make it a double

A double-meat  Green Chile Cheeseburger at Bert’s Burger Bowl

Bert’s burger is sometimes maligned by critics because the hamburger patty is anorectic compared to the gigantic slabs of hamburger proffered at restaurants such as the Bobcat Bite. Maybe that’s why altruistic owner Fernando Olea added five upscale gourmet burgers to the restaurant’s menu in the spring of 2007. The meat for each gourmet burger weighs in at a whopping half pound. Each burger is dressed to the nines with atypical ingredients.  In any case, you can always get a double-meat, double-cheese, double-green chile burger as a recourse.

The line-up includes a Kobe burger adorned with the same ingredients as Bert’s standard burger, but hey, we’re talking some of the most decadently oleaginous beef around. It’s the most expensive of the five gourmet burgers. The other four newcomers are a lamb burger (topped with pineapple chunks, chopped cilantro and pastor sauce), a pork burger (crafted with red chile and mashed beans ala San Antonio, Texas style), an ostrich burger (also bedecked with the ingredients found in Bert’s standard burger) and a bison burger.

The bison burger, a real handful

The bison burger, a real handful

Bison meat is very high in essential fatty acids that can aid in the reduction of cholesterol levels. It’s a burger served best at no more than medium done so as to preserve its juiciness. Bert’s complements a thick beef patty with grilled onion ribbons and a fiery hot Morita sauce. Morita sauce is made from the smallest jalapeno in the last picking of the crop then is lightly smoked. Alas, a great burger is a sum of all its components, including the bun. During our inaugural experience with the bison burger, the brawny buns were toasted to the point of being desiccated. It detracted from an otherwise interesting and delicious burger. 

The lamb burger (pictured below) is so very different from any other burger on the menu in that it’s prepared with an al pastor (shepherd style) sauce.  If you’ve ever had tacos al pastor, you’re familiar with the marinade used on the lamb burger.  A sauce of lime, vinegar, garlic, oregano, onion, salt and guajillo chiles is liquefied on a blender and incorporated into the ground lamb.  The lamb is topped with seared pineapple and cilantro, two other tacos al pastor touches.  It’s not a burger everyone will love (we found it rather dry), but it’s a unique and creative option you might not expect to find in a small mom-and-pop restaurant renowned for conventional green chile cheeseburgers.

Lamburger with Onion Rings

Cost conscious Bert’s loyalists might opt instead for the barbecue burger emboldened with a sweet barbecue sauce. A nice alternative to burgers altogether are the carnitas tacos served in soft Mexican corn tortillas with either green or red salsa.

Bert’s chocolate shakes have lots of chocolate flavor and are of the consistency of a thick chocolate milk served very cold. They’re a magical elixir for whatever energy draining heat ails you on a balmy New Mexico summer day.  They’re so good you’ll want to order two of them.

Single-meat green chile cheeseburger

The fries are so-so, but the onion rings are oh so wonderful. We debated just what it was that makes those onion orbs so good and eventually concluded it was the onions themselves. Bert’s onion rings aren’t dominated by that greasy batter you find almost everywhere else. They’re made with real onions whose flavor is allowed to come across wonderfully with a crunchy batter which doesn’t fall away from the onions.

In this age of golden arches and creepy burger monarchs, it’s a treat to dine at a burger stand in which old-fashioned burgers and innovative new burgers can still be had.

Bert’s Burger Bowl
235 N. Guadalupe St.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-0215
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 28-August-2012
# OF VISITS: 10
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Burgers, Shakes, Onion Rings

Bert's Burger Bowl on Urbanspoon

Rooftop Pizzeria – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Rooftop Pizzeria in Santa Fe: Located on the top floor of the Santa Fe Arcade facing Water Street

When I come home feelin’ tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat-race noise down in the street (up on the roof)
On the roof, the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let’s go up on the roof (up on the roof)
The Drifters: Up On The Roof

In the early 1990s, Fortune magazine named Santa Fe one of America’s top ten dining destinations. The City Different has earned and solidified that reputation over the years with cutting edge restaurants that have culled worldwide acclaim. One of the cuisine types for which Santa Fe (and New Mexico for that matter) is not highly regarded on a national stage is pizza. Launched in March, 2006, the Rooftop Pizzeria appears to have made it its mission to prove that the inventiveness for which Santa Fe’s chefs are renown can extend to one of America’s favorite culinary obsessions–pizza.

The Rooftop Pizzeria is a sister restaurant to Santa Fe restaurants La Casa Sena, Rio Chama Steakhouse and the Blue Corn Cafe as well as the Chama River Brewing Company in Albuquerque, all properties of Santa Fe Dining, the restaurant company owned by Santa Fe art dealer and developer Gerald Peters. It seems every few years, Peters introduces a new concept restaurant and now has as impressive a restaurant repertoire as there is in the state.

Prosciutto Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms

True to its name, the Rooftop Pizzeria is located on the top floor of the Santa Fe Arcade. Dining outdoors, especially on a clear and slightly breezy spring day lets you breathe in New Mexico’s salubrious mountain air and gaze reverently at the incomparable blue skies that no Santa Fe painter has ever been able to fully duplicate. Gaze lower down and your view is of the Water Street parking lot and nearby rooftops.

The restaurant’s appealing antipasti selection is served with house-made breads and crackers as well as herb-infused oil. You may feel the siren’s call of warm roasted garlic cloves with lemon, oregano and cracked pepper. The marriage of seemingly disparate ingredients will play four-part harmony on your taste buds. After all the garlic cloves are gone, dipping the remaining bread (if any) into the lemony broth will remind you just how great an appetizer you just had.

Wire basket of bread

You might opt instead for an appetizer of Prosciutto Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms, four mushroom caps engorged with prosciutto covered with melted mozzarella and drizzled with truffle oil.  It’s served with sweet picked red onions and aged balsamic vinegar.  The crimini mushrooms are meaty and moist, a perfect repository for the slightly salty prosciutto.  The aged balsamic vinegar and its sweet tanginess provides a nice counterbalance to the savory strengths of the mushrooms and prosciutto.

The menu includes five different salad options including a smoked duck salad with roasted peppers, pistachios and mixed greens doused with Balsamic sesame vinaigrette. If you don’t order a salad, you’ll lustily ogle the salads destined for other tables. They appear to be an exciting array of leafy creations.  A soup of the day, available in cup or bowl sizes, offering is an alternative starter option.

Could this be New Mexico’s very best pizza?  Food Network Magazine thinks so. It’s a pizza constructed of grilled chicken, green chile, cotija and Asadero cheeses and toasted piñon with Alfredo sauce on a blue corn crust.

The restaurant features eleven house specialty pizzas as well as “build your own” options served on either of two premium house-made pizza doughs–a traditional “Artisan Crust” and a locally inspired “Blue Corn Crust.” The gourmet ingredients topping the specialty pies will have you doing a double-take. If the air wasn’t so crispy and clean, you might think you’re in Los Angeles where pizza toppings range from the sublime to the frou-frou. Of course, to gastronomes such ingredients as lobster, shrimp, apple-smoked bacon and smoked duck fall under the category of sublime. What makes it challenging is whether to order a specialty pizza or build your own masterpiece, limited only by your imagination.

Ultimately you might settle on a house specialty crafted with smoked duck, roasted garlic spread, spinach, basil, peppercorns and four cheeses on artisan crust. Wow! This will provide a lot of competition for your rapt attention thanks to ingredients that go together like bread and butter. The crust is thin and just slightly crispy while the sauce is subdued, letting other ingredients do the talking. There is more smoked duck in a 12-inch pie than you might have on entire duck meals and it is delicious, albeit slightly dry.

Half of this pizza is made with Smoked Duck, Green Pepper Corns, Spinach, Basil, Roast Garlic Spread, and Four Cheeses on Artisan Crust; the other half is a BLT Pizza: Apple-Smoked Bacon, Ripe Tomato, Mozzarella, Provolone & Bleu Cheese topped with Avocado and Lettuce with Red Sauce on Artisan Crust

Sure Americans have long had a love affair with bacon, lettuce and tomato (BLT) sandwiches, but who’s ever heard of a BLT pizza. The pizza artisans at the Rooftop have and they’ve perfected it. This unlikely pie features apple-smoked bacon, ripe tomato and three cheeses (provolone, mozzarella and bleu cheese) topped with avocado and lettuce with a red sauce on an artisan crust. The real star of this outstanding orb (as it is on the BLT sandwich) is the applewood smoked bacon which is always first in name and first in the hearts of savvy diners.

If your tastes lean toward the Mediterranean, Rooftop will craft a flat bread beauty replete with Mediterranean roasted vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives with a basil pesto on an artisan crust. Surprisingly, Feta cheese isn’t a standard on this pie, but the restaurant will substitute goat cheese if you request (and you should).

In the August, 2010 edition of the Food Network Magazine, an article entitled “50 States, 50 Pizzas” named the “best pizza” in each state. The Land of Enchantment’s representative on this list was a pizza called the “Santa Fe” and fittingly, it can only be found in our state capital’s Rooftop Pizzeria.  This award-winning pizza, available by the slice or whole pizza, is crafted with grilled chicken, green chile, cotija and Asadero cheeses and toasted piñon with Alfredo sauce on a blue corn crust.  While my Kim absolutely loved it and agreed with the Food Network’s assessment, this hard-liner found the chicken just a bit dry (as it almost always is on pizza), but the other ingredients worked quite well together.

Several other pizzas are intriguing enough to warrant many visits to the top of the roof where the top pizza in Santa Fe has a home with a view.

Rooftop Pizzeria
600 East San Francisco Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 984-0008
LATEST VISIT: 26 August 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Warm Roast Garlic Cloves with Lemon, Oregano and Cracked Pepper; Smoked Duck, Roast Garlic Spread, Spinach, Basil, Peppercorns and Four Cheeses on Artisan Crust Pizza; Grilled Chicken, Green Chile, Cotija and Asadero Cheeses and Toasted Pinon with Alfredo Sauce on Blue Corn Crust Pizza; BLT – Apple-Smoked Bacon, Ripe Tomato, Mozzarella, Provolone & Bleu Cheese topped with Avocado and Lettuce with Red Sauce on Artisan Crust Pizza; Prosciutto Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms

Rooftop Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Ravioli Italian Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Ravioli Italian Kitchen at 4320 The 25 Way, N.E.

The older I get, the more my favorite part of the Academy Awards every year is the teary-eyed tribute to all the famous screen legends who passed away during the preceding twelve months.  The montage of glitterati greatness on the “In Memoriam” segment not only provides a much-needed respite from self-absorbed acceptance speeches and tedious dance numbers, it  evokes a flood of memories and emotions as viewers pause to remember the movie makers who have touched us all.

Similarly, the closure of a favorite restaurant gives diners pause to reflect on meals we’ve had at restaurants gone, but not forgotten. Even in booming economic times, restaurants have a higher mortality rate than most, if not all, businesses.  It’s the natural order of the restaurant business that not all restaurants are destined to survive.  Closures aren’t always the consequence of an economic malaise.  Nearly thirty percent of restaurants close within their first year of operation.

So why a dour diatribe instead of my usual effusive celebration of a restaurant I just visited?  Ravioli Italian Kitchen, we found out, will be closed for good on Friday, September 1st, 2012.  Launched in November, 2011, Ravioli demonstrated promise and potential, but was never able to consistently draw in the types of crowds needed to succeed over a long term.  Ravioli joins a number of chain and independent restaurants which have failed in The 25 Way, a contemporary mixed office and retail environment with good exposure to I-25.

Ravioli Italian Kitchen has many of the elements and attributes of a restaurant which should have succeeded.  Owner Kathy Punya has a proven track record of success with her Sushi King restaurant enterprise throughout the metropolitan area.  Its The 25 Way storefront is functional, attractive and inviting.  The menu is diverse and interesting with housemade pastas and desserts a plenty as well as made-to-order cooking.  Service is friendly and attentive.  With staunch competition for disposable dollars, these factors were apparently not enough.  Perhaps in another time and place…

Garden salad with blue cheese dressing

True to the name on the marquee, the Ravioli Italian Kitchen menu does showcase ravioli, the traditional Italian pasta dish made of pasta dough stuffed with filling.  Diners have their choice of sauce: Alfredo, marinara, green chile-jalapeño, basil, pesto, ancho cream, mushroom cream, vino blanco, Arribiata and meat sauce.  Ravioli fillings are lobster, cheese, beef and portobello.  The ravioli are made in-house as are other Italian pastas.

The menu holds no real surprises and is sectioned logically: appetizers, salads, soups, pasta, entrees, ravioli, “on the lighter side” and desserts.  It’s not an especially innovative Italian menu, so the difference-maker here has to be execution–the quality of ingredients, their preparation, how they’re presented, the authenticity of the dishes and how they’re delivered.  It’s in execution (lack thereof) that Urbanspoon reviewers have rated Ravioli poorly.  Our inaugural experience was a mix of highlights and low spots, the latter of which could be remedied with time and attention.  Alas, Ravioli Italian Kitchen won’t be given a second chance.

Pork and Fennel Ragu:
Ground pork slow cooked with rosemary, fennel, pancetta, vegetables with freshly grated parmesan cheese and bucatini pasta!

The appetizer menu has some de rigueur standards such as calamari fritti, fried mozzarella cheese and fried zucchini.  As with many Italian restaurants, an antipasto is also offered, but this one is presented just a bit differently.  It’s in the form of three skewers of black and green olives, slices of salami, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and grape tomatoes served with toasted bread, artichokes, buttercrisp crackers and an olive tapenade.  As antipastos go, this one is a nice mix of vegetable to meat though a greater diversity of cheese would have made it even better.

All entrees are served with a side salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, julienne carrots and mixed greens) with several salad dressings from which to choose.  A housemade berry vinaigrette, the color of beets, has a balanced flavor of fruitiness and sweetness.  The blue cheese dressing has a plethora of veiny blue cheese crumbles and is both thick and redolent with the flavor of blue cheese and not some thick mayo-base.

Spaghetti Carbonara: Pancetta, Parmesan and Egg Tossed Together To Form a Creamy Sauce

One entree not standard at most Italian restaurants is Ravioli’s pork and fennel ragu.  Now, if you’re thinking Ragu as in the ubiquitous bottled-and-heated spaghetti and pasta sauce, remedial Italian Cuisine 101 is in dire need.  Ragu, derived from the French word “ragout” which translates to “stew,” is actually any sauce to which meat is added.  Ravioli’s pork and fennel ragu uses ground pork which is slow-cooked with rosemary, fennel, pancetta and finely chopped vegetables (such as carrots and celery) and served with a bucatini pasta, a long, hollow Italian pasta that resembles a thick spaghetti.  The best aspects of this dish are, of course, the pancetta, an Italian cured meat made from pork belly and the fennel with its sweet anise-like flavor. 

Years ago when we lived in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Fridays were, for about six consecutive months,  carbonara night at Salvetti’s Italian Grill.  Never before and not since have we had carbonara quite that good or quite that rich.  How good and how rich?  It was so good you couldn’t stop eating it even though you knew you’d literally be sick afterwards.  The spaghetti carbonara at Ravioli’s isn’t nearly that rich.  It’s not even in the same ballpark.  Pancetta, Parmesan and egg are tossed together to form a mildly creamy sauce, but it’s not creamy enough.  Nor is there enough pancetta (is there ever?).  

Tiramisu and Cannoli

Desserts include a number of unique offerings such as a cinnamon apple and pear “pizza” (apple compote topped with sweetened ricotta, fresh pears and caramel sauce) and a blueberry citrus calzone (citrus blueberry reduction spread on nutella and ricotta cheese).  Perhaps the latter dessert is where the carbonara’s richness went.  Also available are such standards as Tiramisu and cannoli.  The cannoli shells are dipped in chocolate then rolled in crushed almonds while the filling is a mix of sweetened ricotta, candied orange and mini chocolate chips.  It’s not as sweet as some cannoli tends to be.  Neither is the tiramisu which is moist and redolent with a mellow coffee flavor.

The Ravioli Italian Kitchen will soon be referred to in a past tense terms and will be relegated to the “Gone But Not Forgotten” menu of this blog.  It’s a restaurant at which memories have been made, hopefully mostly good ones.  Duke City diners, especially those who count it among their favorites, still have nearly a week to add to those memories. Others of us who haven’t yet visited Ravioli can still do so before it’s too late.

Ravioli Italian Kitchen
4320 The 25 Way, N.E. Map.41286b1
Albuquerque, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 25 August 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET:

Ravioli Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon