La Fonda Del Bosque – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

La Fonda Del Bosque within the sprawling National Hispanic Cultural Center

In the millennium year, after years of planning and lobbying, the dream was finally realized of a haven  dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and advancement of Hispanic culture, arts, and humanities. In 2000, the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC), launched along the Camino Real in the Albuquerque’s historic Barela’s neighborhood.  The Center is an architectural anomaly in a largely adobe-hued area, its unique structures including a renovated hacienda-style school, a stylized Mayan pyramid with interior elements modeled on Romanesque architecture and a torreon (tower) housing a 4,000 square foot concave fresco depicting over 3,000 years of Hispanic history.

Ironically the complex chartered to preserve, protect and promote Hispanic culture had to displace several families, thereby disenfranchising some of the very families who embody the Hispanic culture in Albuquerque.  One resident–the late Adela Martinez–stared down bureaucrats and made them blink, refusing to move.  The forty-million dollar Cultural Center had to be redesigned to accommodate her family in the home she moved into in the 1920s.  Today, her family’s two small houses stand out, not like a sore thumb, but as a testament to the courage of one 80-year old Hispanic woman whose treasured memories were worth much more than the monetary treasures government offered.


The home of Adela Martinez, a New Mexico treasure

Since November, 2000, the converted Barelas Elementary School on the sprawling NHCC complex has served as the home of La Fonda Del Bosque, a stylish 280-seat restaurant.    La Fonda, which translates from Spanish to “The Inn” almost immediately garnered recognition.  Within three years of its launch,  Hispanic magazine named it one of the 50 best Hispanic restaurants in the United States for two consecutive years (2003 and 2004).  It was also named one of Gourmet Magazine’s “Best Kept Secrets.” A higher compliment is that many locals love it, too, especially during the Sunday brunch when they can sample a greater bounty of Hispanic favorites.

Over the years, a number of catering and restaurant management companies have tried their hand at running La Fonda Del Bosque.  The most recent to take the helm is A KayTahRing Company which began operating the restaurant in June, 2012.  After several years of serving New Mexican food, the new operators are taking the restaurant in a new direction, showcasing “flavors, cooking styles and ingredients from the 27 countries comprising Central and South America and the Latino Caribbean islands” according to the restaurant’s Web site.

Dining Room at La Fonda Del Bosque

La Fonda is open for breakfast and lunch as well as for brunch on Sundays. Dinner is served only for special events when the upscale milieu really shines.   While the menu offerings may have a Latin fusion flair, the ambiance at La Fonda Del Bosque is most decidedly Southwestern with a pronounced New Mexican influence.  The centerpiece of the dining room is a wood-burning fireplace that may make you wish it was winter so you could imbibe the aromas of piñon wood.  On bright New Mexican summer days, the  tinwork light fixtures aren’t much needed because the large windows let in so much natural light.  Service is impeccable. 

The restaurant’s Web site describes the menu as “one bold statement after another.”   At the very least, it’s an ambitious menu that crosses over several borders and culinary cultures.  That’s especially true of the prix fixe menu for brunch which couples a buffet and a number of items from the menu.  Stainless steel vessels hold such buffet items as smoked salmon lox, Argentine prawn and chili quiche, seasonal fruit, Cuban Torrejas, Peruvian Ceviche Limon and twin crepes.  Don’t fill your plate too much because you’ll also have the opportunity to order an entree from the “kitchen” menu.  This menu ranges from the simple (huevos rancheros) to the complex (Seafood Valencia Paella).

Sunday Brunch Offerings Include Seafood Valencia (Paella made with chicken, chorizo, prawns, mussels and peas); smoked salmon lox; Argentine Prawn and Chili Quiche

The attentive wait staff does their best to ensure the buffet items are replenished so diners will always have fresh and warm food.  Their efforts are more successful when a passel of diners empties the serving vessels almost as quickly as the servers fill them.  Such was the case during our inaugural visit which transpired on the same day the Japanese Fall Festival was being held on the grounds of the Center.  Apparently a number of diners preferred Latin inspired cuisine to Japanese fare because La Fonda was quite crowded when we arrived.

Among the buffet items which would have stood out was the smoked salmon lox with cream cheese, capers, red onions and eggs.  Alas, the toasted bagels intended to be the canvas upon which to heap the other ingredients were stale and dry.  Still, who can resist salmon, capers and cream cheese, a triumvirate of taste. Also good were Cuban Torrejas, essentially pain perdu (French toast) stuffed with strawberry and mamey glaze, and topped with whipped Cream.   The Peruvian Ceviche Limon, fresh raw fish, calamari, octopus and shrimp served with yam and Peruvian corn was rather uninspired, a far cry from Peruvian ceviche we’ve had elsewhere. It lacked the freshness and the citrus-tinged zip of a great ceviche.

Carne Asada con Huevos al Gusto (Native to Northern Mexico): Half-pound charbroiled sirloin with 2 eggs any style, served with breakfast potatoes, adobo sauce

My choice from the menu was paella, but not just any paella. According to the menu, it was Seafood Valencia,  named for the city in Spain in which paella originated.  Valencia isn’t just where paella was first made, it’s where it’s best made.  Paella is a great source of local pride for Valencianos where it’s made so well that, much like some Italian food, its flavors improve into the next day.  Similar to the paella made in Valencia, La Fonda’s rendition has a slightly crunchy edge.  It’s replete with bite-sized pieces of chicken, seasoned pork sausage, prawns, mussels and green peas embedded in a mound of saffron-infused rice.   The portion size is more than generous, but the experience would have been even more authentic and fun had it been served in a paellera, the flat steel pan in which paella is traditionally prepared.  Exercise caution not to ladle out the paella on the buffet table (unless you really like paella) because it will count as your entree. 

Another palate pleasing entree is the carne asada con huevos al gusto, a plate native to Northern Mexico.  The carne asada is a half-pound charbroiled sirloin steak prepared to your exacting level of doneness.  In some Mexican restaurants–both in Mexico and in New Mexico–a half-pound sometimes means two portions of thinly cut, usually tough as leather steak so it’s a surprise to find a thick, juicy steak that’s almost fork tender.  Literally the term “huevos al gusto” translates to “eggs to your pleasure,” but really means “eggs made the way you want them.”  The breakfast potatoes are excellent, but the adobo sauce lacked any real punch.

Tiramisu and white chocolate truffle

The brunch menu also includes a dessert bar featuring such sweet-tooth favorites as tiramisu, truffles, and fruit tarts.  The tiramisu would never be mistaken for the tiramisu made at Torinos @ Home, not by a long stretch, but it’s better than out-of-the-box.

La Fonda Del Bosque offers catering services for special events such as weddings and anniversaries. With a patio which can accommodate as many as 1,500 guests, it’s a perfect venue for a good time.

La Fonda Del Bosque
Hispanic Cultural Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 30 September 2012
COST: $$

La Fonda Del Bosque on Urbanspoon

ZS&T’s Great Grub – Albuquerque, New Mexico

ZS&T’s Great Grub for great New Mexican food, sandwiches, burgers and delicious desserts

Here’s an idea: Quit playing on the Internet and get over to 5017 Menaul, N.E. for lunch. And dinner.” That’s not Gil Garduño admonishing you to take a break from the invaluable research you’re conducting on the Internet. That’s ZS&T’s Web site inviting you to what could very well be one of the best Duke City restaurants you’ve never heard of, a restaurant so confident in its cooking that its Web site boasts, “If you don’t think it’s the best food in Albuquerque, we’ll refer you to a good Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to get your taste buds adjusted.” Audacity, braggadocio or confidence?

As Muhammad Ali used to say, “it’s not bragging if you can back it up.” ZS&T’s owners have the pedigree to back it up! While the restaurant itself is a relatively new player on Albuquerque’s culinary stage, having opened in March, 2012, Suzie and Daniel Baca are certainly not newcomers to the city’s dining scene. In fact, under their stewardship, La Fonda Del Bosque, the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s flagship restaurant, garnered significant critical acclaim and hosted international glitterati from both the political and the cinematic arena.

The dining room at ZS&T’s Great Grub

When the National Hispanic Cultural Center decided to take the Center’s restaurant operation in a different direction, it was the impetus the Bacas needed to launch their own eatery, the culmination of a long-held dream. The Bacas named their first restaurant venture for their three sons – Zachary (Z), Sean (S) and Trevor (T). The restaurant’s walls are much like the walls of any family home in which proud parents showcase their children’s accomplishments. Those walls are a veritable shrine to the Baca scions’ athletic achievements with a number of trophies, plaques and even a championship belt. All three boys are stalwart kick boxers.

Interspersed throughout the walls are Oakland Raiders collectibles honoring the favorite NFL team of the Baca men. Mom Suzie is alone in supporting the St. Louis Rams, but that may be the only area of dissention among the Baca clan. In every respect, ZS&T’s Great Grub is a family-owned, family-operated restaurant. When Suzie and Daniel conceptualized their mom-and-pop restaurant, they envisioned “great grub, simply made and served with love” where “guests would be surrounded by the feeling of being at home.” Mission accomplished! During our inaugural visit, we were well attended by Trevor, a very well-mannered and personable young man.

Chips and salsa at ZS&T’s Great Grub

The menu is inspired from recipes and favorite foods of friends and relatives with several items named for family members. It’s executed by Daniel, a professionally trained chef who has delighted guests with his food at hotels and restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment as well as in Arizona and California. Befitting the tiny but homey 1,400 square-foot milieu, the menu is relatively simple featuring soups and salads, sandwiches and burgers, traditional New Mexican plates and sumptuous sweets for the sweet. ZS&T’s is open for breakfast and lunch every day but Monday and for dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Delicious food and a family environment are why Chris Pinkston, who raved about the restaurant to me, visits two or three times a week.

The very first must-have on the menu is chips and salsa. What sets this salsa apart from the rest is its freshness. It is made-from-scratch daily from fresh ingredients. One ingredient you don’t see often in salsas throughout New Mexico is carrot, but you will see tiny flecks of orange carrot on the ZS&T salsa. The carrots provide a touch of sweetness and serve as a counterpoint to more astringent ingredients such as garlic, jalapeño, tomato, cilantro and bell pepper. The salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it’s very, very good. The chips are just a tad on the salty side, but they’re crispy and formidable enough for Gil-sized scoops of salsa.

Aunt Patty’s Melt

There are three burgers on the menu, each one ostensibly better than the other, at least according to their sobriquets—Basic Burger, Better Burger and Best Burger. Basic pretty well describes the entry-level burger which is constructed with grilled beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. Bacon makes it a Better burger. Add guacamole and green chile and you’ve got the Best Burger. There are seven sandwiches on the menu including two named for sons Zach and Trevor.

Then there’s Aunt Patty’s Melt, a unique take on the patty melt. This is a patty melt the way only a New Mexican would make it. If you surmised that’s a sly way of saying it’s got green chile, you’re spot-on. The foundation for this excellent sandwich is a lightly grilled light rye bread. It’s topped with a perfectly grilled beef patty, American cheese, grilled onions, 1000-Island dressing and green chile. The sweetness of the grilled onions and the sweet-tanginess of the 1000-Island dressing are a nice foil for the piquant-fruitiness of the green chile. The beef is juicy and well-seasoned.

Enchilada Plate Christmas-Style with a Fried Egg. Calabasitas and Beans on the side

During their seven-year tenure at La Fonda Del Bosque, the Bacas enthralled visitors with their traditional New Mexican food. Ten New Mexican dishes are on the menu at ZS&T’s, all served with beans and your choice of Spanish rice or calabasitas with a flour tortilla. Carne adovada is available only on the breakfast menu and it’s the only item which includes cumin. Everything is made to order and arrives at your table steaming hot.

The menu showcases the versatility of enchiladas, which are available with beef, chicken, carne adovada or solely cheese and served with your choice of red, green or “Christmas” style chile. A grilled vegetable and avocado enchilada plate is also available. The enchiladas are made flat, three corn tortillas per order and with onions unless otherwise requested. Top them with an egg for another unique New Mexico touch. These are Chamber of Commerce quality enchiladas, the type of which you’d serve visitors to the Duke City to win them over about our cuisine. Neither the red or green chile is especially piquant, but both have a nice roasted flavor. Both the beans and the calabasitas are quite good. The fresh, crisp calabasitas include tomatoes, a very nice touch.

Natillas and Biscochitos, a fabulous combination

During our visits to La Fonda del Bosque, one of our favorite dessert combinations were natillas and biscochitos. More specifically, we enjoyed dipping the biscochitos into the natillas. The biscochitos, New Mexico’s official state cookie, are made with butter and have a just right amount of anise and cinnamon. The natillas are served cool. They’re light, creamy and cinnamon-rich. Only a handful of restaurants make natillas and biscochitos nearly as good.

The breakfast menu describes each of the eight items listed. The description for the Caramel Pecan Roll reads simply “LEGENDARY!!!!.” That’s four exclamation points and capital letters. Someone is emphasizing (shouting) that you’ve got to try these. The caramel pecan rolls are indeed exclamation point worthy. They’re excellent. The rolls are yeasty and buttery with a glaze of caramelized cinnamon sugar. Spread on some butter to cut the sweetness a bit and you’ll soon be swooning.

Caramel Pecan Roll

I’ll forgive you if you’ve stopped playing on the Internet and made a beeline for ZS&T’s, a family restaurant which makes you feel like you’re visiting a very nice family who will feed you very well.

ZS&T’s Great Grub
5017 Menaul Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 200-0065
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 29 September 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Enchiladas, Natillas, Biscochitos, Caramel Pecan Roll, Aunt Patty’s Melt

ZS & T's on Urbanspoon

Stone Face Tavern – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Stone Face Tavern

The Stone Face Tavern

Boris Vallejo, one of the premier fantasy and science fiction artists in the world, might be flattered by the ambiance at the Stone Face Tavern.  He might even become a regular.

The Stone Face Tavern is like an adult Disneyland for aficionados of the fantasy and erotica genres masterfully created by Vallejo.  The south-facing facade resembles a multi-turret stone castle complete with threatening gargoyles perched on the parapet.  The ominous countenance, flowing beard and piercing eyes of a Viking warrior or Norse god (maybe even Odin himself) looks down upon you from a vantage point high above the entrance.

Step inside and it may take you a few minutes to adjust to the dimly-lit room (heaven help you if you wear transition glasses) where there’s something to see in every square foot.  Once adjusted, male eyes will scan the room but invariably fix upon two slate boards which feature life-sized chalk paintings of beautiful, scantily clad warrior women.  You’d swear Vallejo himself drew them.

Testosterone flows on Bikini Top Wednesdays

Testosterone flows on Bikini Top Wednesdays

Scantily-clad would also describe the waitresses, but so would buxom, beautiful and bikinis.  Bikini top Wednesdays make the Stone Face tavern even more popular if possible.  Before you red-blooded men rush over, make sure to call ahead because bikini top Wednesday isn’t a year-round event.  It’s as seasonal as NFL football games.  Whether for lunch or dinner, this watering hole is one of Albuquerque’s most popular lures for testosterone-laden bikers, businessmen, beer drinkers and bikini top appreciators.

In between ogling the waitresses and salivating at the Vallejo-like paintings, X-chromosome patrons will fixate on the televisions, all tuned to sporting events or manly action shows.  They might never notice the goofy, illuminated gargoyles on the tavern’s interior walls, the unfurled banners which drape from the ceiling or the placard cautioning “If you don’t like our food or service, you’d better lower your standards.”  Somehow they managed for years–even through the pervasive blue haze of cigarette smoke–to appreciate the glass encased tee shirts which caution “Don’t “f-bomb” with the locals.”  Thankfully smoking is now prohibited.

Me, I notice everything–like the menu which features a bevy of burgers, sandwiches, New Mexican entrees and even steak.  The menu is more upscale than you generally find at a typical tavern and amazingly (not that some of the imbibing crowd will notice) some of the food is actually pretty good.

The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich (buffalo sauce on the side) at the Stone Face Tavern

Take the gigantic buffalo chicken sandwich for example.  It takes two hands to handle the behemoth buns which wrap themselves around cheese, tomato, lettuce, a full fried chicken breast and a buffalo sauce as lethal as gunpowder.  Buffalo chicken wings have never seen a sauce quite as incendiary–or quite as good.  It’s a better chicken sandwich, by far, than you’ll find at any of the fried chicken chains.  My friend and colleague Fred Phillips loves this sandwich so much he’s earned the sobriquet “Four Bite Fred” for the ardor with which he attacks it.  He’s been responsible for introducing more people to this sandwich than most online dating services have made lifelong matches.

Another among the five chicken sandwiches on the menu is the aptly named New Mexico Cordon Bleu chicken sandwich, a take-off of the classic French favorite with a New Mexico twist, our ubiquitous green chile.  This sandwich features a seared chicken breast topped with ham, Swiss cheese, green chile, tomato, lettuce and mayo.  It’s a humongous chicken sandwich, requiring both hands to hold.  With a more ardent green chile, it might compete with the aforementioned buffalo chicken sandwich for the tavern’s best.

The chicken parmesan sandwich, an Italian-inspired creation has everything a brimming plate of chicken parmesan might have save for a side of spaghetti.  The chicken breast is roughly the size of what you’d get in the Italian dish, maybe even in a Texas plate of chicken fried chicken.  It protrudes well beyond the bun at all sides.  It’s a thick chicken breast with a relatively light breading considering its size.  The marinara sauce is thick, too, and draped over by a generous amount of cheese.  The French roll isn’t nearly formidable enough to hold in its contents so you’ll probably have to eat this sandwich much as you would chicken parmesan.

Chicken Parmesan Sandwich (fried chicken breast topped with marinara sauce, Jack cheese, lettuce and tomato served on a French roll)

The Stone Face Tavern also serves a formidable, two-fisted burger menu–six burgers including a green chile cheeseburger which packs a punch…as does the jalapeno-based salsa which will have you reaching for water more than once. Almost uncharacteristic of this predominantly man’s man’s tavern, the burger menu also includes a veggie burger, your choice of black bean or garden. It is served with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and mustard. I have it on good authority from my friend, the professorial Randy Lake that this is a pretty good burger.

The Tavern is owned by Billy Baldwin, a youthful Albuquerque entrepreneur who also owns other Duke City watering holes.  He’s president of the New Mexico Hospitality Retail Association.  Based on the Stone Face Tavern, it’s obvious he knows a thing or two about hospitality. He also knows a thing or two about constructing a menu that appeals to his clientele.  Three salads–blackened chicken, fajita and chef–will appeal to lighter appetites.  Eleven sandwiches, ranging from a Philly Swiss (one of the tavern’s signature favorites) sandwich to your choice of bratwurst or Polish sausage are probably more popular than the salads.  The menu includes only one seafood entree, salmon, but it also includes a half dozen New Mexican entrees, all of which are big enough to share.

Green Chile Stew and New Mexico Steak Sandwich

Green Chile Stew and New Mexico Steak Sandwich

Noe Pacheco, a long-time friend of this blog, raves about the New York Steak sandwich, a sandwich “so good, it makes me weep when I eat it.”   Ever the “homer,” my philosophy is anything named for New Mexico has got to be better than anything named for New York.  That means the New Mexico Steak sandwich for me.  Where the New York steak sandwich is served on a French roll, the New Mexico steak sandwich is served on a tortilla.  Alas, the tortilla is so thin and crispy that it cracks and you’re forced to eat the steak with a fork.  This is inexcusable.  There are plenty of purveyors of more pliable, thick tortillas that would hold up better.  It’s a pity waifishly thin, cracker brittle tortillas are the downfall of an otherwise terrific sandwich.

Appetizers include French fries, beer-battered mushrooms, chicken tenders, guacamole and chips, nachos, quesadillas, buffalo wings and chips and salsa. Non-sandwich entrees include chicken fried chicken or steak, steak fingers, New York strip and a hamburger steak.

Even though my friend Four-Bite Fred will probably never deviate from the buffalo chicken sandwich, there’s something for everyone on the menu.

Stone Face Tavern
8201 San Pedro, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 822-8855
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 6 June 2013
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, Chips & Salsa, Quesadilla, Enchiladas, Chicken Parmesan Sandwich, Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich, Green Chile Stew, New Mexico Steak Sandwich

Stone Face Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pepper Pot – Hatch, New Mexico

The Pepper Pot serves Mexican and American food

You might expect that a village renowned as the “chile capital of the world” could also boast of restaurants which showcase chile of such high quality that they would be veritable Meccas to which diners from throughout the state would pilgrimage.  With a population of 1,648 (as of the 2010 census), Hatch has fewer than ten restaurants, many of which do indeed seem to draw nearly as many visitors from outside of Hatch as they do local residents and most of which do indeed showcase red and green chile.  For New Mexican food, the one restaurant which most locals name as their very favorite is the Pepper Pot.

Located in a converted residence, the Pepper Pot still resembles a family home, the give-away that it’s a business being prominent signage on a concrete plant stand.  Homey exterior implements such as an old-fashioned push mower and a miniature John Deere tractor adorn the lawn.  When you step into the restaurant and seat yourself in one of the dining room’s sixteen tables, you might notice that the ambiance is laden with Catholic symbols.  Even the flowers painted above the arched doorways resemble the roses on Juan Diego’s tilma.  A bulletin board recounts the great Hatch flood of 2006.

The Pepper Pot restaurant in Hatch, New Mexico, the chile capital of the world

What is conspicuously absent is any mention or memorabilia of arguably the restaurant’s most famous visitor.  In August, 2008, the Travel Channel’s indefatigable host Anthony Bourdain dined at the Pepper Pot during a filming of his No Reservations show.  His dining companions were Judd Nordyke (mayor of Hatch) and his lovely better half Marcia (coordinator of the Hatch Chile Festival) who schooled Bourdain on the fine points of red and green chile.  Bourdain declared Pepper Pot’s enchiladas “the best red enchiladas of his life.”

My friend and fellow gastronome Ruben Hendrickson was even more effusive about the red chile at the Pepper Pot, a chile he compared favorably to the sublime red chile at Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque (a chile sourced from the Delgado Farms in Hatch).  He praised its lack of residual bitterness so prevalent in many red chiles and boasted of its smooth, earthy flavor.  Ruben is a realist, however, and is quite familiar with Murphy’s Law which posits that the more you brag about a restaurant, the more it will disappoint when you take guests with you.  Ruben and I visited on September 11, 2012, scant days after the Hatch Chile Festival.

One of the dining rooms at the Pepper Pot restaurant on a Tuesday lunch hour

As we perused the menu, we were surprised at how quiet the restaurant was. Conversations were in low, hushed tones.  Churches are more boisterous.  We theorized that the food is so good, it deserves the diners’ rapt attention.  The dining room was more than half full with a mix of locals and wide-eyed visitors.  The telltale sign that local farmers were also dining at the Pepper Pot was the long-sleeved (on an 85-degree day) shirts and hats they wore.  We surmised there were at least a few chile-heads in the premises, too.

The Pepper Pot is owned and operated by sisters Melva Aguirre and Rosaria Varela who prepare all dishes from scratch.  Their restaurant is open only for breakfast and lunch.  Their chile is obtained locally from the Lytle family, generations of which have farmed in the Hatch Valley since the late 1800s.  Jim Lytle, the patriarch of the family, developed the fabled Big Jim chile pepper which is featured prominently on Pepper Pot’s cuisine.

Salsa and chips

As you peruse the menu–a two-page compendium of New Mexican food with some American favorites (mostly burgers, salads and sandwiches) interspersed–a basket of chips and bowl of salsa will be delivered gratis.  The salsa is chunky and fresh, a mix of tomatoes, onions and jalapeños with a hint of cilantro.  It’s not an especially piquant salsa, but has a very nice flavor.  The chips, definitely not uniform in size, appear to be housemade from corn tortilla shells.

Enchiladas are available with your choice of  cheese or ground beef.  The cheese enchiladas are engorged with two cheeses and topped with even more cheese, resulting in a melting, molten mess of yellow and white deliciousness.  Add an fried egg over easy and you’ll have an even more beauteous runny mess.  Then there’s the red and green chile (you should try both).  The green chile is superb!  It’s the type of chile the Hatch Chamber of Commerce might select as an exemplar of what green chile should taste like.  It has a discernible fruitiness and a nice roasted flavor with a piquancy level of about medium.  Most plates are served with rice and beans, both of which are quite good.  The rice separates easily and isn’t clumpy as bad rice tends to be.  The beans are blanketed with a smattering of shredded cheese.

Enchiladas – Travel Network star Anthony Bourdain declared the Pepper Pot serves the best enchiladas ever!  The chile rellenos are also quite good.

Also quite good is a chile relleno.  It would have been outstanding had just a bit more attention to detail been paid in its preparation.  For example, the skin wasn’t completely peeled, resulting in the annoying texture of chile skin in your mouth.  The rellenos are moderately battered and are easy to cut into with a fork, a sign they’re well-made.  The chile envelope isn’t especially piquant, but the cheesy interior is bubbling hot and thoroughly delicious.

Eager to relive red chile memories of a past meal at the Pepper Pot, my friend Ruben ordered a plate of red chile with pork which also came with rice, beans and a flour tortilla.  One bite was all it took for him to discern this was not the same chile of his dreams.  It wasn’t the dreaded demon spice cumin which befouled its purity.  Instead, a surfeit of Mexican oregano was used which rendered astringent what was probably an outstanding chile.  The pork was cut into small pieces and might have been even better without chile (that chile, anyway).  My experiences with the red chile on my enchilada plate were similar to Ruben’s.  Thankfully I had green chile to fall back on.

Red chile with pork, beans, rice and a flour tortilla

On the strength of its green chile alone, the Pepper Pot Restaurant should be considered one of Southern New Mexico’s very best dining options.  It’s a restaurant worthy of being the local’s favorite for New Mexican food in the world’s chile capital.

Pepper Pot
207 West Hall Street
Hatch, New Mexico
(575) 267-3822
LATEST VISIT: 11 September 2012
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Enchiladas (Christmas Style), Red Chile with Pork, Chile Relleno, Salsa and Chips

Pepper Pot on Urbanspoon

Arthur Bryant’s – Kansas City, Missouri

Arthur Bryant’s, home of heavenly sauce

Shortly after Arthur Bryant died in 1982, the Kansas City Star published a cartoon showing St. Peter greeting Arthur at the gates of heaven and asking, “Did you bring sauce?” Perhaps not even in Heaven can such a wondrous sauce be concocted.

Arthur Bryant’s is probably the most famous barbecue restaurant in the country, if not the world–an institution to which celebrity and political glitterati make pilgrimages. If Schlitz was the “beer that made Milwaukee famous,” then Arthur Bryant’s is the barbecue that made Kansas City one of America’s four pillars of barbecue (along with Memphis, Texas and the Carolinas). In a city where barbecue is exalted, Arthur Bryant’s may no longer be indisputably the one restaurant everyone mentions as their favorite, but it remains a revered institution. In 1974, renowned New Yorker magazine author Calvin Trillin declared in Playboy magazine that “the single best restaurant in the world is Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue at 18th and Brooklyn in Kansas City.”

Throngs crowd around the counter to order their barbecue bounty

Approaching the restaurant may make you giddy with anticipation. You might not even notice that the original restaurant is situated in the seedy side of town where buildings are boarded up and surrounding streets are nearly deserted. The aroma of barbecue being slow-smoked with a combination of hickory and oak will probably have you salivating with unfettered desire, but you’ll have plenty of company from the line of diners snaking the building. That lust grows as you and those equally ravenous patrons share stories about first experiences with the legendary barbecue (the barbecue brotherhood which grow from Bryant’s barbecue queues could serve as an example for divided nations). The small talk ceases when you finally make it to the counterman where you place your order.

The counterman drops a slice of Wonder Bread on your plate (or on butcher paper for take-out orders) then unceremoniously snares a huge pile of beef and deposits it on the bread. He then takes a squirt bottle and festoons the meat with a Day-Glo colored orange sauce, a unique, grainy “secret recipe” concoction of paprika and vinegar quite atypical of the sweet sauce served at other Kansas City barbecue restaurants. The sauce is fiery, tart and addicting. Three more slices of Wonder bread top the “sandwich” creation which is accompanied by a handful of sliced pickles. A single order of French Fries can feed a small army.

A rack of ribs from Arthur Bryant’s

Sandwich is a vast understatement for the enormous mound of beef, pork or “burnt ends” piled onto a half acre (okay, maybe a little overstatement there) of orange wrapping paper (to go orders). By the time that paper is unwrapped, the bread has been rendered virtually incapable of serving as a vehicle for the steamy meaty accompaniment bathed in sauce. The meat is vegetarian conversion glorious in all its manifestations. The beef is better than you’ll find in Texas (forgive me Ryan Scott, but if it’s any consolation, Arthur Bryant did come from Texas), the pork as perfect as ‘cued in Memphis and better than both are “burnt ends,” barbecue beef brisket parts (not scraps mind you) as tender as butter with caramelized edges that seal in flavor. Charred and smoky, the burnt ends are a Kansas City tradition.

Arthur Bryant’s barbecue is so good you might wish you could consume it like pigs eat their dinners from the trough. It’s so good that only utterances of pleasure will interrupt your vigorous mastication. It’s so good that even though an individual sandwich can feed a family of four, you’ll polish it off and want more. The smoky aroma and tenderness of the pork, beef and especially those terrific burnt ends will imprint themselves on your memory for a long time.

A burnt ends “sandwich” with pickles

Ribs are an Arthur Bryant specialty.  The sweet fragrance of smoking hickory wood penetrates the meat with a just-right hint of smoke.  The thin bark is where the terrific meaty flavor is most concentrated.  There’s not much fat on the ribs, but you will encounter the oft annoying membrane.  You can purchase ribs by the half or full rack or by weight (a full pound is just about right).  While sauce is wholly unnecessary, the sauce which works best with the ribs is the original sauce.

The beef burnt ends will give you more hickory smoke flavor than other meats.  At first glance, New Mexicans might mistake them for carne adovada and indeed, there are some similarities.  Not every bite-sized piece of meat will be tender or fat-free, but it will be delicious.  The fattiness should be expected with burnt ends as well as chewy pieces.  The burnt ends are smothered in Arthur Bryant’s sweet sauce which is more typical of the sauces you find in Kansas City.

Quarter pound of ham

Perhaps the one meat not even the great Arthur Bryant’s can smoke to perfection is ham.  While the ham has a  good flavor and it isn’t overly salty, it’s also rather dry.  The caramelization around the edges is a nice touch, almost like the small ring which characterizes the low-and-slow smoking process.  The sauce which goes best with the ham is the “sweet heat” sauce which offers both a pleasantly piquant level of heat as well as sweetness. This is a ham which would go better on a sandwich than on a plate with mashed potatoes and gravy.

As with all great barbecue restaurants, Arthur Bryant’s offers a number of barbecue accompaniment-worthy sides.  The aforementioned French fries are lightly salted and go well with the original sauce (to use ketchup is to desecrate them).   An order is large enough for a small, developing country.  The restaurant obviously takes its time preparing the baked beans which are sweet, but punctuated with tanginess perhaps emanating from  the original barbecue sauce.  Then there’s a light smoky flavor and pieces of meat mixed in.

Baked beans

There are two other Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue restaurants in Kansas City, but the original offers the very best dining experience.  Arthur Bryant’s barbecue is everything it is reputed to be and oh so much more. It’s almost 800 miles away from Albuquerque, but it’s worth a trip from anywhere in America.

1727 Brooklyn Avenue
Kansas City, Missouri
(816) 231-1123
Web Site

LAST VISIT: 9 September 2012
COST: $$
BEST BETS: Burnt Ends, Pork Sandwich, Beef Sandwich, French Fries, Ribs, Baked Beans

Arthur Bryant's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Savoy Grill – Kansas City, Missouri

The Savoy Grill, serving Kansas City since 1903

In a 2012 episode of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” television program, host Anthony Bourdain and his Russian pal Zamir Gotta visited Kansas City in search of the city’s best barbecue.  When not licking barbecue sauce off their fingers, the peckish duo detoured to Stroud’s for the best fried chicken in the known universe and to The Savoy Grill for nostalgia and memories.  The Savoy Grill, a Kansas City landmark, has been making memories since 1903 when it was added to the Hotel Savoy.  Today, the Savoy Grill is the oldest restaurant in Kansas City while its home, the Savoy Hotel is the oldest continuously operating hotel in the United States west of the Mississippi River.

During its inception, the Savoy Grill did not allow women, a situation that quickly ended.  The menu then offered prairie chicken and buffalo steak, delicacies which today would be considered exotic.  After dinner, tables were pushed aside for music and dancing late into the night.  The restaurant’s elegant features include stained glass windows, high-beamed ceilings, lanterns which were previously gaslights, tiled floors and an enormous carved oak bar.  One of the restaurant’s spacious booths has come to be known as the “President’s booth” as it has played host to Warren Harding, Harry S. Truman, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

The Victorian interior of the Savoy Grill

Among the Savoy Grill’s most distinctive features are murals depicting the perilous journey across the frontier.  They were painted in 1903 and have been cataloged among the Smithsonian Institution’s “Bicentennial Inventory of American Paintings.”  In 1974, the Hotel Savoy and The Savoy Grill were entered into the National Register of Historic Places.  Since it’s launch in 1903, the restaurant has been in continuous operation save for a handful of days.  During prohibition, rather than remove the bar, drapes were hung up to conceal its presence.

Over the years, the Savoy Grill has undergone some touch-up, but it remains an exemplar of a turn-of-the-century fine-dining establishment specializing in steak and seafood.  Moreover, it remains a milieu for memories, reliving old ones and creating new ones.  For my friend Bill Resnik, whose mom was raised in Kansas City, the nostalgia began the moment we descended the two steps into the restaurant and were cheerfully greeted by the amiable host Ron Garris, a golden-voiced troubadour who regales couples in love with romantic crooning.  His rendition of “Let it Be Me” will leave you pining for the one in your life if he or she isn’t with you at the moment.

A basket of cinnamon rolls and bread

Service at the Savoy Grill isn’t just impeccable.  It’s very personal.  You’ll not only get to know your server, but possibly every other server in the restaurant.  The servers work in tandem to make sure all their guests needs are tended to.  They’ll engage you in good-natured raillery and will share their memories of their time at the restaurant.  Ron, the 73-year old singing host, has been with the Savoy Grill for thirty years while our server, the indefatigable Sunny, has two years with the restaurant. My friend Bill hadn’t been to the Savoy in more than twenty years, but experienced the sensation of returning home from the moment he walked in.

During his visit to the Savoy, Bourdain observed that the menu features items he hadn’t seen on a restaurant menu in thirty years.  While some might consider the menu a bit anachronistic, I consider it a throw-back to a bygone era, an opportunity to experience yesteryear in all its deliciousness.  Reading the menu will elicit almost sheer joy from anyone who’s been a culinary student.  From less savvy and inexperienced diners, it will prove an interesting departure from the copycat menus found in too many restaurants.

Onion Soup au Gratin

The list of appetizers is amazing in its diversity and audacity (fresh seafood in Kansas City).  Cold appetizers include Danish Herring in sour cream, Crab Meat Ravigote, Shrimp Remoulade, Salmon Tartar and even Caviar.  On the hot appetizers menu, you’ll find escargots, Coquille Saint-Jacques, Shrimp De Jnghe and Stuffed Deviled Crab to name just a few.  The soups menu would be as much at home in New England as it is in Kansas City with three seafood soups, the type of which you’d find in Boston.  Salads are not the nouveau style creations of the hip and happening new restaurants.  These are the types of salads high-end restaurants served decades ago, salads such as Artichoke Hearts Mimosa, Avocado with Citrus Fruit, Hearts of Palm, Sliced Beefsteak Tomatoes and a tableside Caesar salad for two.

You might expect that the menu for a fine-dining restaurant in Kansas City, a city renowned for its storied history of  stockyards, would be dominated by entrees showcasing meats.  While the Savoy Grill does indeed feature an impressive bounty of beef–Chateau for two, Tournedos Rossini, Steak au Poivre, Veal Marsala and so much more, all prime,–it’s the seafood soiree which impresses even more.  The boatload of Neptune’s bounty includes shrimp, frog’s legs, scallops, king crab, swordfish, catfish and even lobster.  No ordinary lobster is this.  The Savoy offers whole live Maine lobsters, baked or steamed, in small, medium and Jumbo sized for two.  Lobster Newburg and Lobster Thermidor are also available as are a surf and turf combination that includes a lobster tail.

The lovely Sunny prepares a Caesar salad tableside

While you contemplate the compendium-like menu, a basket of breads is delivered to your table. The bread variety is quite interesting: cinnamon rolls, rye, and baguettes. The Savoy Grill was the second Kansas City restaurant on our trip to serve cinnamon rolls with our meal. Unlike the yeasty, buttery rolls served at Stroud’s, these are spiral-shaped and laced with a lot of cinnamon, but no icing. The rye was light and flavorful while the baguette proved a nice repository for soft butter. Unfortunately the bread wasn’t especially fresh. It was one of the two low points of a memorable meal.

The other was the restaurant’s Onion Soup au Gratin.  Sheathed in a molten blanked of Gruyere and redolent with a plethora of sweet, delicate onions swimming in a light, flavorful broth, it would have been an excellent soup had it not been in dire need of desalinization.  The manufacturers of canned soup might be proud to prepare a soup this salty, but a fine-dining establishment shouldn’t have let it out of the kitchen.  A little salt goes a long way especially when a soup is made with all savory ingredients.

Lobster for two

If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing the flair and showmanship of a Caesar salad created for you tableside, you haven’t been to an old-fashioned fine-dining establishment. At 23, our server Sunny is already a professional at mixing and whisking the ingredients on the large wooden bowl she ferries on her crowded cart, a conveyance laden with bowls, ramekins, decanters, wooden implements and more. Potent with fresh garlic, creamy coddled eggs, olive oil, thin savings of Parmigiano, salty anchovies and fresh green leaves, this is a real Caesar salad, the way they should be made.

Over the months leading to our eating tour of Chicago and Kansas City, my friend Bill regaled me with tales of a lobster so large, it could easily be mistaken for a crustacean from Jurassic Park.  The Jumbo Lobster for two is indeed a colossal crustacean with claws nearly the size of Bill’s hands.  Spelunkers haven’t explored as deeply into some caves as Bill did those claws.  His fork made sure there was no lobster meat left unextricated from its depths.  Nor did the tomalley (the soft, green “stuff” which New Englanders consider a delicacy, but others mistakenly believe is fecal matter) go to…waste.  For nearly an hour, Bill cracked into his lobster with the finesse of “man-hands” from Seinfeld.  He ate all but the shell.

Double-cut lamb chops with mint sauce

The lamb is no less manly than the lobster.  At a restaurant like the Savoy Grill, you’d never find “lollipop” lamb chops, those pert and petite lady-like chops with built-in “handles” which makes them easy to pick up and eat (yes, even at a fine dining restaurant).  The Savoy’s lamb chops are double-cut and don’t have a cutesy handle.  In fact, these bone-in beauties closely resemble a Filet Mignon though they’re much more flavorful.  The lamb chops are thick and juicy, perfectly prepared at medium and lightly seasoned.  The only accompaniment is a luminescent mint sauce, a nice foil for the lamb chops.

Some may consider the Savoy Grill a bit of an anachronism, no longer the cool place to see and be seen.  Its bill of fare is steeper than many contemporary restaurants, but for the money you also be seated in the lap of stylish nostalgia, attended to by friendly servers, receive more food than some developing third-world countries  and an occasional love song.  It’s a special place with a timeless appeal.

The Savoy Grill
9th & Central
Kansas City, Missouri
(816) 842-3890
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 September 2012
# of VISITS: 1
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Double-cut lamb chops, lobster for two, Caesar salad

Savoy Grill on Urbanspoon

Danny Edwards Blvd. BBQ – Kansas City, Missouri

Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ, one of Kansas City’s most highly regarded barbecue restaurants

Kansas City is known as the “city of fountains.”  It’s also known as the “world’s barbecue capital.” If locals had their way, ever the twain would meet and the city’s fountains would be burbling not with water, but with barbecue sauce.  Barbecue sauce runs through the veins of local barbecue aficionados.  It’s an integral part of the city’s heritage.  More than at the other regions–the Carolinas, Texas and Memphis–in which barbecue is a religion, Kansas City pit masters know that sauce is the crowning touch to their low-and-slow handiwork.

In combination with dry rub seasonings, the sauce gives smoked meats their personality.  It’s what you taste most along with the smoky flavor.  One of the very best barbecue sauces my friend Bill Resnik and I experienced during our September, 2012 barbecue tour of Kansas City comes from Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ, a  restaurant Food Network host Rahm Fama contends serves up the “best barbecue in the city.”  The best barbecue deserves the best sauce.

The comfy confines of Danny Edwards Barbecue Restaurant

At Danny Edwards, ketchup is the base for the sauce which also includes white and brown sugar, chili powder, mustard flour and allspice.  It’s not an overly assertive sauce, but the heat from the chili does sneak up on you and provides a nice counterbalance to the sugary sweetness.  The sauce is of medium consistency, not too thin or too thick.    One of the best qualities of any sauce is that it stays in the background very well.  It allows the meats to be showcased.  It’s applied just lavishly enough to complement the meats without taking them over.  You can add more if you’d like, but probably won’t need to.

In a city with more than one-hundred barbecue restaurants, not all of them can trace their lineage as far back as Danny Edwards whose father ran a barbecue business during the Depression.  Edwards cut his teeth on  barbecue.  By the time he was seventeen, he was cooking, carving and becoming an adept pit master.  He opened his own barbecue restaurant eight years later, a small downtown establishment seating only eighteen guests.  His eponymous downtown restaurant is much larger and more modern, allowing him to transition from traditional smoking pits to a hickory pit which uses a combination of gas and hickory smoke to maintain the heat and smoke at optimum levels.

Burnt Ends Plate (Crispy Smoked Edges of Beef Brisket with Sauce), Asian Coleslaw and Cheesy Santa Fe Dish

The two items for which Danny Edwards is best known are smoked brisket and burnt ends.  The dry rub applied to the briskets is made from brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, garlic and salt, ingredients which are well balanced.  None of the fat on the brisket is trimmed, allowing flavors to penetrate deeply and make the brisket moist and tender.  The briskets are smoked for sixteen hours on low-and-slow heat of 210 degrees.  After sixteen hours, the briskets are extricated from the smoker and cut vertically into the “flat” (the largest, leanest part of the brisket) and the point from which burnt ends are made.  At that point, the fat is trimmed out and more rub is applied for another two hours of smoking.

Contrary to the name, burnt ends aren’t burnt at all.  The edges of the brisket are a little dark with a nice caramelization and a crusty bark. Best of all, burnt ends inherit a significant amount of flavor from the fattiest (but melted down) part of the brisket.  Today what were once throw-away bits of the brisket are some of the most cherished and craved of all.  At Danny Edwards, the burnt ends are outstanding, possessing a higher degree of smoke flavor than burnt ends normally had.  The combination of a naturally flavorful meat, discernible smokiness and a complementary sauce make these my favorite burnt ends anywhere.

Half-Rack of Ribs with Cucumber Salad and Asian Coleslaw

Unlike our experience at Oklahoma Joe’s, the siren-like aroma of smoke enveloped us from the moment our car door opened.  We were sheathed in a wonderful smoky cocoon during our entire stay.  Bottle that smokiness and it would make a best-selling aftershave.  The smokiness was imparted nicely onto the half-rack of ribs Bill enjoyed lustily.  The ribs were meaty and moist with nary a hint of fat.  As with too many ribs, the annoying membrane wasn’t removed before the smoking process, but that’s a nit.

Danny Edwards offers some sides heretofore unseen at other pantheons of barbecue excellence.  They also prepare the standards better than almost everyone else.  The baked beans are phenomenal with a nice smoky flavor penetration and shards of meat.  Asian coleslaw, a lip-pursing tangy slaw made from purple cabbage, is a side which should be be on the restaurant’s everyday menu.  A cucumber salad made from freshly picked, garden fresh cucumbers is a seasonal offering, but a refreshing change from the de rigueur barbecue restaurant sides.  Onion rings are crunchy and thickly battered, but with moist, sweet onions therein.

Onion Rings

There are only a handful of barbecue restaurants in Kansas City in the debate as to which is the very best.  Danny Edwards is one of those, a perfect combination of sauce, smoke, flavor and delicious barbecue.

Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ
2900 Southwest Blvd
Kansas City, Missouri
816 283 0880
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 September 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Burnt Ends, Babyback Ribs, Asian Coleslaw, Onion Rings

Danny Edwards Boulevard Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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