Brixens – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Brixens, soon to be a downtown fixture on Central Avenue

Though he may not have received any votes in the recent Gil’s Thrilling…. poll asking “with whom you would most like to break bread or tortillas or pita or hearts from among the cast of characters with whom Gil has shared his journey of (then) 999 reviews,” my friend Bill Resnik has and will always be one of my favorite dining companions. He’s a brilliant conversationalist and one of the very funniest people you could ever hope to meet (two hours after my appendectomy he had me in more stitches than the actual surgery). When he recently invited me to lunch, he asked if I wanted to go to “the restaurant opened by the love child of Vixen and Blitzen” (two of Santa’s reindeer). It didn’t immediately dawn on me that he was talking about Brixens, the very highly touted new downtown restaurant in the heart of Central Avenue.

Brixens is not named for the love child of any of Santa’s reindeer. Nor is it named for Brixen, a town in Northern Italy. Brixens is named for the brick accents, particularly on the west wall of the venerable Yrisarri building built in 1909. Located on the southwest corner of 4th and Central, the Yrissari building has cast its shadows on both the historic original route and the rerouted path of Route 66. For three decades, the bottom floor corner of that edifice was the home of Nick’s Crossroads Cafe after which it was occupied by the short-lived Cafe Bien whose closure was swathed in infamy. Brixens is wholly unlike either of its predecessors with a vibrancy that bespeaks of modernity and energy.

Brixens’ capacious dining room

You’ll do a double-take the minute you walk in and espy 5,000 square feet of space laid out creatively. An year-long construction process was well-spent. Save for the floor-to-ceiling brick wall, nary a vestige of previous occupants remains. The cynosure of the space is a hand-crafted bar above which the name “Brixens” is prominently displayed with the “X” noticeably taller than the other letters. To the left of the bar is a vertical sign, a menu of sorts which from top to bottom reads: Smile, Eat, Laugh, Talk, Kiss, Drink, Sing. Ostensibly these are all activities in which guests can engage during their visit. During our inaugural visit, the words “Eat” and “Drink” were lit up, a reminder perhaps of what we were all there to do. Three flat screen televisions hanging over bar were tuned to a surprisingly diverse troika of programs–a perfunctory sports show, a sultry soap opera and a Christian music program. Talk about catering to all tastes.

Even the ordering process is 21st century. Instead of the conventional paper menu, you’re handed an iPad on which the menu is displayed in as clear and unpixilated a view as modern technology can make possible. Techies among us will drool almost as much about the iPad’s tap-and-drag, one- and two-finger scroll capabilities as we will about the menu. Click on any menu item and you’ll not only see a food-porn-worthy image of the item, but a mouth-watering description that includes such dietary essential information as if the item is gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan. Custom hand-built tables which feature ice coolers built into the center of every table will keep your adult beverages cold.

Chips & Dips

“Fine Fare and Luxurious Libations” are the tag line below the restaurant name on the Brixens Website which also boasts of “Drawing on flavors and inspiration from our New Mexican culture, as well as regional cuisines from across America, the Brixens’ menu spotlights dishes you know and love done with a surprising new twist that focuses on quality ingredients and thoughtfully crafted, scratch made food.” Indeed, we do know and love the dishes spotlighted on the menu, but many of those dishes can be found at other restaurants. What distinguishes those dishes at Brixens are the quality ingredients, thoughtful crafting and scratch-made preparation…just as it says in the menu. We had the pleasure of meeting executive chef Chelsea Carbin whose enthusiasm for the menu and the Brixens concept are contagious.

The menu is the antithesis of those compendium War and Peace-sized menus which list so many items none of them can possibly be good. Instead, the focus seems to be on a handful of items executed very well. The menu is arranged into four categories: Snacks & Starters, Handhelds, Greens and Sweet Endings. Snacks and starters include such New Mexico standards as chips and dips and tempura-battered green chile strips, but they also include toasted ravioli and a Brussels dish that sounds almost too good to be true. Eight items adorn the Handhelds section of the menu including an open-face meatloaf and broken tacos. Handhelds are accompanied by your choice of fries, sweet potato waffle fries, onion strings or a side salad. Three salads and four sweet endings round out the menu.

Triple Green Chile Sliders

Remembering Bill once joked “if you ever see me eating a salad, it’s just a pile of whatever fell out of my tacos,”  I didn’t suggest we order the Brussels (crispy Brussel sprouts, apple salad, herb-roasted nuts, Balsamic glaze).  Instead we ordered chips & dips (made-to-order corn chips, fresh pico de gallo, guacamole and green chile queso).   In New Mexico, you can’t go wrong with this terrific triumvirate.  Brixens’ version is among the very best you’ll find.  Rarely does pico de gallo have much pico, a Spanish term which translates to bite.  This one does.  Chopped jalapeños are the reason.  Along with red onions, zesty cilantro and chopped tomatoes, it’s got great flavor along with that bite.  The guacamole is chunky and fresh, also adorned with red onions, cilantro and chopped tomatoes with a little citrus influence for good measure.  Our least favorite (though still good) was the green chile queso which didn’t have nearly as much heat as the pico.

Bill’s introductory meal at Brixens was the triple green chile sliders  (three three-ounce Akaushi beef sliders, triple cheese blend, green chile queso, hot New Mexico chopped green chile, tempura green chile strips), a celebration of New Mexico’s official state vegetable.  Though the three burgers may resemble a jumble of ingredients, Bill declared this burger a winner, prepared to his exacting medium-rare specifications.  He especially loved the Akaushi beef.  Akaushi beef, by the way, comes from red livestock, one of four breeds known collectively as Wagyu (which translates simply to “Japanese cow”).  Similar to other Wagyu, Akaushi beef is buttery and tender but has no lingering fatty aftertaste.  With his burger trio, Bill had fries with a remoulade he enjoyed very much.

66 Crunch Burger with side salad

For those of us who love our burgers moist and juicy, the “gourmet” ingredients we can’t figure out are those with crispy (typically desiccated) qualities.  Onion rings, onion strings and potato strings, I’m talking about you.  Why would any self-respecting chef use you?  My initial inclination when ordering the 66 Crunch Burger (6.6 ounces of fresh ground beef, American and Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickle, Thousand-Island dressing and a “signature crispy potato topping”) was to ask that that crispy potato topping be taken out back and buried.  The desire to honor the chef  and consume the burger as intended won out, however.  There’s still plenty of moistness in this burger, particularly at medium-rare.  There’s also a lot of flavor, especially from the ground beef.  The crispness and freshness of the pickles and the Thousand-Island dressing also stand out.  Instead of fries, my accompaniment was a side salad with a ranch-blue cheese crumbles dressing.  Bill pointed out that arugula sounds like the sound a jalopy’s horn would make.  It makes for a very nice salad ingredient, too, and the blue cheese crumbles were a terrific counterbalance to the richness of the ranch. 

While your dining companion might not be as funny as my friend Bill, you’ll still have a fun time at this rollicking new restaurant on Old Route 66. The 66 Crunch Burger beckons.

400 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-2400
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 October 2017
COST:  $$
BEST BET:  66 Crunch Burger, Triple Green Chile Sliders, Chips & Dips
REVIEW #1002

Brixens Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kolache Factory – Albuquerque, New Mexico

If security could ever have a smell, it would be the fragrance of a warm Kolache.”
~Willa Cather

When you marry someone, you don’t just acquire a new spouse.  You inherit an entire family of individuals with all their personality quirks, foibles and eccentricities.  For me, “Big Fat Irish-Swedish-New Mexican Wedding” quickly morphed into “Home Alone” with me in the role of Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin).  In all fairness, I only felt alone among my in-laws when discussions about where to have dinner came up.  My in-laws’ reactions to some of my dinner suggestions (Vietnamese, Korean, Basque) were  similar to the reaction you might have if I’d suggested we try cannibalism. You have to understand that my in-laws embody the  stereotypical Midwestern meat and potatoes dietary lifestyle.  Sure they enjoyed such Chicago staples as Chicago hotdogs, Italian beef sandwiches, pizza as thick as a casserole and barbecue ribs the size of those which tipped over Fred Flintstones car, but for the most part, it was unadventurous American fare all around.

The sole culinary adventurer among my in-laws was Uncle (by marriage) Bill who had a predilection for Bohemian food and Jewish delis. (Bohemian here, by the way, means the westernmost Czech region, not someone leading an unconventional lifestyle.)  So when he suggested we dine at a Bohemian restaurant in Chicago’s River North area, I enthusiastically seconded his suggestion (albeit without ever having experienced Bohemian food).  Uncle Bill gave me a primer on what to expect, rhapsodizing poetically about Bohemian versions of sweet and sour cabbage, chicken and dumplings, pot roast and other dishes he made to sound life-altering in their deliciousness.  As usual I was the last person in our party to place my order, waiting to see what everyone else was having so as not to order the same thing.  Upon ordering “thüringer” (a distinctively spicy German sausage and the only thing our party of thirty didn’t order), Bill bellowed “you ordered thüringer!  Nobody orders thüringer!”

The interior of the Kolache Factory

Fortunately I redeemed myself at meal’s end by ordering plum kolache for dessert. It was my very first experience with kolache, a sweet, fruit-filled pastry which originated in the Czech Republic and Slovak region. The wheel-shaped yeasted dough with a generous dollop of plum in the middle was indeed quite delicious, reminding me a bit of the empanadas enjoyed throughout New Mexico. As with empanadas, almost all Bohemian kolache are sweet. Even the popular cream cheese kolache are sweet. So, how do you account for the vast diversity of kolache fillings found throughout the fruited plain—the kolaches stuffed with meats, vegetables and combinations thereof? What’s the story behind kolache not always shaped like the traditional Bohemian precursor to all kolache? The short answer is that the world is getting smaller.

When European immigrants crossed the Atlantic and settled across the fruited plain, they brought with them the recipes and foods of home. Tightly-woven enclaves of Czech, Germany and other Eastern European communities across the United States remain ever vibrant in maintaining their cultural and culinary traditions. In the mid-1800s, more than two-hundred Czech communities were established across the Texas hill country between San Antonio and Austin. Kolache soon became very popular among other established cultures in the area and as foods often do, began evolving to fit culinary preferences and traditions of those cultures. In short order, Cajun and Mexican influences began the process of diversifying what had been primarily a sweet pastry. Kolache stuffed with Cajun boudin sausage or the contents of a breakfast taco made the kolache an inter-cultural hit across the hill country and beyond.

The New Mexico Kolache

With the kolache straddling several constituencies, it was only a matter of time before they would be made available to the masses. In 1982, the Kolache Factory was founded in Houston, Texas, a vastly under-served area when it came to kolache. Founders John and Jerri Banks embarked on an ambitious marketing campaign to introduce consumers to their fresh product. The fruits of their labor is an ambitious nation-wide expansion plan. Today there are 23 company-owned and 23 franchise stores throughout Texas as well as stores in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Virginia, California and one in Albuquerque. The Duke City’s Kolache Factory is located in the Paseo Village on the northwest corner of Wyoming and Paseo Del Norte.

Kolache Factory has been recognized across the country as one of the Top 5 Drive-throughs in America by the Food Network, one of the fastest growing companies in Houston, and was recently named one of the top 50 food service bakeries in the United States by Modern Baking magazine. In addition, Franchise Times magazine listed Kolache Factory as one of the top 20 bakery-cafés to watch. Kolache Factory has also developed innovative partnerships with Major League sports franchises. All indications are this is a franchise and a concept going places. Uncle Bill would be proud

Pizza Kolache

He would not be proud, however, of the 2.9 (out of 5) rating the Kolache Factory has garnered on Zomato (though Yelp reviewers accorded it a 4-star rating). It certainly made me wonder whether the Houston (200 miles away from hill country) interpretation of kolaches was too far a departure from tradition—not that many of us in New Mexico have had the opportunity to understand the kolache tradition. For comparison’s sake, some New Mexicans would not be happy if our sacrosanct empanadas were stuffed with egg foo young, chicken tiki masala, chocolate mint ice cream or sundry other non-traditional fillings.

Albuquerque’s Kolache Factory is an immaculate restaurant with a menu listing more kolaches than some of us can conceive. There are so many different kolaches offered that they’re categorized on the website menu as Favorites, Sunrise Delights, Breakfast/Lunch, Meal in One, Specialties and South of the Border. Go to the online ordering page and the categories are not only narrowed down, they include such non-kolache options as croissants and Polish sausage.  Those categories are: Seasonal (the kolache of the month), Traditional Kolache (9 fruit and cream cheese choices), Egg Kolache (five choices), Savory Kolache (14 choices), Polish Sausage (three choices), Sweets (4 options) and Croissants (3 choices). The sheer number of choices is staggering.

Sausage & Pepper Kolache, the Kolache of the Month for September, 2017

Accompanying me on my inaugural visit was my friend and colleague Scott McMillan who’s married to a Texan so he, at least, has had kolache.  We both ordered the New Mexican kolache (carne asada and green chile).  Though the chile has a definite bite, it also has a distinct herbal-aromatic-gingery flavor. We agreed it was probably cardamom, but when we asked a manager all he could tell us is that the recipe calls for a spice that starts with the letter “c” but he couldn’t pronounce it.  In any regard, it’s not a spice or flavor often (if ever) found in New Mexico green chile.   Scott liked it enough that he plans to order it again though he says he’ll bring Tums with him.

Several of the kolache at the Kolache Factory have a shape and texture akin to Chinese dim sum custard buns.  They’re roundish in shape and have a soft yeasty-bready texture.  By themselves, the bread orbs are delightful.  It’s in choosing the right toppings where the difference is made.  Alas, though I ordered two different kolache–a “pizza” kolache and a sausage and pepper kolache, their flavors were somewhat redundant.  Not bad at all.  Just very similar in flavor.  The pizza kolache is packed with thin pepperoni wheels and just a bit of sauce.  The sausage and pepper kolache was the kolache of the month for September, but perhaps it should be part of the standard daily menu.

Strudel Nik

Strudel Niks, escribed on the “sweets” section of the menu as “Looking for a super flaky crust look no further. Our strudels may not be the neatest to eat according to your shirt, but they are light, perfectly cooked and filled with your choice of apple or Black Forest filling. A super sweet treat!  My favorite, of course, (thank you Dagmar Mondragon) will always be apple strudel, but the Black Forest filled strudel with a chocolate and white icing is also quite good.

7 October 2017:

Cinnamon Rolls and Kolache

In parts of Texas, even 7-Eleven stores sell kolache.  If the kolache becomes so popular that Alsups and 7-Eleven begin selling them, credit the Kolache Factory for making them another imported dish we can’t live without.

Kolache Factory
8001 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 856-3430
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 October 2017
1st VISIT: 27 September 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Apple Strudel, Raspberry Strudel, Sausage & Pepper Kolache, Pizza Kolache, New Mexican Kolache
REVIEW #1001

Kolache Factory Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato