Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: February, 2018

Santa Fe’s Heralded Geronimo

According to 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion company with content delivered over the Internet, there are approximately 41,000 Chinese eateries across the fruited plain. “In recognition of Chinese cuisine’s proud place in the American culinary tradition,” 24/7 Wall St. created a list of the most popular Chinese restaurants in each state. Employing criteria as complicated as Chinese logograms but which included Yelp reviews, the Chinese Restaurant Foundation’s annual Top 100 Awards as well as dozens of restaurants reviews, polls, and other internet sources, the best from among the Land of Enchantment’s 166 Chinese restaurants was deemed to be Albuquerque’s Rising Star Chinese Eatery which has an average Yelp rating of 4.5 stars.

In some cultures, such foods as ballut (fertilized duck egg with its partly developed embryo insidel), chapulines (grasshoppers), huitlacoche (corn smut) and cazu marzu (rotten Pecorino cheese) are considered delicacies. To the editorial staff of Topix Off Beat, a technology company focusing on entertainment and news media, these foods would be considered “gross.” Topix compiled a list of the grossest food from every single US state. Using such terms as “horrifying foods, “worst regional food” and “some of these are bad,” the foods listed may gross out the non-foodies among us, but gallant gastronomes would very likely enjoy most of them. According to the third graders who wrote this feature, the grossest food in the Land of Enchantment is the green chile sundae. Topix had this to say: “New Mexicans put green chile in everything. EVERYTHING. Why should ice cream be any different? I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s a frozen dairy dessert. What is your damage, New Mexico?” Huh?

Posole from Warrior Fuel in Bernalillo

From the world’s most luxurious steaks to the season’s most vibrant veggies, diners across the country are going wild for homegrown goodness at these popular farm-to-table restaurants.” That was the premise of the Travel Channel’s Food Paradise episode entitled “Farm to Feast,” a term synonymous with Albuquerque’s Farm & Table. Since its launch in 2012, Farm & Table has been an exemplar of fine dining using locally grown produce, sustainable seafood and grass-fed beef. The short segment featuring Farm & Table showcased Chef Carrie Eagle’s terrific tortilla burger made with sharp Tucumcari Cheddar and roasted green chiles folded into a perfect bite and served with French fries and a side of pinto beans.

Urban America doesn’t hold exclusivity when it comes to great restaurants across the fruited plain. There are terrific eateries throughout rural America. They may not get the publicity of their big city brethren, but some are every bit as good…or better. Within the Land of Enchantment, restaurants such as Deming’s Forghedaboudit, Peñasco’s Sugar Nymph Bistro, El Rito’s El Farolito and Carlsbad’s Danny’s Place have garnered much-deserved attention from national press. Thrillist compiled its list of the absolute best small-town restaurants in the country. New Mexico’s best small town gem was deemed to be Watson’s BBQ in Tucumcari. Ensconced within a family-owned hardware store, Watson’s serves “mouth-watering brisket, ribs, potato salad, and beans to hungry travelers and locals working in the ranching biz.”

A six pack from Bristol Doughnut Co.

Setting the table for romance involves an array of ingredients: scrumptious food, alluring ambiance, and bespoke service.” So says OpenTable whose Most Romantic Restaurants list for 2018 honors “the seductive spots at which couples are creating connections and savoring delicious memories.” The list of honorees is based on more than 12,000,000 reviews of more than 26,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified OpenTable diners. Only one restaurant from New Mexico made the list, but it’s one for whom the term “romantic’ is certainly appropriate. New Mexico’s most romantic restaurant for 2018 is Santa Fe’s legendary Geronimo.

Not so fast, Geronimo. Food & Wine has its own opinion as to the Land of Enchantment’s most romantic restaurant. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Food & Wine published its list of America’s most romantic restaurants. In its estimation, Tesuque’s Terra within the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado is as romantic as it gets. Food & Wine declared “If the glorious sunsets and sweeping mountain views at Terra don’t scream romantic to you, chances are nothing will. (Its garden-to-table dishes will also catch your eye.)”

Sweet Potato Waffle Fries From Groundstone

Two of the most prolific and talented chefs in the Land of Enchantment were named semifinalists in the James Beard Foundation Awards for 2018. A 2017 semi-finalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category, Colin Shane, chef at Arroyo Vino in Santa Fe, repeated in that category in 2018. Also repeating as a semi-finalist is Martin Rios, a 2017 finalist for Best Chef: Southwest category. Since launching Restaurant Martin, Rios has earned eight James Beard award nominations. Rios is actually a two-time finalist for the Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close in 2015 and 2017.

It’s probable that if you see a restaurant featuring “Chimayó chile” on its menu, the chile actually came from somewhere else. In an article entitled “Why This New Mexico Chile Has An International Cult Following,” Food & Wine lamented that the Chimayó Chile is so precious that a counterfeit market has emerged. Chimayó chile, a distinctly orange-reddish chile craved by connoisseurs the world over is the most prized culinary item in the agrarian community half an hour north of Santa Fe. Despite being so prized, it is grown only in Chimayó and only in small batches by farmers whose families reap the bounty of their harvests. The chile is grown from original heirloom seeds passed down from generation to generation.

Miso Soup from Sushi & Sake in Albuquerque

The humble donut has come along way in recent years, from an obligatory morning staple serving mainly as the basis for cop jokes to an object of obsession that replaced cupcakes as the “everyday sweet treat that everyone’s making all fancy” of the moment.” Thrillist notes “the common denominator” in its compilation of the 31 best donut shops in Americais the kind of eye-rolling satisfaction that’ll dictate a “yes” when you inevitably ponder whether or not to eat another one.” Frankly, you shouldn’t ever have to ponder whether or not to eat another one. That’s especially true at Thrillist’s sole heralded donut from New Mexico, Whoo’s Donuts in Santa Fe. Thrillist raves about the blue corn donut” “Just imagine a corn muffin that was made with blue corn and then cross pollinated with a donut with fantastic results. Then go eat one so you no longer have to imagine.”

Silver City’s loss has become St. Louis, Missouri’s gain. In 2016, James Beard nominated chef Rob Connoley left the very highly regarded The Curious Kumquat and moved to the Gateway City. Two years later, he launched Squatter’s Cafe which was recently featured in a mostly complimentary review from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The review chronicled his self-taught, second-career chef journey, an unconventional trek that includes modernist cooking and foraged ingredients. The review declared his latest venture ” one of the most interesting and appealing breakfast-lunch restaurants to open in St. Louis in recent memory.”

In 1680, Northern New Mexico’s Pueblos orchestrated a bloody revolt to expel Spanish settlers from the Land of Enchantment. On the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern program, the host explored the route taken by Pueblo leader Po’pay and the united Pueblo peoples during the revolt. In a very respectful tribute to “America’s First Revolution,” Zimmern visited several pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache Nation where he explored native traditions and learned about the pre-contact (the period before the contact of New Mexico’s indigenous people with the Spanish culture) diet and its healthful benefits. Among the delicacies he sampled were porcupine heart, acorn mush cake and elk jerky.

Over the years, Albuquerque has garnered a lot of notoriety. Thanks largely to a television show about crystal meth, it’s been stereotyped and besmirched. What it’s never been called is underrated. That is, not until Thrillist put together a compilation of the Most Underrated Cities to Visit in All 50 States. For some reason, Albuquerque was named New Mexico’s most underrated city. Huh? Thrillist advises prospective visitors to “forget you ever saw an episode of Breaking Bad and you’ll be floored by Albuquerque.” Among the many reasons Albuquerque is underrated is “the The Southwestern influence” which “gives ABQ an impressive food scene, with spots like El Pinto and the James Beard Award-winning Mary & Tito’s Café.”

January, 2018

Green Chile Cheeseburger from Cafe Laurel

If you visit a New Mexican restaurant and you’re offered red or green “sauce,” you might have to question if (like Bugs Bunny) you made a left turn in Albuquerque and wound up in Denver.  Virtually no one calls our sacrosanct red and green chile “sauces.”  That is virtually no one who’s lived in the Land of Enchantment for a while or the Travel Channel.  In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “Saucy,” the Travel Channel showcased some of the best sauce-driven dishes across the fruited plain. Recognized for its red and green chile “sauces” was Santa Fe’s Tia Sophia’s, a veritable institution on the famous Plaza.

In its February issue, Sunset Magazine named Albuquerque as one of “20 Game-Changers That Are Redefining the West,” ranking the Duke City 17th.  “Considering the strong public-art program, miles of hiking trails, and 310 annual days of sunshine, it’s no wonder the locals don’t boast. They’re too busy living,” wrote Sunset’s editors.  Sunset also noted “coffee roasters, restaurants, and food trucks are launching to keep up, many of them focused on local, organic produce, especially New Mexico’s beloved green chile.”

Foie Gras (Hudson Valley Foie, Caramelized Apple, Pickled Strawberry, House Ciabatta) From M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria in Albuquerque

To get all existential about it – how do I know the perfect donut for me is the perfect donut for you? The truth is there really is no Perfect Donut because we all love different things. So at Rebel Donut, we are all about options.”  How’s that for an appealing mission statement or operating philosophy, not that Rebel Donut’s Web site calls it that.  With that level of commitment to variety and people pleasing, is it any wonder Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut was named “The Best Donut Shop in New Mexico” by Delish.  Like Rebel Donut, Delish believes “there’s no wrong way to eat a donut.”  To compile its list of each state’s best donuts, Delish consulted Yelp, increasingly the most reliable crowd-source on culinary matters.

In most of America, winter sucks. It is cold out. You don’t feel like doing anything, so you get fat. Pipes freeze. Lips, noses, and cheeks get chapped and raw. Black ice kills.”  That’s how Thrillist began its feature “Every State Ranked By How Miserable Its Winters Are.”  Not surprisingly the state whose winters were deemed most palatable was Hawaii while Minnesota’s winter was rated most miserable.  New Mexico was ranked 45th in the winter misery index, meaning our winters are the fifth best across the fruited plain.  It may raise your temperature to learn that Thrillist believes “New Mexico is basically Colorado” because we both “have high plains, mountain ranges, deserts, basins, and affiliations to green chile.”

Nutella and Cinnamon Cream Crepe from Breve

BuzzFeed which purports to have “all the trending buzz you’ll want to share with your friends” consulted Yelp to uncover the top new restaurant that opened in 2017 in every single state.  Taking into account the number of reviews and star ratings for every new restaurant on the site, Buzzfeed then compiled a list of “the one restaurant to try in every state in 2018.”  New Mexico’s very best new restaurant, according to Yelp’s algorithm was Fresh Bistro in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  Yelper Bella B. described Fresh as “Lovely French- and Italian-inspired creations will keep you enticed at this charming, cozy, and newly transformed restaurant in Los Ranchos.”

Cheapism, an online presence which scours the internet for news stories and resources that are informative and fun and can help you save money, acknowledges that “no shortage of cheap, delicious pizza across America, but sometimes something that demands a little more finesse, like veal parmigiana or ravioli heaped with red sauce, is required.”  In tracking down “the best old-school Italian restaurant in every state,” believed there could only be one choice for the best Italian restaurant in New Mexico.   Joe’s Pasta Houseoffers an oasis of Italian just north of Albuquerque. Go traditional with a dish like carbonara, ziti alla vodka or gnocchi, or try the well-reviewed Southwestern fettucine, which has green chile and crushed red peppers for a local twist.” 

Salad with Green Chile Ranch Dressing from Seared

A coffee shop’s design often reflects its neighborhood.”   Perhaps only an architect would think in those terms.  The rest of us typically walk into our favorite coffee shops in a weary and bleary state and only after a caffeine fix do we even notice the ambiance which surrounds us.  The Architectural Digest published its list of the most beautiful coffee shop in every state in America.  The Land of Enchantment’s most beautiful coffee shop was deemed to be Zendo in Albuquerque.  Here’s what the Digest had to say: “On warm days, the outdoor patio at Zendo is open for seating, marked by a colorful mural and covered by sailcloth. The minimalist interior—white-washed brick walls and concrete floors—is pretty sweet, too.” 

Grabbing guac? Craving queso? Dips reflect history, a sense of place and evoke a strong sense of home-state pride, whether they feature locally caught seafood, export-worthy cheese or indigenous produce. So grab that cracker, chip, fry or veggie, and dig into the dips that give each state something to sing about.”  That’s how the Food Network Magazine began its feature 50 States of Dips.  Arizona’s best dip is salsa while California goes gaga for guacamole and Colorado gets mountain high over choriqueso (from a restaurant called Chili Verde).  Representing the Land of Enchantment is the Frontier Restaurant’s Green Chile Salsa. “The salsa gets a double dose of heat from flame-roasted green chiles and jalapenos, which are simmered with sautéed onions, tomatoes and spices and served warm.” 

Green Chile Cheeseburger from the Pecos River Cafe in Carlsbad. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

A Travel Channel program called Roadside Eats: Top 20 counts down the “top 20 restaurants in America that might just require a little extra mileage to get to. Just off I-25 in the desert hamlet of San Antonio is the world-famous Owl Cafe where the original owner Jose Miera is credited with having invented the green chile cheeseburger.  The Owl Cafe was the only restaurant in New Mexico to have made the list, but savvy New Mexicans know that the Buckhorn Tavern another destination roadside eat lies just across the street from The Owl and it’s not just The Owl’s overflow crowds who visit.  San Antonio is an exemplar of roadside eats! 

The 2018 Roadrunner Food Bank Souper Bowl in Albuquerque

Every year on the Saturday preceding some much ballyhooed football game, Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Food Bank hosts the Souper Bowl, an annual soup and dessert event which brings 1,200 people into the Food Bank facility to enjoy the wonderful creations of restaurants from throughout the metro area.  While at the event, attendee are able to vote for and select People’s Choice winners by submitting a ballot voting for their favorite soup and dessert.   Drumroll, please. The 2018 Souper Bowl winners were: 

People’s Choice – Overall Soup Winners
1st: The Corn Maiden at the Hyatt Tamaya (Sweet Corn Chowder)
2nd: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen (Vegetarian Soup- plantain fennel and butternut squash)
3rd: Indigo Crow (Lavender and corn bisque with smoked crema)

People’s Choice – Vegetarian Soup Winners
1st: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen (Vegetarian Soup- plantain fennel and butternut squash)
2nd: The Daily Grind  (Blue cheese root vegetable)
3rd: Zacatecas Tacos (Negro Modelo-Tillamook Cheddar Soup

People’s Choice – Dessert Winners
1st: Nothing Bundt Cakes
2nd: Garduños
3rd: Theobroma Chocolatier

Best Booth
1st: Zactecas Tacos + Tequila+ Bourbon
2nd: 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen
3rd: Sage Dining @ Albuquerque Academy

Critic’s Choice Awards were chosen by a panel of six judges (including yours truly) who rated each soup based on appearance, aroma, texture, spice blend, flavor and overall impression.

Critics’ Choice Winners
1st Place: Sage Dining @ Albuquerque Academy (“Street” Elote Soup- Roasted Corn Chowder topped with Cotija Cheese)
2nd Place: Ranchers Club of New Mexico (Crab and Green Chile Chowder with Corn)
3rd Place: Garduños (Elote Soup)

Celebrating its 24th anniversary, Santa Fe’s version of the Souper Bowl was also a huge success. In 2017, over 160,000 meals were served that might otherwise been missed, thanks to the generosity of soup lovers, who supported this event. Some of the city’s very best purveyors of soup accorded themselves very well:

Best Overall Soup: Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine (Chicken Tom Yum Soup)
Best Savory Soup: Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine (Chicken Tom Yum Soup)
Best Vegetarian: Kingston Residence of Santa Fe (Cold Pistachio Soup)
Best Seafood Soup: Dinner For Two (Lobster Bisque)
Best Cream Soup: Jambo Cafe (Curry Roasted Garlic & Coconut Cream Bisque)

Groundstone – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Groundstone on San Mateo

Kids say the darnedest things. That was the premise of popular radio and television shows hosted by Art Linkletter from the mid 1940s through 1969. Linkletter would engage children (usually aged three to eight) in casual conversation. Humor–often laced with double entendre–would often ensue out of the children’s naive and silly responses. Once, for example, he asked a little girl to spell Art, his name. She proceeded to spell the host’s name R-A-T. Most parents can relate to the unpredictable nature of what their children say. More often than not, it resonates with child-like innocence, but every once in a while an utterly unintentional and unfiltered zinger sneaks out that will make parents want to slink away and hide.

When her son Caleb was four years old, Kimber Scott, an Albuquerque resident and one of my very favorite people, discovered that he was curious about everything his world had to offer. He was fascinated by all the letters, numbers and colors that whizzed by him. Now nine, he’s always asked a lot of questions and has never shied away from expressing himself. Sometimes he speaks with the insightful precociousness of an older child and sometimes with the naivete of innocence, but more often than not, the streams of consciousness that come out of his mouth warrant being shared. Thankfully Kimber chronicled Caleb’s words of warmth, wit and wisdom in a recently published must-read book she named Caleb-isms: The Things My Kid Says. It’s a wonderful insight into the world of a child you can’t help but love.

The Dude Flirts With Many Women, But Groundstone’s Hostess Extraordinaire Dawn Is His Special Lady.

Because Kimber and her charismatic husband “Break the Chain” maven Ryan are passionate gastronomes and always a pleasure to break bread with, it’s only natural that the book be laced with Caleb’s observations about food. Here’s one of my favorites: Every day after school, Caleb usually asks if I will take him to get a cheeseburger. Cheeseburgers are his all-time favorite food. He has affectionately called them hambahgahs for as long as he could talk. I tried to explain that i was not going to buy him a hamburger every day. I went on to say that if I did, I would spend a lot of money every month just on after-school hamburgers and I was not willing to spend that much money. As well as that it is not not the best after-school snack, mainly because it fills him up too much and he will not eat his dinner. I guess I blabbed too much going on and on about why I was not going to get him one. He was silent. I looked in the rear-view mirror and asked, “Well?” He sulked, then quoted a line from his favorite Pigeon book by Mo Willems. “You don’t want me to be happy, do you?”

To good old Charlie Brown, happiness is a warm blanket. To Caleb and many of the rest of us, happiness in a warm cheeseburger, preferably one with green chile. My friend Ryan and I have shared many a cheeseburger, but I’ve yet to have the pleasure of Caleb’s company at a purveyor of bounteous burgers. One of these days, perhaps I’ll ask Caleb to write a guest review. With his astute mind, there’s no telling what he’ll come up with though it’s bound to be better and more percipient and mirthful than anything I can come up with. In writing this review, I tried to channel my own inner Caleb, but just don’t have his flair for words. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this missive as much as we enjoyed our meals at Groundstone.

Spinach, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

Parents of both two-legged and four-legged children will appreciate Groundstone’s family friendliness. On both our visits, our sylphlike hostess Dawn fawned over our debonair dachshund Dude as did our smiling server Shannon. They’re demonstrative dog lovers, not the pretentious type who only touch dogs with their fingertips. During lull periods they returned to give the Dude more love. We watched them impart the same kindness to children and elderly guests. How can you not love a restaurant in which the term “dog-friendly” is a way of service, not just some patio in which dogs are sequestered away from everyone else? Groundstone actually has two patios–one on the restaurant’s east side where the winter sun will keep you warm and one on the west side where the shade will shield you from summer’s rays.

Veteran restaurant impresario Russ Zeigler is the brainchild behind Groundstone. He’s been creating restaurant concepts for four decades. It’s pretty obvious one of the lessons he’s learned in that time is to hire good people who are earnest and caring in their approach to customer service. That’s one of the things that sets apart restaurants such as Groundstone and Joe’s Pasta House. Russ launched his first restaurant in 1977 and has since then owned or co-owned such stalwarts as Liquid Assets, High Finance, Options, Assets and Sandiago’s.

Green Chile Strips with Avocado Ranch Dressing

Groundstone is located in the 6,700 square-foot edifice which previously housed The Library and before that Johnny Carino’s, a short-lived Italian chain. If you’re wondering, the genesis of the name “Groundstone” comes from the restaurant’s make-over. During the renovation, an undesirable flooring had to be ground down to stone and concrete, leaving the floor with an organic look. The cynosure of the capacious restaurant is an attractive bar back-dropped by distressed red bricks. Several flat screen televisions are strategically placed throughout the dining room and bar, most tuned to NFL games during our visits. Several of the staff are diehard Philadelphia Eagles fans, but they still treated this Cowboys loyalist very well.

Groundstone’s promise to its guests is “local, fresh, fun.” The concept combines “the best of the burger, pizza, and craft beer scene, and rounded off with incredible gourmet salads meant to re-invent the dining experience.” Russ calls the triumvirate of pizza, burgers and beer “the classics,” and indeed, there are few eateries across the Duke City in which this troika can be found under the same roof. A commitment to serving mostly local ingredients will endear local diners who appreciate such high-quality local products as Fano bread and Bueno chile. When local ingredients aren’t possible, the restaurant’s commitment to freshness and quality is not compromised.

The Cubano

26 November 2017: Appetizers (and desserts, too, for that matter) have become pretty blase as if imagination is left to wholesale distributors who supply so many restaurants. It’s rare that we find an appetizer that surprises us. Count among those rare surprises the Ahi Poke (sashimi grade seared tuna, kale, sweet chili (SIC), pickled ginger, wasabi, avocado, sesame soy glaze) at Groundstone. With a perfect sear framing the perfectly red tuna, it’s got the chops of a good sashimi. The sweet chili sauce contrasts nicely with the quick burst of heat from the American wasabi and the biting freshness of the pickled ginger, all of which provide a diversity of flavors. The buttery avocado and slightly bitter kale are good, but it’s the sashimi grade tuna which shines most.

21 February 2018: British chef Yotam Ottolenghi expressed an obvious truth: “A well-made salad must have a certain uniformity; it should make perfect sense for those ingredients to share a bowl.” It doesn’t take a genius chef to know when ingredients are working together well. Your taste buds will quickly and easily discern that harmony for you. Groundstone offers five salads, the ingredients of each read like the promise of a great salad. Our inaugural salad experience was the spinach, beet and goat cheese salad (fresh spinach, golden beets, cucumber, red onion, grape tomato, goat cheese, almonds, with pomegranate vinaigrette). Most restaurants would probably serve such an amazing assemblage of ingredients with a cloying dressing. Groundstone serves it with a pomegranate vinaigrette that’s not quite lip-pursing in its tartness, but it’s definitely not sweet. The bitter, earthy goat cheese benefits most from the symbiotic tartness of the dressing, but so do the acidic grape tomatoes.

The Groundstone Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

3 December 2017: In the past few years, restaurants across the Land of Enchantment seem to have discovered the delicious potential of green chile as an appetizer alternative (or addition) to salsa. It should come as absolutely no surprise that green chile strips have caught on. The real surprise is that it took so long. Groundstone’s version showcases Amber ale battered Bueno green chile strips served with a cooling avocado ranch dressing. The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but it has a nice roasted flavor. The avocado ranch dressing is a winner. Even better is the green chile ranch which our delightful server Shannon thought we might enjoy. The green chile ranch isn’t quite as thick as the Dion’s version, but it’s every bit as flavorful. All salad dressings are made on the premises.

3 December 2017: Several elements define the Cuban sandwich, a hearty sandwich which got its start among the working classes in Cuba. What Americans have come to know as a Cuban sandwich typically includes thin slices of marinated pork roast, thin slices of ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickles. Groundstone pays tribute to the Cuban sandwich with a burger called the Cubano. The burger contains some elements of the popular Cuban sandwich, but it goes much further. Picture Akaushi beef topped with black forest ham, smoked pulled pork, provolone cheese, pickles, whole grain Dijon ale mustard, served on a Fano brioche bun. It’s a mouthful and then some. The generous portion of this burger’s three meats–rich, buttery Akaushi beef (a type of Wagyu); salty, intensely-flavored black forest ham and smoked pulled pork– will make carnivores very happy. It wouldn’t be a Cubano, however, without the pickles which provide a textural and flavor (zesty and sour) contrast.

The Brooklyn with Green Chile

26 November 2017: Sometimes a burger is constructed with too much of a good thing. That was our assessment of the eponymous Groundstone burger (grass-fed beef topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, tomato, roasted garlic infused mayo, served on a Fano brioche bun). Though the sautéed mushrooms provide terrific umami (deep, dark, meaty intensity), the strong, pungent garlic mayo is the dominant flavor. That’s almost criminal considering the tender grass-fed beef; rich, sweet Gruyere and sweet caramelized onions. We scraped off some of the mayo and enjoyed it much more. Next time we’ll order this burger sans condiments.

3 December 2017: Nine pizzas grace the Groundstone menu. Available in ten- and eighteen-inch sizes, they’re not as waifishly thin as today’s fashionable pizzas nor are they thick, casserole-like slabs. If the Brooklyn (pepperoni, roasted garlic, mozzarella, fontina, garlic infused olive oil) is any indication, they’re more generously topped than the penurious pizzas on which it’s a challenge to find some of the named ingredients. That generosity applies as well to the cheese which drapes over the crust like a molten blanket. No matter which of the pizzas you order, it can be improved with green chile (which goes well with everything).

The Heisenburger

21 February 2018: Only my former history professor would believe Groundstone’s Heisenburger is named for Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist and catalyst behind the Nazi atomic bomb efforts. The rest of us know The Heisenburger, Groundstone’s version of a green chile cheeseburger, is named for the clandestine alias of Albuquerque’s favorite meth-maker Walter Hartwell “Walt” White, Sr. It’s not only “blue sky” which can manipulate the brain’s Limbic reward system. The Heisenburger (Akaushi beef topped with smoked Cheddar, Bueno green chile, applewood smoked bacon, onions, Bibb lettuce, tomato, green chile infused mayo on a Fano brioche bun) gets diners “high,” too. There are a lot of things going on in your mouth with this burger and all of them are delicious. The Bueno green chile and green chile-infused mayo aren’t especially piquant, but they go very well with all the other ingredients.

21 February 2018: There’s only one problem with Groundstone’s specialty sandwich menu.  The first time you peruse it, you’ll want to order each of the six sumptuous sandwiches.  The second time you visit, you probably will order the sandwich with which you fell in love your previous visit.  That’s become Kim’s dilemma.  After enjoying the Groundfather (Genoa salami, pepperoni, prosciutto ham, mixed greens, pesto, marinara sauce and provolone cheese served on a Fano rustic ciabatta roll), she can’t wait to have it again.  If you didn’t already know how special Fano bread is, this sandwich will quickly show you.  It’s a perfect canvas with the perfect consistency for this sandwich–crusty on the outside and tender on the inside.  The combination of pesto and marinara sauce is a pleasant surprise; they don’t always work together well.  Then, of course, there are the meats and cheeses, an array of Italian delights.

The Groundfather

21 February 2018:  In describing the importance of desserts, movie writer and creator Anne McManus, declared “It’s the finale. It’s the last impression. A bad dessert can ruin the meal.”  Don’t expect to find any bad desserts at Groundstone.  There are six decadent desserts on the menu, all tempting.  Groundstone’s Cobbler (your choice of cherry, apple, or peach, with vanilla ice cream) is work of art on a plate.  Flanking our peach cobbler are vanilla ice cream and whipped cream with chocolate and caramel drizzle.  The cobbler itself showcases a sweetened biscuit topping baked until the peaches are tender and the topping is golden.  The peaches are juicy and fresh.  It’s elevated cobbler at its finest.

Peach Cobbler

Groundstone may not be entirely groundbreaking in its concept or menu, but it’s got a great pedigree and is committed to such ideals as using locally sourced products, enthusiastic and warm service and providing a comfortable milieu in which families can enjoy themselves. With effervescent hostess Dawn and attentive servers such as Shannon at your beck-and-call, you can’t go wrong. Groundstone is terrific: For now you’ll just have to take my word for it, but someday I hope to share Caleb’s unique perspective.

5001 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 404-8287
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 February 2018
1st VISIT: 26 November 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Ahi Poke, Groundstone Burger, Sweet Potato Fries, The Cubano, The Brooklyn, Green Chile Strips, Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing, Green Chile Ranch Dressing, The Groundfather, The Heisenburger, Peach Cobbler; Spinach, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

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

Stack House BBQ – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Stack House Barbecue in Rio Rancho

One of my Psychology professors cautioned students about the danger of “amateur diagnosis,” the practice of assigning specific psychoses and neuroses to people we meet solely on the basis of our cursory familiarity with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  He explained that it often takes an experienced practicing psychiatrist several sessions to arrive at a diagnosis and many more sessions before treatment proves effective.  His point–a little knowledge can be dangerous–applies in virtually every arena of knowledge in practicum.  Reflecting back on all the times my rudimentary conclusions were ultimately proven incorrect, it’s a point well driven. 

When my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, Dazzling Deanell and Beauteous Barb decided to pursue Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) certification, the words of my Psychology professor resonated in my memory.  Sure, we’d all been eating barbecue most of our lives, but how much did we really know about passing judgement on barbecue?  Not much, it turned out.  Over the course of several hours, our KCBS instructor imparted sage knowledge and proven techniques to help us understand thee three most important and very nuanced elements of competitive judging: taste, texture and appearance.   Much like getting a Psychology degree, obtaining KCBS certification gave us a modicum of knowledge.  Applying what we learned in such competitions as Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew built upon that knowledge.

Long lines queue up for terrific ‘cue

Recently when Larry and Deanell rhapsodized poetic about the barbecue at the Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho, my first questions were “how would that barbecue rate in a KCBS barbecue competition?” Larry gave it nines in taste, texture and appearance. Deanell one-upped Larry, indicating the Stack House BBQ’s ‘cue warranted all tens (and she knows what it is to be a ten). They invited me to discover for myself whether their ratings were hyperbole or justified.  Alas, during my inaugural visit, I was suffering the ravages of a bad cold which rendered my taste buds untrustworthy and enfeebled my olfactory senses.  You can’t judge barbecue if you can’t imbibe its aromas and taste its subtle flavor qualities. 

Having a bad cold tends to exacerbate my desire for chile, the more piquant the better.  In the throes of even the most egregious colds, I’ve been known to drive to Santa Fe for some of the Horseman’s Haven‘s combustible chile.  The Haven’s Level II chile, affectionately known as “El Diablo” is about the only thing that can quell the stuffiness of a head cold.  While the Stack House doesn’t offer anything quite as incendiary as El Diablo, the menu does include two pepper-infused items: Frito pie and jalapeño sausage.  From what my compromised palate could surmise, both were probably quite good though it would take a return visit or ten to know for sure. 

Pit Master Extraordinaire Greg Janke Slices Brisket with Surgical Precision

My return visit transpired exactly one week after my inaugural visit, so eager were my Kim and I to experience the bodacious barbecue about which Larry and Deanell had raved.  We had the great fortune to spend time discussing all things barbecue with proprietor-pit master Greg Janke.  Like me, Greg is an Intel alum, having toiled at the technology giant for 23 years, five years longer than I.  Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Greg left Intel in April, 2016 and five months later–on Friday, September 23rd–he launched Stack House BBQ. 

Greg’s transition from technologist to restaurateur wasn’t as challenging as one might think.  In fact, Greg admits, working at Intel prepared him very well to own and operate a restaurant.  Even in such technically demanding areas as Automation where he rose through the ranks, Intel employees have the opportunity to hone their business and customer orientation skills (not to mention the discipline to work long hours).  There is, of course, nothing in the semi-conductor arena which translates directly to the mastery of smoking meats in the low-and-slow manner.  Greg began smoking meats at home several years ago, eventually earning praise from friends and the confidence to enter the arena of competition.

Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs

In each of the past two years, Greg has competed at Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew, a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event.  In 2016, he finished seventeenth overall in a field of thirty-one, faring especially well in the pork category where he placed eleventh.  As much as the judges in the blind taste foodfest may have enjoyed his barbecue, it was event-goers who convinced him to launch his own barbecue restaurant.  In each of the event’s two days, he sold out–every morsel of magnificent meat–well before day’s end.   Moreover, many of them lavished praise and encouragement, essentially convincing Greg that he belonged in the barbecue restaurant arena.

Just seven months previously, Rub-N-Wood had shuttered its doors, leaving the City of Vision without a barbecue restaurant.  Now, Rio Rancho without barbecue is akin to Hillary not wearing a pantsuit.  It just doesn’t and shouldn’t happen.  Barbecue became a Rio Rancho tradition in 1983 when the great Gary West launched Smokehouse BBQ  at 4000 Barbara Loop, a location which would henceforth become synonymous with great barbecue. He owned and operated the stately home of seductive smoke for nearly a quarter-century before moving on. With Roger Bell at the helm, Rub-N-Wood moved in and pleased palates for nearly three years.  The hazy smoke plumes which had so long emanated from 4000 Barbara Loop resumed on a lazy, late September day when Greg assumed the role as Rio Rancho’s proprietor of the pit.  It was a day warranting celebration.

Half Chicken

As had transpired during the Pork & Brew, Greg sold out his first few days of operation.  Barbecue aficionados quickly embraced his Memphis meets Texas approach to smoking meats.  What’s not to love!  Greg uses a combination of oak and cherry woods to impart a unique flavor to his barbecue.  He developed a rub that includes some twelve ingredients that penetrate deeply into the meats and imbue them with flavor-boosting, crust-forming properties.  Not only that, the Stack House BBQ restaurant is an inviting milieu for meat lovers.  It may well be the most pristine barbecue restaurant in which you’ve ever set foot.  If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, Greg is probably being fitted for a halo as you read this.  In addition to the immaculate nature of the premises, service is friendly and attentive (another Rio Rancho tradition exemplified by the terrific staff at Joe’s Pasta House among others).

The Stack House menu is rather limited.  Meats–brisket, chicken or pulled pork–are available by the half or full pound.  Also available are sausage, jalapeño sausage, half-a-chicken and baby back ribs (available in quantities of three, half a rack or a full rack).  You can also opt to have your meats on a sandwich.  Then there’s the aforementioned Frito pie.  Sides are pretty much what you’d expect at a barbecue joint: potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, corn on the cob, chile, beans, mac and cheese and fries (including chile cheese fries).  A baked potato, with or without meat, can also be had.  Limited applies solely to the number of items on the menu board, not to how great they taste.

Sides: Green Beans and Potato Salad

7 October 2016: You won’t mind getting your hands dirty handling the baby back ribs on which Greg’s magical rub is liberally applied.  These ribs are messy and they’re magnificent, each meaty morsel pried away easily from the bone.  They’re not fall-off-the-bone tender, having just the right amount of give that signifies the perfect degree of doneness.  Make no bones about it, these baby back ribs are (as Larry would say) competition-worthy, needing neither sauce nor amelioration to improve upon them.   The sauce, by the way, is terrific, a sweet and tangy complement to the richly satisfying smokiness of the ribs.

7 October 2016: With the emphasis on pork and brisket, chicken is often a sorry afterthought at some barbecue establishments.  Not so at the Stack House where the full-flavored half-chicken is a main-event item.  Quite simply, it’s fantastic, some of the very best we’ve had in New Mexico!  Peel back the blackened skin (delicious in its own right) and you’ll be rewarded with moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat chicken…and there’s plenty of it.  A nice-sized half-chicken (breast, thigh and leg) won’t leave much for sharing–not that you’ll want to.  Update: Because the half-chicken didn’t always sell out, Greg decided to offer chicken thighs instead.  Aside from being the most moist part of the chicken, chicken thighs don’t have to spend as much time on the smoker as half chickens.

Frito Pie

In November 2016, Stackhouse began offering daily specials from Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday’s child is a pulled pork sandwich.  On Thursday, it’s a chicken sandwich.  Friday features beef back ribs (a whole pound) though you’re well advised to get them early.  When we attempted to order beef back ribs on December 2nd, 2016, Greg apprised us that on that very date, my friend Sr. Plata ordered two portions for lunch and took home another for dinner.  Sr. Plata enjoys the Stackhouse’s beef ribs so much, he may move in…at least on Fridays.  But I digress.  Saturday’s special is three baby back ribs while Sunday, it’s Frito pie.  All daily specials are value priced.

2 December 2016: New Mexico’s contribution to’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie. The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat. Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it sometimes looks like a healthy lettuce and onion salad when prepared by some restaurants. Underneath the lettuce and chopped onions, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips.  At the Stack House, Greg dispenses with all the offending lettuce, tomatoes and onions.  Instead, this Frito Pie is constructed with only the good parts–lots of Fritos corn chips, ground beef, chile and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese.   The chile has a nice bite, just enough to get your notice.  This is a fat-fest all New Mexicans will enjoy.

Three Meat Platter: Brisket, Chicken Thighs and Pork

2 December 2016: For a veritable meatfest, your best bet is a three meat platter (pictured above).  Kim, my carnivorous better-half will vouch for the brisket, chicken thighs and pulled pork.  Though a half chicken would be her preference, the chicken thighs make for a good consolation prize.  They’re moist, tender and delicious with a light smokiness.  The best of the three may well be the brisket which is shredded and pulls apart easily.  As with brisket in Central Texas, the cradle of Southwest barbecue, this isn’t the most lean of brisket.  It’s got just enough fat for flavor.  Tender tendrils of deliciousness define the shredded pork, a tangle of white and dark meat.  All three meats are lightly smoked and are perfect vehicles for the Stack House barbecue sauce.

2 December 2016: My Kim has often threatened to take away my man card, especially when we prepare steak at home or order it at a restaurant.  While she immediately–and with great zest–attacks the steak, my focal point is usually a loaded baked potato with plenty of melting butter, sour cream and shredded cheese.  The Stack House does one better than local steak houses.  First, the baked potatoes are smoked–lightly impregnated with hickory-cherry smoky goodness.  Secondly, you can load them up with the aforementioned baked potato suspects and with your choice of smoked meat.  The pulled pork is a magnificent choice for the smoked baked potato.  You’ll wish all your baked potatoes were similar endowed.

Smoked Baked Potato with Pulled Pork

7 October 2016: Great barbecue restaurants know that to provide an excellent full-meal experience, smoked meats must be accompanied by worthy sides.  Stack House has a two-tiered pricing model for its sides, the most expensive being three dollars.  Sides are served on Styrofoam vessels and are generously portioned.  The potato salad may evoke memories of picnic meals long gone.  It’s a mayonnaise-based potato salad with a pleasant mustardy-vinegary tang.  Alas, the green beans could use a few bits and pieces of smoked meats and maybe a pinch of salt.  Much better is the cherry cobbler, replete with whole cherries and a crumbly and delicious crust. 

18 February 2018:  One of the best kept secrets in the Albuquerque metropolitan area may be just how good the Stack House breakfast burritos are.  My Kim who prefers hand-held breakfast burritos to the more ubiquitous smothered burritos believes these are the very best in New Mexico.   The Stack House’s basic breakfast burrito is stuffed with hash browns, eggs and cheese.   You can then add bacon, sausage, brisket or pulled pork (the brisket reigns!).  Of course, you’ll want either (or both) red or green chile.  While my own loyalties tend to lie with the more complex nuances of red chile, Greg’s green chile is in rarefied air as some of the very best in the area.  It’s magnificent!  Too piquant for my Kim, it titillates my taste buds–doubly so when I squeeze in some of the Stack House’s peppery, sweet, tangy barbecue sauce.  Folgers got it wrong.  These are the best reason to get up in the morning.

Breakfast Burrito

18 February 2018:  America’s ideological divide dominates the airwaves when what we really should be deliberating is hard-shell or soft tacos.  Though I’d never kick any taco off my table, count me among the aficionados of the latter.  The Stack House’s breakfast soft tacos (egg and cheese on a soft flour tortilla) are among the main reasons why.  As with the burritos, you can add bacon, sausage, pulled pork or brisket along with red and (or) green chile.  It goes without saying that the green chile will leave all others envious and the brisket is such a complementary flavor it may awaken your taste buds.   Once available only Saturday and Sunday, the Stack House’s breakfast is so popular, it’s now available Wednesday through Sunday from 8AM through noon.

If you live in the Albuquerque metropolitan area and your cable or satellite package doesn’t include the Cooking Channel, you’d be forgiven if you shed a few tears on Thursday, November 9, 2017 when you missed the Stack House BBQ being showcased.  In an episode entitled Carnival Eats, Greg created Stack House’s mountainous triple stack sandwich (brisket, pork and jalpeño sausage topped with slaw and barbecue sauce on a hoagie roll).  Sadly because the show is still being aired on reruns, it’s not yet available online.  Not even Greg himself has seen the program for want of the Cooking Channel.  If you haven’t discovered for yourself why television food and cooking shows are visiting Rio Rancho, you owe it to yourself to see why the Stack House is a star.

Breakfast Soft Taco

Stack House BBQ may ultimately become yet another destination restaurant in Rio Rancho, a port-of-call for barbecue aficionados from throughout the metropolitan area, if not the entire Land of Enchantment.  With its September launch, all is right in Rio Rancho once again.

Stack House BBQ
4000 Barbara Loop, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 903-7516
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2018
1ST VISIT: 29 September 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Half Chicken, Cherry Cobbler, Apple Cobbler, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken Thighs, Frito Pie, Smoked Baked Potato, Breakfast Burrito, Breakfast Taco

Stack House BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rebel Donut – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rebel Donut on Wyoming Just North of Menaul

Many years ago if someone proposed a wager of “dollars to donuts,” you might have been well advised to take it.  The phrase “dollars to donuts” essentially meant the person proposing the wager thought he or she had  a sure thing, that he or she was willing to to risk a dollar to win a dollar’s worth of donuts.  Donuts weren’t worth much at the time (and they weren’t very good either) so winning a bet might result in being paid off by a baker’s dozen or so donuts.  Today, if someone offers a “dollars to donuts” wager, the counter to a five dollar bet might be two donuts and the donuts would likely be terrific.  

Visit a donut shop today and sticker shock might set in.  Donuts aren’t cheap anymore, not that it stops Americans from spending our dollars for donuts to the tune of about $3.6 billion dollars per year.  Americans consume some ten billion donuts a year. That’s 33 donuts per man, woman and child per year.  The demographic which loves donuts most is middle-income men ages 25 to 49 (now you know what accounts for the “middle-age spread”).

Donut deliciousness in a glass case

As with burgers, donuts are one of those rare foods which have proven to be recession proof.  Despite the  economic malaise of the past few years, the number of donut shops, amount of donuts consumed and profitability per donut shop has continued to increase every year (save for a short lapse when the nutrition police made donuts non grata).  The reason most attributed is that donuts are a tasty and inexpensive comfort food.  Similar to the gourmet burger craze which has taken America by storm, consumers don’t mind splurging on donuts that are more costly.

The June 11th, 2012 launch of Rebel Donut (singular) will certainly give consumers an opportunity to splurge. Rebel makes two types of donuts: raised donuts made from yeast-based dough, and cake donuts made from cake batter.  Rebel makes two types of donuts. Raised donuts – made from yeast-based dough, and cake donuts – made from cake batter. Since they are made from rolled dough, and hand-cut, raised donuts can be formed into almost any shape. Proofing the donuts before they get fried gives them a fluffy, airy texture. Cake donuts are sweeter and denser than raised donuts. They are a little crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. They are always going to be round, but they can still be filled and decorated in a million ways.

Nutella-Chocolate, 3X chocolate, Powdered Sugar Vanilla , Old-Fashioned Coconut

As might be expected for a donut shop bearing the appellation “Rebel,” Rebel Donut is expanding the boundaries of donut conventionality.  Even the shop’s logo, a donut with wings, bespeaks of nonconformity, risk-taking, daring to be different.  Rebel Donut is taking donuts to the extreme, helping them be all they can be…self-actualizing donuts.  Unique flavors include red velvet, chocolate salted pretzel, chocolate mint, peanut butter and apple, peanut butter and Sriracha, carrot cake, watermelon and blueberry pancake and those are tame compared to other donuts on the ever-changing menu.  

You’d expect no less than imagination and inventiveness from Rebel Donut owners Carrie Mettling and Tina Winn.  Carrie was the founder and creative force behind Cupcake Fetish which she opened in March, 2006 and which began a bit of a cupcake boom in the Duke City.  The Rebel owners have hired a like-minded staff and given them the latitude to be visionary.  Then, as if the Rebel team wasn’t already taking donut innovation to new heights, they gave Facebook followers an opportunity to suggest new donut ideas.  The ideas were so clever that many, if not all, will be implemented.    That’s donuts by the people, for the people and by the people.

Top: Mocha Chocolate, 3X Chocolate Muffin, Key Line Pie
Bottom: Dreamsicle, Apple peanut butter, Smores

Striving to be Albuquerque’s premier artisan donut and pastry shop, Rebel Donut showcases more than thirty donut flavors per day with new and different surprises every day.  One unexpected surprise for us is the presence of kolaches (Czech and Slovak pastries with a dollop of fruit inside), but not exactly the type of which we experienced in Chicago.  Purists will argue that Rebel Donut’s line-up kolaches (sausage and cheese; sausage, jalapeño and cheese; and veggie sausage, green chile and cheese) are not kolaches, but Klobasnek.  Call them what you will, but you will call them delicious.

If you have any inkling that these donuts sound like so much fluff and style, one bite will assure you’re there’s plenty of substance beyond the round hole in the middle.  These donuts taste like very good renditions of their named ingredients.  The Dreamsicle donut tastes like a sweet and tangy orange.  The mocha chocolate tastes like a creamy, chocolatey coffee.  Then there’s the donuts in which seemingly disparate ingredients (peanut butter and Sriracha, for example) are combined.  These, too, as if by some feat of enchantment, are at the very least interesting, but more often than not, quite good.

Maple Bacon

If your idea of a radical donut is chocolate with sprinkles, Rebel Donut will rock your world.  Who but a Rebel would create a donut topped with candy resembling blue sky meth, the vice of choice on Breaking Bad, a popular television drama filmed in Albuquerque?  Who but a Rebel would launch a second shop at a seemingly cursed location on Albuquerque’s west side, a location which has seen a number of restaurants and even another donut shop?  Who but a Rebel would open a satellite shop in Albuquerque’s fledgling downtown area? 

In 2013, Rebel Donut was  selected to compete on a new Food Network show called “Donut Showdown” which premiered April 2nd on the Food Network in Canada.  The show made its United States debut on Wednesday, July 3rd on the Cooking Channel.  Carrie competed with two other donut-makers for a $10,000 prize.  The theme of the show was “Carnival.”  Although the Duke City’s dominant donut presence was victorious in 2013, it finished as runner-up during the 2014 showdown.

The Rebel Donut location on Albuquerque's west side (9311 Coors Blvd NW)

The Rebel Donut location on Albuquerque’s west side

NOTEIn the following paragraphs, Gil’s Thrilling… recaps the national attention garnered by Rebel Donut.

To get all existential about it – how do I know the perfect donut for me is the perfect donut for you? The truth is there really is no Perfect Donut because we all love different things. So at Rebel Donut, we are all about options.” How’s that for an appealing mission statement or operating philosophy, not that Rebel Donut’s Web site calls it that. With that level of commitment to variety and people pleasing, is it any wonder Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut was named in January, 2018, “The Best Donut Shop in New Mexico” by Delish. Like Rebel Donut, Delish believes “there’s no wrong way to eat a donut.” To compile its list of each state’s best donuts, Delish consulted Yelp, increasingly the most reliable crowd-source on culinary matters.

The Daily Meal describes donuts as “extremely versatile” and “essentially a blank canvas.” As to prove the versatility of the donut, in November, 2016 the online site compiled a list of America’s Most Outrageous Doughnuts and Where to Find Them. You probably didn’t have to give it a second thought to know Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut would make the list. Breaking Bad fans recall Rebel Donut’s “Blue Sky” doughnut which was topped with something resembling blue meth. That’s not even their most outrageous donut. That honor, according to The Daily Meal, would be reserved for the Dough Boy doughnut which “is studded with chocolate chips, drizzled with ample chocolate sauce, and topped with a hefty scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough.”

The best kind of six pack

Perhaps the most eloquent and certainly the most aptly descriptive quote ever uttered about donuts came from everyman philosopher Homer Simpson who once said “Mmmmmm…doughnuts.” What more needs to be said? Maybe “better than cupcakes, as classic as apple pie.” That’s what BuzzFeed said in October, 2016 when introducing a feature listing the best donut shop in every state according to Yelp. Using an algorithm that looked at the number of reviews plus the star rating for every doughnut business listed on Yelp, the best donut in New Mexico was determined to come from Rebel Donut in Albuquerque. That comes as no surprise to Duke City donut aficionados who have been flocking to the premier artisan donut and pastry shop in the Land of Enchantment.

Although the Cooking Channel doesn’t grace my cable subscription package, I find comfort in knowing Founding Friends of Gil (FOG) member Jim Millington was able to watch the channel’s “Cheap Eats” show in April, 2016 when it featured host Ali Khan visiting beautiful, sunny Albuquerque. Jim reports that “the show is pretty much like Rachael Ray’s old Twenty Dollar a Day show except that Ali lacks Rachael’s cuteness and he has $35. His first stop was at the Tia B’s La Waffleria for vegan waffles which he found to be wonderful. Next stop was the Route 66 Pit Stop for the famous green chile cheeseburger which knocked his socks off. Third was Rebel Donuts. He didn’t even get a donut shaped one. It was long, stuffed and topped with bacon. Papa Felipe’s introduced him to the amazement of carne adovada stuffed in a sopaipilla.” Thank you, Jim.

Rebel Donut gained tremendous notoriety for creating a donut mimicking the potent crystal blue meth made famous by AMC’s Breaking Bad series. In March, 2016, Rebel Donut was honored on Food Network Magazine as one of a dozen “best in dough,” an honor bestowed upon fun donuts. The honoree is Rebel Donut’s pina colada donut, a vanilla cake donut dipped in coconut rum glaze then raw coconut with buttercream frosting. Unlike the Breaking Bad donut which has no actual blue meth, there is actual real rum in the pina colada donut. It’s one in a small line of adult donuts though it can be made “virgin” as well. 

Albuquerque is one of the four original cities to syndicate the Jim Rome Show, a sports talk mainstay on 610 AM for nearly two decades. With a unique lexicon and format, the show now boasts of some 200 radio stations across the United States and Canada. Listeners are fiercely loyal to the show, reveling in a  format which encourages them to be critical of other cities on the syndicate as well as other listeners, including “laying the smack down” on “Albucracky” and its tumbleweed motif. During Rome’s most recent visit in November, 2016, he and his road crew discovered the “blue meth” donuts from Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut. The donuts were much more than a punchline to the jocular crew, all of whom enjoyed every morsel.

Foursquare, an online presence which purports to help readers “find the best places to eat, drink, shop, or visit in any city in the world,” took on the enviable challenge in October, 2015 of determining the best bakery in each state. Because man and woman cannot live on bread alone, the list included a number of more specialized bakeries such as Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut. Foursquare noted: “From maple bacon to cherry lemonade to chicken and waffle donuts, Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut certainly breaks the mold when it comes to breakfast confections. The shop also gained fame for its signature Breaking Bad-themed “Blue Sky” variety, which was endorsed by the show’s stars themselves.”  

While trying to get to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1945, Bugs Bunny accidentally wound up in Germany where for the first time he utters the recurring line “I should have made that left turn at Albuquerque.” Realtors across the fruited plain have come to the realization that many people aren’t making any turns when they arrive in the Duke City. They’re here to stay. For them, the blog, the lighter side of real estate, provided in June, 2015, “29 things you need to know about Albuquerque before you move there” Among the sagacious tips: Green Chile: Love it or Leave Town; Great Community Food at the Grove Cafe; You may not Know the Mufin Man, but Everyone Knows the Candy Lady; The Perfect Ron Swansonable Steak (from Farm & Table at “rustic Old Town”); All Other Bread Will Pale in Comparison (from the Golden Crown Panaderia); These Donuts, Oh Man, These Donuts (from Rebel Donut); and Your BBQ Search is Over at Mr. Powdrell’s BBQ House.

Apple Corporation recognizes the value of rebels: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”  Rebel Donuts is changing Albuquerque one donut at a time.

Rebel Donut
2435 Wyoming Blvd, N.E. 
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 293-0553
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2018
1st VISIT: 28 July 2012
BEST BET: Maple Bacon, 3X Chocolate, 3X Chocolate Muffin, Key Lime Pie, Mocha Chocolate, Old Fashioned Coconut, Nutella Chocolate

Rebel Donut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

PK’s Restaurant & Bar – Albuquerque, New Mexico

PK’s Restaurant & Bar Within the Confines of the International Indoor Soccer Arena

When the Air Force notified me I was being reassigned to Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford, friends who had been stationed in England warned me, “you can forget all about your favorite sports for three years. Instead of football, basketball and baseball, the only “sports” televised in England are snooker, darts and soccer.” “Snooker?,” I asked. “Isn’t that a mushy term of endearment similar to darling?” “No,” one responded, “that’s snookums. Snooker is a type of billiards game, but not nearly as exciting.” “Darts?” “Yep, there are competitive darts leagues all over England and their matches are televised.” “Well, at least soccer has been called the beautiful game, so I’ll probably become a soccer fan,” I retorted.

To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, I went to a fight and a soccer game broke out. My live introduction to the beautiful game may actually have demonstrated the fluidity and constancy of motion for which soccer is known. There probably were displays of physics-defying, ball-bending skills brilliantly executed by lithe athletes. Perhaps there were even exhibitions of raw, naked power. I missed it all. Back then, when you attended a “football” game in England, you risked life and limb. Soccer hooligans were the scourge of Europe. Frenzied, fanatical, alcohol-fueled fans chanted themselves into a lather with every ebb and flow of the game. Fights and verbal altercations broke out all around me.  My virgin ears had never heard such swearing.  It was like attending an Oakland Raiders game. By the end of the first period, I had had enough.

Stuffed Pizza

Years later, watching my nieces Kaleigh, Alexandra and Paige handle a soccer ball as deftly with either foot as I might with my dominant right hand, showed me that soccer is a very nuanced game requiring tremendous skill, coordination and grace. (It also taught me that soccer moms can be nearly as “passionate” as English soccer fans, but that’s a story for another time.) Watching dominant defender (Jim Millington look-alike) Omar Gonzalez prowl the pitch like a majestic eagle and turning defense into offense for the American World Cup team taught me soccer is all about the team (contrary to the me-first approach of professional basketball). Soccer, I learned at mid-life, is indeed a beautiful game!

In January, 2012, the International Indoor Soccer Arena opened its doors in a new building off the south frontage road of Paseo del Norte  between Edith and Jefferson.  The arena hosts six adult leagues, a youth league, high school league, four Lil’ Kickers seasons, as well as camps, fitness and skill programs.  A child development program for children 18 months to 9 years-old ensures the rudiments of the beautiful game are imparted to children during their formative years.  Within the confines of the arena is PK’s Restaurant & Bar which to date has no Yelp reviews despite being open since October, 2015, but is a rollicking gathering place for soccer (and pizza) aficionados.  A dog-friendly south-facing patio is available for those of us who like to dine with our four-legged fur babies.

The Hat Trick

PK’s Web site is pretty clear about the restaurant’s approach to food: “The PK’s staff worked tirelessly to provide food and drink with high quality ingredients, avoiding poisonous foods with high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, and that are genetically modified. We believe our ingredient choices lead to better tasting food and drinks.”  The menu was conceived by Gabe Nosseir and his wife Angie, a holistic and integrative dietitian.  A small breakfast menu gives way at lunch to a number of gourmet pizzas, all of which are available gluten-free and non-genetically modified organisms.  Pizzas are available in seven- and nine-inch sizes and can be enjoyed battered and baked with your choice of toppings stuffed inside and a crispy crust outside.

Our young server, an aspiring young chef told us in all sincerity that he likes PK’s pizzas more than the greasy pizzas offered by many of the local pizza purveyors.  Is there any better critic of pizza than teenagers, especially one with tremendous pride in the product?  Moreover, he would be preparing the pizzas himself so it behooved him to be honest.  He spoke so highly of the battered and baked stuffed pizzas that my Kim just had to have one.  Instead of the usual bread dough pizza crust, pita pockets form the crispy outside shell into which ingredients are stuffed.  Kim’s choices were chicken, garlic, caramelized onion and mozzarella.  Considering one of the pizza’s innards was chicken (which tends to desiccate when baked), it was a good pizza with just enough cheese and sauce.  Garlic and oregano influences were evident throughout, too.

The Keeper

My choice was a more traditional “Hat Trick,” a meat-lover’s pizza with pepperoni, sausage, ham, marinara sauce and mozzarella.  It didn’t dawn on me until later that green chile was one of the dozen veggie toppings available for a pittance each.  A true thin-crust pizza with all the characteristics of thin-crusted pies, it was crispy and stiff.  You can hold each slice from its cornicione, the Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza and the tapered edge won’t flop down.  Nor is it possible to fold a slice vertically as New Yorkers are apt to do.  If you like a classic thin-crust pie, this one will make you happy.  Toppings are generously proportioned.  It’s a good pie!

Our favorite “pie” was a dessert offering called “The Keeper,” a soccer term for the goaltender.  While the menu describes it as “pizza crust topped with agave, berries and granola,” our young chef talked us into trying an alternative he invented, a dessert pie he ensured us would remind us of apple pie.  Agave nectar is drizzled on the crust which is topped with apple slices, granola and a sprinkling of cinnamon.  A side bowl with thinly sliced apples, pineapple chunks and whipped cream accompanied The Keeper.  This is a dessert for which we’ll go out of our way to have again.  It did indeed remind us of a very good, very fresh apple pie. 

When playing the beautiful game makes you hungry, PK’s Restaurant will sate your hunger with good food prepared with high quality and family-safe ingredients.

PK’s Restaurant & Bar
1311 Cuesta Arriba Court, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-3653
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 February 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Keeper, The Hat Trick, Stuffed Pizza
REVIEW #1027

PK's Restaurant & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe Laurel – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe Laurel on Central Avenue Just East of Old Town

To anyone else,” my Kim joked “the name Café Laurel is just a cute name probably chosen because the owners like laurel leaves. To you the name has to mean something.” She reminded me of the hours I spent dissecting former President Bill Clinton’s statement “It depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is.” “You’re too literal. You don’t just want to know what words mean. You need to know why they’re used.” “But,” I retorted “laurel leaves aren’t just a leafy plant. Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte fashioned “crowns” out of laurel leaves, probably,” I surmised “because laurel leaves were more comfortable than the heavy, bejeweled metallic crowns that may have been the reason for the adage “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” She rolled her eyes.

Sure,” I argued “the owners of Café Laurel may have had nothing more in mind when naming their restaurant than they liked the laurel plant, but the implication of the name Laurel means a lot more.” “How did you arrive at that conclusion,” she asked. I explained that “in ancient Greece and Rome, laurel leaves were used to fashion wreaths that were presented to those achieving the highest levels of success, such as winning an event at the ancient Olympics.” I added that “the Bible imputes such traits as fame, success and prosperity to the laurel. So, the implication is that this is a restaurant which has earned victories and honor in the culinary field.” She ended our discussion with “ask a stupid question...”

The charming, verdant interior of Cafe Laurel

If you’re wondering why my long-suffering Kim puts up with such a literal guy, it’s probably because I take her to restaurants such as Cafe Laurel–restaurants which really do earn accolades and plaudits. She can put up with my etymological analysis because when it comes down to it, she enjoys a date night every time we go out (or so she tells me). In any regard, Café Laurel’s exterior signage facing Central Avenue, is festooned with painted laurel leaves directly below the restaurant’s name. Inside, the restaurant is awash in greenery—hanging and potted plants everywhere you turn. It makes black-thumbed people like me green with envy that others can coax plants to grow so lushly. Talking to our plants at home has never worked for me, probably because as my Kim reminds me “they don’t understand your big words either.”

In May, 2018, Café Laurel will celebrate its third anniversary of serving the neighborhoods sandwiched between Old Town and Downtown on historic Route 66. Its pedigree, however, goes back quite a bit further than those three years. So do several items on the menu. If Café Laurel inspires a little déjà vu, it could be because some of the dishes—and certainly the hospitality—are reminiscent of Christopher’s, a beloved Old Town institution co-owner Ken Faber’s mom ran for nearly two decades in the 1970s and ‘80s. Ken owns and operates Café Laurel with his lovely bride Debi. Ken’s 28-year career in corporate chains serves him well on busy days when orders come in like a fusillade of shots. Debi runs the front of the house. Both are very friendly and accommodating.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Macaroni Salad

For the versatile among us who enjoy breakfast items for lunch and burgers for breakfast, Café Laurel is a dream come true. You can order anything on the menu any time of day. Sadly this means 8AM to 3PM Tuesday through Friday and 9AM to 2PM on Saturday and Sunday. The menu isn’t especially large, but it offers good variety of mostly American and New Mexican favorites. You may want to get there early or you might miss out on the daily quiche or daily special. Breakfast favorites include omelets, huevos rancheros, burritos and crepes. Warm sandwiches—served with your choice of macaroni salad (curry-based), Greek salad or chips—include several standards and others which should be. Meatless enchiladas, vegetarian sandwich and a number of salads are available. Sweets and treats seem to go quickly.

When my friend and frequent lunch companion Bill Resnik invited me to Café Laurel, he didn’t extol the variety of the menu. Bill is a pretty monogamous guy. When he finds something he loves (such as his beautiful bride Tish), he sticks with it. During his own inaugural visit to Café Laurel, he fell in love with the green chile cheeseburger (listed on the menu as “burger”; make sure to ask for the green chile). This is a behemoth between buns: two Angus beef patties prepared to your exacting specifications (medium rare if you want the optimum in juiciness), lettuce, tomato and red onion on a grilled roll with mustard and ketchup on the side. Every burger should be this good! The green chile has both the roasted flavor and piquancy aficionados demand. The two Angus patties protrude beyond the confines of the buns. Every ingredient (even the tomatoes) is fresh. The grilled roll is formidable enough to contain all the juiciness though it’s a definite four- or five-napkin affair.

Chicken Salad Salad

So impressed was I by the green chile cheeseburger that a return visit was quickly imminent. My Kim and our debonair dachshund The Dude had to experience Café Laurel, too. As we were to learn during our ninety minutes at the restaurant, this is a favorite restaurant for four-legged children. Because Café Laurel doesn’t have any appetizers per se, we gravitated toward the salads section of the menu. We were relieved for a change to find these are the salads of yore, not the seemingly de rigueur newfangled salads with their candied pistachios, dried cranberries and vinaigrette du jour. We hadn’t had a chicken salad salad in a long time and Café Laurel’s version beckoned. A meant to be shared plate of white meat chicken, celery, chopped pecans, Cheddar cheese, Mandarin oranges, tomato, cucumber, hard-boiled eggs on greens was picture perfect, impeccably fresh and delicious. The way it was designed on the plate actually resembled three salads. Instead of being jumbled together, ingredients were splayed neatly in three sections of the plate: right, left and center. That’s the way we ate the salad.

In a recent comment posted by Sarita, a good friend of this blog (and someone with whom I hope to someday have the honor of breaking bread…or tortillas, pita, lavosh, etc), she highly recommended several items on the menu, lavishly praising the roast beef (not thinly sliced…very tender). She recommended the Toasted RB (roast beef, Cheddar, green chile and mayo on a grilled roll). Not in a green chile mood, my Kim opted instead for the cleverly named Adobe Brick, a brick-sized sandwich she would later praise as “one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in Albuquerque.” So what’s in an Adobe Brick? Picture thickly sliced, tender roast beef; sour cream, Provolone, grilled mushrooms and red onions on grilled sourdough. This is truly a sandwich for which all ingredients work in multi-part harmony. From the umami of the sour cream and mushrooms to the mellow mildness of the Provolone, this sandwich will enrapt your taste buds. Sourdough is the perfect canvas for a sandwich that needs absolutely nothing else.

Adobe Brick, a Magnificent Sandwich!

You might not think a restaurant named “Café Laurel” would prepare some of the very best red chile in town, but it does! It’s not the most piquant or earthy red chile you’ll find, but more than most red chiles, it’s got a deep, rich flavor profile that will remind you that chile is technically a fruit. No, it’s not overly sweet, but it’s got sweet, mellow notes and a deep roasted flavor. That wondrous red chile crowned my plate of enchiladas (layered flat corn tortillas with chile and Cheddar and a garnish of chopped tomatoes and lettuce) with a flour tortilla and papitas on the side. The pool of yellow yoke mingling with the red chile is enjoyable from the perspective of both esthetics and deliciousness. The flour tortilla, of course, is essential because it forms “New Mexican spoons” where you fold bite-sized bits of the tortilla into a repository into which you can spoon in the other elements of this enchanting enchilada. It’s a meatless enchilada, the type of which Catholics will appreciate during Lenten Fridays.

On every table at Cafe Laurel, you’ll espy handmade snail-mail ready postcards which you’re invited to fill out and send to a friend. Cafe Laurel will even mail them for you and in exchange for completing a postcard, you’ll get a free beverage card. Being the over-analytical type, I was stumped by the Twitter-like hashtag “meetmeatlaurel” referenced on the postcards.  Why, I wondered, would Cafe Laurel use a hashtag extolling its meat (meet meat). Sure their burgers and sandwiches use high quality meat, but… It took Kim about one second to figure out the hashtag actually read “meet me at Laurel.” Some genius I am, huh?


Cafe Laurel was a “Best of the City” winner in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual readers’ poll for 2016. It continues to earn its laurels and shows no sign of resting on those laurels. With its legacy and people-pleasing proprietors, it’s a restaurant that should be great for a long time.

Cafe Laurel
1433 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 259-2331
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 February 2018
1st VISIT:: 2 February 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Green Chile Cheeseburger, Enchiladas, Chicken Salad Salad, Adobe Brick
Restaurant Review #1026

Cafe Laurel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Philly’s N Fries – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Philly’s N’ Fries on 2nd Street

But it’s a dry heat.”  You’ve probably seen that slogan emblazoned on tee-shirts depicting a sun bleached skeletal figure lying prostrate mere feet from a thirst-slaking, life-giving oasis.  You’ve gratefully expressed that sentiment every time Channel 13’s manic meteorologist Mark Ronchetti (or better yet, the pulchritudinous Kristen Currie) predicts yet another day of 90 degree plus weather as you rationalize that you could be in one of the South’s sweltering, sauna-like cities with temperatures comparable to our Duke City, but with 80 percent humidity.  You may even have muttered that phrase while scalding your feet as you scurry to a swimming pool the temperature of bath water.

For years, Albuquerque spelled relief from the oppressive heat “I-T-S-A” as in Itsa Italian Ice, a veritable oasis of cool refreshment on scalding New Mexico summer days.  Itsa was situated in a Lilliputian locale at Lomas and Washington, offering drive-up service for cavalcades of parched motorists.  The specialty at Itsa was a veritable phalanx of Italian ices, a flavor or more for each color on the ultraviolet spectrum.

Cherry Italian Ice at left; Tangerine Italian ice at right

Unlike snow cones and other ice desserts, all ingredients–typically water, sugar and flavoring–used in making Italian Ice are blended together prior to being frozen.  Italian ice is baby-butt smooth and soft while snow cones have a granular, crunchy texture and the flavoring is added afterwards.  Most Italian ice is made with sugar, not corn syrup and has neither fat nor milk products.  It is far more refreshing than ice cream, gelato, snow cones or shaved ice.  It is the paragon of frozen pleasure.

Much to the dismay of Duke City heat-stroke candidates, Itsa Italian Ice shuttered its doors in 1996, a year after we moved back to Albuquerque.  Though you could still find Itsa products on the frozen food aisles at some grocery stores, it just wasn’t the same experience as rolling down your window to place your order and experience glorious heat relief and blissful, flavorful, sweet satisfaction seconds later.

Just after the lunch rush on a Friday

In 2006, Steve and Cathy Garcia purchased Itsa and procured a refrigerated trailer they could ferry to outdoor events throughout the dessert-dry Duke City.  Three years later they actualized their vision for a brick and mortar Italian ice business by launching Itsa Italian Ice on the corner of Second and Phoenix, N.W., two blocks north of Menaul.  The facility isn’t set up for drive-up service, but you’ll want to take a seat and linger for a while at the 50s themed full-service restaurant where now you can get not only your favorite Italian Ice, but hamburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, a Philly cheese steak, hand-cut French fries, Frito pies, Frontier cinnamon rolls and more. 

In February, 2015, Itsa Italian Ice was renamed Philly’s N Fries.  It’s not everyday a highly regarded and successful business tampers with an established brand identity, but the move was deemed necessary because (surprisingly) not everyone associated the name Itsa Italian Ice with food.  Then, of course, not everyone reads Food & Wine Magazine which, in October, 2010, featured Itsa in its Trendspotting segment.  No, they’re more apt to read Albuquerque the Magazine which spotlighted Itsa’s “better than Philadelphia Philly” in a feature entitled “The Ex-Pat’s Guide to Eating in Abq.”  The rename has proven very successful.

Double Meat Burger with Fries

The panoply of Italian ice flavors includes lemon, watermelon, cantaloupe, lime, grape, black raspberry, tangerine, cherry, banana, blue moon (cotton candy) and chocolate.  The only flavor which  didn’t initially survive the decade plus was Root Beer, my very favorite flavor.  Fortunately, it was added to the menu in June, 2010.  It’s as wonderful as ever with a pronounced adult root beer flavor–strong and peppery.   Unlike some Italian Ices, these actually taste like the fruits (and chocolate) for which they are named. They are still as refreshing as a dip in a cold mountain lake.

Philly’s N Fries provides diners with a nostalgic trip back to a carefree, more innocent time before the infestation of chain restaurants.  Even if you’re not old enough to remember it, you’ll appreciate the sundry bric-a-brac from the Fabulous Fifties.  The Fifties theme starts with the black and white checkerboard tile of the era which blends thematically with the red and white kitchen-style chairs, brushed chrome tables, refurbished Conoco gasoline pump and on the northwest corner of the restaurant atop a vintage Pepsi machine, a bulky, boxy period era television set.

Green Chile Philly & Fries

Although prices are hardly reminiscent of the 1950s (or 1996 for that matter), there are good meal deals on the menu.  Hamburger and hot dog combo meals (French fries and a soft drink with unlimited free refills) are a good bet for cost conscious consumers.  A regular ice goes for $2.50 while a large will put a slight dent in your wallet for two dollars more.  Still, this is Itsa Italian Ice we’re talking about and it’s worth it!

Philly’s N Fries doesn’t offer table-side service.  Cathy and her perpetual smile are  ready to take your order at a counter and she’ll deliver it to your table when it’s ready unless long lines prevent her from leaving her post (in which case, you’ll be called up to pick it up).  If there’s one thing reminiscent of the 50s (from what I’ve heard), it’s the service–friendly, accommodating and pleasant.  The service is enough to bring me back.  Steve, Cathy and their daughter Desiree are among the most friendly restaurateurs in the Duke City.

Philly Cheesesteak at Itsa Italian Ice

Another View of the Fabulous Philly Cheesesteak (Photo courtesy of Sean O’Donnell)

9 February 2018: Philly’s N Fries may be just as adept at satisfying the pangs of hunger as it is refreshing your thirst and you won’t go away hungry.  That’s especially true if you order the double-meat green chile cheeseburger, a behemoth by any measure.  Prepared at just a shade beyond medium, the beef patties are thick and juicy.  American cheese, lettuce, tomato and of course, green chile adorn the burger.  This green chile cheeseburger is one of my Kim’s favorites, but occasionally a burger so good she actually eschews the green chile Philly. The green chile not only has the piquancy New Mexicans love on their favorite burger, but it’s got a nice flavor and the restaurant doesn’t scrimp on it.  

The French fries are crisp inside and out, almost as if they’re fried twice in very hot oil.  These fries are fresh and hand-cut on the premises.  In a city in which most restaurants serve frozen French fries out of the bag, these fresh not-quite-shoestring thin fries are a welcome change.  You’ve got to order a combo meal (sandwich, fries and a drink) because a Philly without fries is like a day without sunshine.

Green Chile Chicken Philly with Fries

2 May 2009: Being a 50s themed restaurant, it’s only fitting that Philly’s N Fries offer a hot dog that was actually around in the 1950s.  Nathan’s Famous were first seen on the Coney Island boardwalk in 1916.  Not only have they stood the test of time, they’ve expanded nationwide and are available in grocery stores and food courts everywhere.  Despite being ubiquitous, Nathan’s hot dogs are a take it or leave it proposition with as many aficionados as there are detractors.  At Philly’s N Fries these fat all-beef dogs are griddled to a crispy exterior.  They’re browned outside but retain their juiciness inside.

During our inaugural visit, we overheard Steve tell a customer that Philadelphia natives who ordered Philly’s N Fries Philly Cheesesteak compared it to the one offered at Pat’s King of Steaks, arguably the City of Brotherly Love’s best cheesesteak.  I dismissed that as pride of ownership until Sean O’Donnell (the very entertaining former KOB FM radio personality), a Pennsylvania native, told me he was “ecstatic” about finally finding “a place in town with a decent Philly Cheesesteak,” “a big deal for a PA transplant.” Considering Sean has steered me toward other great dining destinations, I place a lot of stock in his recommendation.

Nathan's Hot Dog

Nathan’s Hot Dog

9 February 2018: It’s a well-founded recommendation.  the Philly Cheesesteak is terrific!  Sweet white onions are grilled to perfection, not caramelized, but on that fine line between being crispy and soft.  Green peppers are grilled to a slightly crunchy consistency.  Two slices of white American cheese are arranged on each sandwich and it’s a wonderfully creamy and nice melting cheese.  The meat is chopped thin on the grill (a melodic percussion) and is seasoned well; you won’t find any fat or sinew anywhere.  The bread is a soft receptacle for the contents and is quite good.  This isn’t a huge sandwich except in terms of flavor.  No matter what you might read in “# of Visits” below, you can probably double that number.  This is my very favorite sandwich in the Land of Enchantment.  Nine visits out of ten, it’s what I’ll have at Philly’s N Fries.

17 December 2015: The only Philadelphia cheesesteak better in Albuquerque is the restaurant’s Green Chile Philly, a Philadelphia cheesesteak with New Mexican green chile.  Green chile makes everything taste better, especially when the chile has a piquant bite.  My friend “Señor Plata,” an aficionado of the Philadelphia cheesesteak ranks this sandwich even higher than his previous favorite at the now defunct Petito’s Pizzeria in Rio Rancho.  The biggest difference, in his estimation, is the steak itself which isn’t shaved sliver-thin as at Petito’s.  It’s also not quite as lean which generally means just a bit of fat for flavor.  A Los Angeles native, Señor Plata has had the very best cheesesteak sandwiches America’s second largest city has to offer and he rates Philly’s N Fries higher.

Cantaloupe Italian Ice

17 December 2015: Not that very long ago, a chicken Philly would have been considered sacrilege, especially in the City of Brotherly Love where the Philly cheesesteak originated.  Today, chicken Phillys are ubiquitous throughout Philadelphia.  It stands to reason that persnickety, variety-oriented diners would want a non-red meat option and chicken, after all, is the other white meat.  As with the more conventional steak-laden Philly, the chicken is finely chopped (it’s a wonder Steve doesn’t have carpal tunnel syndrome) and is available with green peppers and sweet white onions.  Risking the guilt of betrayal for not having our beloved cheesesteak, my  friend Bill Resnik and I were inaugurated into the chicken Philly option in December, 2015.  The date is significant because it’s the day we found a viable alternative to the sacrosanct cheesesteak.

Dessert offerings include the aforementioned Italian ice as well as an old favorite, the Nutty Buddy.  Philly’s N Fries also carries the fabled Frontier rolls, those hot, buttery, gooey rolls of pure deliciousness with a cinnamon sugar glaze.  They pack a day’s worth of tooth-decaying, waist-expanding calories, the kind you love to consume.  Among the very best cinnamon rolls in the Land of Enchantment, they’re worth the extra time at the gym.

Italian Ice–it’s a refreshing, fat free, non dairy dessert that’s an Albuquerque tradition now energizing and winning over yet another generation of thirsty, overheated residents. The green chile Philly cheesesteaks are the very best in Albuquerque (certified by experts like Sr. Plata) and the service is warm and hospitable.

Philly’s N More
215 Phoenix Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 February 2017
1ST VISIT: 1 May 2009
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Double meat green chile cheeseburger, French fries, Italian Ice, Hot Dog, Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, Green Chilly Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, Frontier Roll, Green Chile Chicken Philly

Itsa Italian Ice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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