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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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LATEST VISIT: 21 February 2018
1st VISIT: 26 November 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
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
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1009