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

Kimberly Duncan, pizzaioli extraordinaire at the 34th Annual International Pizza Expo (the Pizza Superbowl)

American journalist Anna Quindlen declared “ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.” At the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, everyone who is anyone in the independent and chain pizza industry gets together to share ideas, expand their knowledge and toss dough in pizza skills competitions. No one tosses dough as well as Robert Yacone and Kimberly Duncan, the high-energy and even higher in personality quotient dynamic duo who own and operate the incomparable Forghedaboudit in Deming. In the 2018 Expo, Kimberly’s pulchritudinous pepperoni and sausage pizza placed third in the Southwest region (California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Utah and Oklahoma) and fifth in the country in the traditional pizza category. In 2017, she won the Southwest region, placed second in the United States and fourth in the entire world.

Competing in the non-traditional pizza category, considered the most difficult competition at the Expo, Robert created a pizza which exemplifies creativity and genius: grilled jerk shrimp, applewood smoked bacon, avocado, mushrooms, Piave 18 month aged cheese, Bacio mozzarella lemon-lime zest topped with basil on a four-day old cold rise crust topped with garlic and olive oil!. Only two points separated Robert’s masterpiece from first place in a competition that pitted the best pizzaioli in the world. If you’re not beating a path to Deming right now (don’t forget to get reservations), you’re missing out on one of the best traditional pizzas in the world and a non-traditional pie I’d give my right arm for. Now go!

Robert Yacone Competed in the Non-Traditional Category at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas

For the second consecutive year and third time overall, Santa Fe Chef Martin Rios became a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Awards in The Best Chef Southwest category, coming oh-so-close to earning the award in 2015 and 2017. One of New Mexico’s most heralded chefs, Rios continues to enthrall New Mexico diners with his innovative Progressive American cuisine at his eponymous Restaurant Martin. Since launching his restaurant, Rios has earned nine James Beard award nominations. Chef Rios is much too talented to become the Susan Lucci of the culinary world.

12 Tomatoes, an online presence whose byline is “Simple Recipes. Serious Flavor,” noted that while not every state in the fruited plain has an official state dessert, “each and every state is at least known for something sweet.” Reading the 12 Tomatoes list of the most iconic dessert in each state just might “be enough to make you want to take one sweet road trip.” So, what does 12 Tomatoes consider the most iconic sweet in the Land of Enchantment? Why, the bizcochito, of course. The feature described the bizcochito thusly: “A sweet, buttery cookie flavored with cinnamon and anise, Bizcochitos became the official state cookie of New Mexico almost 30 years ago.”

Minestrone Invermaie from Il Bosco in Albuquerque

New Mexico hasn’t been widely heralded as a state in which great barbecue is to be found. That may be changing thanks to a small purveyor of bodacious barbecue in Tucumcari. Yes, Tucumcari. In February, Tucumcari’s Watson’s BBQ garnered national recognition from Thrillist as one of the best small town restaurants in the country. Just one month later, Watson’s earned an even more significant honor, being named one of the 50 best barbecue restaurants in America according to Yelp. Watson’s ranked 35th in the meaty pantheon. On 89 reviews (as of this date), Yelp reviewers gave Watson’s five stars.

In an episode of Food Paradise entitled “More Bite for the Buck,” the Travel Channel showcased where “frugal foodies across the country” go “to savor the savings while indulging in high quality meals without the high prices, from four dollar fried chicken tacos and one buck shucks to half-priced rib eyes and bargain breakfast bites.” The only restaurant in the Land of Enchantment to make the list is The Pantry in Santa Fe which for some reason, the program’s map depicted as being located in the Farmington area. “Widely known as Santa Fe’s meeting place,” The Pantry “has been a home away from home for generations of Santa Feans” giving guests a “bang for their buck.” Food Paradise noted that ” the food may be cheap, but it’s definitely rich, in particular the stuffed French toast.”

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)

Rudy’s Country Store & Barbecue – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rudy’s Real Texas Bar-B-Q

I first sampled Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q’s products in 1993 in Leon Springs, Texas, a San Antonio suburb on the fringes of the magnificent  Texas Hill Country. At the time Rudy’s was just beginning to make inroads toward becoming a significant barbecue presence in Texas where beef and brisket are king.  Back then Leon Springs appeared to be a test ground for new restaurant concepts–and in fact, it is the site of the first Romano’s Macaroni Grill and the first Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q (as well as a concept called Nacho Mama’s which might have been the best of the lot.)

Before it was Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q, however, it was just Rudy’s Country Store. The country store was opened in 1929 by Rudolph “Rudy” Aue, the son of the founder of Leon Springs. The country store included a gas station, garage and grocery store.  In 1989, Rudy’s added Bar-B-Q to its country store’s name. Rudy’s was transformed into a meat market selling meats prepared on 100% oak-fired pits.

The sprawling dining room

My first impression was that this intriguing country store concept would be a perfect fit for for Albuquerque which until recent years has had pretty slim pickings when it comes to great barbecue. It took more than a dozen years for those hopes to be realized.  Today, Rudy’s now has two stores in the Duke City. This expansive enterprise also has restaurants in Colorado, Kansas, Arizona, Oklahoma and throughout the great state of Texas.

Rudy’s still offers Texas style tangy barbecue in a country store setting. Unlike many Texas barbecue bastions which seem to prefer acrid mesquite woods, Rudy’s meats are prepared using only oak, a slower-burning wood than mesquite.  Rudy’s meats are also imbued with a nice smoke ring characteristic of good barbecue. Those meats are flame cooked pit-style. The meats are dry-rubbed, not slathered with sauce before being placed in the smoker. The meats are characteristically moist, tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. You can purchase them in increments: quarter-pound, half-pound, pound or more if you so desire.  With a half-pound, you can build two to three stacked sandwiches.

The counter where you place your order

The meats are delicious with or without sauce (sause is how it’s spelled on Rudy’s menus). There are two kinds of sause–a hot sause which is better, bolder and more peppery than its counterpart, labeled “sissy sause.” New Mexicans who adore green chile give the hot sauce a healthy respect and might insult wimps who use the sissy sauce by calling them Texans.  To some, the secret to the deliciousness in Rudy’s barbecue starts with the distinctive sause and its peppery flakes which imbue a sweet tanginess and zesty kick (especially if you use the hot sause).

Surprisingly Rudy’s markets itself as the world’s worst barbecue. There are at least two explanations for this slogan’s genesis. Some surmise that this is just a clever advertising ruse intended to be taken ironically, not literally. It’s as much a “rib” as the meaty ribs on the menu. The other explanation is that “worst” is a play on the German word “wurst,” a type of sausage prepared in the Texas hill country by Germans who first settled this part of Texas in the mid-1850s.

A Half Pound of Brisket

A great meal features a pound or more of very good smoked meat wrapped in butcher paper with accompanying bread slices (rather ordinary wheat or white bread) that make for several sandwiches.  Rudy’s brisket is probably the number one selling item on the menu. It is tender, juicy, and melts in your mouth. You can smell the oak that’s used to smoke it in every bite.   The pork and brisket are very good, links are terrific and ham is excellent. If you’re a ham fanatic, Rudy’s serves some of the best in town.  A light, sweet glaze contrasts with the porcine saltiness of the ham to dance on your taste buds.

Seating is family-style on wooden picnic tables, but no one seems to mind sitting with strangers.  Perhaps that’s because most patrons are too busy with the entrees, but more than likely it’s because the environment seems to inspire friendliness.  Aside from the indoor seating with a view of the prep tables where the slicing and cutting is done, Rudy’s offers covered porch seating.  Our debonair dachshund The Dude enjoys the covered porch during inclement days that aren’t fit for man or his best friend.

A Half Pound of Pork

Between the unholy hours of seven and ten in the morning, Rudy’s offers “grab and go” tacos which you can customize with your favorite smoked meats.  Once you’ve had tacos made with smoked meats, you might never again be satisfied with ground beef tacos (or any Taco Bell faux-simile thereof).  The grab and go options include bacon, egg and chile; sausage, egg and chile; brisket, egg and chile; jalapeño sausage wrap; sausage wrap; carne adovada wrap; chop taco and beans and cheese.  Any option with chile–red or green–is best.

Rudy’s also serves something called the “brown cow taco” which is made from barbecue brisket (or you can substitute pulled pork), chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese and sour cream inside a warm flour tortilla.  It’s a much larger taco than the other breakfast tacos and can be ordered any time of day.  The Turkey Joe taco is somewhat similar except that it’s constructed from the smoked turkey and Ranch dressing.  Both are full-meal-sized and quite good.

Rudy’s Sissy Sause and Bar-B-Q Sause

The menu includes several sides: potato salad, green bean salad, coleslaw, corn-on-the-cob, green chili stew, pinto beans, cream corn, new potatoes and a jumbo smoked potato (nearly the size of a football).  The buttery boiled potatoes are a popular favorite which many guests seem to love.  The cream corn, which is also quite good, uses large niblet corn and a sweet, creamy, buttery sauce.

Rudy’s employees wear shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “We didn’t claw our way to the top of the food ladder only to eat vegetables.” That’s the way most diners feel as well.  The walls nearest the entrance are festooned with accolades proclaiming the self proclaimed “world’s worst barbecue” Albuquerque’s very best several years running by publications such as Albuquerque The Magazine, The Alibi and Local IQ.

Sausage, Bacon and Green Chile Breakfast Taco

Since man cannot live on barbecue alone, a collection of sure to please desserts are available: banana pudding, pecan pie, chocolate pudding, buttermilk pie, Rice Krispy treats, ice cream and peach cobbler.  Buttermilk pie, despite its deeply Southern roots has become somewhat of a big hit at Rudy’s in New Mexico.  This custard pie with its faintly caramelized top is almost cloying in its degree of sweetness, but it’s perfect for sweet-toothed diners.

Rudy’s was one of the first restaurants to introduce Albuquerque diners to Stewart’s sodas which come in several varieties including a root beer which was named the top root beer at the 2006 World Cup of Root Beer.  Stewart’s sodas evoke nostalgic tangs among people who grew up with Nehi sodas and their colorful variety.

Pecan Pie and Banana Pudding

Rudy’s is perhaps the best Texas import to land in the Land of Enchantment since UNM basketball star Kenny Thomas transferred from El Paso to Albuquerque High School.  It’s become a barbecue landmark in its two Duke City locations.

Rudy’s Country Store & Barbecue
10136 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-7113
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 25 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Brown Cow Taco, Pork Sandwich, Brisket, Ham

Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Salt and Board – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Salt and Board in the Brick Light District Across from UNM

Five years ago, everyone was making beer in their bathtubs,
and now everyone’s making charcuterie in their garage!”
~Brian Malarkey, Chef

When my friend Carlos, a punctilious polyglot conversant in four languages, asked what my Kim and I ate over the weekend, my poorly-pronounced beginner’s French response was “une assisette de charcuterie et de fromages.” “Oh, you had cold-cuts and cheese,” he responded. “No, we had charcuterie!” I emphasized, slowly pronouncing each syllable of the term: “char-cu-te-rie.” “Only the French,” he retorted “could convince you a plate of bologna and slices of cheese is a gourmet dish worth thirty dollars.” Carlos was only kidding, of course, but beyond his flippancy was a veiled challenge. He wanted me to figure out what distinguishes “charcuterie” from any other plate of cold-cuts and cheeses thrown together.

It could be argued that charcuterie’s historical roots extend hundreds of years back when early civilizations figured out how to cure and preserve meats. The term “charcuterie,” which is derived from the French words for flesh (chair) and cooked (cuit), finds its genesis in fifteenth-century France. Charcuterie was essentially born out of the necessity for foods to have a long shelf life. Because pork vendors were prohibited from selling uncooked pork, they very quickly, figured out unique (or refined existing) methods for preparing salting, drying and curing pork. The term charcuterie initially defined the shops that sold pork and offal (internal organs) products. Eventually charcuterie also came to mean the actual products themselves.

One of the most beautiful charcuterie boards we’ve ever seen

Charcutiers held an elevated status in the community. They were seen as skilled and valued craftsmen, admired widely for their methods of transforming and presenting meats in delicious manners. With the advent of meatloaves, sausages and different kinds of meats, fish and fowl, French methods began to expand across Europe. This resulted in bologna, salumi and mortadella in Italy, the frankfurter in Germany, kielbasa in Poland and more. Charcuterie-style techniques also made it to the United States where Virginia hams and other regional cured specialties were born. Contemporary American charcuterie commonly regards charcuterie as a delicatessen-style cured meat served with cheese, bread, pickled vegetables and spreads.

As a child, my charcuterie had a first name: O-S-C-A-R. My charcuterie had a second name: M-A-Y-E-R. And if you ask me why, I’ll say “because I didn’t have a clue.” Later on, festive events such as graduation parties often included trays of cold-cuts, most often including the charcuterie of my childhood. Still clueless! It wasn’t until the Air Force sent me to Europe that I discovered the true meaning of charcuterie. It was love at first bite, alas an unrequited love for upon my return to the fruited plain, charcuterie was nowhere to be found. Frequent visits to California where artisanal cheese plates were the rage would have to sustain me until the colonies developed a charcuterie culture of its own.

The Italian, a Delicious Pressed Sandwich

Thankfully in recent years, charcuterie has made its way across the fruited plain—even to the Land of Enchantment. Habitués of this blog have read my raves about the charcuterie plate at M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria where genius chefs Cory Gray and Shawn Cronin have made charcuterie an art form. This dynamic duo bakes all the breads for the restaurant, makes all its pastas and sausages, cures many of the meats served on the premises, makes many of the cheeses, leaps tall buildings in a single bound and otherwise creates some of the most inventive and delicious dishes in Albuquerque. Other eateries have proffered versions of a charcuterie board, but none have rivaled M’Tucci’s.

That’s pretty much what we expected when we learned of the launch of Salt and Board in the Bricklight District near the University of New Mexico in a 1,400-square-foot space previously occupied by the Brickyard Dive and next door to Rude Boy Cookies. True to its name, Salt and Board offers a charcuterie board showcasing the chef’s choice of three meats and cheeses, house jams, pickles, mustards and crostini. As at M’Tucci’s, Salt and Board is about much more than charcuterie. The menu includes salads, toasts and pressed sandwiches. Toasts? In recent years, open-faced toast has become a culinary fad with toast serving as the canvas for very creative and delicious toppings. The possibilities are endless.

Chicken Liver Pate Banh Mi Style

There are three elements to a charcuterie board that make them so coveted and so special.  Variety and deliciousness are the first two and most obvious elements.  The third is mystery.  There’s something exciting about not knowing what the chef will choose for you.  It’s even better when you know that the next time you visit, your board will probably contain different meats and cheeses and they’ll all be mouth-watering. Salt and Board does not cure its own meats (the premises is just too small), but it does curate high quality products and presents them beautifully.  The board delivered to our table was one of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen.

Where to start?  How about the meats, a terrific triumvirate of textural and flavor contrasts?  We started with the mortadella which, contrary to uninformed opinion, is not glorified bologna.  Mortadella, an Italian pork sausage, is made of better ingredients and cured under more exacting and demanding standards.  Next was Saucisson Sec, a French dry-cured pork sausage flavored with garlic and black pepper.  It was superb!  The biggest surprise was a rilette, a seasoned meat spread traditionally made with pork.  It’s often called “poor man’s pate,” since it has the creamy, smooth consistency of pate, but it is far less costly.  Salt and Pepper’s version is served in a steel ramekin.  You have to break through about half an inch of melted bacon fat to get to the meat spread, but the combination of smoked bacon and cured meat flavors is dynamite.

When it comes to charcuterie, you want to have an assortment of mild, medium and bold flavors, preferably with different textures.  The chef sent out fantastic fromage–three gems.  First up was Funkmeister, a double-cream cow’s milk cheese with a washed rind (which is delicious).  Made in Colorado from organic cow’s milk, Funkmeister has a soft texture, but a funky, pungent aroma and pleasant, savory flavor.  It was my favorite.  My Kim’s favorite was the Cana de Cabra, a soft-ripened cheese made from pasteurized goat’s milk, in Spain.  It’s creamy, buttery, mild and delicious with the tart, earthy flavor we love.  We both enjoyed the Alpine Cheddar, a light wedge of mild sharpness.

As delicious as the meats and cheeses are on their own, their flavors are heightened greatly by the house jams, pickles, mustards and crostini (not to mention the incomparable Spanish Marcona olives).  My very favorite was an apricot mostarda, a sweet condiment made by softening the apricots in a sweetening brine tinged with mustard seeds for a terrific kick.  A superb complement to the savory meats and cheeses was the fig jam, as good as we’ve had in the Duke City.  Nearly as good was a sweet and savory onion jam which derives tanginess from some sort of vinegar and sweetness from a type of sugar.  Whether spread on the crostini or enjoyed on their own, the jams, pickles and mustards are integral to the whole charcuterie board package.

Five pressed sandwiches grace the menu, each one an invitation to deliciousness. It’s a challenge to decide which to order. Ultimately you’ve got to figure that you try one now and come back some other time to try the others. Our choice, as it often is when presented with sandwich options, was the Italian (prosciutto, soppressata, ham, Grand Cru (a Wisconsin cheese made from cow’s milk), olive tapenade, house oil and vinegar). Solomon himself could not have made a better choice. Unlike so many pressed sandwiches (typically called panini), this one was not squashed down to within an inch of its life. Nor was the bread crust so abrasive that it scrapes the roof of your mouth like sandpaper. The Italian has a grilled consistency (maybe a light press) and is soft and tender with meats and cheese piled higher than on any pressed sandwich in memory. Moreover, it was a melding of magnificent ingredients.

Contemporaneous with the charcuterie craze is the artisanal toast fad. San Francisco made toast trendy in 2014 and there appears to be no surcease in the popularity of what was once just a breakfast side slathered in butter and (or) jam. Today toast is the canvas for an arsenal of creative options, limited only by the imagination of the chef. Where everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to four-star chefs once extoled the virtues of avocado toast, today that seems passé. Under the menu heading “Toasts,” Salt and Board offers six different toast options, including the aforementioned avocado toast. Our choice, and perhaps the most imaginative one, was the chicken liver pate (Banh Mi style pickled vegetables, Fresno chili, cilantro aioli). Atop four diagonally cut slices of toast with a light smear of chicken liver pate and the promised jumble of pickled vegetables was a generous toss of microgreens. We could not discern daikon among the Banh Mi style pickled vegetables, but otherwise enjoyed this very creative presentation of an American standard.

Salt and Board is a fun gathering place in one of Albuquerque’s best people-watching neighborhoods. A relaxed, dog-friendly patio and old-world influenced cuisine—what could be better than that?

Salt and Board
115 Harvard SE Suite 9
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 219-2001
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Charcuterie Board, Chicken Liver Pate Banh Mi Style, The Italian
REVIEW #1034

Salt and Board Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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