Yellow Brix Restaurant – Carlsbad, New Mexico

Entrance to the Yellow Brix Patio

Gastronomes (people with sensitive and discriminating culinary tastes), cerevisaphiles (aficionados of beers and ales) and oenophiles (connoisseurs of wines) have a vernacular of their own. Most of us need a universal translator to understand what they’re saying when they’re waxing eruditely about their passions. The commonality among the three is their pursuit of sensual pleasures, an indulgence of the senses. Being singularly passionate about one of these epicurean pursuits doesn’t necessarily mean you’re conversant in the vernacular of another.

Case in point, as we were enjoying our al fresco dining experience at the Yellow Brix patio in Carlsbad, I contemplated what theme to wrap my review around.  Yellow brick road?  Nah, too cheesy.  Bricks as a foundation for success?  Too boring.  Bricks as in yet another of my jump shots bouncing off the rim?  Too embarrassing.  Fortunately the couple on the table to our left bailed me out.  Obviously “grape nuts” (yes, that’s a synonym for oenophile), they were speaking what seemed to be Klingon as they raised their glasses to their lips and sipped in a manner that was both studious and appreciative.  Terms such as “tannin,” “body,” “terroir” and “brix” were interspersed with conversations about the day’s activities.

Yellow Brix Patio

What the heck could “bricks” possibly have to do with wine, I wondered.  Could there possibly be a grape-pressing method involving the use of bricks?  And does the restaurant’s name Yellow Brix portend something about the color of bricks used in the grape-pressing process?  It finally dawned on me that the key might not be in the pronunciation “bricks,” but in the spelling “brix.”  As it turns out, when our neighbors were using the term “brix,” they were talking about a way to measure grapes to determine how much alcohol a wine will have.  It’s not as complicated as Stephen Hawkings gravitational singularity theorems as Wine Folly  explains below.

“Brix (°Bx) is a way to measure the potential alcohol content of a wine before it’s made by determining the sugar level in grapes. Each gram of sugar that’s fermented will turn into about a 1/2 gram of alcohol. Of course, different winemaking techniques will affect the final alcohol content, which is why Brix is interesting to us inquisitive wine explorers.”  It’s very scientific, much like molecular gastronomy principles where techniques from chemistry and physics are used to transform the textures of food into innovative eating experiences. Sous-vide anyone?

Roasted Grape Salad

Yellow Brix does indeed have an impressive wine list…and the edifice is constructed of yellow bricks, an architecturally beautiful and historic yellow-brick home built in 1928.  Some eight decades later (2011) owners Dan and Barbara Remplel began the conversion to a commercial restaurant with the goal of preserving the historic integrity of this stately home.  Initially they launched as a unique coffeehouse, but toward the end of their first year they decided to offer more to the community of Carlsbad, transitioning into the full service restaurant it is today.

Its website indicates “YellowBrix Restaurant strives to be the epicurean restaurant of choice for the community of Carlsbad.”  If our inaugural visit is any indication, it’s a wonderful community gathering space that would be right at home anywhere.  “Anywhere” doesn’t necessarily have Carlsbad’s moderate climes.  We had our first al fresco dinner for 2018 on a short-sleeve worthy March day on the Yellow Brix patio with our debonair dachshund The Dude.  The interior dining room is beautiful, but the patio is the place to be.  It’s well lit and shielded from the North Canal Street traffic.  Portable patio heaters stood at the ready should they be needed, but it was warm for the entire duration of our stay.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

The Yellow Brix menu bespeaks of a guest-centric mission statement: “We believe in providing an exceptional dining experience and unbelievable food. We offer an extensive selection of lunch, dinner, and kid’s items made from scratch every day, that are sure to satisfy any appetite.  For even more favors, we have incredible salmon, prime rib, pork chops, margarita chicken and grilled steak options you won’t find anywhere else. After dinner, we welcome you to try our famous cheesecake or homemade gelato, while sipping one of our specialty coffee drinks. We even roast our own beans!”  Sure enough, the menu gave us plenty to contemplate.

While the starters menu included an inviting array of tempting appetizers, we wanted to try something heretofore new to us.  The roasted grape salad (baby spinach with fresh roasted grapes, craisins, candied walnuts and goat cheese with brandied vanilla dressing) did the trick.  Sure we’ve had roasted grapes on salads before, but that brandied vanilla dressing heralded something special.  Brandy, with its depth of nuanced flavors, was easily discerned.  Its pairing with a thin (not quite the consistency of pudding) sheen of vanilla is something we’ll try to reconstruct at home.  The brandy counterbalanced the sweetness away from the vanilla and proved an excellent foil to the tart, earthiness of the goat cheese.  Similarly, the juicy grapes provided a nice textural contrast to the candied walnuts.  This salad was a pleasant surprise!

Roasted Half Chicken

With her entree, my Kim had her choice of sides, all inviting, but it was the chicken tortilla soup (vegetables, chicken breast, avocado, cheese and tortilla chips) which beckoned. At far too many New Mexican restaurants, chicken tortilla soup is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, usually “good enough” but rarely memorable.  Yellow Brix’s version is in rarefied air as one of the most satisfying of its ilk we’ve ever had.  Not only is the portion size generous (brimming), the ingredients are of high quality and prepared well.  Each vegetable contributed mightily to our enjoyment as did notes of musky achiote.  After you’ve dispensed with all the vegetables, this is a soup you’ll want to slurp up.

Thinking she would certainly order one of the chef-cut char-grilled Angus steaks, my carnivorous Kim surprised me by requesting the roasted half chicken (herb-rubbed and served with chimichurri).  Admittedly she had seen the pulchritudinous poultry platter destined for other tables.   She would never otherwise eschew a good steak.  What made this particular chicken a great choice was the chimichurri.  There are many variations of this popular Argentinian meat sauce.  Yellow Brix’s rendition is among the best we’ve had.  It’s a complex (not complicated) sauce in that it imprints itself on your taste buds in so many different places.  Kim’s only regret is not having requested a second portion.  It enlivened an otherwise ordinary chicken.

Sashimi Tuna

My entree choice actually came from the starters menu where I couldn’t get past the Sashimi tuna (seared ahi slices with wasabi, ginger and a hot-spiced soy sauce).  It was a nice choice though the soy-wasabi combination was a bit on the salty side, making me crave vinegared rice, the element on sushi that makes it less salty.  Sans soy and wasabi, the seared ahi was beautiful in both appearance and flavor.  Perfectly pink and rare, the ahi was moist and delicious.  Nine thinly sliced little slabs of sumptuous ahi made for a great entree indeed. 

Not only did Yellow Brix feed us, well, our visit taught me a new term to use on my oenophile friends.  For al fresco pet-friendly dining in Carlsbad, there’s no better option!

Yellow Brix Restaurant
201 North Canal Street
Carlsbad, New Mexico
(575) 941-2749
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sashimi Tuna, Roasted Half Chicken, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Roasted Grape Salad

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

Red Chimney BBQ – Carlsbad, New Mexico

Red Chimney BBQ in Carlsbad, New Mexico

Depending on your lifestyle choices and temperament, some of the slogans emblazoned on bumper stickers or tee-shirts seen over the years at Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew  will either make you laugh or rankle your ire.   “Meat is murder – tasty, tasty murder.”  “Animal rights – Animals have the right to be tasty.” “Gardening: Cultivating a piece of land in order to barbecue.” “If you can’t stand the heat, go get me a beer!”  Obviously no similarly themed bumper stickers or tee-shirt slogans  will ever be seen at vegan or vegetarian festivals. They are, however, part and parcel of my former colleague Matt Mauler’s casual (and for that matter, formal) attire.   You might remember Matt from my review of The Acre. More than anyone you’ll ever meet, he celebrates meat in all its magnificence while damning and cursing any vegetable that isn’t fried. He also loathes vegans and vegetarians.

Several years ago, Matt told me about a barbecue restaurant in Carlsbad which prepares meat “just like back home.”  Back home for Matt was Paducah, Kentucky.  It was “almost heaven, the best place in the world” according to the proud Bluegrass State transplant and self-professed redneck.  Some of our other colleagues liked to tease the irascible Matt with references to Hazard county (home of Daisy Duke), Deliverance and even Bugtussle (which is actually in Missouri).  His retort: “at least we have good barbecue,” a dig at what he perceived to be a dearth of great barbecue restaurants in the Land of Enchantment…except for that one Kentucky style barbecue restaurant in Carlsbad.

Sprawling Red Chimney Dining Room

Matt would know Kentucky barbecue greatness.  On the fourth Friday and Saturday in September, his birthplace celebrates Old Market Days, a charitable event which includes a contest called “Barbecue on the River.”  In her wonderful tome Food Festival USA, my dear friend Becky Mercuri explains that “if a spirit of hospitality and goodwill accompanied by great barbecue appeals to you, you’ll want to be in Paducah, Kentucky during the annual Old Market Days.”  “And if you can’t make it to Paducah,” Matt advised, “drive six hours south to Carlsbad and get the next best thing.”

“The next best thing” comes from the Red Chimney Bar B Que on North Canal Street.  It’s nearly impossible to miss, especially if you’re driving by with your windows down.  That’s how your nostrils will imbibe the hazy smoke plumes emanating from Red Chimney which waft into your motorized conveyance like a sweet Kentucky smoke signal beckoning you to try a combo platter.   Similar to its rival Danny’s Place, the parking lot at the Red Chimney is always packed.  The vehicle of choice in Carlsbad appears to be large, high-profile trucks, contemporary horses for modern-day cowboys.

Piled High Chop Mix

Danny and Kathryn Fowler launched Red Chimney in 1952 and ran it until 1993.  A year later, under the auspices son Ted, the restaurant was rebuilt  into a more capacious log cabin on the same property.  Today this bastion of bodacious barbecue is into its third generation of  family ownership and tradition with Ted’s daughter Jill and her husband Edgar at the helm.  Kentucky-style barbecue was well-received by Carlsbad six decades ago plus and remains beloved today.  Along with the aforementioned Danny’s Place, Red Chimney is a destination restaurant, another reason to visit the gateway to the world’s most spectacular caverns.

So what distinguishes Kentucky barbecue from barbecue anywhere else in the fruited plain?  Author Ken Berry explains that in Kentucky, “we cook up just about any animal that has meat on it.”  That includes mutton (sheep over a year old) which wasn’t to be found on Red Chimney’s menu.  Nor was burgoo, which Berry describes as an “everything but the kitchen sink’ rich stew made with several meats and vegetables.”  Kentucky is a large state with regional specialties so why lament what’s missing from the menu.  Our focus became enjoying the very interesting, very inviting menu which has earned aficionados for decades.

Fort Knox Potato

My choice was a plate called Piled High Chop Mix, chopped brisket, pork and ham mixed with the restaurant’s signature barbecue sauce and served with two sides (smoked mac and cheese, hush puppies and pinto beans for me).  Don’t mistake this for a typical three meat plate in which the trio of meats are separate entities.  “Chop Mix” means the finely chopped meats are jumbled together in a tangle of meaty tendrils.  Tossed in this manner and heavily sauced, it was a challenge to discern where one meat ends and another starts.  Every bite included a bit of each.  It was an interesting melange, but for me a one-time experience.  The hush puppies were interesting, too, wholly unlike those we experienced throughout Mississippi.  Instead of deep-fried orbs, these were cylindrical (cigar-like) in shape.  The smoked mac and cheese was my favorite thing on the plate.

My Kim enjoyed a Fort Knox Potato, described as “the potato that holds something better than gold.”  Instead of gold, the potato is loaded with smoked chop mix, butter, sour cream, Cheddar cheese and crisp red onion.  The smoked chop mix was the element of this football-sized dish Kim liked least.  What she enjoyed most was the through-and-through tenderness of the potato and the “usual fixings” of butter, sour cream and Cheddar cheese.  Had we read the menu more closely, we would have seen that another meat could have been substituted.  Next time…and there will be a next time.

Cherry and Apple Cobbler A la Mode

One of the reasons we’re so hopeful for a return visit is the cobbler, available in apple, cherry and peach. Have it a la mode for an even better taste experience.  It’s a housemade sourdough cobbler very popular among guests.  The interplay of sourdough, fruit and creamy, cold vanilla ice cream makes for a very enjoyable experience.  Oh, and to quell the thirst inherent with visiting the desert southwest, have a chocolate shake with your meal.  It’s served thick, cold and absolutely delicious. 

Red Chimney doesn’t have much, if anything, for vegetarians and vegans.  It truly is an altar for meats.  Kentucky barbecue is good stuff and Red Chimney is where you can get it.

Red Chimney BBQ
817 North Canal
Carlsbad, New Mexico
(575) 885-8744
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Piled High Chop Mix, Fort Knox Potato, Chocolate Shake, Cherry Cobbler A La Mode, Apple Cobble A La Mode

Red Chimney Pit Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato