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

Discriminating Diners Gideon and Angel Came All the Way From Deming to Enjoy the Dog-Friendly Patio at Torinos @ Home

Former American Idol winner and restaurant owner Taylor Hicks may have the best job in the country..or at least the tastiest. When he’s not entertaining or running his Alabama-based barbecue joint, he travels across the county for the Inspiration Channel’s State Plate program, assembling plates that represent each state’s most iconic foods. “From appetizers to main course to dessert, Taylor piles his plate high with delectable delights, as he makes his way across the country, meeting the people who take pride in their state’s foods.” His visit to New Mexico may have been the most enchanting (and certainly among the most delicious) of all the states he’s visited. The five items comprising the New Mexico state plate included carne adovada made from the increasingly rare Chimayo chile, green chile stew prepared by the great Rocky Durham at La Cienega’s Blue Heron Restaurant, calabacitas from The Santa Fe School of Cooking, stuffed sopaipillas from the Sopaipilla Factory in Pojoaque and for dessert, piñon brittle from Jericho Nursery. It would be so easy for New Mexicans to dispute some of these choices, but frankly State Plate did a pretty good job coming up with dishes which represent the Land of Enchantment so deliciously.

Long a staple of the collegiate diet, ramen’s “mass appeal has solidified it as both a cultural phenomenon and a global food craze.” That’s why Business Insider sought to locate the best ramen in each state. Named New Mexico’s best ramen was Albuquerque’s Naruto, a Central Avenue dining destination with an unimpeachable pedigree. Owners Hiro and Shohko Fukuda opened the Land of Enchantment’s very first sushi bar in 1975 and have been offering sushi nearly as long. Naruto’s Tonkotsu ramen is porcine perfection, an intensely porky elixir concocted by culinary wizards who, over many hours of simmering time, transform pork bones into an opaque broth with a rich, butyraceous flavor and the aroma of heaven.

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Enjoys the Chicken Fried Steak at Cocina Azul in Albuquerque

The Taste SF, a culinary lifestyle website and photography company based in San Francisco is dedicated to sharing the best food, wine and culinary-focused travel experiences. Cognoscenti will tell you any New Mexico-focused culinary adventure has got to include Los Poblanos Historic Inn in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. The Taste SF called Los Poblanos “one of our favorite places in Albuquerque.” A spectacular anthology of photographs accompanied a very respectful tribute with photos of the brunch entrees especially noteworthy.

Over the years few chefs have graced Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food as often as Marc Quinones, the über talented executive chef at Mas Tapas Y Vino. In 2017 for example, the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s “Chef of the Year” showed his versatility garnering a third-place-finish in the Great American Seafood Cook-off, a national competition held in New Orleans. His culinary career trajectory, passion and exposure seem to portend future James Beard nominations. Lois Alter Mark profiled Chef Quinones in an article fittingly titled The Secret Ingredient Award-Winning Chef Marc Quinones adds to Every dish. While it’s probably trite and cliche when chefs claim their secret ingredient is love, the interview reveals a rare passion which is suffused into every dish he prepares.

Deep-Fried Twinkies From Danny’s Place in Carlsbad

It wouldn’t surprise many people if you told them New Mexico has one of the 23 best Indian restaurants in America. After all, the Land of Enchantment has 23 tribes and an Indian population of more than 210,000. In its compilation of the best Indian restaurants across the fruited plain, Thrillist evaluated east Indian restaurants, not restaurants owned and operated by Native American Indians. Only one Indian restaurant from New Mexico made this hallowed list. That restaurant was Santa Fe’s Paper Dosa which “specializes in, well, its namesake dosa, or crepe made from a fermented batter, which arrives stuffed with ingredients like spiced paneer and peas, white truffle oil, spiced ground lamb, or green chile and not one, but three cheeses.”

Ah, the American deli experience. This tasty tradition conjures visions of satiating potato latkes, pastrami sandwiches and other Jewish delicacies.” That’s how the Food Network describes delis in its compilation of the 50 Best Delis by State. Now, what Food Network describes as a deli and what some cafes label themselves as a deli are often two different things–especially in New Mexico. More often than not, delis in the Land of Enchantment are usually just glorified sandwich shops. Not so for Food Networks anointed deli, Bodega Prime, a bona fide deli which actually makes its own ricotta, queso fresco, brioche rolls and more. The Food Network noted “This spot takes the concept of an average bodega and blows it up to epic proportions by bringing retail, take-out and dine-in together in one sleek yet charming space.”

Tamale Plate from Santa Fe’s Casa Chimayo

There’s so much more to the Land of Enchantment than Albuquerque and Santa Fe. If you’re not already subscribing to Melodie K’s Romancing Southern New Mexico newsletter, you’re missing out on the state’s spectacular southern half. From her home in the Las Cruces area, Melodie ventures out all over the Southwest, lovingly sharing stories on food, travel, and lifestyle. For a couple of years Melodie has also been sharing her photographs with readers of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog as well as keeping us well apprised of food-centric news from the area…such as the following gem.

It’s official: Diners searching for the best of the best green chile in the Land of Enchantment need look no further than El Patron Cafe in Las Cruces. So say the readers of USA Today who voted El Patron their favorite of ten New Mexico restaurants known for doing the state’s most iconic food particularly well. More than a few legendary eateries figured in the top ten, including The Shed in Santa Fe and The Owl Cafe in San Antonio. But in the end, El Patron’s specialty dishes made with Hatch green chile, such as brisket nachos and a house posole, won the most hearts and votes.

The Original Range Burger from Bernalillo. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K

Whoever first uttered the phrase “American as apple pie” probably did so while perched on a stool at a crowded diner. So that means a diner is somehow more American than apple pie.” That’s how Thrillist began its feature on the 21 best diners in America. While nay-sayers may consider diners an endangered species, there are still several of them serving people-and-palate-pleasing plates of classic American foods…or in the cast of Santa Fe’s The Pantry, classic New Mexican cuisine. New Mexico’s sole representative on the list of sacrosanct diners, The Pantry is “1. damn iconic, 2. a place where you have a decent shot at running into Cormac McCarthy, and 3. serves impeccable New Mexican breakfasts.”

Here’s one from November, 2017 I missed: “Whether you call it a sandwich, a hoagie, or a sub, the combination of meat, vegetables, and condiments between two pieces of bread is a universally enjoyed dish all over the US.” With the help of Yelp, Business Insider compiled a list of the best sandwiches in the US based on the star rating and number of reviews of restaurants listed in the “sandwiches” category. Yelp reviewers gave the most love to the shredded beef sandwich from Albuquerque’s Guava Tree Cafe. With an average rating of 4.5 stars (out of 5), it’s sandwich nirvana for Duke City aficionados.

Tandoori Chicken from India Hut in Las Cruces. Photo Courtesy of Melodie K.

And another–this one from Road and Track. You might think that an online and print magazine written for the automotive enthusiast would know something about driving to great places to eat…and you’d be right. Road and Track compiled a list of The 50 Most Delicious Things to Eat on an American Road Trip, one from each state in the fruited plain. To absolutely no one’s surprise, there’s nothing better to eat in New Mexico than Hatch green chile. Here’s what Road and Track had to say: The town of Hatch, New Mexico, is so obsessed with its eponymous chiles that come Labor Day, the Hatch Chile Festival draws over 30,000 people to this tiny town of 1,600. And when the harvest comes, Hatch chile makes its way into everything Mexican and nearby Tex-Mex: Hatch chile sausage, Hatch chile beer, Hatch chile chili, Hatch chile and Sweet Lime Sandwich Cookies. You get the idea.

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)

Mykonos Cafe And Taverna – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mykonos Cafe for Authentic Greek Cuisine in Albuquerque

Jose Villegas, my friend and colleague at Hanscom Air Force Base, earned the most ignominious nickname. Everyone called him “Jose Viernes” which fans of the 1960s television series Dragnet might recognize is the Spanish translation for “Joe Friday.” We didn’t call him Jose Viernes because he was a “just the facts” kind of guy. He earned that sobriquet because he lived for Fridays. Jose kept a perpetual calendar in his head, constantly reminding us that there are “only XXX days until Friday.” Quite naturally, his favorite expression was “TGIF” which he could be overheard exclaiming ad-infinitum when his favorite day of the week finally arrived. Conversely, for him (as it is for many Americans), Monday was the most dreaded way to spend one-seventh of his life, an accursed day that mercilessly ended his weekend.

Aside from the temporary reprieve Friday provides from the grind of an arduous workweek, Jose’s anticipation about Fridays had everything to do with fun, friends, food and females. Mostly food…or so we thought. Jose was one of the first gourmets I ever met, a man with an educated palate and nuanced tastes (though for some reason, he disliked the foods of his native Puerto Rico). On Fridays, his favorite Greek restaurant served a combination platter brimming with several of his favorite dishes. Jose raved about such delicacies as dolmas, spanakopita, galaktoboureko and other dishes he could spell and pronounce flawlessly and which he considered ambrosiatic. Jose rebuffed all offers of company when Greek was Friday’s featured fare, likely because he was as interested in a comely weekend waitress as he was the food.

Bread and Dipping Sauce

In the Hanscom area, some twenty miles northwest of Boston, several of the local Italian and pizza restaurants were owned and operated by Greek proprietors.  Some of them would occasionally offer such weirdness as “stuffed grape leaves,” a dish of which my callow mind could not then fathom.  Save for a “Mediterranean Pizza” (kalamata olives, feta cheese, olive oil) I left Massachusetts without ever experiencing Greek food.  After my inauguration into the culinary delights (at Gyros Mediterranean in Albuquerque) of one of the world’s oldest civilizations, I cursed Jose Viernes for not having introduced me to such deliciousness.  What kind of friend was he to have kept such dishes as gyros, spanakopita, tarama and stuffed grape leaves (those paragons of weirdness) from me!

Jose Viernes still comes to mind whenever we visit a Greek restaurant.  If the fates have been kind to him, he’s probably found a job that allows him to work four ten-hour days a week so he can have his precious Fridays off.  Maybe he married that Greek waitress none of us ever met and opened his own Greek restaurant.  Perhaps someday through the magic of the internet, I hope we can reconnect and reminisce.   Better still, I hope we can break pita together and discuss the nuances of Greek cuisine.  With any luck, that reunion will take place at Mykonos Cafe on Juan Tabo.

Greek Appetizer Plate: Spanakopita, Feta cheese & Kalamata olives, Hummus, Dolmas & Toasted Pita

Though–as very well chronicled in the May, 2017 edition of Albuquerque The MagazineGreek restaurateurs have plied their talents across the Duke City for generations, they often did so in restaurants showcasing New Mexican and American  culinary fare in such venerable institutions as Western View Diner & Steakhouse, Mannie’s Family Restaurant, Lindy’s, Monte Carlo Steakhouse, Town House Dining Room, Milton’s and many others.  Menus at these restaurants included a smattering of Greek dishes, but it wasn’t until much later that true Greek restaurants began dotting the culinary landscape.

Restaurants such as the Olympia Cafe (1972),  Gyros Mediterranean (1978), Yanni’s Mediterranean (1995) are the elder statesmen among Albuquerque’s Greek restaurants with Mykonos Cafe (1997) the newcomer in the group.  Situated in the Mountain Run Shopping Center, Mykonos was founded by veteran restaurateur Maria Constantine.  In 2014, Mykonos changed hands when Nick Kapnison, Jimmy Daskalos and wife Nadine Martinez-Daskalos purchased the restaurant.  Kapnison and Daskalos are among the Duke City’s most accomplished restaurant impresarios, boasting of such local favorites as Nick & Jimmy’s and El Patron.  The talented triumvirate gave Mykonos a complete make-over, revamping virtually everything in the restaurant.

Avgolemono

More than ever, the restaurant evokes images of Mykonos, the Greek island for which the restaurant is named.  Sea-blue paint, in particular, will transport you to the crystal clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean.  The cynosure of the restaurant is a “bubble wall,” an illuminated glass fixture which holds moving water and changes color depending on its setting.  Capacious and attractive as the dining area is, for parents of furry, four-legged children, the dog-friendly patio is a welcome milieu.  Our delightful dachshund Dude (he abides) enjoys the attention he receives from the amiable wait staff.

The menu is very well organized into several categories: dips and spreads, Mezethakia (appetizers), soupa, salata, entrees, vegetarian, steaks, chops and lamb, seafood, sandwiches, pastas, sides and homemade desserts.  Though it’s not the menu’s goal  to make it difficult to decide what to order, it may very well have that effect on you…especially if your tastes are diverse.  Jose Viernes would enjoy perusing the many options.  While you ponder what to order, a single bread roll with a dipping sauce is ferried over to your table.  The base for the dipping sauce is olive oil to which chile flakes, cheese and seasonings are added.  It’s among the best you’ll find anywhere.

14-Ounce Bone-In Pork Chop

7 May 2017:  If you need additional time to study the menu, order the Greek Appetizer Plate (spanakopita, feta cheese & kalamata olives, hummus, dolmas and toasted pita).  It’ll keep you noshing contentedly as you decide what will follow and it’ll give you a nice introduction to the restaurant’s culinary delights.  Each offering on the plate is a high quality exemplar of the Greek Mezethakia (appetizer) tradition.  The spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese baked in filo pastry) is a light and flaky wedge of subtle flavor combinations while the feta and kalamata olives come at you full-bore with more straight-forward and assertive flavors.  The dolmas are vegetarian though a beef version (stuffed grape leaves with beef and rice served hot with avgolemono sauce) is available as an appetizer option.

7 May 2017: Entrees are accompanied by your choice of soup or salad.  Jose Viernes would call the Avgolemono a “no-brainer.”   Avgolemono is a traditional Greek soup made with chicken broth, rice (or orzo) eggs, and lemon juice.  Wholly unlike the sweet and sour soup you might find at a Chinese restaurant, it’s only mildly tart and blends tart and savory tastes in seemingly equal proportions.  It has a rich citrus (but far from lip-pursing) flavor and an almost creamy texture from the eggs.  The base of Mykonos’ avgolemono soup is a high-quality chicken stock that keeps all other ingredients nicely balanced.

Kotopoulo (Slow-roasted Chicken with Mediterranean herbs and Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

7 May 2017: The fourteen-ounce bone-in pork chop is quite simply the best, most tender and delicious pork chop we’ve had in Albuquerque–better even than the broasted pork chop masterpiece at Vick’s Vittles.  When our server asked how I wanted the chop prepared, I told her the chef could indulge himself.  It arrived at our table at about a medium degree of doneness with plenty of moistness and just a hint of pink.  Greek seasonings penetrated deeply into as tender a cut of pork as we’ve ever had, imbuing the chop with luscious flavors.  It was a paragon of porcine perfection.  The pork chop is served with tender asparagus spears and mashed potatoes (though you can opt for au gratin potatoes instead). 

7 May 2017: My Kim’s choice, as it often is when we visit Nick & Jimmy’s, was the Kotopoulo (slow roasted chicken with Mediterranean herbs and extra virgin olive oil).  As with many entrees at Mykonos, the chicken is sizeable enough for two people to share.  It is comprised of a breast, leg, thigh and wing, all slow-roasted and flavored with lemon and flecked with garlic and oregano.  The skin is crispy while the entirety of the chicken is moist and delicious.  Roasted Greek potatoes are an excellent pairing for the chicken. 

Mykonos Combination Platter

29 April 2018:  Culinary adventurers who crave dining diversity need go no further than the Mykonos Combination Platter to savor some of best known and most beloved of all Greek delicacies including moussaka, pastitsio, beef dolmathes and spanakopita.   Though traditionally prepared with lamb, Mykonos’ version of moussaka is a vegetarian variation replete with eggplant and seasonal vegetables topped with a creamy béchamel sauce.  The béchamel is thick and frothy, wholly unlike its Italian counterpart.  In all honesty, this dish appeals to me as much because of an episode of Seinfeld as anything else.  When Pakistani immigrant Babu Bhatt opened a restaurant he named the Dream Cafe, he offered such un-Pakistani favorites as tacos, moussaka and franks and beans.  Jerry, of course, had the turkey.  It’s not a bad dish, but my preference would have been for the version made with lamb. 

Much better is the pastitsio (baked macaroni, tomato sauce, ground beef and a blend of cheeses topped with béchamel), a dish often called Greek lasagna.  “Pastitsio” is a term describing a hodgepodge or scramble, and indeed this dish combines a number of different ingredients together in a single dish.    On the Mykonos version, the ground beef is seasoned with nutmeg.  As with the moussaka, it would have been even better with lamb.  The beef dolmathes (grape leaves stuffed with beef and rice, topped with lemon dill sauce) are made on the premises and are among the very best in the city.  The lemon dill sauce is even more tart than the Avgolemono.  One of the best starters on the menu, the spanokopita (spinach & feta cheese baked in filo pastry) is a delight to eat both from a textural and flavor perspective.  The light, delicate filo gives way to a blend of spinach and feta that bring out the best in one another.

Going strong into its second decade, Mykonos Cafe and Taverna is the type of restaurant my friend Jose Viernes would enjoy every day of the week.  So will you.

Mykonos Cafe and Taverna
5900 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 291-1116
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 April 2018
1st VISIT: 7 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Kotopoulo, 14-Ounce Bone-In Pork Chop, Greek Appetizer Plate, Avgolemono, Mykonos Combination Platter, Tiri Ke Elies

Mykonos Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Stripes Biscuit Co. – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Stripes Biscuit Co. on Gibson just west of San Pedro in Albuquerque

Southern humorist Jerry Clower once quipped “One of the saddest things is the sound of them whomp biscuits being opened in more and more houses these days. Whomp! Another poor man is being denied homemade biscuits. No wonder the divorce rate is so high.” There’s more than a bit of underlying truth to Clower’s humor. Southerners take their biscuits seriously. “Whomping” or “whacking” biscuit cans on the kitchen counter to open them is akin to  parents letting their children answer their Memaw with “yeah” and “nope” instead of “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am.”  It just isn’t done!

Southerner Belinda Ellis, author of Biscuits: A Savor the South Cookbook expresses it succinctly:  “I learned that deep in the soul of a biscuit, there’s more than the flour, fat, and milk. A hot biscuit embodies a memory of place and family.”   Her heartfelt tribute to the biscuit is one with which anyone raised or who has lived in the South can relate.  In the South, dining is synonymous with family and friends getting together to share great food and warm conviviality.  More loving and lasting memories are created during family meals–especially the quintessential Sunday Supper where biscuits are served–than virtually any other event.

Patriotic Themed Restaurant Specializing in Biscuits

New Mexico doesn’t have a storied biscuit tradition so you’ll excuse us if we do whomp biscuit cans on the kitchen counter.  When we do, we certainly don’t respond like one of Pavlov’s dogs and wax sentimental about biscuits worthy of the Pillsbury hype that “nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven.”   Biscuits are something we can make quickly when we don’t have enough time to make tortillas or sopaipillas. When we think “lovin from the oven,” we’re more apt to think about Pueblo bread fresh from an outdoor mud horno or green chile bread from the Golden Crown Panaderia.  By the way, the aroma of tortillas on the comal or sopaipillas being extricated from scalding oil creates the same type of memories for us that homemade biscuits create for proud Southerners.

The Stripes Biscuit Company, which launched its doors in February, 2018, is making Duke City diners think twice about biscuits–not the type that gets their start from being whomped.  Stripes biscuits are made from scratch.  As the name on the marquee so vividly and patriotically declares, biscuits are the raison d’être for the unique in Albuquerque concept.  Virtually every item on the menu–even desserts and entrees such as French toast–features biscuits in one form or another.  You’ll be surprised at how versatile biscuits can be.  You’ll be surprised at how delicious biscuits can be.

The Front Dining Room

If the name “Stripes” evokes memories of the Bill Murray movie of that name, you’re on the right track…sort of.  Stripes (the Biscuit Company) pays tribute to the enlisted men and officers who have served in the Armed Forces.  Walls are festooned with photos of local veterans.  Shadow boxes display decorations and medals, military insignias, a triangular folded flag and other items which honor America’s real heroes. I was invited to submit my photo (I flew a desk for eighteen years in the Air Force) for inclusion on one of the restaurant’s walls of honor, but declined because I want this restaurant to be successful and my unsightly visage might scare customers away.  Fifteen percent of the restaurant’s profits are donated to the nearby Veterans Administration hospital.   On the day of our inaugural visit, a manager proudly told us that on Friday (April 28, 2018), Stripes would be presenting a nine-thousand dollar check to the hospital.  For me that’s reason enough to return.

That patriotic, civic-minded spirit is undoubtedly one of the reasons so many of the restaurant’s loyal patrons are members of the Armed Forces stationed at nearby Kirtland Air Force Base or serving in the National Guard or Reserves.  We watched with admiration and respect as several of them shared camaraderie and fellowship as they enjoyed huge portions of food, the centerpiece of which is the best biscuits in town.  My Kim makes it a point to thank any service member she sees for their service to our country, a small kindness they accept with the humility and grace characteristic of my military brothers and sisters.

Coach B, the Homerun Biscuit with Papitas

Stripes is the brainchild of veteran restaurateur Gary Hines who is probably best known for having founded both Hurricane’s Cafe and Twisters Burgers & Burritos,  two very successful concepts still thriving today.  After selling Twisters three years ago, Gary enjoyed a short-lived retirement until his “no compete” agreement with Twisters elapsed.  The Stripes concept isn’t something he dreamt-up at the spur of the moment.  Over the years he conceived of and discounted several ideas, always with the realization that what Albuquerque needed was not another burger and burrito joint, but something new and different.  Stripes is certainly that!

The breakfast menu is a showcase for sandwiches constructed on a handmade buttermilk biscuit.  Biscuit sandwiches and Biscuit plates are named for the military alphabet, a phonetically based system with which all movie-goers should be familiar: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, etc…  Breakfast is served all day long and also includes traditional New Mexican favorites served with red, green or “flamin” green chile.  Biscuit waffles and omelets are also available.  The lunch menu also includes biscuit sandwiches and New Mexican specialties as well as fresh from the garden salads (served with a biscuit).  Three biscuit-centric desserts are also available.  To wash down your biscuits, consider a bottomless cup of New Mexico Piñon coffee.

Biscuit with Honey-Jam and Butter

According to Christina, our wonderful server, one of the restaurant’s most popular biscuit sandwiches is the curiously-named “Coach B.”  Subtitled on the menu as “our homerun biscuit,” it’s roughly the size of a cat’s head (a Southern term for old-fashioned southern style biscuits as big as….you guessed it).  The canvas for this behemoth biscuit sandwich is a fluffy buttermilk biscuit in which are nestled a slab of buttermilk-fried chicken, bacon and Cheddar cheese topped with your choice of housemade sausage gravy or vegetarian mushroom gravy.  If you want your homerun to be a grand slam, ask for a fried egg, too.  This is low-calorie stuff, after all.  All sandwiches are served with papitas, small cubes of fried potatoes.

The Coach B is probably not something you should eat every day and it did render me nearly comatose for a couple of hours afterwards, but it’s one of the very best biscuit-based sandwiches west of the Mississippi (east of the Mississippi, you have to go South Carolina for the “Charleston Nasty Biscuit” from the Hominy Grill).  This isn’t a hand-held sandwich unless you don’t mind gravy and egg yolk running down your arms.  It’s a calorific overachiever with diverse and rich flavors.  The biscuit itself is formidable, more doughy than flaky.  It’s a worthy platform for any sandwich.  The buttermilk fried chicken is moist and tender, as good as any chicken outside my mom’s kitchen.  The sausage gravy is assertively seasoned, not some wimpy Northern gravy.

Fried Chocolate Biscuit Sundae

If you don’t like your biscuits quite as generously endowed as the Coach B, your best bet is a biscuit on the side served with honey butter and the house jam.  The house jam is unlike any jam you’ve ever had.  It combines the flavors and textures of strawberry jam and honey.  Not since chocolate and peanut butter have two flavors gone as well together.  Texturally, it’s a bit of a challenge to spread onto the biscuit, but most good things require a bit of effort and skill.  Because no biscuit can possibly have enough honey, the butter is also flavored with it.

Though we’d eaten enough to feed a family of four, Christina spoke so lovingly about the fried chocolate biscuit sundae that we just had to try it.   Only an additional scoop of vanilla ice cream could have improved this decadent dessert.  Texturally, the fried biscuit is an interesting phenomena in that the biscuit maintains its integrity and doesn’t fall apart.  Okay, maybe all that chocolate covering it like lava covered Pompeii has something to do with that.  Good as this dessert was, next time we’ll stop at a second biscuit with that wondrous strawberry-honey jam.

Long-time Friends of Gil (FOG) members John and Zelma Baldwin (who’ve never steered me wrong) recommended Stripes Biscuit Company to me.  As with other restaurants they’d previously recommended, this one is a winner.  Huge portions (an understatement) of delectable homemade dishes, a rare civic mindedness and a pride in the fruited plain’s Armed Forces are just some of the reasons for which we’ll return. Those biscuits are, too.

Stripes Biscuit Company
5701 Gibson Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 859-4298
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 April 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Coach B, Biscuit with Honey-Jam and Butter, Fried Chocolate Biscuit Sundae
REVIEW #1038

Stripes Biscuit Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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