Prime – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico
What kind of foods and food-related activities do white people like? According to New York Times best-selling author Christian Lander, white people like picking their own fruit, sea salt, hummus, dinner parties, bottles of water, kitchen gadgets, Whole Foods and grocery co-ops, Asian fusion food, sushi, breakfast places, vegan or vegetarianism, wine, micro-breweries, tea, organic food, farmer’s markets, coffee and expensive sandwiches. Lander compiled a list, wrote a book and created a blog listing 134 things (and not just food) white people like.
So, what constitutes an expensive sandwich? According to Lander, the expensive sandwiches liked by white people start at $8.99, but you’re looking at at least a $15 outlay after tip and drink. The shops which serve the sandwiches liked by white people generally “aren’t open for dinner, have a panini press and are famous for their bread. There are always vegan options and the selection of meats and cheeses are strongly European.”
By the standards of today’s economy-driven inflation, $8.99 is starting to sound more like the median price of a sandwich, not the starting point for an expensive sandwich. In fact, $8.99 is a mere pittance compared to the most expensive sandwich in the world which went for about $184. Gold dust, Cheddar cheese blended with expensive white truffles, quail eggs and 10-year-old Balsamic vinegar were among the high-quality ingredients in this gourmet feast between slices of sourdough bread. That sandwich was created (by a white person) in Somerset, England as the main attraction for a celebration of cheese.
A case can easily be made that Albuquerque is a sandwich town. First of all, more than 70 percent of the Duke City’s population is comprised of white people (according to the 2000 U.S. census) and as Christian Lander revealed, we know how much white people like sandwiches–at least expensive ones. Secondly, the chain with the largest presence in the city is not McDonald’s as you might expect, but Subway, the country’s sandwich franchise leader. Sandwich town or not, it’s highly unlikely many people in the Duke City would pay anywhere in the neighborhood of $184 for a sandwich, no matter how good it might be. The question is, just how much is the citizenry of Albuquerque willing to pay for a sandwich?
On April 14, 2011, a high-end delicatessen and specialty food shop opened in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque which offers gourmet sandwiches at a price point which might send Subway fanatics into sticker shock and which should make white people deliriously happy. With an appropriate appellation which can be defined as “premier” or “of the highest quality,” Prime is poised to give Duke City diners a sandwich soiree for the senses. In addition to high-end gourmet sandwiches and side dishes currently available for take-out or dine-in, Prime proffers fine wines by the bottle, beers and spirits, specialty cheeses and has introduced a full-service butchery featuring prime cuts of beef and lamb, the type of which are offered at Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse.
Prime is, in fact, a sibling to Vernon’s, owed by Michael Baird who purchased the speakeasy-themed steakhouse in 2009. It is situated in the location which previously housed the popular comfort food restaurant, the Calico Cantina & Cafe in the Village Shops at Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Introduction of the Prime concept is just part of the transformation at the heavily trafficked edifice. Vernon’s has made the speakeasy experience even more authentic with secret passageways, a new private dining room, a cigar patio and a VIP club.
If Christian Lander’s observations are correct, white people should love Prime’s sandwich menu. At an even nine dollars each, Prime’s three breakfast panini sandwiches (available all day) are only one penny more than the starting price for expensive sandwiches, the type of which are loved by white people. Hero sandwiches (served on a fresh baked hoagie unless otherwise stated) range in price from ten to twelve dollars. Panini sandwiches, served on ciabatta bread, range in price from eleven to fourteen dollars. The menu also offers a selection of “salads & such” for five dollars (three dollars as a substitution for the kettle chips or red potato salad served with each sandwich).
Not only should white people love these expensive sandwiches, they will probably get a kick out of each sandwich’s sobriquet which appears to have been spit out of a Mafia nickname generator on an Apple (something else which makes white people weak in the knees). The Hero Sandwiches are cleverly named: Shylock, Hitman, Tommy Gun, Pesci and more. The Panini Sandwiches are similarly christened: 38 Special, N 4th Bootlegger, Angry Sicilian, Goomba and others. Despite the whimsical names, a quick perusal of the ingredients and you’ll take these sandwiches seriously.
Prime’s sandwiches earn the right to be called gourmet. They are the antithesis of the value meal variety sandwiches constructed on cardboard bread with paltry meats and razor-thin cheeses buried under a mound of lettuce and masked by sauces and condiments designed to cover up an inferior product. Gourmet doesn’t generally imply gargantuan, but Prime’s sandwiches will sate in every way. They are filling and they are fabulous! The bread is procured from Fano, an artisan bread company from Albuquerque.
3 May 2011: The Angry Sicilian panini sandwich will assuage any anger. It is a very good sandwich crafted on the best ciabatta bread I’ve had in Albuquerque. An Italian artisan bread of the highest caliber, the ciabatta provides a perfect contrast in textures with a hard-crusted exterior and an airy, soft interior. It’s a robust, earthy and wholly delicious bread canvas for the high-quality delicatessen favorites which are lavished profusely: cappicola ham, pepperoni, Genoa salami, olive tapenade, tomatoes, banana peppers and buffalo mozzarella. The deli meats are fresh and redolent with flavors, definitely several orders of magnitude better than the Boar’s Head meats served at so many local sandwich shops. The buffalo mozzarella is rich and buttery with slightly acidic and salty (but entirely pleasant) nuances. Unfortunately, it’s sliced painfully thin.
3 May 2011: The N. 4th Bootlegger, a panini sandwich also crafted on the wonderful ciabatta is another winner. Overstuffed (can anything ever truly be overstuffed) with roasted turkey breast, autumn roast green chile, tomatoes, shaved red onion and Muenster cheese, it even made a believer out of my friend Señor Plata, a white guy who doesn’t like sandwiches much, expensive or not. The green chile has a freshly roasted flavor and a pleasant piquancy. The Muenster cheese, likely a European variety, has a pleasant pungency and subtle sweetness. The turkey is delicious.
10 May 2011: The Hitman is not quite the hit the two preceding sandwiches are. That’s primarily because of the foccacia bread which is sliced thick–to the point that it detracts from the enjoyment of other ingredients on the sandwich. Bread should never dominate the flavor profile of any sandwich! Pull the other ingredients–ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone, spicy giardiniera, lettuce and tomato–out of the sandwich and they’re quite enjoyable on their own, but then that’s not a sandwich. The spicy giardiniera is applied so parsimoniously that it barely registered, a shame considering the little I did taste was quite good.
10 October 2011: The Tommy Gun, constructed from Vernon’s prime meatballs, spicy marinara, melted provolone and grated Parmesan is Prime’s version of a meatball sub, but it’s so much better than most. A more conventional sub-style roll, pillow soft on the inside and sturdy on the outside, is the canvas for this creation. The meatballs are dense and herbaceous with a beef flavor as opposed to a prominent filler flavor. It’s rare that Parmesan leaves much of an impression, but the one used on this sandwich is an olfactory arousing dream with a nice flavor. The spicy marinara is applied relatively lightly so it doesn’t overwhelm other ingredients. This sandwich is made by someone who knows how to make sandwiches.
10 October 2011: The same can be said about the South Side (shaved Vernon’s prime rib, sauteed mushrooms, melted Gruyere, autumn roast green chile and au jus). The prime rib is piled on generously and is prepared at about medium rare. Consider it heresy if you will, but it might be just be better with some incendiary horseradish than it was with the far too tepid autumn roast green chile. While the green chile has a nice roasted flavor, it has very little, if any, bite. This is a very moist and tender sandwich, the juiciness brought out even more thanks to the sauteed mushrooms.
23 February 2014: In its annual food and wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine named Prime’s Goomba sandwich one of the city’s 12 yummiest sandwiches. It was the only vegetarian sandwich to make the delicious dozen. Fromage fanatics will appreciate that this sandwich is crafted with a trio of terrific cheeses: Gouda, Boursin and Muenster melted over Balsamic grilled portabella mushrooms with artichoke hearts and spinach. The Balsamic grilled portabella mushrooms are replete with personality while the molten blanket of cheese is a triumvirate of cheeses which go very well together.
23 February 2014: Although segregated on the menu and labeled differently, by most dictionary definitions, a burger is a type of a sandwich. As such, it makes perfect sense that a burger have its place on Prime’s sandwich menu, albeit not labeled a sandwich. The one burger on the menu is the aptly named Prime Burger, constructed from Vernon’s in-house Prime ground beef, lettuce, tomato and onion on a fresh Kaiser roll with your choice of three ingredients (green chile strips, mushrooms, guacamole, bacon, yellow Cheddar, Swiss cheese, Provolone, blue cheese or Cajun rub). This is as moist and juicy a burger as you’ll find anywhere so it’s a good thing the Kaiser roll is formidable enough to keep it from falling apart. The green chile is very much on the mild side, probably because it’s obfuscated by half a pound of prime beef deliciousness.
Sandwiches are accompanied by your choice of kettle potato chips or a red potato salad. The latter is quite good. It’s creamy without being deluged by mayo or salad cream. The texture of the potatoes is neither too mushy nor too hard. Savory and sweet qualities in a nice proportion to one another and the presence of celery, onions, cornichons, crispy prosciutto, egg and herb dijon salad give this potato salad its flavor profile with the prosciutto very much reminiscent of the good Italian bacon it is.
If you’ve ever had desserts at Vernon’s, you’re probably well aware of the chocolate silk, a shortbread pecan cookie crust topped with a rich, frothy chocolate custard and sweet cream cheese. It’s one of the steakhouse’s most popular desserts and it’s available at Prime, too. Unfortunately it’s such a good dessert that I may never order any other post-prandial treat.
The breakfast menu also includes three different quiche dishes, all served on a bed of spinach and green chile bechamel with papas. A European bagel (lox, capers, onions and dill cream cheese) and a cheese and fruit “splurge” (baked brie en croute with prosciutto, Balsamic drizzle and fresh fruit served over a bed of mixed greens) are other breakfast offerings along with such extras as yogurt and house-made granola, seasonal fruit and oatmeal and a child’s bacon and egg wrap with fruit.
Though the price point may seem a bit steep for some, the uncompromising quality of the ingredients and the generosity and creativity with which they are applied means white people will make frequent return trips. For the cost of a two sandwich meal at Prime, you could visit Subway six times and fill your belly–or you can visit Prime and enjoy what could be the best sandwich shop in the Duke City. Consistency over time will tell.
Village Shops at Los Ranchos
6855 Fourth Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 23 February 2014
1st VISIT: 3 May 2011
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: The Angry Sicilian, The Bootlegger, Chocolate Silk, The Tommy Gun, The South Side, The Goomba, Prime Burger