In the 1930s, Harland Sanders, the owner of a small service station in Corbin, Kentucky began an improbable journey that eventually led to the forging of a worldwide culinary empire. In the living quarters of that service station, Sanders fed hungry travelers on his own six-seat dining table. Word of his culinary prowess spread and to accommodate throngs of hungry travelers stopping by solely for his food, he had to move his kitchen operation across the street to a motel and restaurant with a seating capacity of 142. The most popular item on his menu was fried chicken, made from a closely guarded secret recipe combining eleven herbs and spices and prepared in a pressure cooker.
The fried chicken was so good that in 1935 the governor of Kentucky named Sanders a Kentucky Colonel. With an unwavering belief in the quality of his fried chicken, the Colonel devoted himself to franchising his chicken business, traveling across the country by car and selling franchises to restaurant owners. By 1964, Colonel Sanders had more than 600 franchised outlets across America for his chicken. Today more than one billion “finger lickin’ good” Kentucky Fried Chicken dinners are served every year in more than 80 countries and territories.
Perhaps someday, the Biography Channel will be telling the story of Johnny Vialpando’s revolutionary New Mexico Fried Chicken in much the same way Colonel Sanders rags to riches story has been chronicled. Johnny, the owner and executive chef of Johnny’s Homemade Takeout & Delivery doesn’t call it “New Mexico Fried Chicken.” That’s me taking artistic liberties about some of the very best and most unique fried chicken we’ve had since leaving the Deep South in 1995. It’s reminiscent, in fact, of the cayenne and garlic spiced Cajun fried chicken we loved throughout Mississippi.
What Johnny’s menu calls it is gourmet green or red chile fried chicken. That’s right. Johnny has found a way to impregnate fried (or grilled) chicken with the inimitable flavor of New Mexican green and red chile. The red chile is injected into tender, juicy white meat chicken breasts while the green chile is stuffed into slits cut into the chicken breasts. The homemade batter which coats the chicken is applied lightly so it complements the flavor of pure poultry deliciousness and seals in flavor and juices. The menu promises “juicy green chili in every bite” or that it will “astound you with some red,” but if “you just don’t want to mess with perfection, try Johnny’s Fried or Grilled Chicken.”
Homemade Takeout & Delivery is an apt description for this small operation on Eubank (just north of the popular La Salita New Mexican restaurant) which first opened its doors in August, 2011. It’s the first restaurant venture for Johnny Viapando, but certainly not his inaugural experience cooking for others. Admitting to being “one heck of a cook,” Johnny has long enthralled friends and family with his kitchen wizardry. Encouraged to open his own restaurant, he plans to do it right by preparing everything from scratch. When the ubiquitous food distribution businesses come calling, Johnny sends them away. The only thing he procures from them are non-food products such as napkins.
Johnny takes the “homemade” portion of his restaurant’s name very seriously. He makes just about everything himself and the few things he doesn’t prepare come from local sources he can trust. For example, he obtains his salsa from a local person and some of the desserts from another local source. Though the name may suggest otherwise, Johnny’s does have a dining room. It’s small and homey with a limited number of tables. The takeout and delivery side of the business is growing as the restaurant becomes better known.
Shortly after you’ve placed your order, a complimentary plate of mini sopaipillas and a ramekin of real honey are delivered to your table. Anyone and everyone else can do salsa and chips. Johnny chooses to serve mini sopaipillas with honey. The sopaipillas are more dense than the conventional regular sized sopaipillas. They tear apart, not fall apart to become perfect, steamy repositories beckoning for honey. As good as they are, they can be quite filling and you won’t want to fill up before your entrees are delivered.
One of my psychology professors might describe the menu as having a multiple personality, but would certainly exclude the word “disorder.” The menu is replete with surprises, showcasing New Mexican food, Italian food, American food and even steak and seafood (including snow crab and lobster tail). The multiple personality mishmash features three combination plates for diners who like profligate portions. The Johnny “Two Stomachs” Italian Feast includes heaping helpings of chicken Parmesan, lasagna and fettuccini Alfredo. The menu brags “you’ll need two stomachs just to put it away in one sitting.” Captain Johnny’s Surf ‘n Turf offers a sirloin steak cooked to your liking, lobster tail, grilled shrimp and shrimp scampi–all for under thirty dollars.
For those of us who have to continuously tell the wait staff “just a minute more” because we can’t make up our minds, there’s a combination plate called “I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.” For a fixed price, you can choose any two or three items from the menu. Red AND green chile fried chicken, anyone? Italian AND New Mexican foods. That’s possible too. Combination plates come with your choice of sides (baked potato, mashed potatoes, French fries, broccoli, Spanish rice, fartless beans, broccoli in cream sauce, corn on the cob. Johnny can even whip up some red or green chili mashed potatoes to complement the New Mexican dishes.
My inaugural two item combination plate showcased one piece of red chili fried chicken and Johnny’s Chile Cheese Papas (heaping plate of cut potato squares deep-fried and topped with beef, chile, beans and cheddar cheese) with a side of fartless beans. The red chile fried chicken is fantastic! The only thing wrong with it is that it doesn’t come in a bucket along with eight to ten more pieces of its chicken kin. By comparison, the Colonel’s chicken tastes as if was prepared by a corporal using eleven rancid spices. Johnny’s got a winner in this chicken. The chile cheese papas are very good, too with the cubed papitas the star.
My Kim opted for two pieces of the green chile fried chicken with sides of Spanish rice and a baked potato. The green chile fried chicken is every bit as good as the red chile fried chicken. It’s poultry perfection–from the light, crispy batter to the juicy, succulent chicken breast–in every bite.
The dessert menu is limited, but formidable. It includes a butterscotch cheesecake as rich, sweet and delicious as any cheesecake you’ll find in the Duke City.
Whether or not Johnny will franchise his chicken remains to be seen, but it’s the right idea at the right time and place.
Johnny’s Homemade Takeout & Delivery
1301 Eubank Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 8 October 2011
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Gourmet Green Chile Fried Chicken, Gourmet Red Chile Fried Chicken, Chile Cheese Papas, Fartless Beans, Butterscotch Cheesecake