One of the inevitable truths about life is that the sins of our youth will revisit us in our middle age and beyond. We feel it especially in the morning when every bone in our bodies aches as we struggle to get out of bed. That’s also when we’re most reminded that what doesn’t hurt no longer works, that the spring in our step has been replaced by a creak in our knees and that our backs go out more often than we do. It’s then that we regret our youthful impetuousness and perceived immortality.
My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and the most energetic septuagenarian I know, gave me this advice: “go south, young man.” More precisely, he advised going to Truth or Consequences to luxuriate in the healing waters of the city’s hot springs. For some 12,000 years, the city’s geothermal hot mineral waters have been frequented for their restorative powers. Even Apache warrior Geronimo brought his wounded men to the waters so they could heal from battle.
Truth or Consequences (“T or C” to most New Mexicans) has long been a popular destination for snowbirds, tourists and those of us who love its salubrious waters. Water is also a popular draw for recreation seekers who frequent Elephant Butte Lake, the largest and most popular lake in the Land of Enchantment. The 40-mile long reservoir is especially popular during the Memorial Day weekend when the number of visitors approaches 100,000 or the population equivalent of what would be New Mexico’s second largest city.
Unlike Santa Fe and Albuquerque, T or C has not, however, been widely regarded by cognoscenti as a dining destination, most of its eateries being considered “small town good.” That’s not a bad thing by any stretch. While most small towns restaurants in New Mexico may not provide exciting, cutting edge dining, they generally make up for it with consistent “stick to your ribs” comfort food favorites served in homey milieus by attentive and friendly servers who make you feel right at home. Nearly forty independent and chain restaurants operate within the city
Many of T or C’s best restaurants are within easy walking distance of the historic bathhouse district which means that after a relaxing session of letting your stress melt away and your body detoxify, you can saunter over for a leisurely meal. One of the city’s most popular eateries is the aptly named Happy Belly Deli, mere feet away from the Fire Water Lodge where hot mineral water tubs are available in most rooms. Only a patio separates the 50’s style motor court Lodge and its guest rooms from the Deli.
That patio is a haven for hungry diners and their four-legged children. It’s also a favorite gathering place for people who appreciate discussing, debating and deliberating the topic of the day with other close proximity diners, whether they’re like-minded or not. Starlings like it, too, recognizing that most diners will toss them a crumb or two. Larry believes the Happy Belly Deli serves the best breakfast in T or C.
If the pizza is any indication, lunch and dinner must be pretty good, too. Friday and Saturday are pizza nights at the Happy Belly Deli. The pizza menu showcases six specialty pizzas and a build-your-own-pizza option in which you can select from among a number of ingredients (pepperoni, sausage, ham, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, green pepper, artichoke hearts, green chile, spinach, black olives, pineapple, jalapeños, pepperoncinis and basil. Two sizes–medium and large–are available as are dinner salad and garlic knots appetizers.
The Green Chile Philly pizza is a thin-crusted canvas topped with Philly steak, mushrooms, green chile and onions topped by melted mozzarella. It’s a good pizza–bordering on greatness were it not so salty and if the chile had just a bit more bite. The sauce is ladled on thickly and has more of an oregano influence than it does garlic. The Philly steak is apportioned generously and the mushrooms are fresh and perfectly prepared.
Pastries are even better than the pizza, especially the chocolate croissant (Pain au chocolat for mon amis Francophile). It’s a light, flaky and buttery croissant roll filled with enough chocolate to leave a lip-smacking chocolate mustache. The intrepid bakers also create a wondrous raspberry cheese filled croissant warranting a few lip smacks of its own. My Kim prefers the chocolate chip cookies which are also quite good.
Breakfast on the patio means coffee, even if the temperature threatens to visit triple digits. The coffee is Red Rock Roasters Premium Coffee out of Albuquerque. Three pots of coffee are brewed, each a different gourmet blend. You’ll pour your own coffee, as much as you want…and you will want lots of it, especially the piñon coffee. Native New Mexicans love piñon almost as much as we love chile. This coffee truly is the best part of waking up.
If you stay at the Fire Water Lodge, you’ll receive a coupon for a complimentary bagel with egg and cheese or a six dollar equivalent. Other bathhouse district motels may provide similar coupons. The bagels are chewy and thick with several varieties available. Naturally my choice was a green chile bagel stuffed with lightly salted scrambled eggs and melted cheese. With a bit more piquancy, the green chile bagel would have been even better, but I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth here.
A much more substantial breakfast is a Kielbasa Scramble, a hearty eater’s feast of potatoes, scrambled eggs, red and green peppers, onions and several slices of kielbasa served with two pieces of toast (your choice of rye, wheat, white and sourdough). This is an excellent breakfast providing a terrific interplay of strong and subdued flavors. Among the former are the kielbasa and the red and green peppers which go very well with the eggs and potatoes. This breakfast is easily large enough for two.
An even larger breakfast includes two eggs, home fries, toast, a side of two pancakes and your choice of chorizo, bacon or sausage. The entree-sized pancakes (certainly not a “short stack) are noteworthy, two fluffy orbs covering most of the plate. Syrup is out of small plastic tubs so it’s not heated. That’s a nit because the pancakes themselves are steaming and delicious.
The Happy Belly Deli wait staff is an energetic and attentive bunch, some coiffed in colors matching their tie dye attire. The breakfast guests in particular are an eclectic lot. Sit on the porch and you’ll be in close proximity to your neighbors so it pays to be an extrovert–or to have two beautiful dachshunds with you. In no time you’ll be engaging in neighborly discourse, no topic taboo. It’s spirited and it’s fun, one of the many charms of dining at this truly terrific restaurant. From an experiential perspective, it’s one of the state’s best.
Happy Belly Deli
313 N Broadway St
Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 17 June 2012
1st VISIT: 15 June 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Philly Pizza, Green Chile Bagel with Egg and Cheese, Chocolate Croissant, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Kielbasa Scramble, Pancakes