The New Mexico State Legislature has long recognized the important of our state’s culinary traditions, enacting measures to officially recognize those foods that have historical, cultural and emotional significance to citizens of the Land of Enchantment.
- In 1965, the delicious duo of frijoles (pinto beans) and chile were designated New Mexico’s official state vegetables (never mind that chile is technically a fruit). Frijoles and chile are virtually inseparable in New Mexican cuisine and are considered staples.
- In 1989, House Bill 406 designated the bizcochito as New Mexico’s official state cookie. Lawmakers on the range floor couldn’t initially agree on its spelling, some pressing for the “s” and others for “z.” Ultimately the Senate returned the bill as “bizcochito.”
- On On April 8, 1999, Governor Gary Johnson signed the bill making the resolution a law which declared “red or green” the official state question. Less known is the fact that the New Mexico state legislature also passed a resolution approving an official state answer. It’s no surprise that “red and green” or “Christmas” has been adopted as the official answer of the great state of New Mexico.
Not conspicuous by its absence as an officially recognized food of the Land of Enchantment is the ubiquitous sandwich. Just try to name one sandwich that’s universally available in restaurants and beloved by the masses throughout New Mexico…and the green chile cheeseburger doesn’t count. That’s not to say there aren’t outstanding sandwiches crafted in the Land of Enchantment. There are plenty of them, but none has distinguished itself to the extent that the state legislature should consider making it an official state sandwich.
In 2004, Becky Mercuri published American Sandwich, the definitive book about the American sandwich culture. Each state was represented with one of its hallmark sandwiches, instructions on how to prepare it and locations where you can pick it up during your travels. The New Mexico sandwich on Becky’s terrific tome was the tostada compuesta, a corn tortilla boat filled with frijoles and chile, carne, lettuce, tomato and Cheddar cheese. The tostada compuesta has been a specialty of the house at La Posta in Mesilla, but isn’t widely available on sandwich menus (or even New Mexican food menus) throughout New Mexico.
In 2011, Good Lifestyle.com took readers on a fifty state tour of good sandwiches throughout the fruited plain. Taking the easy route (a cop-out), the Good Lifestyle folks allowed voters to select the New Mexico green chile cheeseburger as the most culturally significant, sustainably produced, locally sourced sandwich in the Land of Enchantment. Perhaps that’s indicative of just how difficult it is to name one definitive (non-burger) sandwich that’s available and beloved throughout the state. Frankly, the only person who might be up for such a task would be for Cheryl Jamison, the New Mexico Tourism Department’s culinary tourism liaison and architect of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. I’d be happy to help.
In the September, 2012 issue of Food Network Magazine, an article entitled “50 States, 50 Sandwiches” listed one “must try” sandwich for every state, ostensibly the state’s very best feast between bread. At first browse, a grilled cheese sandwich may not seem especially noteworthy, but add Cheddar cheese slices, tomatoes, green chile and crunchy bacon, apply them generously between lightly toasted multi-grain bread and you’ve got something special, maybe even the definitive state sandwich. New Mexico’s best sandwich according to the Food Network Magazine is the Southwestern Grilled Sandwich, which comes from Mucho Gourmet Sandwich Shoppe in Santa Fe.
The Mucho Gourmet Sandwich Shoppe, a family owned and operated restaurant, has been serving Santa Fe the finest gourmet sandwiches in the city for nearly a quarter-century. Founded in 1989 by Peggy and Rex Schnupp and now operated by two of their children, Nathan and Shannon Curenton, Mucho has become a beloved city institution. It earned “best sandwich” accolades from the Santa Fe Reporter for several years running until the category was retired (perhaps it was a foregone conclusion as to who would have been named “best sandwich”).
Wary of the long lines of hungry patrons Mucho is reputed to attract, I timed my inaugural visit to coincide with the restaurant’s opening at 10:30AM. It gave me the opportunity to visit for a bit with the delightful Shannon and her youthful mother Peggy, both of whom were as attentive and friendly as possible while simultaneously coordinating all the prep work required to ensure things started off smoothly. Peggy isn’t as actively involved in the shoppe’s day-to-day operations as she once was, but she’s very much an ambassador for the operation she built. Both are ecstatic about the accolade bestowed by Food Network Magazine.
Mucho is ensconced in a fairly nondescript strip mall within walking distance of the College of Santa Fe. It has a surprisingly large storefront which bespeaks of the shoppe’s generous in-store seating capacity, not to mention a capacious patio. Even if all seats aren’t occupied, Mucho has very robust and efficient take-out and delivery business. The ubiquitous chain leader could learn a thing or to about the sandwich construction process, as efficient as any I’ve witnessed. It’s not every restaurant which can fill large take-out orders while providing warm and welcoming service to walk-in customers. Mucho does it exceedingly well.
The menu has three sandwich menu categories: eleven sandwiches on the “Gourmet Sandwiches” menu, nine on the “From the Grill” menu and seven on the “More Great Mucho Sandwiches” menu. That’s 27 sumptuous sandwich creations crafted on breads: multi-grain, rye, sourdough, white, a sub-roll or ciabatta. Cheeses offered are Swiss, Cheddar, Provolone or Pepperjack Cheese. If a sandwich isn’t what you’re after, ten luncheon salads are available, all served on a bed of fresh garden greens with avocado, sweet red onions, pepperoncini, cucumber, tomato and crackers with your choice of dressing on the side. A soup of the day is also available. Make that “not to be missed!”
The Southwestern Grilled Cheese is all it is advertised to be and more. Make that mucho more…as in much more bacon than you’d ever expect, much more roasted green chile flavor with much more piquancy than most chile nowadays, much fresher tomatoes, much better melted Cheddar and a perfectly toasted, buttery multi-grain bread. This is a grown-up grilled cheese sandwich with grown up deliciousness. It ranks with the green chile Philly at Itsa Italian Ice as my favorite green chile, cheese sandwich in New Mexico. Could it be a sandwich worthy of being called New Mexico’s best? I’m not even sure it’s the best sandwich on the menu at Mucho, but it will take mucho more visits to find out for sure.
Rarely will you find a sandwich shop worth its salt that doesn’t take a stab at serving its version of a Philadelphia cheesesteak. Most don’t do it well. Rather than attempt to copy the sandwich which made the City of Brotherly Love famous, Mucho dares to be original, to stamp a unique New Mexico imprint on a sandwich whose formula is time-honored and traditional. Mucho’s rendition, the Santa Fe Cheese Steak, is constructed with cubes of lean flank steak, grilled red onions, New Mexico green chile and melted provolone on an eight-inch sub roll. It’s a delicious departure from every other cheese steak sandwich you’ve ever had. New Mexico should export green chile to Philadelphia so they can taste what they’re missing.
For several years, Jambo Cafe has dominated Santa Fe’s annual Souper Bowl event and deservedly so with some of the most heart-warming and delicious soups ever prepared in the Land of Enchantment. Mucho’s soup offerings may not be quite as exotic as those served at Jambo, but they’re quite good. Shannon makes the soups at Mucho and serves them with a smile. There were three soups available during my inaugural visit and she let me try them all. While all three were wonderful, the cream of asparagus soup was the most stick-to-your-ribs satisfying, a nicely seasoned creamy broth with chunks of sliced asparagus. It’s a healthy and homemade gourmet quality soup available in what is traditionally a fast food venue. It’s a must have.
If the pairing of tomato soup and grilled cheese is the ultimate in classic comfort food, then you’ve got to visit Mucho on a cold winter day when the featured soup is tomato-basil soup. It will envelop you in delicious warmth and steaming luxury as it takes the chill off with its soul-warming properties. This is a full-flavored, full-bodied soup redolent with the aroma of well-seasoned, thick tomatoes and Italian basil. It’s one of two soups from Mucho on my list of favorite soups in New Mexico. Considering I’ve only tried two of its soups, that’s a pretty good track record.
Mucho Gourmet Sandwich Shoppe is aptly named. Not only are sandwiches crafted with mucho high quality ingredients, they’re made with mucho tender loving care. The only aspect of your dining experience that’s not mucho is the hours of operation. Mucho is open Monday through Friday from 10:30AM to 3:00PM so you’d better mucho hurry to get there.
Mucho Gourmet Sandwich Shoppe
1711 Llano Street, Suite G
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 21 December 2012
1st VISIT: 10 August 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Southwestern Grilled Cheese, Santa Fe Cheese Steak, Cream of Asparagus Soup, Tomato-Basil Bisque, Freshly Baked Cookies