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The Cooperage – Albuquerque, New Mexico

This unique structure punctuating the Lomas skyline is the Cooperage.

This unique structure punctuating the Lomas skyline is the Cooperage.

Reading my sisters’ Archie comic books on the sly 30 plus years ago taught me two things. First, it taught me that teenage boys shouldn’t admit to ever reading Archie much less admit to preferring the girl next door Betty over the siren Veronica. Secondly, Archie comics taught me that a “cooper” (as in Betty’s last name) is a barrel-maker. Everything a cooper produces–casks, barrels, buckets, tubs, butter churns, pipes and more–is referred to collectively as a “cooperage.”

In 1976, a barrel-shaped building called the Cooperage appeared in a Lomas Boulevard area dominated by car dealerships. Armed with knowledge provided by Archie comic books, I impressed those very same friends who had teased me about reading Archie comics by explaining the meaning of this strange building (they thought it had something to do with the Roswell alien invasion). Later on we discovered that the barrel motif encompasses not just the restaurant’s exterior, but the interior as well. Some complain that not only does the restaurant look like a barrel, at times it may sound as if you’re in a barrel. The acoustics aren’t always optimal for quiet dining, particularly on the nights in which live music is provided.

A bowl of green chile chicken chowder and a plate of salads

The Cooperage is the brainchild of local restaurant impresario Jim Schumacher who also founded the city’s two Scarpa’s Brick Oven Pizza restaurants (brick-oven pizza, Italian pasta, gourmet salads) and the now defunct seafood emporium Seagull Street. Continuity has been the hallmark of his restaurants. The Cooperage is renown for its surf and turf menu which features prime rib, steak, chicken lobster, salmon, shrimp, crab legs and even some New Mexican entrees.

It’s also known for having one of the most popular soup and salad bars in town. Available as an all-you-can eat option for one price or at a substantially reduced price for lunch if you have it with an entree (and it’s complimentary for dinner with an entree), it’s replete with fresh ingredients prepared daily on the premises.  It’s a salad bar detractors consider an anachronism, a “throwback” belonging to a bygone era.  Maybe that’s the idea.  The salad bar may not be as eclectic and extensive as some contemporary salad bars, but when you have an occasional yen for the days in which lettuce was synonymous with “iceberg” and salad dressings were thick and creamy, you’ll appreciate the Cooperage’s salad bar offerings.  During a visit in 2012, we observed that during our hour-long stay, only one guest did not take advantage of the salad bar option.

The salad bar includes several 70s style dessert salad items

If you think the salad dressing line-up–Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Ranch, Italian and French–is also a bit dated, you might be surprised to learn that according to the Food Channel, all five of the aforementioned dressings are still among the top ten most popular in the country as of 2010.  The blue cheese dressing has a very thick viscosity and is redolent with crumbled blue cheese.  As with the salad ingredients and even the plates on which your salad is constructed, the salad dressings are cold.  Beds of crushed ice surround the steel vessels in which each ingredient and dressing is kept. The selection of soups changes daily, but you can always be assured of a tureen of hot, delicious soup including a green chile chicken soup as good as some New Mexican restaurants make it. It’s not especially piquant, but it’s replete with chunks of chopped chicken (not all white).

In a 2012 episode of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, the voluptuous Mad Men star Christina Hendricks introduced an elimination challenge requiring contestants to prepare proleptic favorites from the 1960s.  Chef Floyd Cardoz had the unenviable challenge of preparing an “Ambrosia” salad, a dish he (and most of the other contestants) had never even heard of. Visitors to the Cooperate would know.  An Ambrosia salad (a traditional fruit salad made in sweetened whipped cream) is one of the several frothy and colorful salads also available on the salad bar.  Also available are a Waldorf salad (apples, mayonnaise, walnuts), a pistachio salad and tapioca.

Sourdough bread and whipped butter

As advertised, the Cooperage is the place for prime rib, where you can feast on grain fed, Nebraska prime rib served with au jus and creamed horseradish. The prime rib comes in three sizes: a standard cut, the manager’s cut and the gigantic Cooper cut. The best prime rib is richly marbled with fat which lends itself to dry roasting. At the Cooperage, roasting it to perfection means just above medium rare so that the beef’s natural juices have more than a hint of pink. The horseradish is on the mild side.  Each entree includes your choice of potato, seasoned rice or steak fries as well as some of the best baked San Francisco sourdough bread in town and of course,  trips to the bountiful soup and salad bar.

An interesting variation on the prime rib is a lunch menu smoked prime rib quesadilla which is glazed with chipotle and layered with a blend of Monterrey Jack and Cheddar cheeses and topped with an avocado salsa. We liked that appetizer so much that we’ve actually asked for our prime rib entrees to be prepared with that tongue-tingling chipotle. It’s really not that difficult for the chefs to accommodate that request because the Fresh Salmon Santa Fe entree is prepared with that chipotle glaze. It’s one of the very best salmon entrees in town, but not the only great salmon entree served at the Cooperage.

Prime Rib Quesadillas: Chipotle glazed prime rib,layered with a blend of Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, topped with an avocado salsa.

Fresh British Colombian salmon is a real treat at the Cooperage. It’s bright pink and flaky, the color and texture combination that signifies fresh salmon from cold waters. The restaurant prepares salmon in several ways–broiled (served with Hollandaise sauce), grilled (topped with the aforementioned chipotle glaze of blended chipotle peppers, lime juice, cilantro, garlic and brown mustard), Vera Cruz (lightly blackened with Cajun spices and topped with salsa fresca, Monterrey Jack and Cheddar cheeses) and Royale (a delicate sauce of Dijon mustard, dill and sour cream topped with pine nuts).

Another seafood favorite, the Seafood Melt, is available only for lunch. It’s an open-faced croissant sandwich topped with rock shrimp, scallops, surimi crab (an imitation crab which translates literally in Japanese to ground fish) and white wine sauce then covered with Cheddar cheese and topped with avocados and tomatoes.  It’s not the type of sandwich will magically transport your taste buds to a seaside coast, but this being Albuquerque, it may remind you the Rio Grande is a few miles away.

Blackened catfish with steak fries

Mississippi catfish, both deep-fried and broiled are available. On occasion you might even find blackened catfish. Longtime readers of this blog know of my quest to find a catfish in New Mexico  comparable to the catfish in the Magnolia State.  None of the Cooperage’s catfish offerings is comparable.  Least inspired is the blackened catfish which is direly lacking in the Cajun and Creole seasonings in which it is prepared throughout the Deep South.

Over the years several menu items have proven so popular that an entire section of the menu is dedicated to these favorites. First on that list is the BBQ Bits of Beef, a casserole dish of tender bits of beef in a tangy barbecue sauce. The Cooperage has been serving this dish for 30 years and there appears to be surcease to its popularity. The only thing “casserole” about the BBQ Bits of Beef is the dish in which it is served. Even though the beef is tender and delicious, you may, in fact, find it to be too much of a good thing especially since it is absolutely covered in sauce.

Roasted Grain Fed Nebraska Prime Rib: Served with Au Jus and creamed horseradish, steak fries (or rice pilaf) and oven fresh bread

The Cooperage has long been reputed to be one of the best places in the city in which to enjoy Salsa dancing. Music runs Thursday through Sunday night with Latin music the featured fare on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Cooperage
7220 Lomas, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-1657
LATEST VISIT: 21 April 2012
Web Site
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 17
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Prime Rib, Fresh Salmon Santa Fe, Teriyaki Top Sirloin, Soup & Salad Bar, Smoked Prime Rib Quesadillas, Blackened Catfish, Sourdough Bread


View Cooperage Restaurant on LetsDineLocal.com »

Cooperage on Urbanspoon

Category: Albuquerque, Steak
  • Edward Sung says:

    I’m going to assume that the Cooperage salad bar has declined since this review, because the salad bar I encountered tonight was thoroughly ordinary. Basically your standard mediocre salad bar, without the freshness or options you’d find at any Souper Salad. Really bleh.

    November 1, 2011 at 9:29 PM
  • Edward Sung says:

    Hannah and I revisited The Cooperage last night — I didn’t realize it was almost exactly two years ago — and I wish to recant, or at least revise, my earlier “bleh” response to the salad bar. Yes, it is fairly ordinary compared to, say, the elaborate and exotic salad bar at Fogo de Chao, but it does have three things going for it: (1) very fresh ingredients; (2) a larger selection of mayo-based salads than I normally see at a salad bar; and (3) tons of old-school charm.

    While it is kind of deflating to read about the popularity of this salad bar and then see a little island with bins of iceberg lettuce and the standard array of dressings, it’s true that you have to get into the spirit of the Cooperage to really appreciate itr. The Cooperage is indeed a throwback to an earlier era. I doubt the menu has changed much in 30 years — that garnish alone gave me flashbacks to childhood and dining at Don’s Seafood & Steak House in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1975! But it’s the kind of place one loves because it never changes.

    I admit I was a little crabby on my first visit, but on this visit (we’ve only come here to see one of Hannah’s co-workers perform with his jazz combo!) I was able to better appreciate that nostalgic, old-fashioned vibe. It is cheesy, no doubt, but cheesy in that awesome 1970s way that is powerfully comforting to those of us who lived in that era. Dining here, I felt like I should have worn brown corduroy pants and a leather vest over a turtleneck pullover.

    So, while I still can’t say the salad bar was all that impressive, it was definitely comforting and soul-satisfying in a way the Fogo de Chao salad bar will never be.

    November 13, 2013 at 5:58 PM
  • BOTVOLR says:

    Yo Edward, your Comment was a hoot! (Are you Suzie Queue by chance?) While not leather, I can still find 2 vests and several wide and narrow ties, which I ashamedly can’t remember when last worn, in the neverland of my closet that have survived 2 or 3 relocations; alas my cords and Nehru got disposed of along the way with a tube still containing several dabs of Brylcream.
    Bravo! Certainly like your turn-of-a-phrase!: Indeed…’comfort places’, much akin to ‘comfort foods’, may provide a momentary, welcomed retreat/breather for many of us from the increasingly everyday horrors/stressors and disappointments we seem to face from the ‘world’ (e.g. including simple stuff like 6 yr old gets suspended from school for pointing his finger in contrast to zero consequences for behavior/expressions of a public official in Canada) and our government. Hopefully others of our readers will consider heeding your: “…you have to get into the spirit of the Cooperage…” and “…appreciate that nostalgic, old-fashioned vibe. It is cheesy, no doubt, but cheesy in that awesome 1970s way that is powerfully comforting…” !!! Eh! Afterall, the price is right!
    Hopefully, Classic places like the Monte Carlo, Paul’s Monterey Inn, Capo’s, The C. etc. will take advantage of that sentiment to continue to offer exceptional service (beyond what is common in most places today) as was their standard in the past, along with seeking today’s standard of quality (improved) Yum Yums altho this does not necessarily mean doing infusions/diversities-the use of exotic animals and seafoods and veggies, etc. as those are readily available elsewhere!
    “Chow!”

    November 15, 2013 at 12:38 PM
  • Schuyler says:

    Bob of the Village People, it’s a very clever ruse for you to deflect suspicion as to the identity of the homonym challenged Suzie Queue. I’ve long suspected YOU, the master of blabbery and loquacity, are behind Albuquerque’s jejune Valley Girl and that Lynette (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IucBp1yrr7A) is just a Suzie Queue wannabe.

    Although Gil is convinced Suzie is not just a pseudonym, I believe she’s as real as “the Beav’s” hair color. That said, if you’re not Suzie, there is no shortage of potential candidates punking my naive friend Gil. That list does include the hilarious Edward Sung whose Podcast Gil is addicted to. Other candidates include Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, Albuquerque’s answer to Chris Farley; Bruce Shor, your commentating nemesis; and maybe even Sr. Plata whose commentary is not entirely dissimilar to yours.

    Suzie Queue, if you’re out there, it’s time to end all speculation.

    November 16, 2013 at 11:38 AM
  • Bruce Schor says:

    Wow, except when I cross dress I have no desire to be SuzieQ, and I assure you it’s been years since I wore a dress and wig when it wasn’t Holloween. And I can’t get around in stiletto heels.
    She/he/it is a special persona.
    I don’t think BOTVOLR is Suzie Q because there is too much distance between the two styles (I still can’t figure out what ‘per’ refers to)
    Nor do I think Sr. Plata is Suzie either, seriousness is more his style.
    I have thought that you, Schuyler, might be the great pretender.
    Suzie Q is no malaprop stricken commentor but someone smart enough to be funny and smart.
    If you think what he/she/it is doing is easy, try it.
    I can do one liners, Suzie Q keeps up the schtick through out the entire commentary, no small feat.
    Bore’s Head, how inventive!
    I look forward to SQ’s comments, they’re great comic relief tinged with perceptive funny comments.
    I hope one day SQnis unmasked, but until then let’s keep guessing.

    November 16, 2013 at 2:52 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Personally I think Suzie Queue is really Andy Kauffman who’s rumored to have faked his death and be living in Albuquerque.

      November 16, 2013 at 3:41 PM
  • Bruce Schor says:

    Sounds more like a witness protection program deal or a redundancy.
    We know he didn’t come for the Bore’s Head products.

    November 16, 2013 at 6:10 PM
  • Sr Plata says:

    Wow, this certainly becoming a good reson to visit the cooperage! It seems Team Gil should get together for Christmas / Chanukkah/Festivus Festivities and unmask our hidden hungry souls. Alas, as said, I am way to serious to be Senorena Q, although I used to eat at Wan Q in the Beverlywood section of L.A. Ah, Sr Gil, you have many a Trickster following you. I am desperate for Henry’s Root Beeer in the Land of Enchantment.

    November 17, 2013 at 2:46 PM
  • Edward Sung says:

    The year is 1971. A young man named Gil “Gil” Garduño is recruited by the CIA to participate in a top-secret experimental program called Project MKUltra. Little is known about MKUltra, and even less officially acknowledged, but unnamed sources whisper of bizarre psychological experiments involving mind-altering chemicals designed to interrogate and brainwash captured Soviet spies. Gil enters Los Alamos National Laboratory in March of ’71. He is not seen or heard from again. Concerned friends and family members petition the federal government for word on his condition, but are told only that Gil’s status is “classified.”

    In 1973, MKUltra is officially shut down and all records are destroyed. Gil returns from Los Alamos in June of that year, apparently healthy and in good spirits, but unwilling or unable to relate any details of his experience. He returns to his job as a professional cat upholsterer and his supervisors report no work performance issues, and that Gil seems “cheerful but a little quiet.”

    In June of 1974, an unusual incident is reported to Albuquerque police, in which a woman enters Mary & Tito’s Café and demands an entire Mexican wedding cake smothered in red chile. When told that they are out of the cake, the woman becomes enraged and pelts owner Tito Gonzales with chicharrones grabbed from a nearby table before fleeing the restaurant. Witnesses describe the woman as “wearing a ridiculous blonde wig” and “would be extremely guapo if she were a man.”

    While cleaning up the mess, employees find a crumpled piece of paper, upon which is a hastily scribbled, grease-smeared IOU for one plate of chicharrones. It is signed, “Suzie Q.”

    November 18, 2013 at 10:31 AM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      1971 was a very tough year for me. I was unemployed, didn’t have a girlfriend, didn’t have a car, drank myself to sleep and cried all the time. Fortunately my parents allowed me to live at home because I was only eight months old at the time.

      Edward, I bow to your cerebral witticism and adroit retort, but believe it will only fuel speculation that you are indeed the mysterious Suzie Q.

      November 18, 2013 at 5:16 PM
  • Suzie Queue says:

    My friend told me that people were talking about me on this web site. I’m back in town looking for a job, so I dint get to eat out much. But I still like to eat,so as soon as I get on my foot, I will eat out more and give you my opinion.

    I used to like the Cooperige. There salad bar is great. I always thought it would be a great place to lie in state if I died so people could pay there respects while they got there salads.

    Oh, the memorys!

    Keep writing Gil!

    Suz

    November 18, 2013 at 1:53 PM

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