Milton’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico
“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes
You might think that a world-famous cookbook author and New York Times food writer who dines at four-star white-tablecloth restaurants and routinely drops $200 or more for a meal would be ecstatic about his culinary opportunities. Instead, Mark Bittman appears to have had too much of a good thing and longs for, of all things, a restaurant which feels like home (ostensibly without having to do the dishes).
Bittman laments “I want “my” place, don’t you? A place with a working chef, not a cookie-cutter spinoff and certainly not a circus. A place where the food is at least as good as what I can do at home and preferably better, and consistently so; one that’s pleasant; one where I’m vaguely known as a repeat customer, but not falsely fawned over; one where I can pay without thinking about what that chunk of money might have gone to instead.”
New Mexico’s dining options aren’t nearly as diverse and plentiful as those in New York City and my dining budget is a modicum of Bittman’s, but quite frequently I’m completely simpatico with his lament. Every once in a while, nothing would suit me more than a non-gourmet quality meal at a restaurant in which friendly servers bring warm, delicious, comfort foods to my table and top off my coffee regularly, a restaurant in which diners aren’t rushed and which won’t break the bank. In other words, a restaurant which feels a bit like home…a restaurant like Milton’s.
Since the early 1980s when I was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, Milton’s was–for me and my dormitory-dwelling friends–what Monk’s Cafe was to Jerry Seinfeld and his friends and what the Central Perk Coffee House was to the cast of Friends. It’s where we commiserated with one another after a stressful day and it was where we celebrated good times. It was our haven and our refuge. Most of all, it was a place which felt like home away from home, where we were treated well and were served some of the best breakfast and comfort foods in town.
Fortuitously, Milton’s was situated just outside the Wyoming gate from Kirtland so we didn’t have to go far for nurturing comfort food. Years later when I retired from the Air Force, the second Milton’s in the East Downtown (EDO) district, by virtue of its proximity, took over where its elder sibling left off. Both Milton’s restaurants were the quintessential American diner, the very essence of respite. The original Milton’s closed in 2004 and its historic EDO sibling closed in 2012, leaving a hole in my heart.
In August, 2013, Milton’s was reborn, albeit several miles away from its previous incarnations. Now situated on Candelaria just west of Carlisle, it remains to be seen whether or not Milton’s will serve as a backdrop for several small- and big-screen productions as it did in its EDO location. During its halcyon days in the EDO, Milton’s made several “cameo” appearances on Hollywood productions, although not on Breaking Bad. Ostensibly, several of the glitterati actually ate there, but it might not have had the feeling of “home” for them under the bright lights and hullabaloo.
Milton’s reborn is almost the antithesis of its predecessors in terms of architectural style. Modernity has replaced the classical diner look and feel and expansiveness has replaced the homey, close proximity seating. In its scopious new digs, Milton’s now has a wide-open configuration, seating 120 diners. Hours of operation have also changed. Milton’s is now open from 6AM to 3PM Monday through Saturday instead of its previous seven days a week stint. The menu has a few changes—primarily in offering more sandwich and burger options—but you can still get reliable New Mexican, Greek and American breakfast and lunch favorites. Alas, the red chile is now made with cumin which wipes out several options for me.
Sandwich and burger entrees are served with your choice of soup of the day or French fries. The French fries aren’t quite Texas cut, but they’re larger than the usual out-of-the-bag variety. If the soup of the day is cream of corn on the cob, don’t hesitate to order it. This soup does indeed include a segment of corn on the cob as well as other vegetables. It’s a thick, creamy soup served with the endearing belly warming properties that come in hand especially in winter.
My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott raves about Milton’s bacon burger–for good reason. With two four-ounce patties, it’s a half pound of beef coupled with thick bacon and lettuce, onions and tomatoes on a sesame seed bun. Milton’s will happily grill those onions if you’d like. Better still, top that burger with New Mexico green chile. While the red chile may be contaminated with cumin, the green chile is delicious purity of flavor.
For years, my very favorite entree at Milton’s has been the eggs burritos, available in quantities of one or two. I’m in good company. Several years ago Jason Sheehan, a James Beard Award-winning author who once wrote for Albuquerque’s Alibi, assembled a dream menu of the best foods he had ever eaten, a “desert-island top ten” from which he’d choose if ever asked the question, “If you could eat only one thing every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?” His top ten list included the phenomenal red chile breakfast burritos from Milton’s.
Though the cumin means I’ll never again order red chile at Milton’s, the green chile makes up for it. Make sure to ask for a larger portion of chile because the eggs burritos are rather sizable. The chile has a bite and nicely roasted flavor to it. It’s as good as Milton’s chile has always been. So are the eggs burritos which are simplicity itself (hash browns, eggs). They’re always served hot, a huge plus.
Thomas Wolfe may have had it all wrong when penning “you can never go home again.” Milton’s is like coming home.
3351 Candelaria, N.E., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 21 September 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Eggs Burritos, Bacon Hamburger, French Fries