Relish – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Confirmed in Reader’s Poll After Poll: Relish is Albuquerque’s very best sandwich shop.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Eddie Murphy, Jessie Jackson, entire NBA rosters.  Often missing from scandal sheets outing male celebrities who have fathered love children is the name of one Dagwood Bumstead.  From all outward appearances, Bumstead is an average white collar employee and loving family man with a penchant for taking naps, luxuriating in a bubble bath and constructing and consuming tall, multi-layered, poly-ingredient sandwiches of gravity defying height topped with an olive on a toothpick.  Appearances can be deceiving. 

You’re reading it here first.  Dagwood Bumstead’s illegitimate son is (brace yourself) Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, a lanky would-be hipster who always seems to have the munchies.  Shaggy is a nimble contortionist with a penchant for hiding (cowering) in impossibly small places and for consuming impossibly large (Dagwood-esque) sandwiches in a single bite.  When sandwiches aren’t available, Shaggy will often tussle with his dog Scooby-Doo for pet snacks.

Spicy Muffuletta at Relish (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Spicy Muffuletta at Relish (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

DNA evidence hasn’t confirmed Shaggy’s paternity, but telltale (albeit circumstantial) signs seem incontrovertible.  The most telling sign is, of course, their mutual love of food. Dagwood married a woman named  Blondie, a name she shares with one of his favorite desserts (the non-chocolate brownie).  He and Blondie even named one of their children Cookie for yet another of his favorite foods.   Both Dagwood and Shaggy like bizarre food combinations.  For Shaggy, it’s chocolate covered hot dogs and cheese pizza with pickles, while Dagwood basically just stacks any and everything he can find in the fridge between slices of bread. 

Rare is a sandwich shop that doesn’t have a sandwich on its menu not named for Dagwood.  Naturally, the Dagwood is an edible superstructure constructed from large quantities and varieties of cold cuts, cheeses, vegetables and additional slices of bread, all usually crowned with a toothpick.  As far as I know, there aren’t any sandwiches called the “Shaggy.” The image that name conjures is probably too unappetizing for any food.

The Cubano (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

The Cubano (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

In recent years, gourmet sandwiches with high quality ingredients in creative combinations, have replaced skyscraper-sized bread and beef behemoths.  It’s a winning concept–an award-winning concept.  In 2004, transplanted New Yorker Johnny Orr and his partner Tony Nethery launched a fabulous fromagerie and charcuterie (that’s cheese and meat) shop with a menu of gourmet sandwiches and salads unlike any heretofore seen in the Duke City.  They named their gourmet sandwich shop “Relish,” a name which aptly described their shop both as a verb (as in relishing the great tasting cheeses) and as a noun (as in the amazing condiments used on the sandwiches). 

Since its launch, Relish has earned every conceivable local publication’s “best of” awards in the sandwich category.  Though it  hasn’t featured its unique array of glorious imported and domestic gourmet cheeses and magnificent meats in years,  Relish still serves up some of the Duke City’s very best sandwiches and salads with products from the ubiquitous Boar’s Head.  The most popular hold-over from its days as a cheese and meat market is the mozzarella which is made fresh daily in-house.  With a flavor reminiscent of whole-milk with a delicate tang, it’s so good Relish has a strict no-refrigeration, eat that night policy because that’s when the mozzarella is at its optimum in freshness and flavor.

Turkey sandwich at Relish (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Turkey sandwich at Relish (Photo by Sergio Salvador)

Today, Relish is owned by entrepreneur Tony Trinh, a hands-on, customer oriented proprietor who recognizes that in a fickle restaurant market, an exacting balance between continuing to do what has worked well and continuously innovating and keeping things fresh is the only approach by which any eatery will survive. To the former point, Relish continues to hand-craft all sandwiches from scratch and to order using fresh, high-quality ingredients including homemade dressings and condiments that embellish and complement each sandwich.  All sandwich orders are served with one of three sides: potato salad, apple slaw or pasta salad plus a pickle. The canvas for all sandwiches remains the fresh, delicious bread baked by Albuquerque’s Le Paris French Bakery.

To that latter point, he has added soups to the menu–and not just any soups.  The soup menu–usually one vegetarian soup and one with meat–is constantly changing, each soup seemingly better than the previous.  Relish is now also offering dessert pairings which go very well after a soup, salad and sandwich soiree. At one point, the Relish menu included spring rolls, some of the very best in town.  That’s something you’d expect from a member of the family which owns and operates the Basil Leaf Vietnamese Restaurant on Eubank.  Surprisingly the spring rolls weren’t as popular as one might expect and were discontinued.

The Spicy Italiano: salami, pepperoni, swiss cheese, tomato, organic mixed greens, jalapeno relish, olive tapenade, deli mustard, mayo, balsamic vinaigrette, on an alpinettte roll.

Over the Fourth of July weekend in 2009, Relish underwent a significant expansion, essentially taking over the space vacated by the business next door.  The city’s premier sandwich shop lost none of its charm with its additional capacity.  On October 11th, 2011, Relish launched a second instantiation, this one in sandwich-starved Rio Rancho.

Albuquqerque the Magazine  paid a visit within two days of Relish’s grand opening with visits from Local IQ magazine and the Rio Rancho Observer  not far behind. The buzz over Relish in Rio Rancho was reminiscent of how excited Duke City diners were when Relish first launched in Albuquerque.   The City of Vision’s Relish was situated in the Lujan Plaza, a small, age-worn strip mall which also houses Namaste, arguably the metropolitan area’s best Indian restaurant.  Alas, because of staffing problems, Rio Rancho’s Relish closed in January, 2013.

Double-Decker Reuben Sandwich with Butternut Squash Tortilla Soup

The sandwiches are more than enough to excite anyone craving a sumptuous repast and not a gut-busting sub or boring burger.  The challenge is figuring out which sandwich to have from a menu of hot- and cold-sandwiches that offer inventiveness and excitement.  All sandwiches are priced at just under ten dollars, but unlike the “five dollar foot longs” at the chain leader, these will inspire return visits–many of them.  That includes the two vegetarian friendly sandwiches–the Mozzarella Sandwich and the Mediterranean, both of which are terrific.

The homemade mozzarella sandwich showcases the restaurant’s housemade mozz by pairing it with roasted red pepper, arugula, aged balsamic and extra virgin olive oil on a crusty alpinette roll.  You might think the indelicate ingredients might overwhelm the soft and light deliciousness of the cheese, but that’s not the case.  The mozzarella shines and there’s just enough of it to have you craving even more.   The Mediterranean sandwich is crafted with hummus, haricot verts, Greek feta, tomato, dill pickle, roasted red pepper, arugula and balsamic vinaigrette served on an alpinette roll.  It is so flavorful even the most committed carnivore won’t miss meat.  The hummus, in particular, is absolutely true to its Middle Eastern roots and would contend for best in the city honors.

The Grinder: capocolla ham, jack cheese, mayo, jalapeños relish on an alpinette roll

The Cubano, loosely based on the Cuban sandwich, features chipotle rubbed roast pork, honey ham, Swiss cheese, sliced pickle and cilantro mayo served on a baguette. Served hot on pressed bread toasted to perfection, it is among the best of its genre we’ve had in the Duke City.  The Cubano so impressed Rico Martinez, the brilliant braintrust behind the now defunct Rant Pack blog that he wrote the hilarious “Ode to Relish” in which he lavished gustatory praise and prose on the “scumptiously perfecto” sandwich while deriding the poor service he received during at least one visit to Relish. In its Fall Food and Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque the Magazine named the Cubano one of the city’s 12 yummiest sandwiches.

Rico subsequently wrote an article in which he rated Relish’s Cubano the best among Cuban sandwiches he tried in four different restaurants. In fact, he accorded it “best sandwich in Albuquerque” accolades. He’s got a good case. The Cubano is indeed muy magnifico, but so are other sandwiches on Relish’s repertoire.

The Mediterranean

The Mediterranean

Best sandwich in the city honors might also be accorded to Relish’s spicy muffaletta which might be the closest you’ll find to a New Orleans style muffaletta while still allowing for a New Mexican departure.  The spicy muffaletta is not quite as big as its near pizza sized counterpart at our favorite French Quarter po’ boy restaurant, Cafe Maspero. Still it’s a handful, a two-fisted sandwich brimming with ingredients and flavor.  Sandwiched between muffaletta bread are provolone, Genoa salami, maple ham, sweet and spicy coppacola, pepperoni, and artichoke tapinade with a garlic-chile sauce. The spicy coppacola and garlic-chile sauce will get your attention quickly while the other high-quality ingredients sneak in more with more subtlety.

Still another contender for “best” honors is the double-decker Reuben which includes both pastrami and corned beef along with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing with a hint of horseradish on seeded rye bread.  The hint of horseradish is just enough to cut the dill sweetness of the Thousand Island dressing and punch it up just a bit, but not so much that it takes away from the authenticity Reuben fanatics want. 

Pasta Salad and Chop Chop Salad

Pasta Salad and Chop Chop Salad

Frequent visitors well acquainted with the daily menu head straight for the slate board in which the specials of the day are announced.  The specials are often a tribute to creativity, a realization that sandwiches don’t need to be boring.  Take for example the strawberry-basil-bacon sandwich, a compilation of ingredients heretofore not seen elsewhere.  This sandwich is crafted on a crusty nine-inch Alpinette, a fitting canvas for a very unique and surprisingly tasty sandwich.  A healthy smear of housemade mozzarella on bottom bread provides an interesting contrast to the strawberry coulis (essentially a thick sauce made of puréed fruit) which is topped with the ingredient triumvirate of bacon, lettuce and tomato.  The strawberry coulis accentuates the tartness of strawberries more than it does the sweetness.

Sensational salads also dot the menu. A composed salad that will bowl you over with the harmonious coalescence of ingredients is the Chop Chop salad which is artfully crafted of grilled chicken, haricot verts (French green beans), roasted red and yellow beets, cucumber, feta cheese, roasted red peppers, olives, artichokes, mint and grape tomatoes tossed in preserved lemon vinaigrette. You’ll want to taste all the ingredients one at a time and you’ll want to taste them in combination with each other. This is a fantastic salad, one of the very best in the city.

Green Chile Chicken Soup in an Apple Cider Broth

Todd Coleman, the executive food editor for Saveur Magazine, has arrived at the conclusion that if “you want to see a true display of culinary skills, order the soup.”  The soups at Relish are gourmet restaurant quality–delicious and inventive while holding true to the nurturing qualities which make soup a comfort food favorite.  Early favorites from the Rio Rancho Relish include the green chile chicken soup in an apple cider broth.  The tanginess of apple cider, the piquancy of roasted New Mexico green chile, oodles of noodles and poultry a plenty make this a soup you’ll want double portions of.

Unlike so many of the boring beverage and chips offerings in town, Relish dares to be different, offering such Duke City rarities as Dr. Brown’s root beer and Miss Vickie’s unique chips in such flavors as Texas mesquite and sea salt and vinegar. 

Strawberry basil bacon sandwich: strawberry coulis, bacon, lettuce tomato, mozzarella on an Alpinette roll.

Relish offers only one dessert type sandwich, but characteristic of the restaurant’s inventiveness, it’s a Chocolate Sandwich.  As with Relish’s panini offerings, the canvas for this sandwich is a fresh, delicious bread baked by Albuquerque’s Le Paris French Bakery.  The fillings include sliced bananas while the chocolate is Callebaut, a premium Belgian chocolate made by a chocolate maker who still selects, roasts and grinds its own cocoa beans.  Although the sandwich makes for an excellent dessert, the texture of the hard-crusted bread may be a little tough on the roof of your mouth, especially if you’ve also had a panini sandwich crafted on the same bread. 

The most common complaint I’ve heard about Relish is that it’s overpriced.  Sandwiches approach the ten dollar price point and aren’t necessarily the Dagwood-style skyscraper sandwiches you might expect for the money.  What you do get is an inventive, high-quality sandwich made to order, not some copycat chain’s rendition of the all American favorite.

The Chocolate Sandwich

Thanks to Sergio Salvador for his fantastic photos.  Please visit Sergio’s Web site for more.

Relish
8019 Menual, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 299-0001
Web Site
LATEST VISIT:
03 July 2012
# OF VISITS 10
RATING: 22

COST: $$
BEST BET: Cubano, Muffaletta, Double-Decker Reuben, Endive Salad, Chop Chop Salad, Mozzarella, The Meditteranean, Chocolate Sandwich, Bread Pudding, Spicy Italiano, Grinder, Strawberry Basil Sandwich

18 comments

  • Bruce

    Just started visiting Relish in Rio Rancho over the past few weeks – good news: Great Sandwiches – quality worth the price! Bad news: Called Monday to place an order and they are closed. According to the phone message and their facebook page – either can’t make it in that location or they have trouble staffing.

  • rpl

    I have been waiting for an order in the restaurant (on Menaul) when there were few visible customers, only to see people arriving to pick up office sized bags of food to go, so it seems likely that the sandwich makers in the back can be busy independently of the number of seated customers. The sweetish balsamic vinaigrette on the roast beef sandwich doesnt bother me as true aged or faux aged balsamic is supposed to be sweetish, not acidic or vinegary. Faux aged balsamic can be made by adding brown sugar to a cheap supermarket product.

    What does bother me is the attempt by Relish to pass off an onion roll as muffeleta bread, as it isn’t even close to the real thing. For this reason, I strongly prefer their spicy Italiano sandwich if I am in the mood for that style of deli meat sandwich.

  • Nate D

    I had not been to Relish in a couple of years and decided to stop in since I enjoyed it the previous times I had visited. I ordered the roast beef sandwich with fresh mozz. The first problem is that it should not 20 minutes to get a sandwich to go when a restaurant is not busy. They guy making the sandwich made paint drying look like a rush job. The problem with the sandwich was a lack of balance. First, the ingredients are still top quality and fresh. The fresh mozzarella is still very good. The problem is they dress this sandwich with a balsamic vinagrette which by itself or in some combination with the roast beef, was extremely sweet. I could barely taste any balsamic vinegar bite, just pure sweetness. After about half the sandwich, it felt like I was eating a roast beef dessert sandwich. That’s not the effect I was going for. Actually, that’s never the taste I would go for. The pasta salad was quite good. I will return to Relish but probably try one of the other items again or see if they could put a different dressing on the roast beef, perhaps some type of mustard or mayo.

  • Ms Mo

    Food was excellent! I will definitely be back 🙂

  • Renee

    One of the places I really, truly miss now that I’m not living in ABQ anymore.
    They would fit so well around Nob Hill.

  • I also went back for round two, the next day to have the Roast Beef. I enjoyed the Cubano the first day, but I have to say that the Roast Beef has now moved to the top of my list at Relish 🙂 . I had the green chili chicken soup for my side, and both were very tasty. I felt that the roast beef was a bit more filling. It may be difficult for me try something new, since this was a pleaser!

  • Sr Plata

    Sr Plata brought Senorena Plata one day after he, Sensei and Boomer ate at Relish. I was told yesterday the Roast Beef sandwich was an absolute must to eat and after ordering it and taking my first bite, I wholeheartedly agree. It was amazing! There was a good amount of beef with a large amount of mozzarella cheese, special greens and other vegetables and very was very tasty. Senorena had the green chile chicken soup that was solidly filled with chunks of chicken, green chile, celery, carrots and corn; it was very good. They asked her if she wanted more, she said no, but of course Sr. Plata said YES and promptly ate it (they were very kind to bring her a 2nd bowl). I believe Relish will become very popular in Rio Rancho…

  • I have to relish in Sr. Plata’s comments. I may be a little biased since I had lunch with him yesterday, but I do agree with his comments. I had the Cubano, which was a great sandwich. I am not accustomed to eating Panini sandwich types, but it was very flavorful.

    Panini: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panini_(sandwich)

    I had partaken in the home made potato salad, but I was eyeing the butternut Squash Soup. The staff was very friendly, and were very open to feedback to make this west side location unique and a customer pleaser! I agree that a $10 combo meal would be a fair price point for the great food that I had! I would go back to try some other sandwiches! The homemade chocolate bread pudding with thick whip cream was an amazing treat! Thank you Relish Staff & Crew!

  • Sr Plata

    We have a new ‘Relish’ that just opened up in Rio Rancho very close to Intel. I call all my fellow Gil’s Thrilling and Filling Blog readers to give it a try and help this new Rio Rancho eatery get a good start. I was joined by Sensei and Boomer. I had the double deck Reuben which was excellent. Most of my concerns with Reubens in general is very sour sauerkraut and this wasn’t. It was mild and the 1000 Island dressing was great. It included Pastrami and Corn Beef. I pictured adding Turkey to make it a tripple and one of the owners there was more than willing to create a new creation at a smal charge.

    You get a side and I picked the homemade Butternut Squash soup as my side and it had pico de gallo with a sprinkle of feta cheese. You definitely can tell it was home made as it was so creamy and rich. They say they will have a different vegetarian and a meat soup every three days or so and are always taking suggestions (mine was the Bruce Matzoh Ball soup).

    The owners and cook came and talked with us which was exceedingly nice and they mentioned they had dessert though I didnt see it on the menu. They came out with a home made chocolate bread pudding with unbelievable thick home made whip cream, just an amazing way to end the meal. They said they wanted suggestions for all their stuff and will have a suggestion box soon but one can send suggestions to their website as well.

    I hope the owners will read this (and if so you can respond) but I think if you could include the meal plus the drink for around $10.00 would make coming to your shop often a higher probability; I really want to see you succeed and the way is to have high quality food with prices the masses can handle and continue being as friendly as you were today.

  • Brien

    Went for the spring rolls and failed. Seems they are only available for catering. In fact the counter person never heard of them! Very disappointed. The Spicy Muffuletta was spicy but tasty. The potato salad was the hit of the meal. Music was too loud and strangely selected for the age of the customers.

  • Sarah

    Relish is sublime. I love the mozz sandwich and chop-chop salad so much that I’ve yet to order anything else. I love the fact this divine place is in a strip mall on an ugly stretch of Menaul. And I love the folks behind the counter who now have some space to move around in.

  • NOTE: they are not yet open for dinner. It will be at least “a few weeks”…. so early 2010 is my guess.

  • Ruben

    Cubano is a great sandwich, Gil. The texture of the grilled bread was kinda’ rough on the roof of my mouth, but the tastiness of the sandwich overcame that small negative. The chocolate sandwich was made on the same type of bread. The chocolate/banana combo was absolutely delicious. Next time, though, I won’t go back to back with sandwiches made from that bread. I almost hate to be critical because the sandwiches were both pretty incredible.

    Good to see you again, Gil. The quest for the best adovada has morphed into the quest for the best cubano. Any other great cubanos in town?

  • habib

    Unfortunately the expansion occurred at the same time as the departure of the founding owner.

  • Lorraine

    I would love to say that i have enjoyed eating at this restaurant, but i cant. The store off of Menaul is the worst ever. Everytime we have gone, they are out of some ingredient, but there are no customers? The sandwiches are never under $10, and when the menu says that there is something in a certain salad or sandwich, it isnt. For instance, the pasta salad is supposed to be made in-house, with fresh mozzerella, and tomatoes. Nope! Neither.

    There is a girl that works the front counter. She is rude, and actually hangs up on people!For a place that never has customers, or ingredients, I would think that they would want to really be consistent, as they are new to this area. We have pulled into the lot 30 minutes before close, and have had the staff look at us, and actually flip the closed sign in our faces! They dont want business. I say we dont give it to them. I have tried numerous times to find the owner, and have been hung up on numerous times today. I have even had fellow employees call, but they were hung up on as well. I hope this place shapes up, by getting rid of the obnoxious front counter girl, and by having product in house. And when they say they are going to close at a certain time, to do it. I really think its a case of ‘when the owner is away’….Dont waste you time or your money. I love to call and get the girl that says ‘thanks for calling relish, but we are closed.” Customer service at its finest.

  • Relish on Manaul will be closed over the 4th of July to complete an expansion, which will create a more open space and add more dining tables! They will re-open July 6th, and will be serving lunch and dinner. Go support these very talented folks and they will certainly make you feel like you are in their home. Oh, did I mention that they have been gracious enough to allow me to hang some of my fine art for their unveiling? Sorry for the selfish plug. Tony and all the others are so attentive to their patrons, and it’s obvious that they care about quality. Check it out!

  • Randy b

    The food is to die for here. The people behind the counter actually care. The cubano is awesome. This place will not disappoint!

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