Krazy Lizard – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Krazy Lizard Taqueria

I count in almost equal measure, friends, family members and colleagues who label themselves as either militant liberals or staunch conservatives. Despite what they may think, they have more in common than they’d ever admit.  Passionate ideologues, they  all regurgitate political dialogue in talking point format.  They’re uncompromising in towing their respective party line. They would never see merit in counterpoints from “the other side,” ergo, they never compromise.  They’re all are passionate, almost to a fault.  You could say they’ve all been been fully assimilated and they’re not going to change.  It sure makes it difficult to share a meal with people when their disparate principles, ethics and beliefs make them incompatible with those of opposite perspectives.

Despite the old maxim that you should never discuss politics or religion at the table, there’s one restaurant in Albuquerque that practically invites diners to discuss politics even as they’re perusing the menu.  That restaurant is the Krazy Lizard Taqueria on Jefferson Street just north of Singer.  The menu is posted above the counter where you place your order.  Now, political discourse would be easily avoided if the sole focus of the menu was breakfast, burritos, tortas and salads.  Those items don’t have politically charged names.  It’s when you get to the tacos section of the menu where divisiveness can set in and emotions can run high.

Dia De Los Muertos Murals on the Rear Wall

Politics pervade  the name of every taco on the gourmet tacos menu.  Aside from The Republicans, The Democrats and Libertarian, you’ll find tacos with such names as Outsourced, Popular Vote, Bad Hombre, Wikileaks, Credible Sources, The House, The Immigrant, Fake News and Congress.  I pictured my friends Carlos, a Reagan Republican and Hien, a self-professed “Obamanista” lambasting the tacos named for the opposing political party.  Carlos would undoubtedly point out that one of the seasonings on The Democrats (ground beef seasoned with in-house taco seasoning, chipotle mayo) is cumin, which  he considers a corruption much like the party he loathes.  Hien would harangue The Republicans (marinated pork with pineapple) as a metaphor for Republican pork barrel spending.  From there the conversation would get nasty quickly.

Fortunately my dining companion was my bride of 32-years who, like me, would rather discuss the colorful artwork on the walls of the Lilliputian eatery.  Those walls are festooned with human and canine visitors who returned to this world for El Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  During this Mexican holiday, the profusion of skeletons of all sizes performing day-to-day activities signifies the return to this world of the dead who remain who they were when they lived, doing what they did.  For example, the skeletal figure regaled in charro outfit and strumming a guitar on the east wall, was a Mexican mariachi in life. Therefore in death, he remains a mariachi.  His companion, attired in a flowing skirt, was a folklorico dancer in life and remains one after life.  The counter housing the salsa trays depicts a skeletal dog according to Krazy Lizard owner Hanif Mohamed.

Even the Counter Housing the Salsa Trays is Colorful

Ironically, we first met Hanif on the patio of Breve Crepes & Coffee where we struck up a conversation about dogs, an easily flowing topic because we were dining with our debonair dachshund Dude. When we got to the inevitable perfunctory small chat about what we do when we’re not enjoying crepes and coffee on a patio, Hanif told us about his restaurant, Krazy Lizard, instantly appealing to us because  it’s dog-friendly.  Moreover, Krazy Lizard serves some of our favorite foods.  We should have guessed from his irreverent sense of humor that there would be something different about his restaurant–and not just his politically-charged naming convention. 

Hanif is proud to offer to the extent possible, products from local vendors and growers.  He procures pinto beans from Estancia (there are none better in the world) and pork from a local south valley farmer. Other products come from the ever reliable La Montañita Co-op.  Fresh and organic are hallmarks of his menu.  Tortillas and tortas are made fresh in-house daily.  Flour is unbleached.  The black beans, green chile and flour are organic.  Chicken and canola oil contain no GMO and eggs come from cage-free chickens.

Salsa and Chips

Before there was a Krazy Lizard, there was the Jefferson Deli, Hanif’s first restaurant venture in Albuquerque.  When it became apparent the items flying off the menu most quickly were specialty tacos, he changed his restaurant concept.  Hanif is quite the entrepreneur.  In addition to the Krazy Lizard, he owns and operates KayTahRing, a catering service specializing in customized menus, venue placement, and event design.  Hanif actually has over 30 years of food and beverage experience in 4 Star – 4 Diamond properties in the United States and Kenya.  Even in a small venture like Krazy Lizard, that experience is telling.

It comes across in the little touches other restaurants don’t provide, the real difference-makers guests remember.  It comes across in the complimentary salsa bar, a practice fewer and fewer restaurants now offer.  Salsas are roasted and made fresh in house from fresh ingredients.  Krazy Lizard offers five unique and delicious salsas: roasted tomato-arbol salsa, described as flavorful and hot with a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes; roasted tomatillo-arbol salsa, the hottest of all salsas with great acidity from the tomatillo; roasted jalapeño-arbol, well balanced with heat and acidity; salsa verde, classic salsa with a Krazy Lizard twist; and pico de gallo, bountiful, flavorful and caliente.

Cubana Mexicana

As chronicled in my review of the now defunct Señor Torta, your humble blogger believes it’s only a matter of time before the torta achieves the same or perhaps even eclipses the popularity of tacos and burritos.  It only makes sense in a sandwich culture like the United States.  As with sandwiches originating in the fruited plain, tortas can be constructed with a variety of different ingredients.  A torta requires a split bolillo with your choice of meat or fish, and some type of cheese, but there are no hard and fast rules about this.  Make it the way you want it with the ingredients you enjoy.

Krazy Lizard makes it the way I want it–large and in charge.  There are six tortas on the menu, including an all day breakfast torta.  If you like your sandwich of Dagwoodesque proportions, ask for the Mexican Cubano (pork, ham, Milanesa, tomato, onion, avocado, crispy pickle and Monterrey Jack).  It’s the beach bully to the Big Mac’s 98-pound weakling, not only in terms of size, but in sheer deliciousness.  It’s a paragon of complementing contrasts–the crunchy breaded Milanesa, a thin, pan-fried slab of meat and the sweet, thick ham; the silky avocado and the crispy pickle; the crusty exterior and pillow interior of the split bolillo.  This is one of the very best tortas I’ve ever had anywhere.

Credible Sources

In this age of fake news (no, not the taco of that name), it’s a challenge to find credible sources without bias or hidden agendas.  If you want trustworthy, reliable, truly delicious Credible Sources, try the taco at Krazy Lizard taco by that name.  A warm corn tortilla is stuffed with deep-fried battered tilapia, pickled onions, shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes, queso and  avocado crema.  The avocado crema has a bit of a bite behind it, a pleasant piquancy which will delight your taste buds.  The vegetables are fresh, crispy and delicious, a nice counterbalance to the deep-fried tilapia.

My Kim’s favorite taco is the taco al pastor which Krazy Lizard’s menu calls The Republicans and describes as “the original fusion food, marinated pork with pineapple.”   Al pastor tacos, which translates from Spanish to “tacos in the style of the shepherd” were originally inspired by Lebanese shawarma.  In Mexico, the meat for tacos al pastor is actually cooked on a spit  then shaved or cut from it at the point of serving.  Unless they’re served in huge quantities, tacos al pastor across the fruited plain are usually not prepared as authentically as their Mexican brethren.  Krazy Lizard’s rendition is still no less delicious with sweet pineapple penetrating deeply into the savory, succulent pork. It’s a melding of flavors sure to inspire detente.

The Republicans

The Krazy Lizard is a fun venue whose delicious food and colorful ambiance should bring people together regardless of ideology.  With mouths kept happy and full, who can argue politics.   

Krazy Lizard
5659 Jefferson Street, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 908-9711
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 May 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cubana Mexicana, The Republicans, Credible Sources, Chips & Salsa
REVIEW #1041

Krazy Lizard Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Starr Brothers Brewing – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Starr Brothers Brewing in the San Antonio Commons (Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights)

Poets, musicians and authors have long rhapsodized about the loyalty of dogs, the most faithful and loving companions anyone can have. Their love is unconditional, their loyalty boundless.  They’re  truly man’s best friend.  Poets, musicians and authors obviously didn’t know Chato, the sleek and powerful best friend to the Dominican nuns who taught generations of Peñasco’s best and brightest at St. Anthony’s (my alma-mater).  No matter where they drove in their ancient rattletrap of a car, Chato sprinted along to ensure their safety.  When the nuns raffled off that car to raise money for the purchase of a newer, more reliable vehicle, Chato suddenly changed his lifelong residence from the convent to the home of the new car owners…..and everywhere that car went, Chato was sure to go.

In his own way Chato demonstrated the loyalty for which dogs are renowned, albeit to a car instead of to his people.  Among people–who tend to be the most fickle and disloyal of creatures–studies have repeatedly shown that beer is one of the things about which we as consumers tend to be most loyal.  According to a Nielsen (and you thought they only did television ratings) study conducted in 2015, 48% of beer drinkers purchased only one to three brands of their alcoholic beverage of choice in the year preceding the survey.  Only 15% of beer drinkers purchased ten or more brands of beer in the same period.

Dining and Bar Area

Not all beer drinkers are so brand monogamous.  Those who drink craft beers are much more likely to purchase a variety of brands. Almost one-third (32%) of all craft beer drinkers who buy beer at least several times a year bought seven or more brands in the year preceding the survey.  Younger, more frequent craft beer drinkers were found to be more brand “promiscuous,” as 37% purchased seven or more brands of beer in the year preceding the survey.  The survey revealed that younger beer drinkers were more apt to purchase a broader set of brands,  likely resultant from the more adventurous nature  of youth compared to older demographics.  Being younger, it’s conceivable as well that they have not established brand loyalty.

Albuquerque’s burgeoning craft beer industry means beer drinkers have many more choices than the beer drinkers of yore.  It seems a new brewery pops up every week with no surfeit in sight.  Indeed, the New Mexico Brewer’s Guild Map indicates there are (as of this writing) some sixty-six craft breweries across the Land of Enchantment with nearly half of them concentrated in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.  As  competition for beer buyers continues to intensify, breweries are looking for ways to differentiate themselves–to stand out from the crowd–from their brewing brethren.   The differentiator which resonates most with gastronomes, of course, is food.

Herbed Brie with Heidi’s Raspberry-Lavender Jam

Several Duke City breweries have elevated culinary offerings from the “pub grub” (typically deep-fried, stick-to-your-ribs fast foods) of yore to true gastropub fare–high quality, freshly prepared food that may surprise discerning diners.  They offer diverse menus, several orders of magnitude superior to what bar-goers of yesteryear were accustommed to.  In January, 2016, the Starr Brothers Brewing Company joined the fray, launching in an underserved Northeast Heights area in a sprawling 5,000 square-foot edifice.  Situated on heavily-trafficked San Antonio about a mile east of Cracker Barrel, Starr Brothers operates a full kitchen that features a wide-ranging menu showcasing some of the most surprising culinary fare of any brewery in the city.

“Small bites” to get you started include poutine, an artery-clogging Canadian French fry delicacy made uniquely New Mexican with red chile gravy and green chile; pizza constructed on naan flatbread and much more.  Our server informed us the Cubano has become an early favorite of the brewery’s habitues though the burger isn’t far behind in popularity.  Of more interest to my Chicago born-and-bred Kim is the Italian beef sandwich which we’ll return for  Where you’ll do a double-take is with the entrees, some of which seem more likely to be found in a Chicago chophouse than a brew pub in Burque.    The menu truly has something for every member of the family and indeed, several families were dining at Starr Brothers during our inaugural visit.

Bone-In Pork Chops

3 July 2016: My Kim often chides me for ordering items we’ve never previously had instead of tried and true favorites.  Sometimes it pays off and we uncover a new favorite.  Other times we wish we’d ordered one of the standards.  The herbed brie is in the former category, an appetizer we hadn’t previously enjoyed elsewhere.  Molten brie is formed into four golf ball-sized orbs encased in panko breadcrumbs and served with Heidi’s raspberry-lavender jam.  To be honest, we might have regretted having ordered the brie (which lacks the sharpness this turophile enjoys) had it not been for the jam.  The lavender to raspberry is in perfect proportion to bless you with the invigorating and exiting floral qualities of lavender without detracting from the sweet, slightly tart flavor of the raspberries.

3 July 2016: In ordering the bone-in grilled pork chop (singular), we expected something closer to the waifishly thin pork chops served for breakfast in several Duke City eateries than what was delivered to our table.  Our server got her work-out ferrying a plate with two Flintstonian-sized chops with bone “handles” that looked like Lakota battle axes.  We were momentarily mesmerized and took proper pause to gape with awe and reverence at this porcine bounty (if only lamb chops were similarly sized).  Imbued in a brown sugar honey sweet ale sauce and topped with toasted pecans, the pulchritudinous pork chops are easily an inch thick and grilled masterfully so they’re still moist and tender on the inside.  Noting a little bit of raspberry-lavender jam remained, we used it as a sauce and found the combination absolutely magnificent.  Our accommodating server even brought us another ramekin of that wondrous jam.  The pork chops are served with mashed sweet potatoes.

Grilled Bistro Tender Steak with Fingerling Potatoes and Wilted Spinach

3 July 2016: We weren’t sure with what cut of meat we would be rewarded for ordering the “grilled bistro tender steak,” as “tender” tends to be an adjective, not a cut of steak.  Tender, it turns out, is a perfect descriptor for a slab of meat sliced into several medallions and served with fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach.  The steak is prepared to your exacting specifications with a medium degree of doneness providing moistness, flavor and tenderness.  It’s an excellent steak, especially around the “rim” where just a bit of caramelization appears.  The fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach are a perfect accompaniment.

3 July 2016: Starr Brothers is no slouch when it comes to desserts.  While the Polychinka (a crepe stuffed with caramelized banana and topped with nutella, chocolate ganache and powdered sugar) sounds most interesting, it’s hard to pass up bread pudding, especially when it’s described as “chef’s choice” made with the seasonal draft (which turned out to be strawberry ale during our inaugural visit).  At the risk of hyperbole, this is one of the best bread puddings in the city, a sure-fire addition to Larry McGoldrick’s bread pudding hall-of-fame.  Thick slices of bread impregnated with chocolate and berries are caramelized on the edges, moist and tender on the inside then topped with a premium vanilla bean ice cream.  Portion size is prodigious, but the bread pudding’s flavor profile is even larger.

Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding

13 September 2016:  In the Land of Enchantment, our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburgers transcend the seasons.  They’re enjoyed all year-round, however, two factors combine to make September the one month in which they’re enjoyed more than in any other.  The first factor is the freshly picked, recently roasted crop of green chile.  The second factor is the celebration of the green chile cheeseburger in two premier competitive events–Santa Fe’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown and the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge.  On September 12th, 2016, Laguna Burger earned bragging rights at the State Fair event, ending a two year reign by national chain Fuddrucker‘s.  Finishing second in the blind taste test adjudged event was Starr Brothers. 

Frankly had Starr Brothers not garnered such a prestigious honor, it would probably have taken several visits before the Starr Burger crossed my lips.  That’s not so much an indictment of the burger as it is a credit to how diverse and alluring the rest of the menu is.  My server became animated in describing the burger, touting it as the best in Albuquerque.  If it’s not the Duke City’s best, it’s on a very short list as one of the best.  This is a sensational burger!  The canvas is a brioche bun, a rich, eggy bread of optimal thickness–resilient enough to hold up against moist ingredients without becoming a dominant flavor.  Atop the bottom bun are chopped onions, a sliced tomato and fresh greens then comes a choice beef patty prepared to your exacting specifications.  The beef is topped with a green chile ranch aioli, molten melted cheese and strips of bacon in a crossed (X) pattern.  The green chile ranch aioli has a nice bite to it,  The beef patty is moist and seasoned well with a premium beef flavor (obviously not thawed).  You have your choice of a salad or fries with your burger.  The seasoned fries are addictive, with or without the uniquely flavored ketchup with its notes of smokiness and piquancy.

Award-Winning Starr Burger

6 May 2018: Much like jumbo shrimp, jumbo wings is an oxymoronic term. Despite the term itself meaning “very large,” nature (and perhaps a little genetic modification) have pretty much decided shrimp and chicken wings are rather miniscule in size. More often than not, however, “jumbo” wings do tend to have a bit more meat on the bone than the paltry poultry some restaurant suppliers and grocers carry. Starr Brothers offers “jumbo” wings with your choice of dressing: buffalo sauce, mango Habanero, lemon pepper, Sriracha, atomic or barbecue. Save for the dry-rubbed mango Habanero, all sauces are wet. If the mango Habanero rub actually has any Habanero influence, it’s very diluted. We didn’t get much heat from the wings. Served on the side are carrot and celery sticks with a small bowl of blue cheese dressing.

6 May 2018: Having grown up in the City of Big Shoulders, big pizza and big steaks, my Kim has a great appreciation for a traditional accompaniment to a Chicago chophouse steak—the wedge salad. Two ingredients are de rigueur. First, of course, is a crisp quarter-head of iceberg lettuce sliced so it includes the core of the lettuce. Next is my favorite fetid fromage, a creamy, rich blue cheese. Beyond that, a wedge salad, can be topped with literally anything. At first browse (and more importantly, first taste) the Starr Brothers’ version didn’t appear much different than any other except for one ingredient: iceberg lettuce, bacon lardon, Maytag bleu cheese, tomato, red onion and smoked garlic ranch. Distinguishing itself above every ingredient was a small, tear-shaped Peruvian pepper called the sweety drop. Sweety drop pepper seeds are a combination of a cherry pepper and a jalapeno pepper, accounting for the sweet heat they generate. Who would have thought the tiniest ingredient in a large salad would make the greatest impression?

Mango Habanero Chicken Wings

6 May 2018:  When founding Friends of Gil (FOG) member Jim Millington recently called the Greek Chicken at Starr Brothers “better than any Greek restaurant in town” and “so damned good that I couldn’t believe it,” we knew we’d have to try it. My Kim tends to order Greek chicken at every Greek restaurant so she didn’t even bother looking at the menu. When the Greek chicken arrived at our table, it didn’t look like any other Greek chicken she’d had. Expecting a half chicken–carcass, bones, skin and all–her plate was instead brimming with farro, a soft wheat grain. Nestled atop more farro than she’s eaten in her life were a grilled, marinated chicken breast, Greek olives, oven-roasted tomatoes and a dollop of goat cheese all sprinkled with Balsamic vinegar. As a lazy diner who doesn’t always like crab, lobster or chicken because it takes work to get to the good part, the chicken breast would have suited me, but my bride doesn’t mind working around carapace or bones. Sorry, Jim, she liked the chicken, but didn’t love it.

6 May 2018: Personal space proximity to other diners at the dog-friendly patio meant we got to check out dishes destined for other tables. Espying a bounteous burrito being ferried to a neighboring table enticed me to order one of my own. The Starr burrito is fairly typical of hand-held burritos throughout the state, a flour tortilla sheathing green chile, cheese, potato and your choice of protein: steak, pork, carne adovada or chicken. Green chile is definitely the star of this burrito. It’s got a great roasted flavor and a pleasant piquancy. Alas, there isn’t enough of it. With green chile this good, the burrito shouldn’t be prepared for hand-held consumption. Green chile should be slathered generously all over the burrito and even on the accompanying seasoned fries.

Greek Chicken

In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2017, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Starr Brothers Brewing a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its Poutine Burqueño as one of the “dishes…that’s lighting a fire under the city’s culinary scene.” Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.

Starr Burrito with Fries

Lest you think there are no Starr brothers or that they’re a pair of wizened and hirsute gentlemen like the Smith Brothers of cough drop fame, there really are Starr brothers.  They’re the children of owners John and Heather Starr.  If our inaugural visit is any indication, Starr Brothers Brewing is a rising star!

Starr Brothers Brewing
5700 San Antonio Drive, N.E., Suite B1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2752
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 May 2018
1st VISIT: 3 July 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding, Tender Steak, Pork Chops, Herbed Brie, Starr Burger, Starr Burrito with Fries, Greek Chicken, Mango Habanero Chicken Wings, Wedge Salad

Starr Brothers Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Black Bird Saloon – Los Cerrillos, New Mexico

The Black Bird Saloon in Beautiful Downtown Los Cerrillos

On a journey by train to San Francisco, New Mexico’s legendary award-winning author Tony Hillerman shared an observation car with businessmen from the East. As the spectacular Zuni Buttes, majestic Mount Taylor, breathtaking mesas and skies resplendent with monsoon thunderclouds passed in review, his heart was lifted and his worries dissipated. He then overheard one of the Easterners remark to the other, “My God, why would anybody live out here?” Hillerman’s immediate (though unspoken) thought was, “My God, why wouldn’t everyone want to live out here?”

As Hillerman’s experience clearly illustrates, one person’s “middle of nowhere” is another person’s idyllic paradise. Similarly, what some consider “nothing to do here” is the pace of life others spend their life pursuing. It’s a dichotomy of lifestyles not delineated by age or wealth, but by attitude and maturity. In my twenties, my perspective of Los Cerrillos, New Mexico would have been similar to that of the Easterners. Thirty years later, I echo Hillerman’s sentiment.  It dawned on me as I lounged under the shady porch in front of the Black Bird Saloon, my debonair dachshund The Dude by my side, that there was nowhere on God’s beautiful Earth I’d rather be at that moment in time.

The Black Bird Saloon Dining Room

In its halcyon days (1880 – 1900), Los Cerrillos was a rowdy, rollicking place with four hotels, twenty-one saloons, five brothels, several dance halls and shops catering to as many as 3,000 prospectors and miners who extracted gold, silver, lead, manganese, copper and turquoise from the crusty depths of the San Pedro Mountains and the Cerillos hills backdropping the town. By the turn of the twentieth century–fewer than twenty years after the hills had yielded nearly two-million dollars in turquoise–the once flourishing boom town had nearly faded into memory. Today, Los Cerillos is officially a “ghost town” (defined by Merriam-Webster as “a once-flourishing town wholly or nearly deserted usually as a result of the exhaustion of some natural resource.)”

In comparison to the bustle and pandemonium of its thriving wild west past, the unusually busy (a relative term) Saturday in which I visited was an exemplar of repose and quietude. A crowd of about twenty milled about at a small park where several trees were being planted and locals were ogling the treats at a two-table bake sale. Traffic–in equal measure of the pedestrian and vehicular variety–waved as they passed by on the washboard paved street in front of the Black Bird Saloon. It was very much reminiscent of Norman Rockwell’s America of a bygone age when the pace of life was slower and neighbors were friendlier.

Owner Patrick Torres Stands Behind the Bar

So were merchants, inn-keepers and saloon owners. Patrick Torres, genial proprietor of the Black Bird Saloon, would have fit in nicely in Norman Rockwell’s America. In between greeting guests and attending to their orders, he wandered out to the porch where we engaged in small-town discourse: the weather, local activities, who’s who in town. Local pride was very much in evidence. Patrick is originally from Gallup, but spent much of his working life toiling in Santa Fe. When he grew tired of the rat race, he did what most of us don’t have the smarts and gumption to do. He decided to slow down and enjoy life. He purchased the circa 1885 structure which he and his lovely bride Kelly would transform into the Black Bird Saloon.

Patrick and Kelly promised the Montoya family who had owned the building for eighty years that they would be respectful of its history and preserve its architectural appearance. Job well done! As you approach the saloon, you’re walking into the past, toward a way of life that bespeaks of yesteryear—not the yesteryear of rowdy roustabouts, but a yesteryear of neighbors who care about one another. Patrick greeted all passers-by by name, exchanging familial news and amiable wishes. It made me wistful for the days I spent in Cuchilla (a “suburb” of Peñasco) with my grandmother.

Camp Fire Folk Lore

The Cerrillos environs and the edifice which now houses the Black Bird Saloon have appeared in a number of movies including The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca , Young Guns, Young Guns II, and Vampires.  Vampires???  It certainly doesn’t take much to transform the Saloon into a credible old west movie backdrop.  The next time Hollywood films in the area, the cast and crew will have a great venue in which to unwind and enjoy surprisingly good and inventive cuisine prepared by Kelly Torres.  In the nearly thirteen months since the Saloon’s launch (13 April 2017), she’s continued to refine the menu.  Popular items remain.  Those which don’t move as quickly are replaced.   Locally sourced produce and meats are sourced locally to the extent possible.  

The menu, by way of the Corvids (members of the biological family Corvidae which include crows, ravens, magpies, jays, and other black birds) is as fun to read as it is exciting to contemplate all the deliciousness it promises.  Instead of the heading “Breakfast,” you’ll be ordering your wake-up grub from the “Ravens Wake-Up” Call section of the menu.  “Saloon Snacks & Salads” constitute the appetizers.  Main entrees reside on the “Bonanza” section of the menu while “Saddle Bag Sides” offer a phalanx of French fry options unlike any you’ve seen.  Menu items are named for old west landmarks and personalities (Black Jack Ketchum anyone?).

Game Trail Burger

29 April 2018: Visitors to the Black Bird Saloon who order the Camp Fire Folk Lore (grilled little elk and bison smokies, shishito peppers with smoked sea salt and Dijon mustard) may just tell a few tales of their own about this terrific starter.  Perhaps around a campfire of their own, they’ll be sharing their own hommage to the little elk and bison smokies, sourced from a very reliable vendor in South Dakota.  Dip or dunk them in the Dijon mustard or enjoy them sans condiments.  You’ll love them either way.  Folk lore will spread about Patrick and Kelly planting a few shishitos in their backyard and ending up with a treasure trove of these wonderful peppers with the aroma of roasted green chile and the piquancy of a bell pepper.  Kelly drizzles them in olive oil and adds a little sea salt.  They’re terrific.

29 April 2018: The “Bonanza” section of the menu lists a number of burger and sandwich options, including a garden of the gods (daily vegetarian) option.  Adventurous diners need not have a beef-based burger.  Not when the Saloon offers such enticing options as the Game Trail Burger (North American elk, Mizuna greens, blueberry mustard on a kaiser roll).  The menu had me at blueberry mustard, a condiment with sweet and spicy notes.  It’s so good you’ll want it on a slice or four of toast.  Mizuna greens also have a distinct flavor profile.  Described by Serious Eats as “peppery like arugula and slightly bitter like frisee, yet it’s milder and sweeter than either of the more commonly found salad greens,” it’s an eye-opener.  So is the North American elk, leaner and sweeter than beef.  Elk isn’t gamey in the least.  It’s a terrific option, one more restaurants should brave to offer.

Arnold & Stinson’s Market Plate

4 May 2018: Having been captivated by the tranquil village of Cerrillos and its superlative saloon, I couldn’t wait to return if only to find out if my initial impressions would be lasting ones.  They were!  At the table at which The Dude and I had previously sat, a young man and his elderly primo were regaling passers-by and guests with guitar, mandolin and accordion music, their deft fingers producing a beautiful interplay of soothing melodies that perfectly fit the time and place.  Two other guests and their own four-legged child invited us to join them at their table, a great alternative to occupying two stools around a wooden barrel.  We enjoyed their company immensely, sharing our mutual bounties.  Patrick told us we missed by a couple of days the local “donkey society” parading their donkeys around town.  It’s a sight we hope to see soon.   

In the 1880s, businessmen flocked to Cerrillos in pursuit of opportunities to line their pockets.  Among them were two marketeers by the names of Arnold and Stinson.  The terrific anthology Turquoise and Six Guns: The Story of Cerrillos, New Mexico describes their operation thusly: “To nourish the residents after a hard day in the mines, Arnold & Stinson’s Market unabashedly announced that “Our fresh choice meats and game in season act on the digestive organs in a manner most satisfactory, and we are warranted, if cooked as directed, to relieve that tired feeling.  There are hundreds of people who testify in glowing terms as to their superfine quality.” 

The Smelter Grilled Cheese

The Black Bird Saloon’s menu honors the pioneering marketeers with a starter named in their honor. The aforementioned appetizer for two could certainly have been written about the Arnold & Stinson’s Market Place starter.  Though we can’t testify as to the “most satisfactory manner” in which the market plate acted upon our digestive organs, we can certainly attest to the freshness and deliciousness of the game meats (buffalo summer sausage and cotto salami) and gourmet cheeses (Irish whiskey Cheddar and horseradish-chive Havarti) served with Kelly’s housemade blueberry mustard and grilled bread. This was a superb starter, each item complementing the other very nicely.  Our favorites were the horseradish-chive Havarti produced in Wisconsin.  Though the chives were overpowered by the fiery horseradish, the creaminess of the Havarti was a beautiful counterbalance.  The buffalo summer sausage was also quite rich and delicious, pairing surprisingly well with the blueberry mustard.

4 May 2018: Not that long ago, an inquiry by BOTVOLR about grilled cheese sandwiches launched an avalanche of comments with several respondents providing input as to where the Duke City’s best can be found.  It inspired my own search for the best grilled cheese in New Mexico.  My short list will certainly include the Black Bird Saloon’s Smelter Grilled Cheese (smoked trout, Irish whiskey Cheddar, Mascarpone, apple and onion jam on rustic bread).  Read that list of ingredients again.  Like you, we thought the smoked trout would probably be the most prominent flavor.  Instead, all ingredients melded together in such perfect harmony that while each component was discernible, none dominated.  This is an outstanding grilled cheese sandwich.  Now, will BOTVOLR make the pleasant trek to Cerrillos to try one?

Barbecue Pork Sandwich

4 May 2018: You never quite know what you’re going to get when you order a barbecue pork sandwich.  More often than not, it’s chopped pork or maybe pulled pork slathered in sauce and in some parts of the country, topped with a tangy coleslaw.  At the Black Bird Saloon, the barbecue pork sandwich, a special of the day, is so much more.  Instead of chopped or pulled pork, a half-inch thick grilled pork cutlet drapes over a kaiser roll.  Lacquered on lightly is a sweet sauce.  Between the kaiser buns, you’ll also find a mix of greens (arugula was prevalent), fresh tomatoes and red onions, not a coleslaw.  It’s a very good sandwich wholly unlike most barbecue sandwiches we’ve had. 

4 May 2018:  On the “Saddle Bag Sides” section of the menu, we were drawn to the simple sweet pickles, a jar brimming with impossibly thinly sliced cucumbers prepared in a sweet brine (vinegar, sugar, water, and spices).  With each stab of our forks, we extricated five or more of these paper-thin gems.  Unlike other sweet pickles we’ve had, there were no cloves discernible in the flavor notes (a plus).  These sweet pickles are reminiscent of the Thai cucumber salads typically served with satay though not quite as sweet.

Simple Sweet Pickles

4 May 2018: The Black Bird Saloon doesn’t offer many desserts, but if the pie in a jar is any indication, you should order dessert up front so the saloon doesn’t run out before you get yours.  Neither Patrick nor Kelly are pastry bakers, but a neighbor in Cerrillos most assuredly is.  That neighbor prepares all the Saloon’s desserts.  Her specialty is pie in a jar, but it’s not just one dessert.  She can prepare virtually every conventional pie and serve it in a jar.  Patrick explained she’s prepared key lime pie in a jar, peanut butter pie in a jar and the most popular, the chocolate pie in a jar.  A delicate Graham cracker crust lines the bottom of the jar while Graham cracker crumbs top the rich, delicious ganache.

Pie In a Jar

Cerrillos isn’t nearly as heavily trafficked as Madrid, its neighbor on the Turquoise Trail.  Nor is it as bustling and boisterous.  It’s a little piece of heaven for those of us who crave a return to simple solitude and tranquil settings.  The Black Bird Saloon fits right in.

Black Bird Saloon
28 Main Street
Cerillos, New Mexico
(505) 438-1821
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 May 2018
1st VISIT: 29 April 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Camp Fire Folk Lore, Game Trail Burger,
REVIEW #1039

Black Bird Saloon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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