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Friends of Gil (FOG) Dinner On Friday, April 10, 2015 and You’re Invited

M’Tucci’s Kitchina, site of FOG IV

Too many people eat just to consume calories.
Try dining for a change.
~John Walters

You are cordially invited to join the Friends of Gil (FOG) for una notte di divertimento at M’Tucci’s Kitchina on Friday, April 10th, 2015 at 7PM.  Join such foodie luminaries as event organizer Jim Millington and the Child Bride, Bob of the Village People, Bruce and Lady Grayce Shor, Debonair Dennis and Jaunty Jen for an evening of fun, frivolity, friendship and fabulous food.

If you’ve never been to M’Tucci’s Kitchina, you’re in for a real treat.  M’Tucci’s Kitchina is not only one of the best Italian restaurants in the Duke City, my friend and fellow gastronome Larry McGoldrick considers it one of the very best restaurants of any genre.  Executive Chef John Haas couples extraordinary talent with an ardent passion for the craft to create culinary masterpieces you’ll remember long after the evening is over. 

The FOG dinner will be held on the restaurant’s grotto which has a maximum seating capacity of 24 though Katie, our gracious host, tells us they can accommodate more by stretching it outside.  The caveat is we have to let her know on the day before the event, how many guests will be attending.  This will help M’Tucci’s manage the number of other reservations they take. 

If you would like to attend what promises to be a terrific evening, please respond to this posting.  A few days before the event, I’ll contact all respondents to confirm your attendance.  Please let us know you’ll be attending only if you’re absolutely certain you can make it.  It would be tremendously unfair of us to reserve more seats than we can actually fill.

Lucky Boy – Albuquerque, New Mexican

Sr. Plata stands in front of Albuquerque's Lucky Boy restaurant where East meets West and green chile cheeseburgers meet egg rolls.

Sr. Plata stands in front of Albuquerque’s Lucky Boy restaurant where East meets West and green chile cheeseburgers meet egg rolls.

During its seventh season, the X Files television series in which FBI agents investigated paranormal phenomena featured an episode in which a ravenous Lucky Boy employee in California struggled against his craving for human brain matter (almost anything goes in the Golden state). The most paranormal thing about the Duke City Lucky Boy is its “east meets west” dining concept. Nowhere else in town can you order Chinese and American food so inexpensively and from the very same menu.

If you think about it, ordering inexpensive Chinese and American food from within one menu shouldn’t be such an anomalous event–especially when you consider that many of Lucky Boy’s patrons are UNM students, many of whom know how to stretch a buck. It’s not just UNM students who patronize this hole-in-the-wall. You might just as soon find faculty and staff also indulging in inexpensive (but good) food.

Lucky Boy's genial proprietors hard at work.

Lucky Boy’s genial proprietors hard at work.

Lucky Boy is a quintessential American mom and pop  diner tended lovingly by Chinese proprietors named Suzy and Ron who know what many of their customers are going to order as soon as they walk in. You’ll do a second-take the first time you see a steaming wok preparing noodles next to the sizzling griddle on which burger patties are being cooked.  Lucky Boy has been around since 1968 and it shows.  The restaurant is somewhat bedraggled and is certainly dated with 1960s style paneling on the walls and well-trodden tile on the floor.

Lucky Boy’s green chile cheeseburger is six inches of well seasoned meat and standard (lettuce, pickles, tomato, onions) but high quality condiments, including a tangy Day-Glo colored mustard and ketchup sauce the proprietors refer to as Lucky Boy sauce. The green chile is flavorful and more piquant than at many New Mexican restaurants and proprietors of the green chile cheeseburger (Lotaburger comes to mind).  The buns are lightly toasted, but so thick they obfuscate the flavor of the burger. The beef patties have the telltale signs of having been frozen.  They’re also quite thin so you’ll want to order a double meat burger.  Lest I forget, expect your burger to be prepared at medium-well to well.  Despite these shortcomings, you might be surprised to find yourself craving one or three of them.

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Onion Cakes

Lucky Boy was one of 48 restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, cafes, roadside stands and bowling alleys selected for the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a celebration of New Mexico’s iconic burger.  When I proposed its entry to the four person team which put the Trail together, there was more than a little sniggering, but since then, several team members have expressed their appreciation for what is actually a pretty good green chile cheeseburger.  Being on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail placed it in select…make that elite, company.  It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call Lucky Boy’s green chile cheeseburger one of the city’s most popular, if not best of its genre.

The menu also includes an Egg Foo Young sandwich, a culinary curiosity served in St. Louis where it’s called a “St. Paul sandwich” and which you won’t find in Minnesota. At Lucky Boy, you can have the Egg Foo Yong sandwich alongside a hamburger beef patty and the condiments which normally accompany a burger (including the aforementioned Lucky Boy sauce, chile and green chile). It’s a great sandwich with or without the beef patty!  It’s become a favorite of my friend Sr. Plata.

Sr. Plata holds a Egg Foo Young sandwich with green chile, meat and cheese from Lucky Boy

Sr. Plata holds a Egg Foo Young sandwich with green chile, meat and cheese from Lucky Boy

Lucky Boy’s French fries are only so-so (fairly standard).  A better bet are onion cakes, which are rather dissimilar to the scallion pancakes served at many Chinese restaurants.  Their flavor profile is more akin to onion rings though much thicker and more heavily breaded.  Biting into the sweet onion is a treat, but you’ll have to get through the breading first.

While we’ve found the chocolate shakes to be rather gloppy and bland, Lucky Boy has managed to escape the slavitude of the Coke and Pepsi monopolies.  You can actually get an RC Cola (remember those?) or a Diet Rite soda in a can.  A can, by the way, is a much more sanitary way to indulge in soft drinks (another of my soapbox tirades saved for another day).

Egg Foo Young Sandwich with Green Chile, Meat and Cheese

Egg Foo Young Sandwich with Green Chile, Meat and Cheese

Chinese fare includes sweet and sour pork, Mandarin chicken and other American favorites. We’ve  observed that there’s almost a fifty/fifty split among patrons ordering burgers and Chinese food.  The sweet and sour chicken is pretty much what you’d expect for the pittance at which it’s offered.  It’s rather heavily breaded and topped with a lacquered-on orange sauce that emphasizes the sweet component of sweet and sour.  It’s not gourmet Chinese food, but it is what you expect and appreciate most when funds are low.

Lucky Boy is much more than an anomaly worth visiting only for the experiential aspect.  It serves a genuinely good green chile cheeseburger as well as other surprisingly good items.  You can’t beat the prices and the service is warm and genial.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Lucky Boy
3521 Constitution, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-2785
LATEST VISIT: 11 March 2015
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 18
COST: $
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Egg Foo Yong Sandwich

Lucky Boy on Urbanspoon

Philly’s N Fries – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Philly’s N Fries, formerly Itsa Italian Ice

But it’s a dry heat.”  You’ve probably seen that slogan emblazoned on tee-shirts depicting a sun bleached skeletal figure lying prostrate mere feet from a thirst-slaking, life-giving oasis.  You’ve gratefully expressed that sentiment every time Channel 13’s manic meteorologist Mark Ronchetti predicts yet another day of 90 degree plus weather as you rationalize that you could be in one of the South’s sweltering, sauna-like cities with temperatures comparable to our Duke City, but with 80 percent humidity.  You may even have muttered that phrase while scalding your feet as you scurry to a swimming pool the temperature of bath water.

For years, Albuquerque spelled relief from the oppressive heat “I-T-S-A” as in Itsa Italian Ice, a veritable oasis of cool refreshment on scalding New Mexico summer days.  Itsa was situated in a Lilliputian locale at Lomas and Washington, offering drive-up service for cavalcades of parched motorists.  The specialty at Itsa was a veritable phalanx of Italian ices, a flavor or more for each color on the ultraviolet spectrum.

Cantaloupe and Watermelon Italian Ice

Cantaloupe and Watermelon Italian Ice

Unlike snow cones and other ice desserts, all ingredients–typically water, sugar and flavoring–used in making Italian Ice are blended together prior to being frozen.  Italian ice is baby-butt smooth and soft while snow cones have a granular, crunchy texture and the flavoring is added afterwards.  Most Italian ice is made with sugar, not corn syrup and has neither fat nor milk products.  It is far more refreshing than ice cream, gelato, snow cones or shaved ice.  It is the paragon of frozen pleasure.

Much to the dismay of Duke City heat-stroke candidates, Itsa Italian Ice shuttered its doors in 1996, a year after we moved back to Albuquerque.  Though you could still find Itsa products on the frozen food aisles at some grocery stores, it just wasn’t the same experience as rolling down your window to place your order and experience glorious heat relief and blissful, flavorful, sweet satisfaction seconds later.

Nostalgia abounds at Itsa Italian Ice

Nostalgia abounds at Itsa Italian Ice

In 2006, Steve and Cathy Garcia purchased Itsa and procured a refrigerated trailer they could ferry to outdoor events throughout the dessert-dry Duke City.  Three years later they actualized their vision for their Italian ice business by launching Itsa Italian Ice on the corner of Second and Phoenix, N.W., two blocks north of Menaul.  The facility isn’t set up for drive-up service, but you’ll want to take a seat and linger for a while at the 50s themed full-service restaurant where now you can get not only your favorite Italian Ice, but hamburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, a Philly cheese steak, hand-cut French fries, Frito pies, Frontier cinnamon rolls and more. 

In February, 2015, Itsa Italian Ice was renamed Philly’s N Fries.  It’s not everyday a highly regarded and successful business tampers with an established brand identity, but the move was deemed necessary because (surprisingly) not everyone associated the name Itsa Italian Ice with food.  Then, of course, not everyone reads Food & Wine Magazine which, in October, 2010, featured Itsa in its Trendspotting segment.  No, they’re more apt to read Albuquerque the Magazine which spotlighted Itsa’s “better than Philadelphia Philly” in a feature entitled “The Ex-Pat’s Guide to Eating in Abq.”  The rename has proven very successful.

Double meat green chile cheeseburger with French fries

Double meat green chile cheeseburger with French fries

The panoply of Italian ice flavors includes lemon, watermelon, cantaloupe, lime, grape, black raspberry, tangerine, cherry, banana, blue moon (cotton candy) and chocolate.  The only flavor which  didn’t initially survive the decade plus was Root Beer, my very favorite flavor.  Fortunately, it was added to the menu in June, 2010.  It’s as wonderful as ever with a pronounced adult root beer flavor–strong and peppery.   Unlike some Italian Ices, these actually taste like the fruits (and chocolate) for which they are named. They are still as refreshing as a dip in a cold mountain lake.

Philly’s N Fries provides diners with a nostalgic trip back to a carefree, more innocent time before the infestation of chain restaurants.  Even if you’re not old enough to remember it, you’ll appreciate the sundry bric-a-brac from the Fabulous Fifties.  The Fifties theme starts with the black and white checkerboard tile of the era which blends thematically with the red and white kitchen-style chairs, brushed chrome tables, refurbished Conoco gasoline pump and on the northwest corner of the restaurant atop a vintage Pepsi machine, a bulky, boxy period era television set.

Green Chile Philly and French Fries

Although prices are hardly reminiscent of the 1950s (or 1996 for that matter), there are good meal deals on the menu.  Hamburger and hot dog combo meals (French fries and a soft drink with unlimited free refills) are a good bet for cost conscious consumers.  A regular ice goes for $2.50 while a large will put a slight dent in your wallet for two dollars more.  Still, this is Itsa Italian Ice we’re talking about and it’s worth it!

Philly’s N Fries doesn’t offer table-side service.  The friendly staff is ready to take your order at a counter and they’ll bring it to your table when it’s ready.  If there’s one thing reminiscent of the 50s (from what I’ve heard), it’s the service–friendly, accommodating and pleasant.  The service is enough to bring me back.  Steve and Cathy are among the most friendly restaurateurs in the Duke City.

Philly Cheesesteak at Itsa Italian Ice

Another View of the Fabulous Philly Cheesesteak (Photo courtesy of Sean O’Donnell)

Philly’s N Fries may be just as adept at satisfying the pangs of hunger as it is refreshing your thirst and you won’t go away hungry.  That’s especially true if you order the double-meat green chile cheeseburger, a behemoth on sesame seed buns.  Prepared at just a shade beyond medium, the beef patties are thick and juicy.  American cheese, lettuce, tomato and of course, green chile adorn the burger.

The green chile lacks the piquancy New Mexicans love on their favorite burger, but it’s got a nice flavor and the restaurant doesn’t scrimp on it.  The French fries are crisp inside and out, almost as if they’re fried twice in very hot oil.  These fries are fresh and hand-cut on the premises.  In a city in which most restaurants serve Oreida frozen French fries out of the bag, these fresh shoestring fries are a welcome change.

Nathan's Hot Dog

Nathan’s Hot Dog

Being a 50s themed restaurant, it’s only fitting that Philly’s N Fries offer a hot dog that was actually around in the 1950s.  Nathan’s Famous were first seen on the Coney Island boardwalk in 1916.  Not only have they stood the test of time, they’ve expanded nationwide and are available in grocery stores and food courts everywhere.  Despite being ubiquitous, Nathan’s hot dogs are a take it or leave it proposition with as many aficionados as there are detractors.  At Philly’s N Fries these fat all-beef dogs are griddled to a crispy exterior.  They’re browned outside but retain their juiciness inside.

During our inaugural visit, we overheard the owner tell a customer that Philadelphia natives who ordered Philly’s N Fries Philly Cheesesteak compared it to the one offered at Pat’s King of Steaks, arguably the City of Brotherly Love’s best cheesesteak.  I dismissed that as pride of ownership until Sean O’Donnell (the very entertaining former KOB FM radio personality), a Pennsylvania native told me he was “ecstatic” about finally finding “a place in town with a decent Philly Cheesesteak,” “a big deal for a PA transplant.” Considering Sean has steered me toward other great dining destinations, I place a lot of stock in his recommendation.

Itsa’s Frito Pie (Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik

It’s a well-founded recommendation.  the Philly Cheesesteak is terrific!  Sweet white onions are grilled to perfection, not caramelized, but on that fine line between being crispy and soft.  Green peppers are grilled to a slightly crunchy consistency.  Two slices of white American cheese are arranged on each sandwich and it’s a wonderfully creamy and nice melting cheese.  The meat is chopped thin on the grill (a melodic percussion) and is seasoned well; you won’t find any fat or sinew anywhere.  The bread is a soft receptacle for the contents and is quite good.  This isn’t a huge sandwich except in terms of flavor.

The only Philadelphia cheesesteak better in Albuquerque is the restaurant’s Green Chile Philly, a Philadelphia cheesesteak with New Mexican green chile.  Green chile makes everything taste better, especially when the chile has a piquant bite.  My friend “Señor Plata,” an aficionado of the Philadelphia cheesesteak ranks this sandwich even higher than his previous favorite at Petito’s Pizzeria in Rio Rancho.  The biggest difference, in his estimation, is the steak itself which isn’t shaved sliver-thin as at Petito’s.  It’s also not quite as lean which generally means just a bit of fat for flavor.  A Los Angeles native, Señor Plata has had the very best cheesesteak sandwiches America’s second largest city has to offer and he rates Philly’s N Fries higher.

New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie.  The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat.  Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it looks like a healthy lettuce and onion salad when it’s delivered to other tables.  Underneath the lettuce and chopped onions, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips.  It’s a classic New Mexican Frito pie.  Alas, the restaurant’s chile has a “canned” flavor with very little bite.  Canned chile is the best way to ensure I won’t indulge in this Frito fat-fest.

Dessert offerings include the aforementioned Italian ice as well as an old favorite, the Nutty Buddy.  Philly’s N Fries also carries the fabled Frontier rolls, those hot, buttery, gooey rolls of pure deliciousness with a cinnamon sugar glaze.  They pack a day’s worth of tooth-decaying, waist-expanding calories, the kind you love to consume.  Among the very best cinnamon rolls in the Land of Enchantment, they’re worth the extra time at the gym.

Italian Ice–it’s a refreshing, fat free, non dairy dessert that’s an Albuquerque tradition now energizing and winning over yet another generation of thirsty, overheated residents. The green chile Philly cheesesteaks are the very best in Albuquerque (certified by experts like Sr. Plata) and the service is warm and hospitable.

Philly’s N More
215 Phoenix Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2015
1ST VISIT: 1 May 2009
# OF VISITS: 15
RATING: 21
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Double meat green chile cheeseburger, French fries, Italian Ice, Hot Dog, Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, Green Chilly Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, Frontier Roll

Itsa Italian Ice on Urbanspoon