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The Spot Cafe – Corrales, New Mexico

The Spot Cafe in Corrales, New Mexico

Big Bang Theory wunderkind Sheldon Cooper has a spot he describes as the “singular location in space around which revolves my entire universe.”  That spot is the left side of his couch, a location he has placed “in a state of eternal dibs.”  In scientific terms, Sheldon relates his spot as “a single point of consistency in an ever-changing world.”  His attachment to that one spot borders on obsession, but he’s not the only television character that possessive of his spot.

In television comedies, characters have always had their favorite spots and show little tolerance for anybody who tries to sit in them.  Cheers barflies Norm Peterson and Cliff Claivin had their favorite bar stools.  Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza and Cosmo Kramer always sat at their favorite table at Monk’s Diner.  Heaven help anyone who sat on Archie Bunker’s favorite chair, the most famous and only one of the aforementioned spots on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Interior of the Spot Cafe

Television personalities are often based on and mimic real life characters.  As such, it will be interesting to see what Corrales resident will develop an attachment to a favorite spot at its newest eatery (as of May, 2014), fittingly named The Spot.  That’s an appropriate appellation for a cafe which promises to be a very popular gathering spot in the heart of the village.  The Spot opened its doors in May, 2014 and is open for breakfast and lunch every day but Tuesday from 7AM until 3PM. 

The Spot occupies the spot previously held by the Oasis Cafe within the Village Plaza, an 11,000 square-foot complex just north of the Corrales fire station.  At the help are Aaron and Deb Worrell, veteran restaurateurs with more than two decades in the industry.  In addition to The Spot, the couple own and operate two Aaron’s Sandwich Time restaurants in the Duke City.  It goes without saying, therefore, that sandwiches are part and parcel of the cafe’s menu.

Milk Shakes made from Blue Bell Ice Cream

Interestingly, the cafe’s ambiance bespeaks fine dining with linen tablecloths, cloth napkins and table service but the menu is more akin to an over-the-counter operation with an emphasis on contemporary comfort food at great prices. It’s an inviting menu both during breakfast and lunch.  Start the morning off with build-your-own omelets, panini-stuffed French toast, breakfast sandwiches and a nice line-up of breakfast burritos.  Sandwiches and burgers highlight the lunch menu, but no ordinary burgers are these.  A one-half pound Angus beef burger is available with your choice of toppings and is prepared to your exacting specifications.

Reason enough to visit The Spot are the housemade milk shakes made from Blue Bell ice cream, arguably the best ice cream in America.  When we moved from Mississippi to Albuquerque, Blue Bell ice cream was what we missed most–even more than blackened redfish and oysters.  The Spot’s milk shakes remind us why.  The Dutch Chocolate milk shake is rich and creamy with an adult dark chocolate flavor and a decadent fudge swirl.  The Spot offers a number of different Blue Bell flavors, all on display in a freezer.  You’ll want to try them all.

Green Chile Steak Melt with Sweet Potato Fries

10 May 2014: Over the years, my friends and I have, like Indiana Jones in pursuit of historical treasure, trekked throughout the city in pursuit of the best green chile Philly.  Only a handful (the very best being from Itsa Italian Ice) meet our exceedingly high standards.  The Spot’s green chile steak melt ranks right up there with them.  It’s a sandwich Philadelphia would be proud to call its own.   This gem of a sandwich is constructed from very high quality ingredients: tri-tip steak, a full-flavored, low fat content cut of steak; red, green and yellow peppers; caramelized onions and plenty of New Mexico green chile on your choice of bun (including one impregnated with green chile).

10 May 2014: Half-pound Angus burgers, with your choice of toppings, are sure to please the most discerning of burgerphiles.  The list of toppings options truly allows you to have it your way.  My way was with green chile, bacon and cheese along with the standard toppings of lettuce and tomato.  Not surprisingly, the Angus beef patty is very flavorful courtesy of nicely marbled beef prepared at a juicy medium.  Served on a green chile bun, this burger warrants further exploration with different toppings.  It’s a good one.

“Kobe” Burger with Baked Beans

10 May 2014: Sandwiches and burgers are available with a number of sides including sweet potato fries and baked beans.  The baked beans are terrific, so good I wiped them out before even trying the burger.  Unlike far too many baked beans, these are not candy cloying, but have a depth of flavors that’s very enjoyable and which might transport you to memories of barbecues.  The sweet potato fries are also quite good.

13 July 2014: When my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, declared The Spot’s biscuits and gravy “the best I have ever had.  Anyplace.  Perfection,” it created a dilemma for me.  Biscuits and gravy border on traumatizing, the result of having been subjected in Air Force cafeterias to absolutely horrible renditions of this popular Southern breakfast staple.   On the other hand, when Larry is as passionate about a dish as he is The Spot’s biscuits and gravy, you’re well advised to try it…and soon.

Biscuits and Gravy–quite possibly the best in New Mexico (if not the universe)

13 July 2014: Biscuits and gravy combine various textures and flavors into each bite, making it a deliciously diverse, palate pleasing breakfast entree. Crumbled sausage links enliven the flavor of a tasty milk, flour and butter-based gravy served over three split biscuits topped with two eggs made the way you want them. The fluffy, steamy interior of the split biscuits coupled with the sturdy biscuit exterior are a perfect repository for the smooth, delicious body of the sausage gravy.  The eggs (Larry likes them over-easy) blanket the biscuits and provide runny yoke deliciousness.  This dish is served on a “too hot to handle” skillet.

13 July 2014: While the standard breakfast menu includes waffles, there’s just something special about the combination of chicken and waffles.  It’s a combination which has become increasingly popular in the Food Network age.  Several Duke City restaurants serve fairly standard versions.  The Spot stands out for its unique take on this Belgian culinary specialty.  To truly appreciate this entree, available with or without bones, ask for the honey-BBQ glaze instead of the standard waffle syrup.  The honey-BBQ glaze is reminiscent of sauces used on Asian dishes–not the sweet and sour type of sauce, but the sauces which impart proportionate measures of sweet, savory and tart flavors.  It’s probably not everybody’s cup of sauce, but adventurous types will enjoy it. The chicken itself is perfectly fried with a golden crust.

Chicken and Waffles

In time, The Spot Cafe promises an even more inviting menu, one replete with comfort food favorites diners will appreciate. This is a restaurant which just might become your spot.

The Spot Cafe
4940 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 899-7768
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT:  13 July 2014
1st VISIT: 10 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Wagyu Burger, Baked Beans, Chile Melt, Sweet Potato Fries, Milk Shakes, Chicken and Waffles, Biscuits and Gravy

The Spot Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Safari Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Safari Grill launched in June, 2014

“The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what’s right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become.”
~ Africa by Toto

Shrouded in mist and steeped in myth and mystery, Mount Kilimanjaro attracts visitors from all over the world.  Often called “the roof of Africa,” the towering, snow-capped, conically-shaped mountain is the crown jewel of the United Republic of Tanzania.  At 19,340 feet, the magnificent freestanding peak commands the skies, looming over the plains of the bushveld savannah like a majestic sovereign keeping vigilant watch over her people. 

Majestic as it may be, Mount Kilimanjaro is far from Tanzania’s sole travel destination.  The country boasts of dozens of beautiful white sandy beaches such as those found in the island of Zanzibar.  A number of national parks, conservation areas and game reserves allow visitors to get up close and personal with lions, leopards, elephants, cheetah, giraffes, zebras,  jackals and thousands of migratory birds.  Tanzania is also one of Africa’s most popular safari destinations.

The Restaurant’s Interior Might Just Transport you to Tanzania

Now, safaris need not entail hunting animals in their natural habitat and trophies need not be stuffed and mounted.   Set against a backdrop of unrivaled natural beauty makes Tanzania one of the greatest wildlife photography safari destinations on the planet.  Photography safaris reward participants with an incomparable portfolio of wildlife and landscape images they’ll cherish for a long time. 

Whatever your reasons are for visiting Tanzania, you’ll also find the cuisine to be memorable and delicious.  The food culture of Tanzania is a fusion of Indian, Middle Eastern, and local African ingredients and cooking techniques. Knowing this, you might not do a double-take when you see chapatti and samosas on a menu at a Tanzanian restaurant and you’ll certainly discern the spices and aromatics of India when you taste the curries.

A very generous sample includes Samosas, Zucchini Chips, Calamari and a Variety of Sauces

The spirit and cuisine of Tanzania are alive and well in Albuquerque thanks to the June, 2014 launch of The Safari Grill on Albuquerque’s burgeoning far west side.  The Safari Grill occupies the space which previously housed California Pastrami, The Chili Stop and the Bombay Grill.  If the exterior architecture seems more befitting of a Chinese restaurant than an African-Indian restaurant, that’s because the edifice’s original tenant was indeed a long defunct Chinese eatery. The Safari Grill occupies the western-most section of the building, a small space accommodating but a handful of tables.

Before there was a Safari Grill, there was the Safari Street Grill, a food truck often parked at some of the city’s breweries which don’t serve food.  The Safari Street Grill gained a significant following, in some cases becoming the primary reason some patrons visited those breweries.  While not all mobile eatery operators aspire to diversifying their offerings by launching a brick and mortar operation, after nearly five years, the Safari Street Grill left the streets and settled into a cozy space.

Goat Stew with Rice

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say the Safari Grill’s new digs aren’t significantly larger than its mobile predecessor.  In a Lilliputian space offering limited seating, the Safari Grill has already established a fairly robust take-out operation.  Your first visit, however, should be an eat-in venture so you can interact with one of the most friendly and attentive families to operate a restaurant in Albuquerque.  The family is justifiably proud of the cuisine of their Tanzanian homeland and will bend over backwards to ensure you have a great dining experience. 

Your first visit should also include intrepid friends who’ll order something adventurous and don’t mind sharing their bounty.  For our inaugural visit we were joined by Hannah and Edward, themselves prolific food bloggers as well as nonpareil podcasters. Together we set off on a dining safari, exploring and experiencing as wide a swathe across the menu as we possibly could.  A fairly impressive menu belies the restaurant’s diminutive digs.

All beef short ribs

True to the restaurant’s name, featured fare includes a number of char-grilled entrees, each created from fresh prime cuts of meats marinated for more than 24 hours to ensure the peak of flavor.  For fire-eaters, sauces are applied before, during and after the grilling process to ensure the meats “bring the heat.”  Unless otherwise requested, all meats are cooked to Medium.   

Your introduction to your dining safari should begin with a sampler platter, one featuring each of the three Indian-style samosas: veggie, marinated chicken and beef.   Samosas are delectable, triangle-shaped savory pastries stuffed with a variety of spiced ingredients and having a delightfully crispy exterior.  The Safari Grill serves them with a variety of housemade sauces: green chile, red chile, tamarind chutney and coconut chutney.  All three samosas are a real treat either by themselves or with the sauces, among which the green chile packed a piquant punch.

Curry Corn

Our sampler platter also included zucchini chips served with Ranch dressing and calamari served with cocktail sauce.  Shaped rather like Coke bottle tops, the zucchini chips are lightly battered then fried to a golden hue.  Though not quite al dente, the zucchini chips are moist and crisp.  The calamari strips are light and delicate, wholly unlike the rubbery ringlet-shaped calamari.  The only appetizer we didn’t sample were the tandoori-style “elevated” wings. 

For many people the world over, stew is the ultimate comfort food.  The special of the day during our inaugural visit was goat stew with rice, a rich, filling and nicely spiced exemplar of comfort food stews.  Long and slow simmering renders the goat meat falling-off-the-bone tender.  That’s an absolute necessity because there are a lot of bones in goat stew.  This allows for long, loving lingering of every morsel.

Indian-Style Fish and Chips with Sliced Sauteed Potatoes

The all-beef short ribs, available in quantities of three, six or a dozen, will probably remind you of Korean beef kalbi without the sweet barbecue sauce.  The Safari Grill’s short ribs are marinated and seasoned to imbue them with bold, addictive flavors.  You’ll enjoy gnawing on each meaty morsel of these finger-licking ribs though it may take more than a half dozen to sate you.  Fortunately all entrees come with your choice of one side. 

The consensus best side from among the four we enjoyed was the curry corn.  While corn is often thought of as a summer dish, it’s transformed into a dish for all seasons with the addition of a hearty curry.  Each sweet corn niblet is punctuated with mildly spicy, wonderfully pungent and delightfully aromatic curry.  Curry corn is an idea whose time has come.  It’s a wonderful departure from buttered corn.

Curried Chickpea and Potato Stew with Lays Potato Chips

The Safari Grill’s unique twist to classic “fish and chips” features two filets of somewhat thickly-battered salmon fused with East Indian flavors served with lightly pan-fried, seasoned sliced potatoes.  Perhaps attributable to high heat, the salmon is just a bit on the desiccated side, but it’s still light and delicate.  The sliced sauteed potatoes are a highlight, especially with a little bit of the green chile. 

As a precocious child, I often experimented with food, adulterating dishes otherwise lacking in personality with sundry ingredients.  Crumbled potato chips on pinto beans was among my favorites.  I’d long thought only children liked crumbling potato chips on their food, but at the Safari Grill, one dish actually encourages it.  Who are we to argue with savvy cooks.  That dish is the curried chickpea and potato stew which is actually served with a side of Lays potato chips.  The staff calls it an Indian Style Frito Pie.  You’ll call it surprisingly good.

Fruit Cup Sorbet

The menu features only one dessert, but it’s a good one.  The fruit cup sorbet dessert features fruit “cups” made from actual fruit shells: a pineapple shell for pineapple sorbet, a coconut shell for coconut sorbet, a lemon shell for pomegranate sorbet and a hollowed-out orange half for mango sorbet.  Unlike some sorbets, these taste like the fruits they’re supposed to be. They’re served chilled and provide a wonderful respite from the sweltering summer heat. 

With a little imagination, the Safari Grill could become your own culinary safari adventure on the Serengeti with an exotic and delicious cuisine all adventurous diners will enjoy.

The Safari Grill
3600 Hwy 528, Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 897-0505
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 12 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Appetizer Sampler (Samosas, Calamari, Zucchini Chips), Goat Stew, Curry Corn, Curried Chickpea and Potato Stew, Fruit Cup Sorbet, Indian-Style Fish and Chips, All Beef Short Ribs

The Safari Grill on Urbanspoon

Magdalena Cafe – Magdalena, New Mexico

The Magdalena Cafe and Steakhouse

In 1863 during the height of the Civil War, soldiers on leave from Fort Craig staked claims to silver strikes in the Magdalena Mountains.  Within a few years, the boom towns of Kelly and Magdalena had sprung up, eventually achieving a population surpassing even Socorro, the county seat.  The first veins of metal ore given up by the rocky promontories were lead and zinc, but ultimately silver became the principal source of wealth. 

With the arrival of the railroad in 1884, Magdalena became a rowdy frontier mining town and one of the Southwest’s largest cattle shipping centers with its stockyards processing thousands of cattle and sheep.  Magdalena became known as the “Trails End” because the spur line which originated in Socorro had its terminus in the town named for the likeness of Mary Magdalene on a nearby slope.  The railroad transported cattle, sheep, wool, timber and wool.  It also transported carloads of ore to a smelter outside of Socorro.

Dining Room at the Magdalena Cafe and Steakhouse

No vestiges of the railroad remain, but it’s easy to imagine how spectacular the 20 meandering miles from Socorro to Magdalena must have been by train.  That’s because Highway 60 approximates the route of the railroad line nicknamed “the elevator” because it climbed two-thousand feet in roughly sixteen miles.  Highway 60 snakes its way past dramatic gorges, impressive boulders and large cattle ranches to emerge on the plains outside Magdalena.  It’s a magnificent drive. 

Today, instead of metalliferous lodes, Magdalena’s principal source of richness just may be its deep appreciation of its history and traditions.  Several historic buildings–including the railroad depot which has been repurposed as the town’s city hall and library–have survived, some serving as homes to active businesses or private homes.  Every year on the second weekend of July, Magdalena hosts its “Old Timers Reunion,” a three-day event celebrating the “good ole days” with such events as a rodeo, parade, street dance, arts and crafts and barbecue.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Situated roughly at the geographical center of Socorro County, Magdalena can also boast of a presence on the prestigious New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a distinction the Magdalena Cafe shares with two other Socorro county purveyors of the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct sandwich.  Magdalena is little more than half an hour away from San Antonio, New Mexico, the home of the world-famous Owl Cafe and the nearly-as-famous Buckhorn Tavern. but its green chile cheeseburger has yet to achieve the fame of its burger brethren.  Attribute that to the perception that Magdalena an “out-of-the-way” and “off-the-beaten path” destination. 

Adventurous diners who do trek to Magdalena will be rewarded with a spectacular drive to a beautiful frontier town which embraces its history and embodies hospitality.  They’ll also discover a green chile cheeseburger which some say rivals its Socorro county counterparts for sheer deliciousness.  The Magdalena Cafe sits on Main Street, not quite a block south of Highway 60.  Though it didn’t launch until 1986, the building housing the Cafe dates from the turn of the twentieth century.

Ground Beef Tacos

While its full appellation is Magdalena Cafe & Steakhouse, the Cafe has somewhat abbreviated serving hours with very distinct breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.  Dinner is when steak makes it onto the menu, but dinner is served only on Thursday and Friday nights from 5PM to 7PM.  Breakfast and lunch are served Monday through Saturday from 7AM to 1:30PM.   The menus offer a hearty repast befitting all hungry and weary road-warriors. It includes burgers, hot sandwiches, milk shakes, steaks, homemade pies and so much more. 

The green chile cheeseburger is nearly the size of one of the Very Large Array’s (only 24 miles away) antennas and unlike some burgers, you won’t need a radio astronomy observatory to find the beef.  The hand-formed ground beef patty extends beyond the six-inch buns and probably weighs in at eight or nine ounces.  At medium-well, it’s still got plenty of juices and flavor.  The green chile is sourced from Sichler Farms during chile harvesting season. It’s a very nicely roasted chile with a discernible, but not overpowering, bite. Standard toppings include lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions.   This five-napkin burger takes a backseat to no other burger, not even its neighbors to the east.  It’s a top tier green chile cheeseburger in its own right…and as if a behemoth burger isn’t enough, an order of French fries is nearly the size of a cord of wood.

Banana Split Pie

After Bob of the Village People commented about a taco shell “with a 1/2 inch flat bottom so Mamacitas could easily sit it on the food prep board to easily fill it,” it dawned on me that I’d never had such a hard-shelled travesty (largely because my preference is for soft-shelled tacos and hard-shelled tacos were invented by Taco Bell).  By sheer coincidence, an a la carte order of two tacos at the Magdalena Cafe was constructed from the flat-bottom shells Bob mentioned.  The flat-bottom not only makes filling these tacos easier, it allows for more filling.  In this case, a generous amount of seasoned ground beef, lettuce, chopped tomatoes and shredded cheese.   As hard-shelled tacos go, these were quite good, especially when salsa is applied.

Not only is the Magdalena Cafe within easy driving distance of New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger Mecca, it’s less than an hour from the Land of Enchantment’s fabled Pie Town.  If the New Mexico Tourism Department ever decides to create a “Pie Trail,” the Magdalena Cafe belongs among the pantheon of peerless pies.  An apple pie is featured fare daily, but the menu also includes a mouthwatering selection of fruit and non-fruit fresh-baked goodness.  My request for my server to “surprise me” actualized with a slice of banana split pie.  That’s banana split, not banana cream.  Whatever image you might be contriving as to what this pie  might be will fall shortAtop a perfectly crumbly crust is a layer of sliced bananas topped with a luscious chocolate filling and whipped cream. It’ll make a convert out of you.

The Magdalena Cafe is the quintessential small town cafe in a small town every New Mexican should visit at least once (though a return trip is ensured after one visit and one meal).

Magdalena Cafe
109 Main Street
Magdalena, New Mexico
(575) 854-2696
LATEST VISIT: 9 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Ground Beef Tacos, Banana Split Pie, Lemonade

Magdalena Cafe on Urbanspoon