Slapfish – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Slapfish, a Modern Seafood Shack

Every year, a jolly, bearded (some might also say fat) gentleman leaves the comforts of his home to celebrate an event that comes only once a year. Throughout the year he’s visited good little mom-and-pop restaurants across the Land of Enchantment and rewarded them with kind reviews wrapped in polysyllabic words and alliterative phrases. On this special day, my Kim’s birthday, the bearded gentleman isn’t quite as jolly for as faithful readers know, once a year I agree to take my cookie-baking bride to the Olive Garden. It’s a deal we have, albeit one that makes me feel like Faust in the Christopher Marlowe play. Faust, for the non-English majors among you was a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. In my case, the deal is a visit to Olive Garden once a year in exchange for all the strange and exotic restaurants I want to visit the rest of the year. I sure got the rotten end of that deal.

On 28 October 2017, my Kim decided to collect my soul, er….have me make good on my promise and take her to the Olive Garden (which she doesn’t like nearly as much as she likes the annoyance it brings me at the mere thought of visiting a chain restaurant). In the traditional deal with the devil motif of literature and cinema, when Satan comes to collect the witless pawn’s immortal soul, the pawn begs, bribes, cajoles and barters to no avail. Unlike the pawn, however, I had one barter up my sleeve. “Rather than the Olive Garden, wouldn’t you rather go to a better chain restaurant, one which purports to serve lobster rolls, ostensibly like the ones with which you fell in love in Maine?,” I pleaded. “If you’re talking about Slapfish, I’m game,” she replied. Phew, a reprieve for at least another year.

A cup of Clam Chowder

As with an increasing number of brick-and-mortar restaurants, Slapfish got its start as a mobile food kitchen (that’s food truck for you, Bob). In 2012, the founding owners hit the brakes on their mobile operation and launched their first sit-down restaurant in Huntington Beach, California. A scant five years later, Slapfish has restaurant locations across California, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and even South Korea and London with plans to open fifty locations in six states (as of 2016). If past performance is a predictor of future success, the sky’s the limit for Slapfish, a fast-casual seafood shack offering a seasonally-driven menu showcasing responsibly sourced, fresh and healthy seafood. Slapfish, by the way, is an onomatopoeia (words that imitate a sound) for the sound fresh fish make while slapping around the dock.

New Mexico’s sole Slapfish location, a 2,000-square-foot space with two dog friendly patios, is located at the Holly Center (also home to newcomer Blaze Pizza, Tamashi Sushi, Tropical Smoothie and Jersey Mike’s) in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. Slapfish celebrated its grand opening on October 7th and boasts of “fresh as coastal seafood” and a “sea-to-table concept.” A second Duke City location is in the planning stage. Though now ensconced in a brick-and-mortar edifice, there’s one hold-over element from Slapfish’s days as a food truck. You have to place your order at a counter, above which a fairly minimalist menu displays featured fare along with specials of the day.

Lobster Taquitos

“Must Have” (Slapfish’s term, not necessarily mine) selections headline the menu. These are the appetizers, some of which are rather intriguing. Among the more interesting offerings are the chowder fries (natural-cut fries smothered in creamy clam chowder and bacon) and lobster taquitos drizzled with “awesome sauce.” A “daily fish” is on the menu every day and it served in a salad, as a sandwich or as a bowl (with two sides). Main (and in some cases Maine) entrees are displayed on the “Signatures” menu. The lobster roll isn’t shown online, but it was available on the day of our inaugural visit, albeit at “market price.” Sides include housemade pickles (pickled or fried), some of the best we’ve had in Albuquerque. Fountain drinks are of the Maine Root handcrafted beverages brand.

In retrospect (and hindsight is always 20/20) we should have had the chowder fries. Instead, we ordered just one component of those chowder fries—the clam chowder—and did so only after verifying that it’s New England style clam chowder, not Manhattan style. There’s a huge difference. An overfilled cup of steaming hot chowder was replete with a generous amount of bacon bits, bite-sized red potatoes and well, not many (if any) clams (perhaps we should have asked Forrest Fenn to organize a treasure hunt to find them). As a bacon chowder, this cup was satisfying, but we didn’t order a bacon chowder. We ordered a clam chowder. Also conspicuous by their absence are the traditional New England style oyster crackers which typically accompany clam chowder throughout New England.

Lobster Ramen Burrito

Much more satisfying were the lobster taquitos drizzled in awesome sauce. Though the term “awesome sauce” has a fingernails on a chalkboard effect on some people, to others it’s become a catchphrase synonymous with “excellent” or “extremely good.” It could be argued that these taquitos (two per order) are more akin to a chimichanga because the tortilla is fried or even closer to an egg roll than a taquito, but what can’t be disputed is that they’re pretty darned good.  For under seven dollars, we didn’t expect an engorgement of lobster and our expectations were met.  What little lobster there was had a fresh and delicious.  The awesome sauce (an orange smoked chile sauce) is a nice touch.  It doesn’t have the type of heat a New Mexico chile-based sauce would have, but it’s got a pleasant personality.

Birthday or not, my Kim always orders first. Indicative of how little I understand women, I thought she’d surely order a lobster roll.   After all, she couldn’t get enough of them during our last visit to Maine. Instead, however, she ordered a shrimp ramen burrito. Yep, you read that correctly. A shrimp ramen burrito. She redeemed herself a little by asking for lobster instead of shrimp, a twelve-dollar upcharge.  So what exactly is a lobster ramen burrito?  Picture a flour tortilla engorged with ramen noodles, spinach and sizeable chunks of lobster meat from the tail and claws.  She used her fork to extricate the lobster which she dipped into warm butter and she slurped up the noodles, but basically left the tortilla shell alone.  After more than two decades in New Mexico, she still won’t eat “store-bought” tortillas and finds the term “hand-held” not applicable when it comes to burritos.

Lobstah Roll

Because my Kim didn’t order the lobster roll, it freed me up to be able to do so.  At first glance, it did bear a resemblance to the boatsful of lobster rolls I consumed in my years in Massachusetts.  Lobster meat from the tail and claws piled atop a split top roll.  Alas, there wasn’t much lobster inside the fluffy roll which was grilled and toasted to a lightly crispy exterior.  A light, sweet dressing (thankfully not gobs of mayo) and celery salt dress the lobster meat.  The lobster, while delicate and sweet, had a slightly stringy texture–discernible to us because we’ve devoured so much lobster.  Perhaps, Slapfish is still trying to figure out the nuances of high-altitude cooking.

In an interview with Forbes, founder Andrew Gruel admitted he “wanted to run the Chipotle of seafood.”  Despite some small foibles, it’s much better than Chipotle.  It’s inventive seafood the likes of which Albuquerque hasn’t seen before.

Slapfish Restaurant
6400 Holly Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-1645
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Clam Chowder, Lobster Roll, Lobster Taquitos

Slapfish Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

TFK Smokehouse & Art Barn – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The TFK Smokehouse, No Longer Just on Wheels

Every summer, a predictable ritual takes place. After hibernating comfortably since the previous autumn, men attired in aprons emblazoned with the slogan “kiss the cook” will selflessly volunteer to “cook” a meal. This, of course, means barbecue, a decidedly masculine affectation and the only type of cooking most men can be entrusted to do. When this ritual is completed and guests are sated, lavish praise and thanks are heaped upon the “chef.” In truth, the only aspects of this ritual for which men are typically responsible is getting the grill lit, placing the meats on the grill and turning them (after our female better halves warn us that the meats are burning). Normally all the preparatory work—buying the food; preparing the salad, vegetables and desserts; preparing the meat for cooking; organizing plates and cutlery; preparing the plates—is done by our wives and girlfriends. Ditto for the post-dining rituals—clearing the table, doing the dishes and putting everything away. Insouciant clods that men are, we can’t figure out why our ladies are upset when we asked how they enjoyed their “night off.”

While most of us endowed with the XY-chromosome pairing can identify with the scenario described above (which some women might find entirely accurate), Katie Calico and her husband Chris White have a more egalitarian relationship when it comes to the barbecue ritual. The two own and operate the TFK Smokehouse, an endeavor which requires equally exhausting effort from both of them. We first observed them prepare then serve meals out of their barbecue mothership, one of the very best mobile food kitchens (food truck for you, Bob) an endeavor which nearly wore us out. They performed the same type of prep work the brick-and-mortar restaurants do, but they did so in a much more confined space, a food truck other food truck vendors refer to as “The Cage” for its mix of industrial meets artistic design.

My Friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott (in his Ugly Denver Broncos Shirt) Stands by the TFK Smoker

TFK, by the way, doesn’t stand for “Truck Food Kitchen” as we had surmised before meeting Katie. It stands for “Talking Fountain Kitchen,” in honor of Katie’s erstwhile venture, Talking Fountain Gallery and Boutique. Before launching the TFK Smokehouse in November, 2013, Katie owned and operated the gallery on Lead Avenue. She explained that “talking fountains” don’t speak on their own; for centuries, fountains have served as meeting places in which citizens of Rome could express themselves—even during Mussolini’s regime. The idea of expressing yourself any way you can resonated deeply with Katie who continues in that spirit even though her primary focus has expanded to now include the culinary arts.

The TFK Smokehouse is reflective of the creativity formerly on display at her gallery. Once a flatbed trailer sporting stainless steel tables, the Smokehouse underwent a significant make-over. Many of the display fixtures and racks from the defunct art gallery were repurposed for the truck along with other artistic treasures. The result is a rather unique food truck that belies any stereotypes you may have about food trucks…at least in terms of appearance. From a functional standpoint, however, the Smokehouse is everything you would expect a great food truck to be. The aromas wafting from this mobile conveyance are akin to smoke signals beckoning you to sample the fruit wood-perfumed fare.

Burqueño Cheesesteak with Coleslaw

When we asked to which style the Smokehouse subscribes from among the four regional pillars of American barbecue (Memphis, Texas, Kansas City, Carolinas), Chris told us they employ the St. Louis style of barbecue. On a per capita basis, St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce than any city in the nation and boasts of former world barbecue champion Super Smokers among other purveyors of outstanding barbecue. He added that the influence of molasses is readily apparent on their sauce. It’s also apparent that savvy diners keep track of where the Smokehouse will be parked. In the time it took us to finish our lunch, dozens of diners had queued up and ordered food either to go or to consume at one of La Cumbre Brewing Co’s shaded picnic tables.

3 June 2017: In that time, the most frequently ordered item appeared to be the Burqueno Cheesesteak (smoked prime rib with grilled onions, green chile and Asadero cheese on a toasted baguette). In this town only the transcendent green chile Philly from Philly’s N’ Fries is even in the same ballpark as this behemoth sandwich. Several elements make this a special sandwich. First and foremost, it really is made with prime rib, not some inferior cut of beef. That prime rib is lightly smokes so as not to detract from the native deliciousness of that cut. Secondly, the green chile actually bites back. You probably won’t be reaching for water (unless you’re from Colorado), but you’ll definitely get a little endorphin rush. Third, the toasted baguette is courtesy of Albuquerque’s premier bakery, Golden Crown Panaderia. No one in this town knows bread as well as Pratt and Chris Morales.

BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich

3 June 2017: On the date of our inaugural visit, the Smokehouse menu featured six sandwiches, each served with a side item (your choice of cole slaw, potato salad or kettle chips).  Roasted green chile can be added to any barbecue sandwich for a dollar more.  It’s a very worthwhile investment especially with the BBQ beef brisket sandwich (smoked beef brisket on a bed of cole slaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet BBQ sauce on a toasted bolillo roll.  This is a very good sandwich with contrasts (the crunchy, tangy cole slaw and the sweet sauce, for example) which work very well together.  The brisket is shredded into tender tendrils of moist, juicy beef.  True to its genesis, the St. Louis style sauce is very much on the sweet side.  Thankfully other elements provide a nice counterbalance.

3 June 2017: For lesser appetites, the Smokehouse offers “pint” sized barbecue sandwiches for about half the price of the standard-sized sandwiches.  These pint-sized treasures are available in your favorite meats (brisket, pork, chicken).  A vegetarian-friendly sandwich christened the Bella (balsamic-glazed portabella mushrooms on a bed of coleslaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet sauce on a toasted bolillo roll) is another superb option.  The balsamic glaze imparts vinegary notes that work very well with the sweet sauce.  The portabella mushrooms have a meaty texture and earthy flavor, but it’s just a bit obfuscated by the sauce. 

Pint-Size BBQ Bella Sandwich with Potato Salad

On Wednesday, 3 October 2017, the mobile smokehouse with a siren-like appeal launched a brick-and-mortar operation in the cute big red barn that previously housed Kasey’s Restaurant & Pub on Washington about a mile south of Central.  For Katie, who once worked in the food truck on a 103-degree day while nine months pregnant, getting out of the elements is a blessing.  A larger venue also means she and Chris can expand their menu to showcase bodacious barbecue that just can’t be contained in a mobile kitchen.  Visit the TFK website and you’ll notice the restaurant’s full appellation is TFK Smokehouse and Art Barn.  In addition to culinary arts, Katie is exhibiting  paintings of her “beautiful friends” which hang on the wall.  Reminiscent of the Talking Fountain gallery, the entire venue showcases art in various mediums. 

Though the brick-and-mortar restaurant will attract new guests, habitues of La Cumbre Brewing Co. consider Saturday, October 14th a day which will live in infamy. That’s the last day the TFK Smokehouse rolled onto the familiar parking lot to feed cerevisaphiles.  Many of them will be making the ten mile trek to experience their familiar favorites at a new location.  Occasional specials such as the Burqueño Cheesesteak are now part of the daily menu.  Oh, and what a menu!  It’s got everything from salads and sandwiches to smoked meat by the pound to bbq platters.   For those of us who love our meats slathered in sauce, the Smokehouse now gives you a choice of four sauces: Carolina BBQ, Tangy Cider BBQ, Green Chile BBQ and a Sweet BBQ.  You can also order a flight of all four or enjoy the meats san sauce.

Barbecue Brisket Nachos

27 October 2017: Joining me during my inaugural visit to the barbecue barn were my great friends Bill Resnik and Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, both tough critics when it comes to barbecue.  Ryan has been smoking meats for years and has visited many of the prestigious pantheons of Texas barbecue.  The Land of Enchantment’s barbecue hasn’t impressed him much.  Similarly Bill prefers smoking his own meats though he has an affinity for Powdrell’s barbecue sauce.  The TFK Smokehouse would have to be pretty darned good in order to impress these two.  It is!

27 October 2017:  Six appetizers adorn the menu–everything from lemongrass chicken satay to fried asadero mac n’ cheese bites.  While all are tempting, our ebullient server steered us toward the special of  the day, brisket nachos.  Great choice.  Picture a creamy asadero cheese sauce, house-pickled jalapeños, scallions, and some of the most tender and delicious brisket you’ll find all piled onto deep-fried flour tortillas cut into triangle shaped chips.  These are some of the very best nachos in town with every component a perfect complement to the others.  Asadero is a great choice for a cheese sauce, a mild tasting, nicely melting cheese with a pleasant acidity and fresh flavor.  The pickled jalapeños have a nice balance between sweetness and piquancy.  The star of these nachos, however, is the brisket which is redolent with fruit wood smoke.  Each tender tendril of brisket is moist and delicious.

The Smokehouse Reuben

27 October 2017:  Our server was two-for-two in the recommendations department.  When we queried him about the pastrami used on the Smokehouse Reuben, he explained that a recent guest said the Reuben should win a Nobel prize and that the pastrami is smoked on the premises though it’s brined elsewhere.  The menu describes the Smokehouse Reuben as “a pile of TFK smoked pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, grilled onions and housemade Russian dressing on toasted marble rye.”  Pile is a good term.  The sandwich is generously endowed with some of the very best smoked pastrami you’ll ever have.  The smokiness is tempered by the tangy, assertive sauerkraut and a delicate Russian dressing on a fresh marble rye canvas.  The most prevalent flavor is that of the pastrami.  Everything else is supporting cast, but the type of supporting cast which should win awards (maybe not a Nobel prize, but…).

27 October 2017:  Bill’s inaugural selection, the meatball platter with two sides, also proved a winner, too, though the sweet sauce is practically lacquered on each meatball and virtually covers the bottom of the plate.  The meatballs themselves are terrific, fashioned from housemade smoked pork tenderloin and bacon.  They’re fork tender, moist and just a bit smaller than a ping pong ball.  The appetizer menu offers an alternative meatballs option, smoked pork chile cheese meatballs, which shouldn’t be quite as sweet.  Bill raved about his Caprese salad side though he couldn’t find much mozzarella in it.

Meatballs Platter with French Fries and Caprese Pasta Salad

27 October 2017: Ryan’s meal choice was the three-meat combo featuring brisket, pork and baby back ribs, all prepared to Ryan’s liking.  He appreciated the meatiness of the baby back ribs.  All too often you have to commission a search party to find much meat on baby backs.  These ribs also have a nice bark and an obvious smoke ring, very endearing qualities on any barbecued meat.  Ryan also loved the brisket, the Lone Star state’s favorite barbecue.  Both the brisket and pork are cut thick with flavorful fat left on–again as it’s often served in Texas.  Nary a disparaging word was heard at our table as three tough critics all certified TFK Smokehouse barbecue as very, very good.

From among the four sauces, there was consensus as to the one we enjoyed least.  That would be the sweet sauce which we all found to be almost cloying.  Ryan and I enjoyed the Carolina mustard sauce with its tangy kick while Bill was partial to the tangy cider BBQ sauce (which even reminded him of his cherished Powdrell’s sauce).  Neither of us discerned any heat at all in the green chile sauce, but at least it wasn’t cloying.  Consensus was also decreed that none of the meats needed sauce.  That’s one of the signs of truly great barbecue.

Three Meat Combo

16 December 2017:

16 December 2017:

Fried Asadero Mac N’ Cheese Bites

The Food Network’s Eat, Sleep BBQ program  would have you believe that it’s no longer sufficient for a barbecue restaurant to feature the tried and true standards–low and slow smoked meats either or both rubbed and sauced.  In the contemporary fruited plain, even barbecue has become avant-garde, just another platform for experimentation.  Recently celebrated on the aforementioned networks were such inventive barbecue dishes as barbecue brisket ramen noodles (The Granary in San Antonio, Texas), brisket barbecue egg rolls and burnt end nachos (Sauced in Petaluma, California). 

Those bastions of barbecue have nothing on the TFK Smokehouse whose own unique barbecue dishes are certainly Food Network worthy.  Some of those unique dishes such as the Burqueño cheesesteak and barbecue brisket nachos began as specials, but are now on the regular menu.  You’ll want to follow TFK on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss (as we did) such creative wonderment as the Smokehouse Chicken Carbonara (farfalle pasta in champagne cream sauce topped with grilled chicken, bacon, tomatoes, green onions, and shredded Parmesan) and The Cubano (TFK smoked pork, Black Forest ham, house made pickles, Swiss cheese, and Carolina sauce on a pressed baguette).

Hawaii 505 Barbecue Sliders

16 December 2017:

16 December 2017:

Fried pineapple chimichanga with white caramel and vanilla ice cream

More than most Albuquerque area restaurants, the TFK Smokehouse does a terrific job of posting on its Facebook page what it’s daily specials are (including tempting desserts none of us had room for).  Alas, the page also includes photos of some of the featured fare.  It’s food porn that’ll have barbecue aficionados salivate with lust.  That lust is justified.  The TFK Smokehouse was one of the city’s very best food trucks.  Now it’s one of its very best barbecue restaurants.

TFK Smokehouse
400 Washington Street, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 369-8668
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 December 2017
1st VISIT: 3 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: BBQ Bella Sandwich, Burqueño Cheesesteak, BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, Coleslaw, Potato Salad, Baked Beans, The Smokehouse Reuben, Hawaii 505 Barbecue Sliders, Fried Pineapple Chimichangas

TFK Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

M’TUCCI’S MARKET & PIZZERIA – Albuquerque, New Mexico

M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria

Greek mythology recounts the story of Tantalus, progeny of a divine parent (Zeus himself) and a mortal one.  Uniquely favored among mortals by being invited to share the food of the gods, Tantalus abused that privilege by slaying his own son and feeding him to the gods as a test of their omniscience.  The gods immediately figured out what Tantalus had done and in their rage condemned him to the deepest portion of the underworld where he would be forever “tantalized” with hunger and thirst.  Though immersed up to his neck in water, when Tantalus bent to drink, it all drained away.  When he reached for the luscious fruit hanging on trees above him, winds blew the branches beyond his reach.

For years, Duke City diners have been tantalized by the promise of signage beckoning us to visit “delis” only to realize, much like the gods of Olympus, that all is not as it appears.  A sign does not a deli make nor do products from peripatetic distributors.  As with Tantalus, we’re left to pine for the authenticity of a true deli, the type of which Albuquerque has not seen since the bygone days of Deli Mart.  Savvy diners may not be able to vanquish the ersatz delis to the underworld, but we can banish these pretenders to the realm of chain restaurants we choose not to frequent.

Huge Flavors Come out of This Small Space

By strict definition a “deli,” an abbreviated form of delicatessen, is a term meaning “delicacies,” “fine foods” or “delicious things to eat.”   Over time delicatessen and its diminutive form came to represent the store, restaurant or combination thereof in which these delicacies, fine foods and delicious things to eat are sold, either for take-out or eat-in.    For many of us who have lived in large cities, the term deli is synonymous with Jewish deli while for others a deli proffers specialty foods indigenous to Italy, Poland (see Red Rock Deli) or other European nation. 

The hard-liners among us will never accept  that Schlotzky’s, Jason’s, McAlister’s and others of that ilk are delis despite what their signage may say.  Nor will we ever be duped by the deception of diners daring to call themselves delis.  It goes without saying that we don’t believe a deli should  feature products burnishing the labels of Oscar Mayer, Hormel, Kirkland, Butterball or even the ubiquitous Boar’s Head.  An authentic deli should preferably cure, salt, dry and cut its own meats and make at least some of its cheeses–and if it doesn’t do that, it should procure and sell only the finest, most authentic meats and cheeses available.

Italian Charcuterie Board

With the December, 2014 launch of M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli, Albuquerque once again has an authentic Italian deli in the tradition of delis for which hard-core deli aficionados have pined for far too long.  It’s a deli in which I’d proudly break bread with Dave Hurayt, Bruce Schor, Bob Sherwood and Gary Feaster with whom I’ve commiserated about the absence of an authentic deli in Albuquerque.  Best of all, it’s a deli with a pedigree that promises authenticity and deliciousness. 

Trust the ownership triumvirate of John Haas, Katie Gardner and Jeff Spiegel to do for their Italian market and deli what they’ve done for their restaurant. The trio launched M’Tucci’s Kitchina in 2013 and accolades quickly piled on (including “Best New Restaurant” honors from Albuquerque The Magazine readers and being named one of the top 100 neighborhood restaurants in the US by Open Table).  M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli is located about 150 feet away from its elder sibling in the Montaño Plaza shopping center.

Pickled Board

Ensconced within Lilliputian digs, M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli embodies the axiom “little place, huge flavors.”  Add huge aromas and you might feel you’ve been transported to a small corner New York City Italian deli.    You’ll be amazed at just how much is crammed into such a small space.  Seating for about ten guests is to your immediate left and right as you walk in.  Because of space constraints, the deli’s take-out business will be a robust part of the operation.  The rest of the space is devoted to mouth-watering Italian products, many of which are created on the premises. 

In fact, the talented staff at M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli bakes its own breads (sourdough, rye, whole wheat, baguette, ciabatta, foccacia), makes its pastas and sausages, cures many of its own meats (prosciutto, cotto, sopressata, mortadella, etc.) and makes its cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, burrata, etc.).  What isn’t made on the premises is procured from trusted, high-quality sources.  On the shelves you’ll also espy jars of fresh herbs (basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.) while refrigerated deli cases showcase pickled goods (eggplant, sweet or spicy cucumbers, cardamom carrots, giardinera, Sicilian green olives, Macedonian peppers and more).  Your taste buds might go into sensory overload, not to mention involuntary salivation.

Muffaletta with Farro Salad

Optimally, you’ll be able to score one of the four tables for a unique eat-in experience that will allow you to browse and sample as you wait for your meal which, by the way, is so much more than sandwiches.  First on the menu are three Italian charcuterie boards, all of which are accompanied by house-made artisan bread.  After you peruse the four enticing appetizers and three scrumptious salads, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose from among seven featured sandwiches, including a build-your-own option and all served with one side.  You can opt instead for one of three pastas.  Either way, you might not have room left for one of the three luscious desserts.

If, like me, you believe Italian delis start and end with meats and cheeses, you’ve got to try one of the three Charcuterie Boards (Salumi Board, Pickled Board, Cheese Board).  In America, the ancient European culinary art of charcuterie has recently started to become a highly revered and well-practiced art.   Charcuterie refers to the products made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie. The operative word here is “made” as in butchering, cutting, salting, curing, slicing, storing and preparing such meat products such as bacon, sausage, ham, pates, and more.  M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli not only offers charcuterie, it is a charcuterie!

Pastrami

14 December 2014: The Salumi Board offers three options: pick two, pick three or pick four from among the meats.  An outstanding option is the spicy coppa (short for capicolla), a traditional, rustic Italian cured meat with a taste and texture similar to prosciutto.   If you’re a Sopranos fan, you might recognize capicolla by its slang name “gabagool.” By any name it’s delicious.   Speck, which is cured with such spices as juniper berries, nutmeg, garlic and bay leaves before being cold-smoked, is another terrific option.  It wouldn’t be a salumi (Italian cold cuts) board without Toscano salami, a dry, salami with large bits of fat, garlic and black peppercorns surrounded by leaner meat which provides a robust, distinctive but not overpowering flavor.  It goes without saying you’ll also want prosciutto on your board.  Accompanying these meats are slices of Italian bread, an addictive onion jam, house-made mustard, tomato relish and probably the very best spicy pickles you’ll ever have.

12 April 2015: M’Tucci’s pickled board is the very best we’ve had in New Mexico though there aren’t that many to compare with.  Available in quantities of two, three or four pickled vegetables, it’s essentially a vegetable plate even vegetable-haters will love.  Usually served with a local goat cheese, we lucked out during our April, 2015.  Because the deli had run out of what is undoubtedly an outstanding goat cheese, a Bucherondin de Chevre, a luscious and creamy French goat cheese was substituted.  Pierce the Bucherondin’s rind and you’ll enjoy a near-buttery soft, creamy and mild goat cheese that complements pickled vegetables very well.  Our pickled board included sweet and hot pickles, carrots and eggplant, all of which were oh, so delicious with distinctive notes in each.  Those pickles are absolutely addictive!

BLT

14 December 2014: The sandwich menu includes several familiar favorites such as the Cubano, BLT, Pastrami and Muffaletta, but while M’Tucci’s pays homage to traditions which spawned these sacrosanct sandwiches, it does not attempt to duplicate them.  The muffaletta, for example, is not an exact replica of the muffaletta you might have at the Central Grocery in New Orleans, but it’s an outstanding Italian inspired sandwich in its own right.  The canvas for this superb sandwich is housemade ciabatta which is generously topped with housemade capicola, mortadella, salami, an olive tapenade and house-smoked mozzarella. It takes two hands and a wide-open mouth to handle this mighty, meaty, magnificent sandwich.  The yin to the muffaletta is a ferro salad  (fresh grape tomatoes, walnuts, Tucumcari feta, pickled red onions on a lettuce leaf), one of the four available sides.

14 December 2014: Pastrami paramours often consider it heretical for pastrami sandwiches to be topped only with a good deli mustard with a dill pickle on the side.  Before they become apoplectic at learning M’Tucci’s pastrami (made on the premises) sandwich is made with herbed goat cheese, fresh red onions, a housemade mustard on housemade rye, they had darned well better try it.  It’s unlike any pastrami this aficionado has ever had and it’s a bit lean (fat is flavor) for my tastes, but it’s still a pretty good sandwich with that herbed goat cheese really standing out.  This sandwich pairs well with oven-roasted herbed potatoes, red potatoes seasoned with rosemary, thyme and fresh garlic. 

Carbonara

12 April 2015: For years, the benchmark against which I’ve measured all BLTs in New Mexico has been the TBL, a Gecko’s Bar & Tapas original stacked in triplicate with applewood smoked bacon, green leaf lettuce and ripe tomatoes on wheatberry bread.  It took more than a decade to find a BLT that’s better.  Like the TBL, M’Tucci Market’s version is also an original.  In its standard form, it, too, is made with applewood smoked bacon though for a mere pittance, you can substitute bourbon-glazed bacon.  Splurge!  It’s the best bacon we’ve had in New Mexico, better even than the red chile-honey glazed bacon at the Gold Street Caffe.  The BLT (butter leaf lettuce, fresh tomato, blue cheese aioli and wheat bread made on the premises) is all a sandwich should be though the hard-crusted bread scrapes against the roof of your mouth just a bit.  The blue cheese aioli is rather mild which is perfectly fine because it lets the bacon shine.  The lentil salad (pickled onion, carrot, zucchini, rosemary, sage, thyme and Tucumcari gouda) is an excellent accompaniment.

12 April 2015: While judging the Taste of Rio Rancho in February, 2015, my friend Mario D’Elia, the uber-talented executive chef for the Albuquerque Isotopes, commiserated that guanciale (an Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks) isn’t that widely used in Albuquerque restaurants, Chef Maxime Bouneou, formerly of  Torinos @ Home being one of the few to use it.  Add M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli to what will hopefully become a trend.  M’Tucci’s makes its own guanciale and it’s terrific.  The guanciale is perhaps my favorite ingredient in a Carbonara dish constructed of superb ingredients (housemade cured egg yolk, Pecorino, sage, pepperoncini flakes, shallots and tagliatelle made on the premises).  The tagliatelle (long, flat pasta ribbons) is fortified with an unctuous, but not overly excessive, sauce.   The portion size is relatively modest, but being so rich, Carbonara isn’t a pasta dish on which many diners can over-indulge.  This is a great one!

Italian Mac & Cheese

7 June 2016:  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, has (as of this writing) visited MTucci’s Italian Market & Deli some 48 times.  It’s easy to see why he loves this restaurant so much–as well as why your humble sesquipedalian blogger needs to increase the frequency of his visits.  The Italian Mac & Cheese (Rosemary ham, Morbier Mornay, handmade penne, fresh Mozzarella, Aleppo pepper bread crumbs) warrants a visit or ten all by itself.  After one forkful Larry declared it the best mac and cheese he’s ever had.  High praise indeed.  There’s a lot to love about this skilletful of deliciousness and inventiveness.  Instead of the usual half-and-half mixture of Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, the Mornay sauce is made with Morbier, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese which, interestingly, is fashioned with a black layer of tasteless ash.  The Morbier not only coalesces the penne, some of it melts into a delightfully oily pool at the bottom of the skillet.   Chunks of Rosemary ham imparts resinous, savory and sweet qualities that blend magnificently with other ingredients while the Aleppo peppers (about 10,000 on the Scoville scale) lends a pleasant piquancy.

7 June 2016:  When she hangs out with Larry and me, Dazzling Deanell  is like a delicate flower among two wilted weeds.  She not only graces our table with beauty, wit and charm, she always seems to order the right things.  Take for example, the Market Reuben (fresh market-cured corned beef, homemade sauerkraut, red chile mostarda on rye bread) she ordered during our June 7th visit.  Even as she ordered it, she declared the Reuben at O‘Hare’s Grille and Pub in Rio Rancho to be her favorite Reuben then conceded that M’Tucci’s version will probably be even better.  She has the gift of prophecy!  This is a fantastic Reuben, one she paired with a glorious beet salad.  The housemade rye is the perfect canvas for the other components.  The red chile mostarda (which has nothing to do with mustard and more closely resembles a relish) is a magnificent blend of fruity sweetness, piquancy and tanginess.  As we enjoyed the sandwich, we discerned a flavor similar to cloves (or perhaps crushed lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread spice cookies), but weren’t quite sure what its genesis was.  We surmise it may have come from the roasting of the corned beef itself.  The corned beef is even better than M’Tucci’s pastrami and that’s saying something.

Market Reuben (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

11 December 2016:  There appears to be no limit to the talents of Chef Cory Gray and sous chef Shawn Cronin , the uber-talented chefs who “bake, cook, age, and cure their way to creative culinary bliss.”    In November, 2016, the dynamic duo transformed M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli  into M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Pizzeria.  It’s not just a change in concept or solely an exercise in re-branding, but rather an ambitious expansion that reflects the addition of 12 pizzas into an already outstanding menu.  When you think about it, it just makes sense.  They were already hawking some of the best cheese, meat and bread in the city.  Why not put them all together?  And, if you’re thinking to yourself, there’s already a top tier pizza at M’Tucci’s Kitchina, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria has one-upped its elder sibling.  In fact, in our estimation, the only pizza in the Duke City that’s even in the same zip code is at the Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House. 

Custom-made ovens that heat to 800-degrees will ensure your pie is baked quickly and evenly.  You’ll find plenty of char on each pie, a hallmark of the pizza at Farina  where Shawn and Cory cut their teeth.  If char is not a flavor you like much, you can ask for light char.  The menu indicates “Our pizza dough uses wild sourdough starter instead of yeast, giving a better flavor and texture. We cook it until a deep caramelization occurs. We source the best ingredients, either house made, local, or imported.”  Ten years ago you wouldn’t have found a pizza menu like this one.  Instead of last decade’s sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives and the like, this menu lists such ingredients as orange-herb gremolata, baby kale, smoked buffalo mozzarella and caramelized onion coulis.  The result will make a believer out of you!

Caprese Trio

11 December 2016:  Mike Greenberg, the metrosexual nerd who pairs with the brutish former NFL player Mike Golic to host the morning sports talk show Mike & Mike (on Albuquerque’s ESPN 101.7 The Team) contrasts the difference in their personalities by condescendingly pointing out he enjoys Caprese salads while his endomorphic partner prefers donuts.  The implication here is that the Caprese salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction and olive oil) is enjoyed by worldly sophisticates while donuts are an opiate for the hoi polloi.  In truth, Caprese salads are a favorite of all of us who enjoy salads. 

Though listed in the Insalata (salad) section of the menu, the “Caprese Trio” is unlike any composed Caprese salad you’ve ever seen.  Served on a slate board is a treasure trove of deliciousness: fresh mozzarella, Balsamic roasted tomato, fresh basil, smoked mozzarella, house Italian tomato jam, pesto, Burrata, fresh tomatoes, basil oil, ten-year old Balsamic vinegar and wedges of lightly toasted bread.  It’s sheer genius to compile such individually delicious ingredients into a cohesive array of complementary, harmonious magnificence.  Every single component is a shining star.  Our favorite may have been the burrata, an unnaturally soft and moist fresh Italian cheese made from cream and mozzarella.  Translated to “buttered,” it bears a strong resemblance to mozzarella, but is much softer and when penetrated by a knife or fork, has an interior that spills out, revealing unctuous, stringy curd and fresh cream.   The smoked mozzarella is absolutely amazing and the tomato jam is addictive!

Carbonara Pizza

11 December 2016:  Ordering the Carbonara pizza brought a broad smile to our server’s face.  She said it was her favorite pizza.  It’s easy to see why.   M’Tucci’s pizzaiolos nonpariel have taken Carbonara to the nth degree, actualizing its potential and fashioning a pizza as good as it can possibly be.  Not since Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach, California have we found a pizza that amazed us as much as this one did (Jim Millington, are you reading this?).  This fourteen-inch masterpiece redolent with char is topped with house-cured and smoked Guanciale, caramelized onion coulis, sauteed spinach, Tallegio cheese and Rosemary cured egg yolk.  The caramelized onion coulis imparts sweet notes while the Tallegio cheese provides an unusually fruity tang.  Our favorite ingredient, however, is the guanciale (about which I rave above).  The Neapolitan crust is light and chewy with the distinctive flavor of sourdough in evidence.

11 December 2016:  While the Margherita may be the forerunner of all pizzas, it’s never been one of my favorites.  It’s just too basic and unadorned to suit my “more is better” tastes.  M’Tucci Market & Pizzeria has made a convert out of me with its Buffalo Margherita (smoked buffalo mozzarella, basil-infused olive oil, tomato jam and roasted garlic).  Buffalo mozzarella, made from the milk of domestic Italian water buffalo, is a difference-maker.  With a high butterfat content, it’s got a seductive tang you just don’t get from mozzarella made from cow’s milk.  Then there’s the tomato jam with its rich, sweet-savory notes. It’s wholly unlike the savory acidity of the tomato sauce which typically graces pizza. Every Margherita should be this good!

Margherita Pizza

25 June 2017:  My friend Larry McGoldrick writes on his blog, “For my last dozen or so visits, I don’t even look at the menu. Cory and Shawn know what I like and what is healthy for me, and automatically start a custom meal as soon as I walk in the door.”  You, too, can eat like Larry and not just vicariously.   All you’ve got to do is roll the dice.  A small placard over the door reads, “Don’t know what to eat?  Roll the dice and let us decide with Chef Roulette.”  Yeah, it requires a high level of trust and not every chef warrants such trust.  Cory and Shawn do!

What is most amazing about the Chef Roulette concept is that the dish tailor-made for you may not be made exactly the same for the next intrepid diner who decides to roll the dice.  I wouldn’t change a thing about the mushroom stuffed pork tenderloin, two thick tenderloins stuffed with mushrooms and local-roasted leeks over roasted potatoes, cannellini beans, piñon and scallions over a roasted tomato cream sauce.  Along with Forghedaboudit‘s transformative pepperoni and sausage pizza and magnificent meatballs, this is the best dish I’ve enjoyed in 2017.  The roasted tomato cream sauce has an element of piquancy that pairs perfectly with the sweet-tanginess of the roasted tomatoes.  There is a complexity to this dish that extends far beyond its ingredients.  This is a dish which will enrapt your taste buds.  Knowing it may never again cross my lips is almost painful to contemplate.

Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

21 October 2017:  Almost universally, New Mexicans tend to consider autumn their favorite season and rightfully so.  Autumn means the incomparable aroma of chile roasting, warm sunny days and cool crisp nights and canopies of brilliant yellow leaves on cottonwoods and aspens.  Autumn also means pumpkin pie and even better, hearty butternut squash stews and soups.  The very best we’ve ever had comes from M’Tucci’s Market & Pizzeria.  It’s an amazing melange of magnificence, a coalescence of complementary ingredients that bring out the best in each other.  This enchanting elixir is made with grade A Iberico house-cured bacon made from free-range, 100% Ibérico breed pigs that eat acorns.  Iberico ham is considered the “Beluga caviar of hams.”  That means it’s the absolute best. 

Though Iberico house-cured bacon gives this stew a pedigree, it’s just one of several ingredients put together so well that each spoonful may elicit a swoon or ten.  The sweetness of the butternut squash is counterbalanced by the piquancy of a local cayenne.  Yes, cayenne.  Louisiana may have made cayenne famous, but New Mexico-grown  cayenne is more flavorful and it rates higher on the Scoville scale than the jalapeño.  Other ingredients on the stew include cubed potatoes, cubed pear, kale and farro.  The stews is served hot the way autumnal stews are supposed to be served.  It’s the type of soul-warming soup which is synonymous with comfort food greatness.

Butternut Squash Soup

21 October 2017:  We all know diners who find something on a menu they love and would never consider ordering anything else.  Then there are the adventurous among us who rarely order the same thing twice…or at least not until we’ve tried everything on the menu at least once.  For us, M’Tucci Market & Pizzeria’s Chef Roulette concept makes great sense.  Believe me, you can trust Cory and Shawn to create something absolutely wonderful every time.  They’re the proverbial mad scientists only instead of steaming beakers and malevolent cackling, they experiment with ingredients, their quest being to concoct something delicious and different for all of their guests.  Sarah, our delightful server, told us about a recent evening in which everyone at a table of six ordered the chef’s roulette.  Every one of them was enthralled to receive something entirely different. 

As an aspiring cook, my own efforts at concocting delicious dishes with disparate ingredients often result in discordant and contradictory ingredient combinations that just don’t taste good.  As such, my admiration for Cory and Shawn grows with each Chef Roulette.  They truly have the Midas touch when it comes to creating the harmonious interplay of ingredients seemingly reserved for only the most delicious dishes.  Take for example the Chef Roulette pictured below–a pasta dish with the aforementioned Iberico house-cured bacon, kale and a butternut squash mostarda cream sauce.  Though it’s tempting to pluck out the rich, fatty (well marbled) Iberico bacon and let it linger on your tongue like a fine wine, it goes best with the sweet mostarda cream sauce and the slightly bitter kale.  This is one of those dishes a habitual “order the same thing” person should never order because chances are they’ll never experience anything quite this good.

Rolling the Dice Again…

21 October 2017: It’ll probably be a while (if ever) before my Kim can be convinced to roll the dice and order the Chef Roulette especially since she knows she can reach over and have a forkful or ten of mine.  She’s enamored of the Neapolitan pizzas (characterized by its thin, slightly crispy texture; hand-kneaded and wood-fired preparation) and plans to try them all eventually.  Her newest favorite (and it will be until her next pizza) is the Truffle (Morbier cheese, wild mushrooms, orange-herb Gremolata, white truffle oil and goat cheese).  If you’re wondering what the differences are between mushrooms and truffles, those differences can be described in two words–scarcity and flavor. 

Truffles need the right tree roots to grow on, some rain to fall, and the perfect temperature.  Then it takes special teams with dogs to find them underground.  Compared to the intensely robust flavor of truffles, mushrooms are fairly mild in flavor.  Truffle oil either is made with high-quality olive oil that’s been infused with white truffles or it’s manufactured with aromatic components.  M’Tucci’s uses the former, the good stuff. As a result, the white truffle oil imparts intensely earthy qualities–like mushrooms on overdrive.  Kudos to the chefs for their use of an orange-herb Gremolata whose citrusy notes sneak through every once in a while.  So does the Morbier and goat cheese blend with their salty, creamy deliciousness.  This is a great pizza!

Truffle Pizza

22 October 2017:  Though the menu offers a buffalo pâté (house buffalo-heart pâté, tapenade and candied pecan on a baguette), my Kim asked instead for duck pâté, a Chicago area favorite.  “Wait,” you ask, “didn’t Chicago ban pâté a few years ago?”  Close, but no cigar.  The Chicago City Council actually banned foie gras, a decision Mayor Richard M. Daley called “the silliest law that they’ve ever passed.”   And yes, there is a difference between pâté and foie gras, which is actually a popular form of pâté.   Pâté is actually French for “pie,” but it’s quite simply a mixture of seasoned ground seafood, poultry, meat or vegetables, and often a combination of several different base ingredients.  Duck  pâté is terrific on its own.  With the addition of a sweet-tangy tapenade and candied pecans, it’s certainly not the “livery” taste you might expect.  Instead, its flavor profile is a mild combination of duck seasoned very well.  It’s spread generously on a baguette and will spread delight all over your face.

Duck Pâté

22 October 2017: On a lazy Sunday morning, Cory proved himself a mind-reader in addition to being an absolute genius in the kitchen.  How could he have known that the perfect Chef Roulette for such a day would be two farm-fresh eggs over-easy, roasted potatoes, grilled red peppers, fresh local arugula and Iberico house-cured bacon with a housemade mustard.  My breakfast preferences lean toward enchiladas, tacos and burritos, but this Chef Roulette–even sans New Mexico’s sacrosanct red and green–is as good an Albuquerque breakfast as I’ve ever had.  Even without the iberico house-cured bacon, it would have been an off-the-charts breakfast.  That bacon just makes everything better.

Breakfast Roulette

14 December 2014: There are only three desserts on the menu and if they’re all as good as the two we chose, you’re sure to sate, if not titillate, your sweet tooth. The molded cheesecake topped with a fig jam renewed my faith in cheesecakes which of late have all been plagued by a boring sameness.  The crostata, a delicate Italian tart enveloping buttery butternut squash infused with sage is nearly as good.  Somewhat small by contemporary dessert size standards, they’re not to be missed.

12 April 2015: Not that long ago you could practically count on one hand, the number of Italian restaurants offering cannoli as a dessert option.  For the most part, it’s been pretty standard–tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta and often, mascarpone.  “Radical” versions sometimes included chocolate toppings.  Yawn!  During our visit in April, 2015, M’Tucci’s served a cannoli pila (an Italian term meaning “stacked” or “piled”) that was essentially a deconstructed cannoli.  Instead of the standard stuffed shell, bits of shell were topped with a mascarpone-ricotta mix topped with a cherry-walnut compote.  It’s a deliciously different way to enjoy one of the most popular of Italian desserts.

Italian Bread Pudding (Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

7 June 2016:  When Larry first tried M’Tucci’s Italian bread pudding, it immediately rocketed to the coveted number one spot on his Bread Pudding Hall of Fame.  It was so good that both he and Deanell regretted not having ordered one each instead of sharing a portion.  One of my life’s greatest regrets is not having driven over immediately as soon as they told me (months ago) how fabulous this bread pudding is.  There are several reasons it’s so good.  First, the bread isn’t the mushy, squishy mess so often used on bread pudding.  It’s a housemade foccacia.  Secondly, it’s not cloying as bread pudding is oft to be.  Third, it’s made with premium ingredients.  The version to which I was introduced included blueberries and piñon and was topped with a seasonal melt-in-your-mouth gelato.  This is transformative stuff!

Pop culture enthusiasts will remember the scene from the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally in which Meg Ryan experienced delirious joy from her sandwich at New York City’s revered Katz’s Deli. Similar reactions at M’Tucci’s are sure to be repeated and when they are, you can tell your server “I’ll have what she’s having.”

M’TUCCI’S  MARKET & PIZZERIA 
6001 Winter Haven Road,  N.W., Suite G
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-7327
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 October 2017
1st VISIT: 14 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Italian Charcuterie Board, Pickled Board, Pastrami Sandwich, BLT, Muffaletta, Carbonara, Farro Salad, Lentil Salad, Oven-Roasted Herbed Potatoes, Cheesecake with Fig, Crostata with Butternut Squash, Cannoli Pila, Italian Mac and Cheese, Market Reuben, Italian Bread Pudding, Carbonara Pizza, Buffalo Margherita Pizza, Caprese Trio, Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

M'Tucci's Market and Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Matanza Beer Kitchen in Nob Hill

At school, whenever I heard the word matanza, hog butchering,
My face warmed up with joy and my heart beat a happy sound.
It was a heavenly time for me.
Images of sizzling chicharrones, crisp, meaty cracklings and
Fresh, oven-baked morcillas, made my mouth water.”
~Hoe, Heaven and Hell by Dr. Nasario Garcia

For young boys growing up in rural New Mexico in the 60s, one of the rites of passage signifying our transition from childhood to young adulthood was being asked to participate in the matanza.  As one in a succession of life’s progressions, working a matanza was an even more important milestone than being allowed to order the “Teen Burger” instead of the “Mama Burger” at A&W.  Among other things, it meant adults now trusted us not to get in the way, to follow orders to the letter and perhaps more importantly, not to shed tears for the “guest of honor” we helped raise from suckling piglet to fatted hog. 

It would be disingenuous of me to say I ever got over the gory sights and smells of slaughtering what were essentially pets we’d nurtured just for that purpose.  Fortunately those memories don’t haunt me as much as my heart is warmed by the wonderful memories of time spent with family.  A matanza is so much more than a rite of massage.  It is a time-honored tradition, a festive occasion in which friends and family gather together to celebrate the changeover from harvest season to winter’s early arrival.  It’s a way of life.  Reading Dr. Nasario Garcia’s inspiring tome Hoe, Heaven, and Hell: My Boyhood in Rural New Mexico rekindled so many wonderful experiences of growing up in Peñasco and being around matanzas since about the age of six. 

Matanza’s commodious dining room in the Nob Hill Restaurant

When it was announced that a new restaurant to be called the Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen was to launch in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district, those memories flooded back.  Despite the beer hall-kitchen appellation, I entertained faint hopes that it would be some sort of pantheon of porcine perfection, a memory-inducing milieu that would recall the matanzas of my youth.  As more information trickled down, it was obvious the true spirit an tradition of the matanza would not be relived at this Matanza.

Instead, the Albuquerque Journal‘s pansophical retail reporter Jessica Dyer divulged that Matanza would feature “progressive New Mexican food” with a menu showcasing such contemporary interpretations as “blue corn duck tamales, tacos stuffed with ground Kobe beef and blue cheese crumbles, or even kale-and-wild-mushroom blue corn enchiladas.”  Moreover, she revealed, Matanza would spotlight only New Mexico beers (more than 100 on tap) and wines.   Hmm, that doesn’t sound like any matanza in which I participated though enough beer and wine might evoke a familial spirit in some crowds.

The Trifecta

Matanza is located in a cavernous 5,500 square-foot edifice which previously housed a retail boutique.  Situated on the corner of Central and Wellesley, it has the advantage of being at the heart of heavily trafficked Nob Hill and the challenge of providing close proximity parking.  Matanza is the brainchild of restaurant impresario and chef Peter Gianopoulos whose footprint in the Duke City dining scene includes Q Burger in the downtime district and the UNM area’s Brickyard Dive.  His restaurants tend to be avant-garde and fun with food guests really seem to enjoy.

To hard-line traditionalists, the terms “contemporary” and “progressive” are often seen as pejoratives. Some view restaurants taking such approaches as stabbing at tradition. Others argue that not every cuisine needs to evolve and New Mexican food especially is perfect just the way it is. Call it the “anti Santa Fe argument,” a reference to the progressive Southwest fusion cuisine movement of the 1990s that made it fashionable to meld New Mexican ingredients, particularly chile, with other cuisines.

Fideo Carbonara

Matanza is a perfect restaurant for those of us who respect tradition, but don’t consider it blasphemous to try something new and different.  My own grandparents might not recognize the melange of heretofore untried ingredient combinations, but they were open enough to have tried them and would probably have found many of them not just acceptable, but delicious. My millennial nieces, on the other hand, would welcome (if they noticed them at all) the innovations, especially if they looked good on a selfie.

25 October 2015: The trepidatious at heart might want to start with something at least vaguely familiar, something they can find at many New Mexican restaurants. The Trifecta is that familiar starter, a triumvirate of New Mexican appetizer favorites: house guacamole, roasted green chile salsa and queso blanco.  If that sounds pretty blasé for a supposedly leading edge restaurant, you’ll quickly note that the Trifecta is served with a variety of tostadas (chips) and chicharrones. Though the salsa and queso somewhat obfuscate the salty-fatty flavor of the chicharrones, the smooth, buttery guacamole pairs well with them. Only the salsa has much of a bite.

The Matanza Experience

25 October 2015: In a New Mexico meets Italy twist that works surprisingly well, Matanza offers a Fideo Carbonara entree that may have you doing a double take. Instead of pasta made from thin noodles (usually vermicelli or angel hair pasta), this dish is made with a thicker, longer pasta (probably spaghetti) and served in a concave bowl with Ponderosa-Cabernet braised pork belly with red chile, snap peas, toasted pinon, fresh basil and aged Parmesan. As with its Italian counterpart, this is a sinfully rich dish that has the added benefit of red chile’s delightful heat. Considering the liberties taken with one of my favorite traditional Italian dishes, it made a very good impression on me.

27 January 2016: For the entirety of the eighteen years I worked for a Fortune 50 company whose corporate values include “risk-taking,” I was never asked to organize a team outing that included a restaurant meal. For many of my colleagues, venturing outside the Chili’s, Applebee’s, Olive Garden comfort zone was apparently too much of a risk. That’s not the case at the University of New Mexico where my new colleagues enjoy venturing away from the “usual suspects” and experiencing new culinary adventures. When asked to organize a retirement dinner for a beloved colleague, my choice was Matanza, a restaurant none of them had visited. Murphy’s Law reared its ugly head the minute we walked in when our server greeted us with news that the venting system wasn’t functioning and we’d be limited to ensaladas (salads), horno flat breads and some appetizers. Not to be deterred, our intrepid group made the best of a potentially bad situation and merrily ordered dishes we otherwise would have skipped over in favor of entrees.

Albuquerque’s Second Matanza, This One on the West Side

For several of us, that meant horno flat breads, a lovosh-like thin pizza. Matanza offers five flat breads, each named for a different area of the city: The Nob Hill, The Old Town, The Valley, The West Side and The Heights. Whether or not the flat breads are intended to represent the personality of the areas they represent can be debated. What’s not up for debate is that they’re delicious. My choice was The Valley (crispy pork belly, chiffonade pear, candied Las Cruces pecans, poppy seed-dressed micro cilantro and goat cheese) which I ordered not because of any particular affinity for that part of town, but for the interplay of flavors. The chiffonade pear and candied pecans, for example, provided a sweet contrast to the slightly sour and wonderfully pungent goat cheese. The crispy pork belly provided the smokiness and flavor of thick bacon.

25 February 2016: Because their inaugural experience at Matanza had been so enjoyable, the team asked me to organize another event a few weeks later at “our table.” It surprised me to see how familiar some of them had become with the menu, the result of several visits (five by Louella and Chuck) on their own. With a full menu available to us, we cut a wide swathe through entrees theretofore untried. Three of us planned to compare notes on the blue corn duck tamales. Alas, Mr. Murphy determined to dampen my experience. When asked about my entrée, my tongue-in-cheek response was “this is the worse blue corn duck tamale I’ve ever had.” That’s because our server delivered black and blue label tacos (Kobe beef, melty bleu cheese crumbles, crispy onion strings and housemade New Mexico-style hot sauce) instead of the coveted tamale. Rather than send them back, I sought to enjoy them though when you’ve got your heart set on duck tamales, it wasn’t easy. There are several enjoyable elements to the tacos, but the Kobe beef wasn’t one of them. Kobe beef makes a great steak, but may be a bit too oleaginous for tacos.

Big Dipper

Matanza West

In September, 2017, Matanza launched its second restaurant, this one on the burgeoning west side.  Located in the space which previously housed Vernon’s Open Door and before that the Stumbling Steer and even Quarters, Matanza West has nearly twice the space as its elder sibling with 10,000-square-feet and a capacity of some 300 guests, not including a sprawling patio.  In addition to  100 local craft beers, wines and other drinks, an expansive kitchen allows for a menu twice the size as its predecessor.   You’re bound to find a thing or ten you’ll like.  After you’ve perused the soups and salads, you’ll come across a menu called Matanza Smokehouse.  This section of the menu is described as “Matanza’s secret spice rubbed pecan wood smoked or slow roasted all natural cruelty-free meats.  Served with fresh flour tortillas, Matanza barbecue sauce and choice of two sides.  Add Caesar Limon or soup or cup of soup…” 

15 October 2017:  Among the appetizers available only at Matanza West is the Big Dipper, an Ursa Major-sized platter large enough to feed a family of four.   Picture green chile spinach and artichoke fondue; white bean and Chimayo chile hummus; Spanish olive, caper and piñon tapenade all served with homemade pita chips and flatbread.  Though the pita chips and flatbread are tailor-made for scooping, we would have preferred soft pita bread on which we could spread the three dips.  We would also have preferred chile with more bite, especially on the fondue.  The tapenade was our favorite of the three dips, a flavorful melange of ingredients which work so well together, especially the sharp, tangy capers and woodsy piñon.

Cream of Peppercorn Elk and Wild Mushroom Soup

15 October 2017:  My adovada adoring Kim, a purist about her favorite New Mexican dishes, was not very happy with the creative liberties took with a dish showcasing a quadrumvirate of items.  In Matanza’s defense, a plate named The Matanza Experience didn’t promise traditional New Mexican authenticity.  Instead of carne adovada, the plate offered pulled pork adovada.  There’s a big difference, the latter being more akin to a barbecue entree (and indeed, a smoky barbecue sauce is provided).  The plate also included smoked ribs, pork belly and chicharrones, none prepared as you’d find them in a New Mexican matanza.  That doesn’t make them bad, just different.  Viva la differencia. The pecan-smoked ribs have a caramelized bark and very endearing sweet-smoky-piquant notes.  The crispy pork belly and its smoky, bacony properties are noteworthy.  The four items are served with “artisan” tortillas: flimsy, floppy, waifishly thin tortillas with little substance.  Two sides are also served with this dish.  Make one of them calabasitas, some of the very best in town.

15 October 2017: The Matanza menu includes “Soups Del Corazon,” soups from the heart, six exemplars of why soup is a comfort food favorite.  We had only one, but will return for other such as the calabasitas bisque and lamb posole with Hatch green chile and Mexican oregano.  If the cream of peppercorn elk and wild mushroom soup is any indication, Matanza’s soups are enchanting elixirs for whatever ails you. Quite simply, it’s one of the very best mushroom soups we’ve ever had–comparable to the one we make at home (don’t tell my Kim). Its depth of flavors is well balanced between the earthy wild mushrooms and their rich umami qualities and the clean, healthful flavor of elk seasoned not too assertively with peppercorn. A cup of this sumptuous soup isn’t sufficient. A pho-sized bowl would be perfect.

High Desert Fried Steak

15 October 2017: Hoping lightning would strike twice, I ordered the High Desert Fried Steak (country-fried sirloin, elk and mushroom cream gravy, red chile Cheddar mashed taters and braised greens). Alas, no good deed goes unpunished. The elk and mushroom cream gravy, while quite good, isn’t as memorable as the peppercorn elk and wild mushroom soup. It’s a hearty, thick gravy served hot and it covers the entire steak which itself is fork-tender and flavorful. It’s also as big as a western saddle so you’ll be taking some home. Ask for a side of the gravy for your mashed potatoes which otherwise lean toward the dry side. The braised greens are terrific.

Matanza, the restaurant, may become a tradition in much the way matanzas have been part and parcel of life in New Mexico for generations.

Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen
3225 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 312-7305
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 February 2016
1st VISIT: 25 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Trifecta, Fideo Carbonara, Matanza Adovada, The Valley (Flatbread), Black & Blue Label Tacos, Calabasitas,

Matanza Beer Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen
3700 Ellison N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 897-6753
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cream of Peppercorn Elk and Wild Mushroom Soup, The Matanza Experience, High Desert Fried Steak, The Big Dipper

Matanza Beer Kitchen West Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Desert Valley Brewing – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Desert Valley Brewing on Ellison in Albuquerque’s Burgeoning West Side

Every time a new brewery launches in the Duke City,  aficionados of quaffing ales, lagers and stouts celebrate another venue where they can slake their thirsts. The media, on the other hand, always seems to ask one question: “Is Albuquerque approaching a “saturation point?,” meaning can the market sustain another brewery. Cerevisaphiles will tell you this is just an alarmist “sky is falling” media seeing the (beer) glass overfull and creating yet another sensational headline.  In any event, the answer seems to be a resounding no.  In that respect, Duke City brewing trends mirror those of other cities throughout the fruited plain.

There are more craft breweries operating today than at any point in the fruited plain’s glorious history–about a thousand more than the previous all-time high set in the mid-1870s.  Within a decade after the Civil War there were some 4,000 breweries operating in America, serving a population of plus-or-minus 45-million.  That’s an astounding one brewery for roughly 11,000 people.  With 5,000 breweries operating across the fruited plain as of the end of 2016, the number of breweries as a proportion of the population is one brewery per 65,000 people based on a population of 325-million.  If the same number of breweries per capita matched that of the mid-1870s, there would be nearly 30,000 breweries across the United States.  So, yes, there’s room to grow.

Waffle Nachos

In 2015, the state’s breweries produced nearly 70,000 barrels of beer, an increase of more than 10,000 barrels over the preceding two-year period.  As of September, 2016, the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department counted 67 breweries in the Land of Enchantment.  That seems to indicate the state’s brewery industry is performing well with no surcease in sight.  Even those of us who don’t imbibe adult beverages find something to like about purveyors of pilsners.  A Yelp search indicates there are fifteen pages (at ten listings per page) of brewery-restaurants in the metropolitan Duke City area.  Even more impressive is the number of brewery-restaurants rated four stars or higher.  Perform a yelp search for “new restaurants” and invariably, a large number of new restaurants listed will be brewery-restaurants.

September, 2017 saw the launch of Desert Valley Brewing, a brewery-restaurant on Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side.  Desert Valley occupies the southwest corner of the familiar edifice which previously housed such short-lived ventures as Quarters BBQ, Stumbling Steer and Vernon’s Open Door.  (Is it just my imagination or does Desert Valley resemble UNM’s famous Pit…er, Dreamstyle arena?)  The northwest corner of the sprawling complex is home to Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen which showcases more than 100 New Mexico only beers and wines.  For aficionados of adult beverages, visiting this area is akin to a shopping center for their favorite beers.  Duke City diners will also find much to love at both venues.

Granola Parfait

Seating options include a capacious dog-friendly patio with plentiful shade for those sultry summer days and an interior space with a long bar and televisions tuned to sporting events.  Our inaugural visit was on an early Saturday afternoon when brunch was featured fare.  We had hoped to partake of the more intriguing lunch-dinner menu with such tempting teases as green chile meatloaf and carne adovada nachos (alas made with cumin).  The kitchen is helmed by Chef Dakota McCarthy, a graduate of the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale Arizona.  The brunch menu is replete with mostly calorific “breakfasty” items served in portions large enough to sustain some of us for an entire day.

Watching platters of food destined for other tables convinced us this brunch wouldn’t be our usual two entree, one appetizer and maybe a dessert experience.  No, we would have to share everything (not that we don’t already do that).  Our appetizer, the waffle breakfast nachos (waffle pieces, tortilla chips, bacon, sausage, black beans, avocado, cherry tomatoes, scallions, Cheddar and Jack cheese, three eggs cooked your way) served with salsa and sour cream) validated our approach.  Perhaps indicative of the brewery-restaurant’s newness, our server forgot the salsa, sour cream and syrup for the waffles.  They’re an important component of this mammoth platter.  Without the syrup, you’ll find yourself extricating the waffle triangles and wishing they were slathered in sweet syrup.  Make sure you order your eggs over easy so the lovely yellow oak can coalesce with everything else on this “but the kitchen sink” appetizer.

Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey Butter

My Kim certified the Granola Parfait as the best she’s ever had in Albuquerque (though in my estimation, The Shop is nonpareil in the granola department).  Served in a large goblet, this parfait showcases a house-made brewer’s granola, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and berries.  The Greek yogurt is uncharacteristically (but very much welcome) sweet, a nice foil for the sweet-tart berries which burst with flavor when you bite into them.  The brewer’s granola is superb mixture of rolled oats, nuts and honey which crunches nicely when you bite into it. 

The menu offers an inviting chorizo biscuits and gravy entree (probably large enough for a family of five), but all we could manage was an order of buttermilk biscuits with honey butter.  The biscuits are light and fluffy and about the size of an Olympic discus.  The sweet honey-butter is a perfect complement to the natural savoriness of the biscuits.   

Whether or not the Duke City is approaching a brewery saturation point, the Desert Valley Brewing Co. is poised to become a favorite for cerevisaphiles and foodies alike though you should be forewarned that if you consume the entirety of your meal, you may not be able to eat again for a day or so.

Desert Valley Brewing Co.
3700 Ellison Road, Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 899-8494
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Granola Parfait, Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey Butter, Waffle Nachos

Desert Valley Brewing Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Cotorro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill

There’s a scene in the 2006 lucha libre (Mexican professional wrestling) comedy film Nacho Libre in which Nacho’s ectomorphic tag team partner Esqueleto (“the skeleton”) orders two grilled, buttered and chile-dusted elotes (corn-on-the-cob) from a street vendor. Esqueleto graciously attempts to hand one to Nacho who rebuffs the offer, knocks the elotes to the ground and bellows “get that corn out of my face!” That antagonistic act so enraged Esqueleto that he leaped on Nacho’s back and attempted to throw his corpulent partner to the ground. The sight of the two golden elotes tinged with red chile on the ground was funny at the time, however, after consuming the elotes at El Cotorro, we would consider knocking elotes to the ground an act of sacrilege and sheer madness.  It’s no wonder Esqueleto was so upset.

Sure we’ve had elotes elsewhere…plenty of elotes at a plethora of elsewheres, in fact, but only at El Cotorro have elotes made us swoon in appreciation. El Cotorro, which translates to “the parrot” in English is not what you might expect from a Mexican restaurant of that name. It’s not a restaurant named for the stereotypical squawking “Polly wants a cracker” parrot mascot some kitschy restaurant might employ. To understand the moniker El Cotorro, it helps to understand that the restaurant is actually named for Mexico’s lottery.

El Cotorro Dining Room

Similar to Powerball and Mega Millions in the United States, the Mexican lottery (loteria) is a game of chance, but instead of plain numbers adorning ping pong balls, a number is assigned to 54 images on a deck of cards.   The game begins with the caller randomly selecting a card from the deck and announcing it to the players.  Players with a matching pictogram on their board mark it off just as they would a Bingo card.  The first player to complete a previously specified pattern or who fills their board  shouts ¡Lotería!” and is declared the winner.

Often, instead of calling out a number, the caller will use a riddle.  For the card sporting the number 24, for example, the caller would recite “Cotorro cotorro saca la pata, y empiézame a platicar” which translates from Spanish to “Parrot, parrot, stick our your claw and begin to chat with me.”  A large depiction of a parrot on the number 24 loteria deck sits on the roof just above the entrance to the Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro on Carlisle.  It’s indeed indicative that you’ve won the lottery in the form of some of the very best tacos, gelato and elote north of the border.

Mango-Apricot Agua Fresca, Chips and Salsa

During the contentious 2016 Presidential run ending with Donald Trump’s election, Latinos for Trump leader Marco Guttierez warned “that without tighter immigration policies…you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” While taco trucks may not yet be parked on every corner across the fruited plain, there are now two corners in the Nob Hill district in which taqueria storefronts welcome teeming masses.  The first,  Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila opened its doors in January, 2012.  Some four-and-a-half years later (in July, 2016), restaurant impresario Daniel Boardman launched El Cotorro which is patterned after taquerias and heladerias in Southern Mexico. El Cotorro is located about a block south of Central on Carlisle at the former site of Rodeo Furniture which moved next door.

As with Boardman’s two other Duke City eateries, Tia Betty Blue’s and Tia B’s La Waffleria, expect El Cotorro to garner significant acclaim.  We first learned of it from Kristin Saterlee’s glowing review on Unfussy Epicure, her wonderful blog.  Kristen effusively predicted El Cotorro is “quickly going to become a favorite Albuquerque stop for dinner, snacks, and dessert.”  Her prognostication gained even more traction when El Cotorro expanded its hours of operation.  Initially open only during dinner hours (5-9), on January 9th, 2017, El Cotorro is now open Monday through Saturday: 11:30AM to 8PM and Sunday, 5PM to 8PM.  

Elote

Okay, so Albuquerque has another taqueria.  If you’re not excited by that prospect, it could be you haven’t the experienced the revolutionary-evolutionary diversity of tacos.  Today’s tacos aren’t your mother’s tacos nor are they the tacos proffered to this day at many New Mexican restaurants.  You know the type–hard-shelled, greasy, fried corn tortillas stuffed with ground beef topped with sundry and predictable ingredients: grated cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce and chopped tomatoes with salsa on the side.  One bite and these tacos fall apart, exploding onto your plate or shirtfront.  Of course we can derive pleasure from these messy, hand-held treasures, but there’s oh, so much more to the tacos of contemporary America.

It turns out the tacos with which Americans have become so enamored are, in many cases, the tacos proffered across Old Mexico for years. No longer are hoity-toity Americans turning up our noses at the “peasant” ingredients (huitlacoche, barbacoa, lengua, buche, tripas, etc.) which used to make all but the most culinarily intrepid among us cower in revulsion. Americans have arrived at the realization that there’s deliciousness to be found in these strange, exotic ingredients. Daniel Boardman, who fears no ingredient, fell in love with the variety of tacos and ice creams available in taquerias and heladerias (ice cream parlors) throughout Mexico and patterned El Cotorro’s menu after dishes he enjoyed from Mexico City to the Yucatan.  

Cobia Fish, Shrimp and Chard & Papitas Guisado (Veggie) Tacos

El Cotorro’s 1,650 square-foot edifice is divided in two–one section for the dining room, the other for the bustling, hustling kitchen, a maelstrom of activity. As you make your way through the queue, you’ll espy menus suspended from the ceiling above the beverage counter. Scrawled above the exhibition kitchen is the inviting suggestion “Vamos A Echarnos Unos Tacos” (let’s have some tacos). In October, 2017, El Cotorro relocated its heladeria operation next door to a venue now entirely dedicated to Mexican frozen deliciousness.  Step into Heladeria El Cotorro and you’ll  be mesmirized by freezer cases in which a panoply of colorful ice cream flavors is displayed, each as tempting as Eve’s apple.

Much like taquerias across Mexico, the menu isn’t overly large or complicated. One menu board lists tacos and their respective meats: al pastor, pork carnitas, braised oxtail, carne asada, chicken tinga and smoked lamb’s leg barbacos. The next lists seafood tacos: shrimp and cobia fish, as well as vegetarian tacos: nopales and chard-and-papitas guisado. On the third menu board, you’ll find the glorious sides: elotes, frijoles churros, chips and salsa bar, chips and guacamole and ceviche. You’ll also find a kid’s menu and a section for drinks: iced tea, aguas frescas and Mexican hot chocolate. Look for daily specials by the counter where you place your order.

Al Pastor and Pork Carnitas Tacos

21 January 2017: You’ll certainly want to order the chips and salsa bar with your choice of flour or corn chips made fresh to order. Six steel trays in the dining room display a variety of salsas along with recommendations as to which salsa goes well with each of the tacos. You’ll ladle your choices onto small steel vessels and ferry them to your table to await the made-to-order chips. These are no ordinary chips. The flour chips, for example, are made from flour tortillas cut into triangular shapes which are lightly dusted with red chile. There’s only one thing wrong with those chips—there’s not enough of them. Each of the three salsa vessels we filled were still half full when we ran out of chips. The salsas are terrific! They’re Mexican salsas with the fiery personality of Montezuma.

21 January 2017: If you don’t order the elotes, El Esqueleto would be justified in jumping on your back. This is quite simply the very best corn-on-the-cob we’ve ever had…and I grew up on a farm where we raised and grilled our own sweet corn. Not only is the flame-grilled corn-on-the-cob sweet and moist, it’s seasoned with a lime aioli, chile powder and cotija cheese. While that makes for a very messy proposition, you’ll enjoy licking any delicious residue off your fingers. You’ll also need a couple napkins to wipe your mouth afterwards. The lime aioli, chile powder and cotija cheese are in such perfect proportion to one another that no one flavor dominates. Instead, this tasty triumvirate combines to give your taste buds a hearty, happy experience. 

Buy Three Tacos Get One Free: Top–Chard and Papitas Guisada and Al Pastor; Bottom–Nopales and Fried Avocado

21 January 2017: Landlubbers and sea-farers alike will enjoy the tacos. Interestingly, the meat-filled and vegetarian tacos are served on corn tortillas while the seafood are served on flour tortillas though you may substitute on request. Authenticity is readily apparent even as you’re placing your order. You’ll espy a vertical spit on which sliced, marinated pork is impaled onto a steel rod just as it’s done in Mexico. Above the glistening pork are slices of fresh pineapple whose flavor drips onto the pork, imbuing it with a tangy sweetness as both cook slowly. Order the al pastor taco and you’ll be rewarded with thinly-sliced pork served with white onions and cilantro sprouts. You won’t find a better al pastor taco anywhere. To my liking, pork carnitas tacos are about as boring as a taco can get, but not at El Cotorro where pork carnitas means slow-cooked pork shoulder, sweet corn pico de gallo, lime crema and cilantro sprouts. Harmonious flavors, thy name is pork carnitas! Wow!

21 January 2017: The seafood lover in you will love what El Cotorro’s kitchen staff does with the bounty of the sea. Picture flame-kissed shrimp sautéed in garlic and joining pipian salsa, arugula, avocado and pumpkin seeds on a flour tortilla. A light squeeze of lime and flavors galore will explode in your mouth. The textural contrast of the shrimp and pumpkin seeds is especially notable. It used to be you couldn’t find a decent fish taco in the Duke City. El Cotorro joins a number of restaurants now serving exemplary fish tacos with a cobia fish taco (blackened Panamanian cobia on jicama-jalapeno slaw topped with diced mango) as great as you’ll find in San Diego. Unlike so many other fish tacos, the coleslaw isn’t overly creamy and has very nice notes of piquancy courtesy of the jalapeno. Counterbalancing the smoky brininess of the shrimp are diced, sweet mangoes. There’s a lot going on here. Similarly, there are a wealth of flavor notes on the chard and papitas guisado (veggie) taco constructed with a mix of sautéed onion, garlic, rainbow chard and purslane (depending on availability) de-glazed with salsa roja and topped with papitas and cilantro sprouts. Surprisingly, this one turned out to be our favorite.

Shrimp and Pineapple Ceviche with Mixed Chips

13 July 2017: Taco Tuesday isn’t just some clever marketing ploy designed to lure hungry patrons to their favorite purveyor of tacos.  Taco Tuesday has become part of American vernacular and culture.  Like Pavlog’s dogs, some of us have become conditioned to start drooling right around lunch time on Tuesdays.  Let El Cotorro hook you up.  On Taco Tuesdays, the incomparable al pastor tacos and the vegan guisado tacos are just two bucks each.  An equally enticing deal offers “buy three tacos, get one free.”  How can you possibly pass that up?  You can’t–especially if one of the four is the fried avocado taco (fried avocado, black beans, sweet corn, pico de gallo and lime crema on a fried flour tortilla)  the very best vegan taco I’ve ever had.  The buttery avocado loses none of its richness when it’s fried while the combination of black beans and lime crema would, on their own, make for a great taco.  Another superb vegetarian taco showcases the briny-slightly tart flavor of nopales (crunchy, fried cactus on asadero cheese topped with crispy green onions. 

13 October 2017: Since introducing my “work-wife” and good friend Elaine to El Cotorro, she’s visited it more often than I have, including three times in one week. She’s enamored of the tacos, particularly those of the vegetarian persuasion.  It goes without saying that she’s besotted with the gelato, too.  Call it showing off if you will, but I’ve delighted in introducing her to dishes she might not know about or otherwise wouldn’t order.  Asking nicely, we got the chef to prepare two fried avocado tacos which Elaine loved.  They’re now on her two-to-three tacos per visit rotation.  Another new to her but instantly a favorite is El Cotorro’s shrimp and pineapple ceviche served with both corn and flour tortilla chips.  This paragon of deliciousness is as invigorating as any Mexican-style ceviche we’ve had with a pronounced citrus freshness permeating every bite.  Micro-greens, red onion and shrimp sliced small impregnated with lime make this a must-have.

Chocolate and Orange-Clove Gelatos

21 January 2017: Since 2013, Frost Gelato in Albuquerque’s Uptown district has redefined, revitalized and refreshed the ice cream experience across the Duke City. Gelato, the Italian word for ice cream, is creamier, smoother and silkier than its American counterpart. It’s also denser yet more elastic than ice cream. Gelato is made with far less cream than conventional ice cream which means less butterfat and a lighter, less airy composition with a better “mouth feel.” Consider it heretical if you will, but after our inaugural experience at El Cotorro, we believe Mexican gelato to be far more bold and brash than its Italian counterpart–more intensely flavored and constructed of ingredients with lots of (and multiple) personality. 

21 January 2017: The ice cream station features a daily rotation of vibrant flavors in kaleidoscopic colors. You’ll may do a double-take at the brassiness and alchemy of the flavor combinations—fruits with savory seasonings, ice creams flavored with adult libations and herbaceous ingredients, creativity blessed with audacity. Who wants vanilla when you can have tarragon grapefruit? The ginger gelato will help you relive the palate-cleansing experience of a sushi meal coupled with the refreshing coolness of ice cream on a summer day. Not surprisingly, the infusion of ginger’s punch also makes it an ideal finish to a piquant meal. The notion of chocolate and caramel gelato may seem as exciting as a Reese’s peanut butter cup commercial, but with the intensity of Mexican chocolate and bravado of Mexican caramel, this gelato has as much personality as some salsas. 

Hawaiian Pizza and Chocolate Banana

21 January 2017: Because deciding what gelato flavors to order will certainly be a challenge, avail yourself of the opportunity to sample several flavors. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll discern with one spoonful. That’s all it took to convince me one of my two scoops would be orange-clove. Ben, the craftsman behind the gelatos, was concerned that this combination might be too strong, but it was just about perfect for this coveter of clove and inamorato of orange. My other flavor choice—chocolate—may not have the sheer bravado of other gelatos, but then Mexican chocolate is so much bolder and expressive than mere mortal chocolate. We loved every not-so-subtle nuance in the four flavors we ordered, but won’t allow ourselves to fall so much in love that we don’t order other flavors. 

21 October 2017: In January, 2017, the President of Iceland placed himself on the pantheon of terrible world leaders with his declaration that he hates Hawaiian pizza so much that he’d ban pineapple on pizza if he was able to make and pass laws on his own.  Predictably, the backlash was instantaneous. Calls for impeachment and worse were widespread.  Undoubtedly the Icelandic imbecile would hate the Hawaiian Pizza gelato at Heladeria El Cotorro.  Another exemplar of creativity (basil, tomato, prosciutto and pineapple), this gelato is certainly not for everybody, but it is for those of us who like bold, “different” gelato flavor combinations.  More traditional is a chocolate-banana gelato which pairs two flavor profiles which go so well together.  It’s terrific!

If you still think of tacos as a delivery system for ground beef, lettuce and cheese on a hard shell, you owe it to yourself to visit Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro and soon!  Similarly, if you’re bored with timid ice cream flavors, El Cotorro will rock your world with Mexican gelato that is bold and brash.  This is a taqueria for the 21st Century courtesy of traditional Mexican flavors.

Taqueria Y Heladeria El Cotorro
111 Carlisle, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-6202
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 October 2017
1st VISIT: 21 January 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Elotes, Carnitas Taco, Al Pastor Taco, Cobia Fish Taco, Shrimp Taco, Chard & Papitas Guisado Taco, Fried Avocado Taco, Nopales Taco, Chips and Salsa, Chocolate Gelato, Orange-Clove Gelato, Ginger Gelato, Caramel-Chocolate Gelato, Pineapple and Shrimp Ceviche, Hawaiian Pizza Gelato, Chocolate Banana Gelato

El Cotorro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe 6855 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe 6855 on 4th Street

The cover page of the May 20, 2013 edition of Time Magazine depicts a twenty-something woman sprawled on the floor taking a selfie. In large type above the photo is the caption “The Me Me Me Generation” subtitled with “Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” If you believe the monolithic label “millennial” (typically assigned to a person born between 1981 and 2001) defines all young people and that popular characterizations and stereotypes about millennials are accurate, perhaps you’ll be interested in an oceanfront piece of real estate I’m selling in Arizona. If your perceptions of young people skew toward the negative, let me introduce you to Victoria and Julian Gonzales.

Victoria and Julian are among the 80-million millennials across the fruited plain. As with many millennials, they’re technologically savvy, very civic-minded and conscious of health, environmental and socioeconomic issues. They’re confident and driven. They’ve got exceptional work ethics and value social connectedness very much…and not just online Both are very outgoing and friendly. They’ve had to be. We’ve known Victoria and Julian since they tagged along with their charismatic dad Michael as he launched Café Bella, his then-fledgling coffee empire in Rio Rancho. We’ve watched them grow not only into very accomplished baristas who’ve served me hundreds of red chile mochas, but into extraordinary young adults with good heads on their shoulders. To say we’re very fond of them is an understatement.

Left: Our beautiful server and friend Victoria Gonzales and her sister…er, mom Tiffany

Until recently, Victoria, a full-time student at the University of New Mexico somehow managed to put in as many as sixty hours in her two part-time jobs (Café Bella and Joe’s Pasta House).  When she moved on to another job, we missed seeing her perpetually smiling face, always effusive greeting and nonpareil ability to prepare the perfect red chile mocha. Fortunately, her new job is as a hostess and server at Café 6855 on North 4th.  It’s not much further from Cafe Bella for us and it’s got a capacious, but intimate dog-friendly patio.  Our inaugural visit to the Cafe was a happy reunion in that we were well taken care of by Victoria and got to visit with her mom Tiffany and grandmother Mary Ann who were also visiting Cafe 6855 for the first time.  It’s easy to see where Victoria and Julian get their good looks and winning personalities (okay, Michael may have had a little to do with that as well).

Cafe 6855 is the sister restaurant to Vernon’s Speakeasy, a highly touted steak restaurant which has garnered local and national recognition as New Mexico’s most romantic restaurant.  Its name is derived from its address (6855 4th Street) where it shares space with its elder sibling.  More precisely, Cafe 6855 is located in the space which previously housed Prime and before that the Calico Cantina & Cafe.  Cafe 6855 is open daily for lunch and serves a fabulous brunch on weekends, but in the evenings and at night, the cafe space and patio become part of Vernon’s.  At the Cafe, you can even order Vernon’s steaks at lunch and brunch

Carolina Chicken Salad

Instead of a large menu, Cafe 6855 focuses on a few items and if our inaugural experience is any indication, they’re prepared extraordinarily well.  By the way, when you dine al fresco, especially with a dining companion as charming and outgoing as our debonair dachshund Dude, you get to know everyone on the patio.  There was consensus among the dozen or so people enjoying the patio as to the high level of deliciousness to which we were all treated.  Those of us who ordered the breakfast enchiladas (more on them later) were especially enthralled with our choice.  One diner even offered a thousand dollar bribe to get the recipe for the chile.  It would have been a bargain at that price.

The lunch menu (noting that all items are subject to change and availability) is segmented into four sections: Soups and Side Salads, 6855 Sandwiches, Salads and Cafe Specialties.  Then there’s the dozen item brunch menu which features items you might find at other purveyors of eye-opening brunches.  In other words, outwardly the menu has no surprises.  What is surprising, however, is just how good your meal is prepared.  Moreover, there’s enough variety to warrant frequent return visits (that is, if you can get past those breakfast enchiladas).

New York Steak with Eggs, Toast and Fruit

There are four salads on the lunch menu, each intriguing in its own way.  The most unique offering is the Carolina Chicken Salad (fried chicken, pickled okra and red onion, chopped tomato, shredded cheese, candied bacon and pecans, with romaine tossed with a spicy honey mustard vinaigrette). This is the antithesis of every boring chicken salad you’ve ever had (and I’ll bet most of them were probably constructed with cold chopped chicken).  You’ll probably want to pluck the fried chicken out of the salad and eat it on its own, but it goes very well with the other ingredients, perhaps marrying best with the candied bacon and pecans.  The spicy honey mustard vinaigrette is slathered on generously, a huge plus.

In the Land of Enchantment, two ubiquitous breakfast favorites reign supreme and have done so for a long time. New Mexico’s two most beloved—some would say beatified–breakfast items are breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros. Breakfast tacos (not talking here about the Texas-style taquitos at Whataburger) and, perhaps to a lesser extent, breakfast enchiladas have played third and fourth fiddle to their breakfast brethren. Café 6855 may just change your mind about to order for breakfast and brunch. The brunch menu offers the very best breakfast enchilada we’ve ever had, a beauteous behemoth that covers an entire plate. Picture three rolled enchiladas engorged with your choice of chicken or seasoned ground beef and cheese covered in a blanket of red or (and) green chile and two eggs prepared to your exacting specifications. Trust me, you’re going to want these enchiladas “Christmas” style. Red and green are equally terrific with a nice balance of piquancy (a little too much heat for my Kim) and flavor (sheer lick-the-plate deliciousness). These enchiladas are so good you’ll probably polish them off even though they’ll fill you up halfway through your meal. If you’re going to leave anything on the plate, it’ll probably be the pinto beans which are quite good, but the star of this dish is clearly the enchiladas. 

Breakfast Enchiladas with two eggs

My Chicago born-and-bred bride of three decades thought she might be disappointed with the brunch entrée of strip steak and eggs, figuring that a fifteen dollar steak could hardly compete with the high priced steaks she’s had at Vernon’s. Okay, so the steak wasn’t prime beef, but it was eight-ounces of well-seasoned, nicely-marbled beef as tender and delicious as we’ve had at several higher priced chop houses. Served atop the steak is an herbaceous compound butter which you can spread onto the beef. It’s a nice touch! The steak is served with two eggs your way, seasoned papas, fresh fruit and toast. The small, cubed papas are a worthy accompaniment though you’ll probably want even more than you’re served.

It goes without saying that service was flawless with Victoria taking care of our every need and brightening our day with her smiles and charm.  Seeing her was the reason we visited Cafe 6855.  Outstanding food and service are two of the many reasons we’ll return.

Cafe 6855
6855 4th Street, N.W., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 341-0831
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 October 2017
# OF VISITS:  1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Carolina Chicken Salad, Breakfast Enchiladas with Two Eggs, New York Steak with Eggs

Cafe 6855 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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