Philly Steaks – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Philly Steaks on Juan Tabo Opened Its Doors in February, 2018

I love the dignity in the name Philadelphia, but at heart, we’re Philly.”
~Lisa Scottoline
New York Times Best-Selling Author

There are a couple of things you should know about Philadelphia,” my friend  Vladimir “Speedy” Gonzalez told me before my first visit to the City of Brotherly Love.  “First, Philadelphians are not rude.  We may be blunt and direct, but that’s just passion.”   Passion?  I always thought he was a grouch.   “Second,” he added, “you’ve got to know the process for ordering a Philly cheesesteak when you visit Pat’s King of Steaks.  If you don’t, you’ll be sent to the end of the line.”  Sure enough, the Pat’s counterman didn’t appreciate my typical twenty questions ordering approach and sent me back to the end of the line, halfway around the block. 

Apparently what Vladimir called passion is pretty pervasive in Philadelphia.  There are dozens of examples of that passion in sporting events, including a notorious 1968 event in which Eagles fans booed and pelted Santa Claus with snowballs.   There are also plenty of non-sporting examples.  In 1998, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which oversees taxis, mandated etiquette classes for the city’s cab drivers. Cynics called it “cabbie charm school” and derided it as “a class to teach class.” More recently, a 2012 project called “Twitter heat map” scanned 462 locations in the United States for the phrases “Good morning” and “F–k you.” The project revealed that Philadelphia registered the highest concentration of “f-bombs,” but also the highest concentration of “Good morning.”

The Interior of Philly Steaks

So, how do you reconcile that dichotomy?   “Good morning” is not only a salutation, it’s a wish and a blessing, a life-affirming declaration.  It’s hardly a rude or impolite.  Could it be that denizens of the City of Brotherly Love are morning people?  That the rigors and vicissitudes of the day weigh so heavily that they’re transformed into rude and grumpy people?  Could it be, as Vladimir explained, all about passion?  My friend “8,” who matriculated at an institution of higher learning in Philadelphia explained the notion of the grumpy Pat’s King of Steaks waitstaff this way: “It’s kind of a self fulfilling prophecy much akin to the grumpy counterman at Zabar’s or the attitude of the waiter at Peter Luger when a patron asks for a menu, or any Jewish deli man charged with slicing the pastrami.  It is part of the charm if that’s the way to express the curmudgeonly quality of the service.  I would expect no less when ordering.”  Extrapolate that charm, that attitude, that passion across an entire city and you’ve got Philadelphia, take it or leave it.

I’ll take it, especially if it means incomparable cheesesteaks, peerless pretzels, craveable cannoli, bountiful broccoli rabe and roast pork sandwiches, sumptuous square pizza, terrific tomato pie and scrumptious scrapple.  We were ecstatic to learn about the February, 2018 launch of Philly Steaks, an authentic purveyor of Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwiches owned and operated by veteran restaurateurs who plied their trade in the mean streets of the Cradle of Liberty.  We knew we’d love the sandwiches, were hopeful the portions would be more Philadelphia than Albuquerque, and wondered if the famous Philadelphia passion would be part and parcel of our experience.

Green Chile Fries

Philly’s Steaks is owned and operated by Jim and Joe Lelii, twin brothers with a passion for Italian style cooking.  The brothers launched their first restaurant at only 21 years of age and over the years, opened several successful Italian restaurants and sandwich shops across the Philadelphia metropolitan area.    Recently, however, they relocated to the Land of Enchantment where they launched Philly’s Steaks.  They’ve got the pedigree and the passion to do it right.  In rare lulls in grill activity, we shared good conversation and laughs with the affable Joe, a larger-than-life personality who doesn’t perpetuate the stereotype of the grumpy counterman.  He was as as friendly as could be. Look at his Popeye-like forearms and it’s obvious Joe has spent much of his life chopping rib eye on the grill, a melodic percussion of metal on metal as he slices the rib eye into thin, small pieces.

Philly Steaks is a veritable  shrine to the City of Brotherly Love, both its heroes and its anti-heroes.  Walls are festooned with framed photos of iconic Philadelphia sports icons–real (Smoking Joe Frazier, for example) and cinematic (Rocky Balboa anyone), singers, actors (such as Al Martino) and so much more.  One wall is dedicated to Joe’s family.  He waxes nostalgic when he points out the photos of his grandfather’s deli and other family enterprises in South Philadelphia.  Philly Steaks, he told us, is configured very similarly to similar restaurants he previously owned.  He has high hopes that Duke City diners will embrace his sandwich shop. Every indications–crowded tables with satisfied patrons–is that Albuquerque is already in love with Philly Steaks.

Onion Rings

3 March 2018: Seeing “French Fries” on any menu typically inspires a well-deserved yawn.  At Philly Steaks, it inspires contemplation–a deep, thoughtful deliberation as to how you want your fries.  Sure, you can save the thick, seasoned fries for ketchup, but how boring is that–especially when you can have your fries with Cheese Whiz, Crab, Crab and Cheese, Buffalo chicken and cheese, green chile and cheese, and Philly cheesesteak?  Available in two sizes, regular and bucket, either portion size will sate a family of four.  Don’t be wary about ordering your fries with green chile and cheese.  It’s as if a native New Mexican prepared the green chile.  It’s got both piquancy and the distinctive roasted flavor we love. 

14 March 2018:  On his one “cheat day” a week, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” allows himself just a few more carbs than usual.  One of his favorite indulgences is onion rings–what Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster calls “vegetable donuts.”  Philly Steak’s rendition are battered a bit on the thick side with a panko-like breading.  Bite into each of the succulent orbs and the flavor of sweet, juicy onions greets you.  Be careful, though, as these onion rings could burn your mouth.

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Holds A Cheesesteak

If you’ve ever lamented the chintzy meat portions in sandwiches crafted throughout the Duke City, you’ll be pleasantly surprised (maybe amazed) at how generous portion sizes are at Philly Steaks.  Half a Philly Steaks cheesesteak is as big, if not bigger, than any other Philly cheesesteak in Albuquerque.   You’d think there is more livestock in Pennsylvania than there is in New Mexico where sheep and cattle outnumber our citizenry.  And, if you remember the lawsuit a few years ago against Subway for selling twelve-inch and foot-long sandwiches that were allegedly less than twelve-inches long, you’ll be happy to see elongated, torpedo-sized rolls that probably exceed twelve inches at Philly Steaks.  This is the sandwich size Duke City diners deserved and perhaps thought they’d never find in the city. 

3 March 2018: One look at the Philly Cheesesteak and we knew there’s no way my Kim and I would be able to finish it in one sitting.  It was humongous.  Moreover, it was bursting with flavor.  As at the aforementioned Pat’s King of Steaks, there’s a process for ordering your Philly Cheesesteak.  First you select your protein: beef (fresh-cut rib-eye) or chicken (fresh-cut boneless chicken breast) then your choice of cheese (white, American, Provolone, Cheese Whiz) then the type of cheesesteak you want: pizza steak, mushroom cheesesteak, bell pepper cheesesteak, chicken cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken cheesesteak or green chile cheesesteak.  While the ordering process may be similar to that of Pat’s, the “attitude” is not.   Instead of sass and ‘tood, you’ll be greeted with cheer and friendliness.

Philly Cheesesteak “Whiz Wit”

If our choice (bell pepper cheesesteak with Provolone) is any indication, you can’t go wrong with any one of them.  The grilled rib eye is superbly seasoned, tender and delicious.  The hoagie roll is perhaps the best we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The portion size–it’s what Duke City sandwich lovers have wanted for years.  Of course, one of the most difficult decisions to make when ordering a cheesesteak is what type of cheese to request.  We’ve had our share of cheesesteaks with the fabled Cheese Whiz as well as with Provolone and American cheeses, but our favorite has been the white cheese with its salty, pungent notes.  It melts well and integrates beautifully with the steak. 

14 March 2018:  Like me, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver has long lamented the dearth of sizeable sandwiches in the Duke City.  Having grown up in Los Angeles, he was used to sandwiches as big as footballs.  In Philly’s Steaks, he’s finally found a sandwich comparable in size to those with which he was raised.  Moreover, the cheesesteak he ordered (mushrooms, red peppers, grilled onions and Provolone) was as delicious as any sandwich he’s had anywhere.  My sandwich was exactly the same as his save for ordering Cheese Whiz instead of Provolone.  Perhaps traumatized by my inaugural visit to Pat’s King of Steaks, I didn’t order mine “Whiz Wit,” local vernacular for ordering a cheesesteak with Whiz and grilled onions.  Maybe next time.  At any regard, we both enjoyed our sandwiches very much and thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Joe.

Italian Special

3 March 2018: Freshly sliced hoagies, all served with lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, oregano, hot or sweet peppers, salt and pepper and mayo on request, are an excellent alternative to a cheesesteak (if you can pry yourself away from the sandwich which made Philadelphia famous).  There are ten sandwiches in the freshly sliced hoagies portion of the menu.  Among them is a sandwich almost as elusive as Forrest Fenn’s treasure, a truly transformative Italian Special (ham, capicola, Genoa salami, Provolone, pepper ham).  It’s roughly the size of two, maybe three, similarly named and priced Italian sub sandwiches at any Albuquerque restaurant. 

Most ordinary humans won’t be able to consume an entire sandwich in one seating (that turns out to be a blessing because the sandwich tastes even better for breakfast the following day).  Most of us (exempting politicians) won’t be able to get the sandwich in our mouths.  It is seriously thick and crammed with meats and condiments.  The meats (Boar’s Head) work very well with the condiments, the more of them the better.  With its sweet and mild notes, Provolone lets other ingredients shine as well as being a great foil for the sweet, tangy peppers.  Oh, and the hoagie rolls are fantastic, reminiscent of Amoroso’s, the legendary Philadelphia hearth-baked bread.  Joe told us the dough is shipped from Philadelphia and baked on the premises.  It’s outstanding bread and the way it’s sliced, there’s not so much bread that it dominates the sandwich and leaves little room for other ingredients.

Crab Soup

3 March 2018: Because of its proximity to Maryland, it’s only natural that the menu of a Philadelphia themed restaurant would include dishes showcasing crab Maryland style.  Befitting Philadelphia’s “passion,”  a little tchotchke about the staff’s “crabbiness” hangs behind the counter where you place your order.  The menu offers “craby” fries, “craby” cheese fries and on the day of our inaugural visit both Maryland style crab cakes and a crab soup.  It’s a thick elixir served hot in a large portion cup.  Creamy and rich, it’s replete with chunks of sweet crab, potatoes, red peppers and seasonings.  As with every item on the menu, portion size is Philadelphia not Albuquerque.

3 March 2018: When my Kim was studying the small dessert case, Joe came up to her and suggested she try the cheesecake which is imported directly from the City of Brotherly Love.  It makes great sense that the city famous for its eponymous cream cheese would make a superb cheesecake.  Indeed it does.  Moreover, food historian Gil (great name) Marks notes that Philadelphia boasted of a tavern called “Cheesecake House” in the 18th century.  So, Philadelphians have been enjoying cheesecake for years.  You’ll enjoy this one.  It’s dense, creamy, buttery and not overly sweet on a Graham crust.  Even better, it’s served slab-sized so it’s big enough to share.  Take my word for it, if you eat even half a sandwich, you’ll only have room enough left for half a slice of cheesecake.


If you’ve ever experienced the stereotyped seedy side of Philadelphia manners as well as the authenticity and deliciousness of the Philadelphia cheesecake, you’ll love Philly Steaks where you can experience the latter without the “passion” for which Philadelphians are known.   Philly Steaks has elevated the sandwich scene in Albuquerque.

Philly Steaks
2520 Juan Tabo, N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 582-2527
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2018
1st VISIT: 3 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Philly Cheesesteak, Cheesecake, Italian Special, Crab Soup, Green Chile Fries
REVIEW #1029

Philly Steaks Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Yellow Brix Restaurant – Carlsbad, New Mexico

Entrance to the Yellow Brix Patio

Gastronomes (people with sensitive and discriminating culinary tastes), cerevisaphiles (aficionados of beers and ales) and oenophiles (connoisseurs of wines) have a vernacular of their own. Most of us need a universal translator to understand what they’re saying when they’re waxing eruditely about their passions. The commonality among the three is their pursuit of sensual pleasures, an indulgence of the senses. Being singularly passionate about one of these epicurean pursuits doesn’t necessarily mean you’re conversant in the vernacular of another.

Case in point, as we were enjoying our al fresco dining experience at the Yellow Brix patio in Carlsbad, I contemplated what theme to wrap my review around.  Yellow brick road?  Nah, too cheesy.  Bricks as a foundation for success?  Too boring.  Bricks as in yet another of my jump shots bouncing off the rim?  Too embarrassing.  Fortunately the couple on the table to our left bailed me out.  Obviously “grape nuts” (yes, that’s a synonym for oenophile), they were speaking what seemed to be Klingon as they raised their glasses to their lips and sipped in a manner that was both studious and appreciative.  Terms such as “tannin,” “body,” “terroir” and “brix” were interspersed with conversations about the day’s activities.

Yellow Brix Patio

What the heck could “bricks” possibly have to do with wine, I wondered.  Could there possibly be a grape-pressing method involving the use of bricks?  And does the restaurant’s name Yellow Brix portend something about the color of bricks used in the grape-pressing process?  It finally dawned on me that the key might not be in the pronunciation “bricks,” but in the spelling “brix.”  As it turns out, when our neighbors were using the term “brix,” they were talking about a way to measure grapes to determine how much alcohol a wine will have.  It’s not as complicated as Stephen Hawkings gravitational singularity theorems as Wine Folly  explains below.

“Brix (°Bx) is a way to measure the potential alcohol content of a wine before it’s made by determining the sugar level in grapes. Each gram of sugar that’s fermented will turn into about a 1/2 gram of alcohol. Of course, different winemaking techniques will affect the final alcohol content, which is why Brix is interesting to us inquisitive wine explorers.”  It’s very scientific, much like molecular gastronomy principles where techniques from chemistry and physics are used to transform the textures of food into innovative eating experiences. Sous-vide anyone?

Roasted Grape Salad

Yellow Brix does indeed have an impressive wine list…and the edifice is constructed of yellow bricks, an architecturally beautiful and historic yellow-brick home built in 1928.  Some eight decades later (2011) owners Dan and Barbara Remplel began the conversion to a commercial restaurant with the goal of preserving the historic integrity of this stately home.  Initially they launched as a unique coffeehouse, but toward the end of their first year they decided to offer more to the community of Carlsbad, transitioning into the full service restaurant it is today.

Its website indicates “YellowBrix Restaurant strives to be the epicurean restaurant of choice for the community of Carlsbad.”  If our inaugural visit is any indication, it’s a wonderful community gathering space that would be right at home anywhere.  “Anywhere” doesn’t necessarily have Carlsbad’s moderate climes.  We had our first al fresco dinner for 2018 on a short-sleeve worthy March day on the Yellow Brix patio with our debonair dachshund The Dude.  The interior dining room is beautiful, but the patio is the place to be.  It’s well lit and shielded from the North Canal Street traffic.  Portable patio heaters stood at the ready should they be needed, but it was warm for the entire duration of our stay.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

The Yellow Brix menu bespeaks of a guest-centric mission statement: “We believe in providing an exceptional dining experience and unbelievable food. We offer an extensive selection of lunch, dinner, and kid’s items made from scratch every day, that are sure to satisfy any appetite.  For even more favors, we have incredible salmon, prime rib, pork chops, margarita chicken and grilled steak options you won’t find anywhere else. After dinner, we welcome you to try our famous cheesecake or homemade gelato, while sipping one of our specialty coffee drinks. We even roast our own beans!”  Sure enough, the menu gave us plenty to contemplate.

While the starters menu included an inviting array of tempting appetizers, we wanted to try something heretofore new to us.  The roasted grape salad (baby spinach with fresh roasted grapes, craisins, candied walnuts and goat cheese with brandied vanilla dressing) did the trick.  Sure we’ve had roasted grapes on salads before, but that brandied vanilla dressing heralded something special.  Brandy, with its depth of nuanced flavors, was easily discerned.  Its pairing with a thin (not quite the consistency of pudding) sheen of vanilla is something we’ll try to reconstruct at home.  The brandy counterbalanced the sweetness away from the vanilla and proved an excellent foil to the tart, earthiness of the goat cheese.  Similarly, the juicy grapes provided a nice textural contrast to the candied walnuts.  This salad was a pleasant surprise!

Roasted Half Chicken

With her entree, my Kim had her choice of sides, all inviting, but it was the chicken tortilla soup (vegetables, chicken breast, avocado, cheese and tortilla chips) which beckoned. At far too many New Mexican restaurants, chicken tortilla soup is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, usually “good enough” but rarely memorable.  Yellow Brix’s version is in rarefied air as one of the most satisfying of its ilk we’ve ever had.  Not only is the portion size generous (brimming), the ingredients are of high quality and prepared well.  Each vegetable contributed mightily to our enjoyment as did notes of musky achiote.  After you’ve dispensed with all the vegetables, this is a soup you’ll want to slurp up.

Thinking she would certainly order one of the chef-cut char-grilled Angus steaks, my carnivorous Kim surprised me by requesting the roasted half chicken (herb-rubbed and served with chimichurri).  Admittedly she had seen the pulchritudinous poultry platter destined for other tables.   She would never otherwise eschew a good steak.  What made this particular chicken a great choice was the chimichurri.  There are many variations of this popular Argentinian meat sauce.  Yellow Brix’s rendition is among the best we’ve had.  It’s a complex (not complicated) sauce in that it imprints itself on your taste buds in so many different places.  Kim’s only regret is not having requested a second portion.  It enlivened an otherwise ordinary chicken.

Sashimi Tuna

My entree choice actually came from the starters menu where I couldn’t get past the Sashimi tuna (seared ahi slices with wasabi, ginger and a hot-spiced soy sauce).  It was a nice choice though the soy-wasabi combination was a bit on the salty side, making me crave vinegared rice, the element on sushi that makes it less salty.  Sans soy and wasabi, the seared ahi was beautiful in both appearance and flavor.  Perfectly pink and rare, the ahi was moist and delicious.  Nine thinly sliced little slabs of sumptuous ahi made for a great entree indeed. 

Not only did Yellow Brix feed us, well, our visit taught me a new term to use on my oenophile friends.  For al fresco pet-friendly dining in Carlsbad, there’s no better option!

Yellow Brix Restaurant
201 North Canal Street
Carlsbad, New Mexico
(575) 941-2749
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sashimi Tuna, Roasted Half Chicken, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Roasted Grape Salad

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

Red Chimney BBQ – Carlsbad, New Mexico

Red Chimney BBQ in Carlsbad, New Mexico

Depending on your lifestyle choices and temperament, some of the slogans emblazoned on bumper stickers or tee-shirts seen over the years at Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew  will either make you laugh or rankle your ire.   “Meat is murder – tasty, tasty murder.”  “Animal rights – Animals have the right to be tasty.” “Gardening: Cultivating a piece of land in order to barbecue.” “If you can’t stand the heat, go get me a beer!”  Obviously no similarly themed bumper stickers or tee-shirt slogans  will ever be seen at vegan or vegetarian festivals. They are, however, part and parcel of my former colleague Matt Mauler’s casual (and for that matter, formal) attire.   You might remember Matt from my review of The Acre. More than anyone you’ll ever meet, he celebrates meat in all its magnificence while damning and cursing any vegetable that isn’t fried. He also loathes vegans and vegetarians.

Several years ago, Matt told me about a barbecue restaurant in Carlsbad which prepares meat “just like back home.”  Back home for Matt was Paducah, Kentucky.  It was “almost heaven, the best place in the world” according to the proud Bluegrass State transplant and self-professed redneck.  Some of our other colleagues liked to tease the irascible Matt with references to Hazard county (home of Daisy Duke), Deliverance and even Bugtussle (which is actually in Missouri).  His retort: “at least we have good barbecue,” a dig at what he perceived to be a dearth of great barbecue restaurants in the Land of Enchantment…except for that one Kentucky style barbecue restaurant in Carlsbad.

Sprawling Red Chimney Dining Room

Matt would know Kentucky barbecue greatness.  On the fourth Friday and Saturday in September, his birthplace celebrates Old Market Days, a charitable event which includes a contest called “Barbecue on the River.”  In her wonderful tome Food Festival USA, my dear friend Becky Mercuri explains that “if a spirit of hospitality and goodwill accompanied by great barbecue appeals to you, you’ll want to be in Paducah, Kentucky during the annual Old Market Days.”  “And if you can’t make it to Paducah,” Matt advised, “drive six hours south to Carlsbad and get the next best thing.”

“The next best thing” comes from the Red Chimney Bar B Que on North Canal Street.  It’s nearly impossible to miss, especially if you’re driving by with your windows down.  That’s how your nostrils will imbibe the hazy smoke plumes emanating from Red Chimney which waft into your motorized conveyance like a sweet Kentucky smoke signal beckoning you to try a combo platter.   Similar to its rival Danny’s Place, the parking lot at the Red Chimney is always packed.  The vehicle of choice in Carlsbad appears to be large, high-profile trucks, contemporary horses for modern-day cowboys.

Piled High Chop Mix

Danny and Kathryn Fowler launched Red Chimney in 1952 and ran it until 1993.  A year later, under the auspices son Ted, the restaurant was rebuilt  into a more capacious log cabin on the same property.  Today this bastion of bodacious barbecue is into its third generation of  family ownership and tradition with Ted’s daughter Jill and her husband Edgar at the helm.  Kentucky-style barbecue was well-received by Carlsbad six decades ago plus and remains beloved today.  Along with the aforementioned Danny’s Place, Red Chimney is a destination restaurant, another reason to visit the gateway to the world’s most spectacular caverns.

So what distinguishes Kentucky barbecue from barbecue anywhere else in the fruited plain?  Author Ken Berry explains that in Kentucky, “we cook up just about any animal that has meat on it.”  That includes mutton (sheep over a year old) which wasn’t to be found on Red Chimney’s menu.  Nor was burgoo, which Berry describes as an “everything but the kitchen sink’ rich stew made with several meats and vegetables.”  Kentucky is a large state with regional specialties so why lament what’s missing from the menu.  Our focus became enjoying the very interesting, very inviting menu which has earned aficionados for decades.

Fort Knox Potato

My choice was a plate called Piled High Chop Mix, chopped brisket, pork and ham mixed with the restaurant’s signature barbecue sauce and served with two sides (smoked mac and cheese, hush puppies and pinto beans for me).  Don’t mistake this for a typical three meat plate in which the trio of meats are separate entities.  “Chop Mix” means the finely chopped meats are jumbled together in a tangle of meaty tendrils.  Tossed in this manner and heavily sauced, it was a challenge to discern where one meat ends and another starts.  Every bite included a bit of each.  It was an interesting melange, but for me a one-time experience.  The hush puppies were interesting, too, wholly unlike those we experienced throughout Mississippi.  Instead of deep-fried orbs, these were cylindrical (cigar-like) in shape.  The smoked mac and cheese was my favorite thing on the plate.

My Kim enjoyed a Fort Knox Potato, described as “the potato that holds something better than gold.”  Instead of gold, the potato is loaded with smoked chop mix, butter, sour cream, Cheddar cheese and crisp red onion.  The smoked chop mix was the element of this football-sized dish Kim liked least.  What she enjoyed most was the through-and-through tenderness of the potato and the “usual fixings” of butter, sour cream and Cheddar cheese.  Had we read the menu more closely, we would have seen that another meat could have been substituted.  Next time…and there will be a next time.

Cherry and Apple Cobbler A la Mode

One of the reasons we’re so hopeful for a return visit is the cobbler, available in apple, cherry and peach. Have it a la mode for an even better taste experience.  It’s a housemade sourdough cobbler very popular among guests.  The interplay of sourdough, fruit and creamy, cold vanilla ice cream makes for a very enjoyable experience.  Oh, and to quell the thirst inherent with visiting the desert southwest, have a chocolate shake with your meal.  It’s served thick, cold and absolutely delicious. 

Red Chimney doesn’t have much, if anything, for vegetarians and vegans.  It truly is an altar for meats.  Kentucky barbecue is good stuff and Red Chimney is where you can get it.

Red Chimney BBQ
817 North Canal
Carlsbad, New Mexico
(575) 885-8744
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Piled High Chop Mix, Fort Knox Potato, Chocolate Shake, Cherry Cobbler A La Mode, Apple Cobble A La Mode

Red Chimney Pit Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Danny’s Place – Carlsbad, New Mexico

Danny’s Place: Home of New Mexico’s Best Barbecue

For some reason, national print and online publications and even the Food Network can’t seem to fathom that the Land of Enchantment has outstanding cuisine outside the shining pinnacles of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.   To some extent the media may be justified in perceiving the City Different and Duke City as offering the quintessence of what makes New Mexico a culinary Mecca.  Obviously, Santa Fe and Albuquerque enthrall hungry visitors armed with voracious appetites (especially for our incendiary red and green chile), but to discount the cuisine at other cities throughout our diverse state is just plain lazy.  Santa Fe and Albuquerque do not have exclusivity when it comes to extraordinary restaurants and cuisine.  Phenomenal eateries and cuisine can be found throughout the Land of Enchantment.

When it comes to naming New Mexico’s best restaurants and best cuisine, the mantra embraced by national media seems to be “round up the usual suspects.”  Invariably, a short list of “anointed” restaurants from Santa Fe and Albuquerque is repeated ad-nauseam whenever a “best this” or “best that” list is compiled. The list of anointed restaurants is short, exclusive and predictable. It’s hard to break into the list if a restaurant isn’t from Santa Fe or Albuquerque.  If you need further proof, read Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food, where each and every month you’ll learn of more well-deserved accolades being accorded to a restaurant in Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

Danny’s Place for Real Pit BBQ

Credit Dan Gentile of Thrillist for actually doing his homework and reaching out to local experts across the fruited plain to compile a list of where the best barbecue in each state is to be found. The local expert for the Land of Enchantment, in this case, was a blogger of some repute who goes by the handle “nmgastronome.”  When Dan approached me, it would have been easy to declare some bastion of bodacious barbecue in Santa Fe or Albuquerque as our state’s very best, but that would have been falling into the trap of singling out only restaurants in the anointed cities.  Besides, doing so would have been disingenuous.  The very best barbecue my Kim and I have experienced in the Land of Enchantment comes from Danny’s Place in Carlsbad.  I built a pretty good case for Thrillist which declared Danny’s Place as serving New Mexico’s best barbecue for 2015 and 2016.

Here’s what Dan had to say about the best barbecue in the Land of Enchantment: “If you want to know about New Mexican cuisine, you talk to Gil Garduño. The verbose restaurant reviewer who can’t write his own name in under 100 words said the best in show was a toss-up between Danny’s and Sparky’s, but Danny’s partially gets our nod because of the gall involved in tearing up a Dairy Queen franchise agreement when they wouldn’t let him add his own smoked meats to the menu. Forty years later, Danny’s now retired, but his son Tim is running the show and still cranking out the smoked meats that put the rest of the state to shame.”

Kitchen Accoutrements Adorn the Walls

You’ve got to admit a highly regarded barbecue restaurant which got its start as a Dairy Queen is a pretty good story.  Danny’s Place is so much more than a good story.  If, however, you insist on  categorizing it as a story, it would be a tale of a bold independent spirit bolstered in his righteous quest by a small community which believed in his product.  The protagonist of our story is Danny Gaulden, a maverick and hero to many in the barbecue community.  On August 1, 1975, Danny launched Carlsbad’s sole Dairy Queen, but because his true passion and calling was barbecue, he incorporated low-and-slow meats into the menu.  Danny’s barbecue wasn’t advertised in any form of the local menu or anywhere outside the restaurant.  Nonetheless, word quickly got around far-and-wide as to where to find the best barbecue in New Mexico.

To say Dairy Queen was unhappy about the maverick owner who served outstanding barbecue is an understatement.  Even though Danny had one of the original franchise contracts with Dairy Queen and was thus permitted to sell barbecue, corporate bureaucrats were duly upset when they had to field requests from other franchisees to diversify their own menus.  Danny fought the good fight, but in February, 2004, he decided to strike out as an independent barbecue restaurant owner.  He tore up his agreement with Dairy Queen and has never looked back.  Danny’s Place is one of the most popular eateries in Southeastern New Mexico.  Competitive barbecue chefs from across the fruited plain pilgrimage to this legendary establishment.  Though Danny has retired, he left his legacy in the hands of his son Tim.

Two Meat Combination Dinner: St Louis Cut Pork Ribs and Brisket

It goes without saying that there is no vestige of Dairy Queen at Danny’s Place.   Walls are adorned with country kitchen bric-a-brac.  You can study those kitchen accoutrements later.  The fragrant bouquets emanating from the kitchen will command your immediate attention and maybe a napkin or two to wipe the salivation on your chin.  Meats are slow cooked over sweet hardwood on a 100% wood-fired pit.  All dinners–one, two or three meats–are served with rolls, pinto beans and your choice of one side with pickles and onions on request.  Sandwiches are also available as are such “special dinner plates” as the “Flip Plate” (Danny’s invention over 30 years ago and a local favorite… a flour tortilla buttered and fried on the grill and filled with a hamburger patty, two cheese slices, green chile, onions, and salsa.)

10 March 2017:  A two meat barbecue platter will sate even the most ravenous diners.  Make one of those meats brisket.  It’s Texas quality–replete with flavor and lightly smoked with no residual bitterness.  A pinkish smoke ring around the brisket marries well with a nice bit of bark on the outside edge.  Texturally, the brisket is tender with a perfect amount of “stretch” to it.  Another excellent meat option is Danny’s St. Louis cut pork ribs, four meaty bones with sauce practically lacquered on.  The meat pulls off the bones easily and needs no additional sauce.  The sauce, by the way, is fabulous–vinegar-based with a pronounced sweetness and a piquancy that sneaks up on you.  The potato salad has sweet notes, too.  It’s memorable!

Three Meat Dinner: Ham, Pulled Pork and Turkey

10 March 2017: Even better than the two meat dinner is the three meat dinner.  The pulled pork is blessed with a dry rub comprised of salt, pepper and other spices rubbed liberally on the pork.  Both the ham and turkey are sliced thinly and are imbued with a light smoke.   As with all of Danny’s meats, absolutely no sauce is needed though that sauce is so good you’ll want to drink it up.  Worthy accompaniment to the three meats is the coleslaw, a sweet-tangy mound light on creaminess but big on flavor and crispness.  Also terrific is the fried okra.

9 March 2018:  Aside from reading about it on Gil’s Thrilling…how do you know there’s greatness in a restaurant?  For me, much of it has to do with memorability, how well a restaurant’s dishes are remembered over time.  My taste buds seem to be imbued with a memory for recalling the flavors they’ve enjoyed most.  For almost exactly a year, my taste buds beckoned for a return visit to Danny’s and more of that sensational brisket.  One day shy of a year later, my taste buds confirmed what they rediscovered–that Danny’s brisket is the best in the state, some of the best in the country.  This time the brisket was piled on between golden-hued buns about five-inches around.  Light saucing ensured my enjoyment would be concentrated on the smokiness of the brisket.  Caramelized around the edges, the brisket is tender, moist and absolutely an annual tradition we can wrap our taste buds around.

Barbecue Brisket Sandwich

9 March 2018: For my Kim, only a pulled pork sandwich would do. She fell in love with pulled pork during our frequent forays to barbecue joints in the Deep South.  Danny’s Place prepares pulled pork (too much alliteration?) as well as many of our favorite restaurants in Dixie.  The pulled pork is much more heavily sauced than the brisket is, but Danny’s sauce is so balanced and delicious that you can drink it.  Each tender tendril of pork is impregnated with a light smokiness.  Each is cloud-like in its texture.  Each is absolutely delicious, a pulled pork sandwich that exemplifies porcine perfection.

8 March 2018:  If you’ve ever seen the Travel Channel’s food programs, you know the focus tends to be on mighty excess (humongous portions) and strange eats.  Though no longer in the latter category, deep-fried Twinkies are hardly mainstream.  They’re common fare at state fairs (no pun intended) and you’ll find them at Danny’s Place.  My Kim had never tried tried them…and after her inaugural experience, isn’t likely to try them again.  Not surprisingly she enjoyed the fried dough (reminiscent of a donut) much more than she did the cloying filling.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Whether or not the national media will ever acknowledge culinary greatness in New Mexico exists outside of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Danny’s Place is in rarefied air as not only New Mexico’s very best barbecue restaurant, but one of the best in the country.

Danny’s Place
902 South Canal Street
Carlsbad, New Mexico
(575) 885-8739
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 March 2018
1st VISIT: 10 March 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: St Louis Cut Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork, Ham, Turkey, Brisket, Brisket Sandwich, Pulled Pork Sandwich, Deep-Fried Twinkies

Danny's Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Big D’s Downtown Dive – Roswell, New Mexico

Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

During a March, 2012 trip to Roswell, New Mexico President Barack Obama made the following opening remarks to his speech. “We had landed in Roswell. I announced to people when I landed that I had come in peace. (Laughter) Let me tell you – there are more nine and ten year old boys around the country when I meet them – they ask me, “Have you been to Roswell and is it true what they say? And I tell them, ‘If I told you I would have to kill you.’ So their eyes get all big…so…we’re going to keep our secrets here.”  To many, his comment was just an innocent joke, but to passionate conspiracy theorists, Obama’s remarks were further proof of a government cover-up of the extraterrestrial crash landing which supposedly occurred outside Roswell in 1947.

Ufologists like to point out that in the seventy years since that extraterrestrial crash, there has been a quantum leap in technology, a leap unprecedented in all human history.  Believers will tell you humankind had help in making those advances and that the help came in the form of technology found in the downed alien spacecraft recovered in a pasture northwest of Roswell.  Among the advances borrowed or developed from recovered alien craft are night-vision goggles, lasers, fiber optics and chips.  Through reverse engineering, scientists also significant advances in weaponry and military aircraft.  Ufologists have even coined the term “Roswellian” to describe technology  so advanced that it must have been derived from the reverse engineering of crashed or captured alien spacecraft.

A very busy dining room at 2PM

One advancement for which the “Roswell incident” isn’t given sufficient credit is the improvement of burgers.  Locals will tell you the burgers in Roswell have made a quantum leap in deliciousness over the past few years.  They don’t necessarily credit little green men for imparting advanced burger grilling techniques, but with all the saucer-eyed  alien statues in front of several local restaurants, you have to wonder.  For skeptics who accept truth only if presented with quantitative data, consider that in both 2016 and 2017, Chef Toddzilla’s Mobile Cuisine, a purveyor of gourmet burgers nonpareil, was named Food Truck Burger of the Year.  That’s not just best food truck burger in Roswell.  That’s best food truck burger across the fruited plain.

Chef Toddzilla isn’t the sole Roswell burger emporium to achieve national acclaim.  In 2014, TripAdvisor, a travel review site scoured through millions of user reviews and comments to compile their list of the 10 best burger joints in the U.S.  Two bastions of behemoth burgers from the Land of Enchantment made the list.  Placing third was Sparky’s in Hatch which is fronted by iconic fiberglass and concrete statues, some of whom have an alien appearance.  The other New Mexico eatery on the hallowed list was Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell which placed eighth.  TripAdvisor noted: In the Land of Enchantment, owner and chef, Don Nason, uses garden fresh ingredients to grill up burgers that are out of this world.”

Thanksgiving Fries

National and state recognition are nothing new for Big D’s.  In 2013, the kitschy eatery was featured on Rand McNally’s 2013 “best of the road” which showcases America’s Most Beautiful, Most Fun, Friendliest, Most Patriotic and Best for Food small towns.  Rand McNally raved “The owner promises that “nothing we make comes from a tin can or sits months on end on a shelf somewhere,” the first indication that this casual, down-home burger joint is a good bet.”  Big D’s was one of twenty-six restaurants highlighted in the March-April, 2017 edition of New Mexico Journey, the magazine for AAA members.  In the cover story, “Cheap Eats,”  a guide, or “sampler platter” through some of the state’s “wallet-friendly eateries,” Big D’s cheesesteak sandwich and turkey cordon bleu burger were given high marks.

Located in the heart of downtown Roswell just a few blocks north of the International UFO Museum and Research Center, Big D’s is well worth a detour whether you measure distance in miles or parsecs.  You might visit Roswell to look for alien life, but you’ll come back for Big D’s menu.  Before you get to the menu, you’ll encounter one of the most fun and funky, cool and kitschy ambiances in the Land of Enchantment.   The ambiance is automotive garage meets diner.  The tailgate of a Chevrolet truck hangs on one wall, hub caps on another and the counter prefacing the kitchen is festooned in license plates.  Motorists will enjoy perusing the maps under glass on each table, but not as much as they’ll enjoy studying the menu.

The Big Kahuna

It’s a menu which makes it immediately obvious it was designed by an inventive chef.  Snacks, what other restaurants might call appetizers, aren’t de rigueur standards.  They include crab cakes, stuffed avocados, Southwest chicken wontons and more.  The Soup and Greens section of the menu lists several tempting items such as a Hard Apple salad (aged Cheddar cheese, honey-roasted peanuts, arugula, gala apples, craisins and a peanut cider dressing).  Specialties include the aforementioned turkey cordon bleu as well as a number of sandwiches.  It’s the “Burger Machine” page to which my eyes quickly gravitated.  There are eight burgers on the menu, including a breakfast burger (about as rare in these parts as a UFO crash landing).  “Happy Endings” is what Big D’s calls its desserts.

10 March 2017: Though all seven “snacks” would tempt Job, we opted for the Thanksgiving Fries (sweet potato fries, sweet whiskey butter, cinnamon and pecan smoked bacon).  My Kim called them the best fries she’s ever had.  She got no argument from me.  The combination of savory and sweet elements in perfect proportion to each other is an absolute winner.  So is the pecan-smoked bacon which picks up just a bit of sweetness from the sweet whiskey butter and cinnamon while retaining smoky-salty properties.  Every single fry is drizzled with both as if someone in the kitchen had meticulously applied them.  Almost exactly one year from our introduction to these terrific tubers, we returned to the Downtown Dive to see if the magic could be recreated.  If anything, the Thanksgiving fries were even better the second time around.  These truly are fries for which you’ll be giving thanks.


10 March 2017: Two burgers are adorned with autumn roast green chile, usually a magnet for this green chile cheeseburger aficionado.  Not this time courtesy of the “Big Kahuna” (teriyaki-glazed grilled pineapple, Spam, white cheese and cilantro with a spicy jalapeño dressing).  Constructed from six-ounces of freshly ground chuck seasoned and served medium well, it’s a terrific burger with flavor components that seemingly come at your taste buds from all sides.  It’s a burger with complementary elements befitting its name.  Several weeks ago, the President of Iceland president of Iceland casually joked that pizza topped with pineapple should be outlawed, an absurdity which set off a debate of international (and viral) proportions.  The President of Iceland might be the only person who wouldn’t enjoy this burger. 

10 March 2017: Rather than ordering one of the burgers, my Kim opted for a Gyro (marinated lamb, tomato, red onions, roasted garlic tzaziki on pita).  The marinated lamb isn’t shaved from a vertical broiler on a spit as some gyros tend to be.  Instead, the lamb more closely resembles finely cut shawarma meat.  It’s a very moist and very well seasoned lamb that’s enlivened by the roasted garlic tzaziki.  With enough garlic to ward off a family of vampires and the pleasant flavors of yogurt, dill and cucumber, the sauce is quite good. 

The Green

9 March 2018:  Any of us from the northern half of the state who believe our green chile cheeseburgers are the be all and end all, the apotheosis of burger perfection should take an occasional trek way down south where such restaurants as Alamogordo’s Rockin’ BZ Burgers, Hatch’s Sparky’s and Roswell’s Big D’s Downtown Dive prove themselves every bit as good, if not better, than their northern counterparts.  Big D’s rendition, The Green (autumn-roasted green chile, yellow cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mustard and pickled cucumbers) is superb, one of the five or six very best burgers in New Mexico.  It’s a “takes two hands to handle” behemoth with flavors as large as the six-ounce fresh ground chuck beef patty.  Two elements stand out.  Not surprisingly, one is the autumn-roasted green chile which has a wonderful roasted flavor and a nice bite.  The other is the  pickled cucumbers which are several orders of magnitude better than bottled pickles. 

9 March 2018: My good friend, the late and much-missed Ruben had one complaint about Cuban sandwiches.  Most of them, he complained, were smooshed down in panini presses which seemed to impart a sandpaper-like quality to the bread that tore into the roof of his mouth.  He would have loved Big D’s Cuban (pulled Pork, smoked ham, white cheese, pickled cucumber, stone-ground mustard dressing on a hoagie roll).   This Cuban isn’t prepared on a panini press.  The hoagie roll is soft and tender.  Moreover, this is a sandwich you’ll never describe as parsimonious in its portions.  There’s a ton of roast  beef, sheets of ham, lots of cheese and whoa, those pickled cucumbers are among the best we’ve ever had. 

The Cuban

If another alien craft crash lands in the Roswell area, there’s a good chance its GPS (galactic positioning system) missed its target–Big D’s Downtown Dive.  It’ where all savvy diners from throughout the solar system and beyond should dine when in the Roswell area.

Big D’s Downtown Dive
505 North Main Street
Roswell, New Mexico
(575) 627-0776
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 March 2018
1st VISIT: 10 March 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Thanksgiving Fries, The Big Kahuna, Gyro, The Green, Cuban Sandwich

Big D's Downtown Dive Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Il Bosco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Il Bosco Ristorante Italiano on Albuquerque’s Burgeoning West Side

The customer in the Italian restaurant was so pleased that he asked to speak to the chef.
The owner proudly led him into the kitchen and introduced him to the chef.
Your veal parmigiana was superb,” the customer said.
I just spent a month in Italy, and yours is better than any I ever had over there.”
Naturally,” the chef said. “Over there, they use domestic cheese. Ours is imported.”

While we were perusing the menu at Il Bosco, my Kim noticed polpette on the menu and asked me what polpette was. As usual, she got more than what she bargained for. “Polpette,” I joked “is the Italian word for meatballs…unless you’re in Montreal.” “What the heck are you talking about,” she asked. I explained that in 2013, Quebec’s language police cited an Italian restaurant for using Italian names for Italian dishes on the menu instead of their French equivalents. (In French, polpette would be called “boulettes de viande.” ) “That’s absolutely ridiculous,” she vented. “America may go overboard with its political correctness, but there’s no way any state or city could get away with bashing multi-culturalism. It would be like Albuquerque declaring its official city language to be Spanish and insisting everything be called by its Spanish name.” “Exactly,” I affirmed, “And you’ll love this. The language police also frowned upon the use of such words as “pasta,” “antipasti,” “calamari” and “pesce.” “We’re not going to Montreal any time soon,” she insisted.

The Expansive Dog-Friendly Patio

There are exceptions to the language law,” I piled on. “When there is no equivalent French term, the language police leaves the matter alone. For example, using terms such as “pizza” won’t rankle the ire of the bureaucrats.” Widely known as “Pastagate,” the aforementioned language correctness incident led to a public outcry about the overzealousness of the language police. In typical bureaucratic-speak, an official explained that in order to promote the French language, official Quebec policy mandates that the most predominant language on restaurant menus must be French. Italian words are welcome to appear, but just not as frequently as their French equivalents. With that, my Kim determined to understand and appreciate the authenticity and beauty of Italian terms used on Il Bosco’s menu. “We’ll move to Australia if some language police makes our Italian restaurants use English terms to describe their menu items,” she promised.

You haven’t heard about Il Bosco? Not to worry, grasshopper.  Not many people have.  It’s so brand new that it doesn’t even have a Yelp listing (as of March 9th at 9AM).  We’d never heard about it either until last Sunday (March 4th) when Randolph Eck submitted a comment declaring Il Bosco’s meatballs “the best in New Mexico.”  His email came in just as we were contemplating where to go for lunch that lazy Sunday afternoon.  A two minute phone call confirmed that Il Bosco has a dog-friendly patio, so The Dude would be welcome, too.  Best of all, Il Bosco is on Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side in an area with a dearth of independent restaurants.

Risotto di Barbabietola

You won’t see Il Bosco from the street.  Il Bosco is ensconced within the capacious La Bella Spa Salon on Coors Blvd. about a quarter mile from Alameda Blvd.  It shares a parking lot with salad purveyor Sweet Tomatoes.  La Bella promises an experience that is “luxurious in every way, yet uncommonly warm and inviting.”  Previous attempts at making a restaurant part of that experience include Bouche and Tratta Bistro, both of whom received significant public and critical acclaim if not the traffic desired.  Here’s betting Il Bosco achieves both the acclaim and the dining traffic.

One of the reasons is Chef Steven Peyer, a Seattle native and Sonoma, California transplant who has fallen in love with the Albuquerque area.  Chef Peyer launched several restaurant concepts in the Sonoma area, a hotbed for culinary trends.  Among them was a dual restaurant concept in which both Italian food  and South Asian street food were offered under the same roof.  Fittingly named Forchetta/Bastoni (“Forks/Sticks” in Italian; who knows what it would be called in Quebec), the Italian food was the fork and South Asian street food the stick.  Chef Peyer operated the Italian side of the house.

Polpette al Forno

Our first impression as we studied the Il Bosco (an Italian term for “the woods”) menu was “there’s nothing like this in Albuquerque.”  Indeed, the menu is unique, the antithesis of the Italian red sauce restaurants we love so much in the Land of Enchantment.  As with most California-style Italian restaurants, there’s an emphasis on fresh, non-GMO ingredients, sourced locally wherever possible.  You’ll see items on the menu you won’t see elsewhere in Albuquerque (Sonoma coast cockles anyone?).  You’ll also find braised meats, unconventional risotto and pasta dishes and rustic Italian food.  The lunch menu offers about seventy percent of what you’ll find on the dinner menu.

We’ve rarely seen risotto offered as an appetizer save for when served in the form of arancini, stuffed risotto balls coated with bread crumbs then deep fried.  Il Bosco’s risotto dish, Risotto di Barbabietola, is served as an appetizer for lunch and as an entree for dinner.   Chef Peyer uses “the highly prized princess’s rice grown in the Milan region for over 400 years.”  Indeed, this is risotto fit for royalty.  Unlike most Milanese style risotto, this one is far from golden-hued (courtesy of saffron).  Instead, it’s pink-red courtesy of the infusion of red and gold beets along with Gorgonzola, the blue cheese for people who think they don’t like blue cheese.  There are plenty of sweet, delicious beets in this dish and they’re a perfect counterbalance to the salty, sharp Gorgonzola.  The rice is creamy, silky and rich, a wonder to eat.

Linguini alle Vongole

Quebec’s language police may take offense at the name Polpette al Forno (housemade veal, beef and pork meatballs slowly poached in sweet and spicy tomato broth, baked with Bellwether Farms ricotta, Calabrian chili and herbs), but not even the palaver police could take offense at these meatballs.  They may indeed be the best in Albuquerque.  Served in a too-hot-to-touch skillet, the meatballs are about three forkfuls apiece and there are six meatballs per order.  There’s very little filler in these meaty orbs.  This allows the veal, beef and pork flavors to coalesce into a flavorful whole.  Sweet and spicy tomato notes are a perfect foil for the sweet, creamy ricotta.  These are the meatballs you would imagine your own mother (if she was Italian) would prepare for you.

Call it vanity if you will, but for years I’ve avoided reading glasses even though it’s pretty obvious presbyopia has set in.  Sometimes my near-sightedness is annoying.  Sometimes it manifests itself in humorous ways.  While perusing Il Bosco’s menu, I wondered why house-made pasta would be tossed with “Sonoma coast cookies.”   I’d never even heard of this type of cookie. My Kim, who’s not too proud to wear reading glasses, corrected me.  “It doesn’t read cookies.  It reads cockles.”  The dish is actually linguini alle vongolo, house-made pasta tossed with Sonoma coast cockles (not cookies), olives, capers and chilies in a rose’ sauce.  These cockles will warm the cockles of your heart.  Found only in seawater, cockles are bivalve mollusks which are related to clams.  Chef Peyer has obviously mastered the preparation of cockles.  We relished every single bite and spoonful of broth of this rare in Albuquerque seafood dish.

Bresato di Maiale

Our favorite entree and one of the very best Italian dishes we’ve had in New Mexico is the bresato di maiale, braised pork shoulder with winter root vegetables and Swiss chard in a tomato broth.   The braised pork shoulder pulls apart easily, each tender tendril resplendent with flavor, each morsel a joy to eat.  A few caramelized edges provided an enjoyable textural contrast.  Among the root vegetables were tender, sweet carrots and golden beets, both of which imparted light sweet notes to the acidic tomato broth.  Similarly the Swiss chard a spinach-like bitterness which melded so well with other flavors in this magnificent meat dish.

Only two  desserts were available on the date of our inaugural visit, a meyer lemon tart and a flourless chocolate tort.  Not able to decide quickly, we asked our server (the delightful Ashe) to choose for us.  She brought us an exquisite chocolate tort which we enjoyed immensely.  As with so many similar desserts we’ve enjoyed, this one leaned toward the dry side though it was just moist enough.  Though quite good, during our next visit “dessert” might just be a bowl of the minestrone invernale, the restaurant’s winter vegetable and greens soup.

Chocolate Tart

It didn’t take long after her first bite of the risotto for my Kim to forget all about Quebec’s language police.  It didn’t take long for all our cares to melt away as we luxuriated in a magnificent milieu in which great Italian cuisine is standard fare.

Il Bosco
10126 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 301-2699
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 4 March 2018
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Risotto di Barbabietola, Polpette al Forno, Linguini alle Vongole, Bresato di Maiale, Minestrone Invernale, Chocolate Tort

Il Bosco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Java Joe’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Hey, Wasn’t This Once Tuco Salamanca’s Lair

I hate chile powder.”
~Tuco Salamanca
Breaking Bad, Season 2

Duty-bound to make himself available to the citizenry of the fledgling United States, newly elected president George Washington spent the night in so many private homes and inns that  “George Washington Slept Here” remains a real estate cliché and tourist draw centuries later.  Perhaps the closest similarly celebrated landmarks in the Albuquerque metropolitan area are the filming sites for the 16-time Emmy Award-winning television series Breaking Bad.  Never mind that Albuquerque recently celebrated its Tercentennial–three hundred years of history.  History is not what visitors want to see.  They want to see the Duke City of Breaking Bad.  Albuquerque, which itself became a character in Breaking Bad, is the home of Walter White, the down-and-out chemistry teacher who metamorphosed into “Heisenberg,” the city’s meth kingpin.  Five years after the series ended, pilgrimages to every Breaking Bad filming location remain a popular draw.

During my inaugural visit to Downtown Java Joe’s, a number of tourists, not all of them millennials, were snapping selfies in front of the east wall where a towering graffiti-inspired tribute to city life dominates.  One of them exclaimed “this used to be Tuco’s lair.”  Another chimed in, “yeah, until Walter White blew it up?”  Tuco?  It quickly dawned on me they were talking about Tuco Salamanca, one of the best television villains in recent memory.  The exterior of Java Joe’s did indeed serve as Tuco’s sanctuary and Walter White did blow it up by throwing fulminated mercury on the floor.  Thankfully, however, real life didn’t mirror that Breaking Bad episode.  Tuco’s lair is certainly not in ruins.  It serves as the home to Java Joe’s, one of the city’s most popular coffee shops.

The main dining room at Java Joe’s

Java Joe’s is located on Park Avenue one street south of Route 66.  Park Avenue runs between Central Avenue at its eastern-most point to the Albuquerque Country Club at its western flank with Jesse Pinkman’s house (another Breaking Bad landmark) virtually at the center.  Until earlier in 2018, its next door neighbor was Firenze Pizzeria, one of the city’s premier purveyors of pizza pie during its short tenure.  The aforementioned mural is Java Joe’s most distinctive exterior feature.  In a move befitting the edifice’s most notorious occupant, real-world owner Michael Phlieger once had graffiti artists paint wanted posters on that wall in response to the city’s crackdown on illegal graffiti.  The current mural will probably stick around until Breaking Bad aficionados lose interest.  It could be there for a long time.

Step into Java Joe’s and there are no vestiges of Tuco’s headquarters.  Instead of Tuco’s thuggish henchmen, you’ll run into hipsters and hippies, blue collars and white colors, and the type of characters who put the quirky in Albuquerque.  Scrawled on a black slate board above the counter where you place your order is a menu listing every daily special.  Plastic menus on the counter list everything else.  Walls are festooned with eclectic art, much of it for sale.  Handmade lotions and soap on a table hugging a wall are also available for purchase.

Mayan Mocha

Featured fare includes breakfast and lunch, sandwiches and wraps, soups and salads, pastries and beverages.  With so much temptation at your beck and call, you’ll be hard-pressed to make a quick decision.  Breakfast offers a full range of favorites, classics such as savory omelets and yogurt parfait to more elaborate items such as Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and blueberry granola pancakes. Then there are the New Mexican classics such as  breakfast burritos, breakfast enchiladas, huevos rancheros and even a tofu burrito.  If you’re wary about a coffee shop preparing New Mexican food well, your worries will be quickly dispelled.  Both red and green chiles are terrific (more on them later).

Breakfast, of course, means coffee.  All of Java Joe’s coffees are roasted, flavored, and blended in-house on a daily basis under the name Red Door Roasters.  Daily regular, flavor and decaf brews are available.  So are  beans which can be purchased by the pound.  Flavored coffees are flavored in-house and vary on a daily basis but are always available bulk or by the cup.  Specialty drinks, which can be served hot, iced or blended, are also a good option.  The Mayan mocha (double shot) is an excellent choice, a worthy approximation of my beloved red chile mocha (available only at Cafe Bella).  Sans the annoying acidity of inferior coffees and the cloying qualities of designer drinks, it’s caffeinated love.

Breakfast Enchiladas

Breakfast enchiladas, once a relative rarity in Albuquerque, are becoming more prevalent, a terrific alternative to the ubiquitous New Mexican breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros.  Java Joe’s breakfast enchiladas features three corn tortillas layered with Cheddar, black beans and eggs smothered in red or (and) green chile.  Both the red and green are terrific with the piquancy and flavor aficionados crave.  After more than three decades of occasionally enjoying New Mexican cuisine laced with black beans, it still surprises me to see them on enchiladas, huevos rancheros or burritos.  Pinto beans, after all, are the official New Mexican state vegetable (along with our sacrosanct red and green chile).  No matter.  The chile is the centerpiece of this delicious breakfast dish.

There’s no doubt the psychotic, bejeweled-toothed Tuco Salmanca would have had a much better disposition had he descended the stairs of his Park Avenue lair for coffee and a meal at Java Joe’s.  It’s a Breaking Bad type of hole-in-the-wall which visitors might pilgrimage to out of curiosity, but they’ll return for the food, coffee and quirkiness.

Java Joe’s
906 Park Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 765-1514
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Breakfast Enchiladas, Mayan Mocha
REVIEW #1028

Java Joe's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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