Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: May, 2016

Tempura Cheesecake from Naruto in Albuquerque

Brunch–it’s the best of two worlds–not quite breakfast and not quite lunch, but the best of both. It’s a leisurely weekend repast which makes you feel you’re getting away with something, as if you’re defying your mom’s mandate not to have dessert before the main entree. More than five million verified OpenTable diner reviews of more than 20,000 restaurants across the nation were used in the compilation of the 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America for 2016. Surprisingly the only restaurant in New Mexico making the list is the Duke City’s own Farm & Table. Going strong since 2012, Farm & Table is a veritable oasis of green amidst Albuquerque’s earth-tone and concrete modernity. With an enviable balance of sweet and savory deliciousness, its brunch options are bountiful and beauteous.

Readers of USA Today and 10Best were given the opportunity to select the very best of the best from among so many outstanding green chile cheeseburgers throughout the Land of Enchantment. A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. That popular vote determined Blake’s Lotaburger is the best green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the final results is that the voting was not dominated by purveyors of New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The Duke City’s sole representative was the Owl Cafe, a presence in San Antonio since the 1940s. The Owl Cafe was runner-up to Lotaburger. Santa Fe was well represented by Santa Fe Bite in eighth place.

A half-pound of brisket from Pepper’s Bar-B-Q & Soul Food in Albuquerque

Travel & Leisure took the pulse of its readers to compile a list of America’s Favorite Cities. Thanks in large part to a vibrant culinary scene, the Duke City was rated sixth. Here’s what Travel & Leisure had to say: “Readers rated Albuquerque especially well for its bakeries, such as Golden Crown Panaderia, where the loaves of the signature New Mexico Green Chile Bread are decorated with howling coyotes. But since man does not live on green-chile bread alone, Albuquerque also scored well for local beer (like the wildflower wheat at downtown’s Marble Brewery) and diners. For the latter, the Standard Diner offers comfort food such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf and country-friend ahi tuna. Readers also applauded the city for feeling like a good value.”

Travel & Leisure didn’t define how it distinguishes between a city and a town, but for Santa Fe it probably wouldn’t matter. The City Different is beloved regardless of classification. In its 2016 compilation of America’s Favorite Towns, Santa Fe ranked third. As is often the case, the city…er, town’s burgeoning culinary scene is just one of many reasons it’s held in such esteem. According to Travel & Leisure, “It also ranked well for history—like its San Miguel Chapel, the nation’s oldest church, and even its restaurants, like Geronimo, set in an adobe home that dates to 1756. Its lounge offers the opportunity to try the city’s most famous local crop in a creative way: the Norteño margarita is made with Hatch-green-chile-infused tequila, then shaken with an orange liqueur. After a few, you might see why the city also got high marks for its peaceful vibes.”

Sauce Katusu from Magokoro in Albuquerque

“Barbecue festival season kicks off in the spring, with celebrations, cook-offs and competitions held all over the USA until late fall. In general, the barbecue teams and cooks that participate in these festivals pay homage to Memphis-, Texas-, St. Louis-, Kansas City- and Carolina-style barbecue, experimenting with spice rubs, slathering meats with thick, sweet sauces, or dressing shredded tendrils of pork with a tart vinegar-based dip.” USA Today included a New Mexico standard among the best cue-fests in the fruited plain: “The Pork & Brew BBQ State Championship is a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event in Rio Rancho, N.M. The three-day festival features top barbecue vendors, offerings from local microbreweries, live music and interactive family activities. General admission is $6 for adults and $4 for kids. The winning barbecue teams can go on to participate in larger national competitions.” The Pork & Brew is an annual tradition for me and my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and the Dazzling Deanell Collins, all of us certified Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) judges and barbecue aficionados.

Mental Floss, “the international media brand that gives smart, curious knowledge junkies their fix with upbeat, witty explorations of everything from science to pop culture to tech to history” compiled its list of the best burger in all 50 states. The Land of Enchantment’s representative is no surprise considering it’s graced similar lists for years. Mental Floss lavished praise on San Antonio’s Buckhorn Tavern, saying “Food experts across the country continuously name Buckhorn Tavern’s Green Chile Cheeseburger one of the best burgers in the U.S. The small, family owned Buckhorn Tavern is so popular that many visitors actually plan their trips around this burger hot spot.

Watermelon Shake from The Owl Cafe in Albuquerque

Americans seem to love lists and often seem willing to forgive list-makers when less than completely accurate choices are made. It’s all in good fun save for those of us who want the world to know there’s a difference between the cuisines of Old Mexico and New Mexico. The most recent culprit in committing this geographic faux pas is Tabelog, a “dynamic, interactive environment where users can come together over a shared passion for fine dining.” In its “10 best Mexican Restaurants in America,” Tabelog listed Santa Fe’s The Shed restaurant as America’s second best pantheon for Mexican cuisine, all-the-while indicating “Rooted in Northern New Mexico cuisine and hospitality, The Shed has been around since 1953.” Perhaps the most offensive statement for New Mexicans was “Any true lover of Mexican cuisine must make a point to hit this spot for an amazing experience.” While the experience will certainly be amazing, it won’t be Mexican.

Pardon my gratuitous self aggrandizing here, but I was tickled pink to read Kitson Harvey’s shout-out to “some of my favorite local bloggers, not on Duke City Fix.” Here’s what the brilliant Kitson wrote about your favorite sesquipedalian sybarite. “Gil Garduño @ Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog. This is THE Albuquerque food blog. This past week he made a return trip to Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho and, along with his new review, includes the text of his past reviews so we can see whether/if his opinions have changed over time. This blog is a major resource for local eaters, and I love his reason for not including wine pairings (check the FAQs for the answer).” Right back atcha, Kitson. I’ve been a huge fan for years.

April, 2016

The Cubano from Alicea’s Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho

It’s no April Fool’s Day joke. On April 1st, LotaBurger launched its very first Arizona location, expanding its burger empire to three states (in 2004, Lotaburger debuted in El Paso, Texas). Tucson’s burger aficionados will quickly discover why the 2006 edition of National Geographic’s Passport to the Best: The 10 Best of Everything book, declared LotaBurger serves the “Best Green Chile Cheeseburger in the World“. Going strong for well over six decades, LotaBurger was a New Mexico only institution for all but the past 62 years, but not appears poised to conquer new culinary horizons.

It’s been oft said by chefs that “you eat with your eyes first. Although the senses of taste, smell, and vision are distinct, visual stimuli have been shown to alter your perception of those senses. Tabelog, an “online community for foodies by foodies,” compiled a list of America’s 13 most scenic restaurants, eateries boasting of amazing panoramas from every angle. New Mexico’s sole honoree is the High Finance Restaurant at the top of the Sandia Peak Tramway. According to Tabelog, “With enormous views of the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment, High Finance Restaurant offers one of the most unique scenic meals in the country.”

Wings with Buffalo Garlic Sauce from Bucket Headz in Albuquerque

Over the years there have been a number of national online presences purporting some level of expertise about New Mexican cuisine. They publish “best of” features that leave locals asking “huh” and “why was this restaurant selected?”. At other times those “best of” features show a level of savvy that surprises locals. Such was the case when Spoon University, “the everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” selected the cheeseburger from Burger Boy in Cedar Crest as the Land of Enchantment’s best. Spoon University’s “best burger from every state” feature indicated “Although they offer a few different burgers for a cheap price, most choose the classic cheeseburger, which also comes with fries.” Most New Mexicans we know order their burger with green chile.

What type of restaurant might be named to MSN’s 50 best restaurants in America list? You’re probably thinking it’s some posh fine-dining establishment featuring nouveau French cuisine. “Best,” as we all know is a subjective term subject to individual interpretation. MSN’s list showed some out-of-the-box thinking in naming Albuquerque’s Guava Tree Cafe as the 31st best restaurant in the fruited plain. According to MSN, “this little restaurant has great Caribbean and Latin American-inspired food. With many Cuban type sandwiches and avocados in most of their food, this place definitely has the delicious lunch thing down.”

Toritos from Mariscos Mazatlan in Rio Rancho

Innovative chefs ply their trade all across the fruited plain with some of the very best working across the southwest. Dorado, an online magazine which “celebrates the rugged and eclectic spirit of the Four Corners region” compiled a list of “seven Southwest chefs we love.” New Mexican chefs which made the list included Rob Connoley, the James Beard award-nominated forager from Curious Kumquat in Silver City; Ahmed Obo, the Kenya native who fuses traditional Kenyan dishes with Caribbean flavors at Jambo; and Erin Wade, who’s made really big salads really delicious in Vinaigrette which has a presence in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Thrillist, the online presence “obsessed with everything that’s worth caring about in food, drink” compiled a “state-by-state ode to the edible (and drinkable!) dynamos that have literally changed the shape of America (because we’re fatter now). In its “Every State’s Most Important Food Innovation” feature, Thrillist declared (what else) green chile as New Mexico’s choice. According to Thrillist, “Chiles only came to the region post-Columbus, and the chiles you so enjoy today are the results of painstaking research in the early 20th century at New Mexico State University meant to isolate varieties that would thrive in the arid climate there.”

Blueberry Muffin from Desert Grows in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

Perhaps if our options consisted solely of green chile and pinto beans, more of us might endeavor to become vegetarians. Fortunately for vegetarians, there are many other delicious meat-free choices across the Land of Enchantment…so many that CNN Traveler named Santa Fe as one of the “15 best U.S. cities for vegetarians.” Traveler noted that “like the town itself, Santa Fe’s vegetarian-friendly restaurants offer a number of ways to get out of your comfort zone. Try a fix of the famed local staple, green chile, in a tamale at Cafe Pasqual’s or wrapped in a crispy dosa at the innovative South Indian restaurant Paper Dosa.

Although the Cooking Channel doesn’t grace my cable subscription package, I find comfort in knowing Founding Friends of Gil (FOG) member Jim Millington was able to watch the channel’s “Cheap Eats” show when it featured host Ali Khan visiting beautiful, sunny Albuquerque. Jim reports that “the show is pretty much like Rachael Ray’s old Twenty Dollar a Day show except that Ali lacks Rachael’s cuteness and he has $35. His first stop was at the Tia B’s La Waffleria for vegan waffles which he found to be wonderful. Next stop was the Route 66 Pit Stop for the famous green chile cheeseburger which knocked his socks off. Third was Rebel Donuts. He didn’t even get a donut shaped one. It was long, stuffed and topped with bacon. Papa Felipe’s introduced him to the amazement of carne adovada stuffed in a sopaipilla.” Thank you, Jim.

March, 2016

Polish/German Platter from the Red Rock Deli in Albuquerque

Hollywood has discovered one of New Mexico’s most enchanting qualities. It’s the state’s chameleon-like ability to transform itself to virtually any location movie producers wish to portray. Thanks to its preternaturally diverse topography, various locations throughout the Land of Enchantment have been featured in more than 600 productions over the years, touching virtually every corner of the state. In many instances, New Mexico doubles as some far-away exotic locale and not necessarily within the surly bounds of Earth. The filming location for the 2016 movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot may have been Albuquerque, but it’s a Duke City many of us won’t recognize. Stretching its acting chops, Albuquerque portrayed Afghanistan in the movie. During an appearance on the Tonight Show, starring actress Tina Fay explained “New Mexico looks a lot like Afghanistan, weirdly, but with really good burgers with green chiles.” You won’t find green chile cheeseburgers in Afghanistan.

Speaking of doubling for something else, several years ago Rebel Donut gained tremendous notoriety for creating a donut mimicking the potent crystal blue meth made famous by AMC’s Breaking Bad series. More recently, Rebel Donut was honored on Food Network Magazine as one of a dozen “best in dough,” an honor bestowed upon fun donuts. The honoree is Rebel Donut’s pina colada donut, a vanilla cake donut dipped in coconut rum glaze then raw coconut with buttercream frosting. Unlike the Breaking Bad donut which has no actual blue meth, there is actual real rum in the pina colada donut. It’s one in a small line of adult donuts though it can be made “virgin” as well.

Corn from Delicias Cafe in Albuquerque

There are dozens of annual sweets and dessert festivals across the fruited plain. USA Today honored just a handful of the most popular, inviting readers to “sweets festivals worth traveling to indulge in.” One of the festivals garnering a mention is Albuquerque’s own Southwest Chocolate & Coffee Fest in March. “The festival features both baking and eating contests, welcoming all ages and skill levels.” More than 120 vendors and 17,000 festival-goers attend” the event according to USA Today.

How many times have you heard it said “only in New Mexico.” Frankly, every state has unique features, landmarks, personalities and quirks that set it apart from other states. Recognizing the uniqueness of each state is the goal of OnlyInYourState.com, an online presence which takes a fun, informal approach to helping readers discover things to do in each of the 50 states. Anyone can write about New Mexico’s enchanting enchiladas and bounteous burritos. OnlyInYourState dares to point out “13 Pizza Places in New Mexico So Good Your Mouth May Explode.” Interestingly, you have to go all the way down to number six before a pizza from Albuquerque is even mentioned. According to the writer, the five best pizzas in New Mexico are the Rooftop Pizzeria in Santa Fe, J.C.’s Pizza Department in Las Vegas (with a branch in Albuquerque), The Pizza Barn in Edgewood, Zeffiro Pizzeria Napoletana in Las Cruces and Forghedaboudit in Deming. How many of us even know these pizza places exist?

Chicken Fried Steak from City Lights in Albuquerque

“Santa Fe’s small, intimate and upscale dining scene provides ample restaurants with hushed lighting, tranquil outdoor seating and a unique fold of Southwestern, American and French cuisines.” Foodandwine.com invited its readers to reserve a table or two at the most romantic restaurants in Santa Fe. The list includes Eloisa, the James Beard award-nominated restaurant from chef John Rivera Sedlar; Izanami, the traditional Japanese izakaya restaurant; Luminaria, where lantern-lit courtyard dining awaits; The Anasazi, a rustic-chick restaurant melding Southwestern and Latin influences; and Santacafe, with its Georgia O’Keefe inspired dining room. Romance is definitely in the air at these restaurants.

22 Words, an online presence which purports to be “your source for the crazy, curious, and comical side of the Web” and offers “funny and fascinating viral content as well as more obscure (but equally interesting) pictures, videos and more” put together its list of the “BEST things to Eat in Every State.” It’s a no-brainer to declare the best thing to eat in New Mexico: “When chili peppers are one of the state vegetables, it’s a given that you’re known for producing fresh, hot chili-based sauces that are poured on everything from eggs to burritos to burgers.” Spelling “chile” as our neighbors in Texas do just takes something away from the credibility of this otherwise interesting feature.

Chiles Rellenos from Tenampa in Albuquerque

When it comes to perpetuating a successful franchise, Pizza 9 is a ten. Franchise Business Review named the burgeoning enterprise among its “best of the best,” one of the top 200 franchises in America for 2016. As one of only 38 franchises in the food and beverage segment to be honored, Pizza 9 has experienced substantial growth since launching its inaugural store in 2008. Today, the company boasts of more than 20 locations in the Land of Enchantment and Texas with other locations being planned. While the name on the marquee pegs it as a pizza restaurant, Pizza 9 is also one of only a handful of restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment to offer Italian beef sandwiches, a Chicago area staple.

Zap2it, an online movie and television information network , interviewed cast and creators of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” to find out what restaurants in the Land of Enchantment they frequent. Bob Odenkirk (Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman) and Michael Nando (Nacho) enjoy Farina Pizzeria in Albuquerque. Producer Vince Gilligan favors Santa Fe’s Geronimo while Patrick Fabian (Howard Hamlin) is a fan of Los Compadres . Rhea Seehorn (Kim Wexler) enjoys the food and ambiance at Los Poblanos Farms. Interestingly, none mentioned restaurants such as Loyola’s, Sai Gon Sandwich and Taco Sal which have made cameo appearances in the series.

Hass Aslami, founder of franchise powerhouse Pizza 9

On March 22nd, the Travel Channel debuted its Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations episode showcasing Albuquerque. Instead of highlighting the weirdly wonderful aspects of dining in the Duke City, the show focused on the unique foods Zimmern believes define Albuquerque. Understandably that means chile, both red and green. At the Church Street Cafe, Zimmern touted the stacked green chile enchiladas. For green chile cheeseburgers, Zimmern visited The Owl Cafe on Eubank, explaining this satellite location uses the recipes and preparation techniques of the San Antonio Owl Cafe which originated green chile cheeseburgers. For the most intense, rich and smoking hot red chile, Zimmern recommended Mary & Tito’s Cafe, a James Beard Award-Winning restaurant where carne adovada is a mainstay. Because not even New Mexicans can live on chile alone, Delicious Destinations visited The Pueblo Harvest Cafe for a Tewa taco and piñon rolls from Buffet’s.

February, 2016

Nutella and Banana Crepe from Boiler Monkey in Albuquerque

In January, Business Insider put together a list showcasing the best restaurant in every state. Paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments, Business Insider declared Santa Fe’s Geronimo as the best the Land of Enchantment has to offer. Less than a month later, restaurant review guide Zagat compiled a line-up called “50 States, 50 Steaks” which honored the definitive slab of succulent beef to be found in every state. New Mexico’s honoree was none other than the Tellicherry-Rubbed Elk Tenderloin at Geronimo. “Served atop roasted garlic fork-mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, Applewood smoked bacon and creamy brandied-mushroom sauce,” the Elk Tenderloin is indeed divinely inspired, a transformative steak.

Shortly after Zagat’s affirmation of New Mexico’s premier steak, Geronimo’s uber-talented executive chef Eric DiStefano passed away unexpectedly. Tributes to the chef centered not as much on his greatness as a culinary virtuoso, but on what a kind and gentle soul he was. He was a man beloved in the community, a man who touched many lives as well as palates. My friend Billie Frank who knew him well wrote a very touching feature on Chef DiStefano on Santa Fe Travelers. Billie and I agreed that every apron in Santa Fe should be at half-mast. Godspeed Chef.

Fried Pickles from The Fat Squirrel Pub & Grille in Rio Rancho

It speaks to the remarkable consistency with which New Mexico’s very best chefs perform night in and night out that in 2016, the state’s five semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southwest are repeat honorees. To be named a semi-finalist is to be recognized as among the very best from among the elite. The level of competition throughout the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico) is extremely high. Semifinalists for Best Chef Southwest for 2016 include Jennifer James of Jennifer James 101 in Albuquerque, Martin Rios of Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe, Jonathan Perno of La Mierienda at Los Poblanos in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque and Andrew Cooper of Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe. Eloisa, Chef John Sedlar’s tribute to his grandmother, was nominated for Best New Restaurant.

Rancho de Chimayo was announced as one of five recipients of the James Beard Award’s “America’s Classic” honor. A James Beard Award signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world, the country’s most coveted and prestigious culinary award while the “Americas Classic Award” honors “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community, and that have carved out a special place in the American culinary landscape.” Rancho de Chimayo is the true, timeless American classic–beloved in the community with the highest quality food reflecting the character of New Mexico.

Whoo’s Donuts, Homer Simpson’s Favorite Santa Fe Restaurant

No doh about it. Homer Simpson would drool over the Thrillist’s compilation of the best donut shops in America, thirty-three purveyors of confectionery excellence. Only one of the Land of Enchantment’s decorated domiciles of donut deliciousness made the list. Santa Fe’s Whoo’s Donuts were a revelation to Thrillist writers who described the blue-corn donut experience as “like eating a corn muffin that has been put into a culinary witness-protection program and comes out with a totally new identity, but is more delicious.” While the analogy may be a bit lame, Whoo’s Donuts are fantastic.

“Kiss me, I’m drunk.” While that quote may sound as if uttered by Richard Burton or Joe Namath, it’s how Buzzfeed subtitled its “Best Irish Bar in Every State” feature. Regardless of what the subtitle may or may not have implied, the feature acknowledged that “a good Irish bar isn’t just a bar. It’s home.” Buzzfeed consulted the good folks at Yelp for the top-rated Irish spots in every state. The Land of Enchantment is well represented by Albuquerque’s Two Fools Tavern where “the hardest part is deciding if you want the boxty, fish and chips or the bangers and mash.”

For the Love of Meat – Airing in Santa Fe on Wednesday, March 9th at 7PM. (Click Image for More Info)

Best in the country. It’s one thing to give yourself that title, it’s another to earn it. Chef Todzilla’s Mobile Cuisine, a Roswell food truck earned it! In a poll of the best food trucks in the fruited plain, Chef Todzillas garnered almost half the 4,700 votes cast while competing against food trucks in such cosmopolitan behemoths as Dallas and Las Vegas. Chef Todzilla prides itself on using fresh, local, never frozen ingredients and has a burger menu to be envied. The chorizo burger is reputed to be addictive.

On Wednesday, March 9th at 7PM, the Violet Crown Cinema in Santa Fe will screen a documentary on barbecue as it is incomparably prepared in Central Texas. Entitled “For the Love of Meat,” the documentary introduces some of the top barbecue pit-masters in Central Texas. This documentary comes with a warning: It will make you hungry for some brisket. Purchase your tickets here.

January, 2016

High Point Mac (Choice Center-Cut Steak and Green Chile) from The Point in Rio Rancho

Not since Adam and Eve have ribs been as oft-discussed as they are today.  Barbecue restaurants throughout the fruited plain strive for melt-in-your-mouth pork and beef ribs.  Ribs are the most popular of all barbecued meats, caveman cuisine at its very best.   In a program called Top 5 BBQ in America, the Food Network celebrated barbecue ribs in such barbecue hotbeds as Tennessee and North Carolina.  Admittedly Albuquerque isn’t the first place you think of for great ribs, but the Food Network fell in love with the red chile ribs from El Pinto, ranking them third in the country.  “The secret to their mouth-watering spicy ribs is a paste made of dried caribe chiles rubbed onto the meat and allowed to marinate for 24 hours.” 

“From new attractions and massive additions to quirky flavors, big birthdays and booze, 2016 promises to be a good year for the curious traveler.”  CNN compiled a list of 16 things to see and do in the U.S. in 2016.   Arguably the most delicious destination to be enjoyed this year is New Mexico’s very own Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  “With nearly 100 spots to sample, the Trail is a tasty way to add a little spice to your life this year.”  Among the purveyors of incomparable green chile cheeseburgers listed were Sparky’s in Hatch and 5 Star Burgers with locations in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos.

My friend Darren contemplates his meal at Magokoro

In December, 2015, you read on this blog that Zagat, a national online and print restaurant review medium, had selected as New Mexico’s very best dessert not something unique to the Land of Enchantment, but a bundt cake you can find at a chain with locations throughout the fruited plain.  Spoon University, the self-professed “everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” made a lot more sense than Zagat, naming New Mexico’s best dessert as bizcochitos from the Golden Crown Panaderia.  Spoon described them as “sweet, cinnamony cookies” that became the “official state cookie almost 20 years ago” and “deserve to graduate onto the official dessert.” 

Business Insider didn’t limit itself to cookies, naming the best restaurant in every state.  Sifting through their own list of the best restaurants in America, James Beard Award nominations, expert reviews, and local recommendations, paying particular attention to fine-dining establishments, Business Insider declared Santa Fe’s Geronimo as the best in the Land of Enchantment.  “Noted for its impeccable service and complex dishes,” Geronimo “boasts a host of mouthwatering dishes.”

Wonton soup from Asian Pear

With almost twice as many flavor-characteristics discernible by human senses than wine, coffee is next to water, the world’s most popular beverage with 400 billion cups consumed yearly (1.4 billion cups daily) across the globe. The Huffington Post and Foursquare users compiled a list of the best places for coffee in every state across the fruited plain.  With cups touting them as “passionate about coffee,” the Land of Enchantment representative was Satellite Coffee, an Albuquerque presence with eight locations throughout the city. 

“Until recently, Tim Harris, of Albuquerque was the only restaurant owner in the country with Down syndrome. But what drives a restaurateur who has lived for his business to close up shop? A girl he loves more than anything.”  In a very touching report the CBS news show Sunday morning profiled Harris and his decision to close his popular restaurant Tim’s Place to move to Denver where he could be close to the love of his life.  When Tim launches his restaurant in Denver, it’s a sure bet the Mile High City will embrace him as warmly as the Duke City did.

Lobster Tater Tots from the Freight House in Bernalillo

Santa Fe Chef Marc Quiñones who plies his craft at Luminaria competed with four other chefs on the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” a reality cooking show.  Cutthroat Kitchen features four chefs competing in a three-round elimination cooking competition. The contestants face auctions in which they can purchase opportunities to sabotage one another. Each chef is given $25,000 at the start of the show; the winner keeps whatever money he or she has not spent in the auctions.  While the talented chef didn’t win the competition, every guest at Luminaria is a winner when they get to partake of his culinary fare. 

For years, Santa Fe has been regarded as one of the nation’s premier tourist attractions as well as one of America’s best dining destinations.  This culinary Mecca hosted its inaugural Santa Fe Foodie Classic, highlighting classic flavor combinations as well as new techniques demonstrating the future of Southwestern cuisine.   Several events were held in which some of the city’s very best chefs showcased their talents over a three-day period.

2016SouperBowl

For more than 35 years, the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico has been serving the state’s hungry.  As the largest Food Bank in the state, it distributes more than 30 million pounds of food every year to a network of hundreds of partner agencies and four regional food banks.  Through that network, the Food Bank is helping 70,000 hungry people in our state weekly.  That’s the equivalent to feeding a city the size of Santa Fe every single week. Every January, the Food Bank hosts the Souper Bowl, its largest fundraiser, an event in which restaurants across the metropolitan area prepare and serve their tastiest soups to hundreds of people and several hungry judges who get to weigh in on their favorites.  This year’s winners were: 

People’s Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Artichoke Café for their Butternut Squash and Coffee Soup; 2nd PlaceSoupDog for New Mexico meets New Orleans Gumbo; 3rd Place: Bocadillos Café and Catering for New Mexico Clam Chowder

Critics’ Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place: Zinc Bistro and Wine Bar for Roasted Chicken and Red Chile Dumpling Soup; 2nd Place: Bien Shur at Sandia Resort and Casino for Fire Roasted Poblano Cream Soup with Corn and Crawfish Salsa; 3rd Place: The Ranchers Club of New Mexico for Bison Posole

People’s Choice Winners – Vegetarian Soup
1st Place: Street Food Asia for Malay Curry PPP Chowder; 2nd Place: Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza for Vegetable Minestrone; 3rd Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Company for Green Chile Cheddar Ale soup

People’s Choice – Dessert

1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes for Bundtinis; 2nd Place: Theobroma Chocolatier for Assorted Chocolates; 3rd Place: Gardunos Restaurants for Biscochito Flan

People’s Choice – Booth Winner: Bien Shur Restaurant

On the same weekend, The Food Depot in Santa Fe holds its own Souper Bowl event. This year more than 1,200 people enjoyed the best soups some 28 restaurant chefs across the City Different had to serve.  Winners of the 2016 event were:

Best Cream: Rio Chama
Best Savory: Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe
Best Seafood: Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen
Best Vegetarian: Paper Dosa
Best Overall Soup: Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen

The Owl Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Owl Cafe on Eubank (northern view)

Shortly before 6AM. on July 16, 1945, some of the world’s most brilliant minds ushered in the nuclear age with the detonation of the first atomic bomb, an occasion which later prompted Los Alamos Laboratory head J. Robert Oppenheimer to declare “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”  The transformative event occurred in a dry, desolate locale approximately 35 miles from bucolic San Antonio, New Mexico, the gateway to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  The scientists who developed the top-secret bomb had been staying nearby in cabins rented from J.E. Miera, proprietor of Miera’s Owl Bar and Cafe. 

Posing as “prospectors,” the scientists frequented Miera’s for enthusiastic card games, cold beer and grilled cheeseburgers. In time, Miera’s son Frank Chavez, began adorning the burgers with fiery-hot diced green chile, unwittingly inventing  what is now a sacrosanct New Mexico icon, the green chile cheeseburger.  Despite what other claimants may say, San Antonio’s Owl Cafe is the progenitor to what James Beard Award-winning writer (and former restaurant reviewer for The Alibi) Jason Sheehan described in 2011 as “America’s best cheeseburger.”  The green chile cheeseburger is all that and so much more.

Albuquerque’s most famous anthropomorphic restaurant (view from the south)

In the 1980s, Albuquerque entrepreneur Ski Martin purchased the franchise rights to the original Owl Cafe and in 1986 launched Albuquerque’s first Owl Cafe on Eubank just a couple blocks north of Interstate 40.  With an upscale urban 50s ambiance and an anthropomorphic architecture featuring garish neon pink and turquoise lights, this metropolitan version has a much more expansive menu than the original restaurant, featuring several other sandwiches, some comfort food entrees and several New Mexican entrees.  A complementary bowl of beans with San Antonio green chile (albeit spelled “chili”) after you’re seated is one of the highlights of dining at this Owl.  A dessert display case may just have you wanting to lick the glass.

The one thing that might detract from giving your burger the full attention and adulation it deserves is the boisterous and  crowded ambiance of the Eubank location.  Throngs of hungry diners queue up for one of the booths in the elongated diner-style restaurant; less fortunate patrons (and children who want to spin around in them) are seated on the disc-shaped bar stools at the restaurant’s center.  A 1950s style juke box (for Millennials, this is a coin-operated, partially automated music playing device that plays selected songs from a self-contained media) playing songs from bygone eras plays almost continuously.  Smaller tableside jukeboxes are also available if you want the music closer to you.

The diner-like ambiance of the Owl Cafe

Cheers went up when in 2004,  Martin partnered with Frank Marcello (partner in other Albuquerque restaurant ventures such as Copeland’s and Zea’s and founder of the eponymous Marcello’s Chophouse) to launch Albuquerque’s second Owl Cafe in the Shops at I-25.  In 2005, a third Owl Cafe opened on the West side (10131 Coors Blvd) where great burgers were (and still are) direly lacking. Alas, both satellites closed within two years.  Twenty years after its launch, Albuquerque’s sole remaining Owl Cafe is still going strong.  In April, 2016, it was featured on an episode of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations.

Despite the more extensive menu offerings at the Eubank based Owl Cafe, the green chile cheeseburger is still the biggest attraction–and for good reason.  The meat is ground on the premises, patties are hand-formed and the ingredients (mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion cheese and the world famous San Antonio green chile) are absolutely fresh.  Ski Martin and his team of cooks prepare each and every burger the same way he learned to prepare them at the San Antonio parent restaurant.

Beans with Green Chile

On a double meat burger, the succulent meat and melted cheese bulge out beyond the buns.  The meat positively breaks apart (a telltale sign that filler isn’t used) and its juices make consuming one a lip-smacking, multi-napkin affair.  On occasion, the green chile is as near to green chile nirvana as you’ll find on any burger in New Mexico.  Non-natives might find it a bit hot, but locals think it’s just right.  At other times, the green chile is barely noticeable and wouldn’t pose a bit of a threat to someone from, say, Mississippi.  Maybe that’s what happens when you commit the cardinal offense of spelling it “chili.”

In 2009, the Owl Cafe (irrespective of location) was selected for inclusion into the New Mexico Department of Tourism’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a listing of the Land of Enchantment’s most outstanding green chile cheeseburger restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, cafes, roadside stands and bowling alleys.  Though the green chile cheeseburger is ubiquitous throughout New Mexico, only 48 green chile cheeseburgers made it to this list.  The Owl was a repeat listing on the 2011 version of the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.   My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, rates the green chile cheeseburger at Albuquerque’s Owl as the fourth best in the Land of Enchantment.

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger

While the dissolution of the marital institution seems to become more prevalent every year, there’s one marriage that has and probably will withstand the ravages of time–that’s the culinary union of the burger and French fries. The Owl Cafe serves fresh-cut French fries that are among the very best in the city.  Well salted and served with either red or green chile, these fries are fantastic.  Like many good fries, the potatoes aren’t peeled.  Perhaps even better are the sweet potato fries though you might just utter “fries be damned” if you opt for onion rings instead.  These thin-sliced, lightly coated rings are the antithesis of the overly breaded out-of-the-bag variety you’ll find at most restaurants.  The rings are served with a somewhat anemic horseradish sauce which could use more punch.

To make it a terrific triumvirate, order one of the Owl’s old-fashioned milk shakes or malts, both of which are thick, delicious and served cold.   Favorite flavors include chocolate, pineapple, strawberry, Oreo, vanilla and butterscotch. Malts and shakes are made with real hand-dipped ice cream and whole milk and are mixed in a tin, the way they were made in the 50s. They’re then served in a shake glass with the tin on the side, much like getting a shake and a half.  No 50s era diner would be complete without phosphates and egg creams and the Owl makes these well.

Onion Rings

The New Mexican food menu includes many popular favorites including enchiladas, a combination plate, quesadillas and carne adovada (unfortunately made with cumin).  Mom’s favorite quesadilla is one of the very best of its genre in town.  Sandwiched between two grilled tortillas sliced pizza style are refried beans, two types of melted Cheddar cheese, bacon and green chile.  The refried beans are terrific with a smoky aftertaste perhaps ameliorated by the crisp bacon.  The quesadilla is served with plastic tubs of guacamole, salsa and sour cream.

The dessert case usually includes several pies–apple, blueberry, peach and pecan, for example.  These pies taste better than they look.  One of the things which makes them special is a thin, crispy and buttery crust.  The other is the fruit fillings–real fruit, not the gelatinous, over-sweetened gunk.  The blueberry actually tastes like blueberry.  The pies are best served warm and topped with two scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Albuquerque Melt

22 May 2016: The sandwich menu includes all the “usual suspects” found at most self-respecting cafes and diners.  You’ll find grilled cheese done three different ways, club sandwiches, French dip, Reubens and even a cold meatloaf sandwich.  You’ll also find a classic patty melt and a chile-infused variation called the Albuquerque Melt (Swiss cheese, grilled onions and green chili on grilled rye).  New Mexicans know that green chile improves nearly every dish to which it is added, including several desserts.  You may not ever again want a patty melt sans green chile.  That’s how significant the improvement is.  It also helps that The Owl’s beef patties are perfectly seasoned, generously proportioned and prepared to a medium-well deliciousness.  The light rye bread lets bolder flavors shine–flavors such as the sweet, caramelized onions and the mild meltedness of the Swiss cheese.

22 May 2016: Hawaii’s contribution to America’s burgeoning hot dog culture is the Puka Dog (puka, in this case, having nothing to do with the hipster beads worn in the 70s).  Larry will be heartened to hear the puka dog does not include spam.   It does involve a hunk of sweet bread being impaled on a heated rod, effectively toasting it on the inside while leaving the outside soft.  The resultant hot dog shaped hole is filled with a grilled hot dog and a fruit relish (mango, pineapple, papaya, coconut and banana for example).   The Owl Cafe’s  Hawaiian Dog is loosely patterned on the puka dog.  Nestled into a more conventional toasted hot dog bun is a split hot dog topped with a mango-pineapple salsa.  It’s not always a given that “salsa” implies piquant.  This salsa is dessert sweet, contrasting the salty smokiness of the hot dog.  It’s a combination not everyone will appreciate, but one no diner should dismiss without trying.

Hawaiian Dog

The most adamant detractors (you know the type–averse to change of any kind even though their last visit to the San Antonio Owl was decades ago) contend this Northeast Heights restaurant probably shouldn’t even bear the name of the original classic.  Me, I think The Owl is very competitive in an increasingly better burger market.  When its chile is hot, the Owl rocks!

The Owl Cafe
800 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505)291-4900
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 22 May 2016
# OF VISITS: 11
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chili Cheeseburger; French Fries; Chocolate Shake; Beans; Blueberry Pie ala mode; Mom’s Favorite Quesadilla; Albuquerque Melt; Onion Rings; Sweet Potato Fries; Hawaiian Dog

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

Savory Fare – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Savory Fare Cafe, Bakery and Catering in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights

Back in the mid 70s, anyone in Albuquerque’s southeast quadrant who wanted privacy knew they could find it at the Burger Chef restaurant in the Gibson and San Mateo area. It was the place seemingly designated for undisturbed break-ups (this was in the dark ages before texting and email were the preferred mediums for breaking-up). Once a burgeoning franchise second only to McDonald’s in the fast food arena, Burger Chef was in a state of rapid decline and even during lunch hours, few diners patronized it.

Our inaugural dining experience at Savory Fare rekindled memories of a long-ago visit to Burger Chef when I was one of only two diners in the whole place and one of us was soon-to-be on the receiving side of bad news (the “Dear Gil” kind). While cavalcades of cars were driving up for their Egg McBorings and whatever breakfast banality Burger King offers, my Kim and I were–for nearly twenty minutes–the only diners at Savory Fare. Though I was fairly certain my bride of thirty years wasn’t breaking up with me, I wondered why this cafe-bakery wasn’t overflowing with patrons. Surely the savory fare for which the restaurant is named wasn’t as uninspired as Burger Chef’s forgettable food.

One of the

One of the most beautiful counters of any restaurant in Albuquerque

For sheer visual appeal, very few restaurants in Albuquerque rival Savory Fare where gloriously arrayed behind glass pastry cases are some of the most sumptuous creations you’ll find anywhere: lavish pastries, captivating cakes, photogenic pies, enticing eclairs and so much more (be still, my heart). Surely all this edible art would have the same Pavlovian effect on other discerning diners as it did on us. Moreover, Savory Fare is immaculate, as spotless as a hospital operating room while retaining an air of whimsy and fun. Unframed prints of anthropomorphic vegetables would bring a smile even to Scrooge’s craggy countenance.

Perhaps, we pondered, the menu doesn’t offer much beyond pulchritudinous pastries. After all, man and woman cannot live on cake and pie alone (though some of us would like to try). Savory Fare’s Web site lists only four items (breakfast torte, quiche Lorraine, breakfast burrito and an omelet), but we found out we could also order from a very intriguing cold sandwich menu as well as from soup and salad menus and a number of scrumptious daily specials. Take your time perusing the slate boards perched over the counter and by the door. For sheer volume and diversity, there’s something (maybe many things) there for everyone.

The Alexander

Crossing off deliciousness and diversity, we next ruminated on three things that are often the bane of many a restaurant: location, location and location. Savory Fare is ensconced within the Mossman Center on Montgomery and while the café doesn’t have a street-facing storefront, there’s plenty of parking and it’s easy to get to. There could be only one reason this gem wasn’t beset by throngs of hungry diners–my blogging brethren and  I haven’t done our jobs well. We haven’t climbed onto our virtual rooftops and shouted out “bring your hungry masses yearning to eat well to Savory Fare.”

As if to confirm that self-serving contention, I went online and found only one review of the cafe from a credentialed source. My friend and fellow Souperbowl judge Gail Guengerich had written a glowing review of Savory Fare for The Alibi some eighteen months prior to my visit yet despite her persuasiveness, we didn’t drive over immediately (fearing we’d be subjected to long lines of hungry hordes).

Chicken Apricot Salad Sandwich

Gail’s observations expanded on some of mine: “There’s a framed award on the wall of Savory Fare Café & Bakery that reads “Best Undiscovered Restaurant”—issued by Albuquerque The Magazine in the year 2006. That was seven years ago, and greater Albuquerque still hasn’t beaten a path to its door. Most people I talk to have never heard of Savory Fare, and it rarely receives any press. Strange, when you consider how elusive a good pastry case is in this town.”

21 May 2016: It brought me great comfort to read further that unlike breakfast “every lunch hour, the café is packed to the rafters.” That’s the way it should be and not just for lunch. Packed to the rafters is exactly what Savory Fare was during our second visit (which transpired at lunchtime on a Saturday).  Perhaps  that’s indicative of Albuquerque not being a breakfast or brunch town, but more than likely it just means we have to visit more frequently to know for sure.

Muffaletta

Savory Fare is family-owned and operated, serving home-style food with attention to freshness, nutrition, taste and quality. Specials change daily with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Every evening, the cafe offers a freshly prepared take-home dinner as well as a selection of soups and deli salads for take-out. Then there’s that dessert case which probably has to be cleaned frequently to remove drool stains. There’s a lot to love about a cafe-bakery like this one!

1 August 2015: You’ll certainly love The Alexander (grilled ham, turkey, provolone, green chile and Dijonnaise on grilled sourdough), an archetypal sandwich unlike any we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The green chile and dijonnaise combination has probably been attempted before, not not as memorably as at Savory Fare.  It blends the piquancy and roasted deliciousness of green chile with Dijonnaise, a sharp Dijon mustard blended with creamy mayonnaise. It’s two types of heat coming together to create a cohesive flavor profile that will blow you away. The sourdough has a perceptible tang that makes it a perfect canvas for generously piled-on meats and cheese. The only way in which The Alexander is short-changed is its name. It really should be called “Alexander The Great!”

Strawberry salad

1 August 2015: We weren’t quite as enamored of the Chicken Apricot Salad Sandwich (diced chicken breast, apricots, walnuts, scallions, mayonnaise on whole wheat).  That’s primarily because apricot and its musky, tart uniqueness wasn’t as prominent a presence on the sandwich as it should have been.  Apricots are a difference-maker, the separation between merely very good and great.  Without a strong apricot presence, this sandwich is still a very good chicken sandwich, but you can find those elsewhere. 

21 May 2016: You probably wouldn’t order a green chile cheeseburger in New Orleans.  There’s no telling what passes for green chile in the Crescent City.  Similarly, most savvy diners wouldn’t order a muffaletta in Albuquerque.  So what does that say about your humble blogger that every time a restaurant offers a muffaletta, it’s destined for our table?  Perhaps it says is that I really miss muffalettas which we enjoyed for eight years during our time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.   Savory Fare’s rendition looks nothing like a traditional New Orleans muffaletta (some of which are roughly the size of the extraterrestrial craft which landed in Roswell a few decades ago).  While a “real” muffaletta would kick sand in the face of this one, if it was called something else, it would be a more enjoyable sandwich.  While the olive spread, meats, ,cheese and bread go very well together, this (to paraphrase Dan Quayle) is no muffaletta.

Turtle Bread Pudding

21 May 2016: The salad special of the day during our second visit was an ingredient-laden paragon of leafy green deliciousness.  Picture if you will fresh spinach leaves, candied pecans, goat cheese, grilled chicken and tangy strawberries all drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette.  This salad is an exemplar of complementary flavor and texture profiles–from the pungent and sharp goat cheese to the tangy-sweet strawberries and the sweet-savory candied pecans.  it’s a thoroughly enjoyable salad which should grace the daily menu.  It’s too special to be solely an occasional special-of-the-day.

1 August 2015: It’s been a while since I’ve uncovered a great bread pudding to recommend to my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate. For years, Larry has scoured the Land of Enchantment for bread pudding worthy of inclusion into his Bread Pudding Hall of Fame. There’s a very good chance Savory Fare’s turtle bread pudding will make the list should Larry visit (there’s an invitation implied here, Larry).  It’s an outstanding bread pudding with all the turtle elements sweet-toothed diners enjoy so much.  That means plenty of warm, gooey caramel and meaty walnuts atop a texturally perfect bread pudding that would be delicious on its own.  

Sour Cherry Pie

1 August 2015: My friend and colleague Elaine Ascending and her husband recently celebrated his birthday with a sour cherry pie from Savory Fare.  What a great wife and what an outstanding pie!  It’s the antithesis of the cloying, filler-rich cherry pie you normally find at bakeries.  True to their name, the cherries are indeed sour–not as lip-pursing as lemons, but certainly tangy and rife with personality.  The crust enveloping the cherries is every bit as good as a high-quality bakery should aspire to.  One slice isn’t enough, however.  You’ll want to take a whole pie home with you.

Perhaps fate intervened in making sure we had Savory Fare all to ourselves during our inaugural visit. It allowed us to ask more questions of the staff, walk around and browse more closely and to savor each and every bite slowly of cafe-bakery fare even more savory than is implied by the establishment’s name.

Savory Fare Cafe
7400 Montgomery Blvd, Suite 1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-8514
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 21 May 2016
1st VISIT: 1 August 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sour Cherry Pie, Turtle Bread Pudding, The Alexander,  Chicken Apricot Salad Sandwich, Lemonade, Strawberry Salad, Muffaletta

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