Stack House BBQ – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Stack House Barbecue in Rio Rancho

One of my Psychology professors cautioned students about the danger of “amateur diagnosis,” the practice of assigning specific psychoses and neuroses to people we meet solely on the basis of our cursory familiarity with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  He explained that it often takes an experienced practicing psychiatrist several sessions to arrive at a diagnosis and many more sessions before treatment proves effective.  His point–a little knowledge can be dangerous–applies in virtually every arena of knowledge in practicum.  Reflecting back on all the times my rudimentary conclusions were ultimately proven incorrect, it’s a point well driven. 

When my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, Dazzling Deanell and Beauteous Barb decided to pursue Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) certification, the words of my Psychology professor resonated in my memory.  Sure, we’d all been eating barbecue most of our lives, but how much did we really know about passing judgement on barbecue?  Not much, it turned out.  Over the course of several hours, our KCBS instructor imparted sage knowledge and proven techniques to help us understand thee three most important and very nuanced elements of competitive judging: taste, texture and appearance.   Much like getting a Psychology degree, obtaining KCBS certification gave us a modicum of knowledge.  Applying what we learned in such competitions as Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew built upon that knowledge.

Long lines queue up for terrific ‘cue

Recently when Larry and Deanell rhapsodized poetic about the barbecue at the Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho, my first questions were “how would that barbecue rate in a KCBS barbecue competition?” Larry gave it nines in taste, texture and appearance. Deanell one-upped Larry, indicating the Stack House BBQ’s ‘cue warranted all tens (and she knows what it is to be a ten). They invited me to discover for myself whether their ratings were hyperbole or justified.  Alas, during my inaugural visit, I was suffering the ravages of a bad cold which rendered my taste buds untrustworthy and enfeebled my olfactory senses.  You can’t judge barbecue if you can’t imbibe its aromas and taste its subtle flavor qualities. 

Having a bad cold tends to exacerbate my desire for chile, the more piquant the better.  In the throes of even the most egregious colds, I’ve been known to drive to Santa Fe for some of the Horseman’s Haven‘s combustible chile.  The Haven’s Level II chile, affectionately known as “El Diablo” is about the only thing that can quell the stuffiness of a head cold.  While the Stack House doesn’t offer anything quite as incendiary as El Diablo, the menu does include two pepper-infused items: Frito pie and jalapeño sausage.  From what my compromised palate could surmise, both were probably quite good though it would take a return visit or ten to know for sure. 

Pit Master Extraordinaire Greg Janke Slices Brisket with Surgical Precision

My return visit transpired exactly one week after my inaugural visit, so eager were my Kim and I to experience the bodacious barbecue about which Larry and Deanell had raved.  We had the great fortune to spend time discussing all things barbecue with proprietor-pit master Greg Janke.  Like me, Greg is an Intel alum, having toiled at the technology giant for 23 years, five years longer than I.  Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Greg left Intel in April, 2016 and five months later–on Friday, September 23rd–he launched Stack House BBQ. 

Greg’s transition from technologist to restaurateur wasn’t as challenging as one might think.  In fact, Greg admits, working at Intel prepared him very well to own and operate a restaurant.  Even in such technically demanding areas as Automation where he rose through the ranks, Intel employees have the opportunity to hone their business and customer orientation skills (not to mention the discipline to work long hours).  There is, of course, nothing in the semi-conductor arena which translates directly to the mastery of smoking meats in the low-and-slow manner.  Greg began smoking meats at home several years ago, eventually earning praise from friends and the confidence to enter the arena of competition.

Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs

In each of the past two years, Greg has competed at Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew, a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event.  In 2016, he finished seventeenth overall in a field of thirty-one, faring especially well in the pork category where he placed eleventh.  As much as the judges in the blind taste foodfest may have enjoyed his barbecue, it was event-goers who convinced him to launch his own barbecue restaurant.  In each of the event’s two days, he sold out–every morsel of magnificent meat–well before day’s end.   Moreover, many of them lavished praise and encouragement, essentially convincing Greg that he belonged in the barbecue restaurant arena.

Just seven months previously, Rub-N-Wood had shuttered its doors, leaving the City of Vision without a barbecue restaurant.  Now, Rio Rancho without barbecue is akin to Hillary not wearing a pantsuit.  It just doesn’t and shouldn’t happen.  Barbecue became a Rio Rancho tradition in 1983 when the great Gary West launched Smokehouse BBQ  at 4000 Barbara Loop, a location which would henceforth become synonymous with great barbecue. He owned and operated the stately home of seductive smoke for nearly a quarter-century before moving on. With Roger Bell at the helm, Rub-N-Wood moved in and pleased palates for nearly three years.  The hazy smoke plumes which had so long emanated from 4000 Barbara Loop resumed on a lazy, late September day when Greg assumed the role as Rio Rancho’s proprietor of the pit.  It was a day warranting celebration.

Half Chicken

As had transpired during the Pork & Brew, Greg sold out his first few days of operation.  Barbecue aficionados quickly embraced his Memphis meets Texas approach to smoking meats.  What’s not to love!  Greg uses a combination of oak and cherry woods to impart a unique flavor to his barbecue.  He developed a rub that includes some twelve ingredients that penetrate deeply into the meats and imbue them with flavor-boosting, crust-forming properties.  Not only that, the Stack House BBQ restaurant is an inviting milieu for meat lovers.  It may well be the most pristine barbecue restaurant in which you’ve ever set foot.  If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, Greg is probably being fitted for a halo as you read this.  In addition to the immaculate nature of the premises, service is friendly and attentive (another Rio Rancho tradition exemplified by the terrific staff at Joe’s Pasta House among others).

The Stack House menu is rather limited.  Meats–brisket, chicken or pulled pork–are available by the half or full pound.  Also available are sausage, jalapeño sausage, half-a-chicken and baby back ribs (available in quantities of three, half a rack or a full rack).  You can also opt to have your meats on a sandwich.  Then there’s the aforementioned Frito pie.  Sides are pretty much what you’d expect at a barbecue joint: potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, corn on the cob, chile, beans, mac and cheese and fries (including chile cheese fries).  A baked potato, with or without meat, can also be had.  Limited applies solely to the number of items on the menu board, not to how great they taste.

Sides: Green Beans and Potato Salad

7 October 2016: You won’t mind getting your hands dirty handling the baby back ribs on which Greg’s magical rub is liberally applied.  These ribs are messy and they’re magnificent, each meaty morsel pried away easily from the bone.  They’re not fall-off-the-bone tender, having just the right amount of give that signifies the perfect degree of doneness.  Make no bones about it, these baby back ribs are (as Larry would say) competition-worthy, needing neither sauce nor amelioration to improve upon them.   The sauce, by the way, is terrific, a sweet and tangy complement to the richly satisfying smokiness of the ribs.

7 October 2016: With the emphasis on pork and brisket, chicken is often a sorry afterthought at some barbecue establishments.  Not so at the Stack House where the full-flavored half-chicken is a main-event item.  Quite simply, it’s fantastic, some of the very best we’ve had in New Mexico!  Peel back the blackened skin (delicious in its own right) and you’ll be rewarded with moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat chicken…and there’s plenty of it.  A nice-sized half-chicken (breast, thigh and leg) won’t leave much for sharing–not that you’ll want to.  Update: Because the half-chicken didn’t always sell out, Greg decided to offer chicken thighs instead.  Aside from being the most moist part of the chicken, chicken thighs don’t have to spend as much time on the smoker as half chickens.

Frito Pie

In November 2016, Stackhouse began offering daily specials from Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday’s child is a pulled pork sandwich.  On Thursday, it’s a chicken sandwich.  Friday features beef back ribs (a whole pound) though you’re well advised to get them early.  When we attempted to order beef back ribs on December 2nd, 2016, Greg apprised us that on that very date, my friend Sr. Plata ordered two portions for lunch and took home another for dinner.  Sr. Plata enjoys the Stackhouse’s beef ribs so much, he may move in…at least on Fridays.  But I digress.  Saturday’s special is three baby back ribs while Sunday, it’s Frito pie.  All daily specials are value priced.

2 December 2016: New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie. The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat. Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it sometimes looks like a healthy lettuce and onion salad when prepared by some restaurants. Underneath the lettuce and chopped onions, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips.  At the Stack House, Greg dispenses with all the offending lettuce, tomatoes and onions.  Instead, this Frito Pie is constructed with only the good parts–lots of Fritos corn chips, ground beef, chile and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese.   The chile has a nice bite, just enough to get your notice.  This is a fat-fest all New Mexicans will enjoy.

Three Meat Platter: Brisket, Chicken Thighs and Pork

2 December 2016: For a veritable meatfest, your best bet is a three meat platter (pictured above).  Kim, my carnivorous better-half will vouch for the brisket, chicken thighs and pulled pork.  Though a half chicken would be her preference, the chicken thighs make for a good consolation prize.  They’re moist, tender and delicious with a light smokiness.  The best of the three may well be the brisket which is shredded and pulls apart easily.  As with brisket in Central Texas, the cradle of Southwest barbecue, this isn’t the most lean of brisket.  It’s got just enough fat for flavor.  Tender tendrils of deliciousness define the shredded pork, a tangle of white and dark meat.  All three meats are lightly smoked and are perfect vehicles for the Stack House barbecue sauce.

2 December 2016: My Kim has often threatened to take away my man card, especially when we prepare steak at home or order it at a restaurant.  While she immediately–and with great zest–attacks the steak, my focal point is usually a loaded baked potato with plenty of melting butter, sour cream and shredded cheese.  The Stack House does one better than local steak houses.  First, the baked potatoes are smoked–lightly impregnated with hickory-cherry smoky goodness.  Secondly, you can load them up with the aforementioned baked potato suspects and with your choice of smoked meat.  The pulled pork is a magnificent choice for the smoked baked potato.  You’ll wish all your baked potatoes were similar endowed.

Smoked Baked Potato with Pulled Pork

7 October 2016: Great barbecue restaurants know that to provide an excellent full-meal experience, smoked meats must be accompanied by worthy sides.  Stack House has a two-tiered pricing model for its sides, the most expensive being three dollars.  Sides are served on Styrofoam vessels and are generously portioned.  The potato salad may evoke memories of picnic meals long gone.  It’s a mayonnaise-based potato salad with a pleasant mustardy-vinegary tang.  Alas, the green beans could use a few bits and pieces of smoked meats and maybe a pinch of salt.  Much better is the cherry cobbler, replete with whole cherries and a crumbly and delicious crust. 

18 February 2018:  One of the best kept secrets in the Albuquerque metropolitan area may be just how good the Stack House breakfast burritos are.  My Kim who prefers hand-held breakfast burritos to the more ubiquitous smothered burritos believes these are the very best in New Mexico.   The Stack House’s basic breakfast burrito is stuffed with hash browns, eggs and cheese.   You can then add bacon, sausage, brisket or pulled pork (the brisket reigns!).  Of course, you’ll want either (or both) red or green chile.  While my own loyalties tend to lie with the more complex nuances of red chile, Greg’s green chile is in rarefied air as some of the very best in the area.  It’s magnificent!  Too piquant for my Kim, it titillates my taste buds–doubly so when I squeeze in some of the Stack House’s peppery, sweet, tangy barbecue sauce.  Folgers got it wrong.  These are the best reason to get up in the morning.

Breakfast Burrito

18 February 2018:  America’s ideological divide dominates the airwaves when what we really should be deliberating is hard-shell or soft tacos.  Though I’d never kick any taco off my table, count me among the aficionados of the latter.  The Stack House’s breakfast soft tacos (egg and cheese on a soft flour tortilla) are among the main reasons why.  As with the burritos, you can add bacon, sausage, pulled pork or brisket along with red and (or) green chile.  It goes without saying that the green chile will leave all others envious and the brisket is such a complementary flavor it may awaken your taste buds.   Once available only Saturday and Sunday, the Stack House’s breakfast is so popular, it’s now available Wednesday through Sunday from 8AM through noon.

If you live in the Albuquerque metropolitan area and your cable or satellite package doesn’t include the Cooking Channel, you’d be forgiven if you shed a few tears on Thursday, November 9, 2017 when you missed the Stack House BBQ being showcased.  In an episode entitled Carnival Eats, Greg created Stack House’s mountainous triple stack sandwich (brisket, pork and jalpeño sausage topped with slaw and barbecue sauce on a hoagie roll).  Sadly because the show is still being aired on reruns, it’s not yet available online.  Not even Greg himself has seen the program for want of the Cooking Channel.  If you haven’t discovered for yourself why television food and cooking shows are visiting Rio Rancho, you owe it to yourself to see why the Stack House is a star.

Breakfast Soft Taco

Stack House BBQ may ultimately become yet another destination restaurant in Rio Rancho, a port-of-call for barbecue aficionados from throughout the metropolitan area, if not the entire Land of Enchantment.  With its September launch, all is right in Rio Rancho once again.

Stack House BBQ
4000 Barbara Loop, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 903-7516
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2018
1ST VISIT: 29 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Half Chicken, Cherry Cobbler, Apple Cobbler, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken Thighs, Frito Pie, Smoked Baked Potato, Breakfast Burrito, Breakfast Taco

Stack House BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rebel Donut – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rebel Donut on Wyoming Just North of Menaul

Many years ago if someone proposed a wager of “dollars to donuts,” you might have been well advised to take it.  The phrase “dollars to donuts” essentially meant the person proposing the wager thought he or she had  a sure thing, that he or she was willing to to risk a dollar to win a dollar’s worth of donuts.  Donuts weren’t worth much at the time (and they weren’t very good either) so winning a bet might result in being paid off by a baker’s dozen or so donuts.  Today, if someone offers a “dollars to donuts” wager, the counter to a five dollar bet might be two donuts and the donuts would likely be terrific.  

Visit a donut shop today and sticker shock might set in.  Donuts aren’t cheap anymore, not that it stops Americans from spending our dollars for donuts to the tune of about $3.6 billion dollars per year.  Americans consume some ten billion donuts a year. That’s 33 donuts per man, woman and child per year.  The demographic which loves donuts most is middle-income men ages 25 to 49 (now you know what accounts for the “middle-age spread”).

Donut deliciousness in a glass case

As with burgers, donuts are one of those rare foods which have proven to be recession proof.  Despite the  economic malaise of the past few years, the number of donut shops, amount of donuts consumed and profitability per donut shop has continued to increase every year (save for a short lapse when the nutrition police made donuts non grata).  The reason most attributed is that donuts are a tasty and inexpensive comfort food.  Similar to the gourmet burger craze which has taken America by storm, consumers don’t mind splurging on donuts that are more costly.

The June 11th, 2012 launch of Rebel Donut (singular) will certainly give consumers an opportunity to splurge. Rebel makes two types of donuts: raised donuts made from yeast-based dough, and cake donuts made from cake batter.  Rebel makes two types of donuts. Raised donuts – made from yeast-based dough, and cake donuts – made from cake batter. Since they are made from rolled dough, and hand-cut, raised donuts can be formed into almost any shape. Proofing the donuts before they get fried gives them a fluffy, airy texture. Cake donuts are sweeter and denser than raised donuts. They are a little crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. They are always going to be round, but they can still be filled and decorated in a million ways.

Nutella-Chocolate, 3X chocolate, Powdered Sugar Vanilla , Old-Fashioned Coconut

As might be expected for a donut shop bearing the appellation “Rebel,” Rebel Donut is expanding the boundaries of donut conventionality.  Even the shop’s logo, a donut with wings, bespeaks of nonconformity, risk-taking, daring to be different.  Rebel Donut is taking donuts to the extreme, helping them be all they can be…self-actualizing donuts.  Unique flavors include red velvet, chocolate salted pretzel, chocolate mint, peanut butter and apple, peanut butter and Sriracha, carrot cake, watermelon and blueberry pancake and those are tame compared to other donuts on the ever-changing menu.  

You’d expect no less than imagination and inventiveness from Rebel Donut owners Carrie Mettling and Tina Winn.  Carrie was the founder and creative force behind Cupcake Fetish which she opened in March, 2006 and which began a bit of a cupcake boom in the Duke City.  The Rebel owners have hired a like-minded staff and given them the latitude to be visionary.  Then, as if the Rebel team wasn’t already taking donut innovation to new heights, they gave Facebook followers an opportunity to suggest new donut ideas.  The ideas were so clever that many, if not all, will be implemented.    That’s donuts by the people, for the people and by the people.

Top: Mocha Chocolate, 3X Chocolate Muffin, Key Line Pie
Bottom: Dreamsicle, Apple peanut butter, Smores

Striving to be Albuquerque’s premier artisan donut and pastry shop, Rebel Donut showcases more than thirty donut flavors per day with new and different surprises every day.  One unexpected surprise for us is the presence of kolaches (Czech and Slovak pastries with a dollop of fruit inside), but not exactly the type of which we experienced in Chicago.  Purists will argue that Rebel Donut’s line-up kolaches (sausage and cheese; sausage, jalapeño and cheese; and veggie sausage, green chile and cheese) are not kolaches, but Klobasnek.  Call them what you will, but you will call them delicious.

If you have any inkling that these donuts sound like so much fluff and style, one bite will assure you’re there’s plenty of substance beyond the round hole in the middle.  These donuts taste like very good renditions of their named ingredients.  The Dreamsicle donut tastes like a sweet and tangy orange.  The mocha chocolate tastes like a creamy, chocolatey coffee.  Then there’s the donuts in which seemingly disparate ingredients (peanut butter and Sriracha, for example) are combined.  These, too, as if by some feat of enchantment, are at the very least interesting, but more often than not, quite good.

Maple Bacon

If your idea of a radical donut is chocolate with sprinkles, Rebel Donut will rock your world.  Who but a Rebel would create a donut topped with candy resembling blue sky meth, the vice of choice on Breaking Bad, a popular television drama filmed in Albuquerque?  Who but a Rebel would launch a second shop at a seemingly cursed location on Albuquerque’s west side, a location which has seen a number of restaurants and even another donut shop?  Who but a Rebel would open a satellite shop in Albuquerque’s fledgling downtown area? 

In 2013, Rebel Donut was  selected to compete on a new Food Network show called “Donut Showdown” which premiered April 2nd on the Food Network in Canada.  The show made its United States debut on Wednesday, July 3rd on the Cooking Channel.  Carrie competed with two other donut-makers for a $10,000 prize.  The theme of the show was “Carnival.”  Although the Duke City’s dominant donut presence was victorious in 2013, it finished as runner-up during the 2014 showdown.

The Rebel Donut location on Albuquerque's west side (9311 Coors Blvd NW)

The Rebel Donut location on Albuquerque’s west side

NOTEIn the following paragraphs, Gil’s Thrilling… recaps the national attention garnered by Rebel Donut.

To get all existential about it – how do I know the perfect donut for me is the perfect donut for you? The truth is there really is no Perfect Donut because we all love different things. So at Rebel Donut, we are all about options.” How’s that for an appealing mission statement or operating philosophy, not that Rebel Donut’s Web site calls it that. With that level of commitment to variety and people pleasing, is it any wonder Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut was named in January, 2018, “The Best Donut Shop in New Mexico” by Delish. Like Rebel Donut, Delish believes “there’s no wrong way to eat a donut.” To compile its list of each state’s best donuts, Delish consulted Yelp, increasingly the most reliable crowd-source on culinary matters.

The Daily Meal describes donuts as “extremely versatile” and “essentially a blank canvas.” As to prove the versatility of the donut, in November, 2016 the online site compiled a list of America’s Most Outrageous Doughnuts and Where to Find Them. You probably didn’t have to give it a second thought to know Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut would make the list. Breaking Bad fans recall Rebel Donut’s “Blue Sky” doughnut which was topped with something resembling blue meth. That’s not even their most outrageous donut. That honor, according to The Daily Meal, would be reserved for the Dough Boy doughnut which “is studded with chocolate chips, drizzled with ample chocolate sauce, and topped with a hefty scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough.”

The best kind of six pack

Perhaps the most eloquent and certainly the most aptly descriptive quote ever uttered about donuts came from everyman philosopher Homer Simpson who once said “Mmmmmm…doughnuts.” What more needs to be said? Maybe “better than cupcakes, as classic as apple pie.” That’s what BuzzFeed said in October, 2016 when introducing a feature listing the best donut shop in every state according to Yelp. Using an algorithm that looked at the number of reviews plus the star rating for every doughnut business listed on Yelp, the best donut in New Mexico was determined to come from Rebel Donut in Albuquerque. That comes as no surprise to Duke City donut aficionados who have been flocking to the premier artisan donut and pastry shop in the Land of Enchantment.

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 in April, 2016 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.

Rebel Donut gained tremendous notoriety for creating a donut mimicking the potent crystal blue meth made famous by AMC’s Breaking Bad series. In March, 2016, 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. 

Albuquerque is one of the four original cities to syndicate the Jim Rome Show, a sports talk mainstay on 610 AM for nearly two decades. With a unique lexicon and format, the show now boasts of some 200 radio stations across the United States and Canada. Listeners are fiercely loyal to the show, reveling in a  format which encourages them to be critical of other cities on the syndicate as well as other listeners, including “laying the smack down” on “Albucracky” and its tumbleweed motif. During Rome’s most recent visit in November, 2016, he and his road crew discovered the “blue meth” donuts from Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut. The donuts were much more than a punchline to the jocular crew, all of whom enjoyed every morsel.

Foursquare, an online presence which purports to help readers “find the best places to eat, drink, shop, or visit in any city in the world,” took on the enviable challenge in October, 2015 of determining the best bakery in each state. Because man and woman cannot live on bread alone, the list included a number of more specialized bakeries such as Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut. Foursquare noted: “From maple bacon to cherry lemonade to chicken and waffle donuts, Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut certainly breaks the mold when it comes to breakfast confections. The shop also gained fame for its signature Breaking Bad-themed “Blue Sky” variety, which was endorsed by the show’s stars themselves.”  

While trying to get to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1945, Bugs Bunny accidentally wound up in Germany where for the first time he utters the recurring line “I should have made that left turn at Albuquerque.” Realtors across the fruited plain have come to the realization that many people aren’t making any turns when they arrive in the Duke City. They’re here to stay. For them, the Movoto.com blog, the lighter side of real estate, provided in June, 2015, “29 things you need to know about Albuquerque before you move there” Among the sagacious tips: Green Chile: Love it or Leave Town; Great Community Food at the Grove Cafe; You may not Know the Mufin Man, but Everyone Knows the Candy Lady; The Perfect Ron Swansonable Steak (from Farm & Table at “rustic Old Town”); All Other Bread Will Pale in Comparison (from the Golden Crown Panaderia); These Donuts, Oh Man, These Donuts (from Rebel Donut); and Your BBQ Search is Over at Mr. Powdrell’s BBQ House.

Apple Corporation recognizes the value of rebels: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”  Rebel Donuts is changing Albuquerque one donut at a time.

Rebel Donut
2435 Wyoming Blvd, N.E. 
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 293-0553
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2018
1st VISIT: 28 July 2012
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 19
COST: $
BEST BET: Maple Bacon, 3X Chocolate, 3X Chocolate Muffin, Key Lime Pie, Mocha Chocolate, Old Fashioned Coconut, Nutella Chocolate

Rebel Donut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe Laurel – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cafe Laurel on Central Avenue Just East of Old Town

To anyone else,” my Kim joked “the name Café Laurel is just a cute name probably chosen because the owners like laurel leaves. To you the name has to mean something.” She reminded me of the hours I spent dissecting former President Bill Clinton’s statement “It depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is.” “You’re too literal. You don’t just want to know what words mean. You need to know why they’re used.” “But,” I retorted “laurel leaves aren’t just a leafy plant. Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte fashioned “crowns” out of laurel leaves, probably,” I surmised “because laurel leaves were more comfortable than the heavy, bejeweled metallic crowns that may have been the reason for the adage “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” She rolled her eyes.

Sure,” I argued “the owners of Café Laurel may have had nothing more in mind when naming their restaurant than they liked the laurel plant, but the implication of the name Laurel means a lot more.” “How did you arrive at that conclusion,” she asked. I explained that “in ancient Greece and Rome, laurel leaves were used to fashion wreaths that were presented to those achieving the highest levels of success, such as winning an event at the ancient Olympics.” I added that “the Bible imputes such traits as fame, success and prosperity to the laurel. So, the implication is that this is a restaurant which has earned victories and honor in the culinary field.” She ended our discussion with “ask a stupid question...”

The charming, verdant interior of Cafe Laurel

If you’re wondering why my long-suffering Kim puts up with such a literal guy, it’s probably because I take her to restaurants such as Cafe Laurel–restaurants which really do earn accolades and plaudits. She can put up with my etymological analysis because when it comes down to it, she enjoys a date night every time we go out (or so she tells me). In any regard, Café Laurel’s exterior signage facing Central Avenue, is festooned with painted laurel leaves directly below the restaurant’s name. Inside, the restaurant is awash in greenery—hanging and potted plants everywhere you turn. It makes black-thumbed people like me green with envy that others can coax plants to grow so lushly. Talking to our plants at home has never worked for me, probably because as my Kim reminds me “they don’t understand your big words either.”

In May, 2018, Café Laurel will celebrate its third anniversary of serving the neighborhoods sandwiched between Old Town and Downtown on historic Route 66. Its pedigree, however, goes back quite a bit further than those three years. So do several items on the menu. If Café Laurel inspires a little déjà vu, it could be because some of the dishes—and certainly the hospitality—are reminiscent of Christopher’s, a beloved Old Town institution co-owner Ken Faber’s mom ran for nearly two decades in the 1970s and ‘80s. Ken owns and operates Café Laurel with his lovely bride Debi. Ken’s 28-year career in corporate chains serves him well on busy days when orders come in like a fusillade of shots. Debi runs the front of the house. Both are very friendly and accommodating.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Macaroni Salad

For the versatile among us who enjoy breakfast items for lunch and burgers for breakfast, Café Laurel is a dream come true. You can order anything on the menu any time of day. Sadly this means 8AM to 3PM Tuesday through Friday and 9AM to 2PM on Saturday and Sunday. The menu isn’t especially large, but it offers good variety of mostly American and New Mexican favorites. You may want to get there early or you might miss out on the daily quiche or daily special. Breakfast favorites include omelets, huevos rancheros, burritos and crepes. Warm sandwiches—served with your choice of macaroni salad (curry-based), Greek salad or chips—include several standards and others which should be. Meatless enchiladas, vegetarian sandwich and a number of salads are available. Sweets and treats seem to go quickly.

When my friend and frequent lunch companion Bill Resnik invited me to Café Laurel, he didn’t extol the variety of the menu. Bill is a pretty monogamous guy. When he finds something he loves (such as his beautiful bride Tish), he sticks with it. During his own inaugural visit to Café Laurel, he fell in love with the green chile cheeseburger (listed on the menu as “burger”; make sure to ask for the green chile). This is a behemoth between buns: two Angus beef patties prepared to your exacting specifications (medium rare if you want the optimum in juiciness), lettuce, tomato and red onion on a grilled roll with mustard and ketchup on the side. Every burger should be this good! The green chile has both the roasted flavor and piquancy aficionados demand. The two Angus patties protrude beyond the confines of the buns. Every ingredient (even the tomatoes) is fresh. The grilled roll is formidable enough to contain all the juiciness though it’s a definite four- or five-napkin affair.

Chicken Salad Salad

So impressed was I by the green chile cheeseburger that a return visit was quickly imminent. My Kim and our debonair dachshund The Dude had to experience Café Laurel, too. As we were to learn during our ninety minutes at the restaurant, this is a favorite restaurant for four-legged children. Because Café Laurel doesn’t have any appetizers per se, we gravitated toward the salads section of the menu. We were relieved for a change to find these are the salads of yore, not the seemingly de rigueur newfangled salads with their candied pistachios, dried cranberries and vinaigrette du jour. We hadn’t had a chicken salad salad in a long time and Café Laurel’s version beckoned. A meant to be shared plate of white meat chicken, celery, chopped pecans, Cheddar cheese, Mandarin oranges, tomato, cucumber, hard-boiled eggs on greens was picture perfect, impeccably fresh and delicious. The way it was designed on the plate actually resembled three salads. Instead of being jumbled together, ingredients were splayed neatly in three sections of the plate: right, left and center. That’s the way we ate the salad.

In a recent comment posted by Sarita, a good friend of this blog (and someone with whom I hope to someday have the honor of breaking bread…or tortillas, pita, lavosh, etc), she highly recommended several items on the menu, lavishly praising the roast beef (not thinly sliced…very tender). She recommended the Toasted RB (roast beef, Cheddar, green chile and mayo on a grilled roll). Not in a green chile mood, my Kim opted instead for the cleverly named Adobe Brick, a brick-sized sandwich she would later praise as “one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in Albuquerque.” So what’s in an Adobe Brick? Picture thickly sliced, tender roast beef; sour cream, Provolone, grilled mushrooms and red onions on grilled sourdough. This is truly a sandwich for which all ingredients work in multi-part harmony. From the umami of the sour cream and mushrooms to the mellow mildness of the Provolone, this sandwich will enrapt your taste buds. Sourdough is the perfect canvas for a sandwich that needs absolutely nothing else.

Adobe Brick, a Magnificent Sandwich!

You might not think a restaurant named “Café Laurel” would prepare some of the very best red chile in town, but it does! It’s not the most piquant or earthy red chile you’ll find, but more than most red chiles, it’s got a deep, rich flavor profile that will remind you that chile is technically a fruit. No, it’s not overly sweet, but it’s got sweet, mellow notes and a deep roasted flavor. That wondrous red chile crowned my plate of enchiladas (layered flat corn tortillas with chile and Cheddar and a garnish of chopped tomatoes and lettuce) with a flour tortilla and papitas on the side. The pool of yellow yoke mingling with the red chile is enjoyable from the perspective of both esthetics and deliciousness. The flour tortilla, of course, is essential because it forms “New Mexican spoons” where you fold bite-sized bits of the tortilla into a repository into which you can spoon in the other elements of this enchanting enchilada. It’s a meatless enchilada, the type of which Catholics will appreciate during Lenten Fridays.

On every table at Cafe Laurel, you’ll espy handmade snail-mail ready postcards which you’re invited to fill out and send to a friend. Cafe Laurel will even mail them for you and in exchange for completing a postcard, you’ll get a free beverage card. Being the over-analytical type, I was stumped by the Twitter-like hashtag “meetmeatlaurel” referenced on the postcards.  Why, I wondered, would Cafe Laurel use a hashtag extolling its meat (meet meat). Sure their burgers and sandwiches use high quality meat, but… It took Kim about one second to figure out the hashtag actually read “meet me at Laurel.” Some genius I am, huh?

Enchiladas!

Cafe Laurel was a “Best of the City” winner in Albuquerque The Magazine’s annual readers’ poll for 2016. It continues to earn its laurels and shows no sign of resting on those laurels. With its legacy and people-pleasing proprietors, it’s a restaurant that should be great for a long time.

Cafe Laurel
1433 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 259-2331
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 February 2018
1st VISIT:: 2 February 2018
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Green Chile Cheeseburger, Enchiladas, Chicken Salad Salad, Adobe Brick
Restaurant Review #1025

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

Philly’s N Fries – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Philly’s N’ Fries on 2nd Street

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

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

Cherry Italian Ice at left; Tangerine Italian ice at right

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

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

Just after the lunch rush on a Friday

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

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

Double Meat Burger with Fries

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

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

Green Chile Philly & Fries

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

Philly’s N Fries doesn’t offer table-side service.  Cathy and her perpetual smile are  ready to take your order at a counter and she’ll deliver it to your table when it’s ready unless long lines prevent her from leaving her post (in which case, you’ll be called up to pick it up).  If there’s one thing reminiscent of the 50s (from what I’ve heard), it’s the service–friendly, accommodating and pleasant.  The service is enough to bring me back.  Steve, Cathy and their daughter Desiree are among the most friendly restaurateurs in the Duke City.

Philly Cheesesteak at Itsa Italian Ice

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

9 February 2018: Philly’s N Fries may be just as adept at satisfying the pangs of hunger as it is refreshing your thirst and you won’t go away hungry.  That’s especially true if you order the double-meat green chile cheeseburger, a behemoth by any measure.  Prepared at just a shade beyond medium, the beef patties are thick and juicy.  American cheese, lettuce, tomato and of course, green chile adorn the burger.  This green chile cheeseburger is one of my Kim’s favorites, but occasionally a burger so good she actually eschews the green chile Philly. The green chile not only has the piquancy New Mexicans love on their favorite burger, but it’s got a nice flavor and the restaurant doesn’t scrimp on it.  

The French fries are crisp inside and out, almost as if they’re fried twice in very hot oil.  These fries are fresh and hand-cut on the premises.  In a city in which most restaurants serve frozen French fries out of the bag, these fresh not-quite-shoestring thin fries are a welcome change.  You’ve got to order a combo meal (sandwich, fries and a drink) because a Philly without fries is like a day without sunshine.

Green Chile Chicken Philly with Fries

2 May 2009: Being a 50s themed restaurant, it’s only fitting that Philly’s N Fries offer a hot dog that was actually around in the 1950s.  Nathan’s Famous were first seen on the Coney Island boardwalk in 1916.  Not only have they stood the test of time, they’ve expanded nationwide and are available in grocery stores and food courts everywhere.  Despite being ubiquitous, Nathan’s hot dogs are a take it or leave it proposition with as many aficionados as there are detractors.  At Philly’s N Fries these fat all-beef dogs are griddled to a crispy exterior.  They’re browned outside but retain their juiciness inside.

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

Nathan's Hot Dog

Nathan’s Hot Dog

9 February 2018: It’s a well-founded recommendation.  the Philly Cheesesteak is terrific!  Sweet white onions are grilled to perfection, not caramelized, but on that fine line between being crispy and soft.  Green peppers are grilled to a slightly crunchy consistency.  Two slices of white American cheese are arranged on each sandwich and it’s a wonderfully creamy and nice melting cheese.  The meat is chopped thin on the grill (a melodic percussion) and is seasoned well; you won’t find any fat or sinew anywhere.  The bread is a soft receptacle for the contents and is quite good.  This isn’t a huge sandwich except in terms of flavor.  No matter what you might read in “# of Visits” below, you can probably double that number.  This is my very favorite sandwich in the Land of Enchantment.  Nine visits out of ten, it’s what I’ll have at Philly’s N Fries.

17 December 2015: The only Philadelphia cheesesteak better in Albuquerque is the restaurant’s Green Chile Philly, a Philadelphia cheesesteak with New Mexican green chile.  Green chile makes everything taste better, especially when the chile has a piquant bite.  My friend “Señor Plata,” an aficionado of the Philadelphia cheesesteak ranks this sandwich even higher than his previous favorite at the now defunct Petito’s Pizzeria in Rio Rancho.  The biggest difference, in his estimation, is the steak itself which isn’t shaved sliver-thin as at Petito’s.  It’s also not quite as lean which generally means just a bit of fat for flavor.  A Los Angeles native, Señor Plata has had the very best cheesesteak sandwiches America’s second largest city has to offer and he rates Philly’s N Fries higher.

Cantaloupe Italian Ice

17 December 2015: Not that very long ago, a chicken Philly would have been considered sacrilege, especially in the City of Brotherly Love where the Philly cheesesteak originated.  Today, chicken Phillys are ubiquitous throughout Philadelphia.  It stands to reason that persnickety, variety-oriented diners would want a non-red meat option and chicken, after all, is the other white meat.  As with the more conventional steak-laden Philly, the chicken is finely chopped (it’s a wonder Steve doesn’t have carpal tunnel syndrome) and is available with green peppers and sweet white onions.  Risking the guilt of betrayal for not having our beloved cheesesteak, my  friend Bill Resnik and I were inaugurated into the chicken Philly option in December, 2015.  The date is significant because it’s the day we found a viable alternative to the sacrosanct cheesesteak.

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

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

Philly’s N More
215 Phoenix Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 February 2017
1ST VISIT: 1 May 2009
# OF VISITS: 23
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Double meat green chile cheeseburger, French fries, Italian Ice, Hot Dog, Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, Green Chilly Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, Frontier Roll, Green Chile Chicken Philly

Itsa Italian Ice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bayti Mediterranean Delicacies – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Is Anxious to Try Bayti Mediterranean Delicacies on Menaul

“Ashlan Wa Sahlan” (Welcome)
Sahteyn” (Twice Your Health, Bon Apetit)
t’faddalou” (Welcome to the Table, Dinner is Served)

How can you not love a culture in which there are numerous beautiful expressions associated with hospitality and with families welcoming guests to join them for a great meal?  When it comes to warmth and hospitality, few cultures embody it so richly and genuinely as the Lebanese.  Similarly, when it comes to utterly delicious food prepared with love and served in generous portions, the Lebanese culture may be unequaled.    One of the most treasured blessings of having grown up in the small mountain community of Peñasco was sharing many meals with first-, second- and third-generation expatriates from the beautiful country of Lebanon. 

The wonderful SBS Website, an exemplar of culturally-relevant Australian media content explains “Lebanese hosts will never believe you don’t have just a bit more room for something utterly delicious that’s been prepared with love. In a Lebanese household, food is life and sharing it is one of the great joys of being alive. Even for simple dinners at home, there are a variety of dishes on the table, the meal starting with small portions known as mezza, which centre around dips and salads. They may be as simple as simple as pickled or raw vegetables, and bread or an entire meal consisting also of meat kebabs, grilled, marinated seafood, salads and desserts.” Regardless of your own culinary culture, you’ve got to love that.

Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Studies Bayti’s Menu

Thanks to our Lebanese neighbor Jeanette Owen, I experienced and enjoyed such Lebanese delicacies as fattoush, tabbouleh and kibbeh as a young sprout — long before your once naive and callow blogger experienced Asian cuisine of any type.  To that point, the only non-New Mexican or Mexican dishes to have crossed my lips before the Air Force sent me to the Boston area were lasagna, spaghetti and pizza. Despite my own Spanish heritage, a tapa was solely a lid on the top of a jar. The foods of the exotic Indian subcontinent may as well have been extraterrestrial cuisine. From among the fifty best dishes in the world, I can tick off having experienced only ten (and who hasn’t had popcorn, potato chips, chocolate and donuts) before my nineteenth birthday. Heck, I didn’t partake of a McDonald’s burger until well into my teens. But I knew Lebanese cuisine.

If you’re wondering why Lebanese decided to settle rural, agrarian communities in the Sangre De Cristos, Pete Sahd, patriarch of one of the most wonderful families I have been blessed to know, often spoke of how much the mountain villages of Northern New Mexico resembled the cedar-rich mother country.  The progenitors of many of New Mexico’s Lebanese immigrants left Lebanon during the repressive Ottoman Empire, the main exodus occurring in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Escaping persecution and poverty, some arrived with nothing but aspirations, dreams and hopes. The frontier territory of New Mexico was replete with opportunity (and the prospect of freedom) for them. 

Raquel Brings a Whole Roasted Chicken to our Table

Like their Phoenician forefathers had done, many of them began as door-to-door peddlers, many eventually launching trading posts or general stores in the small villages in which they settled. The “Arabes” as they are sometimes still called by Hispanics were (and still are) hard workers, shrewd businessmen, community-minded and family-oriented. They fit right in with the tight-knit Hispanic communities which shared similar values–so much so that Los Arabes of New Mexico, a wonderful book written by Monika Ghattas is subtitled Compadres From a Distant Land.

In the vernacular and tradition of Hispanic Northern New Mexico, few–if any–titles were held in such esteem and reverence by elder generations as “compadre” (male) and “comadre” (female). In his Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish, Ruben Cobos defines a compadre as a “ritual co-parent; a term by which godparents address the mother and father of their godchild and by which the child’s parents address the godmother and godfather.” That’s the esteem to which many of the Arabes were…and still are held today.  My mom’s best friend Patty Sahd was a third grandmother to the Garduño children.  We love and miss her very much.

Baba Ghannouj

When my friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and I stepped into Bayti Mediterranean, I wondered if we would experience the type of hospitality and warmth shown by Lebanese compadres and comadres in Peñasco.  We were greeted warmly by Raquel who immediately discerned our confusion.  Bayti is not a restaurant per se.  It’s akin to a deli in which food items are apportioned into containers, displayed under glass in a deli case and sold by the pound.  Though take-out accounts for much of its business, Bayti also has a handful of tables in which diners can enjoy their meal on the premises.  Raquel, our hostess, was a gracious,  knowledgeable and perpetually smiling presence who explained all the dishes as if she’d been raised on them (though she had never had any of them, having grown up in Mexico).  As in Peñasco, it was delightful to speak Spanish while enjoying Lebanese food.

About halfway through our meal, managing owner Feryal Zantout, a statuesque beauty walked in and introduced herself. She explained the concept behind Bayti is to serve fresh and healthy Mediterranean cuisine from Lebanon and that  Bayti is a Lebanese word for “my home.”  The dot atop the “i” in Bahti is actually a Lebanese cedar, a symbol on the Lebanese flag.  Hoping to remain true to Lebanese cuisine, at present New Mexico’s ubiquitous green chile is not to be found in any item on the menu though Feryal admitted several guests have suggested it.  True to everything you’ve ever heard about Lebanese hospitality, Feryal saw how crowded our table was, discerned we had  just a bit more room for something else and brought us a plate of Mujaddara, a traditional vegetarian Lebanese dish made with lentils and rice, and garnished with caramelized onions.  She’s very proud of all the culinary fare at Bayti–and with good reason.

Dolmas

One of the items on our crowded table was Baba Ghanouj, a roasted eggplant dish made with tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds) and garlic.  Baba Ghanouj is one of those terms people just love to say, but most don’t know the genesis of the term.  It’s actually an Arabic term translating to “pampered papa” or “coy daddy” and is said to refer to the supposed invention of this very popular Lebanese staple by a member of a royal harem.  Bayti’s version is outstanding, one of if not the best in Albuquerque.  It’s easily Sr Plata’s favorite from among the dozens we’ve shared in Duke City restaurants.  With a thick and creamy consistency and a smoky flavor, it practically beckons for pita, another item Bayti prepares very well.

The gods of Mount Olympus may not actually have blessed humanity with ambrosia, nectar and dolmas, but many Middle Eastern nations believe stuffed grape leaves had to have been divinely inspired. Unfortunately because rolling the grape leaves can be very tedious, some restaurants across the Duke City serve canned dolmas.  Don’t count Bayti among them.  Bayti’s dolmas are hand-rolled and far (by several orders of magnitude) superior to their canned counterparts.  Sr Plata noted the absence of overly acidic brine on these dolmas, rendering them much more pleasant than some which can be lip-pursing.  These dolmas are served cold, are stuffed with short grain rice, tomato, parsley, onion ,mint, olive oil and lemon and seasoned liberally.  In Lebanon, dolmas are called Warak Arish, but that term isn’t quite as familiar.

Zaatar Manoushe

While most of our meal consisted of tapas-like smaller dishes, our main entree was a whole roasted chicken.  Raquel explained that the chicken is seasoned with eight different spices.  Most discernible were cardamom, sumac, pepper, salt and cumin.  Raquel expertly cut the chicken into pieces for us and we hungrily extricated the moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat, leaving only a carcass of defleshed bones.  It was gratifying to find a whole roasted chicken as many restaurants tend to serve half portions (thigh, leg and breast).  Moreover, we were happy to find poultry this succulent and enjoyable.

Inexplicably, the notion of pizza for breakfast (and I’m not talking about frittata here) hasn’t caught on as much as some of us would like. Usually when you mention breakfast pizza, you’re usually talking about pizza left over from the night before and consumed in the morning for breakfast. In Lebanon, the notion of pizza for breakfast is a welcome one. In fact, the national breakfast dish of Lebanon is a pizza of sorts—and not one left over from the previous night. It’s called Zaatar Maoushe. There are two essential elements to this street food staple: Maoushe and Zaatar. Maoushe is the baked dough, typically having a crispy exterior and a warm, chewy interior. Zaatar is the key topping, or rather the combination of toppings, atop the dough. Zaatar is an herb that grows abundantly in the eastern Mediterranean, but on this pizza dish, it’s combined with other spices such as thyme, marjoram, sesame seeds and even sumac. The result is a delicious “pizza” sans tomato sauce, cheese and other ingredients popular across the fruited plain. If you’re tempted to try replicating this terrific find for breakfast at home, you’ll be happy to read that Bayti sells a pre-packaged mix.

Small Beef Pastries

Bayti offers a number of stuffed pastries, some (chicken rolls and beef rolls) resembling Mexican flautas or maybe even Chinese egg rolls and others (small beef pastry, small chicken pastry and small spinach pastry) resembling savory empanadas. The small beef pastries at Bayti are stuffed with ground beef, peas and carrots. More than any other item we enjoyed at Bayti, we found these pastries just a bit on the dry side. These pastries would benefit greatly from a dipping sauce of some sort. Regrettably Sr Plata and I had devoured most of the baba ghanouj, but the little we had left was a perfect foil for the soft, warm dough and its content. These are best served warm.

One of the glories of adulthood is being able to eat dessert first. Who needs to “save the best for last” when you can have the best first. That was my approach with Bayti’s rose pudding (Mahalabia), a sweet Arab dessert made of milk and sugar, thickened with cornstarch, laced with rose water and topped with ground pistachios and almonds. Rose water, flavored water made by steam-distilling crushed rose petals to obtain their essential oils, not only lends a floury bouquet, it imparts a sweet floral flavor to the pudding- (or flan) like dessert. Rose water has been used in desserts for centuries across the Middle East and was originally a by-product of rose perfume. A little goes a long way. Thankfully Bayti’s kitchen uses it judiciously—in perfect proportion to concoct this mysterious dessert.

Rose Pudding (Mohalabiya)

There’s another Arabic expression often uttered at the conclusion of a great meal.  It’s “Sallem Dayetkoom” which translates to “God bless your hands.”  It’s said to the cook as a compliment for an excellent meal. To Feryal and Raquel, here’s a hearty Sallem Dayetkoom” from Sr Plata and the nmgastronome.  We hope to enjoy your magnificent hospitality and wonderful food again and again.

Bayti Mediterranean Delicacies
5017 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 366 4609
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 February 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Rose Pudding, Whole Roasted Chicken, Zaatar Manoushe, Small Beef Pastries, Baba Ghannouj, Dolmas
Restaurant Review #1024

Bayti Mediterranean Delicacies Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Farol – Santa Fe, New Mexico

El Farol on Canyon Road in Santa Fe

For over a quarter century, the most popular section in New Mexico Magazine (the nation’s oldest state magazine, by the way) has been a humorous column entitled “One of Our Fifty is Missing.” The column features anecdotes submitted by readers worldwide recounting their experiences with fellow American citizens and ill-informed bureaucrats who don’t realize that New Mexico is part of the United States. Some travelers from other states actually believe they’re leaving their nation’s borders when they cross into New Mexico. Others think they need a passport to visit (not that they’d visit considering they’re wary of drinking our water.) Merchants and banks throughout America have been known to reject as “foreign credit cards” American Express and Visa cards issued by New Mexico banking institutions.

Sometimes you have to wonder if “one of our fifty is missing” applies also to American History textbooks. As an unabashedly proud New Mexican of Spanish descent, I always wondered why public schools taught impressionable students that America’s history was the exclusive domain of the thirteen colonies. You would think this great country’s history began when the pilgrims descended on Plymouth Rock. Seemingly unbeknownst to history books was all the history transpiring across the Land of Enchantment decades before the heralded pilgrims. For every “oldest this” or “first that” attributed to one of the thirteen colonies, there was already something significant older or precedent in the Land of Enchantment–with few exceptions, one being restaurants.

Dining Room at El Farol

Unlike the urban east, New Mexico was largely rural and agrarian with farms producing just enough to feed the families that tended to them. Being much more urban, it makes sense that the thirteen colonies are the domain of the quaint colonial restaurants. Seven of the ten oldest restaurants in the fruited plain reside in the states representing the red and white stripes festooning the flag. Among the most venerable is Boston’s legendary Union Oyster House which opened its doors as a restaurant in 1826, almost ninety years before New Mexico joined the union. Even the Union Oyster House, however, is a youngster compared to Newport, Rhode Island’s White Horse Tavern, circa 1673. As for the Land of Enchantment, numerous online sources (including the restaurant itself) will tell you the oldest restaurant in the state is Santa Fe’s El Farol.

In 1835–twenty-six years before the American Civil War and eight-seven years before New Mexico joined the union— La Cantina del Cañon, a saloon dispensing liquor and food, opened its doors on Canyon Road. Instead of the fashionable destination art district it is today, back then Canyon Road was a hard-packed dirt trail flanked by old adobe homes. The cantina was owned and operated by the Vigil family well into the mid-twentieth century. In 1963, it was sold and ultimately rechristened El Farol. Perhaps because of the continuity of having a restaurant at the same spot, it’s been pretty widely accepted that El Farol is the oldest restaurant in New Mexico .

Caldereta de Langosta

While it may be debated as to whether or not El Farol is the oldest restaurant in New Mexico, there many things about El Farol that cannot be disputed. It was once described by the New York Times as “one of the best bars on Earth!” MSN heralded El Farol as “one of the 39 most historic restaurants in America.” From 1985 through April, 2017, El Farol was owned and operated by Hernandez (home to Ansel Adams’ most famous photograph) native David Salazar. In the three decades in which Salazar ran the restaurant, thousands of visitors and locals frequented El Farol. Many came to experience the palate-pleasing creations of Chef James Campbell-Caruso, now chef-owner of La Boca, who ran the kitchen from 1999-2006. This may have been the restaurant’s halcyon period as it garnered numerous James Beard Awards and for a while, had the distinction of being one of the few restaurants west of the Mississippi to offer Spanish tapas. In 2017, the restaurant was sold to Richard Freedman who owns the Santa Fe Teahouse almost directly across the street.

After the change in ownership, El Farol underwent an extensive make-over which focused on preserving the legacy of the restaurant while reinvigorating a venerable institution in need of some spit and polish. Several new coats of paint brighten up the dining room to accentuate the iconic murals painted by former patrons, including one over the bar by Alfred Morang, a distinctive Santa Fe figure and founding member of Transcendental Painting Group. The flamenco dinner show, traditional Spanish tapas, good wine, the romantic garden setting…even the bullets on the floor remain though the menu did undergo a transformation of its own.  It’s a menu that reads like a fine novel, one you can’t put down.

Ensalada de Otoño

As you’re perusing the menu, your server will ferry over a plateful of lavosh (Armenian flatbread) and a bowl of olive oil.  For my Kim, olive oil alone doesn’t cut it; she has to mix it with Balsamic vinegar.  At El Farol this is a good thing.  The Balsamic vinegar has the viscosity of motor oil and sweet-tart notes that will delight you.  The olive oil is also of high quality.  The versatility of lavosh is such that it can be served soft like a tortilla or hard like a cracker.  El Farol’s rendition is cracker-like, but it has nicely absorptive properties and picks up the olive oil-Balsamic vinegar very well.

For years, my Kim has eschewed every seafood-based soup I’ve ever encouraged her to try. This includes some terrific cioppino in San Francisco, bounteous bouillabaisse in Boston and even the magnificent seafood bisque at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. She loved the caldereta de langosta (a Majorcan lobster stew made with sofrito, onions, tomatoes, garlic, preserved lemon and Marcona almond gremolata) at El Farol!  While sipping this luscious stew, we reviewed the ingredient list and were amazed that we could not only discern each component, but that they all worked so well together in a “no stars all stars” fashion.  This is a soul-satisfying elixir sure to remedy whatever ails you.

Aguacate

The “Starters” menu lists both cold (frio) and hot (caliente) options.  Among the former is a gluten-free autumn salad (ensalada de otoño) which packs some of my favorite all-season salad ingredients into one decoratively appointed plate: caramelized squash, pickled beets, dried blueberries, charred red onion, citrus, toasted pepitas, aged goat cheese, black kale and a goat cheese dressing.  It’s a multi-ingredient, multi-colored, multi-textured, multi-napkin affair, one of the very best salads in the City Different.  Among the stand-out components were the sundry citrus fruits including juicy slices of grapefruit and orange.  The toasted pepitas and dried blueberries lend textural contrasts while the pickled beets and caramelized squash provide interesting flavor counterbalances.

Several items on the menu have simple, one-word names that belie the complexity of the items for which they’re named.  One such example is the Aguacate which translates from Spanish to “avocado.”  A fruit high in healthy fats, avocados are versatile and delicious though all too often not used creatively.  El Farol flash fries a ripe, fat avocado  stuffs it with pico de gallo and drizzles it with a lime crema.  It may sound like a strange combination of ingredients, but they actually go together very well.  The pico (red onion, tomato, green pepper) is lively and fresh while the lime crema lends a citrusy tang to the proceedings, but it’s the flash-fried. lightly battered avocado which shines most.  As with most avocados at their peak of ripeness, it’s buttery, unctuous and rich.  Make sure each forkful has a bit of each component to maximize your enjoyment of this terrific dish.

Cerdo

My Kim’s entree choice was the Cerdo, a one-word descriptor which translates from Spanish to pork.  The Cerdo (pork tenderloin sandwich with bacon, Idiazabal cheese, avocado, arugula and fig mustard on rustic bread), served with pork cracklings and fries is one of the better pork sandwiches in Santa Fe.  Though its unique elements shine, this is one of those sandwiches which is the sum of all its parts.  All those parts work together as if they have always belonged together, but it took a chef genius to figure it out.  You’re probably curious about the Idiazabal cheese and rightfully so.  It’s not often used in these parts.  Idiazabal cheese is a Basque cheese made from sheep’s milk.  It inherits a sweet, aromatic smoke from the way it is stored and has a taste somewhat reminiscent of caramel and burnt caramel.  The fig mustard is both sweet and sharp like a Dijon.  The pork is tender and moist.

With so many other entree options available, I joked with our server about the propriety of ordering a burger at a restaurant such as El Farol. With a wink, he urged me to do so, confidently boasting that El Farol serves the very best burger in Santa Fe. Considering the City Different is home to such peerless purveyors of mouth-watering burger indulgence as Santa Fe Bite, the Counter Culture Cafe and Cowgirl BBQ (to name just a few), that’s a pretty audacious statement. El Farol’s burgers, he explained are eight-ounces of ground beef impregnated with bone marrow and brisket. That must account for just how moist, juicy and absolutely this multi-napkin burger is.

Hamburguesa El Farol

There are actually two burgers on El Farol’s lunch menu–the Hamburguesa El Farol and the Hamburguesa Santa Fe.  The latter is El Farol’s version of a green chile cheeseburger which not only includes Hatch green chile, but green chile toasted buns between which are also nestled avocado, Cheddar and bacon.  Despite these enticing ingredients, my contrarian appetites steered me toward the Hamburguesa El Farol (eight-ounces of ground beef, Balsamic onion jam, Manchego cheese on toasted brioche).  What a great, great choice!  Make no mistake about it, what makes this burger special is the ground beef.  It’s ground steak in all its glory–rich, beefy and a perfect canvas for the sweet-tangy Balsamic onion jam, caramelized onions tinged with velvety, complex sweetness.  The Manchego also has sweet, nutty notes, but they’re wholly different than those of the onion jam.  Worthy accompaniment for this behemoth burger is a field greens salad.

El Farol’s dessert menu is a mix of predictable post-prandial pleasures (such as churros and a selection of artisinal cheeses) and unique creations heretofore unexplored.  In perusing the dessert menu, our eyes quickly fixated upon a dessert reminiscent of the fabulous citrus cake we enjoyed so much at Jake’s in Palm Springs.  The Limon Brazo de Gitano (rolled sponge cake, lemon cake, raspberry meringue, raspberry caramel, candied pistachio) was a real surprise, especially the interplay of the sweet-sour lemon and juicy, slightly sweet taste of raspberry.  The rolled sponge cake is ethereal in its lightness and elevated to greatness with lemony swirl.  The candied pistachios impart flavor and textural contrasts as well as palate cleansing between bites of sweet and citrusy deliciousness.

Limon Brazo de Gitano

El Farol translates from Spanish to “the lantern” and indeed, this landmark restaurant and cantina is a veritable welcoming beacon of warmth and light, a refuge from worldly cares.  It’s what El Farol was destined to be.

El Farol
808 Canyon Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 983-9912
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 February 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET:

El Farol Restaurant & Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Leona Banh Mi – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Leona Banh Mi…Fresh, Healthy, Yummy

“I’m not allowed in the Vietnamese sandwich shop anymore.
They decided to banh mi for life.”

During an ice-breaker at what promised to be a stressful project planning meeting, all participants were asked to stand up and describe their favorite childhood Christmas gift. For the most part, favorite gifts conformed to gender stereotypes. Male colleagues waxed fondly about GI Joe action figures (don’t ever call them dolls), Star Wars Lego sets and their first bike. Females in our group described Barbie dolls, playhouses and cabbage patch kids. Then it was my turn. “My favorite Christmas gift as a child,” I explained “was a dictionary.” Copious groaning ensued though for some reason no one was surprised. As a child for whom English was a second language, my first dictionary was a good friend, one consulted frequently when reading my other favorite tome, the encyclopedia. Yeah, I was a weird kid.

Perhaps because it was so ponderous and not a few gazillion bytes of information floating around some ethereal concept called the cloud, the dictionary was much more uncool back then. It was also much more mysterious and stodgy. No one seemed to know how new words were added from year-to-year (I pictured a pantheon of robed academics assiduously considering all prospects). Today, we know that new words are added to dictionaries when they’re used often enough that they can be said to “belong”—they’ve become part of the mainstream vernacular. One particularly rich source of new words is the culinary world. In 2014, for example, the Vietnamese term “banh mi” was one of 500 new words added to the American Heritage Dictionary.

Leo Greets Another Soon To Be Satisfied Customer

If you’re wondering why it took such a long time, consider that the popularity of banh mi has largely been an urban phenomenon. You could, in fact, say the same thing about Vietnamese cuisine in general. Travel around the Land of Enchantment and you’re not likely to find authentic banh mi in Farmington, Gallup, Roswell, Silver CIty or Taos—and they’re among the state’s most populous or urbane cities. No, my friends, for the most part if you want banh mi, you’ll have to trek to the Duke City, Las Cruces or Santa Fe. Though banh mi may have become part of the American lexicon, it’s still largely a strange word to many New Mexicans. Give it a decade or so and that shouldn’t be the case. Banh mi is too good not to be enjoyed by everyone!

We’ve been loving banh mi in Albuquerque since at least 1995 when they were called “Vietnamese Sandwiches” by the few Vietnamese restaurants (May Hong among them) which served them. That’s nineteen years before banh mi made it to the American Heritage dictionary. Albuquerque’s very first Vietnamese bakery whose primary focus was banh mi was Banh Mi Coda which opened in 2010 after a short stint as Lee’s Bakery. In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine named the banh mi at Banh Mi Coda as “one of the city’s “12 yummiest sandwiches.” In early 2013, the Duke City saw the launch of its second banh mi shop when Sai Gon Sandwich opened in Franklin Plaza, a timeworn shopping center made infamous on Better Call Saul. Ten different banh mi adorn the menu at this combination bakery, deli and tofu house.

Shrimp and Pork Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

In November, 2016, SweeTea Bakery Café opened its doors in the Montgomery Plaza shopping center, gracing the Duke City with yet another very impressive array of delicious banh mi as well as some of the best pastries this side of Paris. Not quite a year later, Rolls & Bowls became the fourth Vietnamese bakery-restaurant specializing in banh mi to launch in Albuquerque. One commonality among this quadrumvirate of banh mi purveyors is some of the city’s very best sandwiches prepared and served by very talented and dedicated owners all committed to proving (to paraphrase the Beatles) you can banh mi love. You may have noticed there remain under-served and even unserved portions of the Duke City in which nary a banh mi can be found. One of those is the burgeoning westside.

On 28 December 2017, westside Vietnamese food aficionados had their prayers answered with the launch of Leona Bahn Mi.  Located in a small, nondescript shopping center, Leona may be the smallest tenant in the area with two four-tops (table seating four diners) and seating for two on a small counter space.  This bodes mostly take-out business–or diners arriving early so as to secure a seat.  You’ll want to do the latter to interact with the very friendly and accommodating owners.  There actually isn’t anyone named Leona at the restaurant.  Leona is a portmanteau for the delightful married couple who own the restaurant: Leo, who runs the front of the house and Hanh who runs the kitchen.  You’ll meet them both.

Meatball Banh Mi

Leona Banh Mi is aptly named, but banh mi aren’t the sole items on the menu.  Belying the Lilliputian space, you’ll also find seven pho dishes, four different spring rolls and Vietnamese coffee.  Lots of coffee.  Vietnamese smoothies are at the ready though not one made with durian.  Nine distinct banh mi grace the menu including one (sardines and tomato sauce) your intrepid blogger has yet to try anywhere.  Banh mi are available in six- or twelve-inch sizes.  All banh mi include pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro and jalapeños or green chile if you request them.  Instead of your banh mi being constructed on the usual Vietnamese-style baguette, you can ask for a lettuce wrap-style banh mi.

Spring rolls, two per order rice wrappers encasing cilantro and lettuce along with your ingredients of choice: shrimp, shrimp and pork, tofu or vegan are the only “appetizers” on the menu–or you can enjoy a six-inch banh mi with a bowl of pho if you prefer.  Don’t pass up the spring rolls.  They’re about five-inches long and are served with Leona’s homemade peanut sauce or fish sauce.  The shrimp and pork spring rolls are terrific–fun, fresh and delicious.  The shrimp has the crisp snap of freshness while the pork is imbued with inimitable Vietnamese grilled pork flavors.  The peanut sauce is a bit on the sweet side, but a bit of chili sauce will quickly fix that.

Fish Roll Banh Mi

After years of being disappointed by so-called Italian meatball subs, my affections have turned to the Vietnamese meatball banh mi.  My disappointment has been abated every time.  There’s just something magical about the moist pork meatballs interplaying with the crunchy carrot-daikon-cilantro-jalapeño slaw that appeals to my taste buds.  As with all banh mi, the secret to this sandwich is the balance between meatballs, slaw and sauce.  It’s not drenched in sauce nor is it desiccated.  Banh mi are not intended to be behemoth “Dagwood” sandwiches crammed with meats and cheeses.  You can actually taste, discern and appreciate every single component of every banh mi.

One of the most unique banh mi I’ve ever encountered is Leona’s fish roll banh mi.  My expectations were for some type of fried fish looking like most fried fish look.  Instead, the fish more closely resembles sliced deli turkey about a quarter-inch thick.  Thankfully it doesn’t take like turkey.  Despite its rather unique appearance, it does taste like fish, albeit strangely presented fish.  Hahn explained that the fish is filleted and pressed then fried.  Whatever the process, it’s a good (though not even very good) banh mi.  Flavors didn’t pop as they do with the meatball banh mi. 

Residents of the West Mesa no longer have to trek across the river or to Rio Rancho to get their banh mi fix.  Now if we could only persuade Leona to expand to other unserved and under-served hamlets across the Land of Enchantment, the dictionary entry for “banh mi” will be instantly recognizable to one and all.

Leona Banh Mi
3250 Coors Blvd, N.W., Suite H
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 347-1913
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 February 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET:  Shrimp & Pork Spring Rolls, Fish Roll Banh Mi, Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Leona Banh Mi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

1 2 3 156