During his 40-year career as a radio and television broadcaster for the York Yankees, Phil Rizzuto made “Holy Cow” his trademark exclamation. Similar to Yogi Berra, another legendary Yankee personality, Rizzuto became beloved for his snafus and humor: “Uh-oh, deep to left-center. Nobody’s gonna get that one! Holy cow! Someone got it.” In 1985 when the Yankees retired his uniform number 10, they paraded a live cow with a halo propped on its head onto Yankee Stadium. During the ceremony the “holy cow” knocked Rizzuto to the ground, an encounter he described thusly: “that big thing stepped right on my shoe and pushed me backwards, like a karate move.”
The comedic broadcaster’s “Holy Cow” catchphrase became further cemented in pop culture during a 1997 episode of Seinfeld when Yankees owner George Steinbrenner gave George Costanza a key chain with Rizzuto’s likeness in honor of his induction into the Hall of Fame. When Rizzuto’s head was squeezed, it uttered (that’s uttered, not uddered) “Holy Cow.” Predictably Costanza lost the key chain while jumping over a pothole which was later paved over by construction workers. Every time a vehicle ran over the patched street, the key chain exclaimed “Holy Cow!”
When I first heard a new burger restaurant by the name “Holy Cow” would be built in Albuquerque, it instantly called to mind the live cow the New York Yankees adorned with a halo prop on its head. The restaurant’s affable owner Chris Medina, a veritable “lifer” in the culinary business didn’t name his restaurant “Holy Cow” in honor of Phil Rizzuto’s catchphrase, but it sure would have made for a great story if he had. Chris named his burger enterprise Holy Cow because he wanted it to have a memorable name, something catchy.
A memorable and catchy name may draw curiosity-seekers to a new restaurant, but it’s the end-product which will keep them coming back. Sure, hamburgers have been called “recession proof,” but the American dining public is comprised of finicky eaters who won’t put up with inferior burgers, especially in a downtrodden economy. Surprisingly it’s not the cheap, fast food burger purveyors which have made the most inroads in the 100 billion dollar a year burger market. It’s the pricier, premium patties and their sundry upscale ingredients which carnivorous Americans crave.
When you think about it, hamburgers are practically sacrosanct in America which must then mean the bovines from which the beef is acquired are beatified (true holy cows). Americans practically worship great hamburgers, a fact that hasn’t been lost on entrepreneurial restaurateurs. To beef up sluggish sales in a down economy, even fine dining chefs and celebrity chefs such as Bobby Flay are turning to the ubiquitous burger.
With a fine-dining background that includes a stint at Geronimo, quite possibly the most highly esteemed restaurant in New Mexico, Chris Medina could have launched another fine-dining enterprise in Albuquerque, but he chose to open a premium hamburger restaurant instead. Holy Cow is located at the long-time site of Bob’s Fish and Chips, an Albuquerque institution which closed in 2006 after more than fifty years of serving Albuquerque.
There are a few vestiges of the previous tenant, but you’ll have to visit the restroom to find them. The most prominent is the familiar yellow sign with the black lettering. The part of the sign which reads “Bob’s” hangs over the toilet in the women’s room while the “Fish & Chips” portion of the sign hangs over the men’s room toilet. The open and airy 1,600 square foot main dining room with seating for 100 looks nothing like its predecessor.
From the outside the restaurant still resembles a 1950s style drive-in eatery with two expansive porches, one on the restaurant’s frontage. The interior befits the premium hamburger concept with solid maple planked flooring and wooden chairs lending an air of class (though you might feel differently during a busy lunch hour when the cacophonous din makes normal tone conversation nearly impossible). Additional seating on a bar provides unobstructed access to the open kitchen in which your meal is prepared. The wait staff is ever-present and attentive, operating in tandem to ensure your every need is met. Expect to see Chris Medina visit your table at least once during your visit. He’s a very personable fellow who genuinely wants his customers to enjoy their Holy Cow experience.
The menu, also known as “the good book of burgers,” showcases five premium burgers all prepared medium unless otherwise requested and served with lettuce, tomato and onion. The beef is hormone-free, grass-fed and double-ground. Vegans and vegetarians will appreciate the “no cow” burger made with roasted eggplant, chickpea and miso aioli. A build your own burger option is also available as are a dazzling array of potential toppings including fried egg, roasted green chile and five types of cheese (American, Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella and Swiss). Four sandwiches also grace the menu.
It’s not all burgers and sandwiches, however. The menu also includes four salads and four sides as well as milk shakes, malts and floats. Adult libations–beer and wine–are also available. In keeping with the “Holy Cow” theme, the menu is replete with thematic slogans: “Tastes Like Heaven,” “Burgers to Die For” and “Damn Good Beef.” “Branding” extends to the “Holy Cow” name as the “O” in Holy is formed by the halo over a cow’s head.
Heavenly milkshakes and malts, vanilla and chocolate, are blended to your desired level of thickness. Traditional floats can be made with your choice of root beer, Coca-Cola or orange cream soda. Both the shakes and malts are served cold in a large glass. Our sole complaint about our inaugural visit is that the chocolate shake and malt my Kim and I had respectively wasn’t chocolatey enough. It’s a nit. There may not be a shake or malt in Albuquerque chocolatey enough for us.
If the roasted beet salad is any indication, Holy Cow’s salads may easily be the equal of the burgers. Saintly salads, anyone? A generous mound of arugula is studded with goat cheese, sugar spiced walnuts and perfectly roasted beets. It is drizzled with a Balsamic vinaigrette tinged with orange zest for a hint of citrus. This is an excellent salad, ingredients in perfect proportion for contrasts of sweet, tangy, savory and zestiness from the arugula. The goat cheese is wonderfully creamy.
The Holy Cow Burger (pecan wood smoked bacon, American cheese, Thousand Island dressing) may very well have you uttering your own exclamation of awe and wonder. It’s a fantastic burger, stacked as high as some triple-meat burgers. The formidable buns that hold ingredients and juiciness in place come from Fano Bakery, an Albuquerque treasure. The beef is thick, too, with a nice shade of pink in the middle. It is seasoned very well with a combination of salts, pepper and even a bit of chile powder. If you’ve never had grass-fed beef, you’ll appreciate the difference. It’s much tastier than grain-fed beef. The pecan wood smoked bacon has a pronounced smoky flavor. We took advantage of the additional toppings options and added a fried egg over medium to add to an already terrific flavor profile. It was a treat!
Since I don’t imbibe adult beverages, no bartender will ever hear me utter “give me the usual” but there are restaurants which know my usual is a green chile cheeseburger. Holy Cow’s rendition is made with roasted green chile and Cheddar cheese to which I added caramelized onions. Whether intentionally or accidentally, the prominence of roasted red chile gave the burger a flavor boost (not that it was needed). Roasted red chile has become increasingly popular over the past few years, thanks in large part to its complex, sweet flavor profile. The chile wasn’t especially piquant, but it was oh so flavorful thanks to the unexpected presence of that roasted red.
If you’re not in a burger mood, you can’t go wrong with the bacon, lettuce, tomato and fried egg sandwich. If you’re thinking it’s impossible to screw up a BLT, you’d be wrong. Because of its simplicity, the BLT can expose poor kitchen skills and bad ingredients. On the other hand, if you find a kitchen that can make a BLT shine, there’s a strong probability more complex menu items will be good. The BLT is only as good as its components–bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and at Holy Cow, a fried egg. The bread, of course, is from Fano and it’s excellent–formidable enough to hold in all its components, but not so abrasive it assaults the roof of your mouth. The lettuce is crispy and fresh and the tomato is on the verge of ripeness. The pecanwood smoked bacon is crispy, but not overly so. The egg is fried to your exacting specifications. This is a very special sandwich.
The sides are worthy accompaniment to the burgers. The sweet potato fries are thick and moist, wholly unlike the typical desiccated, thinly-sliced sweet potato fries most restaurants tend to serve. They’re seasoned with sea salt and are served with a cucumber Greek yogurt tinged with just a hint of chile powder. The yogurt is better than the tzatziki sauce served with gyros at some Greek restaurants, but it is wholly unnecessary. These may be the very best sweet potato fries in New Mexico. They’re crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, an offering very few restaurants can match.
Also quite good are the Parmesan zucchini fries served with a buttermilk ranch. The zucchini is sliced thickly and coated lightly with a Parmesan crust. Best of all, these fries are moist and crispy, the prevalent flavor being zucchini and not batter. The buttermilk ranch dressing is good, but wholly unnecessary.
As a purveyor of premium burgers, Holy Cow is one of Albuquerque’s best options. You may not be uttering “Holy Cow” with every bite, but it’s a good bet you’ll be saying “yum” quite a bit.
700 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1st VISIT: 6 August 2011
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Chocolate Heavenly Milkshake, Classic Chocolate Malt, Holy Cow Burger, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Roasted Beet Salad, Sweet Potato Fries, Parmesan Zucchini Fries, BLT with Fried Egg Sandwich