If the New Mexico State Legislature’s focus on such issues as naming an official state cookie (the biscochito) doesn’t do much to buoy your confidence as a voter, consider the Senate of the State of Texas. In May, 2005, that august body passed a resolution to recognize the County Line barbecue restaurant on “the occasion of its 30th anniversary of serving legendary barbecue to the state of Texas.” Silly us if we expected our elected officials to focus on apparently less weighty issues such as the enacting DWI laws to protect New Mexicans from those same elected officials.
The Country Line BBQ was founded in 1975 in Austin, Texas and has been winning over barbecue aficionados throughout much of the Southwest (Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma) ever since. The Albuquerque franchise launched about five years later and is still going strong with a devoted following of smoke ring enthusiasts.
The foothills of the spectacular Sandia Mountains form a dramatic backdrop for Albuquerque’s County Line which is just two minutes from the Sandia Tramway. You don’t actually have a very good view of the Sandias until you step outside the restaurant. From inside the restaurant’s main dining room, the best views are panoramas of the city’s multi-hued summer sunsets and city lights the rest of the year.
The County Line’s upscale ambience is stereotypical roadhouse with distressed wood appointments and legacy brickerbrack strewn throughout. The cover of the menu is patterned after the “Big Chief” writing notebooks of my youth, complete with a stern countenanced Native American in full headdress (funny how the PC police haven’t gone on the warpath about that). That menu is dominated by barbecue and smoked entrees.
Three all-you-can-eat (AYCE) options are available only if the entire party on a table orders them. Respectively the AYCE options are the “Country Style Meal,” “The Cadillac” and the “All You Can Stand.” All three options provide prodigious platters of barbecue meats bathed in a tangy sauce and are served family-style with the main differences being cost and entrees provided in each.
The “Cadillac,” for example includes beef ribs, pork ribs, sausage, chicken and brisket for just under $23 a person. Peppered turkey breast may be substituted for brisket if you prefer. The Cadillac is served with three sides: potato salad, coleslaw and beans as well as the County Line’s signature loaf of bread (white or wheat).
All the meats (even the peppered turkey breast) are served on a large platter and swim in a vinegar-based barbecue sauce. The best of the lot are the pork ribs which are slathered with a slightly sweeter sauce and the sausage which is served in links. The barbecue won’t blow you away, but there is a lot of it and many diners take AYCE at its word.
Among the sides, both the coleslaw and the potato salad are more tangy than sweet with pickle being an obvious ingredient. Neither is particularly creamy, but they’re good alternatives to their runny, cloying counterparts served at other restaurants. The mushroom caps and corn-on-the-cob (in season) are usually good sides.
Alternatives to barbecue include several steak choices. Had we been ones who can’t stand the sight of blood, we might have have fainted upon receipt of a “medium well” New York cut which was promptly sent back for further grilling. Needless to say we’ll stick to barbecue.
Even though not all our meals have been memorable, you certainly can’t beat the County Line’s location and those magnificent panoramic vistas.
The County Line
9600 Tramway, N.E.
LATEST VISIT: 23 June 2006
# OF VISITS: 9
BEST BET: Babyback Ribs