Formerly known as the “Double Rainbo” and formerly affiliated with San Francisco based franchise of the same name, this burgeoning enterprise continues to be more than competitive despite the relentless onslaught of corporate competition, primarily from the ubiquitous Starbucks. In fact, this Albuquerque based institution appears poised to fight for the lucrative coffee market and has launched several Satellite Coffee stores throughout the city. Although I’m not a coffee drinker, Satellite Coffee has hooked me with an invigorating Mexican hot chocolate.
The city’s eight Flying Star locations throughout the city (and one in Bernalillo which launched in 2008) are a haven for anyone who wants to have fun, relax and enjoy genuinely great food and service. You’ve got to love the laissez faire atmosphere which includes a “come as you are” attitude and an extensive magazine rack (most people eschew the posted browsing etiquette). The Flying Star’s crowd is an eclectic mix of young and old alike whose common denominator is wanting a reasonably priced meal of high quality in a comfortable milieu. The Flying Star delivers and it’s done so for more than two decades.
As the Double Rainbo, it was named in Southwest Airlines’ Spirit magazine as one of the best places in their routes for the most important meal of the day–dessert. The dessert offerings are lavish indeed, including the ice cream which is sinfully rich and creamy.
A September, 2002 Bon Appetit magazine named The Flying Star one of the “ten favorite places for breakfast in America.” For the most part I couldn’t agree more even though I must admit that it’s rarely for breakfast that we visit the Flying Star. When we do start off our morning at the Flying Star, a favorite entree is the machacado, a New Mexico chopped breakfast casserole or rather a menagerie of great ingredients melded together to form a terrific meal. The machacado includes turkey sausage (free range), bacon, eggs, spicy black beans, cheddar-jack cheese, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and your choice of red or green chile. It’s a feast for the eyes and the taste buds.
The Flying Star’s bakery also makes some of the best artisan bread in the city, particularly the whole wheat variety. The “staff of life” is always fresh and plays host to some of the best and most inventive sandwiches in town.
If you’re craving a moist and juicy green chile cheeseburger, the Flying Star’s New Mexico burger, served on an egg bun, is an excellent (albeit pricey at nearly $9) option. The green chile is only slightly piquant, but the accompanying red onion, lettuce and tomato are garden fresh and the melted Cheddar cheese tops a perfectly seasoned slab of hamburger to form an excellent rendition of New Mexico’s favorite burger.
Meatatarians will also appreciate the ABC Patty Melt–”A” as in avocado, “B” as in smoked bacon and “C” as in Jack cheese all served on grilled rye. It’s a beautiful sandwich when ordered medium done with a pinkish hue that would be the envy of many a blushing bride.
Sandwiches and burgers come with your choice of French fries, homemade potato salad, coleslaw or a fresh fruit salad. For a mere pittance you can also substitute a little greens salad or soup. While the fries are actually pretty good, a refreshing alternative is a unique coleslaw flecked with red and green peppers as well as red onion. It’s not overly sweet or creamy and its component parts are invariably fresh and crunchy. Most coleslaw in Albuquerque is boring, but not at the Flying Star.
The Flying Star’s menu provides food for thought with a mission statement professing the restaurant’s concern as to what its patrons put into their mouths. They prove it with a commitment to establishing relationships with producers and growers of sustainable and humanely farmed meats, dairy and eggs. Burgers are crafted with 100% fresh and drug-free beef while the chicken is cage-free, veg-fed and drug-free. Health conscious diners will appreciate the wide variety of inventive fresh salads. All dressings are even made from scratch in the restaurant’s kitchen: Ranch, Bleu Cheese, Caesar, Spicy Sesame or House Vinaigrette.
One of my favorite salads anywhere is the Miami Shrimp Stack (pictured above right), a timbale of seasoned shrimp, black beans and fresh avocado chunks drizzled with Ancho BBQ sauce. This salad is served with freshly made blue corn tortilla chips and a crunchy little salad (cucumber, carrots, jicama and green onion). Its pretty as a picture plating resembles an expensive fusion dish and the high quality of ingredients belie the price (under ten dollars). Despite the seemingly disparate ingredients, flavors coalesce to create a happy harmony on your taste buds.
As inventive as the menu tends to be, it’s always a surprise to find something that is less than titillating. Considering we found the Mac & Cheese (Cheddar-jack and Velveeta cheeses melted into butter and cream then tossed with Curly Q imported cavatappi) boring and not nearly up to the restaurant’s high standards, we shouldn’t have been surprised that “Papa’s Gotta Brand New Mac” would be more of the same…with a twist. That would be the addition of sauteed crimini mushrooms, green onions and crispy chicken breast to the Curly Q cavatappi and creamy cheese sauce. The highlight of this adult macaroni and cheese is actually the crispy chicken breast which is tender and delicious. The chicken breast would make an excellent sandwich offering. I’d scrap the Velveeta and try a more flavorful cheese.
Okay, now to desserts, something for which the Flying Star is famous. In its Food and Wine issue (May 2007), Albuquerque The Magazine (ATM) accorded a “Hot Plate” award to the restaurant’s Raspberry Blackout, a decadent dessert worthy of adulation. A display case showcases some of the best looking desserts you’ll see anywhere. They’re so “pretty as a picture” perfect you might think they’re wax imitations of the real thing. Thankfully they don’t taste waxy.
Singling out one dessert at Flying Star is akin to singling out a single star from a Northern New Mexico night sky. It’s a daunting task sure to invite deliciously contentious debate. One choice might be the the turtle sundae (undoubtedly featuring New Mexican grown pecans), among the best anywhere.
You can almost imagine Mary Ann in her tight, skimpy shorts serving you the coconut cream pie, which like the one served on Gilligan’s Island isn’t overpoweringly sweet as some of its genre tend to be. The caramel apple pie topped with sumptuous vanilla ice cream is “mom worthy.” Still, my vote might go to a gigantic wedge of bread pudding cake, served with a luscious caramel sauce. The adjective decadent has nothing on this oh so rich dessert. It’s so rich you’ll have to share it with a dining companion.
Make sure your meal also includes a chocolate shake. It’s served cold and thick with what doesn’t fit in the glass served to you in a steely vessel. The chocolate isn’t overly sweet as might be served at a fast food chain.
Being the proud father of the two most beautiful dachshunds ever conceived, I also appreciate the Flying Star Cafe’s commitment to our four-legged children who sometimes eat from the floor. The restaurant is helping the Animal Humane Association of New Mexico build a low-cost or free medical treatment center for pets. The center will help families who can’t afford to provide even basic medical care for their beloved pets. How can you not love this altruism?
As one of our favorite fun places to dine, I’d say the Flying Star really is a star that’s landed.
The Flying Star
3416 Central, S.E.
LATEST VISIT: 25 October 2008
# OF VISITS: 14
BEST BET: Turtle Sundae, Machacado, Baked Bread, New Mexico Burger, Coleslaw, Raspberry Blackout, Bread Pudding, ABC Patty Melt, Miami Shrimp Stack