Of all the adjectives that can be used to describe something or someone, lumpy is certainly not one of the most complimentary. Think of all the Archie Bunker-like tantrums thrown during holiday meals when lumpy mashed potatoes are served or the breakfast battles that ensue when the oatmeal is lumpy. In fits of pique, seven-time Academy Award nominated actor Richard Burton often called his voluptuous wife Elizabeth Taylor “lumpy,” perhaps one of the reasons Hollywood’s most volatile couple was twice divorced and their relationship generally tumultuous.
Perhaps worse than describing something as “lumpy” is giving someone that nickname. Consider the Saturday Night Live skit which poked fun at former University of New Mexico golfer and current PGA tour pro Tim Herron because the “less than svelte” golfer’s nickname is “Lumpy.” Never mind that the self-deprecating Herron embraces the sobriquet, it’s often the target of derision. The Leave It To Beaver television series of the 50s and 60s portrayed “Lumpy” Rutherford as a “hefty” teenage dullard who’s a bit of a bully.
So why would a hamburger joint on Route 66 christen itself “Lumpy?” Prospective diners would certainly hope it’s not a descriptive adjective for its burgers. When owners Jay Kennedy and Jason Mancini were looking for a name befitting their new restaurant enterprise, they considered several options including Wimpy’s (which is already taken by a chain of fast-food hamburger restaurants based in the United Kingdom) before settling on Lumpy’s. It’s a name, not a descriptive adjective.
Long lines of hungry burger aficionados since the restaurant’s launch in early February, 2010 seem to indicate the restaurant’s name is certainly not a deterrent. If anything, the name is just one of several things about Lumpy’s which seems to inspire curiosity. Lumpy’s does not subscribe to the stereotypical template of how a burger joint should operate. It’s an archetype–something original, a burger restaurant daring to be different.
Albuquerque’s first Lumpy’s Burgers is situated in a very familiar location to residents of Albuquerque’s West Mesa area. It’s located on Route 66 just west of Central Avenue’s intersection with Old Coors Boulevard and about a mile from one of Albuquerque’s most prominent neon spangled signs, one which celebrates Route 66 as it spans across all four lanes of Central Avenue. Its closest neighbor is another relatively new burger restaurant that will also have you doing a double-take. That restaurant is called the Stop-N-Go, an obvious knock-off of the world-famous In-N-Out franchise.
Lumpy’s occupies the former home of Taco Phil’s Carry Out, once one of the West side’s most popular New Mexican food destinations. Designed in the 60s as strictly a carry-out enterprise, the building does offer seating underneath a canopy that provides a bit of shade for those days of intense Duke City sunshine, but can’t buffet the March winds. Some diners will opt to eat in their cars and there’s plenty of parking spaces to facilitate that choice. On November 18th, 2011, the second Lumpy’s opened its second restaurant near the Cottonwood Mall (10131 Coors Road, N.W.) in a building which last housed an Owl Cafe. It’s a more conventional restaurant with indoor seating.
One of the first curiosities your eyes will affix upon is an upright wooden structure holding in place several bushel baskets. Upon further investigation, you’ll find the baskets are filled to varied levels with potatoes, both white Russets and reddish sweet potatoes. Patrons waiting in line will pluck the most pulchritudinous spuds out of those baskets and stuff them into a paper bag.
The paper bag, or rather a stack of them, is the next curiosity. It doubles as the menu and it’s where you make your selections. Burgers come in three sizes and are listed first. There’s the quarter-pound Wimpy burger, the half-pound Lumpy and the three-quarter pound Plumpy. Listed below the three burgers are the toppings: Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mayo, mustard, ketchup, green chile, jalapenos, Ranch dressing and Cali sauce ( a sort of homemade Thousand Island dressing). All toppings are free of charge. The young at heart can opt instead for a mini corn dog or chicken strips.
After you’ve annotated your burger and topping selections on the paper bag, your next decision is how you want your potatoes done: chunky (thick Texas style fries), skinny (shoestring) or skrewy (potato chips). Next you select your beverage of choice–Coke products or tea. You then put a couple of potatoes in the bag and proceed to the order counter where you hand your paper bag to the attendant. In about ten minutes your order will be filled.
The third curiosity are the black shirts worn by the staff, shirts emblazoned with the perplexing slogan “it saved my life.” The owners will tell you unabashedly that “Jesus Christ saved their lives, the slogan is just something to arouse interest.” A placard on the window indicates the restaurant is not open on Sundays to allow team members time for worship and family.
Maybe a fourth curiosity is just how friendly people in line are. This part of town has a reputation as being somewhat rough, but our experience has always been that people are helpful and friendly. Several people standing in line with us walked us through the routine, even recommending which potatoes to order. We even shared a table with a man in the queue behind us.
The fries recommended by most are the “skrewy” fries made from either the white Russet or red sweet potatoes. These are not conventional fries, but waifishly thin potato chips and they are terrific. Served warm in white paper bags, they are relatively low in salt and almost entirely greaseless. The sweet potato chips are some of the best chips we’ve had in a long time. They’re somewhat smallish, but very crisp and delicious. The bottom of the bag also doesn’t contain any of those annoying broken chips you find in commercial products.
The three-quarter pound Plumpy earns its appellation. It’s a burger behemoth prepared on a flattop grill with three fresh, never frozen, beef patties and whatever toppings you selected on your paper bag. The Cheddar cheese drapes beyond the circumference of the sweet buns which are just formidable enough to contain the burger’s contents and juiciness. If you love a lot of cheese (and not that processed imitation served by many burger joints), this is your hook-up. The green chile is piquant enough to get your attention (much more incendiary than the punchless stuff served at LotaBurger), there’s plenty of it and it’s got a smooth roasted flavor. The beef patties are well seasoned and juicy at just a shade over medium. It’s a very good burger with fresh ingredients in generous proportions.
Even the quarter pounder is prolific. Though it has one beef patty fewer, it would absolutely dwarf the saltfest served at the golden arches, both in sheer size and in flavor. It is so flavorful, in fact, that during my second visit, I pondered whether there is a better burger in Albuquerque and concluded there may not be, an assessment with which my dining companions would agree. Lumpy’s sold over 175,000 burger patties in their first 16 months of operation. It was also one of the top vote-getters in the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail voting despite not having a green chile cheeseburger on its menu.
The original Lumpy’s has some challenges to surmount—the potential four seasons in one day weather of the Duke City; the impatience of the modern American diner used to immediate gratification in our fast food culture; competition from climate-controlled burger restaurants which might have an inferior product, but they’ve got shade, heat and cool; the loss of business on Sunday; and more. The second location gives West side diners another option.
Owners Jay Kennedy and Jason Mancini have faith in their Lord and they have faith in their product. They’ve got a good business model and the talent, product and gumption to succeed in a tough burger market. Given a chance, they could grow in time to a viable competitor for Lota Burger, another local burger joint which started small, but became a beloved state-wide institution. Now that’s an audacious claim, but you might make it, too, after sampling the terrific food at a restaurant whose name you probably don’t want as your own, but whose product you will love.
5420 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 November 2010
1st VISIT: 20 February 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Wimpy, Lumpy or Plumpy Burger; Chunky, Skinny or Skrewy Fries
10131 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Lumpy Burger with Fries