“I’m not telling you, ‘Never eat a hamburger.’ Just eat the good ones with real beef, you know,
like the ones from that mom-and-pop diner down the street, …
And it’s so good that when you take a bite out of that burger,
you just know somewhere in the world a vegan is crying.”
- Homer Simpson
America’s favorite everyman philosopher may have had The Grill in mind when uttering that pithy pearl. What, after all, is a burger if not the celebration of meat, a pulchritudinous beef patty sandwiched between glorious golden orbs and festooned with ingredients intended to bring out flavor combinations that dance on your taste buds? Made properly–personalized for taste to your exacting degree of doneness and with your unique choice of ingredients–a burger can elicit tears of rapturous joy among burgerphiles.
Though the corporate chains offer convenience and consistency, few would argue that their copycat burgers could elicit raw delirium when bitten into. Some, like me, would argue that they’re not even made with real meat, USDA definitions for meat be damned. No, my friends, it’s solely the bounteous burgers at your local mom-and-pop diners down the street that elicit the carnal cravings and libidinous lust that make you want to rush over to visit your preferred profferer of meaty happiness with great regularity.
For Duke City diners one of the best the mom-and-pop diners down the street has a burger which just might elicit swoons of joy as it quells the most rapacious of appetites. It’s a burger that had Rudy Paul Vigil waxing poetic when he told me about it. An advocate of homemade tastes, Rudy is the guy who introduced me to Lumpy’s Burgers shortly after it opened so he’s got plenty of down-the-street burger cred with me. In describing The Grill, he expounded about a unique wood-firing contraption that imbues each burger with enchantment.
The Grill is the brainchild of veteran restaurateur Phillip Chavez, a man who knows and likes burgers as much as he likes bussing, or at least that’s the impression you might get in reading the menu’s claim of “food so good, you’ll wanna kiss the cook!” Before opening The Grill, Chavez operated grill-oriented family restaurants in Gallup as well as Shiprock and Farmington.
The Grill launched initially on the western fringes of the Duke City just east of 98th Street and was then called “Grandpa’s Grill.” From the restaurants east-facing windows you were treated to some of the very best views of the Sandia Mountains and downtown Albuquerque. At night, the panoramic view of the city lights were absolutely inspirational. In July, 2011, Grandpa’s Grill moved to Menaul (next door to Jennifer James 101) and rechristened itself “The Grill.”
Interior walls are festooned with period pieces–mostly kitchen related bricabrac, much of it donated by patrons of the popular restaurant. Old-fashioned coffee makers, blenders and other appliances make for interesting reminiscences among us seasoned diners and for strange curiosities among the Y-generation crowd. The most interesting period piece, however, is the restaurant’s signature grill. White hot and throbbing red embers of mesquite coals lay on a steel tray atop of which sits a metal grated grill which Chavez raises and descends via a hand-crank. He’s mastered the art of temperature control to prepare your burgers or steaks to the level of doneness you specify.
The dining room is very much a protypical example of 1960s diner decor. Red leatherette booths and belly-up to the counter stools provide comfortable and functional seating. An old-fashioned burger fixings bar, complete with sneeze guard, hosts sliced tomatoes, pickles, mustard, ketchup, lettuce and onions which means you truly can have your burger your way. A deep metal serving tray holds salsa which you can ladle onto plastic ramekins. Another holds crisp, homemade (but slightly salty) chips, both free with each order.
The salsa is exceptional–as in so good it should be bottled good. It’s so good that properly pureed, it would make an excellent bloody Mary mix. It’s so good, it would make the the key component of a great gazpacho. It’s so good, you’ll eschew ketchup and dunk your fries in it. It’s so good, you’ll finish two or three trays of chips before your order is up. Seriously, this is good salsa. Its components are rather typical–tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, garlic, salt–but Chavez mixes each batch up in perfect proportions. The salsa is pleasantly piquant, not so incendiary you won’t be able to taste anything else.
You will want to taste the burgers! Prolific eaters will opt for the Grandpa Burger, a whopping sixteen-ounces, but Rudy Vigil assured me the eight-ounce Papa Burger will be more than enough for most ordinary eaters. A six-ounce Mama Burger and a four-ounce Little Rascal Burger are also available. The beef patties are hand-formed and thick. You can top them with green chile and your choice of Cheddar, American or Swiss cheese. The buns are lightly toasted. All burgers are available in combination with a drink and Fries.
The menu also includes two steaks–a sixteen-ounce Ribeye and a ten-ounce New York cut–both served with your choice of fries or beans and tortilla. Also available are a chicken breast platter, a chicken sandwich, a Southwest chicken sandwich (with green chile and cheese wrapped in a tortilla) and chicken strips with fries. Hot dogs, in either jumbo or regular sizes, with or without chile and cheese, can also be ordered. Deep-fried sides include French fries, fried zucchini, fried mushrooms and onion rings.
The Papa Burger with green chile is terrific, a true compliment to the grill master and his deft manipulation of temperature! The beef patty is imbued with the kiss of mesquite heat, but not so much that the usually acerbic grilling wood imparts its characteristic bitter aftertaste. The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but the other ingredients from the fixings bar are all fresh and delicious. Fries aren’t much to write home about, but they’re much improved when you dip them into the salsa instead of ketchup.
A value-priced 16-ounce Ribeye steak prepared at medium is too good to pass up. Ribeye tends to be a well-marbled and tender cut of beef that is well-suited to dry-heat preparation style. That means Grandpa’s unique mesquite grill brings out the optimal flavor profile in this steak. Not quite fork-tender, the Ribeye cuts easily, juices flowing not quite copiously but enough. The only seasoning discernible is salt and pepper, but sometimes that can be enough. It is in this case. Value-priced means sixteen-ounces of steak for under a dollar an ounce, a good deal by any standard.
The steak is accompanied by your choice of French fries or beans and a tortilla. At first glance, the beans look inviting, a hearty portion topped with shredded cheese, but as they approached our table, a malodorous emanation wafted toward us. It was the foul demon spice cumin, the bane of real Northern New Mexican cuisine. As usual, I complained, urging our attentive waitress and Phil Chavez himself to take the beans and dispose of them at a nuclear waste dump site. Phil indicated 99-percent of his customers appreciate the beans, some even asking for the recipe.
The chile cheese dog is only so-so. The wiener is just slightly thicker than a human thumb, not an oversized meat-tube that dominates the flavor profile. Alas, the chile had a canned taste which includes enough cumin to be noticeable, but not so much that it kills the taste. Hot dogs are also served with French fries.
On the counter gracing your visage as you walk in is a domed cake platter holding the delicious cake of the day. Fortune was with us during my second visit because the cake under glass on that day was a gorgeous red velvet cake. Red velvet cakes have been popular since the 1920s, experiencing a resurgence in the 1990s, but it’s never really gone out of style. Essentially not much more than a chocolate cake with a dark red-brown color and layered with a creamy white icing, it is beautiful to look at and generally delicious to consume. This decadent dessert isn’t prepared in-house, but you will want to take a piece home with you.
Grandpa’s Grill is an anachronism–a throw-back to the 1960s with prompt, courteous, unobtrusive service and a genuine spirit of welcome from the owner. Ask Phillip Chavez for a tour of the kitchen and he’ll gladly show off his unique grill, the contraption which makes some of the very tastiest burgers in Albuquerque. Somewhere on old Route 66, a vegan is crying. That’s how good these burgers are!
4615 Menaul Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 20 September 2010
1st VISIT: 17 August 2010
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Papa Burger with Fries, Chile Cheese Dog, Salsa and Chips, Ribeye Steak, Onion Rings, Red Velvet Cake