Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 840 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 6500 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Gravy – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gravy for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner on Central Avenue in the East Downtown (EDO) District

“Gravy is the simplest, tastiest, most memory-laden dish I know how to make:
a little flour, salt and pepper, crispy bits of whatever meat anchored the meal,
a couple of cups of water or milk and slow stirring to break up lumps.”
~Dorothy Allison, American writer

NOTE: There’s a reason restaurant critics don’t typically review new restaurants until restaurateurs have had the opportunity to iron things out, a process that sometimes takes several weeks, if not months.   Virtually all restaurants experience “Murphy’s Law-esque” start-up issues that belie the countless hours of planning and preparation for a smooth launch.  We visited Gravy scant days after its opening and found a number of issues that detracted from the enjoyment of our meal, however, the restaurant’s seasoned ownership makes it very likely these issues will be resolved in short order and Gravy will more than live up to the hype it’s received.

Some would say that the discovery (invention?) of gravy is one of mankind’s crowning achievements.  Others would deride it as the work of the devil, likening gravy to a beguiling temptress which bends the will to its bidding.  Dolly Parton acknowledges that “every single diet I ever fell off of was because of potatoes and gravy of some sort.”   It’s no surprise that similar to many of the world’s best tasting foods, gravy is generally fattening.  Most commonly, it’s the byproduct of pan drippings and juices derived from cooking meat.

Some among us who consider gravy one of mankind’s most glorious achievements (even as it flows through our veins) may salivate involuntarily when turning onto Central Avenue and espying a large sign reading simply “Gravy” subtitled with the three events with which gravy goes so well: “breakfast, lunch, dinner.”  One of the most eagerly anticipated restaurant launches in recent memory, Gravy is the brainchild of the partnership which in 2011 opened Holy Cow, one of the city’s  most celebrated purveyors of burgers.

Chocolate-Cherry Shake

Gravy is located at the site of the former site of Milton’s, a long-time East Downtown institution.  Despite nearly two years and more than half a million spent in renovating the edifice,  architectural constraints make it nearly impossible not to hearken back to the days in which the facade housed a Denny’s Restaurant.  That’s not to say the renovation was like “putting lipstick on a pig.”  It’s just that there’s only so much you can do with a building originally constructed in 1964. 

What you can do, however, is place a premium on providing an attractive venue for guests.  It’s a venue which pays homage to previous tenants in a retro-modern diner fashion without a thematic regression to the 60s.  The exterior (which had probably been neglected for years) has a pristine appearance; even the river rock facade now has a polished look.  The interior received similar attention though the sound system’s bassy speakers have a one-note (boom, boom) cacophony that makes discourse at conversational tones a challenge.

Steak Frites

Where Gravy will shine most is with a diner menu that bespeaks of inventive and traditional diner foods, many prepared with a New Mexico twist while others offer a contemporary interpretation of classic dishes.  Diner foods generally translate to comfort foods such as meatloaf, chicken fried steak, fried chicken and beef stroganoff, all staples of Gravy. Salads range from the classic chopped salad to the lobster-avocado salad.  You can start your morning off with such eye-opening favorites as biscuits and gravy or opt instead for a breakfast pot pie.  Nine types of pancakes grace the breakfast menu.

In the tradition of diners everywhere, milkshakes are prepared to order for kids of all ages.  These aren’t the milkshake machine variety shakes proffered at chain restaurants.  The chocolate-cherry shake, for example, is made with real ice cream, chunks of adult (dark) chocolate and a multitude of maraschino cherries, not some artificial cherry-flavored sweetener.  It’s served cold the way shakes used to be and should always be made.

Spinach, Artichoke and Feta Triangle with Cucumber-Mint Yogurt and Tomato-Olive Salsa

One of the more contemporary menu items offered at some diners is steak frites. While some might decry steak frites as just a fancy name for steak and French fries, in France there are restaurants whose entire menu is comprised solely of this sacrosanct dish.  Gravy’s rendition is a marinated top sirloin topped with a maitre d’ butter served with hand-cut fries.  At medium-rare, the steak oozes beautiful pink juices.  The maitre d’ butter, a compound butter with parsley, adds a complex layer of flavors and a rich unctuous quality that enlivens the meat.  The fries are just a bit on the flaccid side and are prepared at just past the stage at which they’re golden hued. 

Another entree unlikely to be found in an old-fashioned diner of yore is a spinach, artichoke and feta triangle served with a cool cucumber-mint yogurt and a tomato-olive salsa.  Not entirely unlike Greek spanokopita, this filo dough pastry is a winner, so good you can enjoy it on its own or with the delightful cucumber-mint yogurt and (or) tomato-olive salsa.  Luckily there’s enough of the cucumber-mint yogurt that you can use it in lieu of ketchup for the fries.  The tomato-olive salsa has a discernible bite whose genesis we weren’t able to determine. 

Lest I forget, there are a number of dishes in which gravy–sausage gravy and brown gravy–is featured.  It wouldn’t be Gravy without it.

Gravy
725 Central, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-4299
LATEST VISIT: 13 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Steak Frittes; Chocolate-Cherry Shake; Spinach, Artichoke and Feta Triangle;

Gravy on Urbanspoon

Wise Pies Pizza – Albuquerque, New Mexico

WisePies01

Wise Pies Pizza

The connection between the Mafia and pizza is hardly novel. Throughout the fruited plain you’ll find any number of pizzerias sporting Mafioso names, including Godfather’s Pizza with which Duke City diners are well acquainted. It can be debated elsewhere that the Mafia-pizza connection is an offensive Italian stereotype, but no public outcry seems forthcoming as there was when the “Frito Bandido” was used to sell corn chips. In any case, if stereotypes have any basis in truth, the “pizza connection trial” in the 1980s helped perpetuate those stereotypes. That trial centered around the use of independently-owned pizza parlors as Mafia fronts for narcotics sales and collections.

In January, 2014, Michael Baird, the impresario who brought us Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse and Prime launched the first of several planned pizza restaurants which, much like their elder scions, embrace the storied history and machinations of the Mafia–thematically and whimsically, not operationally. The restaurant’s name, “Wise Pies” is a not-so-thinly-veiled play on the Mafia term “wise guys,” which describes someone who is part of a secret criminal organization (can you say Mafia?). Even the specialty pizzas, called “La Cosa Nostra” on the menu, include such familiar organized crime syndicate names as Luciano, Gambino and Bonanno.

WisePies02

The toppings bar where you’ll find thousands of options

The Mafia theme extends to the name tags worn by Wise Pies employees. Names such as The Enforcer, The Muscle and Gams (she is cute) may sound as if they were they gleaned from any of a number of Mafia nickname generators on the Internet, but they’re actually descriptive of their bearers. The Enforcer, for example, is the shift manager, ostensibly a “capo” or captain within the “family.” The greeter wears a Prohibition era style fedora, today often referred to as a “gangster” (as opposed to “gangsta”) hat. Faux Chicago brick lines the walls.

Despite all the money spent developing the Wise Pies concept, children of all ages will invariably gravitate toward the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine which dispenses dozens of Coca-Cola product flavors. The mad scientist in you might want to mix and match different flavor options, but foodies among us will concentrate our creativity in building our own custom pizza or modifying one of the aforementioned specialty pizzas to our exacting specifications. The options are plentiful—and quick. On the conveyor oven heated to about 600 degrees, your pizza will be ready in just over three minutes. It will probably take you longer than that to decide what you want on your pizza.

WisePies03

The Bonanno

The eight specialty pizzas on the La Cosa Nostra section of the menu are all prix-fixe at under eight dollars. That prix-fixe rate  also applies to build-your-own. Build your own options include four crusts (including a gluten-free option) made on the premises, five different sauces and six cheeses. Eight meats–including some unique options such as gabagool (capicola in the vernacular of non-family members), green chile chorizo and Andouille sausage—will appease carnivores while vegetarians will find some sixteen veggies to sate their cravings.  The ingredients are of high quality, especially the sausage which is made by the Vernon’s butchers.

19 January 2014: Because the people-pleasing staff at Wise Pies won’t balk at requests to modify even the specialty pizzas, you can truly have them your way. For me, the selling point on the Bonanno is the spicy barbecue sauce (on par with the Turtle Mountain’s Habanero stout barbecue sauce for flavorful heat) while the roasted chicken should be whacked. No problem. The pizzaiolis swapped the chicken for gabagool and Italian sausage, perfect complements for caramelized onions, a provolone cheese blend, roasted red peppers, banana peppers and feta cheese, only about half those ingredients starting off as part of the Bonanno. My additions (pizza my way) proved quite satisfying, making for a good, solid pizza.

WisePies04

The Siciliano

19 January 2014: Similarly my Kim customized The Siciliano (roasted red pepper marinara, gabagool, Italian sausage, red onions, roasted garlic and a Provolone cheese blend), opting for a double portion of roasted garlic. If these specialty pies are indicative of other Wise Pie offerings, capos and their crews as well as families will enjoy Wise Pies. Each pizza is about nine-inches around with a thin crust formidable enough to hold up to all the ingredients you might pile on to your pie. The quick-baking process imbues each pizza with a light brown char. Being thin-crusted, there’s not much of a cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza. With only nine-inches of crusty canvas, that’s a good thing because it means more ingredients, less bread. 

10 December 2014: While chatting recently about American cuisine with a young Vietnamese server at Viet Q, he dismissed (maybe even dissed) American burgers but admitted to having fallen in love with pizza–but only if it’s topped with green chile.  As with our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburgers, New Mexicans love to top their pizzas with our official state vegetable.  At Wise Pie, chile is available not only as a topping, but as a chief component of one of its sauces.  The green chile Alfredo sauce on the Fredo actually packs an occasional kick–not with every bite, but sneakily.  Other components on this pizza are roasted chicken, a Provolone cheese blend, Roma tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.  On those bites in which the green chile makes its presence felt, this pizza rocks.  When the green chile isn’t discernible, it’s still good.  For better results, ask for green chile and the green chile Alfredo sauce.

The Fredo

Wise Pies offers three (Greek, Classic Caesar, Garden) salads as well as a build your own salad option with four dressing options. Sweet stuff includes a chocolate chip cookie, an apple cinnamon pizza and Wise Pies Gourmet Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Bars. The chocolate bars are made especially for Wise Pies by Joliesse Chocolates of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. The chocolate bars are kept in the freezer until ordered so they’re cold and hard if you bite into them immediately. Give them a couple of minutes and you’ll bite into some of the best chocolate in town. The milk chocolate bar is filled with salted butter caramel while the dark chocolate bar is imbued with hazelnut gianduja.  Both are terrific!

Albuquerque’s first Wise Pies on Alameda is relatively small at 1,600 square feet, but it offers two patios for Albuquerque’s sunny days. Ultimately, Michael Baird plans to open more than a dozen Wise Pie franchises throughout the Land of Enchantment with stores in Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Roswell planned.  On Monday, December 1st, 2014, Wies Pies Pizza entered into agreement with the University of New Mexico to rename the famous basketball arena. Henceforth, University Arena (also known as “The Pit”) will be named Wise Pies Arena after the local pizza and salad chain.

WisePies05

For dessert, Wise Pies Dark Chocolate bar and Wise Guys Gourmet Chocolate Bar

There’s a code of silence in the Mafia called “omerta” to which members have to swear when they join the Family. Mafiosos and pizza aficionados alike won’t be able to keep silent about Wise Pies, a pizzeria with great value and customization opportunities which truly let you have pizza the way you want it.

Wise Guys Pizza
4545 Alameda Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 821-5260
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 December 2014
1st VISIT: 19 January 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: The Bonanno, The Siciliano, Dark Chocolate Bar, Gourmet Chocolate Bar, The Fredo

Wise Pies on Urbanspoon

Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pete Powdrell, Albuquerque's barbecue legend

Pete Powdrell, Albuquerque’s legendary barbecue king

If you believe in forever
Where baby backs are never bland
If there’s a barbecue heaven
Well you know Mr. Pete is lending a hand, hand, hand.

Shortly after Arthur Bryant died in 1982, the Kansas City Star published a cartoon depicting St. Peter greeting Arthur at the gates of heaven and asking, “Did you bring sauce?” A quarter of a century later, I can imagine St. Peter asking Pete Powdrell if he brought the secrets to his extraordinarily tender brisket.  What the legendary Kansas City barbecue giant Arthur Bryant was to sauce, Pete Powdrell was to beef. Albuquerque’s indisputable king of barbecue was called home on December 2nd, 2007, but he left behind an indelible legacy that extended far beyond serving some of the best barbecue in the west.

Pete was a second-generation sharecropper who in 1958 escaped the small town racism of Crosbyton, Texas to start a new life in Albuquerque. Fifty years later, Pete’s circle of friends and mourners included most of New Mexico’s political power brokers as well as tens of thousands of customers who loved his barbecue and the gentle man perpetually attired in overalls who prepared it.

Powdrell’s restaurant on Fourth Street is on the National Historic Register

To chronicle Pete’s life (and someone should) would be to celebrate the sheer determination and drive of a man whose greatest of many gifts may have been perseverance. He literally had not much more than the clothes on his back when he arrived in Albuquerque with his wife and eleven children, but he was determined to make a good life for his family. Mission accomplished!

Since 1962, the Powdrell family has operated several barbecue houses in the Duke City. Their initial restaurant venture, a take-out diner on South Broadway, launched four years after the family relocated to Albuquerque. The inspiration for Pete’s original, authentic Southern-style barbecue was family recipes he began perfecting during backyard and church cookouts in Texas. Those recipes dates back to the 19th century near Baton Rouge, Louisiana where his grandfather Isaac Britt began the Powdrell family legacy of incomparable barbecue.

Salad with blue cheese dressing

Salad with blue cheese dressing

The word “institution” is bandied about too easily these days, but in Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House, Albuquerque has a bona fide institution that continues to stand the test of time against the formidable onslaught and riches of corporate pretenders, many of whom fall by the wayside while Powdrell’s continues to thrive.  Drive by Powdrell’s and the wafting fragrance of hickory smoke literally invites you to step inside and partake of old-fashioned barbecue.  Not coincidentally, Pete’s son Joe will tell you his father was much like the hickory wood used at the restaurant–hard, stubborn and consistent.

The reason for Powdrell’s continued success–some of the very best barbecue in the west served by a warm family in welcoming milieus.  East side residents frequent Powdrell’s on Central Avenue between Eubank and Juan Tabo while west dwelling citizens visit Powdrell’s on North Fourth where barbecue is served in a stately brick home on the National Historic Registry.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Ann Powdrell, who was eleven years old when the family traversed the winding Route 66 in their move to Albuquerque, takes care of the kitchen in the Fourth Street restaurant.  She is a sweet, gentle woman with a raconteur’s gift for enthralling guests with stories about her fabled family.  On an infrequent slow lunch hour, she might even show you the veritable museum collection of family memorabilia upstairs.  More than likely, however, she’s in  the kitchen preparing the dishes which help make Powdrell’s the legendary barbecue restaurant it is.

Powdrell’s hasn’t been a local secret in a long time, but it’s a claim to fame of which we’re all proud. Over the years Albuquerque’s finest gift to Route 66 barbecue tradition has garnered a lot of recognition from beyond the Duke City.  In 2004, Sunset magazine published an article celebrating the west’s best BBQ. Calling the west a “barbecue frontier,” the magazine trumpeted Powdrell’s baby back ribs slathered with tart, spicy sauce.  Culinary sojourner Michael Stern, co-founder of the Roadfood Web and publishing dynasty loved Powdrell’s beef, proclaiming that “it isn’t the extraordinary tenderness that will make you happy; it’s this meat’s flavor.”  In his thematic tome, Dr. BBQ’s Big-Time Barbecue Road Trip! author Ray Lampe hits the road and introduces America to the best barbecue in the fruited plains. Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House was one of only four New Mexico venues singled out by the self-professed Dr. BBQ.

The combo platter

The combo platter

My first impression of this very special barbecue was formed in the late 1970s while living on the south side of Central Avenue not more than three hundred yards from Mr. Powdrell’s. With the most faint of breezes, the aroma of succulent meats smoked low and slow wafted toward my cramped quarters like an irresistible siren’s song. It was a tantalizing temptation no one could resist. The genesis of the olfactory arousing aroma was indeed hickory smoke-saturated meats, the memory of which imprinted themselves on my taste buds with an ineffaceable permanence. In Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House, barbecue Nirvana beckoned and I answered.

Over the past few decades my travels have allowed me to experience barbecue from the four American epicenters of barbecue excellence: Texas, Memphis, Kansas City and South Carolina. Though I have found barbecue that is more lauded and more famous, only Mr. Powdrell’s has the taste of being home.  It’s that way for generations of Duke City residents.

Chicken Dinner-One half pound of barbequed chicken

Chicken Dinner-One half pound of barbequed chicken

The stately brick home on North Fourth street which houses Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House still looks very much like the family dwelling it once was. From the built-in china cabinets to the hardwood floors, it is an inviting setting for dining, an invitation infused by the provocative hickory smokers near the parking lot.

In describing the west’s barbecue as “unburdened by the orthodoxy of such hot spots as Texas and the Carolinas,” Sunset magazine may have well been describing Powdrell’s where the menu has a whole lot of Texas, a little bit of Memphis with a touch of Kansas City for good measure. In other words, the menu has a bit of everything then some.

Powdrell10

Chicken Wings Powdrell’s Style

Being “unburdened”, Powdrell’s can serve such non-traditional starters as mushrooms prepared in butter as well as all the favorite fried appetizer favorites.  It also serves some of the best blue cheese dressing in Albuquerque, a dressing ameliorated by just a bit of feta with some very high quality blue cheese.  It’s perfect–neither too thick nor too thin and runny, not too strong or sour.  It’s the blue cheese dressing Goldilocks would choose.

9 February 2008: The menu includes a veritable smorgasbord of sumptuous sandwiches generously engorged with smoke-infused meats slathered with a tangy sauce. The sandwiches are excellent, but most diners queue for barbecue dinners, all of which are served with two sides and Texas toast.  A half-rack of baby back ribs at Powdrell’s is the antithesis of “competition” baby backs which tend to be overly sweet (sometimes almost candied).  A reddish glaze covers the moist, succulent pork on Powdrell’s baby backs which are so good you’ll discharge the bones like cartridge shells.

Babyback Ribs with French Fries and Texas Toast

9 February 2008: The combination platter (pictured above) features a pound or more of some of the best Mr. Powdrell’s has to offer–chicken, ribs, sausage, links and some of the very best brisket in the world.  The brisket is the pièce de résistance, indisputably the very best in town (and nothing else is even close). It is smoked at low heat for eighteen hours and when done is refrigerated then heated again. The process somehow imbues the brisket with an uncommon tenderness that belies what can be a leather-tough cut of meat.  Michael Stern is absolutely right in declaring the flavor of this meat to be your source of happiness. This is an absolutely delicious brisket that would convert the most staunch of vegetarians.

29 January 2010: If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of truly outstanding chicken wings in Albuquerque, Powdrell’s will make a believer out of you.  These wings are imbued with a hint of smoke before being deep-fried to seal in that smokiness and flavor while melting off that layer of fat just underneath the skin.  They are then glazed with a tangy, spicy barbecue sauce so unlike the sauces wings restaurant describe as “inferno,” “nuclear” and the like, but which don’t deliver.  Powdrell’s sauce has the zesty tanginess of orange peel, the pleasant piquancy of peppers and the sweet-savory goodness of ingredients that work very well together.  The wings are moist, meaty and utterly delicious.

Special of the Day: Catfish, Brisket and two sides (Fried Okra and Corn on the Cob) with Texas Toast

The perfect accompaniment for those wings is a dish of black beans and rice quite unlike what you might see at a Cajun restaurant where such a dish isn’t prepared with smoked sausage, celery and a tomato sauce base. Ann Powdrell describes it as one of those dishes her mother created out of whatever was in the refrigerator. You’ll describe it absolutely delicious.

1 July 2011: Not even the very best restaurants do all things well though the great ones tend to come close. At Powdrell’s as at most restaurants in Albuquerque, the Achilles Heel seems to be catfish. It’s the one dish I’ve enjoyed least at Powdrell’s and that’s not solely because of my eight years in Mississippi (America’s catfish capital) helped me appreciate the qualities of catfish done well. The coating on the catfish made it very difficult to cut into, normally an indication the inside is dry (it was). Fortunately the catfish was offered as a special of the day along with another meat. The brisket was as wonderful as the catfish was disappointing.

Broiled Trout

1 July 2011: Much better is an entree of broiled trout which is as tender and moist as the catfish is tough and dry.  Two delicious filets are served with two sides and Texas Toast.  The filets are brushed lightly with butter and served with a nice char.  A squeeze of lemon or a small application of tartar sauce and you’re good to go.  The only drawback to eating broiled fish, no matter how good it may be, is being surrounded by the fragrant bouquet of bodacious barbecue.  You may want some of Powdrell’s barbecue sauce on the trout, too.

Powdrell’s meats are the antithesis of the type of meat to which I refer as Ivory Snow in that it’s NOT 99 and 44/100 percent pure. You’ll find a fatty or sinewy meat here or there and plenty of dark meat, but that’s, in part what Duke City diners have loved about Powdrell’s for generations. It’s a bit sassy and a bit imperfect, but always comforting and delicious.

The Rockin’ Po-Boy

9 December 2014:  If you have a predilection for poultry, Powdrell’s is your hook-up and if you consider barbecue chicken to be the least exciting among available meats, this one may make a convert out of you.  The chicken (breast, thigh, wing) is moist, tender and delicious with the tangy house sauce generously slathered on.  The perfect accompaniment for the chicken is (you may want to be seated for this) deep-fried macaroni and cheese.  It’s not one of the available sides, but you should spring for it anyway. 

29 September 2010: In 2010, Powdrell’s East Side location was selected by Duke City voters as the inaugural winner of the city’s “rock this restaurant” challenge, qualifying for a complete make-over.  It’s a testament to just how beloved this bastion of barbecue has become over the years.  In honor of its selection, Powdrell’s introduced an “everything but the kitchen sink” sandwich called the “Rockin’ Po-Boy,” a beefy behemoth that would test the mettle of a professional gurgitator. Available in six- or twelve-inch sizes, this sandwich is engorged to its spilling point with beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked turkey, onion rings, French fries and coleslaw slathered with barbecue sauce.  There’s obviously no need for sides because they’re inside the sandwich.  You’ll be hard-pressed to finish this hard rockin’ sandwich.

Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House
5209 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-8086
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 9 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 13
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Barbecue Brisket, Chicken Wings, Rockin’ Po-Boy, Babyback Ribs, Okra, Corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw

Mr. Powdrell's Barbeque on Urbanspoon