Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen opened in October, 2011 at the site formerly occupied by the Rodeo Grill

 “The definitive recipe for any Italian dish has not yet appeared.
We are still creating.”
Luigi Barzini

The categorization and labeling some diners tend to ascribe to Italian restaurants bespeaks not only of strong emotional preferences, but of an unwillingness to assign any merits to the “other side.”  At one side of the spectrum are the old-fashioned “red sauce” restaurants and at the other are Northern Italian restaurants.  To those who love red sauce Italian restaurants, they represent Italian comfort food in a festive and friendly ambiance stereotyped by red and white checkerboard tablecloths and bottles of Chianti at every table.  The menus–often green, white and red–feature familiar American Italian entrees such as spaghetti and meatballs served in profuse portions.  To its proponents, red sauce restaurants are homey, rustic and simple in the best sense of those terms.

Detractors usually speak of red sauce restaurants in derogatory and condescending terms.  To its “haters,” red sauce restaurants represent overcooked, mushy pasta dredged in a profligate amounts of tomato sauce “gravy.”  This, they will tell you is low-end food served by Old World restaurants as opposed to the more sophisticated “cuisine” that draws aficionados to Northern Italian restaurants and their nouveau menu offerings served in swanky milieus.  Northern Italian restaurant zealots  trumpet their genre of choice’s grilled meats, seafood and sauces based on creams and cheeses.  They appreciate that their pasta is served on the al dente side and instead of noodle type pasta, they can opt for polenta or risotto.

A kitschy ambiance

Not to be outdone, red sauce restaurant devotees joke that Northern Italian restaurants are simply Italian restaurants that wish they were French.  They consider Northern Italian cuisine haughty and pretentious, an overpriced and stuffy repast for the rich and those who wish they were.  The elegant and cultivated cuisine of the north, they argue, is a denial of the true and authentic culture of Italian cooking. 

If the aforementioned point-counterpoint debate sounds a bit like the ad infinitum diatribes in which political ideologues engage, then it accurately depicts the passion some diners actually have about their choice for Italian food.  The truth is many of us appreciate both “red sauce” and Northern Italian restaurants, maybe one a bit more than the other.  That’s why restaurant impresario Matt DiGregory’s new restaurant concept should do very well in Albuquerque.  In an enthralling interview on Break the Chain, Matt described Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen as not wanting it to be “stuck with being labeled Northern, Southern or Peasant Italian.”  He wants his restaurant to be “flexible and fun” and “all about family.”

A photo of the DiGregory family circa 1978 hangs on the foyer

If my inaugural visit, admittedly only a couple weeks after the restaurant’s launch, is any indication, Matt DiGregory is well on his way toward making Gregorio’s a restaurant in which families will genuinely enjoy themselves. Family is very important to the entrepreneurial owner.  The restaurant is replete with pictures of the DiGregory family history, including a playful one circa 1978 of his entire family attired in white on a white background.  Framed photographs of his grandparents, parents and siblings share space on the walls with a multitude of interesting and kitschy items.  There are even photographs on the menu. 

Other than family-friendly and fun, perhaps the most apropos description for Gregorio’s would be “kitschy.”  That, too, is by design.  Matt intends for his restaurant not to take itself too seriously…except for the food, of course.  The decor isn’t quite circus clown contemporary meets wacky western with a bit of rib-tickling rustic thrown in for good measure, but it’s very entertaining and fun.  There’s no way you could stereotype this as an Italian restaurant, but there’s also no way you can visit without thoroughly enjoying the mirthful milieu.  There is literally something interesting and enjoyable to look at no matter where you turn.

Calamari with a lemon aioli

Similar to the decor at The Range Cafe, another of Matt’s  successful concept restaurants, the art on display is wildly eclectic and mostly tasteful.  There are no velvet Elvis paintings, but there is a backlit painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”  Lighting above the bank of booths on the north wall is a series of 1960s style lamps hung upside down so that the shades are at the bottom.   Suspended from the ceiling are latilla-style branches.  The most “serious” decorative touches are a gas stove and refrigerator, both dating from at least the fabulous 50s.

Matt describes menu offerings as “Italian comfort food,” much of which is based on family recipes.  Some of the recipes are playful, too, including a spaghetti meat sauce which includes a bit of chocolate for richness.  You’ll get the feeling that the visionary owner is having a blast creating in the kitchen instead of devising some new restaurant concept.  He also enjoys stepping out from the kitchen and delivering entrees to the patrons who ordered them.  When is the last time you saw a restaurant owner do that?  If, by the way, you think your recipe is better than Gregorio’s, you’re invited to submit it to the affable owner.  If Matt likes it, it will be run as a special for the month and will be named for the submitter.    

Appetizer: Artichoke casserole with breadcrumbs and cheese served in a cast iron pan

Gregorio’s is situated at the former site of the Rodeo Grill, a rare Matt DiGregory concept restaurant in that it wasn’t a huge success as the Range Cafe and Standard Diner are.  Unlike his other restaurants, Gregorio’s does not have a street-facing storefront and is somewhat obfuscated by a small strip mall.  One of the holdovers from the Rodeo Grill is an invitation for diners to wash down their meal with lusciously thick shakes which are made with Haagen Dazs Super Premium ice Cream.  The shakes are not only made with real hand-dipped ice cream and whole milk, they’re served in a shake glass with the tin on the side.  It’s much like getting a shake and a half.  Better still, the flavors include the standards–vanilla, chocolate and strawberry–as well as shake specials such as spumoni shakes and lemon curd shakes.

Now for the serious stuff–the food. Gregorio’s has gone a long way to provide variety that defies stereotyping.  All pasta dishes, made from Italian quality dried pastas, are cooked to order including al dente if you desire.  The restaurant offers several pasta types: spaghetti, rigatoni, bowtie, gnocchi, penne and more, each pasta order weighing in at a robust half-pound sans sauce.  Your choice from a variety of sauces–the aforementioned spaghetti meat sauce with chocolate, Bolognese (made with turkey instead of beef), Gorgonzola cream, carbonara, arabiata, olive oil and garlic and more–will adorn the pasta you order.  Thin crust pizzas are prepared on a stone oven.  Sauces are sourced from the Santa Fe Sausage Company and salads are constructed from organic, locally sourced produce.

Bowtie pasta in an olive oil and garlic sauce with a side of sweet Italian sausage

The appetizer menu includes several intriguing options in portions large enough to be shared. A baked artichoke parmesan casserole with breadcrumbs and cheese served in a cast iron pan is a great bet. The artichoke is fresh and earthy and it absorbs the flavor of the seasoned bread crumbs and cheese. It’s served with lightly toasted Italian bread which can be used to dredge up the utterly delicious sauce.  The cast iron pan keeps the dish hot down to its last morsel.  Another super starter is the semolina dusted calamari with a lemon aioli served with marinara sauce.

Sometimes the secret to an excellent pasta dish is its simplicity.  Gregorio’s bowtie pasta in an olive oil and garlic sauce passes muster and then some.  The pasta is perfectly cooked–not too al dente and certainly not at all mushy.  It’s perfumed with just a light fragrance of fresh garlic, enough to let you know it’s there without wrecking your breath.  An excellent counterbalance is a side of sweet Italian sausage.  A single link will do.  The sausage is of medium coarseness and has a nice fennel influence.

Pan-Roasted Mahi Mahi With Grapefruit and Fennel Salsa and Risotto

At the opposite side of the simplicity scale is a special which will hopefully make it to the everyday menu.  It’s a pan-roasted mahi mahi with grapefruit and fennel salsa and risotto.  The mahi mahi is melt-in-your mouth tender with the requisite flakiness all high quality white fish have.  The grapefruit and fennel salsa includes a few slices of sweet Mandarin oranges which balance the tanginess of the grapefruit.  It’s an excellent salsa and best of all, it doesn’t mask the flavor of the fish as some sauces are prone to do.  The risotto is terrific, this compliment coming from a cynic who’s had truly great risotto only a handful of times.  Add Gregorio’s risotto to the mix.  

Darn those specials!  On our second visit, I was bound and determined to try Grandma Mary’s spaghetti and meatballs where the sauce is made with chocolate.  With an impassioned case borne out of pure love for the dish, our waitress convinced me the tomato vodka sauce penne is one of the best dishes she’s ever had and that I should forgo all others.  She saved me from struggling to wrap those long spaghetti strands around my fork while serving me my very favorite pasta, one that’s easy to stab with a fork.  The tomato vodka sauce is redolent with flavor, an olfactory-arousing sauciness with a hint of prosciutto, basil and shaved Parmesan.  It’s an excellent dish served in a flying saucer sized bowl which means you’ll be taking some home with you.

Tomato Vodka Sauce Penne

On Saturday and Sunday, Gregorio’s serves brunch from 9AM until 3PM.  The brunch menu includes breads and sweets, fritattas and breakfast specials and you can also order from the restaurant’s lunch menu.  The breakfast specials include such specialties as Italian “biscuits and gravy,” a ricotta and green onion scone, wilted spinach, two eggs with sausage gravy.  For sweet treat cravings, there’s lemon ricotta pancakes made with a berry compote and served with a tarragon butter and a pannetone French toast (pecans, cinnamon, marscapone). 

The brunch dish calling us most loudly was a breakfast pizza, a thin-crust pizza topped with bacon, sausage, mozzarella and Munster cheeses and topped with tomato sauce and two scrambled eggs.  In reading the menu’s description of “two eggs,” we had visions of two eggs over easy and unctuous yoke running all over the pizza.  Alas, that was the restaurant’s vision, too, however, the vision was better than the actual design.  Getting the eggs “just right” wasn’t always a consistent execution.  This is still a terrific pizza, a good twelve-inch pie as good as any specialty pizza in the Duke City.  The crisp bacon, fennel-blessed sausage and the two cheese blend go very well together.

Breakfast Pizza: bacon, sausage, mozzarella, two scrambled eggs

Because portions are so prolific, you have to wonder if the restaurant’s dessert menu receives more than a cursory glance, but the fact that most diners egress with doggie bags probably means desserts are quite popular, too.  As with many menu items, desserts are inventive and “different” with some liberties taken.  “This ain’t your momma’s tiramisu.”  Gregorio’s citrus tiramisu, served in a sundae glass is wholly unlike any tiramisu in Albuquerque.  If you’re looking for ladyfingers soaked in coffee, you won’t find it here, but if the literal translation of tiramisu is “pick me up,” this one will do it.  It’s a lip-pursing, sweet-tart dessert dish that’ll win you over unless you’re staunchly unable to buy into its non-traditional approach to a very traditional dessert.

Chocolate Sundae and Citrus Tiramisu

With Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen, Matt DiGregory has shown that he’s not only one of Albuquerque’s foremost restaurant impresario’s, he’s one heckuva chef.  As Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate says, it’s a winner!

Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen
4200 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 19 February 2012
1st VISIT:  15 October 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pan-Roasted Mahi Mahi with Grapefruit and Fennel Salsa and Risotto, Bowtie Pasta with Olive Oil and Garlic Sauce, Artichoke Casserole, Milk Shakes, Calamari, Tomato Vodka Sauce Penne, Breakfast Pizza, Citrus Tiramisu

16 thoughts on “Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. We ate there today (February 25, 2012). Skip the calamari and the chicken parmesan. They don’t seem to do fried foods well, and this includes fried foods like chicken parmesan with fettuccine. However, their meatball, Italian sausage, and diablo oriented sauces are great. They have some good house wines and a nice selection of draft beers. The wait staff is friendly. I loved Gil’s review; my recommendation would be to get the sausage and meatball oriented dishes (maybe not so much seafood or chicken). The salads are good, but I pushed the sloshy croutons aside. The pasta tastes like it’s homemade. Skip lunch if you can, but if you eat for lunch, maybe telling the waitress that you want ‘hot’ or warm food would help. The ambiance is wonderful.

  2. I’m not sure what folks are looking for in Italian food but if I’m in the mood for Chicken parm/lasagna/meatballs/spaghetti red sauce basics Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho is my choice again and again. .
    Very good food, very good service, a very attentive chef/owner who patrols his establishment.
    If you’re into portion control as a dietary requirement this may not be the place for you unless you’re sharing plates.
    There is always consistency at Joe’s which makes it my old reliable Italian restaurant.

  3. I’m here every month, so been there, done that and the Liberty is actually a preferred hotel for my company. But, thanks! Anytime I can get Wellfleets, I am a happy girl but try and limit that to once a visit. ( It happened on Monday )
    But back to Italian. And Italian-American.
    It’s not HARD to make excellent Italian food. Torino’s can do it. It’s not hard to make very very good Italian/I-A food. Vivace and Joe’s can do it. Giovanni’s can do it casually.
    It seems, however, to be easier to make bad/mediocre Italian/I-A food and Tormbino’s, Mario’s, Macaroni Grill, Bucca di Beppo do it well. You’ll likely never get sick here but you won’t be inspired.
    I’m always hopeful that the latest new place will go on the first list, but it usually goes on the later.

  4. Yo Barbara….Just visiting Baastann? Just for ‘funk’ consider having an oyster or two or oyster shooter at the bar, afterwhich you can sit in JFK’s favorite booth for a moment in the oldest continuous restaurant in the US, The Union Oyster House . Or try out the trendy conversion of the 1800s Charles St. jail per .
    Most importantly and if nothing else, take the short 45 minute drive to Essex to have the epitome of Fried Clams (I’m jealous) at their birthplace extolled in Gil’s

  5. Salve BOTVOLR! Who doesn’t love Anthony running through the North End! He’s not so cute anymore, but he appears in the Boston press every now and then when they need someone to talk about the old days in the North End. Many people out west have never heard of such a thing as drowning in molasses… but it killed 21 people and injured 150. This link gives a short version of the events of January 15, 1919

    1. One of my favorite restaurants to visit on Prince Spaghetti Day (or any other) was not in Boston’s North End, but in Lowell. The Prince Grotto restaurant on the premises of the Prince Spaghetti Factory was the site of my very first one-hundred dollar meal back when that constituted more than ten percent of my monthly salary. Wednesdays will always be Prince Spaghetti Day in my memories.

  6. Eh Gumba Steve: Speakin of da Nort End, “If its Wednesday, it must be…
    (Say, anyone vexed by how ya have to stand over a steaming pot of water while you wait for the spaghetti to soften to fit into the round pot? Vex no more…just plop it all in Rachel’s new adaptation!!!! (PS for other tight wads like me who might be questioning “What!!! a pot just for spaghetties???”; rest assured the pot can be used for other things as well!!!)
    Also while takin ya back to Prince St., you can catch da Brink’s Job of ‘5o which is a bit of a hoot with Peter Falk, Peter Boyle and other coots, the next few days on Comcast Lastly, if ya haven’t read The Dark Tide re the molasses flood of 1919 by da Nort End, you can read it free on line

  7. Six years here in ABQ, and with rare exceptions I have to agree that ABQ Italian restaurants aren’t very good, especially when it comes to the food. Gregorio’s is one of those exceptions. I’ve tried 4 main dishes and they were all very good. They had the kind of texture, preparation and taste that you might get in a real Italian mom’s home. Not salted to death, not hiding 2000 calories per bite, and not all trashed up with everything but the kitchen sink!

    OK, you think I’m nuts and I don’t know what good Italian food is. Wrong. I lived in Boston for nearly 50 years where we had excellent neighborhood Italian restaurants all around. We also had the famous North End restaurants. And I’ve spent a number of weeks in Italy in the recent past. I’m not trying to say that Gregorio’s is like eating in the North End or in Rome, but I am saying that after two trips there with my wife, I’ll be going back for more.

    By the way, the only other Italian restaurant in the ABQ area that I think has good food is Vivace in Nob Hill. But Nob Hill is a real drive for me, and Gregorio’s is fairly close by… almost like a good neighborhood Italian restaurant!

    Give it a try. If you have any idea what good Italian food tastes like then I think you’ll enjoy your meal.

  8. A friend wanted to go here for lunch yesterday so with entirely different expectations than my first visit off we went. First the service was charming friendly and efficient. Not a single complaint. Actually the food service was almost as good the first time. My complaint was that as it is a new restaurant trying to work out the bugs I was trying to give what I thought was helpful feedback on easily corrected problems and that feedback was not being passed on.
    This time I ordered the completely non gourmet meatball sandwich and a side Caesar salad. This is not great food almost by definition but it was much better than most similar things. The friend ordered the artichoke casserole and really liked it.
    Judging it not as an Italian Restaurant but as an Italian-American restaurant food place I would rate it as above most (especially Olive Garden) and the service as well above most places. Unfortunately it was nearly empty as it was on my first visit. I am still sure that it can’t survive the hidden location

  9. The missus and I and some friends stopped by for lunch today. Can’t imagine how the service could have been any better. Low key, but there when you needed it and well informed about the food. Our one year old was treated like the princess she is.

    Our choices were dominated by standard southern Italian fare – eggplant and other parms, which the diners rated as average. Only fair to comment, though, that the servings were more than generous and the plates were cleaned thoroughly.

    I had the salmon club panini – a nicely cooked piece of fish with a very choice bacon topping. It came with a choice of salads or sweet potato fries. My ‘mista’ salad did not disappoint. Well composed with a nice balsamic on the side. Personally, I was a very happy camper.

    Clearly the restaurant is still a work in progress. The decor has changed considerably from Gil’s photo. Although the restaurant is not visible from the street, they still lack serious signage. Even with all that, there was a good crowd for a dreary Thursday’s lunch.

    I’ll be back. Wishing them luck.

  10. It is typical Albuquerque ( Torino’s being the one exception )…

    “Look…a new Italian restaurant!!!”

    “Oh, it’s crap.”

  11. As I commit the mortal sin of reviewing by word and picture without dining at the establishment I must say that bow tie pasta with sausage seems like something I made for myself when I was 10 years old except I would have added ketchup for some red color. There is nothing intriguing about the dish nor did it look particularly appetizing.
    Saute up some broccoli rabe in garlic and oil with the some good Tully’s sausage (still heads and shoulders above any sausage available in these parts) and some penne regate and just enough good homemade marinara sauce for a bit of taste and color and you have a great, simple Italian dish you can find in any Italian American household worthy of the name Corleone or Soprano.
    Simple and tasty and much more authentic than Gregorio’s take on it.
    The mahi mahi seems less Italian than the bow tie pasta and sausage.

    And Jim M’s not so glowing review served to remind me that in America waiters and bus people are really just biding their time until their dream jobs open up to them.

  12. Has there been a caselot sale on mandarin oranges? I swear I’ve seem them appear on more than a few menus around Albuquerque lately. In a grapefruit sauce? In a riff on tiramisu? I was interested in the lemon curd aspect, but somehow the mandarin addition is making me feel . . . weird. I *will* try it and see if the sum of the parts is better.

    And for what it’s worth, I have nothing against mandarins out of the can. But for an italian joint…. hmm.

  13. Child Bride and I made it by last night while our newly cleaned carpet was drying. Rodeo Grill was a pretty decent restaurant which couldn’t overcome the Albuquerque curse of being invisible from the street. Gregorio’s, which isn’t pretty good, doesn’t have a prayer.
    The friendly young waitress took my wine order. When it came lukewarm I asked her to let the person who poured it know that room temperature for red wines does not mean whatever temperature the storage room is but the temperature of a wine cellar. Only two places in New Mexico have ever done this for me, the short lived gastropub in Corrales and the Korean Barbeque House at at least 90-degrees (that doesn’t count because Koreans in their natural environment don’t know what wine it anyway). She smiled and walked away but never approached the bar. The Caesar salad was fairly good but I mentioned to the smiling waitress that the croutons were old and stale. She replied that she liked them because they were baked and crunchy. That was probably true when they were made but no longer the case. Sometimes even a fat, ugly old customer might know what he is talking about and that should pass through a waitress’ mind. By the time I got my main dish which she had recommended, come sort of lemony shrimp and pasta I had given up hope. It was at the lower end of mediocre.
    The Child Bide shocked me by ordering a steak and potato dish whose name I can’t remember. In my memory she had never ordered any type of steak in her life. She liked it.
    I know the place if new and still has bugs to work out but someone else should give it a chance but they have far more than three strikes working against them.

  14. There seems to be those who like Albuquerque Italian and those who, well for the most part don’t. I you like ABQ Italian you will like Gregorios. If you find yourself without Italian in ABQ this one wont change your mind and may even cement your feelings.

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