If we really are what we eat, I’m fast, cheap and easy.
Fast, cheap and easy. That would certainly describe the stereotypical college diet, especially for freshmen. On their own for the first time, freshmen eat what they want when they want it. They load up their trays with junk food in heaping helpings so mountainous it would make Dagwood Bumstead envious. They fuel marathon study sessions with sugary snacks. Exercise consists of sixteen-ounce curls, clicking the remote and fork lifts. It’s no wonder the “freshman fifteen” myth–the belief that many college students pack on 15 pounds during their first year at school–exists.
A study out of Oregon State University concluded that college students are not eating enough fruits, vegetables and fiber in their diets (not even close) and that both male and female students derived more than 30 percent of their calories from fatty foods. Not since an internet security company revealed that the most common computer password is “123456” has such an obvious nugget been divulged. Anyone who’s attended college knows that students pretty much survive on anything they can get their hands on. It’s also much easier to drive through the nearest grab and gobble emporium than it is to walk into a store and purchase fruit.
Now, if there’s at least a smidgen of truth in some stereotypes, you can take this one to the bank: the five food groups that form the building blocks for that stereotypical college diet are pizza, burgers, French fries, sandwiches and beer. Statistics—and I’ll provide only one–will bear this out. According to PMQ Pizza Magazine, the top-rated pizza trade publication, 25 percent of all college students order pizza three or four times per month while 17.5 percent order it five times or more. That’s a lot of pie!
Similar to many, if not most, institutions of higher learning, the University of New Mexico (UNM) area is practically glutted with providers of the aforementioned five food groups. UNM’s Anderson School of Business might attribute that to savvy businesses being in close proximity to where their target demographic lives. Within blocks of UNM, you’ll find dozens of inexpensive eateries including at least a half dozen independent and corporate purveyors of pizza. Many of them stock beer, the adult beverage of choice for students (some of whom would make beer the school mascot if they could).
It’s easy to understand the concept of captive markets (and students, many of whom don’t have vehicles, are precisely that), but what accounts for the fact that UNM area restaurants are heavily trafficked by an older, more affluent demographic decidedly not of the student persuasion? Could it be we’re all trying to relive our collegiate experience? Do we like communing with younger, cooler crowds? Is it possible that restaurants in the UNM area are really that good? For me, it’s all about the latter. The UNM area has some very good restaurants providing outstanding value for the dollar. Moreover, they don’t all fall under the five food group categorization.
The Brick Light District, a long-established area boasting of both residential and commercial development and a very hip Bohemian vibe is a hub for several popular eateries. Directly across the street from UNM on Harvard between Central and Silver, the area is named for the street’s brick sidewalks and a pedestrian-friendly, relaxed pace exemplified by its logo, a turn-of-the-century (20th) cyclist leaning on his bike. It’s the quintessential college area for hanging out.
In January, 2011, restaurant impresario Peter Gianopoulos launched a fast casual Italian restaurant in the District offering three (four if you count the occasional burger special) of the five collegiate food groups: pizza, sandwiches and beer. Fittingly its name is the Bricklight Dive. The “Dive” part is figurative because this quaint eatery hardly qualifies as either disreputable or run-down. If anything, this 1,200 square-foot Dive shouts fun, especially when the city’s ubiquitous winds allow use of the expansive outdoor patio.
Painted in “tagger” style directly over the exit to the porch are the words “manzetta” and “porchetta,” two of the restaurant’s sandwich options. The menu (even the one on the Web site) resembles the black-and-white composition notebooks college students of last century used. Flat screen televisions flank the slate board menu on which featured fare is scrawled in multi-hued chalk. On the day of our inaugural visit, two notices were inscribed on the community board: “ Chicken, pot, pie…my three favorite things” and “Ass, grass or cash. No one dines for free.” Anywhere else, these aphorisms would constitute workplace harassment; in a college dive, it’s all good fun.
The menu has a distinctive approach to calling attention to its priced-right-for-students structure. At the top of the page listing salad and pizzetta (a small pizza) options is the hand-scrawled note “Eat for $7.25” with the price crossed out, supplanted directly below with the even more reasonable $6.00. On the next page, porchettas, bruschetta, manzettas and panino started off at $6.25 but are marked down to $5.00. This discounted price approach works for used car sales and it works in college area restaurants. When school is in session, throngs of diners converge on the restaurant. It’s not quite as hectic on slow, sleepy Sunday mornings when students are in…church (?).
22 April 2012: Our inaugural visit to the Dive was prompted by the promise of “amazing Chicago style Italian beef.” It’s a promise we’ve heard before, but rarely outside of Chicago is it delivered upon. In the Windy City, Italian beef is practically a religion, albeit one in which the faithful worship at high counters on which we prop our elbows, careful to avoid excessive spillage of shards of beef, bits of giardiniera and drippings of spice-laden beef gravy on our attire. The menu describes the “La Bella” as “tender Italian beef, giardiniera, garden herbs, fresh Italian baguette.” By Chicago standards, it’s a middling quality Italian beef. The beef isn’t cut nearly as thinly as true Italian beef and it isn’t nearly as “moist” even though dipping it into an “au jus” made it moreso. The giardiniera is crisp and has a briny quality, but it’s chopped a tad too big to be sandwich friendly. This sandwich comes with your choice of housemade pita chips or a Caesar salad, both of which are quite good. Frankly, for the price, you’d have to say the Italian beef sandwich is quite good, too.
In other restaurants purporting to serve pizzetta, the resultant pie resembles something prepared in an Easy Bake oven (a functional toy oven popular in the late middle 20th century). Typically its crust is dry and brittle, ingredients are desiccated and burnt and sauce is indiscernible. At the Bricklight Dive, the pizzetta is an individual-sized Neapolitan-style, thin-crust pizza made on white or wheat crust and topped with natural ingredients. It’s also better than many more highly regarded pizzas in town (and it’s not the college student in me talking here).
22 April 2012: The Prima is constructed with natural pepperoni, fire-roasted Hatch green chile, slow-cooked tomato sauce and mozzarella (on top of which I requested goat cheese). More oblong than it is round, the pizzetta is indeed thin-crusted, but formidable enough to support the high-quality ingredients generously heaped upon it. The green chile has more piquancy than at some New Mexican restaurants. With a crust that’s both crispy and soft and ingredients that are of surprising quality considering the price, this pizzetta will not only fill you up. It’ll please your palate.
22 April 2012: The Pizzetta Bianca (mozzarella, spinach, prosciutto and garlic on an artisanal white crust) may be even better courtesy of the interplay of ingredients with salty (prosciutto), creamy and pungent (mozzarella), lightly astringent (spinach and garlic) qualities. Thin doesn’t mean you won’t have left-over pizzetta to take home, and if you do, you’ll find the pizzetta is almost as good cold as it is out of the oven. Over the years diners have discovered that tomato sauce isn’t requisite in order for a pizza to be delicious. This is a cheap-eats example of a pizza sans tomato sauce that works very well.
7 August 2016: It’s easy to walk into the Bricklight Dive and focus solely on the menu you’re handed, but you owe it to yourself to study the specials of the day. That’s where we found the Italian Lover’s Pizzetta (basil pesto, artichoke, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, goat cheese and candied walnuts). More than any of the ingredients on their own, what we loved was the interplay of specific ingredients. Candied walnuts and goat cheese, ingredients more often found on salads, make for nice pizza toppings, especially the candied walnuts which bring a sweet-savory dimension to a mostly savory pie. Artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes, two other salad standards, also form a good flavor counterbalance. All in all, many Italians will indeed love this pizzetta.
7 August 2016: As a canvas for ingredients, there may be nothing better than bread. On its own, bread is a favorite food for virtually every culture. When topped with other ingredients, it’s even better. The Bricklight Dive offers six different bruschetta options, toasted artisan garlic bread slices with inventive toppings. Select any combination of three from among six options. Our favorite, thanks to the interplay of flavor combinations that work well together is topped with Bartlett pear slices, goat cheese and candied walnuts. Again, these are ingredients often seen on salads. Another trio of toppings you’ll enjoy if herbaceous notes appeal to you is the bruschetta topped with Genoa salami, basil-walnut pesto and sliced tomatoes. Balsamic-marinated mushroom, roasted red bell pepper and havarti for another terrific topping combination.
7 August 2016: The menu features three porchetta (slow-cooked and hand-pulled, housemade Italian-herb rubbed pork) sandwiches served with a pickle spear and your choice of our pita chips, lemon-Caesar salad or Tuscan potato salad. About three dollars south of a ten-spot, the sandwich is crammed full of tender, herbaceous and sweet pork. The “Verde,” topped with Hatch green chile and creamy havarti is my Kim’s favorite. The havarti tempers the Hatch green chile’s piquancy, not something New Mexican fire-eaters will enjoy, but the most prominent flavor on this sumptuous sandwich is the Italian herbs with which the pork is rubbed. You wouldn’t kick any of the accompanying sides off the plate, but because you have a choice, opt for the lemon-Caesar salad, a surprisingly tasty choice.
Even if you can’t relive the good times of your college days, on occasion you should still eat like a college student. With restaurants such as the Brickyard Dive, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
115 Harvard SE, Suite 9
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 6 August 2016
1st VISIT: 22 April 2012
# of VISITS: 2
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pizzetta Bianco, Pizzetta Prima, La Bella (Italian Beef Sandwich), Pita Chips with Olive Tapenade, Caesar Salad