The vividly hued threads that comprise a beautiful community tapestry are its diverse and unique characters. Some are quirky and eccentric, some are brash and loud, others are indistinct and don’t stand out, but all are essential in weaving that beautiful community tapestry, that compendium of personalities that make up a whole. One of the most vivid threads in the rich and diverse tapestry that is the alpine community of Cedar Crest, New Mexico was prolific artist, carver and tinkerer Ross Ward.
Before settling in New Mexico, Ross was a show painter for carnivals, traversing the country for more than three decades. It was in Cedar Crest that Ross built Tinkertown, a folk art environment replete with an impressive array of miniatures and memorabilia of all kinds. Note: The next best thing to visiting Tinkertown is learning all about it on New Mexico True Television (Season 3, Episode 3). Tinkertown is his legacy, the manifestation of his belief in self-determination and freedom. Now a roadside attraction, it welcomes thousands of guests each year.
One of Ross Ward’s most well-known artistic endeavors hangs not on a wall of a prolific art collector’s mansion or within the well-trafficked confines of an art gallery, but on the humble wall of a simple dining room at Burger Boy, a popular little restaurant on North 14 in Cedar Crest. Hanging on that wall is a painting of a grizzled and cherubic prospector seeking his fortune on the autumnal golden hued Turquoise Trail. Scrawled on the prospector’s covered wagon are the words “Burger Boy” while the canteen on the provision-laden pack mule reads “Green Chili Bill – Best Burgers on the Turquoise Trail.”
From the south parking lot, you’ll espy another mural. This one is painted on Burger Boy’s exterior brick wall and it depicts a small village in the style of old western towns. One edifice is called “Green Chili Bill’s Chili Barn” and its next door neighbor is Burger Boy where an anthropomorphic burger peers out the door. Green Chili Bill’s cherubic countenance appears on the bottom right corner of the mural.
Green Chili Bill would be Bill Cushing, who along with his wife Kathy purchased Burger Boy, a converted Tastee Freez franchise in 1983. Like Ross Ward, Bill Cushing was one of the vibrant threads that have made Cedar Crest a colorful and vivacious tapestry of intricately woven characters and personalities. In 2001, he joined his friend Ross in enriching a more celestial tapestry.
Bill Cushing was renown for his positive outlook and gift for quickly turning strangers into friends. When I asked his lovely bride Kathy about the kindly looking gentleman on the painting, she told me that she and Bill opened the restaurant so they could spend more time together. She had been working as a nurse and he as a contractor at the time. They were very happy together and developed quite a loyal following for their restaurant venture.
Today Kathy operates the restaurant with her daughter Barbara Johnstadt (also a trained nurse), who tragically lost her husband a year after her mother was widowed. Though slowed a bit by the ravages of time, Kathy remains the genial and energetic hostess she’s always been. When she’s not on the register, she’s delivering radiant smiles and trays of deliciousness to her eager guests. On Sundays you might also find Kathy’s sons helping out in the kitchen. It’s obvious from the friendly, familial banter between them that the family which cooks together stays together.
While some restaurants festoon their walls with framed photographs of all the celebrities who have dined there, two corner walls at Burger Boy are dedicated to family and to some of the clerics with whom the family has grown close, including retired Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Kathy calls this her “Wall of Faith.”
To say Burger Boy is a small restaurant is an understatement. At best, it may seat twenty patrons comfortably. Where it lacks in size, it makes up in large flavors. The menu includes sandwiches, burgers and New Mexican food, all very popular, but it also includes more healthful low-carb menu items and not just salads. Other carb-smart offerings include burritos crafted with low-carb tortillas. Because of its size, Burger Boy’s take-out business is quite robust. Some locals take their Burger Boy bounty to nearby picnic areas where they dine among tall, cool pines.
Perhaps the most popular item on the menu are Burger Boy’s green chile cheeseburgers which savvy citizens drive for miles to eat. These are some of the best in the Land of Enchantment, ergo the universe. It’s so good it made the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in 2009, one of 48 select burgers on that list.
6 September 2015: Unlike the uniform in size and sawdust in texture hockey pucks lamp-heated into desiccation by the fast-food franchises, Burger Boy’s burgers are absolutely fresh and delicious. The patties are thick and juicy, grilled to just a whisper above medium. The patties are hand-formed from beef ground daily. Your best bet is a double-meal burger with all the fixings as all the flavors and condiments achieve such a happy harmony. The Hatch green chile is of mild piquancy, but makes up for lack of bite with a nice roasted flavor. Molten melted cheese drapes over the meat which extends beyond the boundaries of its sesame seed bun host.
Adventurous burgerphiles can also have ostrich burgers and buffalo burgers. No matter what you order, make sure you wash it down with with a Burger Boy milk shake. These are thick, rich and brain-freeze cold shakes, as good as any shakes in the Duke City area. They’re the cure-all for hot summer days in the east side of the Sandias.
3 October 2010: Citizens on the morning side of the mountain which is Cedar Crest like to start the morning off with breakfast at Burger Boy, a meal so filling you might not need another the rest of the day. That’s especially true if you order the Paul Bunyan breakfast, a mammoth plate that can easily sate two hardy eaters. The Paul Bunyan includes four fluffy pancakes, two slices of toast, two slices of bacon, a disk of pork sausage and three eggs prepared any way you want.
The pancakes are golden (ginger-blonde might be a more apt description) hued orbs nearly the circumference of the plate. They’re thick, fluffy and absolutely delicious. Ask the staff to heat the syrup to maximize their deliciousness. They’re easily big enough to share (not that you’d want to) and so good you might want to order a short stack for later on.
6 September 2015: New Mexican food favorites available for breakfast are huevos rancheros, a breakfast burrito and a breakfast quesadilla. The lunch and dinner menu lists everything from taco plates and Frito pies to a combination plate. Posole is an any time of year favorite that Burger Boy does exceptionally well. A bowlful showcases perfectly puffed kernels of corn served in a red chile with pork blanketed by melted Cheddar cheese. You’ll enjoy spooning it onto the tortilla with which the posole is served.
6 September 2015: While a green chile cheeseburger is a no-brainer for me, my Kim prefers the patty melt which some liken to “not quite a burger” but “more than a sandwich.” At its most elemental form, it’s simply a beef patty, Swiss cheese, and caramelized onions on griddle-toasted rye bread. That’s it. No mustard, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes. The canvas for Burger Boy’s version is a marble rye with the same type of hand-formed beef patty used on burgers. My Kim’s assessment is that it can use even more caramelized onions, but she still enjoyed it.
In the rich tapestry that is the community of humankind, some of its threads stand out for their character and vitality. So too it is with green chile cheeseburgers and the restaurants which serve them. One of those which truly stands out is the Burger Boy restaurant in Cedar Crest, New Mexico.
12035 NM-14 N
Cedar Crest, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2015
# OF VISITS: 6
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Breakfast Burrito, Chocolate Shake, Paul Bunyan Breakfast, Posole, Patty Melt,