2013: A Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food
Tis the season…for year-end retrospectives in which the good, the bad and the ugly; the triumphs and tragedies; the highs and lows and the ups and downs are revisited ad-infinitum by seemingly every print and cyberspace medium in existence. It’s the time of year in which the “in-your-face” media practically forces a reminiscence–either fondly or with disgust–about the year that was. It’s a time for introspection, resolutions and for looking forward with hope to the year to come. The New Mexico culinary landscape had more highs than it did lows in 2013. Here’s my thrilling (and filling) recap.
New Mexico restaurants began garnering recognition early in January when Food & Wine compiled a list of the nation’s “best taco spots.” Tacos are apparently following the trend established by burgers then followed by pizza in which chefs are diligently trying to perfect the classics while creating avant-garde versions (kimchee and bulgogi tacos anyone?) that redefine the entree itself. The only New Mexico taco spot recognized was Mary & Tito’s for which Food & Wine acknowledged the “famed secret weapon of this mother-daughter-run operation is its fiery red chile sauce–killer with succulent braised pork in the New Mexico classic carne adovada, or drizzled over beef tacos in crispy corn tortilla shells.“
Andrea Clover, perhaps the most accomplished pastry chef in Santa Fe, added yet another accolade to her brimming trophy case when she was selected to compete on the Food Network’s Sugar Dome, battling for the $15,000 prize. The show’s premiere episode on January 20th introduced America to Santa Fe’s luminary pastry chef. Andrea was not only the star of the first episode, her team won the entire competition and the grand prize. Her award-winning design was a circus scene incorporating such familiar New Mexican elements as red chile creme, orange tequila raspberry couli and red chile cashew brittle.
Each January, AAA announces restaurants that received the Four Diamond or Five Diamond Rating during their latest evaluation. Restaurants at these rating levels offer an extensive array of amenities and a high degree of hospitality, service and attention to detail. Among the 29,000 AAA Approved and Diamond Rated restaurants for 2013, just 2.6 percent received the AAA Four Diamond Rating. Three Santa Fe restaurants–Fuego, Geronimo and Terra at Encanto–were among named to the very exclusive list.
On January 26th, the Roadrunner Food Bank celebrated the 20th anniversary of its largest annual fund-raising activity, the Souper Bowl. More than 1,200 guests visited the Roadrunner Food Bank to luxuriate in the very best soups and desserts in the Duke City as prepared by nearly 50 restaurants. In addition to sampling soups and desserts, attendees got to vote for their favorite soup, vegetarian soup and dessert.
People’s Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place (Souper Bowl Champion) – Bien Shur for their White Chocolate Bisque
2nd Place – Flamez Burger and More for their Green Chili Cheeseburger soup
3rd Place – Kelly’s for their Creamy Green Chili Chicken soup
Critics’ Choice Winners
1st Place – Bocadillo’s for their Southwest Chicken Corn Chowder
2nd Place – StreetFood Market for their Chicken Kai Soi Green Curry Soup
3rd Place – Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town for their Beer and Cheddar Soup
People Choice Winners – Vegetarian Soup
1st Place – Old Town Pizza Parlor
2nd Place – Forque Kitchen and Bar at the Hyatt
3rd Place – Mon Amis Personal Chefs
People Choice Winners – Desserts
1st Place – The Chocolate Art Gallery
2nd Place -Theobroma
3rd Place – Nothing Bundt Cakes
People Choice Winner – Best Booth
Gecko’s Bar and Tapas
It’s not only Santa Fe and Taos who get all the love in New Mexico. George Hobica, a syndicated travel journalist published an article on the Huffington Post declaring “it’s time to revisit under-appreciated Albuquerque.” The Duke City’s “EDo,” or the East Downtown neighborhood was cited as a catalyst in the city’s “surprisingly cool factor” with restaurants such as The Grove, Gold Street Cafe and Lucia garnering a mention. Hobica pronounced New Mexican cuisine as unlike other food–it’s better. Where best to try it? Getting a shout-out in the article were Mary & Tito‘s, Cervantes, El Modelo and our ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger–all reasons residents of New Mexico’s largest city certainly don’t under-appreciate the Duke City.
The “Great Escapes” feature on the February issue of Phoenix Magazine showcased Santa Fe, which was described as a “triptych of artisan adventures” in offering a “gamut of galleries, gorgeous venues and gastronomic delights.” While the article was very complimentary toward the City Different, it did get one fact wrong in declaring New Mexico cuisine is “primarily distinguished from Mexican cuisine by an added emphasis on chile sauce and cheese.” Sauce? Cheese? Among the restaurants showcased in the feature were Il Piatto Italian Farmhouse Kitchen, Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen and Luminaria. Also recommended highly were the Santa Fe School of Cooking and the New Mexico Farmers’ Markets.
Los Angeles Times writer Kayleigh Kulp, a self-admitted chocoholic admitted in a February article on the newspaper’s Travel section that until a visit to Santa Fe, she’d never had “the good stuff.” The good stuff is a four-ounce ceramic mug of Mayan Full Spice hot chocolate from the City Different’s Kakawa Chocolate House, a blend of 100% cacao and a proprietary blend of herbs, spices, flowers, nuts and chiles. Is it any wonder the pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican elite as early as 4,000 years ago called the ancient chocolate elixirs the “food of the gods.”
In sharing some eighteen recipes in which green chile is a featured ingredient, the Huffington Post warned “once you start adding green chile to everything, it’s really hard to stop.” That’s no secret to New Mexicans who use green chile on everything, including such desserts as apple pie. None of the recipes would come as a surprise to locals though most of us would eschew “white turkey chili” solely on the basis of the spelling “chili.” For New Mexicans “chili” is an aberration from Texas.
On February 19th, the James Beard Foundation announced semi-finalists for its 2013 awards and New Mexico was very well represented. Albuquerque’s Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila was one of 29 restaurant throughout the fruited plain named as semi-finalist for “best new restaurant.” Restaurant impresario Mark Kiffin’s other restaurant, The Compound in Santa Fe was semi-finalist for “outstanding service.” Three of New Mexico’s most acclaimed chefs were semi-finalists for “Best Chef: Southwest”: James Campbell Caruso of Santa Fe’s La Boca; Jennifer James of her eponymous Jennifer James 101 restaurant in Albuquerque; and Martin Rios of Restaurant Martín in Santa Fe. A James Beard award is the culinary world’s equivalent of the Academy Award.
The United States of Caffeine. That’s the clever title of a March feature on the Zagat blog article which celebrated “50 States, 50 Must Try Coffee Shops.” The article’s cross country tour across the fruited plain included a stop at Santa Fe’s Downtown Subscription, a coffee shop which doubles as an international newsstand. The writer praised the coffee shop for serving “all sorts of hot and cold drinks, including lattes with foam art and Mexican hot chocolate” all available for sipping as you read.
October may be National Doughnut Month, but the magazine Everyday with Rachael Ray celebrated a “hole lotta love!” in March with a pictorial of some of America’s most “fancified and accessorized” donuts. Included in the almost good enough to eat photo shoot was a Samoa donut (toasted coconut, caramel and chocolate) from Duke City Donuts. Not to be outdone, Albuquerque’s Rebel Donuts garnered significant publicity of its own when it began offering the “Breaking Bad” donut, a donut topped with candy resembling the show’s blue sky meth.
On the March 21st edition of the NBC Nightly News, a segment called “Dream Come True’ celebrated the efforts of Tim Harris, owner of Tim’s Place and the man in charge of hugs. Tim’s Place is known as the world’s friendliest restaurant largely because Tim has given out more than 32,000 hugs. Tim Hugs are calorie free, guilt free treats guaranteed to improve your lease on life. You can’t help but love Tim.
In March, Albuquerque’s Loving Vegan restaurant was selected as “the top restaurant in America for vegan sushi” by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) organization. Loving Vegan, which opened in 2012, is owned by Kathy Punya who also owns the four Sushi King restaurants in the metropolitan area. PETA noted that “Loving Vegan earned our top prize because it truly proves that any food can be made deliciously and healthfully without animal products.”
In March, Cheryl Alters Jamison’s column Tasting New Mexico in New Mexico Magazine was nominated for a MAGGIE award from the Western Publishers’ Association. The MAGGIE awards honor publishing efforts west of the Mississippi River in three main categories: Print Publications; Web Publications and E-newsletters; and Digital Publications. Five months later, Cheryl was selected “Best Food Writer” along with Johnny Vee and Deborah Madison in Edible‘s Local Hero Awards for 2013.
Rebel Donut was also selected to compete on a new Food Network show called “Donut Showdown” which premiered April 2nd on the Food Network in Canada. The show debuted in the United States on Wednesday, July 3rd on the Cooking Channel. Carrie competed with two other donut-makers for a $10,000 prize.
In April, the National Restaurant Association’s ‘Cornerstone Humanitarian of the Year Award’ was presented to the first ever recipient from New Mexico. Steve Paternoster, the owner of Scalo and one of the most altruistic people in New Mexico, has been extremely active in efforts to prevent teen drug abuse, founding Youth Matters, a nonprofit agency designed to support kids in the youth court program. Under his direction, Scalo has hosted a number of fund-raising dinners for a wide range of causes.
Livability, an online magazine dedicated to America’s Best Places to Live & Visit, ranked Santa Fe eighth from among its top ten foodie cities for 2013. Livability noted that “Innovative Southwestern cooking reigns in Santa Fe, NM, where the chile pepper plays a starring role in many recipes.” Among the foodie favorites celebrated were La Boca, Restaurant Martin and The Compound Restaurant.
After a hiatus of nearly eighteen months, Albuquerque’s most charismatic foodie, Ryan Scott returned to showcase the Duke City’s independent restaurant scene in his inimitable style, this time with a new media format. On Friday, April 5th, 2013, Ryan launched the Break the Chain channel on YouTube. Ryan visited The Standard Diner in his inaugural show followed by Torinos @ Home and Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine.
By some estimates there are between 30,000 and 35,000 Mexican restaurants in the United States and New Mexico has two of the 32 best. That’s according to Travel & Leisure which published its elite list in April. Alas, one of the two is not a Mexican restaurant but a New Mexican restaurant (though perhaps only New Mexicans know the difference). That restaurant is The Shed, a Santa Fe institution since 1953 and purveyor of some of the best red chile in the universe. The second restaurant from the Land of Enchantment to make the list of America’s best Mexican restaurants is even more venerable. El Modelo has been serving the Duke City since 1929.
In April, Bon Appétit recognized The Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque as the “sixth-best hotel for food lovers” in the United States. According to the magazine “the list (ten hotels from among forty nominated) is a celebration of the people who achieve an incredible combination of great accommodations and not just good hotel food — but downright delectable dishes.” Cheryl Jamison, New Mexico’s four-time James Beard award-winning author applauded the selection, telling readers of her Tasting New Mexico blog that “the restaurant’s breakfast red chile can compete with the likes of Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque and The Shed in Santa Fe.” That’s rarefied company indeed!
Anthony Bourdain, the mega-watt television personality apparently believes America can’t get enough of him. Not only is he a ubiquitous presence on television and a best-selling author, now he’s taking his routine on the road. On April 17th, Bourdain brought his “Guts and Glory” tour to Albuquerque’s Kiva Auditorium, regaling the audience with anecdotes about his multifarious career.
The season premier of Globe Trekker Around The World kicked off its 2013 season in April with a trip west Across America: Route 66 and Beyond. In her sole New Mexico stop, hostess Holly Morris visited Albuquerque’s El Pinto where she sampled the restaurant’s award winning limited edition Scorpion Salsa, brewed with the New Mexico Scorpion super hot chile pepper, grown in southern New Mexico, which tests consistently at over one million Scoville units.
Emmy award-winning freelance filmmaker George Motz has earned fame and (ostensibly) fortune largely through his passion for hamburgers. He parlayed that passion to earn a hosting gig for the Travel Channel series, Burger Land which celebrates burgers and their stories across the fruited plain. In April, Motz visited four of the Land of Enchantment’s very best purveyors of green chile cheeseburgers: the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, Santa Fe’s Bobcat Bite and The Pantry as well as Bode’s Mercantile in Abiquiu. The program aired on May 13th.
The cast and crew of This Old House, a Boston-based home-improvement and remodeling television show spent two days at Mary & Tito’s in April, 2013. While filming a segment in Hatch, purveyors of New Mexico’s best chile told the crew that the very best example of chile is served at Mary & Tito’s. The cast and crew proceeded to enjoy every item on the menu. More converts!
Only one restaurant in New Mexico made it to Urbanspoon‘s annual list of “Most Popular Breakfast Spots” released in May, 2013. Fittingly, that one restaurant is the magnificent Sophia’s Place in Albuquerque. The list features 101 restaurants across the fruited plain. Their inclusion is based on a ranking system based on the number of positive reviews received from critics, bloggers and diners.
The food world was abuzz in May with the announcement that the world-famous Bobcat Bite as we all know and love it will be forever changed. An official statement from Bobcat Bite, issued on May 9th, announced the restaurant renowned for its outstanding green chile cheeseburger would shutter its doors in June. The press release read: After 12 years, Bonnie and John Eckre served their last famous Bobcat Bite burger at the Old Las Vegas Highway location on June 9. They vacated the premises June 14th at the demand of the building’s owners, the Panzer family.” The circumstances behind their departure illustrate the tenuous landlord-client relationship which often places restaurateurs in uncomfortable (to say the least) situations. In August, the Bobcat Bite was reborn in a new location as the Santa Fe Bite…and there was much rejoicing.
On May 23rd, TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, announced its third annual Certificate of Excellence award recipients. The award is given only to establishments that consistently achieve outstanding traveler reviews on TripAdvisor. Winners of the Certificate of Excellence are located all over the world and represent the upper echelon of businesses listed on the website, with only the top 10 percent receiving the prestigious award. New Mexico winners included Torinos @ Home and Joe’s Pasta House. Joe’s was selected Albuquerque’s best Italian restaurant by Albuquerque The Magazine readers.
Nature lovers who crave both the joys of the great outdoors and the amenities of urban America learned in May that TravelNerd named Albuquerque its number one travel destination. TravelNerd noted that the city has one of the highest percentages of parkland of any metropolitan area in the country with nearly thirty-percent being allocated to parks and green space. The Duke City’s food scene didn’t go unnoticed by TravelNerd which cited both the Frontier Restaurant and the culinary adventure that is Summerfest.
On the Friday before Cinco de Mayo, USA Today published an article celebrating Ten Great Mexican Restaurants Across the United States. Written by Albuquerque’s Jane Butel, the article listed only one Mexican restaurant, but it’s one which has been preparing Mexican food as well as it can be prepared since 1939. The lone honoree was La Posta in Mesilla, one of New Mexico’s most honored restaurants.
“A Ghost Town, Dressed in Vinegar” That’s how the Wall Street Journal titled a June 6th feature article about Steve and Jane Darland, an enterprising couple who produce an award-winning aged balsamic vinegar in the restored ghost town of Monticello. Rarely has my palate been as rapt as in partaking of Aceto Balsamico, the premium, traditional 12-year-old, cask-aged balsamic vinegar made by the Darlands. The best Balsamic vinegar I’ve ever had provided one of life’s defining dining moment, a sense that I touched touched gastronomic perfection. On my restaurant rating scale of 1-30, it would warrant a 30.
Writers for the Leisure section of foxnews.com believe we love ice cream so much because “nothing captures pure joy and innocence like an ice cream cone dripping down your arm. Ice cream isn’t strictly an American indulgence; children of all ages throughout the world enjoy ice cream. New Mexicans are especially blessed to have within our borders, one of the “ten best ice cream parlors worldwide.” That would be Taos Cow ice cream which specializes in all-natural, rGBH-free ice cream. Fox News’ Leisure folks believe Taos Cow offers “an authentic taste of the Land of Enchantment.”
In June Cakespy.com, a “Dessert Detective Agency dedicated to seeking sweetness (literally) in everyday life” discovered a delicious dessert on which New Mexicans have indulged for years: the Mexican Wedding Cake at Mary & Tito’s Cafe in Albuquerque. Author and illustrator Jessie Oleson Moore described the cake as “a nice, dense, sort of Hummingbird-esque cake, but without the banana. It is dense with spices, fruit, and buttery cakey goodness. When I say dense, I mean it. It’s almost gooey, like the texture of a baked pudding. Upon reflection, it’s like having a glimpse at the evolution between fruit cake and fluffy layer cakes, with delicious results. And the frosting, oh, the frosting. It’s somehow light, almost with the texture of whipped cream, but rich in cream cheese flavor. It’s applied thickly, and you’ll be so glad it is.” A slice or three is in order.
Some psychologists credit the dissolution of the family unit as the reason behind America’s social ills. It’s also thought that families which dine together, stay together. In June, Urbanspoon put together its list of the most popular family-friendly restaurants in America and two Albuquerque eateries were on the list. Apparently Duke City families enjoy going out for non-American food because the two honorees were Anatolia Doner Kebab and Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining, both outstanding choices.
Not only do I write about food, I spend a significant part of my leisure time reading about it. In June, Hannah Wallraven and Edward Sung, two intimidatingly intelligent gentlefolk who I finally had the privilege of meeting, published the most entertaining “food” review I read all year…and it wasn’t published on We Have Eaten Well, their outstanding blog, but on their very entertaining and informative podcast, The Salad Days. On a “hyperthetical Friday” episode on June 14th, Hannah and Edward discussed “food” in a most unique and humorous manner. The Salad Days is an addiction!
The Daily Meal endeavored in June to locate the 40 best burgers in America. The list was replete with the “usual suspects,” burgers which have earned acclaimed from various media. There’s a reason so many “best burger” lists consistently name the same burgers. That’s because they’re truly the best–and not only in the eyes of the cognoscenti. The only New Mexico burger on the list is the Bobcat Bite which the Daily Meal acknowledged “it’s clear that the restaurant’s ginormous house-ground, boneless chuck, 10-ounce burgers cooked to temperature preference and blanketed with green chiles under white American cheese on huge, ciabatta-like buns deserve a shout-out as one of the nation’s best burgers.”
It’s only fitting with the advent of summer that burgers be in fashion during the month of June. Thrillist.com, a fun site focusing on must-have recommendations–from the best of what’s new, to deeply under-the-radar goodness–put together their own list of America’s best burgers, 33 of them. “Like the melting pot that is our nation, all of them are different — some are char-grilled, or griddled, or even smoked.” The only burger in the Land of Enchantment to make this list was the Buckhorn Tavern‘s in San Antonio. Writers asked “If you’re near San Antonio, um, New Mexico and you don’t stop at the Buckhorn and get one of their famous green chile cheeseburgers that they’ve been slinging since 1944, well, let me ask you a question: what in the hell are you doing in San Antonio, New Mexico, then?!?
When we lived in England back in the dark ages, the perception our English friends seemed to have of the American southwest was that the west was really wild as in shoot-em-up, Indian massacres, stampedes and outlaws wild. Fast forward a couple decades plus and the Guardian, one of the largest daily British newspapers, showed surprising curiosity about the American southwest, publishing an article showcasing the top ten restaurants and cafes in Albuquerque. The article, written by author Andrea Feucht listed such standards as Mary & Tito’s, Jennifer James 101, Sophia’s Place and Torinos @ Home, but it also included some surprises such as Michael Thomas Coffee and the 66 Pit Stop, home of the Laguna Burger.
In a series entitled “America Uncovered Road Trips USA: Texas and New Mexico, the Guardian also published the top ten restaurants and cafes in Santa Fe. The article was written by Becca Blond, a freelance travel writer and journalist living in Boulder, Colorado. Becca’s list, a compilation of mostly surprises, included El Molero, a fajita truck on the Plaza; Tomasita’s; Cowgirls BBQ; Gabriel’s and The Shed. The list would likely have been somewhat different had it been put together by a Santa Fe resident such as Cheryl Alters Jamison.
For everyone in England inspired to catch the next flight to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, The Guardian also published a list of the best blogs for travelers in Texas and New Mexico. The four New Mexico blogs included Santa Fe Travelers, a delightful, very well written blog by travel experts Billy Frank and Steve Collins. Also among the four New Mexico blogs featured was Gil’s Thrilling and Filling Blog, about whom the article said: “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite” – it’s not a tagline designed to trip off the tongue or instantly draw you in but the site’s secondary selling point speaks for itself: “747 restaurant reviews and more than 4,000 visitor comments.”
The July-August edition of Food Network Magazine showcased “50 States, 50 Ice cream Treats,” the “most delicious frozen desserts in America: one in every state (and D.C., too). The New Mexico ice cream treat featured was not Taos Cow, but the sopaipilla sundae at El Milagro in Santa Fe. What makes this ice cream so good? According to the Food Network, “the best part is on the inside: vanilla ice cream that melts and oozes out.”
Babs Chernetz, a culinary bon vivant who travels the world in search of tasty food visited the Land of Enchantment and documented her eating adventures in Redbook Magazine‘s July issue. During her stay in the Duke City, Babs sampled, among other delicious delights, the Blue Sky Breaking Bad donut at Rebel Donuts, a green chile cheeseburger at Casa Benavidez, a ribeye steak topped with a chervil butter at Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse. In Santa Fe, she enjoyed the triumvirate of enchiladas, carne adobado (SIC), and tamales at Cafe Pasqual’s. Her visit was a scrumptious success.
Tim Harris, a popular Duke City restaurateur, is no stranger to the spotlight. In July, the 27-year-old was featured in CNN’s Human Factor segment which profiles survivors who have overcome the odds by confronting a life obstacle–injury, illness or some other hardship–by tapping their inner strength and finding resilience they didn’t know they possessed. In Tim’s case, the “hardship” was Downs Syndrome. It didn’t deter the determined young man who owns and operates his own restaurant, Tim’s Place, the world’s friendliest restaurant. Tim’s Place has become famous for serving up breakfast, lunch and hugs (more than 40,000 of them).
On July 24th, the Travel Channel aired “Mexican Food Paradise,” a celebration of some of America’s best Mexican food restaurants. Only one restaurant from the Land of Enchantment was featured on the program. Alas, it wasn’t a Mexican restaurant, but a New Mexican restaurant, a distinction apparently lost on the Travel Channel (perhaps they don’t even realize New Mexico is even a state). The restaurant showcased was Santa Fe’s Tomasita’s, a City Different institution which warns out-of-town-guests that “the chile is hot.”
On Saturday, July 20th, 2013, Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque hosted its twelfth annual Breakfast Egg Stravaganza. The breakfast was an all-you-can-eat plethora of deliciousness that included freshly made pancakes, build-your-own omelets, made to order waffles, a fresh fruit bar and much more. In addition to the breakfast buffet, the event included a kid’s zone with a bouncy house, face painters, a silent auction and much more. The Breakfast Eggs Stravaganza is great fun for not a lot of money and it supports a good cause. Every penny of the proceeds goes to help our Low Income Medical Meal Program which provides a daily meal for those who need a medically specified diet but are unable to afford it for themselves – the only program of its kind in Albuquerque.
In July, readers of USA Today and 10 Best selected Albuquerque’s green chile sauce as the very best of the best from among ten iconic American foods. Our green chile bested such iconic regional foods as Florida’s key lime pie, Chicago’s Italian beef sandwiches, Philadelphia’s Philly cheesesteak and even crabs from Maryland. While the article announcing green chile’s supremacy accurately assessed that green chile is “scientifically addictive, thanks to the capsaicin present in the chiles,” true New Mexicans would never use “sauce” as a suffix for green chile.
On August 10th, New Mexico became far less enchanting when Dr. Jane McGoldrick passed away after waging a long and gallant war against cancer. An accomplished author and healer, Jane was an extraordinary person who touched many lives. She was married for 38 years to my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate. Larry chronicled their culinary adventures together in his outstanding blog. For Larry and Dr. Jane, every dinner outing was a “date night” together, always an assurance of great dining companionship and terrific conversation if not always great food. Dr. Jane is now partaking of a celestial banquet.
Some food writers, me included, seem to believe we need to use the term “land locked” when writing about seafood in New Mexico. In truth, fresh seafood is shipped to the Land of Enchantment’s restaurants daily and our chefs know what to do with it. In August, Eric Stumpf, chef de cuisine at the Corn Maiden Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa took second place in the “Great American Seafood Cook-Off.” Chef Stumpf incorporated elements from the Land of Enchantment in his dish, a sweet corn-crusted New Mexico brown trout and market vegetables with Hatch chile. Fifteen seafood chefs from such states as Louisiana, Alabama, Massachusetts and Alaska competed in the event.
In an August article which resonated very strongly with me, newscastic.com provided “ten reasons why Chipotle doesn’t really belong in New Mexico.” I especially appreciated the observation “So when Chipotle set up shop in the Land of Burritos, it left a lot of residents scratching their heads. What the hell does a multinational chain know about making burritos?” Here’s one cynic who won’t be trying Chipotle any time soon–or ever!
In August, The New Yorker showcased Walter White’s hometown of Albuquerque which has become a Mecca for Breaking Bad fans who descend on such local sites as The Candy Lady in Old Town where they pick up a dime bag or ten of blue rock candy which evokes Heisenberg’s meth formulation.
In the spirit of National Sandwich Month which occurs annually in August, the pioneering restaurant review site Zagat published a list of unique sandwiches in every state, ostensibly which “best embody the spirit of each community and its local cuisine.” The New Mexico sandwich representative, to absolutely no surprise, was the green chile cheeseburger. Zagat cited the Socorro Springs Brewing Company in Soccoro as an exemplar of the “smoky, meaty, fresh combination” of green chile, ground beef and cheese on a bun.
Not to be outdone by Food & Wine, The Daily Meal which purports to celebrate “all things food and drink” compiled its own list of the 35 best tacos in New Mexico. While only Mary & Tito’s Cafe made the Food & Wine list, a triumvirate of the Land of Enchantment’s terrific taco purveyors made The Daily Meal’s List in August. In addition to Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque, two Santa Fe New Mexican food standards–El Parasol and The Shed–made the list. Unfortunately, the article called El Parasol’s tacos “a crunchy, beefy, Tex-Mex classic.” A less geographically insulting assessment of Mary & Tito’s tacos almost redeemed The Daily Meal for its faux pas: “If a great taco requires perfection in all of its elements, then the carne adovada at Mary & Tito’s, heaped into a fresh corn tortilla, is undeniably world-class.” Tex-Mex wasn’t mentioned in the write-up of The Shed’s tacos: “One of the best applications of this spicy green sauce that you’ll find in the city is on the restaurant’s Taco Plate: two fresh blue corn tortillas with baked chicken topped with green chile, Cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce, and tomato.”
As does much of America, Zagat tuned in to Breaking Bad where in August, the restaurant review site noted that the guacamole at Garduño’s of Mexico made more than a cameo appearance. In one scene, four of the AMC hit drama’s characters were engaged in terse discourse all the while a waiter interrupted to talk up the restaurant’s guacamole. After the episode, guacamole orders increased dramatically as did visits from many of the show’s devotees.
On Thursday, August 29th, the Cooking Channel show aired an episode of Chuck’s Eat The Street shot on location in Santa Fe’s Water Street. During his visit, Chuck Hughes, a Canadian celebrity chef who once bested Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, cooked with Water Street chefs Eric DiStefano at Coyote Cafe, Katharine Kagel at Cafe Pasquals and Russell Thornton at Rooftop Pizza. Hughes also visited Santa Fe’s The Chile Shop where he expressed his preference for green chile. Santa Fe Travelers Billie Frank and Steve Collins published an outstanding interview with Hughes on their fabulous blog.
Although New Mexico’s state legislature has yet to make it official, it’s pretty well understood that the unofficial official burger of the great state of New Mexico is the ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger. On Saturday, September 7th, Santa Fe’s Farmers Market hosted Santa Fe’s inaugural Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown. Burger aficionados nominated and voted for their favorites online with the top six vote-getters going to the finalists. The six finalists were Terra Restaurant at the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado, Luminaria Restaurant and Patio, Bert’s Burger Bowl, Cowgirl BBQ, Agave Lounge at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa and Realburger. Judges favored the Realburger offering while the Cowgirl BBQ earned Peoples’ Choice honors.
Guy Fieri, one of the most popular Food Network celebrities, spent several days in Albuquerque and Santa Fe taping segments for his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program. Duke City restaurants graced by the presence of the spike coiffed one were Torinos @ Home, Bocadillos, Golden Crown Panaderia, The Cube and Nexus Brewery. In Santa Fe, Fieri visited Jambo Cafe, Casa Chimayo and the Back Street Bistro.
In September, Jessie Olesen, the delightful cake anthropologist who runs Cakespy wrote a guest piece for the award-winning blog Serious Eats: New York in which she introduced readers to six piñon sweets we love in Santa Fe. The six sensational piñon indulgences were piñon “spat” from the Chocolatesmith, Piñon Brittle from C.G. Higgins, Chocolate Decadence Topped with Caramel and Piñon from Kakawa Chocolate House, Chocolate Piñon Cookies from Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe, Atolé Piñon Hotcakes at Tecolote Cafe and Pumpkin Piñon Bread from Intergalactic Bread Company. While New Mexico’s red and green chile get most of the adulation and press, piñon is another Land of Enchantment treasure we love.
With ten competitors vying for best green chile cheeseburger honors at the New Mexico State Fair’s annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge, it seems only fitting that the winner was Sadie’s Dining Room. After all, Sadie’s has been preparing their green chile cheeseburgers the same way since the early 1950s–on two thick slices (Texas toast-sized) of French bread. Ironically, the second-place finisher was Alamagordo’s Rockin BZ Burgers who earned top honors in 2012. Finishing third was Badlands Burgers and Tortas of Grants, the 2009 winner.
On September 17th, Mary Ann Gonzalez, one of Albuquerque’s most beloved living legends passed away. Mary, who along with her late husband Tito founded their eponymous restaurant Mary & Tito‘s in 1963, has left an enduring legacy that includes an America’s Classic award from the James Beard Foundation. Mary’s daughter Antonette Knight and her sons will continue to own and operate the restaurant so many New Mexicans love.
The Zagat staff celebrated National Pizza Week (September 23-30) by touring all fifty of the United States in pursuit of a truly standout pizza in each state. The result was fifty states, fifty pizzas, a compilation of pulchritudinous pizza pies across the fruited plain. New Mexico’s selection, not surprisingly, was a green chile pizza at Giovanni’s in Albuquerque. Zagat noted that “Giovanni’s is definitely an Italian joint, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take the local flavors and turn them into a desert-style pizza.” Somehow a desert-style pizza just doesn’t sound that appealing, but Giovanni’s pies certainly are.
The New Mexico Restaurant Association (NMRA) held its annual Hospitality Industry Awards dinner in September, honoring the very talented and dedicated people who prepare and serve outstanding food daily. The Association’s highest honor, Restaurateur of the Year, went to Tom and Jerean Hutchinson, owners of La Posta de Mesilla. Leslie Chavez of Tecolote Cafe in Santa Fe was named Chef of the Year.
“New Mexico is also a land of drugs, guns, monster vehicles, and possibly extraterrestrials. It may also be the perfect place to investigate the underside of the Western cowboy ideal.” That’s how celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain described the Land of Enchantment on CNN’s food and culture series, Parts Unknown. In an episode entitled “New Mexico” on September 29th, Bourdain and crew sampled New Mexico’s culinary fare, described by the host as “a combination of Spanish, Mediterranean, Mexican, Pueblo and even chuck-wagon influences.” Proud New Mexicans took umbrage at several things the acerbic one said, especially in disparaging the beloved Frito Pie from Santa Fe’s Five and Dime General Store.
Writer Kate Linthicum declared “The Time Is Ripe for New Mexican Green Chile” in a September 25th article for the Los Angeles Times. An expat from Albuquerque now living in the City of Angeles, Kate observes that chile emboldened food bonds New Mexicans together like a “weird tribal identity,” citing the unique obsession it inspires even among visitors to the Land of Enchantment who become passionate chile addicts. If the name “Linthicum” rings a bell, it’s because Kate is the daughter of Leslie Linthicum, the award-winning Albuquerque Journal columnist (and part-time Peñasco resident).
On October 15th, the Nature Conservancy announced the Albuquerque and Santa Fe winners of its second annual Nature’s Plate Award honoring exemplary sustainable, organic or farm-to-table restaurants. With 563 votes cast in Albuquerque, the winning Duke City restaurant was Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm. Santa Fe voters cast more than 550 votes with Vinaigrette garnering the most votes.
On Monday night, October 21st, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives had a decidedly New Mexican flavor showcasing two of the Land of Enchantment’s most heralded restaurants. While Torinos @ Home is certainly no diner, drive-in or dive, the program occasionally deviates from its formula and upscales its featured restaurants. America now knows what Duke City diners have known for a long time–Chef Maxime Bouneou prepares some of the very best Italian food outside of Italy. The other Santa Fe restaurant featured was Casa Chimayo which this humble blogger has yet to visit. Those chiles rellenos en nogada are calling.
In its October 28 show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives dedicated its entire program to New Mexico restaurants. Two entire segments were devoted to Jambo Cafe, the African restaurant that’s taken Santa Fe by storm. Jambo is one of the City Different’s best restaurants of any genre. The other featured restaurant was Bocadillos Slow Roasted: A Sandwich Shop, a tiny little restaurant specializing in school lunches and showcasing huge flavors. Host Guy Fieri fell in love with the Ruben sandwich.
On October 25th, Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog achieved a significant milestone when it received its 5000th feedback in its fifth year of existence. Fittingly the submitter was Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos, the most prolific contributor to the blog with nearly 400 feedback submissions. Bob’s Faulkneresque stream of consciousness style is very entertaining and informative. During the year, Bruce Schor became the second contributor to achieve the 200 comment milestone.
On Tuesday, October 29th, bespectacled Food Network celebrity Alton Brown took the stage for “Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour?” at Popejoy Hall on the UNM campus. The culinary variety show proved Brown’s talents extend far beyond his bookwormish Food Network personality. He regaled the audience with everything from funny food songs to stand-up comedy.
Albuquerque’s Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm was recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as “one of the most magnificent historic properties in the Southwest.” Los Poblanos is one of the 18 projects selected to receive the National Trust’s 2013 Trustees Emeritus Award for Excellence in the Stewardship of Historic Sites.
The weekend of November 8-10 marked the first (and hopefully the start of an annual) FUZE SW Food + Folklore Festival in Santa Fe. Presented by the Museum of International Folk Art, it was a weekend filled with chefs, cookbook authors, chile and chocolate experts, food writers, food historians, food experts, an even an archeologist, sprinkled with artists, poets and even a bit of music. There was also an abundance of delicious traditional New Mexican (and other) foods throughout the weekend.
In an episode entitled “All Kinds of Gobble Gobble” which aired on 18 November, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives showcased more of the Land of Enchantment’s finest. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a turkey bread sculpture from Albuquerque’s Golden Crown Panaderia, perhaps the most popular yet hidden eatery. Perhaps fearing that the wit and personality of Pratt and Chris Morales would overwhelm that of host Guy Fieri, Triple D dedicated only one short segment to the Duke City’s best bakery. Santa Fe’s long been giving thanks for the off-the-beaten-path gem the Back Street Bistro. Sumptuous soups and sandwiches are only two of the reasons why.
On Thursday, November 21st, Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog began partnering with Google on a venture called Field Trip, a smart phone application which links information sources (such as my reviews) to your smartphone’s GPS, resulting in alerts to interesting things currently around you. As you travel around Albuquerque and are in GPS proximity to a restaurant reviewed on my blog, Field Trip will alert you to that restaurant. It should help readers whose phones lack the horsepower to launch my reviews.
November 23rd was a gloomy, overcast winter-like day made even more gloomy by the passing of Mina Yamashita, long-time contributor to The Alibi and one of the Duke City’s most avid petanque club members. Mina was one of the kindest and most knowledgeable people in the foodie community, a gentle soul with a passion for New Mexico. She will be greatly missed.
Huffington Post writer Rebecca Orchant took a stab at defining “25 Food Things Only a New Mexican Would Understand.” The article was generally a collection of common knowledge (Christmas isn’t just a holiday, it’s a food preference) and stereotypes (You love authentic Mexican tacos even more than the next guy), some bordering on inaccurate (If you put a fried egg on enchiladas, that makes them breakfast). Perhaps more than educating non-New Mexicans on our food culture, the article served mostly to prove the writer is not from our Land of Enchantment.
On November 25th, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives aired an episode entitled “Comfort and Soul.” Fittingly, one of the segments was dedicated to the Nexus Brewery which dishes out comforting New Mexican soul food–from chicken and waffles to fish and chips, all made-to-order. Host Guy Fieri found the collard greens, infused with red chile pods, “mandatory delicious.”
On November 28th, The Brasier, which purports to “bring the personalities between the food you eat and love (or hate!) to the forefront” published its list of ten chefs you need to know in Santa Fe. The Brasier was obviously very impressed with the caliber of chefs it found in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in Santa Fe “the capital of this culinary state.” “The epicenter of the Southwest Cuisine movement” is so dynamic that several of the chefs listed have already moved on.
On December 2nd, the last of five episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives aired which showcased restaurants in the Duke City and Santa Fe. In an episode entitled “Pork, Pasta and barbecue,” host Guy Fieri devoted two segments to The Cube where he fell in love not only with the barbecue, but with the restaurant’s unique take on hot dogs.
The premise of the Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible program is to turn around failing restaurants and to do so in two days with only $10,000. For savvy Duke City diners who have long regarded Pasion Latin Fusion as one of the city’s very best restaurants of any genre, the term “failing restaurant” just doesn’t fit. It was a huge surprise therefor to see Chef Robert Irvine taking on the challenge of “turning Pasion around.” Restaurant Impossible filmed on December 18th and 19th and will air sometime in 2014.
On December 11th, USA Today invited its readers to “Follow the grease on the green chile cheeseburger trail,” a not so enticing invitation, especially for more health-conscious diners. Calling green chile cheeseburgers “ubiquitous in New Mexico,” the article listed several stops as “essential” in your pursuit of the green chile cheeseburger: The Owl Cafe and Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio; Blake’s LotaBurger in Albuquerque; and Dr. Field Goods and the Santa Fe Bite in Santa Fe.
2013 saw the closure of some 24 restaurants reviewed on this blog. Some, like the fabulous Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine and the Timbuctu Bistro were like magnificent shooting stars which faded away much too quickly but left an indelible afterglow. Others such as The Smokehouse and Christy’s Food Factory were venerable institutions which served their communities for more than twenty years. 2013 also saw the rebirth of a couple of classics: the incomparable Santa Fe Bite, formerly the Bobcat Bite; and Antojitos Lupe which relocated to a nicer location in Bernalillo.
2013 was another banner year for Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog whose readership continues to grow. Readers haven’t been shy about expressing themselves with passion, humor and one-upmanship. It’s made the blog a community of passionate foodies sharing good humor, good recommendations and good friendship.
2013 End of Year Statistics: 775 Restaurants Reviewed, 5294 Comments