From the moment they first set foot in the Land of Enchantment, some people just “get it” or perhaps more precisely, New Mexico gets to them. It weaves its preternatural spell and stirs something deeply in those open enough to its calling. D. H. Lawrence said it best, “In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new.”
Other people don’t get it–and maybe they never will. In the early 1980s while attending the University of New Mexico, I encountered several “dormitory rats” who whined incessantly that “there’s nothing to do or see in New Mexico.” I befriended some of them, determined to help them discover the Land of Enchantment they were perhaps too close-minded to see. That usually entailed a day trip or two to the north-central mountains of New Mexico, but not to tourist laden Taos or Santa Fe.
Northern New Mexico is a spectacular canvass on which God painted perhaps the most awe-inspiring scenery in the state. Two break-taking drives, the High Road to Taos and the Enchanted Circle–are well known, but an even more wondrous peregrination starts like the High Road to Taos but diverts from my hometown of Peñasco to Mora.
Nestled in the very heart of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range beneath the serenity of clear azure skies and flowing with ice cold, pristene streams, Peñasco is on the “morning side” of the mountain where it is majestically backdropped by the Jicarita Peak which governs the skies like a sovereign queen perched on her throne keeping a vigiliant watch over her people.
Mora sits on the “twilight side of the hill” or more precisely, the back-side of the Jicarita. From that vantage point the Jicarita’s unique “little basket” shape isn’t discernible, but Mora is hardly short-changed when it comes to beauty. Like Peñasco, it is blessed with gurgling streams teeming with native German Brown and Cut Throat trout, sprawling green meadows and alfalfa fields which sustain large herds of livestock and hills that come to life with the sounds of wildlife.
Mora did have something Peñasco didn’t have–Hatcha’s Cafe, a frequent stopping off point in my guided tours of the “real” New Mexico. Hatcha is the Spanish word for “axe,” but even among Spanish-speaking residents of northern New Mexico, the restaurant’s name was pronounced “Hot Cha’s.” People came from miles around to eat at Hatcha’s, many even from Taos or Las Vegas, both of which are almost equidistant from Mora.
Even when the beauty of northern New Mexico failed to ensnare the hearts of my charges, Hatcha’s won over their taste buds and sated their appetites like few restaurants in the Duke City ever did. For those most determined not to like New Mexico despite my best efforts, Hatcha’s may have been the highlight of their trip. Driving a couple hundred miles with nay-sayers (or as Spiro Agnew may have called them, nattering nabobs of negativity”) made it a highlight of my trips, too.
When we saw photos of Mora adorning the walls at Sabroso’s restaurant, memories of meals at Hatcha’s flooded my mind. It turns out Sabroso’s, which opened its doors in February, 2009, is owned by Geno and George Martinez of the Mora family which owned Hatcha’s for time immemorial. Sabroso’s is the story of two small-town boys sharing their version of the flavors of Northern New Mexico with the big city.
The Sabroso’s menu is a bit more sophisticated than that of many restaurants and family homes in northern New Mexico, but that really is no surprise. Hatcha’s menu was also fairly sophisticated for a rural enclave and included a nice beer and wine list. Sabroso’s has a tequila bar that will be the envy of many a restaurant.
Sabroso’s menu includes many traditional New Mexico favorites along with the unique touches for which the Martinez brothers are known. If you love avocado, an appetizer sure to catch your attention is the grilled avocado, an avocado stuffed with pork and homemade pico de gallo topped with shredded cheese, lettuce and tomato served on a bed of fresh blue and yellow corn tortilla strips.
Unlike guacamole in which avocados are mashed and usually served either room-temperature or cold, these avocados are actually grilled. If anything, grilling avocados brings out even more of their inherent butter-like creaminess. Tender tendrils of flavorful shredded pork are the star of this appetizer. The pork is moist and delicious, a perfect vehicle for the pico de gallo which is made with green onions and chopped tomatoes.
It’s unfortunate that pork isn’t available on Sabroso’s enchiladas, two layered blue corn tortillas with your choice of chicken or beef smothered with chile and topped with sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheese, lettuce and tomato. It’s not as though the beef is bad. In fact, it’s Angus beef…but it is beef and beef is everywhere and beef is beef no matter what its pedigree might be and no matter how well seasoned. The shredded pork is several orders of magnitude better. The other recommendation I would have for the Martinez brothers is to add more piquancy to the red chile. Liven it up the way people in Northern New Mexico like it.
Entrees are served with your choice of any of two sides: pinto beans, Spanish rice, calabasitas, fried cabbage, grilled spinach or posole. Forget the Spanish rice and pinto beans; you can have those anywhere (albeit maybe not as good). Opt instead for one of the unique choices. The fried cabbage, for example, is excellent. Unlike Irish cabbage which tends to have a room-clearing odor, the Martinez version has a sweet aroma and an equally sweet flavor.
Entrees are also served with a basket of warm sopaipillas which my friend Ruben and his wife consider the best they’ve ever had. The sopaipillas are pillowy and puffy like most sopaipillas, but they’re also thicker so when you open them up, steam wafts upward in greater, more delicious quantities. With “real” honey, they would be even better.
A nice dessert option is Sabroso’s crisp, a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with your favorite fruit topping and bite-sized sopaipillas, whipped cream and cinnamon sugar. Available fruit toppings include apple, cherry, blueberry, peach, strawberry and chocolate. I’ve got my fingers crossed that two Mora staples–chokecherries and raspberries–will be added at some point. Nowhere in New Mexico are these berries grown better.
When you get to the part of the menu describing Sabroso’s family style dining, you might get a bit of sticker shock at seeing price ranges from the $50s to the $100s, but when you consider that a small family-style platter serves 4-6 and a large platter serves 7-10, it’s a bargain. The family style menu includes Truchas trout, Salmon Sapello, Sea Bass, Carnitas, Chacon Chicken and much more. Family-style platters are also available in portions (and prices) for one.
5210 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 5 April 2009
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Sabroso’s Enchiladas, Sopaipillas, Sabroso’s Blueberry Crisp