Vick’s Vittles Country Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Possum shanks; pickled hog jowls; goat tripe; stewed squirrel; ham hocks
and turnip greens; gizzards smothered in gristle; smoked crawdads.
“Ewwww Doggies!,” now that’s eatin’.
~The Beverly Hillbillies
Guests at the Clampett residence always seemed to recite a litany of excuses as to why they couldn’t stay for dinner when Granny announced the mess of vittles she’d fixed up. Not even the opportunity to dine at the fancy eatin’ table (billiards table) and use the fancy pot passers (pool cues) under the visage of the mounted billy-yard (rhinoceros) was enough to entice the sophisticated city slickers to stay for dinner with America’s favorite hillbillies.
For the generation who grew up watching The Beverly Hillbillies, the notion of eating vittles elicits a broad smile and a warm heart. Those sentiments were rekindled when we drove east on Central Avenue just past Wyoming and espied a new restaurant named Vick’s Vittles Country Kitchen. Not only did it conjure memories of “heaping helpings of hospitality” from Jed and all his kin, the name “Vick’s Vittles” seemed so familiar and comfortable.
That’s because several years ago a restaurant named “‘Country Vittles” plied its chicken-fried specialties for about an year on Central Avenue where Middle Eastern Food & Kababos currently sits. Despite the similarity in names, there is no affiliation between the two restaurants. Vick’s Vittles Country Kitchen is named for proprietor Robert Vick who’s got a passel of credentials and awards in the hospitality industry.
An affable gentleman and stylish dresser (owning more than 100 vests), Vick earned “Executive of the Year” honors in 2010 from the International Food Service Executives Association for his leadership at Kirtland Air Force Base’s food services. Before being launched as a restaurant, Vick’s Vittles excelled as a contract company that continues to operate the Thunderbird Inn Dining Facility at Kirtland. Under Vick’s auspices, the Thunderbird Inn has earned two Hennessy Food Service awards signifying the best dining facility in the Air Force. Look for the Thunderbird Inn to earn its third in 2018. Transforming a “chow hall” into an outstanding dining facility is no easy feat.
Robert Vick is a peripatetic presence at his restaurant, glad-handing and inviting guests to set a spell. His wait staff mirrors his friendliness and is on-the-spot to replenish your coffee. During our inaugural visit, we caught sight of several familiar faces–some of the same folks who frequented this familiar location when it was occupied by Roper’s Restaurant and before that, Milton’s Cafe. Vick’s is a popular dining option for my Air Force brothers-in-arms.
Vestiges of its former tenant are still in evidence in the form of cowboy and western-themed accoutrements throughout the large dining room. Country music plays in the background while you dine. The menu also includes a few hold-overs from the Roper’s days, a melange of country cooking meets the Southwest. It’s an ambitious menu, offering American and New Mexican comfort food favorites as well as barbecue all served in prolific portions. Daily specials are available Monday through Friday with a daily lunch standard being green chile New England clam chowder in a sour dough bowl, a New Mexico meets New England treat.
The breakfast menu is extensive, offering pancakes, French toast and waffle plates for those of you craving a sweet start to your day. A bounty of breakfast burritos includes several sure to elicit double takes. There’s the corned beef hash burrito, for example. Breakfast plates, served with your choice of potatoes (country, spuds or hash browns) galore and three-egg omelets round out the menu for the most important meal of the day. You can start your day off no matter what time you start it because Vick’s Vittles serves breakfast all day long. An every Sunday buffet offers scrambled eggs, green chile, red chile, country spuds, crispy bacon, sausage links, sliced ham, biscuits, Vick’s famous green chile cream gravy, green chile cheese enchiladas, pintos, red chile pork tamales, waffles, Santa Fe pancakes, buttermilk pancakes, French toast, grits and more.
Vick’s Vittles also offers an extensive lunch menu with a number of appetizers, salads and soups available. New Mexican specialties, served with pinto beans and rice, include the “Lone Star Stack,” enchiladas layered with spicy beef and chile-con-queso, shredded chicken with green chile and melted Cheddar-Jack cheese with red chile. Sandwiches and burgers, served with your choice of a garden salad, soup, French fries or onion rings, are also available. Daily specials are displayed on a monitor directly above the greeter’s stand.
20 September 2014: American novelist Lemony Snicket wisely noted “Anyone who gives you a cinnamon roll fresh out of the oven is a friend for life.” Though we arrived at Vick’s a little late for cinnamon rolls fresh out-of-the-oven, the hot, buttery cinnamon rolls were fresh nonetheless and delicious with a surfeit of sweet, rich icing tempered only slightly by the melting butter. The cinnamon rolls are about the size of the disc shape conveyance which crash-landed in Roswell a few decades ago. One of these calorific overachievers is large enough to share. If you like a bit of savoriness to offset the sweetness of the cinnamon rolls, you can ask for a topping of pecans.
Everyone’s (including 2 KASA Style host Chad Brummlett who calls it “arguably the best breakfast burrito I’ve ever had in my life) favorite breakfast burrito, according to the menu, is the Cowboy Burrito, a tortilla-encased behemoth constructed from scrambled eggs, country spuds, Cheddar-Jack cheese and chopped chicken fried steak smothered in green chili (SIC) cream gravy. In its annual food and wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Vick’s Vittles a “Hot Plate Award,” for this beauteous behemoth.
20 September 2014: While not your conventional New Mexico breakfast burrito, there’s much to like about the Cowboy Burrito. The green chili cream gravy topped with melting shredded cheese is very rich and quite good though not especially piquant. Texturally, the chopped chicken fried steak and country spuds (more like square tater tots than fried potatoes) are unexpectedly delightful. Perhaps only Jethro Bodine, lovingly referred to as “the six foot stomach” by Granny, could polish off an entire Cowboy burrito in one sitting.
20 September 2014: For my Kim, seeing “carne adovada” on a menu means there’s no need to look any further at the menu. More often than not, she’s pleased with that choice. Sometimes, as in the case of Vick’s Vittles, she’s thrilled, calling the carne adovada “New Mexico quality.” Tender tendrils of marinated shredded pork are served with two eggs and country spuds. The red chile in which the carne adovada is marinated is only slightly piquant, but it’s got the time-honored flavor of well-made chile.
There are barbecue restaurants (several of them, in fact) in the Duke City area. Very few of them do barbecue as well as Vick’s Vittles. That’s not just my opinion. In June, 2015, Yelp’s community manager Howie Kaibel compiled a list of the “11 best BBQ joints in the metro area.” The only barbecue restaurant rated higher than Vick’s Vittles was Pepper’s Bar-B-Q & Soul Food, a full-time purveyor of smoked meats. Howie aptly described Vick’s as have a menu “bigger than Texas, as are the plates, and peep those Baby Back ribs hanging off the plate.”
2 April 2015: When it comes to the hot link sandwich, Vick’s is in rarefied company with Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House as the best in the area. It may also be one of the messiest, especially after you slather on the side of Vick’s green chili (SIC) sweet BBQ sauce. Two split hot links weighing in at five-ounces are nestled within a toasted hoagie bun with grilled onions. Keeping some of the links inside the bun is a challenge, but eating them off the point of a fork isn’t a consolation prize. The green chili sweet BBQ sauce is a wondrous amalgam of two things most New Mexicans love–a thick barbecue sauce punctuated with plenty of piquancy.
11 June 2015: In the great state of Texas, chicken fried steak is virtually a religion. No Texan ever revered this breaded cutlet dish with as much fervor and zeal as my Los Angeles born-and-bread friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver. We’ve taken my friend to restaurants specializing in other foods (burgers at Spinn’s Burgers and the “Travis” at the K&I Diner, for example) and he’s always eschewed the house specialty in favor of chicken fried steak. At Vick’s, he found one of his favorites–a thick slab of tenderized cube steak breaded lightly and covered in green chile gravy. It’s an exceptional chicken fried steak, equal to some of the best I’ve had in the San Antonio area, but nowhere in the Lone Star steak…er, state will you find a gravy quite as rich and delicious as the green chile gravy which covers both the chicken fried steak and the mashed potatoes.
Not very many restaurants in the Duke City area employ the “broasting” technique of preparing meats, despite the technique being available solely to restaurants and food services operations. Though the broasting process has been around since the 1950s, broasting equipment and ingredients are not available to the general public. If you haven’t experienced broasting, you’ve missed out on a method of preparing meats that may be incomparable in terms of flavor and freshness. Broasting, which incorporates a special marinating process, seals in a meat’s natural juices while sealing out almost all the cooking oil. The result, for example, is chicken with the flavor of fried chicken though much more moist and less greasy.
11 June 2015: Even better than the broasted chicken (which is better than any fried chicken in the Duke City) is the broasted pork chop, a bone-in, center-cut, three-quarter-inch chop that instantly became my very favorite pork chop in Albuquerque…by a country mile. In fact, the only pork chop I remember liking nearly as much comes from Carson’s Ribs in Chicago. What makes this pork chop so wonderful? Cut into the lightly breaded chop and you’re rewarded with a moist and juicy pulchritudinous portion of white meat with an intriguing flavor replete with personality courtesy of having been marinated overnight in cayenne, Chimayo red chile, garlic and other spices. You may find yourself gnawing at the bone lest you risk missing out on a morsel of this magnificent white meat. It goes without saying that the broasted chop pairs fabulously with mashed potatoes and green chile gravy.
13 June 2015: Having thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to broasted pork chops Robert Vick-style, I had to return two days later for an encore. My Kim, who’s been known to order those scrawny pork chops so many restaurants serve for breakfast, ordered the broasted chicken. At first glance the broasted chicken looks like fried chicken and it even tastes like some of the very best fried chicken you’ve ever had anywhere. An eleven-ounce portion includes a breast and leg quarter. Usually breast meat is less moist and juicy than thigh meat, but not this one. Sticker shock nearly set in when we finished with our bodacious broasted brunch. We couldn’t believe how inexpensive our meal was and felt so guilty we left our server a tip equal to half our bill of fare. She…and the broasted bounty we so enjoyed…were worth it. My friend “Captain Tuttle” listed both the broasted chicken and pork chop as among the very best dishes he enjoyed during 2016.
11 June 2015: The vast variety of victuals at Vick’s Vittles will surprise and delight you. You’ll invariably fall in love with an item and couldn’t be blamed if you fall into the trap of ordering it every time you visit. Do so at your own peril because it’s likely there’s something else on the menu even better. Kathy Kyle made a passionate plea for me to try a dessert which at first bite, supplanted the cinnamon rolls which had besotted me during my inaugural visit. That new favorite is the peach turnover with green chile, proof indeed that green chile improves the flavor of virtually everything. I’ll let Kathy describe it: “they are the best turnovers we have ever had! They melt in your mouth. Not at all heavy or greasy.” Ditto!
13 June 2015: Because of the vastness of the menu, you could potentially discover a new favorite every time you visit. That’s the beauty of being an adventurous diner. Robert Vick himself introduced me to my new favorite dessert at Vick’s Vittles–banana pudding. Served in a large Mason jar is a generous enough to share (not that you’ll want to) portion of very rich, very sweet and very tasty banana pudding. As you drill down the luscious layers of bananas, vanilla wafers and vanilla pudding, you’ll swoon with delight. This is a Mississippi quality banana pudding.
19 February 2017: For many restaurants across the Duke City, earning one Hot Plate Award from Albuquerque The Magazine is quite an accomplishment. Vick’s Vittles has earned two. The first was earned by the Cowboy Burrito in 2013. The second went to the Santa Fe Pancakes (three blue corn buttermilk pancakes with roasted piñons, hatch green chile, and cheddar-jack cheese in the batter). It’s the perfect amalgam of sweet meets savory with a little piquancy thrown in. While Cheddar is not an uncommon foil for sweet dishes such as apple pie and pancakes, not every restaurateur is intrepid enough to throw in some green chile, especially when it’s got some bite to it.
Robert Vick may not personally tell his guests they’re all invited back to this locality to have a heaping helping of hospitality, vittles, that is…Vick’s Vittles. It’s implied in the way you’re treated at this unpretentious restaurant in that oh, so familiar location. Vick’s Vittles Country Kitchen is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week and for dinner on Friday and Saturday.
Vick’s Vittles Country Restaurant
8810 Central Avenue
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 19 February 2017
1st VISIT: 20 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 5a
BEST BET: Carne Adovada and Eggs, “The Cowboy,” Cinnamon Roll, Chicken Fried Steak, Broasted Pork Chop, Green Chile Peach Turnover, Hot Links Sandwich, Broasted Chicken, Banana Pudding