In the 60s and early 70s, movies and television programs would have you believe all spies were hard-drinking, fast-driving, woman-chasing playboys as good with their fists as they were with a gun. They were worldly, sophisticated and charming, but could just as easily use guile and deception to get the job done. Bob Ayers, who worked in intelligence for 30 years in the U.S. Army and Defense Intelligence Agency counters those stereotypes: “All of that stuff about James Bond, that’s Hollywood. You don’t want anyone standing out in the intelligence business. You want someone nondescript. The ideal spy is 5-foot-6 and kind of dumpy.”
That ideal—nondescript and dumpy—just wouldn’t work in the restaurant business…or would it? Restaurants, especially those which are generously bankrolled by corporate megaliths, tend to have a lot of cash, flash and panache to create the illusion of glamor and allure which brings in customers (and most of us are easily entertained). In addition to all the pristine veneer and effusive, over-the-top flamboyance money can buy, these restaurants tend to have catchy, memorable names which help in the establishment and proliferation of brand identity. They’re capacious, swanky, memorable and largely successful.
Anyone who thinks this formulaic approach is the recipe for success would be at a loss to explain a restaurant like The Shop Breakfast and Lunch. It has none of the aforementioned characteristics of superficiality that seem to draw in the crowds. Even its name is so ambiguous that unless you know The Shop is a restaurant (the Breakfast and Lunch part is subtitled), you might dismiss it as yet another kitschy university area vintage clothing shop. While not “dumpy,” its ambiance is far from ostentatious. Maybe, that’s part of its charm. Perhaps that’s why The Shop has a faithful following that eschews the artifice and ambiance of the “shiny” restaurants to eat there instead.
Like The Shop itself, its patrons aren’t pretentious. Many of them are students at the University of New Mexico (UNM) which sprawls just across Girard from the restaurant. They appreciate being able to fuel up on great food that isn’t going to break their ramen budget. You can bet the UNM voting demographic stuffed the Alibi’s ballots in 2014 when The Shop was named the Duke City’s “best new restaurant.” They’ve continued to vote for The Shop which has an “I Love Me Wall” covered with “best of” awards. They also cast their votes for chef-owner Israel “Izz” Rivera, a high school dropout with no formal culinary education, but with years of kitchen smarts from having worked with and for highly credentialed chefs.
Those of us who have only been students of life (and not a classroom) for a while also appreciate the great food…and to be honest, most of us don’t imbibe the “ambiance.” After all, a swanky milieu doesn’t improve the flavor of any food. The Shop’s furnishings are more utilitarian than they are comfortable, but you won’t be thinking about how much more comfortable you’d be in a plush, cozy chair as you’re indulging on an even cozier Kentucky Hot Brown (when it’s on the menu).
Your eyes didn’t just deceive you. You did read “Kentucky Hot Brown,” perhaps the only thing more popular in the Bluegrass State than the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. The Kentucky Hot Brown is to Kentucky what the green chile cheeseburger is to New Mexico. It’s a sacrosanct sandwich beloved throughout the state. Even if you haven’t been to Kentucky, you may have heard about it on the Food Network, Travel Channel, PBS or any number of nationally syndicated stations. At The Shop, it’s far from the only sandwich surprise on the menu.
Surprises start with the most important meal of the day. The breakfast menu, served all day long (from 8AM through 3PM) offers hearty options, some of which you can’t find anywhere else in Albuquerque. The duck hash, biscuits and chorizo gravy, shrimp and grits and of course, the Kentucky Hot Brown are just a few of them. Lunch offerings are categorized into sandwiches (with your choice of house made chips or side salad), mac and cheese (three scrumptious options) and three creative salads (Kale Caesar anyone?). For several months, The Shop offered “Night Shift” menus on Friday and Saturday nights. The Shop will continue to prepare special dinners and events at Marble and La Cumbre Breweries. Note: The items described below may or may not be available at The Shop whose menu has and continues to evolve over the years.
15 April 2015: During the Roaring 20s, the executive chef at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky invented a sandwich to help revelers to wind down and sober up. Today that sandwich, the Kentucky Hot Brown may be more popular (at least in the Louisville area) than the Kentucky Derby. To say it should be served with an angioplasty may be an understatement. This is a caloric overachiever constructed from egg-battered pain de mie (a soft-crusted butter- and milk-rich loaf), thick cut ham, white Cheddar mornay sauce (a type of Bechamel), two eggs and bacon. Because it’s so very rich and creamy, it’s not for everyone, but everyone should try it at least once or twenty times.
15 April 2015: Several years ago, former Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez attempted a commercially-driven re-branding of the city. Despite his efforts, the sobriquet “The Q” didn’t exactly catch on, not that anyone would believe The Shop’s QBano is named for the mayor’s folly. Obviously, the QBano is a Cuban sandwich, one of the very best in “The Q,”…er, the Duke City. The canvas for this magnificent sandwich is a toasted bolillo roll stuffed and pressed with citrus-brined roasted local pork shoulder, sliced ham, yellow mustard, roasted garlic aioli, Gruyere cheese and housemade pickles. Just perusing the ingredients will cue you in that there are many elements which make this sandwich so special. My friend Bill raved about the garlic aioli while the pork shoulder won me over. This is a sandwich that’s more delicious than the sum of its ingredients!
15 April 2015: In some cultures (Vietnamese, for example), sandwiches are a breakfast mainstay. For some reason, however, Americans seem to dismiss the notion of much more than eggs and ham on their breakfast sandwich (Cafe Bella being an exception). Perhaps acquiescing to American tastes, The Rush’s ubiquitously named Breakfast Sandwich does indeed include eggs and a type of ham (prosciutto) then it gets creative with tomato, arugula, and basil aioli. There isn’t enough prosciutto to suit the ham lover in most of us and veggie haters might not like the thick tomatoes or peppery arugula, but most will enjoy the sandwich in its entirety.
23 April 2015:The answer-slash-punchline to the trite joke that begins “why did the chicken cross the road?” could well be “to avoid becoming a chicken sandwich.” What chicken in its right mind would want a fate so boring? Despite being so commonplace (operative word, common), the chicken sandwich at one restaurant is more of the same banality as you’ll find at almost every other restaurant. You’d think someone (besides the Stone Face Tavern) could come up with something original to do with chicken. The Shop has! Its fried chicken sandwich is constructed with a buttermilk fried chicken breast, shaved cabbage slaw, a creamy caraway dressing, housemade pickles and just enough hot sauce to create an absolutely delicious interplay with the caraway dressing. The chicken itself is moist and sheathed with a light breading which glistens from the creaminess of the caraway and fiery red of the sauce. The pickles provide a tart, but not lip-pursing foil while the shaved cabbage slaw offers a textural contrast. It’s a chicken sandwich any self-respecting chicken would gladly sacrifice its feathers to be a part of.
23 April 2015: For years I didn’t understand coffee snobs and their haughty, expensive designer mochas, lattes, espressos and cappuccinos. The lure of these trendy and upscale aromatic elixirs escaped me until my first sip of the red chili (SIC) mocha at Café Bella in Rio Rancho. To say it was love at first sip was an understatement, one that opened my eyes to the realization that maybe the coffee snobs were right. Because my daytime proximity to Café Bella has shifted by nearly twenty miles, I’ve searched high and low for a closer proximity version of the soothing, sating, invigorating siren’s call that is red chile mocha. While none have equaled the one at my beloved Café Bella, the Mexican Mocha at The Shop has lessened my pain a bit. It’s an earthy, palate-pleasing beverage which more than hints at piquancy and chocolate, two of the world’s finest taste sensations.
19 May 2015: In the early ’70s, a television commercial for Post Grape-Nuts cereal featured outdoorsman Eull Gibbons asking viewers “Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.” This quote fueled the public’s imagination and made him a celebrity. Much like Grape Nuts, granola signified the back-to-nature, whole-grain tenor which grew from the American counterculture movement of the 1960s and ’70s. In fact, to the mainstream, granola was practically synonymous with a hippie lifestyle.
Like many of the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s, granola has become mainstream. Inventive restaurateurs have sown their wild oats with granola and have transformed what was once considered a sensible and healthy food concept into a popular and delicious dish. The Shop’s rendition ranks right up there with the Flying Star‘s magnificent “Morning Sundae” as perhaps the city’s best granola dish. This hearty housemade bowl of oats, nuts and dried fruits pairs oh so well with a tangy-sour yogurt punctuated with lemon and agave nectar and topped with fresh berries and local honey.
19 May 2015: In its annual food and wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine named Torinos @ Home’ duck confit sandwich one of the yummiest sandwiches in the city. The Shop’s own duck confit sandwich is in rarefied air with Torinos sacrosanct sandwich as the city’s very best. A toasted bolillo roll is the canvas for this masterpiece–a moist, delicious creation of confit duck, caramelized onions, lemon aioli, Fontina cheese, arugula and Balsamic vinaigrette. The tangy tartness of the vinaigrette and lemon aioli complement the sweetness of the caramelized onions and the fatty richness of the duck. It’s a sandwich that will remain on your mind long after you’ve finished it.
19 May 2015: As we grow older, most of us no longer crave the indulgences of our childhood: Lucky Charms cereal, Franco-American’s SpaghettiOs (now with a Campbell’s Soup brand) and Smarties Candy, but we never lose our taste for Macaroni and Cheese. Not only is it a fun food for children of all ages, it’s the epitome of comfort food favorites, each morsel imparting warmth and deliciousness. Most of us, however, graduate well beyond the gooey, neon-bright Kraft mac and cheese out-of-a-box. We won’t settle for less than an adult mac and cheese.
Fortunately The Shop has us covered and not just with one adult macaroni and cheese offering. The daily menu showcases three different mac and cheese meals: chorizo mac, bacon mac and steakhouse mac. The latter is a beauteous bowl brimming with shaved ribeye, caramelized onions, mushrooms and a white Cheddar mornay sauce topped with Parmesan and bread crumbs. Every forkful is an adventure in great flavors blending together. It’s possible we may not have appreciated the steakhouse mac as children, but it’s a dish all adults will love.
10 May 2019: For decades, Marty and Rick Lagina have been in pursuit of a mysterious buried treasure in Oak Island, a small wooded island just off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. For about the same time period your friendly neighborhood restaurant review blogger has been in pursuit of New Mexico’s very best green chile cheeseburger. My quest has not been fraught with risk and peril as has the Lagina’s, but there’s no doubt it’s been much more rewarding. Over the years, I’ve discovered several outstanding exemplars of New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger, many of whom have warranted inclusion on the New Mexico Tourist Department’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail (which is in dire need of updating).
Chef Rivera had a green chile cheeseburger quest of his own, a search for the best burger he could eat when not at The Shop. Though he sampled and enjoyed several superb burgers, he decided he could prepare a better one than he found at competing restaurants. Initially he served his creation only on the Night Shift menu, but as of May, 2019, began offering it for lunch.
One of the challenges of bestowing “best” honors is that invariably there will always be another burger coming around the corner that’s even better. Another is taste memory recall. Several years may have elapsed since I last enjoyed one of the many worthy contenders for the best green chile cheeseburger in the Land of Enchantment honors.
At the very least, the Shop Burger (two fresh ground patties, mustard, jalapeño mayo, chopped green chile, Tillamook Cheddar, caramelized onions and housemade pickles on a locally baked fresh bun) is in the top three of the very best green chile cheeseburgers I’ve ever had! KOAT anchor Royale Da made an even more definitive declaration, anointing the Shop Burger as her very favorite. This is a blow-you-away caliber burger, albeit one of the messiest (four or five napkin’s worth) burgers you’ll ever have.
Moist juices flow copiously onto your hands as you eat it, but those juices don’t just come from the hand-formed ground “smash burger style” patties. They flow freely from the caramelized onions and jalapeño mayo as well. The two fresh ground patties are rather thin, but very well-seasoned and flavorful. The buns are formidable enough not to break apart despite the moistness and volume of the thick, it-takes-two-hands-to-handle burger. It’s rare for me to ever even notice the quality of pickles adorning any burger, but The Shop’s pickles are in rarefied air–they grab and hold your rapt attention. These pickles aren’t especially tart. In fact, they’re not far-removed from the fresh cucumber stage. This is an outstanding burger, one of the very best you’ll ever have!
While The Shop Breakfast and Lunch may be an ugly duckling compared to some of Albuquerque’s “shiny,” flashy restaurants, it’s a beautiful, graceful swan in the kitchen where some of the most creative and delicious dishes in the Nob Hill district are created.
The Shop Breakfast And Lunch
2933 Monte Vista Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 10 May 2019
1st VISIT: 15 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Qbano, Breakfast Sandwich, Kentucky Hot Brown, Housemade Potato Chips, Fried Chicken Sandwich, Duck Confit Sandwich, Steakhouse Mac, Granola & Yogurt, The Shop Burger with Fries