Like many Americans, Daniel “Pepper” Morgan has two passions in life–baseball and barbecue. While these two passions seem inextricably bound in American culture, what separates Daniel from so many of us is that we excel at watching baseball and eating barbecue. Daniel excelled at playing baseball, having made it to the Houston Astros Triple A farm club. His barbecue is also par excellence, big league stuff–as good as any barbecue you’ll find in the Duke City area.
Though he has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, what Daniel is most exuberant about is cooking. It’s a passion nurtured at the feet of his mother who cooked daily for more than five hundred students at the Texas State School in Denton. It’s a love engendered from being around his grandmother’s kitchen from which the tantalizing aromas emanated that impressed themselves indelibly in his memories. His grandmother, by the way, grew up in Stamps, Arkansas and called poet laureate Maya Angelu her best friend.
Settling comfortably into middle age, Daniel continues to live the baseball dream, though now it’s vicariously through his son, himself leaguer in the Miami Marlins system. Unlike in sports where the ravages of age diminish an athlete’s skills, Daniel continues to improve upon the recipes passed on by his grandmother and mother. When it comes to cooking, he’s at all-star, maybe MVP level.
Daniel’s restaurant is situated at the former digs of the Almost Gourmet Soul Food Restaurant on San Pedro just north of Central and directly across the street from the Alice K. Hoppes African American Pavilion” and one of the more bustling entrances to the New Mexico State Fairgrounds. This part of San Pedro is very heavily trafficked, but that doesn’t necessarily work to the advantage of Pepper’s Ole’ Fashion BBQ.
The restaurant sits back in a relatively inconspicuous storefront location and sometimes southbound traffic is so heavy that it completely blocks northbound traffic’s visibility to the restaurant. Coupled with an austere storefront parking, it’s not an ideal situation for a restaurant with so much promise. There are so very few parking spots in front of the restaurant that prospective diners might be turned away.
Still, promise so rich can’t help but be actualized thanks to word of mouth from daring diners undaunted by the challenges of parking or navigating through traffic–diners such as Chris Astier who first visited shortly after the restaurant’s April, 2009 launch then recommended it highly to me. Like me, Chris found ample parking just south of the strip in which the restaurant is situated. Frankly, for barbecue this good I would have parked a mile away and walked to Pepper’s.
Parked in front of the restaurant until rather recently was a portable smoker from which emanated hazy smoke plumes which wafted into your motorized conveyance like a sweet Texas smoke signal beckoning you to try St. Louis style ribs, Texas style brisket and so much more. It’s a wonder there weren’t more accidents on San Pedro caused by hungry diners rubber-necking to locate the source of the smoky siren’s call.
Daniel uses a combination of locally procured hickory, mesquite and oak woods to produce that smoky invitation he hopes will lure even more diners into his restaurant. Hickory, the most common wood used in the “low and slow” smoking process imparts a pungent, smoky, almost bacon-like flavor and is especially good for pork and ribs. Oak is slightly sweet and has a fruity smoke bouquet. It is best used with beef, pork and poultry. Fortunately, Pepper’s offers all of these.
The restaurant’s entrance leads to a tiny room with little more than a couple of tables and a counter at which you place your order. Behind the counter you’ll see Daniel hard at work preparing made-from-scratch desserts and sides made fresh daily. Step into the main dining room and it might feel a bit like a shrine to things important to Daniel: UNM sports, the Dallas Cowboys, and more. Soothing jazz and soul plays in the background.
The menu is relatively small, but its size certainly belies the breadth of flavors prepared in the kitchen and on the smoker. Your best bet is a two meat combination platter: two meats, any two veggies and a soda for one price. The meats include Southern deep-fried catfish filets, BBQ brisket, smoked sausage, St. Louis style ribs, Texas style dry-rub ribs, smothered pork chops and chicken. Sides are classic: collard greens, fried cabbage, baked beans, corn on the cob, southern potato salad, dirty rice, sweet potato cornbread, macaroni and cheese and sweet potato fries. These are the dishes which most spell s-o-u-t-h to anyone who’s lived there.
The sauce has almost equal proportions of sweet, savory, tangy and smoky qualities. It is a light, thin sauce that imparts different qualities on different meats (if you’ve ever been to a restaurant in which all the meats taste virtually the same courtesy of the sauce, you’ll understand) and it’s not slathered on as some inferior barbecue restaurants do to hide the poor quality of their smoking process or meat. At Pepper’s, the meats are allowed to shine with the sauce a complementary additive. For example, on the brisket, the sauce seems sweeter than on other meats. The brisket is sliced thickly and is tender with an enticing aromatic hint of smoke.
When a restaurant serves barbecue chicken that retains any semblance of moistness and tenderness, you know the smoke master has grasped the nuances of preparing this most confoundingly difficult meat to smoke well. A bird that isn’t dry and leathery is a challenge for any pit master. It’s a challenge Daniel has surmounted. Peel back the slightly crisp skin and imbibe the flavor sensation of tender, moist and delicious chicken with that invigorating smokiness at which he’s so adept.
Having lived in Mississippi for eight years has meant eight years of withdrawal from delicious, deep-fried Southern catfish. Mississippi, which seems to vie with New Mexico for 50th place in seemingly every category of notoriety, leads the nation in the aquaculture production of catfish. The Magnolia State’s restaurants, unlike those in the Land of Enchantment, also know how to prepare it. Our experience with catfish in New Mexico’s restaurants is that much of it tastes as if it’s been coated in sawdust or fried to a wrinkly, desiccated mess. The cornmeal coated catfish at Pepper’s actually reminded us of the catfish in Mississippi. It is light, delicate and flaky.
The St. Louis style ribs are meaty and smoky with the sauce caramelization which typifies St. Louis style barbecue. The ribs not only have a more liberal application of sauce, that sauce is almost lacquered on the ribs, a result of saucing and re-saucing them on the grill repeatedly. Daniel spends hours “mopping and basting” meats with sauce in the smoke. While redolent with smokiness, the smoke isn’t overpowering, lending its presence without detracting from the native flavors of the meats.
The smoked sausage is light on spices, but heavy on flavor. Bite into a diagonally sliced piece and it snaps, juicy deliciousness springing forth from the pinkish meat. The sauce has little influence on the sausage, a good thing considering the flavor concentration in the smoky, luscious links. If your experience with smoked sausage is that no matter how “mild,” it engenders heartburn, try the links at Pepper’s.
The sides are worth a visit to Pepper’s all by themselves. The dirty rice is exceptional, the best we’ve had outside Louisiana. It is moist and redolent with the flavor of garlic, green onions, cayenne, paprika and other ingredients. The macaroni and cheese is creamy and deeply cheesy, several hundred orders of magnitude better than any you’ll find out of the box. It’s an adult macaroni and cheese even children will love.
As for desserts, they’re all made from scratch daily. The sweet potato pie is the best we’ve had outside of Mississippi with a cinnamon and nutmeg sweetness in every bite. Only my friend George Greenway in Biloxi makes sweet potato comparable to this one. The banana pudding is also phenomenal: ripe bananas, a homemade custard and vanilla wafers moistened by the pudding. Blueberry cobbler is is sweet, with just enough of a crunchy biscuit topping. The pecan pie is as good as you’ll find in the Deep South. How can you beat that.
While Daniel may be from Texas, his barbecue defies stereotypes. Some visitors will swear it’s Memphis style, others will swear its genesis is Kansas City. Most, however, agree on one point–this is darned good barbecue.
Pepper’s Bar-B-Q & Soul Food
303 San Pedro, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 4 May 2016
1st VISIT: 23 May 2009
# OF VISITS: 4
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Southern Fried Catfish Filets, Chopped Brisket, Smoked Sausage, St. Louis Style Ribs, Chicken, Southern Potato Salad, Dirty Rice, Macaroni and Cheese, Sweet Potato Pie, Banana Pudding, Fried Chicken, Rib Tips
26 thoughts on “Pepper’s Bar-B-Q & Soul Food – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)”
Gil, do you know if Pepper’s is closed. I drove by Sunday and noticed a For Rent sign in the window. Hoping they have just relocated.
Neither the Pepper’s Facebook page or website gives any indication that the restaurant has closed or relocated. I’ve reached out to people who might know, but haven’t heard back. Let’s hope Daniel and his family are okay.
I hope they are ok and also hope that since I was driving that maybe the sign was in a different space.
Had lunch here. For years I’ve lamented the passing of Robb’s Ribbs (Later Roscoe’s Ribs), as that place had ruined me for other places that served ribs. Today I’ve come to the conclusion it’s just the habenero sauce I’m missing. Pepper’s ribs are **way** better than Robb’s, though I wasn’t as fond of their sauce. But the meat is so good, a little dab’ll do you anyway. I usually don’t care for cornbread, but theirs was really good.
Burque doesn’t share your opinion: http://www.koat.com/news/yelps-11-best-bbq-joints-in-albuquerque/33421776
Thats right! Peppers is #1. Your beloved Nexus didn’t even make the list.
Luis, It’s not surprising that Nexus did not make the list of 10 best BBQ places. They don’t serve any. All I said was I think their collard greens are better than what we had at Peppers.
Tried Pepper’s for lunch today and was generally unimpressed. The place smells fantastic when you walk in but the nose made promises that weren’t kept by the palate. Had the catfish and ribs with collards and dirty rice. The fish and ribs were on the dry side–reheated in the microwave? The catfish fillet was very thin, and the ribs had little meat on the very large bones. The collard greens were watery and had little flavor. Those at Nexus are much better. The dirty rice was indeed very good. The cornbread was OK but again very dry. Not the best in Albuquerque; Kay makes much better. Too bad we had high hopes for Pepper’s. Henry Clopton, where are you now that we need you?
My wife and I went there a few weeks ago and while the food is EXcellent, the very (I mean, VERY) laid back atmosphere was a little off-putting. This might not be the case all the time, but the owner decided to open late (maybe it couldn’t be helped, he was by himself) and was just pretty easie peasie about everything. He isn’t a mean guy, once everything got going he was really nice and talkative, but it might be a little weird for some people. I don’t know if I would go back, to tell you the truth. Gil, if you like barbque and burgers you come up to Santa Fe and try Bang Bite, it is incredible. They will be expanding from their food truck on the corner of Paseo de Peralta and Old SF trail into the space formerly occupied by Flying Star. Truth, man, it is amazing.
You nailed it. I have lived in the neighborhood east of Pepper’s for 14 years. Even though I have met hime time and time again and the owner still acts like I’ve never met time and I’ve kind of bugged him by showing up to eat his food. We just stopped going after a while even though the food is pretty good, when he makes enough of it to last through the day.
I finally got around to trying this place today, and I have to say that this was some of the better BBQ I’ve had in town. Granted, there’s not a lot to choose from anymore, but this was really good. The brisket was the best I’ve had in quite a while. The fried cabbage was a great side item and the corn bread was very good. Also, while others have complainted about the owner, I found him very friendly. I plan on returning to try the rest of the menu.
We ate at Peppers for the first time today. And we loved it I see these negative comments and I can tell you that was not our experience. The proprietor went out of his way to make us feel welcome. Sat down and chatted with us , and even opened the door to some PNM workers that showed up after closing time because they were good customers. Everything we had was excellent the greens were out of this world and very flavorful I was concerned I didnt’ have my standard hot sauce of the greens but they didn’t need it. Mac and Cheese excellent, chicken juicy and my grandson had sweet potatoes three different ways loved them all. Blackeyed peas were great as well. The only suggestion I would have is the variety of beverages. Maybe have some sweet tea and offer a better selection. We will definitely be going back.
I’m very very disappointed to report that I tried to order from Pepper’s at lunch today, but was insulted three or four times just when trying to place my order, with the OWNER taking my order.
I had made special provision to ensure I was carrying enough cash, as I lost my lunch break a month or so before when showing up to order without knowing the business was a cash only basis.
Mr. Morgan was shouting at customers in a loud voice as we tried to place our orders. I was snapped at for mistakenly ordering “pulled” pork when the menu stated “chopped.” I was literally told, “we don’t have pulled pork, we have ‘chopped’ like it says on the menu.”
I bushed off the hostile tone, and went on to complete my order. When looking for slaw on the sign, he again snapped at me that they did not serve slaw. He then followed up with a sarcastic, “where did you HEAR about us?” I remained calm and replied that I had eaten there before, which I had.
Twice more in placing the order, I received rude and hostile questions, with anger that wasn’t even slightly veiled. I finally stopped the order and said I would not need to be ordering. I was told not to come back.
The restaurant was not busy, and I had not held up the line. I could not tell if the owner was under stress from something, was perhaps racist, or was somehow provoked by my ignorance of his menu. No food is worth enduring insults before one even gets the order placed.
i just ate there today, and it was great!! highly recommended to everyone who loves meat!! the guy there was funny and friendly. a little costy but its big portion and worth it..i like the environment it felt like home to me like down in the south. i had the catfish and it was fabulous and the BEST bbq sauce in the world!!! 😀 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
You really must revisit and bump Pepper’s back to the top of the review list. In my book, using the Gil rating system, they’ve gotta be a 21-22 for sheer smoke factor alone. It’s rare to be able to carry the smell of a place with you for hours and with Pepper’s, it happens.
Went to Pepper’s for the first time about 3 weeks ago. Ordered the sliced brisket with mac n cheese and collards, sweet potato cornbread. I am not the least bit surprised to see the polarized opinions on this place — there is just as much greatness and attention to detail at this place as there is carelessness. I’ll start with the owner. Someone wrote that he was “one of the friendlies and most genuine proprietors in town!” I am looking at the same picture of the man that you see at the top of this page and only remembering what a short-tempered (expletive deleted) he was to both myself and the two ladies who ordered before me. I don’t use an expletive like that lightly, and quite honestly I wasn’t surprised or offended to get a heavy hand of sass with my southern BB, but I really cannot think of a better descriptor of the man I ordered from that day. He acted as if he was pissed off that we were in his restaurant, as if he could not understand why a person would have questions about his menu. His answers to all three of us were terse and unhelpful. And he shouted “(expletive deleted)!” two or three times (not at us, just at the air). In the next room we all exchanged glances, kind of like “what the hell just happened?” Maybe Dan was having a bad day.
On to the food. The mac n cheese was some of the best I’ve ever had. Just phenomenal — the shell noodles were al dente enough to not evaporate in your mouth like most pre-made mac, and the combination of cheeses and milk/cream was rich and deep in flavor, but like the review says, something a kid could get into.
Collard greens were good too, though they didn’t knock my socks off. The juice had a nice meaty/smoky flavor, not too bitter. Little pieces of pork added to that flavor but were pretty dried out.
Sweet potato cornbread was small and cold but phenomenal in taste and texture. 4 of these hot with butter and honey would make a sinfully good breakfast.
Brisket –and here’s where my northerner roots kick in– was just too fatty to be palatable. I understand that intense marbling is a valued trait in southern bbq, but I just was not into the idea of eating 5 or 6 slabs of meat that were all half white with fat. The meat was tender, the smoke flavor strong but delicious, but I just couldn’t get around the fat. Took me 20 minutes to just pick around the stuff before giving up and leaving the main part of my meal the only unfinished thing on the plate.
Oh, and the sauce — awesome. Sweet, smoky, well spiced, thin but not watery… man, that was good sauce. I even dipped some of my mac n cheese in it because I didn’t want it to go to waste. That good!
So overall … Pepper’s has potential for greatness, but there are some quirks and inconsistencies that need to be worked out. That and the owner could cheer up a little. I’ll go back (probably alone — I would not take a date to be harangued by Daniel Pepper) to try the chicken and dirty rice, and more of that mac n cheese and great sauce.
Visited yesterday and was most impressed. The ribs, brisket and chicken were very good and the sausage was tasty as well. The sides were good, particularly the mac and cheese and the fried cabbage. Pepper is a man committed to great BBQ and works hard to see that clients are satisfied. His caring shows. We’ll visit again! You should too!
Pepper’s must have ironed out some kitchen issues since last year. My first visit was about a month ago, and I’ve returned twice. The ribs, chicken, sausage and brisket were amazing, and the collards were perfect. The fried cabbage was really good, too… I’ve never had that dish before. I love this place!
I cannot believe the negative reviews! Peppers is a favorite of ours and a place we regularly send friends and co-workers. Fantastically smokey and tender meats, amazing homemade sides ( oooh, I love that fried cabbage! ) and one of the friendlies and most genuine proprietors in town! Two well greased and sauced thumbs up for Peppers!
I had the sliced brisket plate with collards and mac and cheese. Great brisket. Collards a lil flavorless. Enjoyed the stop
Gil, looks like you’re the only person that liked this restaurant. Any chance you’ve been back and then changed your mind? Just curious. The pictures and your descriptions make it look so good!
Alas, I haven’t been back, but plan to visit someday soon. All my reviews–and those of any critic–come with a caveat emptor. Every review is a snapshot in time and many things can change in even a short period of time. We really enjoyed our visit to Pepper’s and we’re not the only ones. Check out the really positive feedback about Pepper’s at http://nmgastronome.com/?p=2828; it’s the last feedback after the review. The Alibi critic also had a lot of positive things to say about Pepper’s.
When it comes to reviews–or opinions on anything–there are no absolute truths or absolute lies. I urge you to visit Pepper’s and make up your own mind. Hopefully your visit will validate mine:)
The whole meal was served luke warm, and the portions were small. I was really looking forward to the macaroni and cheese but was disappointed in the thin, runny cheese sauce. The sweet potato muffin was excellent but tiny. The barbecue was so-so: minced with too much sauce. Even though the menu was small, they were out of some items. I will not go back.
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After a day at the Fair on Friday, we decided that rather than pay exurbanite prices for mediocre Fair food, to go to Pepper’s, get a selection of items and then go home to enjoy a leisurely feed. What a disappointment! The only way to order at Pepper’s is by the “plate” as opposed to by the pound. The problem here is that all “plate’s” come with two side dishes, and the side dishes were just dreadful! The sweet potato corn muffins were so dry they crumbled upon contact; the fried cabbage was hideously greasy and rancid tasting; the mac & cheese was overcooked, dry and flavorless; the potato salad bland and flavorless. The only eatable side was the “dirty rice” – smoky and deep, but other than that – blech for the other sides. The ribs were very minimal in the meat department, the sauce almost non-existent with none on the side, the meat was very dry and tough. The brisket was a shock in that it was chopped up so finely it had the look and consistency of ground meat, but with a smoky taste. So, all in all, this was not a good experience – and I really wanted to like it as it’s located close to home!
I was actually very disappointed by my recent visit to Pepper’s. The chicken was tough and dry, an apparent result of reheating my food in the microwave. While I liked the BBQ sauce, I’m unlikely to return.
One correction: according to other reviews and a quick phone call to Pepper’s, it seems that they feature “Soul Food Saturday”, not “Soul Food Sunday”.
This looks and sounds succulent, can’t wait to dine at Pepper’s!