As an essayist of the New Mexico culinary condition, it’s easy to be lured in by new restaurants, those bright and shiny beacons of promise. Sadly, critics (and those of us who play them in movies and television) gravitate toward new restaurants with the expectation of newness, something heretofore different and amazing. We often do this at the expense of tried-and-true, established and proven restaurants which haven’t ever let us down. For every new restaurant I visit, there are hundreds of old favorites to which I don’t return often enough. One such personal favorite is Scarpas, a long-time fixture on Academy.
Academy has been home to Scarpas since entrepreneur and restaurant impresario Jim Schumacher opened it in 1995. For years later, he opened a second Scarpas, this one on Montgomery. Schumaker, you might remember, was the long-time owner of The Cooperage, a Lomas mainstay since 1976. In 2020, Joe Sommers, a Scarpas employee from day one, purchased the restaurant from Schumacher. Not too much later, The Cooperage shut down for good.
In 2021, year two of year the world’s nightmare, the Montgomery instantiation of Scarpas lost its lease and was shuttered. The facility was redeveloped as a gas station (just in time for gas price escalations). Sommers indicated at the time that he would be searching for another location in which to open another Scarpas location, possibly in Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side. We’re still waiting. In the meantime, Scarpas remains a lodestar for New Mexicans who love brick oven pizza that despite being waifishly thin, is generously topped. Other diners make a Scarpas pilgrimage for gourmet salads while some, like Albuquerque’s most pulchritudinous pugilist Holly Holmes prefer the pasta.
Another reason Scarpas remains popular is its practice of getting you in and getting you out quickly without compromising great (among the very best in town) service. It may take longer for you to decide what to have from among copious menu options than for your order to be filled. The kitchen crew fills those orders remarkably quickly, particularly if you order a pizza. Custom-built brick ovens
There are some consequences to the shorter baking time. Although the crust may have a hint of char on a crispy crust and its outside edges may be replete with airy holes, you won’t finish your first slice before the pizza has cooled down (with thick-crust pizzas, you’d probably have burned the roof of your mouth with your first bite).
Scarpas pizzas are fired with a blend of Mozzarella and Fontina cheeses, unless otherwise specified. California inspired ingredients such as Thai chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, shitake mushrooms and even rosemary potatoes are available on a menu that features nineteen different pizzas. You can, of course, create your own.
The quartered Four Seasons pizza is made with a garlic cream sauce and is populated with artichoke hearts, pancetta bacon, shitake and domestic mushrooms and smoked salmon. It’s topped with Kalamata olives and goat cheese. Though I’ve never been able to discern which season is represented on any particular quarter, this pizza is indicative of the menu’s California creativity.
You don’t, of course, have to be creative. If you prefer the simplicity of a relatively unadorned pizza, you can have that, too. The Italian sausage pizza, for example, is comparatively barren with only garlic cream sauce, roasted bell peppers, caramelized onions and fennel-rich sausage.
Pasta dishes include a basic but very well done Spaghetti Italienne, extra long spaghetti topped with a homemade marinara sauce and meatballs.
More sophisticated pastas are available, such as the New Orleans Linguini, Andouille sausage, oak-grilled chicken, tomatoes, red bell peppers, onions and parmesan cheese over linguini. Not nearly as spicy as the city for which it is named, you might consider adding New Mexico’s own green chile to this dish. It’s a flavor enhancer that seems to work very well with the other ingredients, particularly the Andouille sausage.
Scarpas torta di meli is one of the most popular dessert items in the City. This specialty dessert is easily big enough for two to share. It starts with a warm puff pastry apple tart baked in the wood burning brick oven then it gets good from there. This pastry is topped with your choice of either Vietnamese cinnamon ice cream or Cappuccino Commotion ice cream (both are deliciously decadent), cinnamon, caramel sauce and whipped cream. Unfortunately you can’t have both ice creams because portions are measured. Still, with either ice cream, it’s a delicious dessert you won’t soon forget.
Scarpas is a favorite of business people and families alike. It’s frequently packed and usually noisy, but is always a restaurant on which you can count for a solid, if unspectacular meal.
Scarpas Brick Oven Pizza
9700 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 28 January 2023
# OF VISIT: 4
BEST BET: Torte Di Mele, Sausage Pizza, Cheesy Bacon Pizza, Pasta Carbonara, Thai Chicken Pizza