Stone Face Tavern – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Boris Vallejo, one of the premier fantasy and science fiction artists in the world, might find the ambiance at the Stone Face Tavern inspirational. He might even join the throngs of regulars who enjoy the ambiance, hospitality, libations and food at a tavern he could have designed. The Stone Face Tavern is like an adult Disneyland for aficionados of the fantasy and erotica genres masterfully created by Vallejo. The south-facing facade resembles a multi-turret stone castle complete with threatening gargoyles perched on the parapet. The ominous countenance, flowing beard and piercing eyes of a Viking warrior or Norse god (maybe even Odin himself) looks down upon you from a vantage point high above the entrance.
Step inside and it may take you a few minutes to adjust to the capacious dimly-lit dining room (heaven help you if you wear transition glasses) where there’s something to see wherever you turn. Once adjusted, your eyes will scan the room and maybe take in the banners suspended from the ceiling in much the way knights’ banners adorned the great halls of medieval castles. Perhaps they’ll fixate on the large flat screen televisions (which provide much of the venue’s illumination), all tuned to sporting events. Patrons endowed with XY-chromosomes will likely focus on the menu and the waitresses, not necessarily in that order.
The Tavern is owned by Billy Baldwin, an Albuquerque entrepreneur who also owns other Duke City watering holes. He’s a past president of the New Mexico Hospitality Retail Association and obviously knows a thing or two about hospitality. He also knows a thing or two about constructing a menu that appeals to his clientele. Three salads–blackened chicken, fajita and chef–will appeal to lighter appetites. Eleven sandwiches, ranging from a Philly Swiss (one of the tavern’s signature favorites) sandwich to your choice of bratwurst or Polish sausage are probably more popular than the salads. The menu includes only one seafood entree, salmon, but it also includes a half dozen New Mexican entrees, all of which are big enough to share. Appetizers include French fries, beer-battered mushrooms, chicken tenders, guacamole and chips, nachos, quesadillas, buffalo wings and chips and salsa. Non-sandwich entrees include chicken fried chicken or steak, steak fingers, New York strip and a hamburger steak.
Fridays and Saturdays rock at the Tavern when featured bands bring the house down. For sports fans, volleyball season begins in March every year at the Tavern’s outdoor volleyball courts. Then before summer temperatures begin to soar, the Stone Face Tavern hosts the annual Sandia Mountain Volleyball Classic, a pro-am event with players from New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and California. Proceeds go to Albuquerque’s New Mexico Cancer Center. If indoor activities are more your speed, the Tavern has a number of dart boards available. Unlike some watering holes, the ambient noise isn’t so deafening that you can’t hold a conversation with your companions.
29 September 2012: It takes two hands to handle the behemoth buns which wrap themselves around cheese, tomato, lettuce, a full fried chicken breast and a buffalo sauce as lethal as gunpowder in the legendary buffalo chicken sandwich. Buffalo chicken wings have never seen a sauce quite as incendiary–or quite as good. It’s a better chicken sandwich, by far, than you’ll find at any of the fried chicken chains. My friend and colleague Fred Phillips loves this sandwich so much he’s earned the sobriquet “Four Bite Fred” for the ardor with which he attacks it. He’s been responsible for introducing more people to this sandwich than most online dating services have made lifelong matches.
Another among the five chicken sandwiches on the menu is the aptly named New Mexico Cordon Bleu chicken sandwich, a take-off of the classic French favorite with a New Mexico twist, our ubiquitous green chile. This sandwich features a seared chicken breast topped with ham, Swiss cheese, green chile, tomato, lettuce and mayo. It’s a humongous chicken sandwich, requiring both hands to hold. With a more ardent green chile, it might compete with the aforementioned buffalo chicken sandwich for the tavern’s best.
29 September 2012: The chicken Parmesan sandwich, an Italian-inspired creation has everything a brimming plate of chicken Parmesan might have save for a side of spaghetti. The chicken breast is roughly the size of what you’d get in the Italian dish, maybe even in a Texas plate of chicken fried chicken. It protrudes well beyond the bun at all sides. It’s a thick chicken breast with a relatively light breading considering its size. The marinara sauce is thick, too, and draped over by a generous amount of cheese. The French roll isn’t nearly formidable enough to hold in its contents so you’ll probably have to eat this sandwich much as you would chicken Parmesan.
My friend Captain Tuttle raves about the New York Steak sandwich, a sandwich “so good, it makes me weep when I eat it.” Ever the “homer,” my philosophy is anything named for New Mexico has got to be better than anything named for New York. That means the New Mexico Steak sandwich for me. Where the New York steak sandwich is served on a French roll, the New Mexico steak sandwich is served on a tortilla. Alas, the tortilla is so thin and crispy that it cracks and you’re forced to eat the steak with a fork. This is inexcusable. There are plenty of purveyors of more pliable, thick tortillas that would hold up better. It’s a pity waifishly thin, cracker brittle tortillas are the downfall of an otherwise terrific sandwich.
The Stone Face Tavern also serves a formidable, two-fisted burger menu–six burgers including a green chile cheeseburger which packs a punch…as does the jalapeno-based salsa which might have you reaching for water more than once. Almost uncharacteristic of this predominantly man’s man’s tavern, the burger menu also includes a veggie burger, your choice of black bean or garden. It is served with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and mustard. I have it on good authority from my friend, the professorial Randy Lake that this is a pretty good burger.
24 October 2018: The Alibi staff doesn’t hold chicken fried steak in as high esteem as some of us do. In the breakfast segment of the Alibi’s Best of Burque Restaurants for 2018, the Alibi prefaced the readers’ poll selection of the city’s best chicken fried steak thusly: “Going to a restaurant just because they feature a dish called chicken fried steak ought to be a sin, but it isn’t. Why, sometimes there is nothing better than a piece of cow coated in batter, fried up and served with thick country gravy. That’s called living the good life.” If visiting a restaurant for chicken fried steak really was a sin, some of us would have to say a few thousand novenas as absolution.
It might be argued that the real sin is the paltry portion size of some of the chicken fried steaks served in some Duke City areas. You’ll never hear anyone complain about the portion size at the Stone Face Tavern. The chicken fried steak (pictured below) is roughly the size of a car muffler. It’s absolutely humongous, maybe the chicken fried steak answer to the Big Texan’s 72-ounce steak. It’s also huge on flavor with a crispy breading sheathing a fork-tender exemplar of the dish. As if the savory slab isn’t enough, the steak is accompanied by your choice of potato (mashed, French fries, baked), Texas toast and a very fresh garden salad.
24 October 2018: Considering all the great chicken sandwiches on the menu, it stands to reason the Stone Face Tavern would serve a terrific chicken fried chicken plate. Indeed it does. More than most chicken fried chicken dishes, this one tastes like picnic worthy fried chicken, several orders of magnitude better than what the Colonel’s place serves. It’s easily an inch thick in places but beneath the crunchy, crispy breading, the chicken remains moist and juicy. The white pepper gravy isn’t especially assertive, but it’s got a nice flavor that compliments the chicken. The Stone Face Tavern is one of the few restaurants to offer a baked potato for lunch. Take advantage of it and ask for it to be fully loaded (bacon, cheese, chives, sour cream).
Even though my friend Four-Bite Fred will probably never deviate from the buffalo chicken sandwich, there’s something for everyone on the menu.
Stone Face Tavern
8201 San Pedro, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 24 October 2018
# OF VISITS: 8
BEST BET: Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, Chips & Salsa, Quesadilla, Enchiladas, Chicken Parmesan Sandwich, Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich, Green Chile Stew, New Mexico Steak Sandwich, Chicken Fried Steak, Chicken Fried Chicken