Vernon’s Speakeasy – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

The door to Vernon's Hidden Valley Steakhouse. Make sure you know the secret password.
The door to Vernon’s Speakeasy. Make sure you know the secret password.

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution ushered in the era of Prohibition in the United States, an era was to last from 1920 through 1933.  Only liquors used for religious purposes were excluded.  Because alcohol was declared illegal by the Congress, bootleggers and distributors of illicit alcohol thrived.  There was no shortage of enthusiastic scofflaws willing to run afoul of the law in order to enjoy intoxicating beverages.  One of the most popular milieus in which alcohol was served was the speakeasy.

A speakeasy was generally either a restaurant or a bar to which patrons gained admission by knocking on a door and uttering a secret password.  Once inside, patrons were treated very well in a swanky ambiance that may have included elaborate floor shows, fine dining and live entertainment.  Speakeasies flourished throughout the United States.

The elegant trappings of Vernon's Hidden Valley Steakhouse
The elegant trappings of Vernon’s Speakeasy (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

Vernon’s Speakeasy (formerly known as Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse), no longer one of the Albuquerque area’s best kept secrets, celebrates the spirit of the speakeasy.  Located in the 19,000 square-food Village Shops at Los Ranchos, there is absolutely no visible sign  that Vernon’s  even exists.  You enter Vernon’s through a heavy steel door.  Knock three times on that door and a sliding peephole opens.  Speak a secret password and you’ll be greeted by a doorman attired in a pinstripe suit delivering heavily accented gangster schtick (more reminiscent of the pitchman for Godfather’s Pizza than Don Vito Corleone of the Godfather movies)  before granting you admission to a surprising world reminiscent of the Prohibition Era speakeasy.

Vernon’s Speakeasy is named for Vernon Garcia who along with his wife Angel founded the restaurant in January, 2007.  Despite a lack of mainstream publicity in its infancy, Vernon’s gradually established itself as a popular dining destination among those in the know and has continued to grow in popularity.  In 2009, entrepreneur Michael Baird purchased the speakeasy-themed steakhouse along with the adjacent package store and the Calico Cantina & Cafe, a popular eatery specializing in American comfort foods with a twist.  Under Baird’s direction, the entire complex has undergone a significant transformation.  Gone is the Calico, replaced by Prime, a high-end delicatessen and specialty food shop.  Additionally, Vernon’s has made the speakeasy experience even more authentic with secret passageways, a new private dining room, a cigar patio and a VIP club.

The minute you enter Vernon’s, the cares of the day melt will away.  True to its speakeasy theme, the entire restaurant is intended to be hidden away from prying eyes.  Black curtains prevent the incursion of any errant sunlight. Passers-by who stride along the sidewalk have absolutely no idea there’s a fashionable, high-end restaurant behind those curtains.  The walls of the entire restaurant are highly buffed to a black diamond finish.  Only the rich red planked ceilings from which muted lighting is parsimoniously meted out offer a surcease to the enveloping darkness. A relaxed mood is further established by a pianist with an endless repertoire of music for all tastes.

The ambiance at Vernon's, though dark, inspires hush tones and relaxation.
The ambiance at Vernon’s, though dark, inspires hush tones and relaxation. (Courtesy of Bill Resnik)

The high-end menu includes the type of cuisine on which Al Capone himself might have dined in a Chicago speakeasy: chops, steak and seafood.  While it might not take a well-heeled outlaw’s ill-gotten gains to eat at Vernon’s, entrees are somewhat pricy (as in the potential for a $200 meal without alcohol).  A 20-ounce USDA prime, center-cut, bone-in ribeye with a port demi-glace reduction and savory chervil butter (called the Los Ranchos Star), for example, goes for $64 (as of this writing).   Entrees are served with the chef’s vegetable du jour and one complimentary accompaniment: white truffle infused Yukon mashed potatoes, herbed new potato hash, wasabi mashed potatoes, Basmati rice, baked potato, loaded mashed potatoes or roasted pepper and onion mashed potatoes.  The wasabi mashed potatoes have a discernible bite and are very good.

With a couple exceptions, the beef is Newport Prime, noted for its high quality, trim standards, yield, appearance and most importantly, taste.  Newport’s cattle are raised on mother’s milk, introduced to and raised on pasture grass then finished with a protein and corn rich diet.  The boneless ribeye and prime rib (twenty-one day, wet aged beef) are all-natural New Mexico raised beef.  Seafood entrees include seasonal salmon and halibut as well as Australian cold water lobster tail.  Petaluma free-range chicken, beef tenderloin medallions, marinated pork loin and New Zealand lamb shank round out the entrees menu.

Appetizers are surprisingly unimaginative for such a high-end dining establishment: blue corn cakes, bruschetta, crab stuffed mushrooms, orange cured salmon gravlox and scallops.  That doesn’t mean they’re not very good.  The bruschetta, for example, is quite good.  Toasted French  Parmesan baguettes are studded with Balsamic marinated tomatoes topped with melted mozzarella.  The crab stuffed mushrooms (lump crab meat, spices and stuffed into mushroom caps) are another popular pre-prandial treat that will fly off the table.  This isn’t faux crab; it’s the real thing and it’s really delicious. Soups and salads provide an alternative to the appetizers.  All are excellent precursors of things to come.

A succulent steak with baked potato and all the trimmings (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)
A succulent steak with baked potato and all the trimmings (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

The butter poached lobster salad (fresh arugula, shaved fennel, bell peppers, cucumbers, grape tomatoes and citrus vinaigrette) includes several elements which work well together as well as contrasting flavor profiles that surprised me.  The zesty, peppery flavor of the arugula and the slight bitterness of the bell peppers, for example, could have overwhelmed the delicately sweet butter poached lobster, but they don”t.  The offsetting element may well be the citrus vinaigrette which seems to put it all together for this salad.   The lobster, of course, will leave you wanting more.

Though an excellent entree, the Steak Au Poivre (a Newport USDA prime center-cut New York strip steak) may not be for you if you savor your steak with the grill-influenced taste some aficionados crave.  Steak Au Poivre is pan-broiled and served with a brandy and butter sauce.  At Vernon’s, the Steak Au Poivre isn’t redolent (translation: overwhelmed) with the crushed peppercorns that typify this entree.  It is as tender as any non-Kobe beef you’ll find anywhere, a ten- to twelve-ounce slab of flame kissed beef prepared to your exacting specifications.  Ask for medium if you relish the juiciness of a great steak perfectly prepared.

The New York Strip, a twelve ounce slab perfectly prepared to your exacting specifications might be a better choice for aficionados of unadulterated beef.  It is Newport USDA prime center-cut steak made even better if you ask for salt, pepper and garlic on both sides.  You won’t find any trace of sinew, gristle or fat on this buttery tender steak.  My best bet choice is the aforementioned Los Ranchos Star, the USDA prime center cut 20-ounce bone-in slab of pure deliciousness.  This melt-in-your mouth beef hunkiness is big enough to share though you probably won’t want to.  You’ll want every morsel of this steak for yourself.  Ask for the wild mushroom Bordelaise, the only way you can possibly improve on this magnificent meaty perfection.

A ten-ounce filet served medium rare.
A ten-ounce filet served medium rare. (Courtesy of Bill Resnik)

If the sides aren’t enough, you can also order from among several ala carte items including an adult mac and cheese, braised collard greens, and grilled asparagus with Hollandaise sauce.  The adult mac and cheese is sinfully rich and utterly delicious, thanks in no small measure to an infusion of Gouda cheese and sugar-cured ham.  Who needs Kraft dinner when adult mac and cheese is so wonderful.

The dessert tray abounds with delicious options sure to please the discerning diner.  Rave reviews are sure to follow if you opt for the Chocolate silk, a shortbread pecan cookie crust topped with a rich, frothy chocolate custard and sweet cream cheese.  This is a dessert for which you absolutely have to make room.  It’s one of my very favorite desserts, one I enjoy so much, I employ the “it’ll all go to your hips so you shouldn’t have any” ploy on my loving bride of 26 years. Invariably it never works and I have to share it with her.

In January, 2010, Vernon’s Speakeasy was selected by AOL’s Web site as one of “Twenty Romantic Restaurants We Love Across the Country.”  According to the feature: “This speakeasy-style restaurant is still a bit of a secret to most of the locals. If you didn’t know there was a restaurant behind a hidden door in Los Ranchos Liquors, you’d probably never learn how romantic an underground spot can be. The atmosphere is cozy and warm – a good place to cuddle up with your number one guy or gal.”

A close-up of Vernon's filet served medium rare.
A close-up of Vernon’s filet served medium rare. (Courtesy of Bill Resnik)

Shortly before Valentine’s Day in 2010, Open Table, Inc., which provides a free online restaurant reservation service, named its fifty “most romantic restaurants,” a list gleaned from more than seven million reviews submitted by Open Table diners on more than 12,000 restaurants across the fruited plain. Vernon’s Speakeasy was the sole honoree from the Land of Enchantment. 

Only from Zagat will you find a disparaging word.  Zagat wrote of “trends that may once have seemed fresh and innovative that have simply worn out their welcome.”  Near the top of that list is prohibition-era restaurants which are “getting a little tired at this point.” That, of course is an opinion and Albuquerque diners clearly dissent.  Duke City diners have certainly not grown tired of Vernon’s Speakeasy.  If anything, it continues to increase in popularity.  It’s especially favored for special occasions and celebrations.  If the doorman is to be believed, Vernon’s is frequented by Hollywood glitterati whom he cautions should be allowed to enjoy their repast in peace.

Chocolate Silk, one of the best desserts in Albuquerque…maybe the world

Vernon’s may no longer be the well-kept secret it once was, but it remains an excellent dinner option when only steak will do and you want to impress a special someone.

Vernon’s Speakeasy
6855 4th Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2011
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Steak Au Poivre, Bruschetta, Chocolate Silk Pie

Vernon's Hidden Valley Steaks on Urbanspoon

13 thoughts on “Vernon’s Speakeasy – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

  1. My company hosted a dinner last night for about 20 of us. A couple of us got there early to have a stick on the patio but were told that the humidor wasn’t working well and all the cigars were dry. So we hung out in the VIP room bar where the adult beverages were a bit overpriced. We had choices between NY Strip with garlic mash potatoes, Salmon with rice pilaf or Pork Tenderloin with risotto. They all came with the veg medley of the day, snap peas with carrots and red peppers. They put baskets of fresh bread slices on the table along with ramekins of garlic olive oil. Dessert was a bread pudding with ice cream or tiramisu. The only complaint I heard was one of the guests ordered his steak med rare and it came well done. He sent it back and they brought him out a new plate with a steak cooked the way he wanted. Mine was cooked as ordered and came with some compound butter on top, the vegs were not over cooked and the garlic mash were very good. I had the tiramisu and it was good, not great but good and a couple people commented on the bread pudding said it was good but small portion. So, now that I’ve finally eaten there I will be back since my favorite local steak house has closed Vernon’s will be my go to for a steak.

  2. Took Senorena to Vernon’s for our 29 Wedding Anniversary. I enjoyed the 1920’s theme, it made it fun. But, I felt prices were a bit too high for what one gets; note I compare against my special bar of Ruth’s Chris Steak House. I had the Los Ranchos Star Ribeye which was cooked to the temperature I asked for and nicely charred It came with Broccoli and Mashed Potatoes all tasty. But alas, I left hungry and Quantity / Price ratio was just too large in the denominator. I think they would do much better lowering the prices making it more reasonable to the masses. They also advertised discounted gift coupons but that was for last year when there were issues with Groupon. Would like to go back some time but needs to be made more cost affordable.

  3. I had been invited to Vernon’s for an industry event in the bar and was absolutely delighted. A month later my husband drove me from Santa Fe to the area for an audition, and I recommended Vernon’s for dinner. We had no reservations, no password but were delighted to be accommodated. The meal was fabulous. I had the Ribeye with Wasabi Mashed and my husband had the cod. The appetizer of the brushetta was incredible (I want the recipe – but ask for additional crostini). Dessert was not my favorite (petit four) but my husband loved his Tres Leches cake. This a place to remember.

  4. I have a friend that told us about Vernon’s a few years ago. He is single but said it would be a great place to take my wife. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about it until I read your blog. Thanks for the reminder, we will be visiting very soon.

  5. My wife and went to Vernon’s for an anniversary dinner, and I must say it was great experience. We had reservations for the blues club but we when we arrived the particular table had not been cleared; They were very accommodating, and allowed us to enter the restaurant section right away for cocktails and an appetizer while we waited for our table to be ready. The unique entry and mob style greeting to the restaurant was fun, it is something that people don’t get to experience very often. We had the Bruschetta for an appetizer as recommended by Gil, and we were not disappointed. Our two Ribeye Steaks were cooked perfectly and were very tasty. The presentation and service was spot on with the quality of the food. There was a jazz band playing their opening CD release, and the entertainment was a treat for this wonderful experience. I would definitely plan on returning for a special occasion.

  6. We were very “under-whelmed” by Vernon’s Steakhouse. We had heard good things about the food and the service, but neither was up to par. After waiting over 45 minutes past our reservation time we were finally seated and I had a great view of the kitchen door. It took a long time for our soup/salad to arrive and the Wedge salad was only mediocre. A small wedge of lettuce with too much creamy blue cheese dressing that tasted like it came out of a bottle. My husband’s French Onion soup, however, was very good. Our entrees arrived and the presentaion was only about “two star.” My tiny filet was surrounded by a clump of mashed potated and unidentifiable vegetables. The waitress forgot my Beaunaise sauce and I was almost finished before I caught her eye to retrieve the sauce. My husband’s lamb chops were tasty but again, presentation was very commonplace. When I check arrived they had transferred someone else’s bar tab to us and it took several minutes to get things straightened out. This was a combination anniversary and birthday celebration but we’ll look for another option next year.

  7. I been to vernons twice the food and service have been great both times first time i got the los ranchos star it was a huge steak very filling got loaded mashed patotes they were really good the second time got the prime rib was the best prime rib ever the horse raddish was really good liked the prime rib better then the los ranchos star also tasted the lobster tail that was really good one of the best lobster tails i have tasted will go back again

  8. AMAZING find and our new favorite place! Since the demise of Great American Land and Cattle, we’ve been looking for a perfect-steak replacement and found it here.

    We were led to the entrance of the restaurant by the liquor store attendant who gave us a short history of the building. Knocked on the door and gave the “password” and they allowed us in. What a great way to start our adventure!

    I tried the Star ribeye (recommended by the waiter as the best cut) which I got with loaded mashed potatoes and garlic string beans. The steak was perfectly cooked, complimented with walnut butter, and had great flavor. The potatoes had sour cream, cheese, butter, fresh (and still crispy) bacon and chives, they were delightful and not too heavy. The beans were cooked with garlic and butter and had great flavor and texture. We also ordered a side of the Adult Mac & Cheese which they brought to us before hand. The dish included a touch of truffle oil, which wasn’t listed on the menu, and added excellent aroma and taste to the dish, and it wasn’t overbearing. My boyfriend had their special, which was Colorado lamb chops, habanero mashed potatoes, and calabacitas; which melded well together and were all quite tasty.

    The staff was attentive, helpful, and very gracious throughout the meal. At the end of it, they brought out a mesmerizing dessert plate, and we chose the cheesecake. It was an individual round portion, with shortbread crust, creamy filling, and a nut topping with caramel sauce. Fabulous!

    The entire experience was a treat, from start to finish. Thank you so much for this recommendation, we will certainly be back!

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