In this age of “fake news,” biased media slants and unabashed tell-alls, the one recent headline which has pleased me most comes from Bloomberg. Splashed in bold typeface was the eye-catching lead “Mom-and-Pop Joints Are Trouncing America’s Big Restaurant Chains.” Elaborating on this contention, the first paragraph reads: “Americans are rejecting the consistency of national restaurant chains after decades of dominance in favor of the authenticity of locally owned eateries, with their daily specials and Mom’s watercolors decorating the walls.” The numbers bear this out–“annual revenue for independents will grow about 5 percent through 2020, while the growth for chains will be about 3 percent.”
Fittingly, I read this article during my inaugural visit to The Farmacy, a Lilliputian lair of luscious food then located on the southeast corner of the Mountain Road-Eighth Street intersection. If big restaurant chains and their well-heeled operations are the proverbial muscle-bound beach bullies who kick sand in the face of scrawny kids, The Farmacy embodied the small underdog who fights back with the only weapons at its disposal: great food and friendly service at an affordable price. The Farmacy is David to the Philistine’s Goliath, the plodding tortoise to the overly confident hare, unknown journeyman Rocky Balboa to the world champion Apollo Creed. It’s the little engine that could…and does.
On my way out the door, I ran into Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp. The Bloomberg article I had just read credited “free-marketing websites such as Yelp” with boosting “the fortunes of independents in the age of McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Olive Garden…” Perhaps no one in Albuquerque does as much to evangelize for mom-and-pops than Howie. It was his Yelp review, in fact, that prompted my visit to The Farmacy. The catalyst for his own inaugural visit was Yelp reviewers having accorded The Farmacy a perfect rating: “5 stars at 50-plus reviews!” (Naturally as soon as Howie noted this, a nay-sayer gave The Farmacy a rating of “4.”)
Howie is the Duke City dining scene’s version of The Pied Piper. When he sings the praises of a restaurant, savvy readers beat the path to its doors. His prose is poetic, his rhetoric rhapsodic. Here’s what he wrote that lured me to The Farmacy. “The reuben is indeed what you’re looking forward to in a dinosaur-esque luncheon, you’re just kind of clawing, mawing and ultimately grabbing various business cards with square edges to dislodge pastrami from your teeth, it’s a damn fine sammie, on par with one of my faves at Bocadillos .” Frankly, he had me at dinosaur-esque, but the clincher was his comparison of The Farmacy’s Reuben to Bocadillo’s.
At its first home, The Farmacy was the archetypal neighborhood mom-and-pop restaurant. Situated in the historical Sawmill District, it was ensconced in a residential neighborhood which often meant having to park in front of someone’s home. A home is exactly what The Farmacy once was, albeit a very small home. From very small home to very small restaurant with seating (on two-top tables) for about a dozen guests, it was a great place for breakfast or lunch. Just before Thanksgiving in 2018, Farmacy fanatics had another reason to give thanks when The Farmacy moved to a larger space on Central Avenue in the Nob Hill district. Now situated in the space which was once home to Serafin’s Chile Hut and a number of other short-lived restaurants, The Farmacy probably quadrupled its previous size.
Even with its greater seating capacity and greatly expanded menu, The Farmacy remains at heart, the quintessential neighborhood restaurant. Coffee and tea are listed first on an expansive menu sure to win you over. Though the listed coffees include latte, cappuccino, mocha, cortado, macchiato, espresso, Americano and drip coffee, my inaugural visit was on a hot chocolate kind of day. You know the type—the New Mexico sun shining brightly while angry winds blow as if seeking revenge. Eight items, most of which will be familiar to habitues of The Farmacy’s former home, festoon the breakfast section of the menu–not counting a very intriguing six-item waffle menu. Lunch is comprised of six items, mostly sandwiches.
19 May 2017: It goes without saying that the Rail Runner Reuben Howie Kaibel described so well, was destined for my table. Aside from its dinosaur-esque proportions, what stands out best and most about this Reuben are the terms “house made corned beef” and “house made sauerkraut.” You can certainly taste the difference between corned beef that’s been lovingly made in small batches and the mass quantities produced by corporate delis (and served by the chains). The Farmacy’s corned beef is imbued with a moist, tender texture. It pulls apart easily. (Some corporate delis produce corned beef with the texture of rigor-mortis.) Deep flavors bursting with subtle seasonings (it may sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t) are the hallmark of The Farmacy’s corned beef. It’s not at all salty and when you discern notes of cloves, you may shut your eyes in appreciation. The sauerkraut has a slight tang, but it’s not of the lip-pursing variety that defeats all other flavors. The canvas for this sandwich masterpiece is fresh marble rye.
20 May 2017: One of the few telltale signs that you’re at The Farmacy is a wooden sign depicting an anatomical diagram of a pig, essentially showing where all the porcine deliciousness can be found. Think of that sign as a precursor to a terrific sandwich constructed of two terrific pork-based cold-cuts. Even the sandwich’s name hints of pork. It’s the Porcellino (ham, Capocollo, olive tapenade, Provolone, picked red onion and greens on focaccia) and it’s a memorable masterpiece. Aside from the ham and Capocollo, the olive tapenade and picked red onion are notable. So is the accompanying housemade mojo slaw which has a nice tang and none of the cloying creaminess of so many slaws.
20 May 2017: If Delish is to be believed, the “most-searched food” in New Mexico—what New Mexicans want most to know how to make–is empanadas. You need not search any further than The Farmacy for a superb empanada. It’s a made-from-scratch-daily savory empanada and if our inaugural experience is any indication, you’ll want the recipe. Our savory empanada was stuffed with sweet potatoes, green chile, bacon and walnuts). Despite the sweet potatoes, it was indeed savory with a melding of ingredients that just sang. The crust is especially memorable.
20 May 2017: Though not listed on the menu, you’ll want to peruse the counter for such pastries as muffins and cinnamon rolls. This cinnamon roll isn’t a behemoth brick with troweled-on icing. It’s a knotty, twisty, tender, doughy roll with cinnamon in every crevice. It’s glazed with an angelic icing, but it’s not overly sweet. This is not a cinnamon roll meant to be shared, not that you’d want to. It’s a cinnamon roll you (and any dining companions you may have brought with you) will want for yourself and themselves.
20 May 2017: Much as I enjoyed the Reuben, after two visits my very favorite item on the menu is the migas (a scramble of corn tortilla, bacon, egg, red and green chile, Cheddar, tomato and cilantro). Very few restaurants we’ve frequented prepare migas you’ll want to experience a second time. The Farmacy’s migas are some of the very best in Albuquerque, if not the state. The corn tortillas are crispy yet light and all ingredients are in perfect proportion to each other. The highlight is the chile—green mixed in with the other ingredients all encircled by a fiery ring of red. This is chile that bites you back, an endorphin-generating chile you’ll love.
19 February 2019: Visit The Farmacy’s Facebook page and you’ll learn its motto is “Soothing the Savage Mind…With Food.” Never mind the savage mind. The Farmacy’s food even surmounts the most mundane of Mondays, especially when the special of the day is a transcendent green chile grits (green chile Cheddar cheese grits topped with chopped Andouille sausage, fried egg and scallions served with toast). Grits, an exemplar of true Southern comfort, are starting to catch on in New Mexico, their versatility showcased by talented chefs who consider them a blank canvas for other delicious ingredients…and is there anything in the world as delicious as green chile and Cheddar. The Andouille actually had more bite than the green chile, but together the pairing is sure to get your attention. So are the scallions which aren’t chopped into tiny ringlets, but served in a leafy entirety. The fried egg is a nice touch.
Chef-owner Jacob Elliot is a peripatetic presence at the restaurant. Though filling orders occupies much of his time, he meets-and-greets when the opportunity presents itself. He’s passionate about his locally sustainable operation and is bullish on Albuquerque, a city he believes has many of the same qualities as Portland, a city in which he once lived and worked. It’s Albuquerque’s gain.
The Farmacy is the antithesis of the behemoth chain restaurants. If you love fresh, made-from-scratch, locally sourced deliciousness at very reasonable prices, this is a restaurant for you. It exemplifies the reasons mom-and-pop are finally starting to gain ground.
3718 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 19 February 2019
1st VISIT: 19 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Migas, Rail Runner Reuben, Porcellino, Cinnamon Roll, Hot Chocolate, Coleslaw, Savory Empanada, Green Chile Grits
11 thoughts on “The Farmacy – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
Yo…am surprised Eateries have not done this already…Check out https://tinyurl.com/yathalwy for what the Owner, Jacob Elliot, of the Farmacy is up to and then hopefully, ya might consider opting to go here https://tinyurl.com/yadloko8 Blush…can’t figure out why…beyond being “way over” on the other side of town and lousy organizational-planning skills, I hadn’t been, especially per references to Reubens!
Good observations, Becky. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and (not being Jewish or a New Yorker) wasn’t familiar with the Reuben at all. Later, on business trips to New York, I ate Reubens at the Carnegie Deli, Katz, and Stage Delicatessen. I think the Reubens would have all featured corned beef and sauerkraut, is that right?
It appears the noun *Reuben* has taken on various modifiers as it traveled throughout the U.S. (and the world?). As you point out, geographic modifiers such as *California* Reuben and *Georgia* Reuben. The noun also has taken on *ingredient modifiers* such as *corned beef Reuben* and*Pastrami Reuben*. Have you ever been to Florida and had a *Grouper* Reuben? I spent four months in Florida last year and quite enjoyed the Grouper Reuben (so many more fish varieties available in FL than NM!).
The variants of Reuben remind of the variants of the Jazz noun: Modifiers such as *avant-garde* jazz, *cool* jazz, and *Latin* jazz. Thank heaven geographic variations still exist in the food world in this otherwise media-induced mono-culture we have today.
Tom, if it’s not already in your voluminous culinary athenaeum, you should pick up a copy of Becky’s wonderful tome American Sandwich. Not only does she cover the provenance of many of the most popular sandwiches across the fruited plain, she provides step-by-step instructions for preparing them. It’s one of my favorite books by one of my favorite people in the universe, a dear friend whose disciplined research work is always meticulous and beyond reproach.
I’m always torn between tradition and innovation when it comes to foods. Call it hypocrisy if you will, but if a chef fails miserably, I whine that he or she shouldn’t have taken liberties with a sacrosanct tradition. If a chef’s innovation is an exemplar of deliciousness, I embrace it. My own most recent experience with a departure from tradition when it comes to the Reuben was an Italian Sausage Reuben (hot Italian sausage, sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese, 1000 Island dressing, all grilled on light rye bread) from Jake’s in Palm Springs. It was an outstanding example of creativity meets a coalescence of ingredients in perfect proportion to one another and which went remarkably well together.
Thank you, Gil, for your kind words that I’ll never live up to but that are always appreciated. Actually, my best work on the subject was “Sandwiches That You Will Like” for WQED in Pittsburgh when I worked in concert with the great producer Rick Sebak on his PBS documentary of the same title (https://www.wqed.org/pressroom/releases/sanwiches-you-will). The WQED book was way more detailed and included many more sandwiches than the abridged “American Sandwich” that I was asked to write by publisher Gibbs Smith.
As for research, I tend to get a bit nuts about it – as Gil will most certainly attest when I’ve gone ballistic over some crazy claim made by a food writer who has strayed off the grid. Having worked with Andy Smith on “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America” I have a huge appreciation for our American foodways. Research back in the “dark ages” when some of us began documenting the provenance of American food was often a long and winding path, sometimes leading to frustration and some surmising based upon social conditions and the availability of foodstuffs at the time. I’m very lucky to have worked with some of the best – like Andy (http://andrewfsmith.com/). Although I gave up writing many years ago, based upon the demands of my “real job”, I still love to do some independent research once in a while.
With all that said, I think it’s great that so many people have such a high level of awareness and interest in food, especially American food. Years ago, the so-called authorities claimed there was no true “American cuisine” because everything was based on a dish from somewhere else. With all due respect, that’s ridiculous (to use a polite and palatable term). Although many of our foods may have been based on “imports”, Americans and immigrants alike have adapted these dishes and made them their own.
And there are plenty of delicious offerings that have originated here – like the Reuben and Rachel sandwiches. As Tom correctly points out, these beloved sandwiches have further evolved and changed as they spread across the country, producing regional variations. And I’m with Gil – if a delicious innovation is developed, then we all benefit. But as Tom also noted, the Reubens of traditional NY City delis were based on corned beef and sauerkraut. (One of the saddest days of my life was when Carnegie Deli closed.)
Now Tom, about that grouper Reuben – yes, I’ve been to Florida many times and I sure do love grouper but you threw me a curve ball with the concept of its use in a variation of a Reuben. Not that I wouldn’t try it, mind you. I’m just having a bit of trouble with the sauerkraut / fish combo. But based upon its popularity, it must be pretty good. This is clear evidence that we need to be open minded and try out regional variations whenever possible. Who wants to miss out on a truly delicious dish?
No, actually, Becky, all of the Grouper Reubens I had in Florida were cole slaw not sauerkraut. Which makes sense, right? Most fish dishes (at least at lunch) are served with either fries, cole slaw or macaroni salad (the latter is an incendiary topic all its own).
As to “not writing” and “the demands of a real job,” I would rather not comment and defer to S. J. Perelman who said, “The dubious privilege of a freelance writer is he or she is given the freedom to starve anywhere.”
I’ve never had a Reuben at either TheFarmacy or Bocadillo so I might be drifting too far from the shore here, but I got to sound the fog horn for the one at Vinaigrette.
“Savory corned beef griddled and layered with tangy sauerkraut, spicy Russian dressing and Swiss cheese on toasted rye.” The Russian dressing was mysteriously outstanding, and upon inquiring about it, found out Vinaigrette makes their own.
I have had the Reuben at both of their locations – Santa Fe and ABQ – just to make sure there wasn’t a magical elf prancing around in one of their kitchens but not in the other. The Reuben was fabulous in both, proving once again, with all due respect to Ralph Waldo Emerson, consistency is not the hobgoblin of little minds when it comes to restaurants.
I’m always looking out for a great Reuben and will try Vinaigrette’s version soon. Perhaps it’ll join the Reubens at Bocadillos, The Farmacy and 2G’s Bistro in my pantheon of Albuquerque’s most radiant Reubens.
Make sure you take a gander at the photo of the Bocadillo’s Reuben submitted by the lovely and gracious Sarita for the July, 2018 edition of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food.
I see that you haven’t visited Vinaigrette since 2012 and it doesn’t appear that you tried the Reuben. I was last there over two years ago so hopefully they are making a good one still.
Speaking of Reubens: As a Smiley Treat for Newbies as well as a repeat for Oldies: http://tinyurl.com/yxms34ua
Indeed, my preference, albeit a Bocadillo Reuben is enchanting on occasion, is sauerkraut. In addition, I believe calling anything with the prefix “Rail Runner” is blasphemous or denigrating of the ‘anything’!
Thanks for the link. Funny skit.
Reuben = pastrami, kraut, swiss, dressing, rye
Rachel = turkey, kraut, swiss, dressing, rye
This is how I roll.
As a New Yorker who, about 1,000 years ago, ate her way through many a New York City deli, I’d like to note that the Rachel is indeed a variation on the Reuben that has traditionally been made by substituting pastrami for the corned beef and coleslaw for the sauerkraut. It appears that the turkey substitution is a more recent variation that can be made with either sauerkraut or coleslaw. Wikipedia notes that the variation using turkey is sometimes called a “Georgia Reuben” or a “California Reuben”.