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 embodies 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, then 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 did as much to evangelize for mom-and-pops as Howie did. 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 was (and still 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 chocolatekind 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 empanadaand 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 rollisn’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 was 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 migasare 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.
14 April 2023: In the 1983 hit comedy movie Trading Places, Dan Aykroyd portrayed Louis Winthorpe III, a commodities broker for Duke & Duke, a prestigious firm in Philadelphia. As Winthorpe, Aykroyd uttered one of my very favorite lines from the movie: ” Pork bellies I have a hunch something very exciting is going to happen in the pork belly market this morning.” Winthorpe must have been prescient? Somehow he predicted not only the explosion of the pork belly market, but the exciting things The Farmacy would do with pork belly in the morning.
While the green chile grits dish I raved about are no longer on the menu, an even better option is–and the featured protein is Winthorpe’s pork belly. The pork belly grits bowl (green chile Cheddar cheese corn grits, pork belly, sunny side-up egg, crispy fried prosciutto, scallions served with toast) is a magnificent breakfast dish, especially if you like a medley on your plate. Indeed, this dish is probably intended to be a mishmash of everything on the plate coming together so that each forkful rewards you with a diversity of flavors–the runny egg mixing with the green chile Cheddar grits, the crispy fried prosciutto lending a bit of saltiness. Then there’s the pork belly, an elevated cousin of bacon that Winthorpe predicted would be the “something very exciting” in the morning.
14 April 2023: Readers of Gil’s Thrilling know I frequently get hung up on words–their etymology, use, meaning, etc. So when I see that the Farmacy Burger (green chile, Cheddar cheese, diablo sauce on a toasted brioche bun) has two ingredients that ostensibly make this burger one with real heat, I fixate on the word “diablo.” Diablo is the Spanish word for “devil” is evil incarnate, the fallen angel. Obviously on the Farmacy Burger, diablo is a metaphor for piquancy and assertiveness. Just think of all the cowboy movies you’ve seen. The meanest horse that just won’t be broken is invariably named Diablo. Similarly, “fra diavolo,” meaning “brother devil” is the most piquant of all Italian dishes.
Obviously my expectations of diablo sauce were pretty high. To me pain is a flavor and heat is a trigger for delightful endorphin boosts that make my taste buds deliriously happy. Alas, the diablo sauce was more akin to a spicy mayo than to napalm. Still, the Farmacy Burger is outstanding! It’s not just good. It’s a burger I’ll order again. The beef patty is hand-formed and seasoned wonderfully. The green chile and diablo sauce pair to provide a pleasant piquancy for which asbestos coated taste buds are not required. Fresh greens and two perfectly sliced tomatoes are provided, but they only get in the way of the concentrated deliciousness that is the beef.
16 April 2023: Culinary historians believe Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and a pioneering gastronome, brought the first long-handled waffle iron to America in 1789. About 80 years later, in 1869, a Dutch-American called Cornelius Swarthout was granted a patent for the first waffle iron in the U.S. August 24th. The day this patent was granted, today is celebrated as National Waffle Day. Like American pancakes, waffles are usually served as a sweet breakfast food, topped with butter and maple syrup, bacon, and other fruit syrups, honey, or powdered sugar. Moreover, waffles generally have more butter and sugar in the batter and become more caramelized during cooking, so they taste a little richer and more pastry-like.
In the 21st Century, an exploration exploded into the diversity and potential of the waffle as a savory dish. Restaurants such as Tia Betty Blue’s and its younger sibling Tia B’s La Waffleria were pioneers in the art and science of using waffles as a platform for savory ingredients. Then came The Farmacy whose menu lists four sumptuous savory waffles. During her inaugural visit to The Farmacy, our friend Lynn Garner, a fellow culinary explorer, was jonesing for waffles, but not just any waffles. Her choice was the curiously named Lemmy (ham and cheese inside a buttermilk waffle topped with béchamel, a sunny side up egg and scallions). While quite good, it was greatly improved with the addition of maple syrup, the mystical melding of sweet and savory flavors. Waffles may be great in both sweet and savory instantiations, but may be all they can be when both sweet and savory.
16 April 2023: The Farmacy offers one of the most unique takes on a Southern favorite, biscuits and gravy you’ll find in the Duke City area. Named “Duke City Biscuit & Gravy” (green chile, Cheddar and egg baked inside a buttermilk biscuit with house made gravy). Having lived in the Deep South (Mississippi) for eight years, we contemplated how this would go over in Dixie. Would our Southern friends consider it sacrilege or would they embrace it like they do Country music? As with all foods, there’s no generalization. Some would love it, others would wave a white flag at the piquancy of the green chile. Though I didn’t order the Duke City Biscuit & Gravy, I frequently ask for a biscuit on the side of whatever I order. The green chile biscuit is terrific though it crumbles and falls apart easily, making it a challenge to spread butter and jam.
16 April 2023: Could it be the failed attempt to showcase muffins in a restaurant named “Top of the Muffin” may be behind the reason you just don’t find many (if any) muffin restaurants across the fruited plain? Sure, that legendary Seinfeld may have pointed out the pitfalls muffins face–namely that most people only like the top part of the muffin, but surely there are enough of us who love the muffin in its entirety to warrant ONE muffin restaurant. The Farmacy’s blueberry muffin would certainly be a good start. It’s moist and delicious with plenty of blueberries. Moreover, it’s not just the top of the muffin with which you’ll fall in love.
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: 14 April 2023
1st VISIT: 19 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Migas, Rail Runner Reuben, Porcellino, Cinnamon Roll, Hot Chocolate, Coleslaw, Savory Empanada, Green Chile Grits, Pharmacy Burger, The Lemmy, Green Chile Biscuit, Blueberry Muffin