My friend Bill Resnik has and will always be one of my favorite dining companions. He’s a brilliant conversationalist and one of the very funniest people you could ever hope to meet (two hours after my appendectomy he had me in more stitches than the actual surgery). Back in October, 2017, he asked if I wanted to go to “the restaurant opened by the love child of Vixen and Blitzen” (two of Santa’s reindeer). It didn’t immediately dawn on me that he was talking about Brixens, the very highly touted new downtown restaurant in the heart of Central Avenue.
Brixens is not named for the love child of any of Santa’s reindeer. Nor is it named for Brixen, a town in Northern Italy. Brixens is named for the brick accents, particularly on the west wall of the venerable Yrisarri building built in 1909. Located on the southwest corner of 4th and Central, the Yrissari building has cast its shadows on both the historic original route and the rerouted path of Route 66. For three decades, the bottom floor corner of that edifice was the home of Nick’s Crossroads Cafe after which it was occupied by the short-lived Cafe Bien whose closure was swathed in infamy. Brixens is wholly unlike either of its predecessors with a vibrancy that bespeaks of modernity and energy.
You’ll do a double-take the minute you walk in and espy 5,000 square feet of space laid out creatively. An year-long construction process was well-spent. Save for the floor-to-ceiling brick wall, nary a vestige of previous occupants remains. The cynosure of the space is a hand-crafted bar above which the name “Brixens” is prominently displayed with the “X” noticeably taller than the other letters. To the left of the bar is a vertical sign, a menu of sorts which from top to bottom reads: Smile, Eat, Laugh, Talk, Kiss, Drink, Sing. Ostensibly these are all activities in which guests can engage during their visit. During our inaugural visit, the words “Eat” and “Drink” were lit up, a reminder perhaps of what we were all there to do. Three flat screen televisions hanging over bar were tuned to a surprisingly diverse troika of programs–a perfunctory sports show, a sultry soap opera and a Christian music program. Talk about catering to all tastes.
Even the ordering process is 21st century. Instead of the conventional paper menu, you’re handed an iPad on which the menu is displayed in as clear and unpixilated a view as modern technology can make possible. Techies among us will drool almost as much about the iPad’s tap-and-drag, one- and two-finger scroll capabilities as we will about the menu. Click on any menu item and you’ll not only see a food-porn-worthy image of the item, but a mouth-watering description that includes such dietary essential information as if the item is gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan. Custom hand-built tables which feature ice coolers built into the center of every table will keep your adult beverages cold.
“Fine Fare and Luxurious Libations” are the tag line below the restaurant name on the Brixens Website which also boasts of “Drawing on flavors and inspiration from our New Mexican culture, as well as regional cuisines from across America, the Brixens’ menu spotlights dishes you know and love done with a surprising new twist that focuses on quality ingredients and thoughtfully crafted, scratch made food.” Indeed, we do know and love the dishes spotlighted on the menu, but many of those dishes can be found at other restaurants. What distinguishes those dishes at Brixens are the quality ingredients, thoughtful crafting and scratch-made preparation…just as it says in the menu.
The menu is the antithesis of those compendium War and Peace-sized menus which list so many items none of them can possibly be good. Instead, the focus seems to be on a handful of items executed very well. The menu is arranged into four categories: Snacks & Starters, Handhelds, Greens and Sweet Endings. Snacks and starters include such New Mexico standards as chips and dips and tempura-battered green chile strips, but they also include toasted ravioli and a Brussels dish that sounds almost too good to be true. Eight items adorn the Handhelds section of the menu including an open-face meatloaf and broken tacos. Handhelds are accompanied by your choice of fries, sweet potato waffle fries, onion strings or a side salad. Three salads and four sweet endings round out the menu.
6 October 2017: Remembering Bill once joked “if you ever see me eating a salad, it’s just a pile of whatever fell out of my tacos,” I didn’t suggest we order the Brussels (crispy Brussel sprouts, apple salad, herb-roasted nuts, Balsamic glaze). Instead we ordered chips & dips (made-to-order corn chips, fresh pico de gallo, guacamole and green chile queso). In New Mexico, you can’t go wrong with this terrific triumvirate. Brixens’ version is among the very best you’ll find. Rarely does pico de gallo have much pico, a Spanish term which translates to bite. This one does. Chopped jalapeños are the reason. Along with red onions, zesty cilantro and chopped tomatoes, it’s got great flavor along with that bite. The guacamole is chunky and fresh, also adorned with red onions, cilantro and chopped tomatoes with a little citrus influence for good measure. Our least favorite (though still good) was the green chile queso which didn’t have nearly as much heat as the pico.
6 October 2017: Bill’s introductory meal at Brixens was the triple green chile sliders (three three-ounce Akaushi beef sliders, triple cheese blend, green chile queso, hot New Mexico chopped green chile, tempura green chile strips), a celebration of New Mexico’s official state vegetable. Though the three burgers may resemble a jumble of ingredients, Bill declared this burger a winner, prepared to his exacting medium-rare specifications. He especially loved the Akaushi beef. Akaushi beef, by the way, comes from red livestock, one of four breeds known collectively as Wagyu (which translates simply to “Japanese cow”). Similar to other Wagyu, Akaushi beef is buttery and tender but has no lingering fatty aftertaste. With his burger trio, Bill had fries with a remoulade he enjoyed very much.
6 October 2017: For those of us who love our burgers moist and juicy, the “gourmet” ingredients we can’t figure out are those with crispy (typically desiccated) qualities. Onion rings, onion strings and potato strings, I’m talking about you. Why would any self-respecting chef use you? My initial inclination when ordering the 66 Crunch Burger (6.6 ounces of fresh ground beef, American and Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickle, Thousand-Island dressing and a “signature crispy potato topping”) was to ask that that crispy potato topping be taken out back and buried. The desire to honor the chef and consume the burger as intended won out, however. There’s still plenty of moistness in this burger, particularly at medium-rare. There’s also a lot of flavor, especially from the ground beef. The crispness and freshness of the pickles and the Thousand-Island dressing also stand out.
On 18 September 2019 in recognition of “National Cheeseburger Day” across the fruited plain, Big 7 Travel compiled a list of the 50 best cheeseburgers in America. According to the online travel site which purports to “provide current, curated recommendations you can trust,” “Americans eat an estimated 50 billion burgers a year, with Oklahoma and Nevada both having the highest consumption per capita. New Mexico ranked 22nd with an estimated 248 burgers eaten per capita annually. New Mexico’s very best cheeseburger, according to Big 7 Travel, is the 66 Crunch Burger. Big 7 Travel advised “Come here for their 66 Crunch Burger, a cheeseburger that includes thinly-sliced deep fried potatoes, giving your burger that added crunch dimension.” Trust me, that’s great advice!
5 February 2020: “Brixens has the best wings. Say it again with fierce unity, folks: Brixens has the best wings. You may not be able to fly on them, but eating the chicken wings at this Downtown eatery and cantina is still dreamlike and so joyful.” That’s what the Alibi had to say in its “Best of Burque” edition for 2018 when describing Brixens wings which readers declared “best in the city.” What makes this selection so telling is that Brixens’ wings are the same salt and pepper wings you find at Chinese restaurants such as Ming Dynasty. Okay, Brixens gussies them up a bit more. These extra crispy wings are dusted with the house lemon Rosemary salt and pepper. Dipping sauces include the housemade wing sauce and your choice of blue cheese or ranch dressing. Trust me, the blue cheese is special, but the wings absolutely don’t need it. Use the blue cheese dressing as a dip for the accompanying celery and carrot sticks. These wings are best unadorned.
5 February 2020: Entrees on the “knife and fork” section of the menu are served with a side salad, but not just any side salad. It’s an outstanding side salad, almost entree sized. What goes best with the lush pile of crisp, fresh mixed greens, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, shredded cheese and croutons is blue cheese dressing, a sharp exemplar of veiny blue cheese crumbles and thick, creamy dressing. Brixens is very generous with its salad dressings. When it comes to blue cheese, I ask our server to “bring me as much as you can carry.” It’s almost never enough, but Brixens delivers! Oh, Bill nearly made me choke on a crouton when he pointed out that arugula sounds like the sound a jalopy’s horn would make.
5 February 2020: My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver is a poultry paramour who loves his chicken al carbon, roasted, grilled, broiled, baked, on sandwiches, on salads, on pizza and especially…on his plate. Brixens describes its crispy honey chicken as “a half chicken slow cooked to tender perfection then flash fried to crisp up the skin, and finished with our house made red chile BBQ seasoning. Served atop southern style corn bread and finished with honey butter and a red chile honey, this is one spectacular chicken you don’t want to miss! Crispy Brussels sprouts, green onions, and pickled jalapenos finish up this southern inspired meal with a New Mexico twist!”
This is one of those entrees which sounds good and tastes great but doesn’t have much plate appeal (see photo below). Unless you’re really into pulchritudinous plating, you won’t mind the foul looking fowl. The half-chicken is slow-cooked and served intact, delivered to your table in one piece. it’s pretty easy to find the joints and break them apart to separate the half chicken into its component parts, but it can also be rather messy. The reward for your efforts is a very moist, juicy and surprisingly meaty bird with just enough “sweet heat” for diners who like mixing flavor profiles. The accompanying Brussels sprouts with their soft and crunchy texture and roasted savory flavor are a nice accompaniment.
5 February 2020: You’ve probably seen those annoying infomercials touting the “perfect meatloaf pan” in which some fast-talking pitch man tells you how you’ve been preparing meatloaf wrong. With its patented air flow system, the perfect meatloaf pan is purportedly the panacea for your meatloaf misery. Whether or not Brixens uses a perfect meatloaf pan to prepare its meatloaf (housemade meatloaf, spicy bourbon glaze, crispy onion strings, grilled bread) is unknown, but what becomes pretty obvious is that this is a pretty good meatloaf.
As with the aforementioned crispy honey chicken, the meatloaf probably won’t win any awards for plating. Two inch-thick slices of meatloaf slathered with a spicy bourbon glaze are practically buried between a mountain of onion strings and Brussels sprouts. Once you extricate the meatloaf from the onion avalanche, you’ll appreciate the sweet-piquant flavor of the meatloaf. One of my favorite parts of the meatloaf is the caramelized (some might say burned) edges in which the meaty flavor seems most concentrated.
Brixens is a trendy restaurant serving creative comfort food in a unique ambiance. It’s one of the most delicious reasons to visit the Duke City downtown area.
400 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 5 February 2020
1st VISIT: 6 October 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: 66 Crunch Burger, Triple Green Chile Sliders, Chips & Dips, Salt & Pepper Wings, Meatloaf, Crispy Honey Chicken