Toula: Actually, um Ian’s a vegetarian. Uh, he doesn’t eat meat.
Aunt Voula: He don’t eat no meat? HE DON’T EAT NO MEAT?! *Long silence* Oh that’s ok, I make lamb.
~Big Fat Greek Wedding
A cross-sectional study conducted in 2006 by medical researchers in Austria concluded that “vegetarians are less healthy and have a lower quality of life than meat-eaters” and that “there is an association between a vegetarian diet and an increased risk of certain chronic diseases.” The “chronic diseases” cited in the study were allergies, cancer and mental illness. While this study and its methodologies have largely been discredited, my former colleague Matt Mauler, a fanatical meat-and-potatoes paramour, likes to cite this study when someone “preaches” the virtues of vegetarianism. He especially revels in emphasizing the part about mental illness. “You’ve got to be crazy not to love cheeseburgers, steak and pork chops,” he snorts with derision.
The only vegetables Matt likes are those with which he tops his favorite comfort foods: pizza (lots of mushrooms and black olives followed by a six-pack chaser), burgers (only lettuce unless you consider bacon and cheese vegetables) and Chicago hot dogs (enough sport peppers to choke a dragon). Every other vegetable may as well be hemlock, poison ivy or poison sumac. Though he disagrees vehemently with Anthony Bourdain’s “commie” politics, Matt celebrated when the celebrity chef, author and television host called vegetarians “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.” Similarly, Matt has always loathed Lady Gaga, but praised her fashion sense when she donned a dress made of raw beef at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.
Surprisingly, Matt’s attitude (and that of Anthony Bourdain) toward vegetarians isn’t uncommon…and attitudes are even more visceral toward vegans. The internet is rife with rancorous railing against the 3.2 percent of adults (an estimated 7.3 million people, including about 1 million vegans) across the fruited plain who follow a vegetarian- or vegan-based diet. It’s as if the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence should exclude “those v. people.” As with all stereotypes, much of Matt’s enmity toward vegetarians and vegans is based on the perception of a threat to a belief system—in this case, his belief that “if God didn’t mean for us to eat animals, He wouldn’t have made them out of meat.”
Should Matt ever read this review, he’ll probably “have a cow” (wouldn’t that be appropriate?) to learn about The Acre, an Albuquerque vegetarian restaurant with the audacity to describe its cuisine (not the word he’d use) as “comfort food,” and worse to declare that its “fresh, hearty, traditional American cuisine” will “satisfy even the most devoted carnivore.” Being a staunch, unwavering meat-eater, he would view those assertions as “fighting words” or “blasphemy” but would never consider taking it as a challenge to sample the cuisine, if only to prove his contentions as to how bad vegetarian food is. Nope, readers of Gil’s Thrilling… will never see Matt’s shadow cross over The Acre’s doors. You’re not missing much.
You are, however, missing some of the very best vegetarian food in Albuquerque if you don’t visit The Acre, where as we discovered, those claims of “comfort food” and “satisfying devoted carnivores,” are all true. My friend and colleague Elaine and I had to do a double-take when we perused the menu which was teeming with some of Matt’s comfort food favorites: cheeseburger, grilled cheese, mac n’ cheese, enchiladas and more. Also available were vegetarian versions of a hot dog (marinated, braised carrot dogs), meat (less) loaf and several sandwiches which sound so good, you might not miss meat at all.
The Acre is the brainchild of executive chef-owner Sean Weed, a former private chef in New York and 26-year veteran of the restaurant industry. Nostalgia –memories of time spent as a youth at his grandparents’ farm in Pennsylvania where true fresh “farm to table” food was grown and served–provided the impetus for his restaurant. Situated in a 1,440 square-foot space, part of which previously housed the India Palace, The Acre is seasonal, local and in this omnivore’s estimation, so good it defies labels. It’s the antithesis of the stereotypical vegetarian restaurants which showcase tofu, sprouts and kale (and which help perpetuate beliefs of folks like Matt).
It hasn’t been for lack of trying that I’ve never enjoyed a vegetarian burger. Most range from barely edible to downright awful. The Acre’s cheeseburger propels all the others into my repository of bad memories. The “beef” substitute is a beet-black bean combination which might not make you forget your favorite 80-percent lean ground chuck to 20-percent fat content ratio, but it shouldn’t. It’s very good on its own with a moistness and flavor yes, even carnivores will enjoy. The burger also includes Cheddar, avocado, lettuce, tomato and onion with mustard and ketchup on the side. It’s served with potato chips.
From among the “mains” section of the menu, deciding whether to have mac n’ cheese, enchiladas or pasta will prove a challenge akin to selecting one favorite from among your three favorite Dallas Cowboys. Ultimately, the seasonality of the pasta dish won me over. Though labeled strictly “pasta” on the menu, this dish is so much more: roasted butternut squash, Gorgonzola cream, piñon and Parmesan. Frankly, the dish had me at “roasted butternut squash,” a very underrated ingredient at Duke City restaurants. Vibrant, sweet, creamy and earthy, the roasted butternut squash, cut into small cubes, melds wonderfully with the sharp and robust Gorgonzola cream and nuttiness of the Parmesan. This dish is reminiscent of so many rich, delicious pasta dishes found at Italian restaurants.
The Acre’s five desserts (as well as cookies and milk and an ice cream of the day) alone might convert carnivores to a life of vegetarianism…or at least to increased open-mindedness. Elaine’s choice was the Fresh peach crumble (brown sugar, vanilla). Though fresh peaches were a bit out of season, at least they weren’t canned…and who doesn’t love a good crumble. For someone who espouses green chile as an ingredient which goes well with everything including desserts, my only logical choice was the green chile apple crisp showcasing Hatch green chile. It was a bit too incendiary for Elaine’s tastes, but perfect for this fire-eater. Besides, the snickerdoodle ice cream was there to quell any burn.
Vegetarian food for carnivores? You bet! The Acre’s vegetarian food is food for everyone who appreciates fresh, local and thoroughly delicious food.
4410 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 4 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Cheeseburger, Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta, Green Chile Apple Crisp, Peach Cobbler
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1018