“I hate chile powder.”
Breaking Bad, Season 2
Duty-bound to make himself available to the citizenry of the fledgling United States, newly elected president George Washington spent the night in so many private homes and inns that “George Washington Slept Here” remains a real estate cliché and tourist draw centuries later. Perhaps the closest similarly celebrated landmarks in the Albuquerque metropolitan area are the filming sites for the 16-time Emmy Award-winning television series Breaking Bad. Never mind that Albuquerque recently celebrated its Tercentennial–three hundred years of history. History is not what visitors want to see. They want to see the Duke City of Breaking Bad. Albuquerque, which itself became a character in Breaking Bad, is the home of Walter White, the down-and-out chemistry teacher who metamorphosed into “Heisenberg,” the city’s meth kingpin. Five years after the series ended, pilgrimages to every Breaking Bad filming location remain a popular draw.
During my inaugural visit to Downtown Java Joe’s, a number of tourists, not all of them millennials, were snapping selfies in front of the east wall where a towering graffiti-inspired tribute to city life dominates. One of them exclaimed “this used to be Tuco’s lair.” Another chimed in, “yeah, until Walter White blew it up?” Tuco? It quickly dawned on me they were talking about Tuco Salamanca, one of the best television villains in recent memory. The exterior of Java Joe’s did indeed serve as Tuco’s sanctuary and Walter White did blow it up by throwing fulminated mercury on the floor. Thankfully, however, real life didn’t mirror that Breaking Bad episode. Tuco’s lair is certainly not in ruins. It serves as the home to Java Joe’s, one of the city’s most popular coffee shops.
Java Joe’s is located on Park Avenue one street south of Route 66. Park Avenue runs between Central Avenue at its eastern-most point to the Albuquerque Country Club at its western flank with Jesse Pinkman’s house (another Breaking Bad landmark) virtually at the center. Until earlier in 2018, its next door neighbor was Firenze Pizzeria, one of the city’s premier purveyors of pizza pie during its short tenure. The aforementioned mural is Java Joe’s most distinctive exterior feature. In a move befitting the edifice’s most notorious occupant, real-world owner Michael Phlieger once had graffiti artists paint wanted posters on that wall in response to the city’s crackdown on illegal graffiti. The current mural will probably stick around until Breaking Bad aficionados lose interest. It could be there for a long time.
Step into Java Joe’s and there are no vestiges of Tuco’s headquarters. Instead of Tuco’s thuggish henchmen, you’ll run into hipsters and hippies, blue collars and white colors, and the type of characters who put the quirky in Albuquerque. Scrawled on a black slate board above the counter where you place your order is a menu listing every daily special. Plastic menus on the counter list everything else. Walls are festooned with eclectic art, much of it for sale. Handmade lotions and soap on a table hugging a wall are also available for purchase.
Featured fare includes breakfast and lunch, sandwiches and wraps, soups and salads, pastries and beverages. With so much temptation at your beck and call, you’ll be hard-pressed to make a quick decision. Breakfast offers a full range of favorites, classics such as savory omelets and yogurt parfait to more elaborate items such as Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and blueberry granola pancakes. Then there are the New Mexican classics such as breakfast burritos, breakfast enchiladas, huevos rancheros and even a tofu burrito. If you’re wary about a coffee shop preparing New Mexican food well, your worries will be quickly dispelled. Both red and green chiles are terrific (more on them later).
2 March 2018: Breakfast, of course, means coffee. All of Java Joe’s coffees are roasted, flavored, and blended in-house on a daily basis under the name Red Door Roasters. Daily regular, flavor and decaf brews are available. So are beans which can be purchased by the pound. Flavored coffees are flavored in-house and vary on a daily basis but are always available bulk or by the cup. Specialty drinks, which can be served hot, iced or blended, are also a good option. The Mayan mocha (double shot) is an excellent choice, a worthy approximation of my beloved red chile mocha (available only at Cafe Bella). Sans the annoying acidity of inferior coffees and the cloying qualities of designer drinks, it’s caffeinated love.
17 April 2023: In its “World of Medicine” section, the February, 2023 edition of Reader’s Digest made the audacious claim that drinking coffee can lead you to overspend. In a study conducted in Europe, scientists offered regular coffee to 150 shoppers and decaf coffee or water to another 150. On average, the shoppers who drank caffeinated coffee spent 50% more money. Moreover, they splurged on “fun” items such as scented candles. Researchers explained the reason has to do with caffeine creating a state of “energetic arousal” that enhances the appeal of nonessential goods. Thankfully at my age (39), the effect of coffee is more frequent trips to the water closet. Instead of perusing aisles at the store, Java Joe’s fabulous coffee au lait’s effect is several trips to the coffee dispenser. It’s a wonderful coffee with frothy milk and coffee combining to create an energetic arousal that may or may not lead to spending more.
18 April 2023: Breakfast enchiladas, once a relative rarity in Albuquerque, are becoming more prevalent, a terrific alternative to the ubiquitous New Mexican breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros. Java Joe’s breakfast enchiladas features three corn tortillas layered with Cheddar, black beans and eggs smothered in red or (and) green chile. Both the red and green are terrific with the piquancy and flavor aficionados crave. After more than three decades of occasionally enjoying New Mexican cuisine laced with black beans, it still surprises me to see them on enchiladas, huevos rancheros or burritos. Pinto beans, after all, are the official New Mexican state vegetable (along with our sacrosanct red and green chile). No matter. The chile is the centerpiece of this delicious breakfast dish.
28 March 2018: Java Joe’s sandwich menu features both cold and hot sandwiches, both served with a side of pasta salad, coleslaw, or sweet potato chips. Cold sandwiches are served on multigrain, sourdough, marbled rye or baguette while the canvas upon which hot sandwiches are prepared is a baguette. No ordinary baguette is this. Texturally it reminds me of a buttery, soft focaccia with herbaceous notes. The Southwest Philly (red onions, bell peppers, green chile & provolone cheese piled on grilled Philly steak) is rather unconventional for a Philly, but it’s a good one. My sole complaint is that the green chile was so anemic I had to look for it (probably an anomaly). The coleslaw might best be categorized as “could have been” as in with a little more salad cream or maybe chopped jalapeños, it might have been better.
18 April 2023: My Kim never ceases to amaze (and amuse) me. Not only does she put up with me (for which she should earn sainthood), her version of adventurous dining is wholly unique. While you and I might have tried to fit an entire breakfast bagel in our mouth (much like Guy “Jaws” Fieri), she “deconstructed” her bounty and enjoyed each component separately. It lasted quite a bit longer than it would have had most of us devoured it. Each component was terrific–from the crispy bacon fried to absolute perfection to the chewy (once you break through the firm, but tender outside) soft inside with its slightly sour notes.
18 April 2023: Perusing the Java Joe menu made it clear to me there’s one item I haven’t written about on this blog. Ironically, it’s an item that first captured my attention and affections in New York City a lifetime ago. That item is lox, a term which comes from the Yiddish word for salmon, “laks.” Lox is so much more than a salty bagel topping (or crepe filling). Though they’re often used interchangeably, “lox” and “smoked salmon” aren’t the same. The difference is in how they’re prepared. Lox is brined–never cooked or smoked. Smoked salmon, meanwhile, is cured or brined and then smoked. It can be cold-smoked (slowly exposed to smoke for a few days, but is never fully cooked) or hot-smoked (cooked all the way through, like smoked meat).
In a Mars versus Venus misunderstanding typical of couples who have been married as long as we have, my Kim ordered my lox not in a bagel, but within a crepe. Thank goodness for a little miscommunication. The Lox, a gluten-free buckwheat crepe stuffed with “smoked salmon,” red onion, tomato, capers, and cream cheese had me kicking myself for letting so many years elapse without enjoying such a wonderful treat. Every element within the crepe (and the capers atop it) worked magnificently. The saltiness was prevalent, but there was also the richness of the cream cheese, tartness of the capers and freshness of the red onion and tomato.
18 April 2023: During our December visit to the Phoenix area, my sister-in-law Lola and I had a slight difference of opinion as to just what Nutella is. She contended that Nutella is a type of chocolate while I insisted Nutella is a hazelnut spread. It turns out neither of us was completely right in our argument. Ingredients (and they don’t sound as appealing) are sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, skimmed milk powder, fat-reduced cocoa, emulsifier, lecithins (soya) and vanilla. Obviously there are hazelnuts in Nutella, but there’s also fat-reduced cocoa which could constitute “diet” chocolate.
Next time she visits our Rio Rancho home, I just may take her to Java Joe so we can celebrate the resolution of our agreement with a Nutella crepe. Though Java Joe offers Nutella crepes with strawberries, bananas and both strawberries and bananas, neither fruit was ripe enough. Nutella on its own is quite addictive. Atop a buckwheat crepe to taper its sweetness, the Nutella is transformative. Java Joe’s crêpier was very generous with the Nutella and with the whipped cream. Though we normally eschew whipped cream at most restaurants, we could bathe in Java Joe’s housemade version. It’s cool and delicious.
1 November 2023: The French term cordon bleu translates to “blue ribbon.” According to Larousse Gastronomique, the cordon bleu “was originally a wide blue ribbon worn by members of the highest order of knighthood, L’Ordre des chevaliers du Saint-Esprit.” Over the years, the blue ribbon has come to signify “first place,” the best of the best. Not only is the precise origin of the now famous chicken cordon bleu in dispute, so is the worthiness of the sandwich to be named for something that signifies the best. I had my very first chicken cordon bleu sandwich in England back in 1979. It certainly wasn’t a “first place” sandwich. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever had a chicken cordon bleu worthy of its name.
That is until our November, 2023 visit to Java Joe’s. It took a rather unique interpretation of the sandwich to tantalize my taste buds. Java Joe’s version of the chicken cordon bleu sandwich is made with a chicken breast, honey ham, grilled pineapple, Monterey Jack and bleu cheese on soft focaccia. What really takes this sandwich to the top is the copious portion of bleu cheese and the wonderful contrast of flavors between the sharp, pungent fromage and the sweet pineapple. It’s a combination that really works well.
1 November 2023: If you’re into the science of cooking and how ingredients influence the preparation of some of our favorite foods, you might enjoy Bon Apetit’s explanation of the role buttermilk plays on pancakes: “There’s a reason buttermilk is so often used in pancakes. The acid in the buttermilk kickstarts the baking soda into action for extra height. It also helps to break down strands of gluten, leading to a fine and tender crumb. Additionally, it lends a subtle tang, exactly what we had in mind for our classic stack. ”
Science isn’t usually on your mind when you’re enjoying one of the world’s great foods. Java Joe’s buttermilk pancakes are an exemplar of how one of America’s favorite breakfast (at any time of day) foods should be made. An order of three golden orbs rewards you with the perfect receptacle for syrup. Lots of syrup. Butter, too. With its sour, tangy notes, the buttermilk is a perfect foil for the sweet syrup. Additionally, buttermilk imparts a light, tender, fluffy texture you can’t get with regular milk. Enough of the science. All you need to know is these are some of the very best pancakes in New Mexico!
1 November 2023: When my Kim gazes at the night sky on a clear night in Northern New Mexico, the astronomer-scientist in her receives divine confirmation as to the greatness of cinnamon rolls. The Milky Way galaxy’s spiral definition may not exactly mirror the shape of a cinnamon roll, but it’s close enough. Java Joe’s cinnamon rolls are fantastic! They have a perfect balance of glaze and cinnamon. It’s the latter element my Kim loves most. All too many cinnamon rolls in New Mexico are chintzy with cinnamon. We also love the thickness of this Terran treat.
There’s no doubt the psychotic, bejeweled-toothed Tuco Salmanca would have had a much better disposition had he descended the stairs of his Park Avenue lair for coffee and a meal at Java Joe’s. It’s a Breaking Bad type of hole-in-the-wall which visitors might pilgrimage to out of curiosity, but they’ll return for the food, coffee and quirkiness.
906 Park Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 November 2023
1st VISIT: 2 March 2018
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Breakfast Enchiladas, Mayan Mocha, Southwest Philly, Coleslaw, Breakfast Bagel, Nutella Crepe, Lox Crepe, Coffee Au Lait, Buttermilk Pancakes, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Cinnamon Roll