The Hollar – Madrid, New Mexico

The Hollar in Madrid, New Mexico
The Hollar in Madrid, New Mexico

It wasn’t that long ago that if you played “word association” with almost anyone outside the Mason-Dixon line, the first thing coming to mind if you used the term “Southern food” was probably something like “heapin’ helpins’ of hillbilly hospitality.”

During their nine-year run as one of the most popular comedies in the history of American television, the Clampetts, a hillbilly family who relocated to Beverly Hills after finding oil on their property, introduced “vittles” to the American vernacular.  Vittles, of course, meant such “delicacies” as possum shanks, pickled pig jowls, smoked crawdads, stewed squirrel, turnip greens, and owl cakes.  “Weeeee Doggies,” now that’s eatin’.”

To much of America, the aforementioned delicacies were culinary curiosities–bumpkinly and provincial food no one outside the deeply rural south would eat.  Because the Beverly Hillbillies predated the Food Network and the culinary awakening of America, those stereotypes as to what constitutes Southern food became deeply ingrained in the fabric of American culture.

The interior of The Hollar
The interior of The Hollar

In 2008, Gary Paul Nabhan published Renewing America’s Food Traditions, one of the most important books written about American food. This terrific tome celebrates the vast diversity of foods which gives North America its distinctive cultural identity, an identity reflecting the vast and unique hodgepodge of cultures.  In an example of gerrymandering Congress would envy, Nabhan remapped North America’s boundaries into thirteen basic food “nations” or culinary regions.  He named each region for its ecological and cultural keystone foods.

The culinary region which includes Southern Arizona and New Mexico into northern Mexico, for example, is called “chili pepper nation.”  Three distinctive food nations define the South: “Chestnut Nation”–northern Georgia through West Virginia; “Crab Cake Nation”–the mid-Atlantic down to the Florida coast; and “Gumbo Nation,” the Gulf Coast.

These three culinary nations proudly showcase distinctive traditions and ingredients spawned from a veritable stew of multicultural influences which evolved into Southern food as we know it today.  Those influences include Native and African Americans as well as Scottish, French, Spanish and so many others which were ultimately responsible for Soul food, Creole and Cajun cooking, barbecue and more.  To pigeonhole Southern food into a finite category is to not understand Southern food at all.

Hollar Burger with Prosciutto and Provolone
Hollar Burger with Prosciutto and Provolone

Having lived in Mississippi for eight years, we knew not to compartmentalize Southern food which we thought we had seen described and defined every conceivable way.  That is, until reading an email from a long-time reader of this blog.  When Robyn Black described a restaurant in Madrid, New Mexico which serves “a kind of continental southern food…not the kind of ya’all southern food, but a lot more upscale” in an ambiance “as comfortable as an old shoe, but a lot prettier,” we were intrigued.

When she added that “This is a place that should not be missed, whether you are just passing through or staying in Madrid.  In fact this is a place that is worth driving to from just about anywhere,” and personalized it with “Gil Garduno, this is a restaurant you should not miss,” a visit became inevitable.

The restaurant Robyn described so invitingly is called The Hollar.  In the vernacular of the South, a hollar is a term for “a small valley between mountains,” an apt description for Madrid itself.  Long-time Country music fans are undoubtedly familiar with part-time New Mexican Randy Travis’s “Deeper Than The Holler” which describes the lyrical way a country boy expresses his love (i.e., “My love is deeper that the holler, stronger than the rivers, higher than the pine trees growin’ tall upon the hill…)”

New York Steak and eggs
New York Steak and eggs

The Hollar is the brainchild of owner-chef Josh Novak who matriculated at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Atlanta, perhaps the heart of the South.  It is situated in the rustically charming wooden structure which previously housed the Tocororo Cafe, a highly regarded Cuban restaurant which we loved.  Robyn assured me that “Tocororo may have been good, but The Hollar which has taken it’s place is stellar!”  She called chef Novak “an outstanding, innovative chef!”

The Hollar has interior seating for fewer than thirty guests, but weather-permitting, the place to dine is really the outdoor patio which seats up to 20 more people.  Enclosed by an agrestic coyote fence, it is an ideal milieu for enjoying a New Mexico day particularly when entertainment is provided–and if it isn’t, the people watching is always interesting.  The mostly monochromatic restaurant’s walls are festooned with unframed paintings by a local artist.   More colorful are the clientele, which seemingly typical of Madrid restaurants, is a mix of Bohemians and bikers.  It’s the tourists who seem out of place.

The abbreviated menu is inspired, the “continental Southern” Robyn described.  It’s Southern food with refinement to be sure, but it also includes some of the more simple favorites such as fried green tomatoes, fried pickles and fried chicken.  Lest you think the commonality among everything on the menu is “fried,” the menu also includes entrees you might not necessarily expect at a Southern restaurant–dishes such as a Nicoise salad featuring blackened tuna and a Balsamic vinaigrette.

Fried Green Tomato and Egg Biscuits
Fried Green Tomato and Egg Biscuits

Robyn recommends the shrimp stack which to her “amazement and palate’s delight” provided “an explosion of flavors to die for, something you might find in a five-star restaurant (without the five-star price or attitude).”   The shrimp stack is available for lunch or dinner, but not for Sunday brunch which as it happens was when Kim and I first visited.  The brunch menu is limited in terms of the number of items available, but limitless in its surprises and the culinary contentment it elicits.

One surprise is the Hollar Burger with Prosciutto and Provolone, an inspired burger combination that might seem more Italian than Southern were it not for the fact that a biscuit replaces the banal burger bun.  Unlike the crumbly biscuits I make at home, this one holds together surprisingly well despite the moistness of the beef.  In terms of circumference it’s not a big burger, but it stacks pretty high with a thick, juicy beef patty; crisp lettuce; and thinly-sliced prosciutto sheathed under melted provolone.  More importantly than it’s height is its depth of flavor.  It is a rich and delicious burger.

With today’s inflation the phrase “as tough as a two dollar steak” should probably be replaced by “as tough as a twenty dollar steak.”  The Hollar’s brunch menu features a New York Steak and Eggs for five dollars less than that, but this steak isn’t tough in the least.  It’s a tender and juicy steak–about eight-ounces–seasoned to perfection with nary any gristle.  In addition to the two eggs, this plate includes some of the very best grits I’ve ever had.  If you’ve never had good grits, you’ve never had Josh Novak’s smoked gouda grits which have a texture and flavor unlike any grits I can remember, even in Mississippi.

Fried green tomatoes with a Bourdelaise sauce

When Fanny Flagg’s best-selling novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was published in 1987, it inspired many restaurants to try their hand at preparing this Southern favorite.  Most failed miserably, but The Hollar has perfected the formula–fried green tomatoes lightly coated with cornmeal crust so that when you bite into them, only the outer layer is crunchy while the insides retain a juicy tomato flavor.  One of the ways to appreciate the fried green tomatoes best is on a biscuit with fried eggs.  Wow!  Aside from my mom’s chokecherry jelly, I’ve never had anything better on a biscuit.

Lunchtime starters include a house salad, bruschetta, fried pickles, fried okra and fried tomatoes.  The fried okra is classic–lightly breaded and impeccably fresh.  You’ll find the okra crispy on the outside and  light and moist on the inside.  The fried okra is served with a creamy house-made Ranch dressing.

A starter of fried green tomatoes comes four to an order.  The tomatoes are served with a unique twist on Bordelaise sauce which is traditionally served with meats.  In fact, by virtue of its white gravy-like color, you’d probably never mistake The Hollar’s sauce with Bordelaise.  Appearance be darned, this is an excellent sauce which complements the fried green tomatoes very well.

A warm goat cheese salad

The Hollar’s lunch menu even offers a fried green tomato salad, one of five salads featured (the others being a Nicoise salad with seared tuna, a crispy chicken salad, a crispy shrimp salad and for vegetarians, a sauteed tempeh salad).  When available, the best salad may well be a warm goat cheese salad (pictured above).  This is a work of edible as well as aesthetic art showcasing a variety of greens, berries (black berries, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries), cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, roasted red peppers and grilled chevre (goat cheese) from the South Mountain Dairy in Cedar Crest.

This is a sensational salad!  Served with house-made vinaigrette and Ranch dressings, it is a compilation of scintillating ingredients as fresh and delicious as possible.  The goat cheese is mild, creamy and only slightly sour, the way it should be.  It emboldens and complements the other ingredients, especially the berries.  The grilled red peppers are lightly marinated and have a sweet, ripened quality that renders them delicious.  The berries are an interesting and pleasant addition, bringing an element of tartness to the salad.

One of the highlights of our eight years living in Mississippi was in discovering a region in which fried chicken was practically a religion.  We’ve missed the golden-hued, crispy coating which enrobes perfectly fried and delicate chicken so good it makes adults swoon with ecstasy.  The Hollar’s rendition, though not traditional bone-in chicken, is the best we’ve found in New Mexico.  An entree of crispy chicken with cheese grits and grilled asparagus nearly elicited carnal responses of delight.  The white meat chicken breasts were moist and delicious with an exquisite coating reminiscent of the fabulous Southern-fried chicken we enjoyed often.  Better still, it is served with the aforementioned Bordelaise sauce which presents the qualities of richness and elegance.

Crispy chicken with cheese grits and grilled asparagus

The smoked gouda cheese grits are outstanding, better than any grits we enjoyed in the Deep South–much better.  I’d make the drive from Rio Rancho to Madrid just for the grits.  Then there’s the grilled asparagus which appears to have been marinated in a Balsamic sauce of some sorts.  The asparagus spears are tender and as fresh as they are in spring.  Aficionados of fried chicken won’t do better in New Mexico than this plate!

Biscuits play a prominent role in the  menu and as wonderful as they are, I can’t help but wonder what a good jam would add. Still, if you’re looking for a refreshing departure from the de rigueur New Mexico brunch standards such as breakfast burritos, The Hollar is a welcome change. If you’re looking for a great meal in a terrific setting, the picturesque drive to Madrid should definitely be on your horizon. My love for this charming restaurant is, as Randy Travis might sing, deeper than The Hollar.

The Hollar is open for lunch from 11AM through 3PM and dinner from 5 to 9PM Wednesdays through Saturday. Sunday brunch is available from 11AM to 3PM.

The Hollar
2849 Hwy. 14
Madrid, New Mexico
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 July 2010
1st VISIT: 2 August 2009
COST: $$
BEST BET: Hollar Burger with Prosciutto and Provolone, Fried Green Tomato and Egg Biscuit, Coleslaw, New York Steak and Eggs, Warm Goat Cheese Salad, Crispy Chicken with Cheese Grits, Fried Green Tomatoes with a Bordelaise Sauce

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, more than 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,200 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

View all posts by Gil Garduno →

15 Comments on “The Hollar – Madrid, New Mexico”

  1. Just returned to the Hollar after several months. We enjoyed an outstanding lunch with angus beef burger. Guacamole had wasabi mixed in with it –created a delicous zesty flavor. Sweet potatoes fries had a delicious side sauce that complemented the fries. Home made cherry pie was yummy as was the presentation with all types of fresh berries topped with a touch of chocolate. We drove from Placitas and will do it again just for Hollar’s. We are selective diners and appreciate high quality ingredients and creative cuisine. I noticed most of the prior comments were from several years ago.

  2. Slowwwwwww service, gross food, and they let a stray loose pit bull have the run of the patio for twenty minutes.

    My brunch taco plate had canned green chile and “pork” that tasted and looked more like tuna. There were no green tomatoes inside as the menu said… A very confusing and watery taco.

    We won’t be back!

  3. We haven’t had Fried Pickles and Fried Green Tomatoes that good in a very long time, top those off with an awesome Buffalo Burger and some Shrimp and the ride home was a long one. We will be back and the next time we’ll be bringin some Friends. Thank you for a great time and some great food… loved those grits!!!

  4. Stopped in for lunch the other day and was very pleasantly surprised by the food and the music. I’ve never had a forkful of grits in my life that warranted a second, but the smoked gouda cheese grits were out-of-this-world amazing, and the buffalo burger as perfect. Best was the live music by “Thom,” sort of a Johnny Cash meets Chris Isaack meets Emerson-Lake-and-Palmer singer with a velvet voice and guitar virtuosity. Didn’t catch his last name but would welcome the opportunity to hear him perform again. A terrific combo of music and food (even if service a rather slow).
    Highly recommended!!

  5. I am from the Washington DC but visit New Mexico fairly often (2-3 times a year). I discovered the Hollar on my last visit in Novermber 2010. The food is amazing and so are wines by the glass. Small selection but great choices, especially the New Mexico wines by the glass. I went back a second time and ordered several entress including the chicken and grits as take out and enjoyed it with friends in their home in the Eastern Mountains. The Hollar will be a regular stop for me whenever I visit New Mexico!

    1. Hello Jim

      The Hollar is one of three Madrid restaurants featured on the May edition of “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” in New Mexico Magazine. Having lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for eight years, we grew to love Southern cuisine, the type of which the Hollar prepares as well as many restaurants in Atlanta and New Orleans.


  6. When the chef’s away, the Sunday brunch is canceled, apparently.

    We went to The Hollar after reading several good reviews, perusing the brunch menu and in conjunction with a pleasant Sunday drive and a visit to Tinkertown.

    The outside dining area is nice, several tables, many with umbrellas, surrounded by a rustic wood fence. Funky benches surrounded two sides of our table, and were set high enough that our two kids could reach the high table.

    Two problems with eating outside…an abundance of flies ( not the fault of the restaurant ) and several close tables occupied by smokers ( so much for NM’s smoking ban ) with very colorful vocabularies. This is normally not the fault of the restaurant, but when most of these swearing smokers got up and proceeded to get to work as waitstaff, it became apparent that the smoking ban is not enforced here and that, although they have children’s menus, it’s not an appropriate place to take kids unless you want them to develop the vocabulary of sailors.
    Despite the brunch being unavailable ( although whoever was in the kitchen could cook other things, apparently ) we found several things on the lunch menu that sounded good.

    After ordering drinks, we began with a starter of fried pickles. These were fantastic…lightly breaded, not too greasy or salty, and served with a ranch style dipping sauce.

    Lunch arrived.

    Fried chicken and grits with asparagus. It made for a lovely plate. Unfortunately, it was incredibly over-salted, the grits portion was ridiculously large and tasted a bit doughy, and the chicken was unevenly cooked. The Bordelaise was close to broken, indicating that the mysterious non-chef cook is no saucier.

    The waiter never asked us if we wanted dessert, he never offered drink refills and he took an agonizing long time to bring the check ( during this time the bar area became occupied with more smokers )

    I know we definitely picked the wrong Sunday to visit, I just don’t know if there’s reason to come back again…

  7. The service is slow, slow, slow, but the food is incredible, awesome and fabulous! SO worth it if you have the time…! Outstanding!!!

  8. We checked the place out this weekend. We were very put off by the flies in the place, the open ac vent above that was dripping, and the slow service. The tea and water tasted bad but that’s common I guess. We were ready to write the place off for the flies alone, but then the food came. The cheese grits were best ever. The burgers were great. The eggs Benedict and fried green tomatoes were awesome. The kids burgers were real hand formed patties and the bun looked like homemade biscuits.

    Screen the door and get the flies in check, sell canned beverages (or I will just have a beer) and the place would be awesome. If I’d eaten outside my review would have been better I guess but it was 99 degrees today.

    Good luck. We are hoping for a no fly zone next time


  9. I recently ‘dined’ at The Hollar’ and I am surprised at the ’22’ you gave this restaurant. I had ordered pork BBQ on biscuit. What I got was beef! (The biscuit was light and delicious) My husband ordered a salad that had very little greens and in light of its size was quite expensive. In the future, we will just pass through Madrid and eat at home.

  10. We run a mountain inn only a few minutes from this restaurant, offering breakfast but not dinner. It has been great to have a really good cafe to recommend to our guests and they love it!

    Night after night we hear about the salads, the burgers, etc.

    Keep up the great work!

  11. Gil

    I’m glad you got to check out the Hollar in Madrid. I got to tell you I was the lucky guy who had dinner with Robyn Black at the Hollar the night she ordered the shrimp stack. After her dinner was served and she started eating, I felt like I was Billy Crystal sitting with Meg Ryan in the famous restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally. It was that good.

  12. We had noticed the sign at The Hollar, but were hesitant to check it out until we read your accolades for the place. The beef, biscuits and hominy grits sound appetizing.
    Thanks for an inspiring review, Señor Garduño!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.