Tim “The Toolman” Taylor just didn’t get the concept of “low-and-slow.” During barbecue week on Taylor’s “Tool Time” television show, his buddies from NASA told him the secret to quickly igniting a grill was to use rocket fuel (“liquid oxygen with a skosh of hydrogen and for fun, a little soupcon of cilantro for flavoring”). Predictably, the grill fired up in a world record time of 2.6 seconds. Also to be expected, the grill exploded like a rocket, flying off into the wild blue yonder. That was par for the course for the accident-prone Taylor who once installed a jet engine on his lawnmower.
Thankfully Chris White, head chef and pitmaster extraordinaire at Nexus Blue Smokehouse, understands the sweet, smoky, seductive low-and-slow science and art of grilling succulent meats. Before landing at Nexus Blue, Chef White partnered with his lovely bride Katie Calico to feed Albuquerque for nearly seven years at the TFK Smokehouse in both its instantiations–as a mobile food kitchen (that’s food truck to you, Bob) then as a brick-and-mortar restaurant. As the Facebook post announcing his position as the restaurant’s chef declared, “People love Chris’ food because he gives it all the time and attention it needs!”
If you didn’t already know, the name “Nexus” certainly cued you in that the Smokehouse comes from the Nexus Brewery family, a burgeoning enterprise known for its unique twist on flavorful food and world cup award winning beers. As with its sister restaurants, Nexus Blue is a platform for New Mexican Soul Food, a concept from the ingenious mind of founder Ken Carson. A venue for New Mexican barbecue was the logical next step for the Nexus family. A custom designed pit room with custom-fabricated smokers is redolent with the alluring aromas of New Mexican hardwoods such as hickory and pecan from regional orchards. Exclusive recipes are infused with New Mexican chiles and spices characteristic for uniquely exceptional flavor and richness.
Nexus Blue is located in the historic Elks building on South Broadway, a structure repurposed magnificently in an area poised to attract the type of urban infill projects that will make it a destination area. Nexus Blue has certainly established a precedence to emulate. Murals–reminiscent of the patchwork quilts representing the piecing together of the many faceted-elements of Carson’s New Mexican heritage and black roots–festoon both the interior and exterior of the edifice. Also evocative of his roots is a logo depicting a smokehouse on a plantation in North Carolina where the Carsons are believed to have originated.
On a lazy Saturday morning as we pondered where to have lunch with our debonair dachshund The Dude, photographer nonpareil Bruce Terzes apprised us that Nexus Blue Smokehouse was dog-friendly. Two minutes later we were on our way to the South Broadway area that was once home to the long defunct Johnny Ray’s, purveyor of perhaps the best barbecue to ever grace a Duke City table. We soon discovered that where Johnny Ray’s left off, the Nexus Blue Smokehouse picks up and then some. Nexus Blue is in rarefied air–barbecue with an Austin look and feel in Albuquerque.
A capacious dog-friendly patio quickly met with The Dude’s approval. Not only is the patio in close proximity to large smokers redolent with the incomparable aroma of meats meeting smoke, it’s a great vantage point for people-watching. One cautionary point about people watching–the hungrier you are, the more envious you’ll be of diners already enjoying their meals and it’s not polite to ogle food on someone else’s table too lustily. A second cautionary point–don’t peruse the menu for too long as doing so increases the time before food is delivered to your table. Trust that everything on the menu will be terrific.
Though it’s comprised of only six sections, Nexus Blue’s menu has greatness ascribed to it. The first section, entitled “On Bread” lists five sandwich options, the fruits of the smoker nestled between buns. Next, you’ll see smoked meats by the half-pound. Among the smoked options are burnt ends, not often offered in Land of Enchantment’s barbecue joints. The NM Soul Food menu lists four favorites from the Nexus Brewery mother ship: chicken and waffles, NM hot chicken, fish and chips and fish tacos. Then there’s the “family style” section of the menu with two items large enough to feed the UNM Lobos offensive line (or one restaurant review blogger when he’s really hungry). “Pick a Side” and “Sweets” complete the menu.
Another item not often found on barbecue menus in New Mexico is fried pork ribs. If you’ve got visions of heavily battered, deep-fried ribs, you’ve got another thing coming. If these ribs are immersed in oil, it’s for a very brief interval and you certainly won’t discern any batter or grease. What you’ll easily discern is a dry rub (mustard, brown sugar, salt, pepper and other spices) that penetrates deeply and deliciously. It imbues each smoke-kissed rib with sweet-savory-smoky notes that render them mouth-watering. These ribs are fork-tender which means they have just a hint of pull that signifies a perfect degree of doneness. There are several worthy accompaniment options including the fried okra which may be the best in the metropolitan area.
For your friendly neighborhood blogger who doesn’t quickly make up his mind as to what to order, a half-pound of any of the smoked meat nirvana isn’t enough. As such, I recommend a half-pound of any two of your favorites. For me, the alliterative pairing of brisket and burnt ends beckoned with a siren’s call. Grab the brisket from each end and pull on it and you’ll see a spiderweb pattern, an indicator that it’s prepared to its optimum tenderness. This isn’t brisket lean and thin brisket. It’s got a little fat on it, but that only makes it more flavorful. Burnt ends are another great way to enjoy brisket. They’re essentially the crispy ends of sliced brisket bathed in sauce, what used to be discarded in days of yore. Today burnt ends are a sought-after and cherished option.
On the “pick a side” section of the menu, you’ll be hard-pressed to pick just one: mac n’ cheese, fried okra, cole slaw, potato salad, collard greens, smoked BBQ beans, fries and fried pickles. For this purist, nothing goes better with smoked meats than smoked BBQ beans. Nexus Blue’s version is best-in-town quality with a molasses-tinged sweetness that pairs with pieces of smoked brisket. These are swoon-inspiring baked beans.
For dessert, my early favorite is biscuit bread pudding a la mode (though my Kim absconded with all the ice cream). Howard Paige, author of “Aspects of African-American Foodways” explains that biscuit bread pudding originated when African Americans could only afford homemade biscuits instead of the white bread the more affluent enjoyed. When the biscuits went stale, inventive cooks turned them into a wonderful bread pudding dessert. Nexus doesn’t use stale biscuits, but it does use a biscuit mix to create dense, but moist bread pudding which is topped with a Scottish dark ale glaze. It’s served warm and is a fabulous way to finish off a great barbecue meal.
Handsome young Jim Millington relates that the brisket at Nexus Blue Smokehouse is “better than any I ever had in Texas.” Indeed, it’s an amazing brisket, one of several items on the menu that will increase the frequency of our treks to South Broadway.
Nexus Blue Smokehouse
1511 Broadway, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 27 April 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Brisket, Burnt Ends, Smoked BBQ Beans, Fried Pork Ribs, Okra