As we wended our way along meandering Rio Grande Boulevard, I commented to my Kim, “I sure miss Ichabod and Katrina.” “Colleagues of yours at UNM?,” she asked. “No, not colleagues,” I replied pointing to a large, verdant field, “Ichabod and Katrina were the two sandhill cranes who used to feed in those fields.” “Oh, I get it,” she responded, “you’re talking about Ichabod and Katrina Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” She then asked why I’ve always had such a great admiration for Ichabod Crane, a fictional character who basically embodied all the seven deadly sins: greed, glutton, sloth, indolence, wrath, lust and envy.
“Yeah, I understand all of that,” I explained, “but Ichabod Crane was a man ahead of his time, an 18th century equivalent of a foodie.” Washington Irving, described him as “a huge feeder, and though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda.” Isn’t that the kind of super power we’d all like to have? He had a voracious appetite but somehow managed to remain thin. When he saw animals lounging in the fields, his mouth watered, described masterfully by Irving: “In his devouring mind’s eye, he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cozily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce.”
Though normally a very scenic drive, the absence of the funny-looking yet magnificent angular cranes that winter along the Rio Grande made our drive somehow less satisfying. As with several migratory birds who spend time in the Land of Enchantment, cranes mate for life, often starting their lifelong, love-long relationship as childhood sweethearts. There’s no way I can really know if the pair I often see feeding from about November through April are indeed Ichabod and Katrina, but I like to think he’s taking her on a romantic dinner date. Unlike his human namesake, he’s more apt to share his verdured repast.
Not by coincidence, the terminus of our leisurely Sunday peregrination was Two Cranes Bistro & Brew, a restaurant, taproom, juicery and coffee roastery on Rio Grande just north of the entrance to Old Town. It’s unlikely Two Cranes was named for my favorite pair of “snowbirds,” but it’s gratifying to see sandhill cranes celebrated other than during the festival of the cranes at the Bosque del Apache. Two Cranes faces the D. H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro (formerly the St. Clair Winery & Bistro) in a spot previously occupied by Starbucks. Unlike its neighbor, Two Cranes is open for breakfast as well as lunch and dinner.
The Two Cranes website describes the restaurant and menu as “inspired by local surroundings. With menu items comprised of as many locally sourced items as possible, we bring freshness along with our excitement. The Two Cranes team uses the plate as an artistic medium.” While the literary Ichabod would probably have been more excited had the menu described a profuse smorgasbord, we quickly espied a number of intriguing options. Chief among them were the relleno rolls (Cheddar blend with New Mexican green chile rolled in a crispy egg roll. Served with chipotle ranch.)
Lest you remind me of my recent whining that “chimichangas are almost always deep-fried to the point that the tortilla resembles an egg roll wrapper,” these relleno rolls actually use an egg roll wrapper by design…and it works. It works so well, in fact, that my Kim an I are planning to explore other relleno wrapper possibilities, most notably rellenos with panko breading. The chipotle ranch works well, too. It’s on par with the green chile in terms of piquancy, but offers a creamy balm you sometimes crave when enjoying chile that brings the heat.
Taco rolls (seasoned ground beef, cheese, and pico rolled into a crispy egg roll served with salsa) also grace the menu, but our server confirmed the ground beef is “seasoned” with cumin, that accursed despoiler of chile. Scouring past the starters section of the menu and you’ll find two intriguing salad options. The nascent summer weather inspired us to order the spinach & berry salad (spinach, pinon, pistachio, candied walnut, with seasonal berries and mandarin orange with a housemade citrus vinegar). The nutty triumvirate of piñon, pistachio and walnut is a nice foil for the berries and juicy orange slices while the citrus vinegar coalesces complementary and contrasting flavors in harmony.
There are seven sandwiches and a green chile cheeseburger on the sandwiches section of the menu. My Kim couldn’t decide which to order so she basically closed her eyes and pointed, her finger landing on the Italian Gunslinger (roasted porchetta (spiced pork belly and pork loin), Emmantel Swiss, and caramelized onion on marble rye. Visions of the “spaghetti westerns” of yore crossed my mind. Unlike the quintessential cowboy of Sergio Leone’s cinematic creations, this Italian Gunslinger isn’t especially assertive. Its ingredients work together nicely, but don’t have the punch the sandwich’s name might imply. Of course when I pointed this out, my Kim blurted out that this sandwich was “Joe Black” not Clint Eastwood or Chuck Norris. When I demonstrated my masculine ignorance, she chided me, “don’t worry, female readers will get it.”
In a rather clever turn of phrase, Two Cranes riffs on the New Mexico state nickname with the name of one of two items on the New Mexican section of the menu. Then, of course, some might tell you that our enchiladas are so delicious, the state sobriquet could well be Land of Enchiladas (layered corn tortillas filled with braised chicken or seasoned ground beef, smothered in NM chile, cheddar and jack cheese with pinto beans and papitas). I’ll remember these enchiladas for almost being great. The green chile was outstanding with a nice piquancy and roasted flavor, however, there just wasn’t enough of it. As a result, the Land of Enchiladas plate was rather desiccated, much like our great state on La Niña years. Next time, I’ll ask for as much chile as our server can carry.
Fresh cookies, Danish, muffins and croissants are available from the Two Cranes bakery aisle and there’s also a small dessert menu, but because portion sizes are rather hefty, you might not have the room for them. The caffe and juice bar menu offers other exciting options to be explored during future visits…and there will be future visits. Any restaurant who can conceive such deliciousness as relleno rolls warrants further exploration.
Two Cranes Bistro & Brew
901 Rio Grande Blvd., Suite A192
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 2 June 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Spinach & Berry Salad, Relleno Rolls, Italian Gunslinger, Land of Enchiladas