Tuerta – Albuquerque, New Mexico
“In the land of the blind, the man with one eye is King.”
What would you name a one-eyed cat? One immediately obvious option is Cyclops for the one-eyed giant of Greek mythology. If you prefer Norse mythology, you could opt for the name Odin, the god of wisdom, poetry, death, divination, and magic. Or you could go with one-eyed movie characters such as Rooster Cogburn (True Grit), Snake Plissken (Escape from New York) or Big Dan Teague (O Brother Where Art Thou). A cuter option is Nick Furry, a play on the name of the director of SHIELD, the military counter-terrorism and intelligence agency of Marvel Comics lore. Sadly, aside from Leela, the one-eyed captain of the Planet Express Ship on Futurama and Elle Driver, the one-eyed assassin on Kill Bill there appear to be far fewer one-eyed characters for which you can name a female cat.
When Liam Kimball visited the animal welfare department to open his heart and home to a new four-legged fur baby, he didn’t seek out the most aesthetically-pleasing exemplar of health and beauty. He fell in love with and adopted an energetic one-eyed cat. Eschewing the names of mythological and movie characters which might have stigmatized his little girl, he named her Lidia. Understandably, Lidia lacks the peripheral vision and depth perception of “normal” cats. That became quickly obvious when the affectionate little ball of fur may have used up one of her nine lives stepping off the balcony. Fortunately, Lidia is resilient and was none the worse for wear.
Lidia is a well-adjusted, affectionate connoisseur of comfort. Her stoic countenance graces one wall at Tuerta, the sandwich shop her best friend Liam owns and operates on Central Avenue in the heart of downtown. As you may have surmised, Tuerta is a Spanish term which translates to “one-eyed woman.” It’s not intended to lampoon little Lidia, but as a tribute to the small bundle of love who won Liam’s heart. Because local health ordinances prohibit pets in restaurants, you won’t soon see Lidia at the diminutive sandwich shop named for her, but you can bet Liam will regale you with her latest exploits.
In addition to being a gifted raconteur, Liam is quite a chef with a very impressive pedigree. A 2013 graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education (the real ICE), Liam cut his teeth as chef at Loreley Beer Garden, New York City’s very first biergarten. He then moved up to management jobs in two of the city’s most highly regarded patisseries. From there, it was on to Julian’s Restaurant in Providence’s famous Federal Hill before returning home to Albuquerque where the Corrales native served as restaurant manager for Campo, the popular fine dining establishment at Los Poblanos.
At heart always a chef, Liam conceptualized a restaurant showcasing a rotating, seasonal menu–based on what is available from local growers–of sandwiches, a restaurant where he would also offer a raw salad, a cooked salad and a soup. Gluten-free and vegan options would also be available. His dream became reality on 30 September 2019 when Tuerta opened its doors. In addition to being a descriptor for his one-eyed cat, Tuerta is a play on the term “torta,” a Mexican sandwich typically constructed with the same fillings used on tacos. If you can’t make it to Tuerta, local delivery to the downtown area is available by bicycle.
There are many indicators that Tuerta is a sandwich shop unlike any other. The first sign is quite literally the exterior sign which depicts a one-eyed cat. Step inside the sun-drenched south-facing restaurant and you’ll espy a wall replete with posters featuring Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian whose shtick centered on getting no respect. To the right of the counter at which you’ll place your order is one of the most intriguing menus you’ll see anywhere in Albuquerque. In a city where the most creative name for a sandwich seems to be “Albuquerque Turkey” (groan), Tuerta’s menu is an entertaining breath of fresh air.
There are only eight sandwiches on the menu, each constructed on toasted torta rolls. All are made from scratch with slow roasted meats or veggies. If you don’t do gluten, most of the sandwiches can be made atop polenta or rice. These sandwiches are wholly unlike the paragons of parsimony served at some shameless sandwich shops (you know the type–thin slices of cold cuts, single sliced cheese with half an acre of lettuce). Tuerta sandwiches are Brobdingnagian in girth, generously endowed with high quality fresh ingredients. Unless you study the entertaining menu, you’ll probably have a hard time deciding which to order. Liam will probably advise you, as he did me, to start at the top.
23 January 2020: During my inaugural visit, the sandwich at the top had the intriguing name of Landry Killed A Man (apple-braised brisket, roasted jalapeños, kale and apple salad, smoky sauce). Liam explained that Landry is a character in a recurring NBC series centered around the lives of the Dillon Panthers, one of the nation’s best high school football teams. Landry did kill a man in one episode, but the murder was never solved and never again mentioned. Landry, as it turns out, is also the name of Liam’s other cat who (ostensibly) never killed a man.
Landry Killed A Man is a great, albeit quite messy, sandwich, a multi-napkin affair those of us with a carnivorous bent appreciate. The apple-braised brisket is the star and there’s plenty of it. There are also apples sliced into quarter-inch pieces. They lend a sweet-tart element and crispness that works well with the tender tendrils of moist brisket. Roasted jalapeños add a pleasant piquancy, nothing most New Mexican’s can’t handle. The smoky sauce, which accounts for much of the sandwich’s messiness, is a game-changer. It’s not entirely unlike barbecue sauce nor, despite its coloring, is it a Thousand Islands dressing imitator. It’s got plenty of personality, but doesn’t steal the show so much as it enhances every other element. This sandwich is a killer, but unlike the Friday Night Lights plot line, won’t be easily forgotten.
22 January 2020: There were two soups on the menu on the day of my first visit, both enticing. January’s bitter bite made the choice obvious. The black bean chipotle soup has the soul-warming, belly-pleasing qualities that defeat the cold and sate the appetite. It’s a hearty soup with an inviting aroma that precedes it. You’d swear it took all day long to prepare this soup, so deeply are the flavors ingrained. The chipotle lends a distinctive smokiness and characteristic heat of jalapeños that have been ripened and smoke-dried. This is a soup that does the job all soups are supposed to do, namely give comfort, warmth and great taste.
29 January 2020: In 1993, Meat Loaf released an album titled Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell whose first commercial success was a catchy tune called “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” The perceived ambiguity as to just what Meat Loaf wouldn’t do remains a topic of discussion nearly two decades later. Fittingly Liam named a meatloaf sandwich “But I Won’t Do That” (beef meatloaf, spicy tomato sauce, lettuce-slaw, crunchy onions) though after having polished it off, you’ll probably be thinking to yourself that “I’d like to do that (order it) again.”
Unlike most meatloaf sandwiches, this isn’t a brick of meatloaf between buns. The meatloaf is crumbled, the way it is on your plate when you press down with your fork. Mine included some of those delightful caramelized edges where the meatloaf flavor is most intense. The spicy tomato sauce is an eye-opener, so much more lively than your conventional (boring) tomato sauce. There’s a nice element of crispness with the lettuce slaw and crunchy onions. Delicious as this sandwich is, the inevitable ear worm might give you pause to wonder just what it was Meat Loaf wouldn’t do for love.
29 January 2020: During my second visit, one of the two featured soups was a roasted acorn squash with red chile and cilantro-lime aioli. It was the soup Liam entered in the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl, the very best culinary event of any year. Though the soup didn’t earn people’s or critics’ choice honors, it was very well liked by the throngs who stopped by Liam’s booth. The roasted acorn squash, sourced locally, tastes like Fall, maybe even like Thanksgiving. It’s got a little bit of pumpkin pie sweetness, but that’s tempered by the mild red chile and cilantro-lime aioli. This is another exciting elixir which defeats doldrums and comforts the soul.
Tuerta might just be the element that brings diners back to the Duke City’s downtown area. It’s not every sandwich shop which combines fun and flavor so well…and that menu is a better read than anything outside of Gil’s Thrilling.
317 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 29 January 2020
1st VISIT: 23 January 2020
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Landry Killed A Man; Spicy Black Bean Soup; Roasted Acorn Squash, Red Chile, Cilantro-Lime Aioli; But I Won’t Do That;