In December, 1997, two-time James Beard award-winning author Deborah Madison penned a memorable article for Sunset Magazine. Its provocative title “Land of Enchiladas” certainly resonated with me. Before relocating to the Santa Fe area where she now lives, Deborah would visit New Mexico quite regularly. As with most New Mexicans returning home–whether from vacation or relocating permanently–the incomparable cuisine of our enchanted state was a priority even before she crossed into our sacred borders. She always looked forward to that first plate of flat enchiladas smothered with red chili sauce. One bite and I knew I was in New Mexico. It tasted like home cooking,
It tastes like home. That’s a sentiment to which many of us can relate. No matter where my Kim and I vacation or where I may be sent on a business trip, within three days I start to crave New Mexican food–the incomparable flavors of home. Despite those cravings, I won’t succumb to the spangled wiles of restaurants purporting to serve similar food. My friend and former Intel colleague Steve Caine once fell prey to a pretender and will forever rue the day. Upon returning from a business trip to Portland, he asked me to help him with his expense report. His itemized report indicated he had dined twice at Chevy’s, a middling quality Americanized Mexican restaurant which wouldn’t survive in the tough Albuquerque market. We teased him mercilessly. Worse, when our boss saw what the commotion was all about, he immediately put Steve on double-secret probation. Steve never lived down twice visiting a Chevy’s in Portland where he could have had some of the country’s freshest and best seafood.
The title of Deborah Madison’s article made me wonder if perhaps the powers-that-be in Santa Fe would have been more decisive about declaring “Land of Enchiladas” our official state nickname than they were about “Land of Enchantment.” Although the New Mexico Tourist Bureau began describing the state as “the Land of Enchantment” as early as 1935 and the nickname was added to the state license plate in 1941, it wasn’t until 1999 that the state legislature made it our official state nickname. Come to think of it, maybe our official nickname should be “Land of Mañana” though the food fanatic in me would still lean toward “Land of Enchiladas” or as a compromise “Land of Enchanting Enchiladas.” That would certainly work well with red and green license plates.
When discussing elotes with my friend Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel one fine March day, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp chided me for not having made it to The Jealous Fork. “It’s a restaurant after your own heart,” he declared, “a restaurant dedicated to enchiladas.” A restaurant whose raison d’etre is the enchilada? Why didn’t anyone tell me sooner about the godsend Deborah Madison described as: “often flat, sometimes made with blue-corn tortillas, and maybe topped with a fried egg – posole, tamales, chiles rellenos, and carne adobado. Red or green chili sauce is served with every dish, of course – “Christmas” for those who can’t make up their minds.”
The premise of Jealous Fork is as easy as one, two, three, four: prixe fix enchiladas–three for nine dollars. You’ll place your order at the counter, selecting from among four options for each item used in the construction of your enchilada. It starts with your choice of tortilla: corn, flour, a corn and flour hybrid or a roasted poblano. You can top your enchilada with two of the four cheeses: Menonita, Oaxaca, Mexican Jack or Muenster. Fillings for your enchilada masterpiece are brisket, braised pork, herb chicken or wild mushroom. Of course it wouldn’t be an enchilada without chile. Your options are Hatch red or green chile from Young Guns, pasilla chile or tomatillo. For a pittance you can also have sliced avocado, crema or a fried egg.
My enchiladas were stuffed with brisket, moist and tender tendrils of shredded perfection as good as any you’ll find in Texas barbecue. A fried egg over easy and two Mexican cheeses topped my dish: Menonita, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a mild, buttery taste; and Oaxaca, a semi-hard artisan cheese made from cow’s milk. Corn tortillas were the canvas upon which the enchantment on a plate was constructed. You might be surprised to read that my chile of choice was the pasilla, not either of the superb New Mexican chiles.
Lest you judge me for not having ordered my enchiladas with the red and green pride of New Mexico, blame chef Dennis Apodaca, late of Sophia’s. Since he introduced me to pasilla chile many years ago, it’s become a passion. You can get Hatch red and green chile virtually everywhere in New Mexico, but very few restaurants offer pasilla chile, a chile world-famous chef Rick Bayless describes as “deep and sonorous.” PepperScale explains “Pasilla – which means “little raisin” in Spanish – tastes unsurprisingly like raisins, earthy and sweet with a hint of smoky cocoa.” Is it any wonder pasilla is often used in creating mole? Is it any wonder my next enchiladas at The Jealous Fork will probably also feature pasilla chile?
My Kim’s enchiladas were constructed on flour tortillas stuffed with braised pork, topped with Menonita and Oaxacan cheeses, sliced avocados and both tomatillo and red chile on the side. Top Guns proved it’s a purveyor of piquancy with a red chile all New Mexicans can respect. It’s got good heat, a smoky flavor and boy, is it delicious. So too is the tomatillo sauce. While technically in the chile family (or more accurately, the nightshade family), tomatillos lend a nice acid, brightness and tartness to the sauces from which they’re constructed. They have no heat, but go very well on enchiladas.
The Jealous Fork offers a number of tempting sides: grilled elote, pinto beans, achiote rice and red chile pork posole. Since Howie Kaibel gave it his highest recommendation, we both had the grilled elote, corn on the cobb slathered with Mexican crema (a Mexican sour cream) and sprinkled generously with sharp shaved Cotija cheese and red chile. Elote are a dichotomy, a dream of deliciousness and nightmare of a mess. You’re sure to wear some of the elote on your hands and face, but there’s no way you can put it down until it’s all gone.
There are only two dessert options on the menu: tres leches cake and wafer waffles, neither of which are made on the premises. Made well, tres leches (three milks) cake, a type of sponge cake drenched in sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream (or half and half) and evaporated milk, is soft as a down pillow. Press your fork into it and milk should ooze out Alas, “not enough milk” was our sole complaint about this dessert, though when you consider that this cake is all about milk, that’s pretty much a criminal offense. It was good, but we’ve had better, much more moist versions. Still, it was winner compared to the peppermint agua fresca which was more reminiscent of a Nesquik offering.
The Jealous Fork is owned by Josh Kennon, a Deming native credentialed at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale. In fact, Jealous Fork is in the very same complex as Fork & Fig, Kennon’s other hit restaurant. It’s conceivable other New Mexican restaurants purporting to serve enchanting enchiladas might soon be jealous of The Jealous Fork.
The Jealous Fork
6904 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2020
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Brisket Enchiladas with Pasilla Chile, Braised Pork Enchiladas with Tomatillo, Pastel Tres Leches