Genius, it’s oft been said, is ninety-nine-percent perspiration and one-percent inspiration. Apply that equation to Bob Yacone and you’d be selling him far short. So would the cliche “giving one-hundred-percent.” Add a few more hundred percents–for heart, intellect, intuition and confidence–and you’d be approaching what makes him one of the most talented chefs in the Southwest. Let’s break down just a few of the aspects of the totality that is über chef Bob Yacone.
Let’s start with his intellect, both in strategic “big picture” thinking (such as pioneering the revolutionary Southwest Italian concept which we’ll discuss later) and in making day-to-day operational decisions. Bob is blessed with eidetic memory. He needs only to see a dish prepared or to taste it once and he’ll be able to prepare it himself. As he’s watching the preparation or tasting a dish, he’s quickly formulating ways to improve it–an additional or alternative ingredient here, different preparation technique there…some nuanced minutia that may make the the difference in actualizing the dish. One example is when he asked the chicken farm which sources his poultry and eggs to add red chile flakes to the chickens’ diet in order to modify the color of the carbonara so that it’s exactly as he wants it.
Let’s talk about his passion and heart. If he had to prepare the same food every day, Bob would be like a hunting dog in a New York City apartment. He HAS to get up in the morning and find new ways to express himself creatively–whether conceptualizing new dishes, tweaking already outstanding dishes or figuring out how to make the guest experience even more memorable. As much as he relishes “aha moments,” those rare instances when an epiphany or insight strikes, his greatest joy is in having diners come to the realization that they’re tasting something absolutely spectacular. His face lights up when he hears a contented diner express awe at one of his culinary creations. That’s his happy place.
We’ve established just some of the components that make up Bob Yacone’s genius, but the one aspect that puts it all together for him is his partner in life and in business, his beautiful wife Kim. Bob is quick to acknowledge that the smartest decision he ever made was in marrying the striking lady who gets up early in the morning with him to begin the arduous prep work it takes to run a high-volume restaurant. Kim is the more vibrant face of the restaurant, gracefully escorting guests to their tables and checking up on them to ensure they have a great experience. Having guests enjoy great food isn’t enough for Bob or Kim. They strive to make every dining experience at Forghedaboudit a memorable one.
“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “if he’s so darn smart, why did he name his restaurant Forghedaboudit?” While some might perceive that name to be telling them to “forget about eating here,” most of us recognize that in the vernacular of New York (where the Yacones are from), Forghedaboudit actually means entirely the opposite. “Eat anywhere else? Forghedaboudit!” Besides, the term is frequently used by goombahs in movies about Italian gangsters, framed posters of which festoon the walls at Forghedaboudit.
As chronicled in my review of the Yacones’ first instantiation of Forghedaboudit, in 2013 the Yacones purchased a hundred-year-old building in Deming’s historic district. Determined to do it right “as it’s been done for generations and even centuries by Italians across the world,” they converted the timeworn edifice into a magnificent milieu perfect for serving incomparable meals to their guests. The ambiance is homey, very much reminiscent of the New York “red sauce” restaurants with which I fell in love with half a lifetime ago. Forghedaboudit was a huge success with travelers traversing I-10 from Las Cruces, Tucson and far beyond to partake of the restaurant’s culinary treasures.
As a culinary professionals, the Yacones understand better than most that in order to grow business year-upon-year, the menu has to remain dynamic and interesting. Though wholesale changes weren’t necessary, they continued to introduce amazing new items diners can’t live without. Even more significantly, in 2018 they revitalized their concept entirely, transforming Forghedaboudit from a pizzeria cum Italian restaurant to a restaurant incorporating the culinary culture of New Mexico, a concept they termed “Southwest Italian.” No, you won’t find enchiladas topped with marinara sauce, but you will find menu items in which the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct green chile very boldly and deliciously announces its presence.
The Yacones’ initial venture in Deming was the proverbial “big fish in a small pond” scenario. Forghedaboudit wasn’t just a huge hit, it was “the only ticket in town.” A reservations only policy had to be instituted quickly with walk-ins being turned away. The diminutive 49-seat restaurant’s popularity couldn’t be contained within the Lilliputian space, especially as national awards continued to roll in. It was inevitable that the Yacones would explore the possibility of expanding beyond Deming. Just as the Covid lockdown hit, they launched a second Forghedaboudit. Located at the Picacho Hills Country Club in Las Cruces, the restaurant has also expanded an already formidable menu, offering while retaining the same warmth and hospitality the Yacones offer friends and relatives for Sunday Italian family dinner.
Where the Deming restaurant is intimate and homey, the Las Cruces is spacious and elegant with modern touches throughout. Forghedaboudit’s predecessor in the Picacho Country Club edifice was an Irish pub. Bob and Kim presided over a make-over that left few vestiges of its forerunner. The bar, burnished with stainless steel and stylish granite countertops is the cynosure of the restaurant though some of us might not make it quickly past the exhibition kitchen where some of the most pulchritudinous pies in the country are created. One of the best (and they’re all good) seats in the house is at the expansive east-facing patio where panoramic views of the Organ Mountains will enthrall you, particularly at sunset.
The Yacones commissioned much of the eye-catching artwork which adorns the restaurant’s walls. Some give you pause to reflect–such as a breathtaking quadriptych of the New York skyline threatened by ominous clouds. An inspiring triptych depicting an illuminated New York City’s Freedom Tower and its neighboring buildings hangs in the overflow room. It’s an amazing piece. Until Bob pointed them out, we hadn’t even noticed the decorative pistols used on the wall sconces. There’s something to see everywhere you turn at Forghedaboudit.
You can’t help but gawk with respect at the trophies displayed on a wall ledge–which brings us to another of the human dynamics that makes Bob Yacone a genius–confidence. St. Louis Cardinal’s Hall-of-Fame pitcher, Dizzy Dean reportedly said: “It ain’t braggin’ if ya’ can back it up.” It’s an axiom to which Bob subscribes. When he declares his pizza or his wings to be “the best,” he backs it up by competing in the most prestigious international competitions in the world–and he wins (more later). Just as important to Bob as those trophies and displayed directly below them is the rolling pin Grandma Yacone used to roll dough.
More than anything else, it’s a family affair at Forghedaboudit. Handsome nineteen-year-old son Nick, one of the premier distance runners in the country, is already an accomplished pizzaiolo and is being trained as sous chef (following in the footsteps of his sister Caleigh, a Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate). Their other son Trent helps out wherever he’s needed. Both are tremendous assets to the family business. Shortly after our inaugural visit, the Yacones announced Navy executive chef Santiago Mendivi would be joining the formidable Forghedaboudit team.
12 September 2020: In 2016, when Forghedaboudit competed and earned a second place finish in the National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival in (where else) Buffalo, New York, it should have put to rest the question “where can you find the best chicken wings in New Mexico.” A year later when Forghedaboudit earned first place at the Festival for the ever-so-slightly tweaked maple-bacon wings, the category should have been retired. There should be no question as to where the very best wings in the Land of Enchantment come from. Only angels have more heavenly wings.
Forghedaboudit offers four dry-rub coated wings (that’s sans sauce): BBQ Bourbon, Jerk, Valencia Habañero and the award-winning maple bacon. When you’re done, you’ll want to pick up a few rubs and spices to take home. The menu also features several “wet” wings showcasing Bob Yacone’s phenomenal sauces. Dry wings are crispier, but the wet wings follow the tradition of Buffalo wings. With thirteen different wings options on the menu, only vegans and vegetarians might feel left out. By the way, you can find a dime-a-dozen maple bacon wings at restaurants across the country, but invariably they’re heavily sauced. Forghedaboudit’s dry rub works with the flavors and juices of the chicken wings to create a symphony of savory and sweet flavors that dance on your taste buds. They’re, by far, the best dry rubbed wings we’ve ever had!
When the Yacones competed in the 2018 National Buffalo Wing Festival, they introduced the green chile Alfredo chicken wings to a part of the country not intimately familiar with New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile. The wings earned a third place in the “Creative Spicy” category, but perhaps more importantly, they earned the adulation of festival-goers who just couldn’t get enough of them. To the dismay of wing aficionados, the Yacones didn’t bring enough green chile to sate everyone who wanted more of these superb wings.
Forghedaboudit also offers green chile BBQ wings (sweet barbecue wings tossed with the housemade green chile) that are at least the equal of the green chile Alfredo chicken wings. Forghedaboudit’s green chile has subtle sweet notes that put an exclamation point on the fact that chile is a fruit. This sauce offers a remarkable balance of piquancy, roasted-smokiness and that complexity of flavor and capsaicin that make your tongue tingle and your mouth happy.
13 September 2020: Perhaps the closest approximation Forghedaboudit offers to the traditional Buffalo chicken wing is its honey mild and honey hot wings. Like Buffalo chicken wings, the honey hots are vinegary and piquant, but where they stand out is with the addition of honey. When these wings are served to you, a squeeze jar of honey (not the faux honey-flavored syrup) is also delivered. Squeeze as much honey as you’d like onto the wings for the bouquet of sweet and floral notes to meld with other flavors and cascade over you. These wings are life-changing!
You can’t discuss wings at Forghedaboudit without lauding the homemade dipping sauces that accompany those wings. Although they’re wholly unnecessary, they’re so good you might find yourself spooning them into your mouth if you don’t want to alter the perfection of flavors in the wings. That’s what we did. My favorite of the triumvirate was the blue cheese dressing with its bold, sharp flavors and abundance of umami. My Kim loved the ginger jalapeno ranch most. With its tangy freshness and bite, this dressing goes best with the maple bacon wings should you choose to change a flavor profile that’s pretty perfect already.
During their third year in business (2016), Forghedaboudit competed in the 33rd annual International Pizza Expo, the largest gathering of pizza professionals in the world with more than 7,000 in attendance from 36 countries. The International Pizza Challenge at the Expo is the pizza equivalent of Memphis in May, the world barbecue championship. It’s considered the best pizza-making competition in North America–the pinnacle of pizza. Competing against sixty other pizzaioli from the Southwest Region (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas), Kim prepared a pepperoni and sausage pie adjudged “Best Traditional Pizza” in the entire region. In addition to its win in the Southwest region, Forghedaboudit placed second in the United States and fourth in the world in the traditional pizza category. That’s fourth in the WORLD! Mere fractions of a point separated Forghedaboudit from the grand champion.
An esteemed panel of judges comprised of impartial chefs, food critics (far more credentialed than me) and others from the pizza industry scored each pie for taste (crust, sauce, cheese, toppings and overall taste) and appearance (bake and visual presentation). During our inaugural visit to the Deming location, we got to sample for ourselves what a world-class pizza tastes like. Let’s just say it’s a pizza we still dream about, one of the four transformative pizzas your humble blogger has ever experienced in his 39 years on Planet Earth.
You’ve undoubtedly read or heard the Ecclesiastes verse that declares: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Did you know that verse even applies to pizza? The Yacones do. At certain times every year, to maintain the textural consistency of their pies, they change up the formula for making their dough. There’s no exacting timeline because New Mexico’s seasons are wildly unpredictable, but Bob has learned to intuit when changes to ingredient portion sizes are needed to maintain the perfect consistency.
11 September 2020: Bob boasts of pizza from end-to-end. A pizza at Forghedaboudit doesn’t have a pronounced cornicione (an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza) as many pizzas do. Ingredients abut against every edge of the pizza. That became readily apparent when Nick Yacone delivered Grammy Yacone’s Upside Down, the restaurant’s best seller, to our table. This is a pizza made the way Bob’s Italian grandma used to make it–with the sauce on top. A molten blanket of mozzarella and provolone bubble up to become infused with the sauce. Atop the sauce are fresh garlic and Buffalo-style “cup and char” pepperoni (smaller slices of pepperoni turned up on the edges which are slightly burnt to provide a crisp bacon-like flavor). Once you’ve had cup and char pepperoni, you’ll never want it any other way. Once you’ve had this pizza, you may seriously contemplate moving to Las Cruces.
11 September 2020: During our 2017 visit to the original Forghedaboudit in Deming, we thought the homemade meatballs were the very best we’ve ever had. That held true until our visit to Las Cruces. While the original meatballs which had enraptured me are still on the menu, the restaurant now also offers green chile meatballs, an improvement over something we though was as good as it could possibly get. In addition to two golf ball sized meat orbs, our plate included one Greco spicy linked sausage.
Chicago-based Greco and Sons are purveyors of some of the best sausage in the country. That sausage is even better blanketed by a wondrous green chile-infused sauce pairing the sweet acidity and rich sweetness of Roma tomatoes with the attention-grabbing heat of Hatch chile. These now are the best meatballs we’ve ever had and will probably remain so until Bob invents a new way to make the world’s greatest meatballs even better. A crispy “cracker-like” slice of Pecorino-Romano is worthy accompaniment.
11 September 2020: During my Air Force career, I had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time in St. Louis where frequent visits to “The Hill” were practically mandatory. Famous for its Italian markets and restaurants as well as its world-class athletes (Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola grew up there), its restaurants were reputed to have invented and perfected incomparable toasted or deep-fried ravioli. Until visiting Forghedaboudit, my favorite toasted ravioli were from Charlie Gitto’s whose version was named one of 33 iconic American foods.
Forghedaboudit’s toasted ravioli (four cheese ravioli hand-tossed in seasoned panko breadcrumbs toasted golden brown and served with the restaurant’s red sauce and Fontina) is fantastic! Texturally, it’s not quite al dente, offering both bite and chew. Pierce the raviolis and you’re rewarded with a four cheese blend that oozes creamy, sharp deliciousness. The red sauce is quintessentially an Italian comfort food, simple and satisfying in every way.
11 September 2020: Ludwig van Beethoven famously once said “only the pure of heart can make a good soup.” Bob Yacone makes great soup, but not just one. He often doesn’t decide which soup to prepare on a particular day until that very morning and he doesn’t necessarily prepare it the same way (remember, in his pursuit of perfection, he’s constantly tweaking and changing things up). During our Deming visit, he enthralled us with New England clam chowder.
Cream of asparagus soup is, to put it mildly, not usually one of my Kim’s favorite soups, but she fell in love with Bob’s version. In fact, as Bob was trying to collect our plates so he could bring us something else, she nearly clawed him so she could have one more spoonful. This heavenly elixir is redolent with a pungent, licorice-like taste courtesy of tarragon. It’s tinged with spicy sausage disks. Instead of conventional croutons or crackers, crispy Fontina lends sharp undertones. This is a soup in which various components play with your taste buds, practically daring them not to be completely captivated.
11 September 2020: When we apprised Bob of our impending visit, he promised to serve a dish he had recently conceptualized, a dish he promised would be “guaranteed to be in the top 10 most memorable dishes you’ve ever eaten.” He also promised to “light up my taste buds to a proper level.” Although your humble blogger is often inclined to creating lists, I’ve never compiled a top ten list of my most memorable dishes. It’s entirely possible, maybe even likely, that the Pernod cream sauce with green chile and jumbo shrimp would be on that list.
There were two elements of this dish that reminded me very much of fine Vietnamese cuisine. First was the jumbo shrimp with smoky notes reminiscent of charcoal grilling. As with every dish he conceives, Bob’s process for coaxing that wonderful charcoal grilled flavor is painstakingly meticulous. His process requires twice charring each shrimp among other detailed steps. Second is the Pernod itself with the anise, licorice-like flavor so prevalent in Vietnamese cuisine. Who would have thought these flavors would marry so wondrously with Hatch green chile, medallions of Greco spicy sausage and perfectly prepared cavatappi pasta? This will certainly be the first dish we order next time we visit Forghedaboudit.
11 September 2020: My dear friend Becky Mercuri has often regaled me with tales of the fish fry culture in upstate New York where portion sizes approximate that of the whale which swallowed Jonah. From anyone else, I’d consider that just another “fish story” until witnessing Bob ferrying the NY Fish Fry plate to our table. It made me wonder how many fishermen it took to reel that nine- or ten-inch haddock onto the boat. Compared to some of the anemic fish (usually with chips) we’ve had across the Land of Enchantment, this was a fish on steroids, a muscle-bound bully in a sea of .98 ounce weaklings.
Across the United Kingdom where some 382 million pounds of fish are used on fish and chips dishes, the favorite fish among chefs is haddock. Though its texture isn’t as flaky or tender as cod, its meat is considered to have more flavor, a slight sweetness that pairs well with the buttery flavor of the batter. Forghedaboudit’s beer-battered haddock is paired with homemade macaroni salad, homemade tartar sauce and fries. This is a fish and chips plate you’d actually be proud to serve–even to your friends in England.
11 September 2020: Remember that Dizzy Dean quote: “It ain’t braggin’ if ya’ can back it up.” Bob Yacone isn’t bragging when he says Forghedaboudit serves the best steak in southern New Mexico, maybe in the entire state. He personally hand cuts each USDA Prime Angus New York strip which you can have unadorned or smothered in the restaurant’s award-winning green chile mushroom Alfredo sauce. It’s available in six- or ten-ounce slabs of perfectly marbled, intensely flavorful beef.
Believe it or not, there may be something better than those nearly perfect New York strips. That would be the flawless sixteen-ounce bone-in Prime veal chop sourced from Chicago. Guaranteed to sate every carnivore’s craving, the prime veal chops are incredibly delicious. Though expensive ($55 as of our visit), you should splurge for a cut of meat sure to inspire great dreams. You’re worth it! Bob’s one-of-a-kind grilled veal is topped with white mushrooms and imported top-shelf Marsala from Italy. He personally guarantees it will be “one of the best dishes you’ve ever eaten.” Remember, it’s not bragging when you can back it up. This prime veal chop can back up everything Bob raves about it.
13 September 2020: We not only waddled out of Forghedaboudit fully sated (emphases on full), but with more than enough left-overs for more than six meals. Still, we couldn’t leave Las Cruces without enjoying one more meal at our favorite restaurant. Unlike our inaugural visit two days earlier, we didn’t want a Bacchanalian feast before undertaking a four-hour drive home. Our “small” lunch consisted of two types of wings and two Italian subs.
The Lunch Encounter, a blog which purports to be “all things sandwich” poses the question “May-oh! Yay-oh or Nay-oh?” It’s a Jack Handey-level deep thought question sandwich-makers have pondered for generations, especially when discussing the Italian sub (pepperoni, ham, Genoa salami with lettuce, tomato, red pepper and Provolone cheese on a chewy Chicago roll). We pondered the question “mayo or no mayo” ourselves as we enjoyed our subs. For now, we’re yay-oh on may-oh…at least with these Italian subs, among the best we’ve had.
11 September 2020: It’s not often you find a chef who’s equally adept at baking and creating desserts as he or she is with savory items. In Bob Yacone, desserts are just another challenge to surmount. To say we were surprised at the peanut butter mousse with a whole chocolate-dipped filled cannoli is an understatement. As one of those rare guys who doesn’t like peanut butter desserts at all, it surprised me in triplicate. I wanted to match my Kim spoon-for-spoon in devouring this decadence in a goblet. Consider me “sold” on peanut butter desserts, at least this one.
You’ll notice a rating of “27” for Forghedaboudit Southwest Italian, making it one of only two restaurants (Mary & Tito’s is the other) across the Land of Enchantment to earn that distinction and placing it among my highest restaurants in the entire country. The Yacones have truly exceeded even their own lofty standards. The greatness that is Forghedaboudit is not just in my estimation. Since its launch, the restaurant has received 27 straight five-star ratings (and nothing lower) on TripAdvisor. To my knowledge, that’s unprecedented!
FORGHEDABOUDIT SOUTHWEST ITALIAN
1338 Picacho Hills
Las Cruces, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 12 September 2020
1st VISIT: 11 September 2020
# OF VISITS: 2
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Green Chile Alfredo Chicken Wings, Maple Bacon Wings, Green Chile Meatballs and Spicy Linked Sausage, Toasted Ravioli, Cream of Asparagus Soup, Pernod Cream Sauce With Green Chile and Jumbo Shrimp, NY Fish Fry, Veal Chop with Marsala Sauce, Imported Italian Handmade Chocolate covered Spumoni ice cream, Peanut butter Mousse with whole chocolate dipped cannoli filled, Italian Sub