Globeater - Grubbing around the Globe

Marcello’s Chophouse: I’m Sold (& Bought, & Paid For)

I go to Albuquerque for the sour-cream enchiladas, the sopaipillas dripping with honey, the Christmas (i.e., any dish with both red & green chile). I do not go for steak. Hell, I rarely go anywhere for steak. But I also hit the ‘Burque to visit my dad, and when a dad is turning 86, a dad gets what a dad wants—especially if he’s footing the bill.

And dear Dad wanted to celebrate with me, the Director, & his lovely platonic ladyfriend, on his dime, at Marcello’s Chophouse. So what kind of chow-whore would I be to say no?

Frankly, I expected a cut-rate high-desert version of your average, glittering, cosmopolitan cow palace. Instead I found an admirably indie, expectation-surpassing take on same. Sure, except for home-grown sparkling Gruet (& Montes from Chile’s Colchagua Valley, mainly because I fell in love with it on a visit last year upon discovering that they play Gregorian chants to lull the barrels in the cellar 18 hrs. a day), the wine list was mostly a California-centric snooze. But the food absolutely held its own.

Take the pan-seared foie gras over broiled polenta, pear compote & a port reduction—not that the accompaniments registered much below the perfect lobes, crisp on top, the interior so meltingly delicate that one could be forgiven for interpreting the fattiness of duck liver as purity. It’s just got, in some way, to be good for you, for your soul, even if the duck might beg to differ.

Although the pan-fried lump crabcake wasn’t as bursting with chunks of sweetness as the best versions are—particularly if eaten dockside somewhere along the eastern seaboard—a surprising amount of cayenne lent it a pleasant kick, balanced by lime-cilantro remoulade.

The chophouse salad was a lowlight, blander than it sounded. My guess is that the finer the chop, the more each bit gets lost in the water released by the fresh vegetables, especially if they’re present in far larger amounts than—let’s face it—the good stuff: salami, artichoke hearts, Kalamatas, garbanzos, toasted piñons & aged provolone.

But the grilled meats impressed in every way: rare, tender, simple, from the double-cut pork chop

to the Colorado lamb

to the petite filet mignon.

True to the standard steakhouse model of conspicuous consumption, the chops are all served à la carte, so ordering sides that cost as much as their weight in the burrito platters you could get down the street with all the fixings is a must. But that’s all part of the profligate fun, right?

And they were solid—traditional, comfortingly rich. From left: bright, crisp-tender buttered asparagus; creamed corn with bacon, green chile, & cornbread crumbs; truffled mac & cheese; 3-cheese potatoes au gratin (below)—although the lone freebie, a warm, soft loaf of butter-sweet, sundried-tomato-studded white bread, took the cake.

We did not take the cake for dessert; instead, the birthday boy opted for a deconstructed split with caramelized bananas; scoops of chocolate, vanilla & dulce de leche ice cream,; raspberry compote; cajeta (Mexican caramel sauce); chocolate syrup & cinammon-sugar-spiced pecans. Oh, & whipped cream. Again, not groundbreaking, but perfectly respectable from all angles.

Unlike our potguts afterward.

Marcello's Chophouse on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Mark Special, Charlie’s Front & Back Door, ABQ

Two joints in one—the cozy, family-oriented Front Door & the dark, boozy Back Door—Charlie’s opened 45 years ago (in 1966) & has remained my sentimental Albuquerque fave for about half that time. Is it the city’s 5-star best? I can’t honestly say it is, since the red & green chile are inconsistent—& red & green chile are, of course, the be-all-end-all of Southwestern & especially New Mexican cookery. But when they’re good, they’re great, & everything else rocks all the way out, from the chicken & jocoque (a type of sour cream) enchiladas

to the como se llama with Polish sausage & beans to the torta de huevo—a sort of frittata in red chile—to the Navajo taco & all the oddities in between, containing such incongruous stuff as pastrami, sauerkraut, & 1000 Island dressing.

Still, I met my match this week while in town for Thanksgiving: the Mark Special.

It starts with carnitas whose crisped chunks, like good barbecue, almost slide unctously apart rather than break up in strands. These are scattered across generous mounds of chopped fideos—think soupy, ultra-comfy Mexican spaghetti; cheese-smothered calabacitas—think succotash, here with squash & corn; quelites—think sauteed spinach; potatoes fried with onions; & of course frijoles. But don’t, as you eat it, think at all; just take giant forkfuls of everything, separately & mixed together, letting a rich bit of this enhance the flavor of a tangy bit of that, combining & contrasting until suddenly you find you’ve eaten nearly the whole thing. Then scoop up that last bite with a piece of 1 of the fried dough squares known as sopaipillas.

Then squeeze some honey from the bottle on the table into the rest of the pocket & munch until your eyeballs pop out.

If you’ve got another millimeter or two of space, snitch a little of your mom’s smoky, indeed practically blackened, chiles rellenos

or grab 1 more chip to dunk into the guacamole or the kill-you-softly salsa on the appetizer sampler. (I’m not such a fan of the queso, done Texas-style with Velveeta, though I realize it’s not illegit.)

Then take a nap & have kaleidoscopic nightmares about how on earth you’re going to stuff down turkey with all the trimmings the next day. Yes, do it all exactly like that. Such are holidays in the Land of Enchantment.

Charlie's Front & Back Door on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Fiesta Morning Sandwich, Flying Star Café, ABQ

In town for less than 48 hours, I as usual spent about half of them drinking up the free WiFi juice the Flying Star at Paseo del Norte & Wyoming pumps out. Of course, it came with actual food; as I’ve suggested, the New Mexican–American deli/diner/coffeehouse repertoire of this wildly popular citywide franchise, rounded out by a bakery counter bestowed with many a local blue ribbon, is highly likeable—as satisfying as could be, really, under the presumably corners-cutting circumstances of such a high-volume operation.

For instance, even artlessly photographed in its takeout container for the road trip back to Denver, the Fiesta Morning Sandwich is a beauty, eh?

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FSbreakfastsandwich
Spilling over the sides of the huge housemade “cheesy chile bun”—extra-chewy, with a nice hard yet thin crust & a strong hint of onion—is a fine mess of cheddar, green chile &, usually, egg, but in this case tofu that I’d have sworn was a bit curried, though that may have been a trick of the hue. In any case, the mixture was so bold, funky & moist it didn’t really need the chipotle salsa (also distinctive for being far smokier than it was spicy). And I didn’t need to eat again til home.

Chewing Through the Q Part 3: The Barley Room & The Council Room, Albuquerque

Continued from Parts 1 & 2.

***

ABQ’s studded with gems of the hidden, threadbare, take-no-vanilla-tongued-prisoners variety.

The Barley Room isn’t 1 of them, & neither is The Council Room. But they do have their advantages.

The former’s in a strip mall that also contains a church (this city’s the sad capital of convenience storehouses of worship); as Sunday-dressed believers were streaming out, jersey-clad believers were streaming in to the bar to catch the Steelers game against the Ravens. Dozens were already rallied round the TV when we entered; I half-wondered if we’d walked into a private party. But no, 1 of the 2 or 3 blonde-ponytailed waitresses waved us toward a row of booths where we could grab a bite & the WiFi signal we’d really come for.

Service at a sports bar is rarely more than pleasantly competent—but at the Barley, it was extra-pleasantly competent. Our waitress not only thoroughly answered questions about the menu, cheerfully going to the kitchen to follow up when needed be (more than once), but also, after realizing she’d brought me lime instead of the lemon I’d requested with my first soda, accompanied each of several refills with fresh wedges of both—not those unwieldy thin slices but pieces I could squeeze.

Food at a sports bar is rarely more than pleasantly competent either—but once again, it was extra-pleasantly competent at the Barley. A cup of posole, if not exactly pretty, was chunky with pork & hominy that almost seemed as though it had been pan-fried before it was added—is that possible?—& was quite spicy to boot, with a bonus splotch of hot sauce on top. The pretzels, though surely not housemade, were not the expected stale chewtoys but proved soft beneath a glistening crust seemingly brushed with butter. The cheese dip was pure crap, but deliberately so, I imagine—what’s a sports bar, after all, but a glorified off-site concession stand?

BRposole BRpretzels

The Director’s huevos rancheros, a Sunday special, was really rather guapo, with thick, meaty slices of bacon, eggs fried to a crispy edge, & green chile that, like the posole, didn’t pussyfoot around.

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The Barley Room, then, is a woody, sudsy change of pace from the coffeehouses in the Northeast Quadrant—no more, but no less either. Unless, of course, you’re a Steelers fan or a local music groupie—then, maybe, it’s a whole lot more; just check out that weekend line-up on the above-linked home page! Stratus Phear, ladies, am I right? And how ’bout those specials on the NFL Sunday Ticket brunch buffet?

Yet as clichés of Americana at its most middlebrow go, even the strip mall sports bar might not have much on the casino dining room—not the hilariously depressing slot jockey’s self-serve buffet or the seemingly glitzy but secretly desperate high roller’s bottle-service boîte, mind you, but the happily compromising sit-down option in between. The version at the Sandia Casino, the Council Room, does look like the official photo below, minus the clean-cut smiling couples; mismatched families like mine seem to be the norm.

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What separates it from your average bar & grill, besides location, is the Indian fry bread bar,

CRfrybread
which would have been a terrific twist on the familiar taco/nacho station if the bread had been hot & fresh. It wasn’t. But the dips & spreads in fair array—about 8 of them—showed some flair, among them black bean salsa, mango salsa, chipotle salsa, salsa verde, guacamole & a queso or 2.

Entrée salads were better than my pictures indicate. The shrimp louis on the left came with fresh sliced beets & asparagus spears as well as jumbo shrimp & what seemed to be housemade 1000 Island dressing in its totally unnecessary taco shell; the adequate taco salad on the right made for a welcome flashback to 1988, when edible containers were oh-so-cool.

CRshrimplouie CRtacosalad

Margaritas had nothing unusual going for them but a change of glass, which I actually appreciated—the standard big-bowled stemware’s a bitch for a lush to maneuver. And what’s a casino if not a place for a lush to negotiate?

CRmarg

The Barley Room on UrbanspoonCouncil Room Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Chewing Through the Q Part 2: Nob Hill Bar & Grill & Flying Star Café, Albuquerque

Continued from Part 1.

***

A few years back, reverting to your typical girly-girlihood in the throes of heartbreak & loneliness, I fled Boston for ABQ to spend the holidays with my daddy, who whisked me to what was then the city’s Place to Be, Ambrozia, for a New Year’s Eve blowout. It was a feast to remember, so when I saw chef-owner Sam Etheridge’s name crop up again following Ambrozia’s closing in connection with a new, far more casual venture called Nob Hill Bar & Grill, I put it at the top of my to-go list.

By the time I got there, however, for reasons that remain a mystery (at least to Google), he had left, all trace of his role erased from the website. So if it was someplace special to begin with—as a blog I trust suggests it was—it’s now a reliably enjoyable contemporary American joint, nothing more, nothing less.

Emphasis on “nothing less,” really. My initial wariness about the semi-sleek, clubby vibe—though somewhat justified here & here—eww—melted away with the arrival of the “frizzled fried green beans with black bean sauce & Sriracha queso.”

NHgreenbeans

If the description was a bit overdone—frizzled & fried, both? What, like a pothead with a perm?—its referent was just right, the beans still fresh-&-garden-green-tasting in their hot, greaseless, seasoned shells & accompanied by Mex-seeming but Asian-leaning dips—the creamy queso gone fiery with its namesake Thai hot sauce, the black bean sauce not refritos but the funky fermented stuff of Chinese cuisines, a little bit sweet & a lot bit hot.

Along similar lines, the veggie burger was the most savory I’ve had in recent memory.

NHveggieburger

Okay, I haven’t had any in recent memory, but there’s a fair reason for that—the patties on most veggie burgers, even the rare housemade ones, are as gritty as packed sand. Not so Nob Hill’s. Thick & moist with edamame & mushrooms; topped with soy-browned onions, avocado & pretty sprouts; & served on a nutty whole wheat bun smeared with ginger-lime mayo, it, like the green beans, showed enough freshly imagined (& smoothly executed) touches to reawaken the dead-tired cliché of comfort food with a gourmet twist!, at least for the length of the meal.

Same went for the meatloaf stuffed with mozzarella and bacon, both smoked.

NHmeatloaf

And that’s just the half-portion!

Soothingly rich if not as full of surprises, it came with respectable caramelized shallot gravy & garlic mashed, plus a perfectly retro little bundle of buttered aspargus & baby carrots. When you can see the individual grains of S&P on each glistening vegetable, you can rest assured the cook is in the zone (&, of course, that he’s using kosher or sea salt & freshly cracked pepper. The voice of Chef Stephan telling my class that iodized salt was for lawn care still rings in my ears sometimes).

I’ve said before I order dessert under only 2 circumstances: 1) a meal so satisfying I don’t want it to end, be it at a roadside or a 4-star; 2) a meal so unsatisfying I’m going all in on the off-chance of salvaging something from the experience. It was the former scenario, then, that led to a faceful of flourless chocolate cake, a sweet I loathe on principle as the fad that would not fade (what’s it been, 10 years?) but, admittedly, like all right on contact, especially when it’s basically a pair of fudge squares under an alias. And they were only part of the Irish Car Bomb,

NHdessert
the rare dessert inspired by a cocktail rather than the other way around. It came together—or, I guess, blew apart—with a scoop of not only Guinness ice cream but also smooooth Bailey’s mousse & a drizzle of Irish whiskey caramel, forming a little playground (heady heap of rubble, if you must) of possible combos.

Still, if Nob Hill is a place to go, Flying Star Café is a place to stay (or rather, since it’s a local franchise, several places to stay), not because the food is better—it’s not, although Albuquerqueans consistently vote its bakery tops in city polls—but because each branch offers free WiFi & an excellently eclectic magazine selection (hooray, Found!) in a colorful, vaguely retro setting. Since my dad’s house offers none of the above, I wind up at Flying Star a lot when I’m visiting—which is a lot lately, so that’s a lot times a lot. In fact, I gave its housemade English muffins a nod a while back; they constitute a large part of my ABQ diet, along with sides of greasy-good green chile–turkey sausage. An order consists of 2 sizzling 3-inch patties, together about as big as a small burger—which is what you’ve got if you put them on the muffin & slather it with butter. I do like a slapdash breakfast burger now & then.

The muffin also comes with the Spanish omelet.

FSSpanishomelet Per the menu, this should be “big & fat.”

Whipped with garlic & layered with sliced potatoes, Swiss & scallions, it’s a thin version of tortilla española in every sense, being too dry, but the flavor’s good, & the smoked chipotle salsa adds moisture (although, as is the case with many of the parsimoniously portioned condiments at Flying Star, you’ll have to ask 1 of the friendly, constantly circulating floor staffers for extra).

Actually, my father’s complaint about Flying Star is that they overemphasize the house baked goods, so that the hummus plate, say, becomes a rye bread plate with some dip.

FlyingStarhummus

In this particular case I agree with him—I ordered the hummus plate for the hummus, so I’d rather the decent, if a bit coarse, namesake had been front & center, not least since it was supposed to come with pita, not rye. But the loaves really are the franchise’s forté, along with desserts. It also graces the otherwise severely plain tuna melt, whose Swiss was scarce, & coleslaw.

FlyingStartunamelt
Of Flying Star’s 8 salads (including the hummus plate above), the ridiculous Greek Goddess is my fave,

FSGreeksalad

what with batter-fried feta tots—a cheap ploy that works, dammit—& tangy avocado vinaigrette (plus always appreciated slices of lemon).

But after all my visits to Flying Star, I’ve yet to have either a wildly wonderful or a totally miserable meal—so I’ve never bothered to try any of the celebrated desserts, in keeping with my general rule. Guess I should break it just to see what all the fuss is about. Until then…happy holidays, all.

***
UPDATE: Um, yeah, back at Flying Star again. Just polished off a damn good plate of fresh-baked biscuit, singular, & Cinderella-right gravy with the aforementioned kicky green chile–turkey sausage. It was so good, in fact, that that dessert might finally be in order as we speak…

FSbiscuitsgravy

Nob Hill Bar & Grill on UrbanspoonFlying Star Cafe (Academy Hills) on Urbanspoon

Chewing Through the Q Part 1: Blackbird Buvette & Cecilia’s Cafe, Albuquerque

Only in the past couple of years did some smarty-pants (the mayor, actually) come up with a nickname meant, I guess, to make ABQ seem super-funky-fresh—much to the apparent chagrin of locals who know better. ABQ is proudly built on ever-spreading layers of green chile & grime; it’s neither tourist- nor marketing-friendly.

But a Q kinda looks like an open mouth with a tongue hanging out, à la mine gaping at all the crazy cheap eats whenever I’m there—which is a lot lately—so it’s appropriate enough.

***

The Blackbird Buvette is not as all-fired stylish as either the Frenchified name (the word means “refreshment area”) or the backstory—it’s owned by raw-boned band The Dirty Novels—would suggest. It’s a borderline dive downtown that, on a Sunday afternoon, was empty but for a server, a barfly, & a fry cook who were hard to tell apart, except that the fry cook was the one who got up to toss my jalapeño bottle caps into the deep-fryer from, almost no doubt about it, the freezer & dump them in a basket with a side of bottled (I guess to go with the caps?) ranch.

Which isn’t to say they weren’t delicious—warm, greasy, crispy breading contrasting with hot-sour pepper slices & cool creaminess. As I’m learning from David A. Kessler’s The End of Overeating, more on which in another post, junk like this is so addictive because every last molecule of every ingredient, no matter how fattening, salty or sweet on its own, has been stretched, squeezed & skewered to contain even more fat, salt & sugar; even nature doesn’t abhor a vacuum as much as the processed food industry does. And even nature doesn’t tinker with our wiring as much as the processed food industry does, until we’re on the fritz of greedy frenzy.

BBbottlecaps2
Anyway, same went for the house burger with green chile & sweet potato fries; not all that much care went into their making—the smallish patty was cooked to medium-well, which is overdone as far as I’m concerned, & the spuds weren’t likely hand-cut. But then, a burger & fries don’t need a lot of love to come out basically okay.

BBburger2
And since it keeps 15 local brews on tap & hosts the Geeks Who Drink weekly, I guess the Blackbird Buvette comes out basically okay with the locals too.

For a real rib—& gut pit, & soul—sticking lunch, however, nearby Cecilia’s Cafe fares far better, as this humble little display with its all-in-good-fun award suggests.

Cecilias3

I covered the killer chiles rellenos here, but I was very nearly as enamored with my Indian taco.

Cecilia'sIndiantaco2

As with the chiles, the simplicity of the dish was so impressive; compared to the usual bowling ball of fried dough & shredded cheese you could practically take to the alley & win one for the team with, this one layered atop a gently fried disk little bigger than a burger bun only fresh green chile, lettuce, a little cheese & a whole lot of carne adovada, cubed pork made tender yet incendiary by marination. Especially juicy, it did soften the taco shell a bit too quickly—but I could overlook the loss of a little crunch for the gain of the kind of all-over mouthfeel that’s making me salivate to remember it, right this second.

The Blackbird Buvette on UrbanspoonCecilia's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Chiles Rellenos at Cecilia’s Cafe, ABQ

For better or worse, in episode 510 of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, Guy Fieri featured a crumbling little corner joint in downtown Albuquerque called Cecilia’s Cafe,

which, even if it weren’t just the sort of fiercely local, downhome fave gastrobsessive-compulsives like me & the author of Gil’s Thrilling Web Site (whose trusty blog I consult regularly before trips down south)—&, of course, Food Network bloodhounds on the scent of “authenticity”—gravitate toward, could obviously play one on TV.

Cecilias1
Gil’s abovelinked blogpost provides plenty of background insight; the most useful tidbit I can offer you is as follows: #4.

Cecilia'schilesrellenos
That’s the chiles rellenos plate with beans, rice & your choice of red or green chile; both are among the purest forms of the stuff I’ve ever encountered, containing little more, so far as I could tell, than roasted hot peppers distilled down to their very essence. (More on the green variety in a later post.)

The beauty of the stuffed chiles themselves was likewise their purity. So often they’re battered beyond recognition, amounting to giant jalapeño poppers. Hell, amounting to giant blobs of fried cheese. If Cecilia’s coating contained any flour at all, it was negligible; if my life depended on guessing by sight & taste exactly how these were made, I’d guess they were dipped in egg, fried, then rolled in cheese, topped with sauce, & broiled. Is that even doable? I don’t know, but these made me believe it is.

They’re filled, of course, with more cheese, but not too much; the chile, in short, isn’t just a vehicle for fat but the ingredient in its own right it should be. Fine  frijoles too, cooked simply & with respect for the integrity of the pinto per se.

***

Read more about Cecilia’s here.

The Best Bar I’ve Never Been To: El Madrid Lounge, Albuquerque

All I know is it’s behind this noted local crazy lady‘s castle

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(pic swiped from Big Albuquerque-like Things, a neat though apparently soon-to-be-defunct blog by an urban planning student)

next to an overpass

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on a dragged-down, chained-up downtown block, which probably explains why there are no windows—but oh, the view from the sidewalk:

Madrid3

Madrid2

Who’s coming in with me?

Dispatch from Albuquirky: Charlie’s Front Door, Gecko’s, Flying Star Cafe

I wish I’d coined that nickname, but no, the appellation comes naturally to a town best-known as Bugs Bunny’s bugaboo. Wherever my 1st home was—& it’s been all over in the course of my 30-plus (or more accurately 40-minus) years—Albuquerque, as the address at any given time of at least 1 immediate relative, has always been my 2nd, all the more so now that the Director’s brother has gone & sired an adorable lass & tied the knot in the presence of the King (in roughly that order) with the equally adorable local he impregnated:

D&J

Since we had yet to lay eyes on our new niece, it was only too fitting that my own happily broken family move its Thanksgiving bash (of which more here) from Oklahoma to New Mexico this year. & am I glad we did, not only because little infant Zuzu’s (her real, if not her legal, name) utter wailing horror at every glimpse she got of her old Uncle Director was supremely hilarious like this

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but also because if I don’t go to Charlie’s, Front Door or Back, every so often I positively wilt like a Southern belle awaiting smelling salts on a magnolia-redolent veranda in the gloaming, only far less lovely & more rotten. (At this point, if my penchant for mayhem were greater than my capacity for shame, & I’m somewhat surprised to find it isn’t, I’d be hyperlinking the word “rotten” to its namesake website with nary a warning. As it is, just think of me as your own personal furry old Grover,

250px-The_Monster_at_the_End_of_This_Book_Starring_Lovable,_Furry_Old_Grover

begging you not to turn said virtual page, difference being that in this case there really is something to be afraid of—there really is a monster at the end of Rotten.com, & at the beginning, & all the way through. Really, don’t go there unless you’re sure you’ve got no more innocence left to lose & only darkness to gain. But if you do, check out the photo of the weightlifter with the prolapsed bowels.)

I’ve waxed mad about Charlie’s before; it’s a no-frills—or rather, 1 frill, at least in the front: a square sunken bar in the middle of the room; whoever first dreamt of a bar that would be accessible from all sides is a goddamn unsung interior-design hero—but way friendly little New Mexican joint with 1 of the funkier menus you ever will see. Even the Director’s color-blind iPhone can’t obscure the yum of the house specialty, sour cream enchiladas with chicken & green chile—which kicks pretty hard, but only after the eponymous ingredient & shredded iceberg block the impact in cooling, soothing measure:

Charliesenchilada

I got the Como Se Llama,

Charliespolishsausage

which is exactly what it is, a whatchamacallit, combining green chile & refritos & cheese with Polish sausage & a tortilla so thick & fluffy it’s more like pita. I’m not even sure the color’s off there—it did sort of glow & burble & whatnot like the blob Stephen King as Jordy Verrill unleashes in

Creepshow_ver1 ,

especially the day after, on the inside. Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have joined the Director in polishing off the entire basket of sopaipillas, which we soaked in honey like we were warlords & it was gasoline & they were hostages we were going to set on fire but wound up cannibalizing instead, but I didn’t (know), so I did (polish).

Charliessopaipillas

Gecko’s the so-called gastropub & tapas bar [sic] I’m less keen on.

1st of all, & if I’ve said this once I’ve said it 1000 times without really knowing what that expression means, tapas are Spanish. If the ingredients aren’t Spanish, the small plates aren’t tapas. They’re meze, or cicchetti (chi-KETT-ee), or zakuski, or whatever they are, even just plain old small plates, but not tapas. Here, the menu places something of an emphasis on Mexican ingredients, but given its simultaneous counteremphasis on the frighteningly fused likes of “breaded slab o’ meunster with sweet yellow curry tomato chutney” & smoked kielbasa in a tawny port reduction, it isn’t strong enough to warrant a label like bocaditos. Now, that’s no black mark against the kitchen per se, but it does suggest someone at the management level who has some influence thereover either doesn’t care about ethnoculinary accuracy or isn’t interested in catering to customers who do. Neither’s a good sign.

2nd of all, & if I’ve said this once I’ve said it 1000 times without really knowing what that expression means, a gastropub is a gastropub. It has the vaguest amount to do with a changing of the culinary guard in the UK. It has absolutely nothing to do with just any old college bar in Albquerque that breads eggplant in panko, parmesan & tarregon [sic], pours green-chile honey over cambozala [sic], & serves lobster & golf [sic] shrimp ceviche with fried pita wedges for no apparent reason other than that it’s not technically illegal to do so. & it has even less than nothing to do with a college bar in Albuquerque that also calls itself a tapas bar but isn’t. Jesus H.

But even all that isn’t a black mark against the kitchen per se. The students working there way through UNM back there are doing OK with what they’ve got. So the green-chile cheese fries were gloppy, but they were also curly, & salty, & greasy, & so served their alcohol-absorbing function with sufficient charm.

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A layer of black bean–pepperoni puree under the nachos was at once too ridiculous to even think about & too interesting not to unthinkingly keep swiping tastes of.

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The Director’s tough sirloin tacos with gluey, flavorless roasted pablano [sic] crema, however, weren’t interesting at all. I was bored just typing that.

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As for the Flying Star Cafe, it’s neither here nor there culinarily, but it’s everywhere geographically, & has free wifi, so I find myself at 1 branch or another whenever I’m in town, & don’t generally mind a bit sticking something in my mouth, be it this burly beefy chili

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or that most civilized of all baked goods,*** a housemade English muffin,

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or decent huevos rancheros with especially saucy pintos & home fries.

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Thus did I return to Denver a little fatter & mostly happier.

***Nope, it’s not brioche; too decadent. Nope, not the baguette; too working class. Crumpets perhaps. Write-in candidates welcome.

Dispatch: Albuquerqueating

Besides the swanky, spanking-new Second Home I just found out about, I have an old, ramshackle second home: Albuquerque. The whole town’s a bit of an adobe-covered dive, sprawling and haphazard, aglow in Route 66 neon—and eating here is at its best gritty, grubby, greasy. At least it has always seemed that way from my admittedly non-native perspective; while I’m sure a fancy capital-E establishment or 2’s in operation somewhere in the city at any given time, it’s the holes, the joints, the mom-&-pop kitchens that for me define the dining scene.

My first stop is almost always Charlie’s Front Door or Back Door, in a strip mall with a great old better-living-through-chemistry-era sign reading HOFFMANTOWN SHOPPING CENTER in turquoise letters. The Front Door’s got that deep-orange aura all post-mid-twentieth century eateries have, mysteriously, I think, since it’s not actually lined with those sort of wrought-iron-&-amber-bulbed lighting concoctions I remember from, like, der Dutchman & such. The Back Door looks like this:

Blackinterior

Charlie’s has mighty fine calabacitas—kind of like Mexican succotash—and something I’ve never seen anywhere else, a sort of red-chile egg-drop soup, that once didn’t just clear my decidedly English friend Bob’s sinuses but I think ripped his nose hairs out by the roots before banging his head against the table over & over. While most places charge, Charlie’s delivers baskets of hot, bubble-crusted, oddly light sopaipillas free with the purchase of entrees. We were too lazy to take pictures in ABQ—that’s right, we couldn’t be bothered to point & click; sometimes I don’t know where we get the energy to lift forks all the way to our mouths—but thanks to Gil Garduño & his undoubtedly copyrighted website (which actually is quite informative & makes me think he’s surely a stand-up guy who’ll forgive my pic theft as long as I give him full credit & undying thanks), I can still give you a little eye-taste:

Charlie05

But you’d do yourself a disservice to go to Charlie’s & not get the signature sour-cream enchiladas with chicken & green chile, just like me & Gil (sure hope all this talk about Gil doesn’t make the Director jealous—but then, that would be pretty hypocritical seeing as how he’s got this hot thing going with Florence):

Charlie04

The green chile’s got killer instincts, but the sour cream & shredded lettuce help it keep its cool.

Then there’s Garcia’s Kitchen downtown,

Garcias2

where the tortillas are thick as pancakes & the carnitas are nice & saucy, even if the owner appears to be more a Jersey mobster complete with gold chains & white loafers than an honest old huarache-shod caballero.

Welcomelogo

And finally (for now) there’s everybody’s beloved Frontier:

Frontier

The yellow-roofed, three-crammed-roomed, eyeball-bleeding-oil-painting-filled terror of all things holy to anyone over the age of 24 &/or past the irony phase of postmillennial human development is nonetheless a must, if for nothing other than the shockingly fresh & buttery sticky buns (pic swiped from here):

Frontierstickybun

There’ll be more where this came from next time we head down to Sandialand, unless we get even super-luckier & the Director’s brother’s fiancee’s brother has us over for a pig roast, a thought that gets me all flushed pink & squealy every time I think it, which I hope won’t confuse anybody come time to load the spit over the fire.