Tag Archives: albuquerque

Lizard Tail Brewing – ABQ

9800 Montgomery Blvd NE | Albuquerque

The third time is a charm, or at least that’s the hope for Lizard Tail, one of Albuquerque’s newest brewery arrivals. I recently stumbled into the former residence of both Bad Ass and Farside Brewing to be check out the new home of Lizard Tail. Though they weren’t scheduled to officially open until Friday, August 22, I took a chance with their soft opening earlier in the week and gave their wares a proper sampling.

Lizard Tail Brewing, Albuquerque
New Home of Lizard Tail Brewing, Albuquerque

It is about time that the Heights got a brewer; it has been needing one for a while. It is just a bit odd that all three that I’m aware of have taken up the exact same residence in a little strip mall at the corner of Montgomery & Eubank (which also happens to host the offices of everyone’s favorite crooked lawyer friend Saul, from “Breaking Bad.”) With a bit of luck, and some proper patronage, hopefully they’ll be around for a while.

Lizard Tail Brewing - Strip Mall Location
Lizard Tail Brewing – Unassuming Strip Mall Location

The first thing I noticed once I walked in the door was — gone are the days of looking into the nano-brew kitchen when the place was Bad Ass and Farside. A wall has been erected, and a lizard has been painted. A whole lizard, not just the tail. Further inspection proved that they pretty much gutted the old place, adding and fine-tuning where appropriate.

Lizard Tail Brewing - Logo Indoors
Lizard Tail Brewing – Logo Indoors

The master brewers / prioritizers Dan and Ken seem to be heading into the direction of malt forward beers. A trend that is at times counter to the New Mexican love of hops and bitters. But this is something I’m not the least bit sad about. I like my beers with a good malty introduction, so it is just fine by me if they want to keep their two barrel system pumping out sweet low-hop beers. Expect beers to max out around 70 IBUs with most things circling around 30 to 40 IBUs.

As per typical, I ordered a flight of beers… two, actually. Each flight has 4 beers, and there were 7 on tap, with an 8th one showing up mid-way through flight number two.

Lizard Tail Brewing - Beers Board
Lizard Tail Brewing – Beers Board

It would be at this point where most beer bloggers would show you a picture of the flights of crisp clean, mouthwatering beers. But I’m not here to pander to an audience, nor am I your typical beer blogger. Also, I forgot to take a picture.

So instead, let’s go through a beer journey in our imagination. Close your eyes and you can visualize the beer as I describe it. Oh wait, don’t do that. I don’t want to judge you, but I’m pretty sure you can’t read with your eyes shut. So let’s just assume that the reverse is true, and 1000 words equals a picture.

The following were a part of the beer roster when I visited.

  • Berliner Weisse 4.5 ABV 8 IBU (coming soon)
  • German Blond Ale 5.5 ABV 20 IBU
    This light hay colored beer was more bitter than I expected. It seemed to my non-expert palate that it was quite a bit more than the reported 20 IBUs. Slightly astringent, but otherwise clear and crisp. This would be a good beer for warm day and session sipping.
  • Honey Pale Ale 6.3 ABV 35 IBU
    Darker and more golden than its German Blond cousin, the Pale Ale was about where you would expect it to be on the bitter range. It had some earthy undertones as well, though I’m not sure if any hints of honey really snuck their way in. It also seemed a bit thin, in my opinion.
  • Belgian Abbey 6.6 ABV 25 IBU
    A lovely example of a Belgian style Abbey. It was a bit hazy, as well it should have been, and golden brown in color. This beer had an aged woody flavor that complemented the almost grapefruit-like undertones. Absolutely worth drinking again… and again.
  • IPA 6.8 ABV 70 IBU
    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I have few merits judging IPAs. I’ll drink one from time to time, but I don’t know what I’m doing. This is one of those that I may drink from time to time, but the bitter was a bit strong for me.
  • Amber 5.7 ABV 40 IBU
    Mmmmm. As in Mmmmmalty. Mellow, malty, and smooth. That about sums it up. I’ll have another one of these magical darker Ambers, please.
  • Oatmeal Brown 4.2 ABV 25 IBU
    I like Oatmeal, I like browns, I even like sour beers. This, however, was not right. Though notes of coffee and chocolate were present, I fear that this batch was just off. The flavor led me to believe there was a Brettanomyces infection going on. For a beer in which it is intended, it could be a wonderful thing. This one was not. I could not even finish the sample glass. I hope to come back again and see it improved.
  • Indian Black Ale 6.6 ABV 70 IBU
    Black IPAs seem to be a thing now. I’m ok with this. This malty dark bittered black ale was actually rather lovely. It was nice and creamy with a well-balanced hop signature.
  • Rye Stout 5.5 ABV 35IBU
    Saving the best for last. This dark almost nutty beer was my pint after flight choice. To my knowledge I’ve not had a Rye Stout before. As a lover of all beers dark, this was a prime example of something new that made Lizard Tail well worth the trip.

Outside of beer, Lizard Tail also offers up some appetizers and sandwiches. I only had the beer, so I’m afraid I can’t comment, but it seemed to be pretty typical fare for such an establishment.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t overly impressed with Lizard Tail’s beer. That’s not to say that most of the beers weren’t good. Most were rather lovely, there just wasn’t anything that stood out in any major way, except for maybe the Rye Stout, but that may have simply been the novelty. Given Albuquerque’s brewery diversity, that’s something that really needs to happen.

I will say that Lizard Tail seems to have some great potential, a good location, and friendly staff. I will definitely be back, if for nothing else, for a pint of their Rye Stout and to give their seasonal beers a shot.

http://lizardtailbrewing.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lizard-Tail-Brewing/1374531232789266

It’s Green Chile Season in New Mexico!

It began about a week ago.

Outside of grocery stores all across New Mexico, yellow tape cordoned off propane tanks. Empty one-room buildings near the sides of the road began to teem with life. Trucks pulled off in fields of dirt, and men and women gathered red chile ristras to decorate their truck beds. Cardboard sandwich signs were placed in strategic locations offering sacks and bushels and the prices for fresh or roasted.

Fresh Green Chile
Fresh New Mexico Green Chile

 

It’s Chile Season in New Mexico.

From now until the end of the season, we won’t be checking in with our families and friends to ask how work is going. We won’t be at backyard barbecues discussing Billy’s first days of school, or how Aunt Sarah’s hip is doing. Instead, we’ll be asking each other for roasting sightings.

“Do you know when they’re roasting Hatch chile over on Wyoming and Montgomery?” or “Someone said they’ve started roasting at Smith’s… is that true?”

Chile Roaster at Triangle
Chile roaster set up outside Triangle Grocery in Cedar Crest, NM. You can smell the chile from Highway 14.

We’ll discuss the year’s weather conditions. “It was a dry summer, this chile batch might be extra hot, don’t you think?” We’ll take polls amongst each other to ensure we got the right amount. “Did you get a bushel [22 lb.] or a sack [35 lb.] this year?” And toward the end of the season, we’ll fret about others. “Did you get your chile put up yet?”

Bag of Hatch XHOT
An unassuming bag. Inside: Extra Hot Hatch Green Chile! Look out

This week, I’ll talk to my sister and my mother and ask if they want to share a sack. We’ll decide if we want to go with Big Jim (mild) or Sandia (hot). I’ll go to Sichler’s in Albuquerque at San Mateo & Lomas and pay extra to have my chile roasted. If the peaches are ripe and the workers are generous, they’ll slice up a peach for me to eat while I wait. As I inhale the smell wafting off the roasters, I’ll nod a hello to the other people waiting around for their chile.

We’ll be our own little tribe, knowing that anywhere around the state, in small towns and large, from Las Cruces to Aztec, at any moment, the same mouth-watering smell is being shared across the open spaces with other New Mexicans who know the secrets of this season.

Sichler Farms Chile Shop
Sichler Farms Chile Shop

This season always takes me back to my past. The smell of roasting chile reminds me of times gone by when my mother and grandmothers and aunts would sit on the porch, peeling chile with gloved hands as my cousins and I played in the yard. The matriarchs shared recipes and family gossip, wiping their brows with wet washcloths to make sure they didn’t get the chile’s burning juices on their skin or in their eyes. They laughed as they recalled  past batches, when they forgot to use the washcloths and, oh how the chile burned. They would call us kids over to grab more plastic bags or to take the filled bags to the freezer. My cousins and I would dare each other to eat the chile. Every child of the state made their bones on that first too-hot bite of freshly roasted green.

Roasted Hatch Green Chile
Roasted Hatch Green Chile

This time is about the future too. Because after the chile season comes the burning of Zozobra, where a 50-foot-tall paper and muslin puppet moans and groans as he goes up in flames, kicking off the Fiestas de Santa Fe. As “Old Man Gloom” burns, all our troubles of the year are burned away.

Soon after, the smells of roasting chile and our burning past troubles are replaced by those of funnel cakes and corn dogs and the sounds of the carnival rides and cheers from the nightly rodeo crowds at the New Mexico State Fair.

From there, the air grows chillier and the cottonwood leaves on the Rio Grande turn from green to a cacophony of auburn colors. Hundreds of balloons fill the morning sky and seem to compete with the sun in their majestic beauty during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Once the balloons have landed and been packed away, snow soon begins to dust our desert lands. Then softly glowing luminarias decorate plazas and homes across the state. And on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, families pull out their reserves of green chile from the freezer and come together to make their holiday meals. Pots of green chile stew boil on the stove and green chile chicken enchiladas bubble in the oven. Posole and tamales are served around the dinner table, and if the children finish their plates, they will be rewarded with biscochitos.

And it all starts with that first late summer sighting of green and red.

Chile Ristras in Hatch, New Mexico
Chile Ristras in Hatch, New Mexico

A friend of mine from New York once asked me why New Mexicans were so crazy about chile and the chile season. It’s not just about the chile, I answered. It is so much more than just the harvesting of the year’s batch across the state. Chile season is where the past, present, and future collide, and community and family are interchangeable.

Chile Facts

  • New Mexico produces more chile than any other state in the U.S.
  • The majority of chile harvested in the state is from the southern region, from Lordsburg to Artesia. The most famous is Hatch, which holds its own annual Hatch Valley Chile Festival around Labor Day each year.
  • It’s illegal to advertise chile as being grown in New Mexico if it’s not. A new state program has taken this idea even further to help consumers identify New Mexico grown chile and chile products. To find out if your chile and chile products are New Mexico certified, check out GetNMChile.com.
  • All New Mexican chile grown today comes from cultivars created at New Mexico State University in the late 1800s. In 1913, Dr. Fabian Garcia introduced the New Mexican pod type.
  • There are several types of green chiles, other than New Mexican. The Anaheim or California is a mild version of the New Mexican green chile (tastes more like a bell pepper). The Poblano green chile comes from Pueblo, Mexico and is known for its dark green color and mild flavor. The Poblano is wider than the Anaheim and New Mexican green chile. The Chilaca and Pasilla chiles are similar to the Poblano in color, but are much skinnier. And there are the Serrano and Jalapeno chiles, which are smaller and generally spicier than these others. Of course, there are hundreds of other varieties of chile across the state and around the world. These are just a sampling.

Green Chile Recipes Coming Soon!

 

Hiking the Slopes at Sandia Peak

“So there’s no trail?” I ask, scratching at my legs. The waist-high grass is blowing in a sporadic breeze, making me itch. I swat at a tiny winged insect buzzing around my right ear. Then another, or maybe the same one. They’re tenacious, these bugs. I look up at our goal: Sandia Peak, 10,400 feet seemingly straight up from where I stand at the bottom of a ski slope. The thick green grass between us and our goal feels teeming with snakes. I look down. I can’t see my feet.

Too bad the ski lifts aren’t working. I could just take one of those up.

Sandia Peak Ski Lifts
Ski lifts at Sandia Ski Area, Albuquerque. Really, it’s more UP than it seems.

“Well, there’s a trail, somewhere,” Roadrunner admits. “But last time I just charged straight up the grassy part. The ski slope part.”

Of course you did.

“I’d rather take a trail,” I say, scanning the vicinity for some kind of marked or even unmarked bike or game trail. Somewhere where I can see my own feet and any snakes I might be about to step on. I also knew that any trail would switchback along the face of the mountain, giving me a better shot of completion than the near-90-degree (in my mind) straight-up “charge” that Roadrunner has planned.

“Ok, let’s find it.” Roadrunner sets off. Upward. Straight up the slope. In a “charging” fashion, some might say.

I follow, only hoping that he is scattering any wildlife (i.e., snakes) outward from his footsteps, rather than downward (i.e., toward me). We push on and up, through the waist-high grass, stopping now and then for me to catch my breath or just catch up. Finally, we happen upon a narrow dirt trail carved into the tall grass. About 18 inches wide, this must be the bike trail.

Hello, feet!

The bike trail cuts straight across the slope, so we can’t tell which way is headed up and which way is headed down. We randomly pick a direction, based mainly on which direction gets us to the shade quicker. Luckily, we pick the right direction and our trail starts switchbacking (switchingback?) upward, in the comfort and coolness and snakelessness of the dense pine shade.

Now and then we come back across one grassy ski slope or another and decide to plow upward across it to save some time (picture this as a shortcut between switchbacks), and all the while in the waist-high grass I’m wondering how many snakes I’m stepping on or near or over.

Grassy Slopes
The grass is tall, the scenery is beautiful. Sandia Ski slopes. Albuquerque.

This goes on for a while. At some point we stop for a snack in the shade. Clementines, cashews, water.

Eventually, we come upon an area in a slope where the grass turns to rock and beyond that we can just see the shape of the mountaintop buildings emerging over the next ridge.

I make my way a few yards up the rocky area and have to stop and rest. I can’t seem to catch my breath so I stop and wait, leaning heavily on my trekking poles*. Gasping, you might say. Roadrunner comes back to make sure I’m not actually dying. “If I don’t make it,” I gasp, “feel free to eat me.”

I’ve read (and seen) ALIVE. I know how these things go.

He cheers me on, because he’s a good person. I climb another few yards, then stop to rest and catch my breath. Then one foot in front of the other. Try not to slip on the loose rocks because heaven knows if I slip, I’m slipping all the way to the bottom. This goes on for about another hour (or 10 minutes), until I finally, mercifully, exhaustifully crest the final outcropping and see the restaurant and outlook area we have been aiming at for the past 8 hours (or 2 hours).

Yay! Time to sit down, rest my lungs and legs, and have the one special treat I packed for this exact moment.

A 7 oz can of Dr. Pepper.

When I’m tired or sleepy or cranky, Dr. Pepper is my sweet elixir of life.

Dr. Pepper Boobs
Yes, I have the t-shirt. Dr. Pepper is my BFF.

 

We sit (and I huff and puff and whine and probably swear a little bit) and drink our tiny Dr. Peppers. Just as I am starting to appreciate my accomplishment and feel pretty OK about myself, a co-ed group of young CrossFitters bounds up the steps and to the vista rail, looking out at the view, all smiles.

(I’m sure you can imagine them so I won’t describe them, but I will point out they bounded up the HARD SIDE of the hike, the front side, the La Luz trail side. Like it was nothing. And I’m pretty sure they weren’t breathing hard OR EVEN SWEATING.)

I try to keep my hatred for them inside.

After about 10 minutes sitting there, having a snack and recuperating, we get up to go look at the view, which is, some would think, why we came all the way up here in the first place. A few yards away is the top of the Tram station, and people pour forth from the little metal deathboxes -AHEM- I mean tram cars, with a regularity. For those unaware, the Sandia Peak Tram is an aerial tramway that covers almost 3 miles of rugged terrain and valleys, from the base near Albuquerque to the top of Sandia Peak (10,400 ft.).  A trip on the tram takes about 15 minutes, and ends with much less huffing and puffing than the way we did it. But if you have issues with heights or claustrophobia, you might want to hike up.

Everyone getting off the tram wants to eat at the restaurant atop the mountain, High Finance, but it’s not open yet. So people are milling about, killing time. (For restaurant info click HERE. For Tram info click HERE.)

Roadrunner leads me away from the restaurant, down a rocky slope that looks a lot like the rocky slope I just trudged UP, and then parallel to the crest, toward a secret vista point. We step around a few small boulders and toward the edge.

We sit on a boulder and take in the view.

Sandia Peak and my feet
My hiking shoes are happy for the break at the top of Sandia Peak, Albuquerque
Sandia Peak Pano
Panorama from Sandia Crest

We can see all of  Albuquerque, laid out in its neat criss-cross lattice of streets at right angles, and beyond to the volcanos of the West Mesa on the horizon. Far below us, in the tops of some trees that begin even farther below, a hawk and a raven soar and flap and survey.

And the sky opens up and goes forever.

This is why we’re up here.

Z and R
Zia and Roadrunner, on top of Sandia! No, Roadrunner is not peeing off the side. OR IS HE?

We need to get home so after about 10 minutes of rest, we head downward. Down is like up, but much faster and easier on the lungs. What it’s harder on are the quads and knees and toes. We charge down some of the grassy slopes, and take the switchbacks now and then to give our feet and knees a break. We make it down to where we started in about 45 minutes.

Sandia Ski Area, lifts
I wonder what this looks like during ski season? Sandia Ski Area, Summer.

 

OVERALL I’d give this hike a bunch of stars on any kind of star system. It was really pretty (woods and grassy slopes in one hike) and the trail was fairly well marked in most places. Next time, I would probably start at a trail head and just stay on the trail and plan to take longer, rather than charging up the slopes to save time. I’d take away a star or two because I didn’t see any wildlife other than a squirrel, which is kind of a bummer.

*Author’s note: I completed this hike, from approximately 6,700 ft. – 10,600 ft. about 2 weeks after I moved to New Mexico from California (at sea level). I can say with certainty that I had not fully acclimatized to the altitude yet at this point. I don’t really recommend attempting this hike if you have just moved to the area after living at sea level. Get acclimatized then try it. Otherwise you will be sucking wind. Just saying.

On Rattlesnake Road

by [beenthere]

It was a dark and stormy night. Just before midnight, glared the dash clock in the ‘64 station wagon. This highway I had already seen twice today: going south, then back north, and now south again. The earlier two trips were in bright friendly sunlight. Now I was driving south in the darkest of darks. Behind me two miles was Corona, and ahead of me just 44 miles was Carrizozo. Then on to Alamogordo, my final destination where I would rid the car of my guest and guests: the one in the front seat, asleep for the past hour and to stay same until we reach his driveway, and the rowdies caged in back who were about to awake.

I was a first year rookie with NM Game and Fish and in assignment to Jack, a seasoned wildlife information officer who also hosted the weekly Game and Fish PBS television show in Albuquerque. As we prepped for this week’s show, he said, “Tomorrow drive to Alamogordo and pick up our guest and his props, drive him up for the show, then drive him back to his home tomorrow night. It will be an easy and fun day and you will be entertained during your drive,” Jack, the Prankster, said.

I learned some things in my first 16 years in New Mexico when we never lived closer than 15 miles to a town.

Don’t waste water, ice is a heavenly gift, take a flashlight to the outhouse, never go barefoot outside, always shake your shoes in the morning to empty of critters, and many other helpful tidbits to well serve during a full life.

And the most important: You will — from time to time and without a doubt — hear a rattlesnake rattle. The rattle is the signal that it is near. You must first determine its location. Then your options are: (1) remain perfectly still, or (2) leap high and far in the opposite direction, and (3) scream because you cannot contain a good scream. In my youth I practiced all three many times. To this day the sound of rattles rattle me. And did that night south of Corona.

Early that day when I gathered the guest for the night TV show, he brought his props all right: two boxes of rattlesnakes that he promised were boxed tightly with secure lids. He placed the boxes in the back of the very long ’64 wagon. The trip to Albuquerque was pleasant. Not a sound from the back. Occasionally I breathed. I could see the boxes in the rearview mirror. Lids were secured. We did the TV show and the guest allowed the snakes to crawl around on stage. All of us bystanders were watchful and ready to run.

Show is over, boxes of snakes are placed in the back of the station wagon, and off we go into the dark of the night on the two lane to Alamogordo. All is well until Corona. The guest in the passenger seat goes to sleep. The 46 miles to Carrizozo is a much rougher road at night and the shocks on the wagon have hardened since the trip up earlier in the day.

Now, with each bump in the road, a snake rattles. The more bumps, the more rattles.

I turn on the dome light and can just make out that the lids appear to be on the boxes. “Will the lids hold?” I ask myself. I am now looking at the front floor board to see if I am still alone. Did I see a wiggle? A slither? More bumps; more rattles. I now have one leg and foot under me and the remaining foot has increased our speed to 75 which has increased the number of bumps in a short period and increased the rattles until we are a speeding lights-on missile in the dark of night near out of control rattling and screaming as we pass the turns to Ancho and White Oaks and finally arrive at the old Texaco in Carrizozo where I brake to a sliding stop and abandon the idling vehicle. Leap high and far and scream.

An hour later we finally arrive in Alamogordo and as the guest opens the back to get his boxes he says, “That was sure a nice and quiet trip; glad my little friends did not bother you.”

Boxing Bear Brewing Co. – ABQ

10200 Corrales Rd. NW | Albuquerque

The Boxing Bear Brewing Co. is the latest brewery to open up on Albuquerque’s West side. Head brewer Justin Hamilton (former head brewer of Chama River) and his team opened the doors to the public on July 27, 2014. Since then, they’ve been slinging five of their own beers and a handful of local guest wares.

New Mexico Craft Beer at Boxing Bear Brewing Co
Boxing Bear Brewing Co. ABQ West Side

I recently swung by the new brewery on my way back from a morning trip to Santa Fe. You know, I was just up there piloting a plane for the first time, no big deal. With that humdrum out of the way, it was time for a second adventure.

Making my way to the intersection of Coors and Alameda, it was pretty easy to spot Boxing Bear. What took me by surprise, however, was the fact that there was a new Southwest Grape & Grain store next door. This is a name likely familiar to other local home brewers such as myself. Had I done my research beforehand, I would have known that our friendly new neighborhood brewery was in fact a collaboration. To me, this is a great sign. It means that not only is it convenient for a home brewer to grab a drink as they are picking up supplies, but also that Boxing Bear stands so strongly behind their beer that they almost dare you to try and make something better.

Something that may catch a few folks off guard is that the entrance to Boxing Bear is not under their great big sign. Rather, one has to stroll north around back and meander through Boxing Bear’s spacious patio picnic area (complete with a small stage). This probably wasn’t a bad move, and if I wasn’t there on a Friday afternoon I could easily imagine it filled with happy patrons and a live band. Once I finally breached the front door, I noticed the entry way. To my left was a grand 10 barrel brewing system, with room for more. I stood and admired the stainless steel and Pyrex, and had there been some brewing going on when I walked in, I may never have made it to the bar area. Mental note: come back and watch some professional brewers work their malty magic.

After finding a table, I ordered up a flight of all the house beers. The dining/bar area was quite large, made even larger in appearance by the wall-length mirror that I only noticed when I was getting a cup of water to cleanse my palate between samples. Apparently, the attractive man checking me out  when he too was getting water, was simply an illusion.

Time to settle in and meet the beers. From left to right on the flight I sampled the following.

Boxing Bear Sampler

  • Hairy Mit Hefe 5.4% ABV 12 IBU: An apricot/blond colored smooth traditional Hefeweizen with light carbonation, a good mouth feel, and a pleasant nose of cloves and banana. Quite tasty indeed.
  • East Kent Ale 5.3% ABV 35 IBU: A golden/orange ale with a strong, but welcomed, aroma of hops. A very nice balance of bitter and malty. This could easily be considered an “East Coast IPA” for our non-NM friends who just don’t get bitters.
  • Paw Swipe Pale Ale 5.2% ABV 45 IBU: This is the type of beer that I consider to be the pinnacle of “lawn mower beer.” It is exactly the sort of thing you’d want to be drinking outside on a hot day under the duress of yard work. Heavily influenced from what I’m guessing are Cascade Hops, this beer has a lovely crisp citrus-like flavor and a slight bite at swallow, but overall finishes quite nicely.
  •  Bear Knuckle Double IPA 9% ABV 100 IBU: This is the beer in the bunch that took me the most by surprise. I’m traditionally not huge on IPAs, especially those boasting 100+ IBUs. This beer, unlike some other hop forward beers, I found to be quite pleasant. The bitterness isn’t overwhelming, and is – in my opinion – well balanced with the stronger than expected malty undertones. I’d even contemplate bringing a growler of this stuff home with me. Which are strong words coming from a non-IPA guy.
  • Black Bear Stout 65.3 ABC 100 IBU: Ah, dark beers. This is where I’m the most at home, and probably also the pickiest. Without a doubt, this was a stout. A blind man could tell you from sight alone. The Black Bear has a strong nose of coffee, smoke, and other earthy tones. It was bit lighter in body than I generally like in a stout, but it still had the creamy, lacy finish that one would anticipate. I could see this beer coming out on Nitro (hint hint) pretty easily. The smokiness of this beer was almost as strong as the malt, but not to a point of being overwhelming.

Though Boxing Bear only presently has five of their own beers on tap, I was told that an IPA and a Summer Ale were to be expected soon. They also expect to have a rotation of a few seasonals as time goes on. What’s interesting is that Boxing Bear also has their wine license. So we can expect wine, cider, and meads to be available. At the moment, they are also offering some guest beers from Bosque Brewing, Chama River, and Turtle Mountain, along with some wines from Black Mesa, Alta Canyon Cellars and Santa Fe Vineyards.

Beyond the standard booz-ohol, Boxing Bear also offers an array of reasonably priced sandwiches completed with pickle spear and a bag of kettle chips. They even have a vegetarian option. It would be nice to see them offer appetizers or other snack food as well. Hopefully that option is coming soon.

Boxing Bear Menu
Boxing Bear Menu

The staff of the brewery was very open and friendly. They were even willing to investigate further when they didn’t have answers to my questions. I don’t know if any of this was because I was madly scrawling notes into my pirate-themed spiral notebook as I was sampling beers.

This is absolutely a place I will return to.

Oh, and about the name Boxing Bear…  apparently Justin, the head brewer, has two dogs. One is a boxer, the other a great big fuzzy thing that looks like a bear.

http://www.boxingbearbrewing.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boxing-Bear-Brewing-Co/1390238394583090

 

Biking the Bosque

This is my bike.

There are many like it but this one is mine.
There are many like it but this one is mine.

This is my first bike in 25 years, and I have been a little scared to get on it. What if I fall over? What if I can’t balance and pedal at the same time? What if I run into a cactus? How do I go uphill? Or worse, downhill? How do I use these “gear” thingees?

BUT, they say riding a bike is just like riding a bike, so I packed it into my car and hauled it all the way out to the west side of Albuquerque (the Alameda – Bosque trail head, to be precise) to give it a go. Knowing that the trail along the Bosque is paved and flat was a confidence-builder; I could find a comfortable gear and just leave it there.  Also, I figured that hey, if I fall off, at least no one I know will see me.

I got out to the trailhead at about 11:15 a.m. and the temp was somewhere between “mid-day mid-summer” and “face of the sun” and I thought, Oh I could totally use the heat as an excuse to put my bike back in the car and like, go to a movie or something.

But I gave myself a little pep talk (that might have involved ice cream) and set off south down the trail. Immediately, I realized I was not in a good gear because my feet were flying and I was going nowhere. So (not yet fully understanding gears), I randomly flipped a switch with my thumb. A little better. I could feel the pedals kind of “grabbing” — I’m sure that’s a technical term — and it seemed I had ALMOST achieved a partnership between my feet, the pedals, the wheels, and the road.  Another few thumb clicks in the same direction got me to a comfortable gear that I didn’t dare mess with the rest of the journey.

Ok, I’m cruising now. I can look around at the scenery! To the right: cottonwood trees, brush, then the Rio Grande. To the left: small farms, horses, stables.

Flat road. No pressure.
Flat road. No pressure.
Rio Grande with water in it! Enjoy it before it's gone.
Rio Grande with water in it! Enjoy it before it’s gone.

So I rode until my GPS told me it had been 3 miles, then a little more for good measure. I turned around and parked my bike on the “shoulder” (gravel area between the paved path and the ditch which led to a further ditch/arroyo down below). I got off my bike and stretched my back and rubbed my butt. Then hopped back on and almost confidently pedaled my way back to civilization.

I saw a lot of people out biking on this trail — people like me, out for a joyride, and people on triathlon bikes and matching team riding gear hauling ass past me in bright yellow blurs. I also saw a couple of walkers and one jogger. Everyone was good at sharing the road and making room for each other on the path.

I did notice that folks were not overly friendly out here in the Bosque. I gave everyone I saw a little wave or nod or smile, but most of them ignored me. This could be due to the fact that my “exercising smile face” probably looks more like someone being eaten by a bear than someone happy to be out in the sun exercising. Or maybe they were just hot and tired and feeling like they were being eaten by a bear, too.

I got back to my car at the trailhead without incident. I even managed to shove my bike back into my hatchback while only stabbing myself in the face/neck with my handlebars TWICE. Go, me.

Then, just to prove to myself what I badass (or dumbass) I am, I followed up my 6.3 mile bike ride with a Couch-to-5K run/walk interval session. Does this make me a biathlete (at least for a day)? And if I had fallen off my bike, somehow INTO the Rio Grande, I could have called myself a triathlete, right?

Oh, and what is this? It was alongside the Rio, and looked to me like some kind of wrought iron Blair Witch Project.

Heavy Metal Blair Witch
Heavy Metal Blair Witch

Overall, a big thumbs up for the Bosque trail system. I will definitely be looking into more trails out here along the river and elsewhere for biking, hiking, and jogging in the coming months.

Got an ABQ area trail you love and recommend? Let me know in the Comments below! Or a New Mexico trail that’s not in ABQ? I’d like to hear about those, too. We try to do lots of day and weekend trips, and often want to get some exercise in between all the enchiladas and cheeseburgers.

NM Food with Tiny Twists @ Tia Betty Blue’s, ABQ

Tia Betty Blue’s is a small New Mexican café in what some call Albuquerque’s “International District” but I call “over by base,” meaning it’s kind of by Kirtland Air Force Base. It’s on the east side of San Mateo, between Gibson and Kathryn.

It’s an order-at-the-counter kind of joint, making for quicker service and a faster lunch all around. I highly suggest you read their “About” page to learn more about their culinary philosophy! >ABOUT<

COMFORT FOOD

Sometimes you just need some comfort food. Maybe for you that’s a burrito the size of an actual small burro, smothered in cheese and green chile. Maybe it’s a Frito pie or a waffle. Sometimes you just need a friendly young waiter or waitress to smile at you and bring you things, in a quaint little eatery smaller than your typical Starbucks.

Tia Betty Blue’s has all this and more. Specializing in breakfast and lunch (open until 2:00 p.m.), they serve a wide variety of typical NM breakfast/lunch entrees, like waffles, breakfast sandwiches, taco plates, and enchiladas. But what they do that sets them apart is take these café staples and give them a little twist.

WAFFLES

There is something about a fluffy, crispy, chewy waffle that makes my heart go pitter-patter. And Tia Betty Blue’s has elevated the already quite elevated garden variety waffle by making them out of blue corn and serving them two ways — sweet or hot.

SWEET WAFFLE: You get a blue corn waffle topped with seasonal fresh fruit (like blackberries and blueberries), a little syrup, and your choice of whipped cream flavor: standard, cinnamon, chocolate, or lavender. The blue corn waffle is exactly the crispychewy texture you expect in a good waffle, but the blue corn batter gives it an air of sophistication and beauty, and makes it feel somehow socially acceptable to order a waffle for lunch. I opted for the cinnamon whipped cream, which was perfectly light, not too sweet, and slightly cinnamon-y. [Note: you can order this gluten-free, or with yogurt in stead of whipped cream, or with 100% maple syrup or agave syrup instead of the house syrup. Lots of ways to have it your way.] [‘Nother Note: I didn’t take a photo because I ate the WHOLE THING before I even thought about taking a photo… sorry.]

HOT WAFFLE: What’s that you say?  A spicy waffle? Is it a waffle cooked with chile in the batter? No (but there’s an idea!). The Hot waffle is basically huevos rancheros, but with a waffle instead of a tortilla on the bottom. It is the blue corn waffle, topped with an egg, red or green chile or both, cheese, and your choice of meat if so desired. The sides are papas and beans. 

Huevos Wafflos?
You’re Hot. No, YOU’RE hot, hottie. This waffle is hotter, though.

GIANT FRITO CHILE PIE

I’m not sure where the “Frito Pie” was born, but I have met people from seemingly all over the country who have never heard of it. Which makes me sad for them. Frito Pie was — and still is — a cold weather staple in my family, akin to chicken soup or green chile stew. It’s just something you make every now and then when you want an easy, warm, and delicious (but not nutritious) meal.

For those not in the know, a Frito Pie (or Frito Chili Pie) usually consists of a base layer of Fritos, then the chili (typically of the chili-n-beans type), then shredded cheddar cheese and diced onion. Iceberg lettuce and diced tomato are optional. And maybe some more fritos on top.

But at Tia Betty Blue’s, they take this simple bowl of chili and turn it into chile. That’s chile with an E.

They start with Fritos, naturally. But then they do something so crazy but so simple, I’m surprised I haven’t seen it on a menu before. They add New Mexico chile (red, green, or both) — instead of the standard chili with an I. Then: cheese, onion, iceberg, tomato, per tradition.

Loved It! The day I was there, the red was very hot, and the green mild but with fantastic roasted flavor. The fritos gave it the perfect salty crunch, and the garnishing iceberg helped to cool things off.

Frito Pie featuring Tia Betty Blue's red and green chile. YES.
Frito Pie featuring Tia Betty Blue’s red and green chile. YES.

OTHER THINGS WORTH MENTIONING THAT I HAVE NOT ACTUALLY TRIED YET

Tia Betty Blue’s is very proud of their coffee. I love coffee, so I’m not sure why I haven’t tried this yet. They also have a big cooler full of unique sodas (think: juniper berry soda, key lime cream soda, cucumber soda, etc.). I love sodas, so I’m not sure why I haven’t tried these yet.

SUMMARY

Tia Betty Blue’s does New Mexican food in a way that is both traditional and unique. They try new things, but not just for show. The new things they are trying make perfect logical sense, both to the brain and to the taste buds. The atmosphere is casual and friendly. The prices are reasonable.

Oh, and there’s wifi.


 

O’Niell’s Pub – Albuquerque – Pub Food, Upgraded

NOTE: We were there to eat, not drink, so this review focuses on the food & service at mid-day on a Friday.

WHERE IT’S AT:

O’Niell’s is located in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood, on the southwest corner of Central and Washington. They have a nice-sized parking lot behind their building, so parking was easy. Granted, we were there at 2:00 pm on a Friday. Maybe it fills up at typical “bar times.”

Normally, if I walk into a place called a “pub” with the purpose of having a meal, I set my expectations about the food pretty low. I’ve come to expect “typical or standard barroom fare,” to mean “a lot of salt and a lot of fat,” things primarily designed to get you to order more beer or cocktails.

So, this was my expectation when ZIA and I walked into O’Niell’s last Friday to attend a going-away luncheon for a co-worker.

My first impression of O’Niell’s was how clean, open, and well-lit it was. We were immediately greeted and directed to where our party was seated, outside on the patio. O’Niell’s is, true to its name, a “pub” first and foremost. The bar is impressive, almost completely taking up one side of the restaurant. The seating is open table, with no partitions between tables. Although it wasn’t very crowded when I came in, I could see this place getting very noisy with a large crowd.

We didn’t have to wait long for our waitress to arrive and take our drink orders. I wish I could remember our waitress’s name, because she was awesome — fast and friendly.

THE FOOD:

And now for the best part…the food! I ordered the “Irish Cuban,” a Cuban sandwich with the addition of corned beef to give it that “Irish” twist. Let me be clear, they don’t substitute the pulled-pork for corned beef; they ADD the corned beef, along with slaw, pickles and mustard, and the results are mouth-watering. I would come back here just to have another one of these sandwiches! O’Niell’s offers a great variety of side-dishes, and I chose the fries. The fries were good, but nothing exceptional. This was the one thing that was definitely just “barroom fare.”

O'Niell's Irish Cuban Sandwich -- it was awesome!
O’Niell’s Irish Cuban Sandwich — it was awesome!

Zia ordered the St. Patty Melt, a seasoned ground beef burger with sautéed onions and Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread. This sandwich was also good, and that’s coming from me, a guy who hates rye bread! There’s something about caraway seeds that are like Kryptonite to me. But this rye bread was very light, not overpowering. She also ordered the coleslaw as a side dish. It was the same mayo-based slaw that was on my Irish Cuban. It was very good, coarse cut and delicious.

ZIA SAYS: The St. Patty Melt was good, but nothing unique or memorable. It was like any other patty melt pretty much anywhere. The cole slaw was very good.

O'Niell's St. Patty Melt, it was OK
O’Niell’s St. Patty Melt, it was OK

For dessert, we shared a slice of Irish Cream cheesecake. For me, as I’m sure it is with most people, it’s almost impossible to not love cheesecake. This was no exception. It had a graham cracker crust and was served with three ample dollops of whipped cream. The Irish Cream flavor was too subtle, but overall it was good end to the meal.

Irish Cream Cheesecake
O’Niell’s Irish Cream Cheesecake — it was good but not Irish enough.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT:

My only suggestion would be to install some misters out on the patio for hot days. Otherwise, this was a great dining experience and I would recommend O’Niell’s to my friends.


For more info, visit: oniells.com/

Cervantes Restaurant – Albuquerque – Great Red & Relleno

Cervantes  |  Albuquerque | 5801 Gibson Blvd SE 

A chile relleno is a hard thing to master. You have to get the ratio of cheese to chile to breading just right, or you end up with a mess. Too much breading and it’s heavy. Too much cheese and you lose the chile. Too much sauce on top and you get a soggy mess.

For me growing up, chile rellenos were always crispy, served right out of the grease with just a hint of red or green on top. My dad would stand over the stove, one hand holding a slotted spoon poised over the pot of popping grease, the other hand held out for balance, it seemed, all fingers thickly coated in batter and flour. As soon as a relleno turned a medium brown, it was scooped up and served. Letting it sit on a stack of paper towels for a moment was allowed, but only long enough to let a little oil drip off. Not long enough for it to cool down or soften in its own juices.

Most times I go to a new (new to me) Mexican or New Mexican restaurant, I get a combo plate of some kind. I usually look for the combo plate that includes a taco, enchilada, and relleno. It is the crispy, rightly-ratioed version of the relleno of my childhood that I’m looking for.

Most restaurants get it wrong*. The typical problem is an overabundance of batter, more pancake-like than anything else, and/or an overabundance of sauce on top — a “smothered” relleno is a soggy relleno. Or they use a Poblano pepper. And that’s just weird.

But Cervantes…. Cervantes gets it right. I ate at Cervantes in early July 2014, and in true Me style, ordered a combo plate with relleno.

NOTE: Thank you, Cervantes, for putting the taco on its own little plate. Many restaurants put the taco alongside everything else (between the enchilada and beans, for example), which means the bottom of the taco sits in the bean juice and red/green sauce until you pick it up, at which time it promptly falls apart because the integrity of the shell has been compromised.

Cervantes - Combo Plate 2

Above: Combo Plate #2: Taco (on its own plate!), Enchilada, Relleno, Carne Adovada + RBI (rice, beans, iceberg)

Anyway, the first thing I did was take a bite of the relleno. It was a little too smothered for my personal preference, but the relleno underneath was actually crispy! It had some texture to it. The chile had great flavor, there was just the right amount of cheese, and the batter wasn’t overpowering. AHHHH! (Insert mental image of the heavens opening up and angels singing here.)

I was thrilled to have found what I consider to be a properly cooked (and delicious) chile relleno at Cervantes.

SURPRISE ON THE PLATE:

The combo plates come with the typical sides of beans and rice, but also with a little dollop of carne adovada. The carne adovada (shredded pork in red) was absolutely the best thing on the plate, and that’s saying something. I was disappointed that there was only a little scoop – maybe 1/3 cup. Next time I will order more adovada.

WHAT ELSE WE ORDERED:

Carnitas plate: Cubed pork in a roasty green chile sauce. Served with RIB and hot, homemade flour tortillas. It was really good! Peppery, porky, green chile-y, but not spicy. (If you want spicy, you have to get something with red.) The flour tortillas were fantastic!

Cervantes - Carnitas

Above: Carnitas plate: Cubed pork in green chile sauce, RBI, homemade tortillas

The meals also come with sopapillas, which makes me beyond happy. The sopapillas are a little bit dense, but still delicious, and they are served with local honey.

KEEP IN MIND:

The red chile is hotter than the green, and the day I went it was pretty spicy. Not “OMG Bring Me Milk Now” kind of hot, but it was spicy enough for me to take notice! Just the perfect amount of heat. I ordered my meal Christmas style, and the green chile was super flavorful, but not at all spicy.

ABOUT CERVANTES:

Cervantes has been around a long time – according to the sign outside, since 1973. The building exterior and the neighborhood are not impressive. Which is pretty typical of really awesome NM restaurants. The slightly shady neighborhood and run-down looking building and abandoned Pizza Hut building next door let you know you’re in for a treat.

The google internetz machine calls this the “International District.” Having lived and worked in Albuquerque for a long time, I would call this the “Base District” (or probably just “Over by base”) because it’s right outside Kirtland Air Force Base. Specifically, outside the Gibson/Louisiana gate, at the corner of Gibson and San Pedro. This makes it an easy lunch for anyone working at Kirtland, but also puts it within easy reach of UNM, Nob Hill, and even the airport.

The interior is kind of dark and cozy and typical of a legit New Mexican restaurant. Not trying too hard, but trying enough. The walls are hung with lovely local art – paintings of adobe in the snow, and the like. I visited Cervantes in early July, and the interior was decked out in July 4th décor. And not just the obligatory flag here and there – they go all out. And from what I’ve heard, they do this for all major holidays. I’d like to go back around Christmas.

SUMMARY:

Cervantes is really really good. It is legit, authentic, traditional New Mexican food, with excellent red chile and a chile relleno — (almost) just like you’d get at my dad’s house.

*Yes, after decades of searching for a relleno cooked the “right” way, and 95% of the time finding rellenos cooked the “wrong” way, it has occurred to me that maybe my family and I make and prefer our rellenos the “wrong” way. But I’m sticking with this, regardless.


 

Visit the Cervantes website here > CERVANTES