Art will tell you: the dinner bell rings at 7:30 sharp, and if you don’t haul ass to the buffet, consider yourself screwed. You will get the roast beef’s crusty edges and the bottom-of-the-barrel pinto beans, which will be mostly beanwater and a few floaters. Art will tell you: put your phone away because you won’t get any reception out here and no one is going to call you anyway.
Art is head of the Chuckwagon dinner here at the Flying Bull Ranch (but don’t call him Cookie or Hopalong, or you won’t get any butter for your potato). The Flying Bull is one of those fake western towns where you can play horseshoes and learn how to pan for gold. There’s a gunfight nightly where the Sheriff (cheers and applause!) most always wins, and there are troubadours that sing cowboy songs and tell bad jokes. But Art knows what folks really come here for: the food. They show up early and watch him cut out biscuits with the lid from a jelly jar. They wipe their mouths when they get a face full of smoke from the pit barbecue.
Sometimes Art will look up from his biscuitmaking and say: heed my warning. (He tells fortunes while he cooks. This was not a job requirement. From what we can tell, he’s right about half the time.) He’ll say: that job you looked at is coming through. He’ll say: your husband is doing that thing you hoped he wasn’t; a great gift will arrive in the mail. Some folks enjoy this; some don’t. Most don’t pay him any mind. Just another old nut, they figure.
Art makes the chunky applesauce by hand, crushing the cooked apples with an old potato masher. He adds a secret ingredient from a ceramic bowl marked “Secret Ingredient” (we’re pretty sure it’s Allspice), then winks at anyone who might be watching. He hauls the applesauce to the buffet and then marches outside and rings the bell. He’ll tell you: you want to be at the front of the line, that way you can get seconds on the applesauce.
When everyone is fed and settled in to watch the Flying Bull Band, Art sits in a rocking chair out back and he rocks and smokes. He looks toward the west and rubs his jaw. Art tells you he can feel the rain coming even when it’s a day away. He says he can feel it in his teeth, and in the holes where his teeth were once. He walks out to the middle of the fake road, holding his jaw, staring out toward the horizon.
Art will tell you: there’s a big storm coming. And you’ll believe him, even though he’s only ever right about half the time.
We rolled into Ruidoso at what I thought was an optimal time, pulling into the parking lot at Casa Blanca at around 1:30 pm. A little after the lunch rush, but not too close to dinner time. As most New Mexicans know (and as I learned), roughly half the population of Texas descends on Ruidoso this time of year. We had about a 15 minute wait for a table, which, considering the crowd in town and in the waiting area, I thought this was very reasonable. (Author’s note: Okay, not really. I wanted to dig into those green chile strips so bad, I thought 15 minutes sounded like an eternity!)
The hostess and the wait staff were very friendly, considering everyone was hustling and bustling. We were seated at a nice table near a window, with plenty of room for our party of five. Three baskets of warm, crispy tortilla chips arrived immediately after we were seated, along with three bowls of very good salsa.
[Zia’s note: These are the best chips & salsa I’ve had in an eternity.]
After placing our drink orders, we asked for two baskets of their world (probably) famous fried green chile strips.
How do I describe these things?
How would Picasso paint a lovely woman in a hat and fur coat?
How would Neruda describe love?
Well, since I can’t really channel either of those famous Pablos, I will do my best to describe them from a foodie’s perspective. They arrive at your table nice and hot, almost too hot to eat immediately. The batter is light and crisp, sort of flaky. The peppers themselves are cooked to perfection; they’re not soggy or greasy, but firm. If it’s possible (or legal?) to describe a chile pepper as cooked “al dente,” then that’s what I’d go with. So, once these have cooled down a bit (about 10 seconds after they arrive to your table…a slightly burnt tongue is a reasonable price to pay), just pick one up and dredge it through some ranch dressing. The ranch will cool it off a bit. Bite, chew, and enjoy. Repeat ad infinitum or until the basket runs dry.
Confession: the chips and salsa and the chile strips were plenty filling and could easily have been our meal…but that’s not how we roll.
Jalapeno BLT: Reading the menu, this sandwich sounded SO good. Smoked jalapeno bacon on sourdough with lettuce, tomato and a habanero mayonnaise.
However, if I’d read the menu a little closer, I would have noticed that there is also cheddar cheese on this sandwich. I love cheddar cheese, and I love a good BLT, but I’ve never been a fan of cheese ON my BLT. Had I noticed, I simply would have asked the waitress to hold the cheese, so that one is on me. The sandwich itself was VERY salty, mostly due to the jalapeno bacon. The bacon was spicy, and taking a bite of the sandwich would definitely warm up the inside of your mouth, but the salt content was just too high. The combination of salt and heat makes you go through a lot of iced tea, so keep your glass full! (The wait staff was very good at keeping everyone’s glasses full.)
Going around the table, everyone was pleased with their entrees, but I think all of us had gotten so full of chips and salsa and fried green chiles that we had (temporarily) lost our enthusiasm for eating. Zia ordered the Taco Plate, which she reported to be “your typical taco plate.” Similar reports from the rest of the team.
NOTE: Casa Blanca offers a dessert sopapilla, which is ginormous and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. We were too stuffed to go there, but I’d highly recommend ordering like this: Chips & Salsa, Fried Green Chile Strips, Sopapillas. It WILL be plenty of food. You WILL leave happy.
Overall, I like Casa Blanca. I’ve been there twice now and would definitely return . . . as long as they keep frying up those green chiles.
A big reason for our trip to Ruidoso was to go see the Flying J Ranch (caution: this site auto-plays Western music). Zia had been there many times as a young girl growing up in New Mexico. Zia’s daughter was making her second trip to the Flying J, the first one being when she was around three years old. This was my first time.
Like the rest of Ruidoso, Flying J was enjoying the benefits of tourist season, so the ranch was pretty crowded. However, they make parking pretty organized and easy. As soon as we pulled into the lot, a cowboy was there to herd us into our parking spot.
Inside the ranch, you find a mock-up of an Old West town with souvenir shops and treats. For the kids, there’s horseback riding, gold panning, and pistol shooting — not real pistols, of course, but they make a pretty loud “pop!” Again, the ranch was pretty crowded, so the lines for the activities were long. We judged the horseback line to be too long, so Zia’s daughter got to pan for gold for a few minutes, finding one decent-sized nugget of “gold” (aka iron pyrite).
The line for the pistol shooting was moving pretty good, so she jumped in line for quick three shots with an old-west style pistol! (Again, these are toys. They shoot a projectile with barely enough velocity to punch through a sheet of paper.)
After the pistol shooting, we headed over to watch the big gunfight between the town sheriff and a couple of “no-good hooligans.”
This “gunfight” is Rated G and appropriate for all ages. It’s wrought with enough silliness and puns to keep the young ones entertained and laughing, and some cute one-liners for the adults. I won’t give you any spoilers, but it’s a good time for the whole family. After the show, the actors were more than happy to pose for pictures with some of the kids.
You’d think that feeding a couple hundred people at one sitting would be complicated, if not downright messy. However, the Flying J Ranch has been in business for 33 years, and they know how to move people through a chow line quickly and efficiently. When I saw the number of people crowding into the dining area, I thought it would take forever – and a miracle – to get everyone fed, but we were happily filling our bellies with a delicious, chuck-wagon style meal within about 10 minutes of getting to our seats.
They file you out of the dining hall and into the kitchen by tables, after first giving you exact instructions on what to do at each food station, and even how to hold your plate! (Hold it under the spot where the applesauce goes, because it’s a metal plate and the applesauce is the only cold food you’re getting.)
You then file through the kitchen, stopping at each station for a heaping helping of each item. The food fare is pretty simple, and the Flying J Ranch website gives you a detailed description of what the meal offers, including what is and isn’t “authentic” cowboy fare (SUPPER DETAILS). What you get is pinto beans, chunky applesauce, a baked potato, brisket or chicken, a biscuit, and spice cake. Then you choose from iced tea, lemonade, water, or coffee to drink. (Served in an authentic beat-up old tin cup, just like the cowboys used!)
The only food item I can’t really write about is the BBQ grilled chicken. All five of us opted for the brisket. Also, it’s kind of a waste of time to go line by line on each food item, when two words describe them all: absolutely delicious! Nonetheless, I will give you a brief rundown. The brisket was tender, smoky and tasty; you could cut it with just a fork. The beans were excellent, and surprisingly spicy. The chunky applesauce…wow. I’m not an applesauce fan, at least not of the stuff you buy in a jar at the grocery store. The Flying J’s applesauce was like a dessert, with big chunks of sweet apples. Lastly, the potato, biscuit, and spice cake were all equally good and nicely rounded out the meal. Oh, and come hungry! There were plenty of leftovers, and you were free to return to the line for more food. I’m pretty sure the crowd ran out of room before the Flying J kitchen ran out of food.
After dinner, the Flying J cast (the same people that just spooned your food onto your tin plate) gathers on stage for about an hour long western music show. Western style music may not be your thing, but if you appreciate good showmanship, incredible musical talent, bean jokes, puns, and a little musical comedy, you’ll enjoy watching the Flying J cast perform. It’s a really nice way to sit and relax after a good hearty meal. There’s music and comedy, and even a heartfelt salute to our servicemen, servicewomen, and veterans.
Good people, good food, and fine entertainment for the whole family, the Flying J Ranch is something you must do if you’re in the Ruidoso area.
The first weekend in August, we made a family trip from Albuquerque to Ruidoso. Five of us (me, Zia, Zia’s daughter, & Zia’s parents) all piled into our Ford Edge for a meandering, four-hour adventure into the mountains of southern New Mexico. We traveled the back roads through a variety of terrain, ranging from flat pasture land to rolling, rocky hills. We drove through little towns like Moriarty, Estancia, Corona, Carrizozo, and Capitan. Along the way, we spotted pronghorn antelope, a herd of elk, and a whole lot of cows.
We took this trip for the change of scenery, as well as to give Zia’s folks the opportunity to visit their old stomping grounds. They were Ruidoso residents for about nine years.
Also, we had booked a trip to the Flying J Ranch, a very popular Ruidoso tourist attraction. (Note: their website auto-plays music, so be prepared. But there’s an easy “turn off music” button on the main page.)
Zia’s dad, a lifelong New Mexico resident and alumni of Hatch High School, had a story for almost every little town we drove through. Find some of his tales here: Stories | Histories
One place we stopped was the small town of Carrizozo, specifically to see if the sad rumors were true: the Outpost Bar & Grill (& Laundromat) was closed. Unfortunately, the rumors were true, and it seems this place has been closed for quite some time.
After some sleuthing around, we think we found out why the place is closed down. Could it have something to do with the chile?
Peeking through the windows, we could see that many of the animal “trophies” (aka, “stuffed animal heads” still strewn about in the booths. Kind of creepy, actually. We said our final farewells to Outpost and went on our way toward Ruidoso.
If you’re a regular reader of our EatingNewMexico blog, you know Zia and I had other motivations for going to Ruidoso…the food! This was my second trip to Ruidoso. The first time I went, Zia took me to Casa Blanca, a restaurant known for their fried green chile strips.
I couldn’t wait to get back there and get another basket of those hot little strips of awesome, dipped in ranch dressing. I lobbied hard for Casa Blanca to be the first place we stopped as soon as we arrived into town. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to get a carload of hungry New Mexicans to stop for fried green chile strips.
After lunch, we all piled back into the car to head down to Sudderth Drive. Sudderth is Ruidoso’s “downtown.” It’s about a half-mile stretch of road with shops, restaurants and bars. On this particular Saturday, it was very crowded. The sidewalks were full of pedestrians meandering in and out of the stores, and the streets were packed with cars. Almost every license plate I saw said “Texas.” I noticed quite a few Chihuahua, Mexico license plates as well. Seeing a yellow or turquoise New Mexico license plate was a rarity. Even our car was still sporting the old California tags, so even we could not be mistaken for locals! However, I don’t think anyone was mistaking us for Texans, either. We looked a little out of place without our giant belt buckles, cowboy boots, “fixed” hair, and bedazzled jeans.
Zia’s daughter is a horseback rider. So we thought she would love to go out by Ruidoso Downs and see the beautiful horse sculptures there. The statue garden, titled “Free Spirits at Noisy Water” marks the entryway to the Hubbard Museum of the American West, a museum dedicated to the horse and all things Old West. The horses are larger-than-life and extremely realistic, giving the impression of a herd of horses — Arabians, Paints, Appaloosa, Quarter, Morgan, and Standardbred all running together — charging down the mountainside toward the river.
We walked around the statue garden for a while, studying the bronze statues (many a wonder of engineering, balancing on only one hoof) and reading the informational placards about each breed of horse.
After we walked off our lunch, it was time to go and rest up for the big evening at the Flying J Ranch. We had booked a couple of rooms at the Ruidoso Mountain Inn. I won’t go into a full-blown review of the Inn, other than to say the upside was a clean, comfortable room, but the downside was the inflated, tourist season price ($160/night), and the television reception was terrible, which made “Sharknado 2” even harder to watch. Regardless, after a four-hour road trip, followed by lunch and shopping, it was nice to put our feet up for a couple of hours before we all headed out to the Flying J Ranch.
After dinner and the show at Flying J, it was back to the Ruidoso Mountain Inn for a good night’s sleep. The next morning, we passed on the Inn’s complimentary breakfast. The breakfast area was extremely crowded, and from what we could see of the pre-packaged, carbohydrate-laden foods, it wasn’t worth the wait. Instead, we drove out to the Casino Apache Travel Center for a good, but standard-fare breakfast. Pros for this little café were: food is good, price is low, and there was no wait when we got there. Cons for this little café were: it’s at the back of the casino, so you have to walk through a lot of smoke to get there.
Afterwards, we took a quick trip back into Ruidoso for some coffee at Sacred Grounds. Good coffee, but very slow service. In their defense, it was very busy! With that, we were back on the road to Albuquerque.
Our Ruidoso weekend was a kind of a whirlwind excursion, and probably not the best time of year; but all told, it was a great little weekend getaway with the family and well worth the trip.