Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dining at the Mine Shaft

One doesn’t necessarily go to the Mine Shaft Tavern for the food.

Rather, it is to absorb the totality of the experience – or how that experience plays out in your imagination. Construction began in 1944, and the tavern opened in 1946. This was the last company-town building constructed in Madrid (on Route 14 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe), and it still has the original forty-foot long bar and most of the original furniture. In fact, the bar is the longest “stand up” bar in the state of New Mexico.

The wall behind the bar is mirrored and above the mirrors are a series of murals, painted by Ross J. Ward, depicting Madrid’s history. The angel in the mural on the left (in the photo) is holding a banner that reads in Latin “It is better to drink than work.” Also, tacked on the wall are hundreds of signed dollar bills. These honor the Wild West tradition of leaving a signed dollar so that the bill’s owner always knows, no matter how broke he is, he always has money for one drink.

The Mine Shaft Tavern features regular entertainment and the mural behind the stage proudly proclaims “The Cultural Gem of the Mining District.”

The tavern features a number of beers on tap, but I did find it amusing that listed with such manly brews as Santa Fe Pale Ale, Santa Fe Porter, Santa Fe Nut Brown Ale, Tractor Red Ale, and Tractor Oatmeal Stout were Stella Artois Lager and Widmer Hefeweisen. My mind can’t wrap itself around the idea of a miner staggering out of the dark tunnel, face covered with dirt bellying up to the bar and saying: “Barkeep, bring me a Hefeweisen. And, can I have a slice of lemon with that?”

As I said earlier, you really don’t come here for the food. But there we were, so there we ate. Chuck had a cup of the soup of the day – Clam Chowder – and the fish and chips with slaw. I had the chipotle marinated chicken breast sandwich which was topped with roasted red peppers, grilled onions, and pepper jack cheese. I swapped the fries for a cup of the chowder.

Now I have a general rule. Unless you are within 100 miles of an ocean, gulf, or major bay, don’t order seafood. The chowder proved the wisdom of my rule. While loaded with small clams, the broth was more reminiscent of cream of celery soup than clam chowder. I don’t think they have heard of clam juice. Chuck’s beer battered cod, on the other hand, proved that no rule is absolute. Sweet, moist, and flaky with a grease free coating, the fish may have been the best facet of either meal. Unfortunately, the hand cut fries were limp – this seems to be a chronic fault with hand cut fries.

My sandwich was good but not exceptional. Served on a white fluffy Kaiser roll, the chicken breast had been pounded to a uniform thickness for more even grilling and extended outside the edge of the roll a good half inch around. It was moist and had good grill flavor but was light on the chipotle taste. The spice came from the pepper jack cheese.

While I would give the Mine Shaft Tavern 5.0 Addies for atmosphere, the food only rates 3.0 Addies.

We tried to imagine what the town must look like in the summer when the number of visitors must be overwhelming. We wondered how this scene would compare to the mobs that invade another "art colony"--New Hope, PA--every weekend during the summer.

As we arrive at our truck, we took one last look into the hillside surrounding the town. We knew our visit to funky, fun Madrid would not soon be forgotten.

Friday, January 30, 2009

From Ghost Town to Art Colony

Located on the scenic Turquoise Trail (Highway 14) between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is the . . . unique . . . community of Madrid, NM.

First, a brief history. From the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th, Madrid was an important coal mining center. When the coal mines closed in 1954, it became a ghost town for about 20 years. In the 1970s, the town was resurrected as an art colony.

The “art colony” quality was apparent as we walked through town. People walked. The town's main street was about a half mile long, and there were very few parking spaces.

People trusted others. We found mail boxes in bunches indicating certainty that both incoming and outgoing mail was not going to be disturbed.

Humor was present. The MADrid Hatter was adjacent to a Victorian bed and breakfast located above the Java Junction coffee shop, and

Tumbleweeds was a shop full of, as the sign says, "Important Stuff."

Color was reminiscent of the '60s. The shop Color and Light focuses on "art . . . celebrating the magic of life."

Function trumped style. I was so caught up in the use of the railroad car as a shop that I forgot what the business was.

Other times art topped function. These cowbells presented colorful items for conversation, but I don't think they'll be worn by any cows in the future.

Sometimes art included film. Maggie's Diner was built for the movie Wild Hogs and still remains on the street through town.

"Non-traditional" counseling services were available. Cosmic Rose provided Astrology and Tarot services.

Signs seemed to be there for amusement not necessarily information. I wasn't sure what to make of the announcements at In Cahoots--was it Open, Not Open, or Closed as the three signs on the ground, the door, and the window, respectively, indicated.

By 1899, all coal production in the area was consolidated at Madrid. Wood-framed cabins were dismantled in Kansas and brought by train to house miners and their families. The town flourished with a population of 2500.

It was refreshing to experience the creativity that now flourished within these old cabins and new shops thanks to today's 300 residents of Madrid, NM.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What a Difference a Week Makes…

Our dear friend Tom told us that when we arrived in Albuquerque we needed to go to the Brazilian grill (whose name he could not remember) that was across from the bus station.In particular, Tom told us that this restaurant had one of the best salad bars he’d seen. We later learned that the name of the restaurant is Tucanos and this is one of the Churrasco (shoe-HAS-ko) steakhouses that have become popular in the United States. You may have seen these on the Food or Travel channels. Men dressed in faux gaucho costumes come to your table with skewers/swords of meat which they slice or serve at your table.

We had planned to have lunch at Tucanos. When having dinner with Chuck’s cousin Jack and his wife Linda, we learned that Jack would like to go back to Tuscanos someday. Without further ado, we made plans to meet them one day for lunch. Few photos exist for that lunch, although two are included in this blog. Chuck doesn’t hesitate to let me feel foolish while he photographs every plate of food. But he did hesitate about subjecting Jack and Linda to that experience. We enjoyed the food so much that Chuck and I decided that a repeat visit was in order. And so to paraphrase Dinah Washington: “What a Difference a Week Makes.”

First for the good. The salad bar is indeed extraordinary. At least fifteen feet long and laden on both sides. This could be – and is for some – a meal in itself. One side contains the regular green salad items: a large bowl of mixed lettuce, a plate of romaine hearts, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, green peppers, green sweet peas, kidney beans, sprouts, cheese, raw broccoli, green and black olives, marinated mozzarella balls, quail eggs, sundried tomatoes, Jalapeno peppers, pickles, pico de gallo, and other items.

Next to the salad items was a plate with salami, Swiss cheese, and a dry cured ham. At the end of the bar were the chafing dishes containing black beans, rice, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, roasted rosemary potatoes, mashed potatoes, a dish containing gravy with mushrooms and beef cubes, and a large tureen of soup (I think this was a vegetable beef, but I didn’t have any).

Continuing around, we find: a dish of Caesar salad, Brazilian Cole slaw, watermelon, mandarin oranges, cottage cheese, broccoli salad, marinated mixed salad (tomato, celery, red onion and cucumber), roasted red peppers, marinated cucumbers, Waldorf salad, hearts of palm, along with other items. Next came a station with marinated tomatoes and red onions, marinated mushrooms, pesto pasta salad, herb pasta salad, shrimp pasta salad, and a crab pasta salad. (Regarding the latter – this was made with fake crabmeat. Why bother?)

Now I approached the salad bar with two mental guidelines. First, I can fix lettuce salad at home so don’t bother with the greens and veggies. Second, food in chafing dishes usually suffers from steam fatigue. So, on both visits, I concentrated on the pasta salads with some additional items. The photo (left) illustrates a portion of my meal during the initial visit. Clockwise from the top are: sliced sirloin (we’ll revisit the meat later), sautéed greens, the roasted potatoes, and, in the center, marinated tomatoes and red onions.

Chuck’s plate shows: sliced sirloin, grilled pineapple, mixed vegetables, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes (only Chuck), a sweet and spicy chicken thigh (not very spicy), fried cod with a mango syrup, a hot wing, and black beans.

Now Chuck and I have not eaten much beef – other than ground beef – since leaving the Midwest. Having been raised on corn fed beef, we thought the grass-grazed beef of the East Coast didn’t taste “right.” To both of our surprise, the beef on our first visit to Tucanos was wonderful. Served medium rare, it was juicy, tender, and full of good beef flavor. Not shown, but equally good, were the sirloin tips coated with garlic and parmesan cheese. So good that I devoured three servings. The cod with mango syrup was crisp fried and moist and flakey. The mango syrup gave an oriental taste to this offering.

Realizing that we didn’t have enough photos to illustrate the food (this was our excuse for a return visit), we decided to return this week. Hence, the title of this blog – what a difference a week makes. The salad bar foods were still excellent, and had we stopped there, we still would have had a satisfying meal.

But did we stop? No – we went on to the meat and fish, all of which were dry, chewy, and overcooked. And I mean all of them. The fish was dry, the sirloin tips were served well done, and the sirloin bordered on medium well. Chuck tried a piece of the turkey wrapped in bacon and, while it had a good smoky flavor from the bacon, it, too, was dry. So were my carnitas – fried bits of pork – as was the piece of fresh ham. On both visits we passed on the chicken hearts and on the dish of brisket which strongly resembled my mother’s pot roast.

This photo from top clockwise, shows my lunch today: heart of palm, herb pasta, shrimp pasta, fried banana, marinated tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, green and black olives, quail eggs, and, in the center, marinated mushrooms.

Chuck’s salad plate includes baby greens, dry cured ham, Swiss cheese, mashed potatoes (?), and, tucked under the corner of the greens, the herb pasta salad.

His lunch plate shows: mashed potatoes (again!), roasted potatoes, turkey wrapped in bacon, fried fish, sliced sirloin, a fried banana, and, under the potatoes, more fish.

A nice touch was that my order of iced tea included an extra carafe of tea and with Chuck’s order of water, an extra carafe of water. A small touch – but nice. Not nice was how they calculate the tip for you on the bottom of the bill with a dollar amount for tipping 18%, 20%, and 22%. Just tacky.

I can’t rate Tucanos because I don’t know which the true restaurant is. Is it the restaurant of our first visit or the restaurant of our second?

I’m not ready to try a third visit to find out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Fishing" with a Camera

I always like going for breakfast. The foods you order for breakfast at a restaurant aren’t foods you are normally going to take the time and effort to fix at home. So before beginning today’s visit to the aquarium, a hearty breakfast was in order. And, since I am a big Huevos Rancheros fan and since Garcia’s Kitchen makes some of the best Huevos Rancheros ever, the decision was easy – Garcia’s it was.

I was pleased to see that the Huevos Rancheros are one of the daily breakfast specials. For $4.49 you get two eggs cooked to your order and covered with red or green chili sauce, beans, papas (fried potatoes) and the choice of a flour tortilla or a sopapilla. I wanted the tortilla to wipe up and vestige of the chili sauce on my plate but was curious about Garcia’s sopapillas. In all the meals we have eaten there, we’ve never ordered the sopapillas, so I decided to add a side order to our meal.

Chuck chose the breakfast burrito special breakfast (also $4.49) with green chili sauce which also came with beans and fried potatoes.

In an earlier post, I enthused about Garcia’s red chili, and the quality of the chili is the secret to a good Huevos Rancheros. The tortilla did its work and nary a speck of sauce was visible on my plate after I finished. Chuck’s burrito was another monster, filled with scrambled eggs, potatoes, and bacon. The eggs were fluffy and moist and the bacon was mildly smoky and crisp. The potatoes on both of our plates were dusted before frying with a mild red chili powder--just enough of the chili flavor to give interest.

Now for the sopapillas. In a word--wonderful. Warm, light, grease free, and puffed to perfection. Like Henrietta’s (in Los Lunas), there was an extremely thin outer crust that crunched or cracked when bitten. These could well rate as the best sopapillas we’ve had in our two trips to New Mexico.

We still have one more neighborhood Mexican/New Mexican restaurant to try before I give a rating, but Garcia’s still remains the one to beat.

After breakfast, we headed to the Albuquerque Aquarium. Fresh water riverine, estuarine, surf zone, shallow waters, coral reefs, open ocean and deep ocean species are represented in the various tanks. Among the highlights are an eel tunnel, seahorses, luminous jellies, and a 285,000 gallon ocean tank where brown, sandtiger, blacktip and nurse sharks swim alongside brilliantly colored reef fish, eels, sea turtles and open ocean species.

Sometimes the fish and other sea animals were identified. I believe these are Upside Down Jellyfish,

this is the Royal Gramma, and

this is the Clownfish. It lives among the stinging tenticles of the Anemone without being poisoned. This fish is a poor swimmer, and without the protection offered by the Anemone, it would become easy prey for other fish.

These next two fish (and the one in the top photo of fishes) were not identified. They have made it into the gallery because they were relatively "cooperative" subjects. Even in the small tanks, most fish move quickly. A few take a more leisurely approach to swimming, and that approach enabled them to make it into the blog.

Watching the fish in the various tanks--and especially the jellyfish in the cylindrical tank--can be very hypnotic.

Kind of like watching a lava lamp.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The King of Albuquerque

As we drove through downtown Albuquerque on old Route 66 (Central Avnue), this beautiful building caught our eye.

It was the KiMo Theater, opened in 1927, the same year the first talkie "The Jazz Singer" opened. It was described as a "pueblo-deco picture palace" and was built in less than a year.

In a contest to name the theater, Pablo Abeita, Governor of Isleta Pueblo, earned $50 for submitting the name which was actually two Tewa (the Pueblo's language) words, liberally interpreted as "king of its kind."

The original lobby was small, ending at the pillars on the left. Its expansion, to comply with the present-day fire code, resulted in the removal of a few rows of seats in the theater.

At the landing of the stairway from the lobby to the mezzanine is one of the murals painted by Karl Von Hassler. He and a few of his students painted "The Seven Cities of Cibola" on the mezzanine level. The cities in the trompe l'oeil murals are some of the pueblos in and around New Mexico.

Oreste Bachecchi commissioned architect Carl Boller of Los Angeles to design and build the KiMo. Boller visited many of the pueblos during months of research, and his watercolor rendition of the interior was immediately accepted.

In the back of the theater, there were drawings meant to resemble sand paintings. As part of ceremonies performed by a tribe's medicine man, sand paintings were prepared. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the sand painting was erased so that the Spirit was freed.

Boller's design called for plaster ceiling beams to mimic actual wood logs. Photographing this colorful work of art while trying to steady a tripod with one of the legs on the floor and the other two balanced on two seats in front of my seat for a time exposure would have made an interesting picture in itself.

As we walked around the theater photographing the art work and drawings shown in these next two photos, Bill, our tour guide, mentioned the story of six-year-old Bobby Darnall. In 1951, Bobby had been sitting in the theatre balcony with some of his friends when something on the screen frightened him. He ran down the staircase to the lobby. Just as he arrived, the boiler exploded killing Bobby. It is the spirit of little Bobby who is said to continue to haunt the KiMo Theatre today.

According to legend, Bobby's impish spirit causes the performers problems by tripping them and creating a ruckus during performances. To appease the spirit, the cast used to hang doughnuts on the water pipe that runs along the back wall of the theatre behind the stage. Often, the treats were gone the next morning. Of those that were left, bite marks made by a little mouth, could sometimes be seen.

Today, Bill said that after each show the performers now leave one item for Bobby in a special alcove. We saw several small cars, a fireman's hat, and a skateboard among the many items in the alcove as we passed by.

Bill also told us a story that demonstrated some clever problem-solving by today's craftsmen. The stairway had quail forming the base for the handrail leading to the mezzanine. This same quail-railing extended across the mezzanine--until . . . the fire marshal determined that it was too low and, therefore, unsafe.

So, some welders performed "metal surgery" on the necks and legs of the quail, and "Voila" we had cranes holding up a now-safe railing on the mezzanine.

The City of Albuquerque purchased the KiMo in 1977, and the most recent preservation was completed in 2000. The theater seats 650.

Long Live the King!

Monday, January 26, 2009

"The Place That Always Was"

There are three ways into and out of Acoma Pueblo. First, one can ride the shuttle bus from the Cultural Center. Second, you can walk up and down the paved roadway. And third, you can use the stone stairway with handholds cut into both sides of the rock wall. No dummy me, I chose the bus for both in and out. Chuck, on the other hand, decided to walk down the road - all in the interest of art (in this case, photography). (The Cultural Center is near the trees in the upper right corner of the photo.)

By the time he got down the mesa, it was almost noon and time for lunch. Now you need to realize that the pueblo is literally in the middle of nowhere. The nearest form of commercial activity is along Interstate 40, almost sixteen mile away. So it was the Yaak´a Café at the Sky City Cultural Center or starvation. A few blogs ago, I noted my reservations about eating at cafeterias/cafes at museums or cultural centers. So we walked into the Yaak´a (corn) Café with modest expectations. We didn’t take time to study the menu board, since a sign proclaimed that the daily special was a beef and bean burrito garnished with lettuce, tomato, red onion and topped with a choice of red or green chili sauce.

We both decided to go with the special with green chili sauce along with an order of tortilla chips and salsa. The chips – red, blue, and yellow corn – came fresh from the fryer and were warm, fresh, and crisp. These were some of the best tortilla chips we’ve had since arriving in New Mexico. The salsa was as I like it – fresh, spicy, and full of cilantro. This was a promising introduction.

When the burrito arrived, we both gasped. Another mammoth burrito! The flour tortilla was generously filled with a beef and bean mixture that also included some corn kernels. In contrast to most meat fillings, this was seasoned with red chili and cumin. Now I have a limited tolerance for cumin, so I was pleased that this spice was used with caution. The green chili sauce was medium hot and was generously applied. This was truly a fine burrito.

Faced with the alternative of over-stuffing ourselves or having burrito leftovers for supper, we chose the latter (and wiser) choice. Tented with foil and heated low and slow, the repeat meal was almost as good as the original.

I do wish that restaurants would stop presenting a display of pastries as one enters and exits. This always proves to be a downfall and today was no exception. The case held cookies, sweet rolls, and fruit pies, and we couldn’t resist the temptation to bring home one blueberry pie and one apple pie. The pie crust here was interesting – more like a shortbread than a flaky shortening crust.

The Yaak´a Café’s menu was heavy on the basics – burgers, sandwiches, and wraps. But the menu did also list a number of more traditional foods – Red Chile Beef Posole, Green Chile Pork Stew, Frybread, and Acoma Lamb Stew. This is a restaurant that, lacking any competition for miles around, could have coasted. Instead, they set our tasty food at reasonable prices and has earned 4.0 Addies (on a 5.0) scale.

Since we still had our camera permit, we could photograph scenes along the roads of the Pueblo. The clouds had given way to blue sky, so the sun-rock formations-blue sky combination brought out the beauty of central New Mexico.

We were drawn to this dirt road just off the main road, but our curiosity as to where it led was squelched by a sign that read: "No Visitors Beyond This Point." We respected the wishes of the Acomas, but the message only served to increase our curiosity.

We love the New Mexico landscape; we think the colors are unlike those anywhere else. Even the sun seems to show a special appreciation for the landscape in the way that it highlights every "participant" in the scene.

As we neared the end of the road from the Pueblo, Chuck was drawn to the golden grasses along the roadside. He was almost prone on the highway to get this view of the grasses and the rocks. Oh, the challenges confronting the artist.

It was tough to leave Acoma, but we left with a better understanding of why the people choose to stay on the mesa in "the place that always was."