Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Owl, Frank, and Great Kate

We had plans to meet Chuck’s cousin Jack and his wife Linda at a neighborhood Mexican/New Mexican restaurant in the Northeast section of the city. When we pulled into the parking lot, only one car was visible – Jack’s – and no lights were visible in the restaurant. Surprise – it wasn’t open on Saturday’s. A restaurant not open on Saturday night?!

I don’t know if it was due to the family ties, but both Chuck and Jack said “Let’s go down the road to the Owl Café.” The Owl is Albuquerque’s perennial choice for “Best Hamburger” and is especially known for their Green Chili Cheeseburger. We had eaten there during our previous trip and had fond memories of the dining experience.

The original Owl opened in San Antonio, New Mexico (a short drive south of Albuquerque) in 1946, and it is claimed that the green chili cheeseburger originated there.
The Albuquerque restaurant opened in the 1980’s and, in addition to the hamburgers, is known for their shakes, especially the peanutbutter shake and the Hershey chocolate shake. Décor is 50’s diner style with lots of neon both inside and out.

We ordered the green chili cheeseburgers all around with Chuck adding fries and me slaw. We shared a giant onion ring loaf. The Owl Café grinds its own meat daily and the burgers are hand formed. It’s known for its hot chilies (I’ve found a hotter one – more on that later) and the sauce is made in house. The fries are fresh cut.

Now, all of the food was good with the fries bordering on excellent. They proved that you can serve crisp hand cut fries. The onion loaf was huge but the four of us managed to devour it without trouble. The burger was juicy and cooked medium as ordered, and the green chili topping had a definite kick. So what was the problem? The burger (yes, under that mound of lettuce there really is a patty) was much smaller than we remembered. On our previous visit, did we order the double green chili cheeseburger? We don’t remember.

We concluded that the Owl Café’s cheeseburger only rates 3.5 Addies and that we needed to find an alternative.

Now we have been known to drive long distances for food but decided that Sugar’s in Embudo (between Santa Fe and Taos) was perhaps too far when searching for the green chili cheeseburger. So a “Google” search began. A number of Albuquerque restaurants were reputed to have good burgers, but one caught my eye. I said to Chuck: “I know where this place is! It’s where we stopped to photograph the sign that read “Route 66 – Ice Cold Beer.” How were we to know that in back of the liquor store and behind mustard yellow cinder block walls was one of the greatest burgers ever. But when I read that the Monte Carlo Steakhouse had been featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on the Food Network in a program entitled “Where the Locals Go,” I know that a visit was mandatory.

When you enter the Monte Carlo Steakhouse, you need to take a few minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. This is a throwback to the 1960’s, dark faux panel walls, dim lights, faux leather booths, and neon beer signs. Flanking another giant Budwiser sign in the main dining area was a large velvet portrait of Elvis in Las Vegas attire. On another wall was a large poster of Guy Fieri. The clientele ranged from two men in business suits to a party of twelve – two very small children, eight women, and two men in Stetson hats, which remained on for the duration of their meal. The Marlboro Man image was shattered when, upon leaving, one of the cowboys walked out carrying a diaper bag.

The menu listed a variety of steaks in all cuts and sizes. But we were here for the green chili cheeseburger. We both ordered the eight-ounce burger with fries and shared an order of onion rings.
The rings were O.K. but not as good as the onion loaf at the Owl Café. And neither of us cared for the ranch dipping sauce that came with the onion rings. The fries were hand cut from unpeeled potatoes and had great flavor. Unfortunately, they suffered from the same limpness that seems endemic these days.

But the cheeseburger!!! A masterpiece!!! Cooked over the same grill as the steaks, these came medium as ordered and the first bite brought forth a squirt of tasty meat juices. The exterior came with a steak-like char that only a steakhouse seems to be able to achieve.
Served on a four-inch toasted roll, the burger completely filled the bun surface. The green chili (hidden under the slice of cheese) packed a real wallop – in fact Chuck removed some of the chili from his burger. This was the green chili cheeseburger we had been looking for.

On our way out of the restaurant, we met Frank and commended him for the magnificent burger. We also included the flavorful grill in the photo.

We left concluding that, despite flabby fries and less than stellar onion rings, the green chili cheeseburger warranted a 4.5 Addie rating.

In conclusion, I offer forth Great Kate’s green chili cheeseburger. Made from ground beef bought fresh that day, the eight-ounce patty (yes, I weigh them and yes, I brought a kitchen scale with me) was charcoal grilled to medium doneness and topped with Swiss cheese, bacon, tomato, onion, and – in my case – dill pickle slices. And served on two slices of white toast.

The piece de resistance was the Super Hot green chili sauce we purchased at Taco Sal after a recent lunch. (You’ll be hearing more about Taco Sal in a future blog.) And they aren’t kidding when they advertise the sauce as Super Hot.

Even I used discretion.

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