Saturday, December 5, 2009

Now This . . .

is a hole in the wall.

We’ve eaten in some small restaurants (e.g., the Squeeze Inn in Sacramento), but few are smaller than the Route 66 Malt Shop & Grill in Albuquerque.

When you walk through the door you immediately face a short, curved counter with four stools.

To the left is the main dining area that seats another sixteen or so at small tables (see yesterday's blog). And virtually all of the menu items are prepared on a small flat top behind the front counter.

In the corner to the right is a small booth with seating for two (or four if you are all thin and really good friends).

The menu lists six burgers (classic, classic cheeseburger, green chile cheeseburger with or without bacon, blue cheese and green chile, and patty melt), four hot dogs (all American, kraut, chile cheese, and green chile cheese), eleven deli-style sandwiches and six specialty sandwiches, plus four Southwest specialties. The sides include the soup of the day, baked potatoes, hash browns, potato salad, slaw, and chips. No deep fryer = no fries.

Among the southwest specialties was the frito pie. I have seen this item listed on any number of menus including the Dog House and Benny’s II and had yet to try it. This would be the day. As the name suggests, frito corn chips are an integral ingredient. You start with a layer of fritos, and add a layer each of beans, red chile, and cheddar and jack cheeses. Then you start again and top everything with lettuce, tomato, and chopped onion. And, being the big spender that I am, I added the optional ground beef for an additional $1.50. (The basic frito pie cost $4.50.)

Now you may be asking yourself: How is this different from nachos? The answer, I’m not sure other than it uses fritos rather than tortilla chips. And how did it taste? Pretty good, but it’s not something I’ll develop a craving for. With my lunch I ordered a side of the home made cole slaw. This combination of green and red cabbage and shredded carrot was tossed with a light creamy dressing that wasn’t sweet and wasn’t sour. You might say it was just right.

Chuck chose the All American Lunch – one All American Hot Dog (mustard, ketchup, relish, and chopped onion), one Classic Cheeseburger (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, ketchup, mustard, and mayo). Plus a side of the restaurants homemade potato salad. Since he was eating light, he skipped the pickle, ketchup, mustard, and mayo on the burger and the ketchup on the dog. We’re counting calories these days. Both sandwiches came on buttered and grilled buns. The grilling gave the rolls a nice crisp surface and kept the juices and condiments from soaking into the bread.

I didn’t taste the burger but could see that it had a pink interior and a nicely charred exterior. The hot dog (which I did sample) was a split and grilled six-inch Hebrew National frank. Very tasty.

But the star of the show was the restaurant’s homemade root beer. Co-owner, Diane Avila, had been a bartender at some major hotels, but she wanted to be a "non-alcoholic mixologist." The result is the Malt Shop's sixth best root beer out of almost 200 sampled by a national root beer aficionado group (

This has to be the best root beer I have tasted. Even better than the homemade root beer from The Old Town Root Beer Company in Chico, CA. The Malt Shop’s was light on sugary taste and intense with real root beer taste. So good that Chuck had two large mugs with his lunch and we each had a large root beer float for dessert. And it was in the floats that the root beer came into its own. Paired with the sweet vanilla ice cream, the root beer flavor became even more pronounced. If we lived in Albuquerque, a stop at the Malt Shop for a float would become a regular outing.

Rating the Route 66 Malt Shop & Grill is not easy. For atmosphere and hospitality, it's definitely a 5.0 Addie stop. The root beer and floats also earn a 5.0 Addie score, while the food gets a score of 3.5 Addies.

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