Saturday, February 27, 2010

Albuquerque was founded in 1706, and since then its heart has been Historic Old Town.

Along our walk on one of the "arteries," we found that most of the architecture of Old Town is adobe, in the Pueblo-Spanish style. In contrast to the adobe structures, were some splashes of color. The table and chairs just seemed to be placed along this wall to brighten the space.

The umbrellas offered shade to the customers of this particular cafe--one of more than 100 shops, galleries, and restaurants in an area of about 10 blocks.

Old Town was laid out in the traditional Spanish colonial way, with a central plaza. Here the gazebo is the site for musicians, dance groups, and even wedding photographs.

The Old Town Emporium with its turquoise door is one of the most colorful buildings on the plaza.

Within Old Town is a small group of shops in the quaint Poco-a-Poco Patio. Kate had remembered La Casita de Kaleidoscopes; we had stopped by this shop to browse on earlier visits to Albuquerque. The store has slowly grown to feature kaleidoscopes, teleidoscopes, and related items by over 70 artists from throughout the world. This time Kate purchased a beautiful Henry Bergeson kaleidoscope to thank me for my nursing skills in the recovery process following her surgery. What a great surprise!

Kate: After a busy morning of shopping, lunch was overdue, so we headed off to Church Street Café (where the green umbrella is), a restaurant that we visited on our first trip to Albuquerque seven (?) years ago.

The restaurant is located in an old house. “Casa de Ruiz, which literally translates to ‘the house of Ruiz,’ has a long and distinctive history. Unfortunately much of this history has been lost with the passage of time and that which remains is at best uncertain. The house was built during the founding of Albuquerque sometime after 1706. This would make Casa de Ruiz the oldest residence in Albuquerque and one of the oldest structures in the state of New Mexico…The property was originally a residence built by the Ruiz family in the early 1700's. It remained a residence until the last inhabitant, Rufina G. Ruiz died in 1991 at the age of 91. The house had never been sold and had remained in the Ruiz family since the early 18th century” (From the restaurant’s web site).

In front is a small patio with two large round tables, each seating six. Inside, there are three small dining rooms with seating for twenty-five to about forty. In the back of the house is a newer dining area where we were seated. It looks as though there will eventually be a much larger outdoor patio, but this area was still under construction.

While our dining room didn’t have the old New Mexico charm of the front rooms, the owners have made an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of the past. One wall is dominated by a large kiva fireplace and another wall contains a long bench strewn with colorful pillows (photo below).

As you would expect, the menu relies heavily on New Mexican food, although the salad and sandwich lists do include a number of “All American” diner options, e.g., chef salad, fruit salad, turkey sandwich (with green chile), ham and cheese sandwich, club sandwich. But why travel over 1,700 miles to eat the same food that I can find in any East Coast diner? So we both went with “standards with a twist.” Chuck chose the Duke City (ABQ is known as the Duke City) Philly and I the Navajo Taco.

The Navajo Taco is basically a taco salad served on Indian Fry Bread. Indian fry bread is tradition to the Navajo, and though the tradition of fry bread is common among many Southwestern Tribes, it is the Navajo who developed the recipe. Baking powder is used as the leavening agent, and as the name suggests, the plate-size round of dough is fried in very hot oil or other fat. The result is a fried circle of dough about eight to ten inches in diameter. This disc was then topped with seasoned ground beef, beans, cheese, avocado, lettuce, and tomato. I had forgotten how filling the Navajo Taco can be!!

Chuck’s Duke City Philly was a large flour tortilla stuffed with shredded beef and finely chopped fried onion and came with a small bowl of green chile on the side.

Both of our lunches were good, but lacked the intense seasoning you find at restaurants (Tito and Mary’s or Garcia’s Kitchen) that cater to a mostly local audience. I suspect that, being in one of Albuquerque’s prime tourist areas, Church Street Café turns down the heat so to speak.

Since I wanted dessert (When don’t I want dessert?) I ate about two-thirds of my taco and took the rest home. It reheated nicely and made an interesting breakfast.

Time for dessert. Would it be the fried ice cream, the natillas (Mexican pudding), the bunuelo (fry bread dusted with sugar and cinnamon), or the flan? No, it was the sopaipilla stuffed with vanilla ice cream, drizzled with chocolate, and garnished with whipped cream. Chuck described this as a funnel cake (a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition) gone wild.

This was certainly not the best of Albuquerque’s food, but was a pleasant respite from searing chile and earns a 3.5 Addie rating.

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