Friday, February 26, 2010

What’s in a Name?

Often, just enough to pique my interest.

Such was the case with Tooties, just outside of Bristol, VA. Of course, the eye popping orange and yellow paint on the building didn’t hurt. So also was the case with Big Earl’s Greasy Eats in Cave Creek, AZ. How can one resist? So when I found Harla May’s Fat Boy Grill (Belen, NM) on Gil Garduno’s blog, I knew we had to go. Yesterday, Chuck gave you a tour of the mountain of artifacts that consume every empty space in this casual and friendly restaurant. Today, I deal with the food.

But first, a short clarification. Harla May doesn’t exist. “She” is a figment of Anthony and Carmen’s fertile imagination. Harla refers to their love of Harley’s. May is the sister of one of them – I forget which. And Fat Boy? Given that they are Harley lovers, that should be obvious. Hence, Harla May’s Fat Boy Grill, whose slogan is “We relish your buns.”

Anthony and Carmen clearly have had fun with the restaurant's name and slogan, but their hours top everything. Imagine calling to ask when the restaurant opens and being told, "10:57." Who would say, "OK," instead of asking the person to repeat the time?

Anthony and Carmen began their career in food service with a snow cone machine. Later, they graduated to a Tastee Freeze stand which they named Celeste’s after their daughter. (Carmen told us that everyone thought that her name was Celeste, and when they opened Harla May’s, apologized for not knowing that her name was Harla May.) In 2004, they finished the renovations of the Oñate Theater and Harla May’s opened.

When we entered through the theater curtain, ‘70’s music was playing on the sound system. Is that the theme from “The Love Boat” I hear?

I was in the mood for a burger, but decided that the Fat Boy burger, a one-pounder with chile, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, bacon, guacamole and onion rings was beyond my capabilities. So, instead I went for the half-pound Flame Thrower topped with cheddar cheese and a Padilla’s Jarales hot green chile. When I placed my order, our server gave me a skeptical look and asked: “Do you like hot food?” Little did she know that I live for hot food. With the burger came a side of fries.

Chuck originally considered the Hecho-a-Mano, another half-pound patty that is smothered in your choice of red or green chile and served with beans, papitas, and cheese. But he ultimately ordered the Gillie’s Philly, a Southwestern Philly on a tortilla with grilled chile, onions, bell peppers and cheese and a side of fries.

My burger was a thing of beauty. No pre-formed patty here. This was handmade with the open and juicy interior that is the hallmark of a burger that didn’t come frozen from a box. And the generous amount of cheddar cheese melted down the sides and onto my plate. And the chile. What a chile. Hot it was and made even hotter by leaving all of those incendiary little seeds inside. And my fries, like Chuck’s, were hot and extra crisp on the outside and all moist and steamy inside. This may have been the best burger I’ve eaten since The Squeeze Inn in Sacramento, CA.

And Chuck’s lunch was equally good. Harla May’s take on the Philly Cheesesteak came rolled in a flour tortilla with juicy thin sliced steak, cheese, diced green pepper, diced red hot pepper, and grilled onions. With each bite, juice cascaded from the sandwich onto the plate. And the grilled onions gave the steak a mildly sweet flavor which was not unpleasant. We have tried a number of cheesesteak variations on our travels, but Harla May’s just might be the best.

Given the size of our lunches, you would think we wouldn’t have room for dessert. You’d be wrong. We decided to share a slice of Carmen’s homemade apple caramel pie. And with ice cream for good measure. The pie came to the table warmed just enough to intensify the apple and cinnamon flavors and to slightly melt the caramel topping. And, for extra measure, Carmen had added chopped pecans to the filling so that every bite contained a little crunch to balance the softer apples.

What a great lunch. What a great place. What great people. All of this deserves a 4.5 Addie rating.

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