Friday, March 5, 2010

No Reservations

The Pepper Pot does take reservations; I am talking about the Travel Channel program with Anthony Bourdain.

I am not sure if I like Anthony Bourdain, who is best known for his 2000 book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and as the host of Travel Channel's culinary and cultural adventure program “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.” One minute he is snarky and arrogant. The next minute, especially when he is seated at a home cook’s table, he is culturally sensitive and gracious. Perhaps that’s why the promos for the current season promote the “Good Tony, Bad Tony” idea. But when we saw the episode with Good Tony eating at the Pepper Pot in Hatch, NM, we put this small restaurant on our “Must Eat There” list.

So, after a lengthy conversation about life on the road with Giant RV Man, we took ourselves to the Pepper Pot for New Mexican food made with genuine Hatch chiles.

Open for only breakfast and lunch, this sixteen-table café is the classic locals place. The waitresses rush over to hug the regulars. Patrons wander from table to table, conversation to conversation.

(A couple came in and the male half of the duo went to the back to talk with two other gentlemen, while the woman took a seat in the front. The waitress came to take the woman’s order.

All of a sudden, the woman yells loudly: “Frank, what do you want for lunch?”

He yells back: “The beef burrito.”

I suspect that this is normal.)

One woman patron, seeing that the only empty table hadn’t been bussed, cleared the table. It’s that kind of place.

While located in the hub of the famed Hatch green chile, the Pepper Pot still offers some non-regional items like burgers, sandwiches, and salads. But when in the land of the green chile, one eats green chiles. While we looked over the menu, we were served a small dish of fresh salsa and a basket of tortilla chips.

The salsa, made in the restaurant by a woman named Melba or Melva was spectacular, containing large chunks of tomato and onion in a juicy tomato base to which a generous amount of cilantro and minced green pepper had been added. This was so good that we persuaded the restaurant to sell us a twenty-ounce Styrofoam cup to take home. (Ageing in the refrigerator made an already hot salsa a very hot salsa.)

Chuck chose the Beef Enchilada Plate (right)-–two stacked (his favorite) corn tortillas with a ground beef filling, topped with green chile and two cheeses, and with rice and beans on the side.

My choice (photo below) was two cheese enchiladas, one with red chile and the other with green, and a chile relleno with green chile. I also received the same sides—rice and beans.

Both of the sides were above average, especially the rice, which appeared to have been seasoned with some powdered red chile. The rice had a spicier flavor than most, and thankfully, the grains separated rather than clumping together. Since I always prefer the rice to the beans, I tend to be most particular.

Chuck’s beef enchiladas and my cheese enchiladas were exceptional. His were full of beef and mine were stuffed with stringy cheese.

My chile relleno was less successful. The chile itself was great as was the cheese stuffing. It was the coating that I found less than satisfying. It was of the “puffy” variety, while I like the thin and crisp style better. And it had an “eggy” flavor that I found interfered with the chile.

But the two chiles shone. The green was assertive without being mouth searing and the pieces of Hatch green chile retained a subtle crispness. The red ranks right up there with my favorite red chile at Garcia’s Kitchen in Albuquerque. While certainly not tame, the heat was smooth rather than harsh.

I can only give my chile relleno a 2.5 Addie rating. Did not like the batter. But the rest of the meal, the enchiladas, the rice, the beans, and the two chiles were good enough to elevate the overall rating to a 3.5.

After leaving the restaurant, we stopped on the porch to read the marker, which noted that Hatch had been established as Santa Barbara in 1851, abandoned following Apache raids, re-established in 1853, abandoned again in 1860, and established for a final time (and named after General Edward Hatch) in 1875.

The toys in the front yard (see second photo above) seemed to fit with the Pepper Pot.

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