Tuesday, May 11, 2010

She S-l-o-w-l-y Looked Him Up and Down. . .

and said: “I think you can handle it.” But more on that later.

According to the Frommer's online review, Jerry’s Café in Gallup, NM “is where the locals go to eat New Mexican food. It's a narrow and cozy space with booths on both walls and dark-wood paneling. Usually it's packed with all manner of people, especially Native Americans, filling up on big plates of food smothered in chile sauces. You can't go wrong with any of the New Mexican dishes; I like the scrambled eggs with chile for breakfast. For lunch or dinner, try the flat enchiladas topped with an egg and served with a flour tortilla and sopaipilla, or the stuffed sopaipilla....”

We were warned that you’ll always find a line of people waiting to get into Jerry’s Café, and the line on our visit was no exception. Fortunately, said line moves quickly, and in about fifteen minutes, we found ourselves seated in one of the larger (seating for four thin people) booths that line each side of this long and narrow small restaurant with the walls covered in 1950’s vintage dark paneling. The framed art work showed Western and Native American scenes, including a large print showing a Native American in each of the four branches of the military.

Like Earl’s restaurant, Jerry’s is most definitely a locals’ restaurant. Every booth was filled with either Native Americans or Hispanics. And Chuck and me. No big deal. And the wait staff seemed to know most of the customers giving us a clue that our fellow diners were regulars.

While Jerry’s menu does include some American classics (i.e. hamburgers and sandwiches), the emphasis is on New Mexican food. Their specialty is the Stuffed Sopaipilla, a thick sopaipilla shell stuffed with guacamole, beans, and ground beef and smothered with red or green chile and cheese and served with a small portion of lettuce and tomato. This can be ordered as either a whole portion or a half portion.

Chuck had decided on the sopaipilla, but kept up a running debate with himself: “Whole or half? Whole or half? Whole or half?” When our waitress came to take our order, he asked her if she thought he would be able to finish the whole sopaipilla. What followed was her reply cited in the first paragraph. And so, it was the “whole” he ordered--smothered in green chile.

When he was presented with his plate, my first thought was that there was no way he would eat it all.

This was an extraordinary stuffed sopaipilla, and it is no wonder that this is considered the house specialty. I consider the stuffed sopaipilla to be the Southwest’s version of the Cornish Pastie (or Pasty) – except with a lighter, less filling shell. His sopaipilla was stuffed – I repeat – stuffed with good ground beef, beans, and excellent guacamole. Now Chuck does not usually like guacamole, but felt, in this case, that it was a surprisingly effective flavor-enhancer.

My selection was Miguel’s Delight – a chicken taco, a chicken enchilada, and a chile relleno served with rice and beans. The taco and enchilada were good – not great, but good. The shredded chicken in both was a bit dry, probably because there was far more white meat than dark. The chile relleno had an egg-tasting batter, and I am not a great fan of egg batters. Still, it was not the thick puffy batter that I find so objectionable.

My sides were good, but I will admit that after over six months in Arizona and New Mexico, I have had my fill of beans. I wish I would remember to ask if restaurants would hold be beans and double the rice.

The green chile that came with both of our plates was amazing. At first, I thought that it was on the milder end of the heat continuum, but after three or four bites, it began to sneak up on me and the heat started to build. This is much better than a chile that moves right in and smacks you in the face with its potency.

My order came with a flour tortilla (which was great for mopping up the last of the green chile) and a wonderful sopaipilla. Most New Mexicans use the sopaipilla as a bread substitute, but we always save them to eat, drizzled with the honey that sits on most tables, as dessert. Two people, one sopaipilla. What do I do? I share. But the sopaipilla was so good that I came to regret that decision. It was light, airy, greaseless, and had that thin almost brittle shell that we so like.

Posters to tripadvisor.com rate Jerry’s Café as the best restaurant in Gallup; we heartily agree and give Jerry’s a 4.5 Addie rating.

Shortly after leaving Jerry's, we began packing up and getting ready to leave Gallup. The drive back to the RV Park took us past the McKinley County Courthouse. The building is a WPA project and houses some 19 pieces of artwork, murals and furnishings produced by WPA artists during President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.

In addition to over a dozen murals located around the city, there are other examples of artwork that complement the city's landscape. This four-foot tall pot resembles the artwork found on pottery produced by Native Americans in the surrounding pueblos.

We were not able to learn anything about this grouping of four connected posts placed in a small downtown courtyard, but the artwork seemed to fit in with the murals.

This view from a hilltop on the western part of the city shows the expanse of the desert surrounding Gallup.

We will miss the city and the people we met.

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