Friday, December 31, 2010

The Lone Suvivor

The restaurant, La Posta de Mesilla, occupies an adobe building in Messilla (NM) constructed in the 1840’s by Sam Bean and his brother Roy Bean. It is the only surviving stagecoach station of the Butterfield Overland Mail route from Tipton, Missouri, to San Francisco.

In 1850, John Butterfield convinced Henry Wells and William Fargo to consolidate their express companies with his own Butterfield & Wasson Company to form the American Express Company.

In 1857, Butterfield won a $600,000 contract to deliver the St. Louis mail to San Francisco in 25 days, a trip of 2,812 miles.

In establishing the service, Butterfield had said, “Remember boys, nothing on God’s earth must stop the United States mail!” And nothing did. During its two and one-half years of service, every eastbound and westbound stage arrived within the 25-day contract time. It was an unqualified success.

In 1860, Butterfield was forced out of the partnership because of debts that he owed Wells and Fargo. The operation of the twice-weekly mail and passenger service was effectively stopped.

“The La Posta Compound is on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The building is Territorial Style with a zaguan (the entryway into a house that leads in turn to the larger, light-filled interior patio) leading into a patio (left) now used as a lobby for the restaurant and displays tropical plants, birds and fish for all to see. Constructed primarily of adobe bricks, the north and west sides of the building have doors and windows retaining the Greek revival pediments so typical of Territorial style” (from the La Posta web site). Today, this space is dominated by a sombrero-topped Christmas tree.

Our forty-five minute wait for a table gave us time to explore some of the building’s nooks and crannies that have now been converted into small intimate dining and drinking spaces. “The quaint and relaxing Cantina was once the lobby to the famous Corn Exchange Hotel.... Looking around you notice a beautiful stained glass window with over 700 pieces depicting a wagon and team as they ride down from the Organ Mountains” (from the La Posta web site).

The Blacksmith Room (photo below) was once used to repair horseshoes and other equipment associated with the Stagecoach, and the tiled fireplace contains the original hearth.

We were seated in the Lava Room, La Posta’s “most requested dining room…with walls of centuries old lava rock, tropical plants, and warmly accented lighting…. It is hard to imagine that during La Posta's famed years of the 1870's and 1880's, this room served as a stable caring for the horses used for the Stagecoach of the famous Butterfield Stagecoach Trail (from the La Posta web site).

The room was magni-ficently decorated for the Christmas season with a massive and brightly-decorated Christmas tree and flat painted figures of Mary and Joseph with a somewhat Hispanic mien. Carved wooden parrots hung from the ceiling and one wall held a print with multiple colorful parrots.

As soon as we were seated, our server Justin appeared with a basket of tortilla chips and a dish of medium hot and cilantro-free salsa. Justin explained that the salsa would be the hottest (aka spiciest) thing we would eat that day and that the red chile is hotter than the green.

“Had we eaten there before?” he asked. “No.” we replied. “Would we like him to bring us samples of each chile?” What do you think? Justin was right. The red was hotter than the green, but the green had such a nice vivid flavor that both of us chose the green with our entrees.

The menu is a comprehensive list of traditional New Mexican dishes made from century-old recipes handed down over the years from the Fountain, Chavez and Griggs families and includes enchiladas, burritos, tacos, and combination plates.

Specialty meals included: Specialty of La Posta—a starter of chile con queso and corn tortillas, followed by guacamole salad or tossed green salad and an entrée of one rolled red enchilada, tamale, chile con carne, rolled taco, frijoles, rice and a sopaipilla; La Posta Grande—again with a starter of chile con queso and corn tortillas, followed by guacamole salad or tossed green salad and an entrée of one folded taco, chile relleno, green enchilada con carne served with frijoles, rice and a sopaipilla; and Banquette Elegante—a starter of chile con queso, corn tortillas and guacamole salad and an entree of carne adobada, camotes (sweet potatoes) Jalisco, refritos, rice and a sopaipilla. All came with an empanada served hot with ice cream.

I seem to be in a predictable routine and again ordered the Chile Relleno plate that included two whole medium hot green chiles filled with Monterey jack cheese, then dipped in whipped egg white batter, cooked on the griddle rather than being deep-fat fried, and smothered in green chile and cheese. This came with refritos, rice, and a garnish of “Mexican” slaw. The chiles were nicely coated, and I think that the use of just the whites instead of both whites and yolks lessened the eggy taste that can ruin a good chile relleno. The beans were good. The slaw, which had been tossed with a mild oil-based dressing, gave just the right textural balance to the rest of the meal. The only disappointment was the rice. It looked and tasted like it had been sitting on a steam table—and it probably was.

Chuck started with one Tostada Compuesta (these are ordered individual-ly), the recipe for which originated at La Posta in 1939. The dish consists of a toasted corn tortilla cup filled with frijoles and red chile con carne and is topped with chopped lettuce, diced tomatoes and grated cheddar cheese. This was a texture and flavor riot. The beef, which was cooked in a cumin-scented red chile sauce, was fork-tender and the soft beef and soft beans were balanced by the crispy tortilla cup and crunchy lettuce.

For his main entrée, he chose the beef and bean burrito smothered in green chile, which came with the same not-so-great rice. Chuck was especially happy with the green chile, which he proclaimed had a level of heat that was “just right.” It was a little mild for my taste, but I guess I don’t need to have smoke puff out of my ears at every meal.

For dessert, we ordered four of the lightest, puffiest, most delicious sopaipillas ever. (If you notice that the spelling here changes from blog to blog it is because I honor the spelling used on each restaurant’s menu.) Drizzled with a small amount of honey, they were the ideal ending for our meal.

I would love to give La Posta the full 5.0 Addies for their atmosphere, professional service in the midst of a busy day, and food. But I can’t forgive the rice and am compelled to lower the rating to 4.5 Addies.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On The Trail--

the Culinary Treasures Trail, that is.

As soon as we crossed the border from Arizona to New Mexico, I pulled up my favorite regional food blogger (Gil Garduno) and Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. And what do I find? Information on two guides to New Mexico eating developed by the New Mexico Tourism Department. One, the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, will be explained in a future blog. But today we are on the New Mexico Culinary Treasures Trail.

“In the restaurant world, ‘new’ and ‘hot’ always grabs attention, but it’s the older places that create the character of an area, and that provide the foundation on which more recent dining establishments can thrive. Here, we celebrate restaurants that have stood the test of time, independent spots that have become beloved in their neighborhoods and beyond. Many of these are operated by the founding family or by someone handpicked by the founders to carry on their legacy. In all cases they are still family-owned and operated. With the advice of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, we picked 40 years of age as the milestone New Mexico’s Culinary Treasures must have reached. We put out the word statewide and received nominations from loyal patrons, staff members, cooks, chefs, and owners. Then we convened a team of culinary experts to confirm their qualifications and comb around for more” (from

Over the course of our many trips through New Mexico, we have had the chance to eat at a number of the honored establishments. In Santa Fe, we dined at the Plaza Café and Bobcat Bite. In Gallup, we enjoyed a breakfast at Earl’s and a lunch at the El Rancho Hotel Restaurant. I had my first taste of Carne Adovado at Rancho de Chimayo. We found good burgers at the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid. And in Albuquerque, we have sampled the red and green chiles at the Doghouse Drive-In, Duran’s Central Pharmacy, El Pinto, Mary & Tito’s, Sadie’s, and Taco Sal.

And here in Deming is one of those treasures—El Mirador. Founded in the early 1950’s and now owned by Maria Vasquez…, ”the café began life as the Castleberry Café and became known as El Mirador in 1997. The simple family-style restaurant blends recipes learned while the owner worked in some of Mexico City’s finest restaurants with a touch of homemade Mexican and New Mexican dishes. Multiple Vasquez family members operate the restaurant… (

Our first of two trips was for an early morning breakfast. At that time of the day, all of the diners (with the exception of Chuck and me) appeared to be locals. Spanish was the language of the day, including the news on TV. Each table contained a shaker of Mexican oregano, a shaker of some other Southwest spice blend, and a squeeze bottle of honey in case you are ordering sopapillas.

My choice that morning was the Huevos con Chorizo—eggs scrambled with a very spicy chorizo sausage with home fried potatoes, beans, and a flour tortilla. While the sausage in the eggs was no less zesty than that served at Harlow’s (in Tempe, AZ), it didn’t have that harsh uncooked spice taste that I found unpleasant at Harlow’s. My only complaint about the scramble was that the eggs had been cooked drier that I prefer. The beans were a tasty combination of whole beans and pureed beans, and the home fries were cooked crisp as I ordered and had a great crust. While red or green chile didn’t accompany the meal, I requested a side of green that appeared to have been thickened with either corn starch or a flour roux but still retained a bright, citrus-like flavor and plenty of spice. Just perfect for the fried potatoes.

Chuck chose one of the two breakfast specials, the Huevos a la Mexicana—eggs scrambled with jalapenos, onions, and tomatoes—with the same potatoes, beans, and tortilla. In his case, the eggs had not been overcooked and the veggies still crunchy crisp. No need for additional chile here. The amount of jalapenos made this hot enough.

A few days later found us back to El Mirador for lunch. As usual, we began with a basket of O.K. chips and a bowl of medium hot salsa that contained a goodly amount of cilantro--I was happy. Chuck was not.

His lunch choice—the Puntas a la Mexicana was the better of the two meals. His plate contained a bountiful portion of steak strips that were cooked in a tomato sauce flavored with jalapenos, onions, and red chile. While a few of the streak strips were chewy, the zesty red sauce redeemed the entire meal—including mine. With his meal came sides of beans and rice. Both were good, but not extraordinary.

And, to round out his meal, he ordered one beef taco, which came in a very thin and crisp taco shell.

I chose the Carnitas—cubes of pre-cooked pork, which, just before serving, are “heated for a few minutes to produce the desired alternating texture of succulent softness and caramelized crispness” ( While I had plenty of the “crispness,” I found scant evidence of the “succulent softness.” To me, these carnitas were overcooked. That’s where Chuck’s sauce came into play. I kept dipping my pork chunks into his sauce to relieve some of the dryness.

As we were finishing, our server brought out a basket containing two complimen-tary sopa-pillas. Again, not the best ever, but still light and puffy.

Gil Garduno was one of the judges charged with selecting the final list of Culinary Treasurers. As he said on his blog: “Americans are a nostalgic people. We long for the good old days and don our rose-colored glasses when we reminisce about the sights, sounds and memories of our past. Though we can’t journey back to those bygone eras which seem more sweet and innocent than perhaps they really were, we can recreate those experiences when we visit the vintage restaurants we loved in our youth and cherish in our adulthood.”

Thank heaven there are those who refuse to accept what I call the “chainifi-cation” of America be they restaurant owners or food bloggers.

I can’t claim that El Mirador was the best New Mexican food ever (that honor goes to Albuquerque’s Mary & Tito’s and Silver City’s Kountry Kitchen) I can still award 4.0 Addies for breakfast and 3.5 Addies for lunch.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A City of Rocks

About 30 miles north of Deming, NM, is a short spur road that climbs 100 feet to the top of a small hill that gives a panoramic overview of the surrounding empty Chihuahuan desert prairie.

The grasses of the prairie, well south of though still in sight of the rugged Gila Mountains, present a colorful valley floor--if you look closely for the subtle variations in the browns, yellows, golds, and bronzes.

From the top of the observation hill, we could see a square-mile "city" of columns of rock.

Arrowheads and pottery shards found among the rocks are reminders of the presence of the Mimbres or Membreno Indians who settled the area between 750-1250 A.D. Later, settlements of Apache Indians appeared in this area, and Spanish explorers moved into the area in the 1500s.

Today, campers and hikers are the main groups of visitors among the 50,000 people who tour the City of Rocks State Park each year.

It is believed that these formations were thrown 180 miles from a volcano near Albuquer-que.

It would be even more amazing if these rocks, some of which are 40 feet tall, were thrown into the positions that we now see.

However, while that explanation would have fit a Ripley's "Believe It Or Not" segment very nicely, it overlooks the effects of erosion on the rocks over a period of nearly 35 million years!

Essentially, this assemblage of large rocks is a flat-lying sheet of reddish lava which has been chiseled by the action of water-borne abrasives into the likeness of a city with streets and buildings.

The erosion has produced formations that resemble objects, such as what seems like the giant foam "We're Number 1" finger, and

animals, such as what looks to us like a whale (left center), although the profile of that rock looks more like a whale than when viewed from this angle.

The rock formations at the park are so unique that they are only known to exist in six other places in the world.

Lastly, since the park rests beneath some of the darkest night skies in the country, it was an ideal location for an observatory. The Star Observatory was open for folks to view the recent lunar eclipse.

We have become interested in the prairie over the course of our travels, so we leave you with one more photo of the grasses of the Mimbres Valley.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Inside the Mind of a Rockhound Wannabee

We left Piños Altos (yesterday’s entry) with the story of the town’s founding in my mind: three men stopped in the area for a drink and discovered gold.

I thought to myself: Discovering gold can’t be that easy. . . . Can it?

Returning to our home on wheels, I found some information stating that Deming had been named a "Rock Hunters Paradise.”

“Rock Hunters.” Is that another name for propectors?

Looking over some information about attractions near our home base in Deming (NM), I found a brief description for Rockhound State Park.

No, wait. I think “rockhound” is another way of saying “gem collector”?

Reading further, “Rockhound State Park is popular among rock enthusiasts looking for unique rocks and minerals.”

“Unique rocks” sounds a lot like “gems” to me.

“Visitors can find a variety of rocks and minerals, ranging from silica, quartz crystals, chalcedony, agate, common opal, jasper to thundereggs and geodes.”

OK. I had a small agate collection at one time, and I think geodes are beautiful. But I’d like to know what the others look like. By the way, what do they mean by “find”?

“Visitors are welcome to take 15 pounds of rock . . .

Amazing. So that’s what they mean by “find.” They actually mean “take.” Are they serious?

per person from the park. It was established in 1966 as the first park in the United States that allowed collecting of rocks and minerals for personal use.”

This is really something. That means we could take 30 pounds of gems from the park!

“The remote southwest corner of New Mexico, south of I-10, is one of the least-visited parts of the state--there are few roads or villages, just lifeless mountain ranges separated by desert basins, dry lake beds and lava deposits.”

This is too much. Gems + the opportunity to take 15 pounds of gems per person from the park + few other collectors at the site.

Rockhound State Park is located on the rugged west slope of the Little Florida Mountains 14 miles east of Deming. "Thunder Egg Trail provides spectacular views of the surrounding landscape."

Well, that was certainly true. Looking up to the 7,000-foot peaks and into the valley below offered stunning views.

But we were looking for gems. Our map, however, noted some challenges: "Unmarked Trail to Dig, (which was near the Rock Ledge)" and "Despite the reputation of the park, it is not particularly easy to acquire good mineral specimens."


"Generally, prospectors should come equipped with a large hammer, several chisels and a spade, and be prepared to spend several hours on the hillside."

Actually, I think parks are to be enjoyed, and visitors, as many signs in parks advise, should "Admire the colorful rocks. Take only photos."