Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Return to the Scene . . .

of some very good meals.

We discovered Peppers Café at the Double Eagle Restaurant last February during an abbreviated visit to Las Cruces and vowed that at some point we would return. This holiday season provided us with two opportunities to enjoy the lovely building and the restaurant’s delicious food.

“The Double Eagle Restaurant and Peppers Café…have played witness to many colorful and historical events, including the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago--which ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, the negotiation and confirmation of the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, Confederate Army occupation in 1861, and the incarceration and trial of Billy the Kid in 1881…. Until acquired by Robert O. Anderson in 1972, the property was a private residence. Anderson is to be con-gratulated for his far-sighted wisdom in preserving this National Registered Historical site. Major restoration was completed in 1984 by the present owner, C. W. “Buddy” Ritter.... The antiques found throughout the building have been painstakingly collected over several years” (from the restaurant’s web site).

Our first visit was a few days before Christmas, and the restaurant was very busy with what appeared to be multiple office holiday parties. So busy that, in addition to patrons being seated in the casual enclosed courtyard, they were also being seated in the small and more formal dining rooms that branch off from the courtyard. It was in one of these rooms that we dined.

In one corner of the room was a large and beautifully decorated Christmas tree. The walls were hung with gilt framed mirrors and paintings. The furniture could grace the most formal of dining rooms. And as a coun-terpoint to this formality was the ceiling with its original and rough hewn beams.

We decided to begin by sharing one of our all-time favorite appetizers, Peppers’ Green Chile Cheese Wontons. Wonton wrappers are stuffed with a mixture of cheese and medium hot green chiles and then fried until the wrappers crackle and the cheese inside becomes warm and oozy. These are served with a dish of pineapple-jalapeno salsa, which, with its balance of sweet and spicy, is the perfect accompaniment for these crispy wonders.

On our previous visits, we had concentrated on the appetizers section of the menu. Today, we decided to explore further. I decided to order the Beef Steak Burrito stuffed with pieces of their house aged beef steak (the Double Eagle has the only beef aging room in New Mexico) and sautéed sliced mushrooms and then dressed with a wine-enriched bordelaise sauce. This was absolutely delicious. The beef was tender and had a deep and complex flavor, the mushrooms never saw the inside of a can, and the rich and intense sauce/gravy would, as Guy Fieri might say, “taste good on a flip flop.”

With this, I had my choice of seasoned rice or french fries. I chose the fries. I got potato salad instead.

I didn’t mind too much, since this was a very good potato salad that contained celery and green bell peppers and a hint of pickle and tossed in a dressing that included sour cream. But that wasn’t the only mistake of our meal.

Chuck ordered the Cactus Roasted BBQ Brisket Plate and was served . . . the BBQ Baby Back Ribs. Since he is not a ribs man, he pointed out the error to our server, and soon the brisket was brought to the table. His brisket was roasted on raw cactus spears in the Guadalajara-style, the cactus was then discarded, and the tenderized beef was thin sliced. I had never heard about the tenderizing quality of cactus, but it really did the job here. “Melt in your mouth” is overused, but that is the only way you can describe this beef. And the honey-chipotle chile BBQ sauce had the same sweet and spicy balance as did the salsa with the wontons.

The kitchen’s mistake worked to our advantage. We were given the rack of ribs to take home, and when reheated they were quite good. And we were comped a dessert and chose to share the Old Fashioned Lemon Ice Box Pie. The graham cracker crust was made with butter and honey, and the filling was tart, but not mouth-puckering, and rich, but not cloying.

The Double Eagle/Peppers Café has been designated Site #42 on the Green Chile Cheeseburger Culinary Trail and boasts of the World’s Largest Green Chile Cheeseburger--a one-and-a-quarter pound seasoned beef patty from the Beef Aging Room with roasted Hatch Green Chile, Mexican Queso Fresco cheese, and Pico De Gallo. So, over a sampling of some warm, crisp nachos and salsa with just the right amount of heat, we decided it was our duty to see how Peppers’ burger matched up against our new favorite--Sparky’s in Hatch.

While we didn’t opt for the world’s largest, Chuck ordered the Mesilla’s “Green Chile Cheeseburger”--a half-pound burger with roasted green chile and cheddar-Monterey jack cheese and a side of fries. Since he didn’t specify the degree of doneness (and our server didn’t ask), it came medium well, and since I am a medium rare kind of person, I thought it was slightly dry and overcooked. Instead of chopped green chiles (like at Sparky’s), this came topped with a large whole chile. That did earn some points from me.

I decided to go in a similar, but different, direction. After a brief flirtation with the Chile Relleno Burger (a tempura battered green chile stuffed with three cheeses split so the melted cheese covers burger), I selected the Greco Burger—a mix of aged ground beef and free-range lamb, grilled and served on an herbed foccacia bun with a Greek Tzatziki cucumber-yogurt sauce.

In the interest of full disclosure, that day I was suffering from the Cold From Hell or a case of the World’s Worst Allergies, and I really couldn’t enjoy anything. But I thought that the patty was bland and boring, and the tzatziki sauce equally so. But I did like the herbed foccacia roll.

Both of our meals came with a side of steak fries. I am not a big fan of steak fries and prefer shoestring fries any day. But I guess they were good--for steak fries.

So whose was better? I give my vote to Sparky’s, but Chuck is “definitely undecided.” I like the flame broiled flavor of Sparky’s, but Chuck liked the “crust” on Peppers.

Would my cold/allergies stop us from ordering dessert? Of course not. We shared one of the restaurant’s house specialties--the Caramel Apple Meltaway Pie. This came on the same buttery honey graham cracker crust as did the Lemon Ice Box Pie and was filled with layers of cinnamon spiced apples, pecans, and cheesecake all topped with whipped cream and toasted pecans. This was a riot of tastes and textures. The apples were still a bit crisp and had just enough cinnamon; the cheesecake was rich and creamy; and the nuts were crunchy.

I don’t know how to rate our two recent visits to Peppers. I know that the kitchen was rushed on our first visit, but that doesn’t excuse two mistakes in one meal. And I know that I shouldn’t penalize them for my cold/allergies. So I guess I’ll award Peppers 4.0 Addies.

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