we found “one of the last of a dying breed of real, rustic New Mexico roadhouses” (Karl Moffatt at santafenewmexican.com).
Our plan was to stop in Jemez Springs for lunch at the Stage Stop which we featured in our blog of January 13, 2011. But we were having trouble finding a parking place. Then Chuck spies an open space across the road. Only one problem, that space belonged to a combination restaurant, saloon, and package goods store. This looks like a good place for lunch.
“Though humans have probably inhabited the Jemez Valley since 2500 B.C., recorded history of the area began when the Spaniards arrived in the area in 1540. From then on, Jemez Springs has had an exciting and storied history steeped in sheep wars; disreputable vigilantes, desperadoes and outlaws and wild gaming enterprises.
“In 1912, Moses Abousle-man, a Lebanese immigrant, built a general store that would eventually become the Los Ojos Restaurant and Bar. Los Ojos (“the springs”) retains the appearance of the old western saloon it is, both from its faded adobe facade and its interior which celebrates trophy hunting of local wildlife. A painting on the west wall depicts cowboys standing around a bar, a site duplicated on a daily basis though today’s cowboys generally have more horsepower at their disposal than their old western counterparts” (Gil Garduno at nmgastronome.com).
Los Ojos attracts a diverse clientele--“Bikers, lesbians, old rustic types, scruffy young bourgeois types trying to look non bourgeois, old tourists, younger tourists—it’s fun” (Johnk at yelp.com). Sometimes, the guy sitting next to you at the bar may be a scientist from Los Alamos or a mover and shaker from Santa Fe. It’s that kind of place.
And we all sit and listen to classic country music – Glen Campbell and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” Marty Robbins and “El Paso,” Johnny Cash and “I Walk the Line,” Patsy Cline and ‘I Fall to Pieces,” and Tammy Wynette and “Stand By Your Man.” Admit it. You can’t hear that last one without thinking about Jake and Elwood in The Blues Brothers, can you?
We entered through a side door which led through an anteroom with a stained glass Los Ojos sign. From there, you walk through two small dining rooms before entering the heart of the building—the saloon.
A large fireplace dominated one wall, and it and the split log wainscoting were hung with large Christmas-like lights. These are probably an everyday decoration and not just placed there for the holidays.
Wild West accoutre-ments abound. “In a high-testosterone, taxidermist’s dream sort of way, it shouts ‘fun.’ Trophy animals–bobcats, bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, deer and elk–are mounted on the walls where they share space with antique rifles. Wagon wheel lighting and vintage memorabilia abound” (Gil Garduno at nmgastronome.com).
And if you recognize this dude*, you are as old as I am.
Hanging above our table was the official (or semi-official) occupancy statement. I am intrigued by the use of quotation marks here. Does this mean that they just give the proverbial wink and a nod to the bar’s capacity?
When the server brought our menus, she also presented us with a Dos Ojos postcard of the saloon area saying that anyone entering with a camera must be a tourist. When we questioned the absence of the pool table shown on the postcard, she explained that it had been shoved out of the way for the filming of a TV program. She then explained that an early Brooks & Dunn music video and a French film had used the saloon as an atmospheric background. The latest was a program about Bigfoot for Animal Planet. When Chuck asked about local Bigfoot sightings, she shrugged her shoulders and said: “Some folks have too much time on their hands.”
But Kitty Humbug, upon hearing that Hollywood had come calling, took a seat on one of the wooden barstools (carved with a chainsaw from local logs) and said: “If it worked for Lana Turner, it will work for me.” (She was supposedly discovered sitting at the soda fountain at Schwab’s Pharmacy.)
This place is about so much more than food. But we did stop to have lunch. The menu is a combination of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, “Americana” Specialties, New Mexican selections, and vegetarian options.
Chuck went for the “Americana” chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy and the day’s vegetable. His plate held a large piece of very good breaded and fried steak, and a sauté of crisp cooked vegetables that included broccoli, string beans, red bell peppers, and carrots. But why, when you go to the trouble of producing such excellent vegetables do you ruin the plate with instant mashed potatoes?
I elected the “All Combustible” meal and ordered an appetizer portion of Buffalo Wings and a bowl of Green Chile. (Listed on the menu as a cup for $4.99 and a bowl for $2.99.)
Technically, the wings weren’t true Buffalo-style. They were breaded and fried (Buffalo fries the wings naked) and weren’t tossed in a hot sauce mixture. Rather, the heat was incorporated into the batter. But I don’t like wings tossed in sauce—the skin gets flabby—so I was pleased to see them prepared this way. And they came without celery stalks and with ranch dressing instead of blue cheese. No problem.
My first reaction when seeing the Green Chile was “I ordered a bowl, not the entire soup tureen.” This was a giant bowl of soup. My second reaction was an almost immediate watering of the eyes and running of the nose. Oh my heavens! The chile contained shreds of pork, bits of tomato, and an abundance of Hatch (confirmed by our server) green chiles. How hot was this? Chuck tasted a half spoonful and immediately drank a whole glass of water. Because the heat hit in the back of the mouth, you didn’t notice it at first. But it was delicious. The more you ate the more you wanted. This was the best New Mexico green chile I have ever eaten.
Save for the instant mashed potatoes, this was surprisingly good food for the middle of nowhere. (Jemez Springs has a population around 1500.) We have added Los Ojos to our “we have to come back” list and award it 4.0 Addies.
*That's William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.