Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In a Quandary

We are back in Albuquerque and have only a week. What do we do? Seek new culinary experiences? Revisit our favorites?

We chose the latter (with a couple of exceptions) and today take you to breakfast at one of our favorites--Sophia’s Place.

“There are several reasons Sophia’s Place gifted proprietor and chef Dennis Apodaca…is such an accomplished and innovative restaurateur. Sure, he’s got a very impressive pedigree that includes stints at some of the best restaurants in San Francisco and Santa Fe. True he’s worked for several world-famous, cutting-edge chefs in some of America’s most renown restaurants, but there’s so much more to this rising star than that.

“Apprenticing under luminary chefs may make apparent the genesis of some of his culinary influences, but it’s also obvious that Apodaca loves his craft and plies it with enthusiasm and style” (Gil Garduno at nmgastronome.com/blog/).

Sophia’s is named for the owner’s daughter. His mini-empire has expanded to Ezra’s Place (named for his son) and Jo’s Place (named for his mother Josie). We have eaten at Ezra’s but have yet to visit Jo’s.

As is the norm on a weekend morning, a small line had already formed by the time we arrived. When the doors opened at 9:00, the line had grown to over a dozen and by 9:05 every table inside was taken with the overflow headed to the outdoor patio. And the line was still out the door.

While you can get a few breakfast staples like a breakfast sandwich, egg/meat/potato combo, omelets, and French toast, the remainder of the menu leans toward such Southwest-influenced items as Breakfast Taco, Breakfast Enchiladas, Breakfast Quesadillas, and Huevos Rancheros. Many of these come with your choice of bacon, chicken, steak strips, pork carnitas, or vegetables. Some items like the omelets come with a mixed greens side salad.

On almost every visit, we have both ordered the steak breakfast burrito smothered in green chile. But how many times can I write about the same burrito? So we ventured forth in new and different directions.

Chuck’s choice was the full stack of blue corn pancakes with the restaurant’s homemade piñon butter. Yes, the butter itself is made in house and then combined with piñon nuts (the Mexican version of Italian pignoli). These are not on the regular menu and only occasionally appear on weekends. This was Chuck’s lucky day.

The cakes were light with a light toasted corn flavor. And, especially important to Chuck, they achieved this degree of lightness without an excess of baking soda.

I ordered the Huevos Rancheros, two over easy eggs seated on corn tortillas and then topped with Sophia’s green chile and cheese. For the side meat, I ordered the pork carnitas. Rounding out the plate were sides of beans and Sophia’s breakfast potatoes. The potatoes are thin (1/16th of an inch thick) slices of potato cut into halves or quarters and then fried until they more closely resemble a thick potato chip than an American or home fry. I love them. So must Chuck since he kept stealing them from my plate.

The carnitas were cooked in a spicy red chile and were a close cousin to carne adovado (pork marinated in red chile and then slow cooked) than to carnitas where the cooked pork is roasted at a high heat to achieve a caramelized outer surface. Still, while not your standard carnitas, they were extra juicy and tender.

While eggs are eggs, over easy eggs smothered in Sophia’s green chile take on a whole new dimension. The runny yolk marries with the bright tasting and spicy chile increasing the flavor profile of both. I give Mary and Tito’s (also in Albuquerque) to award for the best red chile in town, but Sophia’s wins the gold star for their green chile.

The one problem with Sophia’s Place? It is always so busy on weekend mornings that you would feel guilty lingering over a cup of coffee. You finish eating and leave since someone is waiting for your seat. This is just one of our 5.0 Addie favorites in the Duke City. (Albuquerque is named the Duke City after the man responsible for its creation, The Duke of Albuquerque, Spain.)

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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