Friday, March 1, 2013

“There’s that News Van Again”

When we lived in Philadelphia, one of the local TV stations promoted its news gathering prowess with that slogan. The point being that this station was everywhere all the time collecting news stories for the 6:00 p.m. broadcast.

About now you are probably asking yourself “So what?” Well, and I am probably stretching the simile here, we have experienced the same phenomena on our many trips to Albuquerque. For some reason, everywhere—well, almost everywhere—we would go took us past Model Pharmacy. And I would say to Chuck “There’s Model Pharmacy Again.”

We learned about Model Pharmacy from our copy of Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood and knew that it was part drug store, part European perfume emporium, and part soda fountain. What we failed to realize is that Model also serves a wide range of lunch items in addition to ice cream confections.

“…Albuquerque’s Model Pharmacy is an anachronism–a genuine throwback to the days in which old fashioned drug counters shared retail space with lunch counters and soda fountains. In every sense, the Model Pharmacy is chronologically out of place as an independently owned, family operated business in a world of corporate conglomerations that dominate the pharmaceutical business (such as the megalithic Walgreen’s store directly across the street)…” (

“…we have everything good to say about Model Pharmacy. Here is a small neighborhood store that seems unaffected by modernization and conglomeration in the retail business. You walk in past an old-fashioned drug counter, past shelves of perfumes, toiletries, and tasteful souvenirs, and behold: a beautiful little dining area where ladies and gents come for breakfast and lunch, or quick snacks at the counter or a scattering of tables” (Michael Stern at

“The most remarkable thing about the Model Pharmacy is not just the wonderful food or superb cobblers. The exceptional thing about this soda fountain-pharmacy combo is that it makes Albuquerque seem so cosmopolitan. Family-owned soda fountains and independent pharmacies have gone the way of dinosaurs, except in one-street towns or urban centers. Where soda fountains still exist, they are apt to be dress-up imitations, like phony diners and haywagon steakhouses” (Charlotte Balcomb Lane at

The dining area consists of counter seating and ten to twelve tables. Nothing fancy here but we did enjoy the collection of mobiles—all of which are for sale—hanging from the ceiling. Chuck was especially taken with the bowler hat and mustache man,

while I coveted the penguins. But, after hearing the prices, we abstained.

“The lunch counter offers several very creative sandwiches and salads along with daily specials. Some of my male friends and their stereotypical male affectations chide me because I enjoy the Model Pharmacy so much while they see it as a ‘ladies’ restaurant.’ Portions are not of the ‘he-men’ size my troglodytic friends love. Much of the menu seems to focus on entrees for well-heeled, (the average sandwich is in the eight dollar price range) health-conscious patrons. The menu’s motto even reads ‘Taste is a matter of choice. Quality is a matter of fact’” (

I started my lunch with a cup of Model’s green chile stew, a robust mix of tender pork, green chiles, tomatoes, onions, carrots, and potatoes. On the side was a warm flour tortilla and I tore off chunks to either dip into the stew or to wrap around morsels of pork.
Along with the green chile cheeseburger, this is what I think of when I think of New Mexico food. This is unique and I haven’t found anything like it anywhere else. While this was not the spiciest version I have eaten (that honor goes to Los Ojos in Jemez Springs, NM), it may have been the most substantial.

To follow my green chile stew, I ordered what “in its annual food and wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine named…one of the city’s 12 yummiest sandwiches” (—the grilled ham and brie on a baguette with roasted red peppers and blackberry mustard. The bread was crusty, the brie was creamy and nutty, and the ham was mildly salty. And what tied this all together was the sweet and tart imparted by the blackberry mustard.

For sides, I could have chosen chips, pasta salad, or a small tossed salad. I chose the latter and it was a combination of micro greens, sprouts, red cabbage, and shredded carrot and garnished with a slice of cucumber and a tomato wedge. The ranch dressing tasted as if it was house made. This was a more complex salad than I would have expected at a lunch counter.

Chuck started his lunch with a lime rickey. Is it coincidence that this morning I was watching Full Court Press on Current TV, and Bill Press had as a guest the owner of a boutique gin distillery in the D.C. area. It seems that the lime rickey was first concocted in D.C. back in the days before air conditioning. It was thought to be a cooling beverage for steamy D.C. summers. The ingredients are gin, fresh squeezed lime juice, and seltzer. Well, we’ll call Chuck’s a “virgin rickey,” since it was made sans alcohol.

His lunch choice was the Gardenburger with caramelized onions and red chile mayo. When he asked the server what went into the burger, all she could tell him was that it contained wheat and barley. This, like the black bean burger at Shelby’s Bistro in Tubac, AZ, had a nice crusty exterior and a soft and almost creamy interior. Alone it might have been bland, but the addition of lettuce, tomato, sprouts, and—especially—the somewhat spicy chile mayo gave it great flavor. And, like me, he chose the salad as his side.

Well, we can’t go to a soda fountain without dessert, can we? No, we can’t. But we passed on the shakes, sundaes, banana splits, and egg creams. What’s an egg cream? Even if you aren’t wondering, I am going to tell you. “The egg cream has an unusual name, especially since it does not contain cream or eggs. It is a drink, invented by Louis Auster in the 19th century. Auster owned a candy shop in Brooklyn, which featured a soda shop. Along with serving traditional sodas, Auster concocted the egg cream, a blend of seltzer water, chocolate syrup, and milk. In taste an egg cream is somewhat similar to an ice cream soda. Some have called it the poor man’s soda...” (

Instead, we ordered what Michael Stern at describes as: “the justly-famous house specialty: hot fruit cobbler. Made with peaches, cherries, or blackberries, big pans of it are set out under spotlights near the counter for all customers to see and admire; and when you order a serving, the aroma of the dish as it is set on the marble counter before you will bowl you over. As for the taste, it is virtually intoxicating, so intensely fruity it reminds us of high-proof dessert wine.”

Our choice that day was between the blackberry or the peach, and we selected the blackberry a la mode. The bowl was full to almost overflowing with the warm and tart cobbler that was perfectly offset by the cold and sweet vanilla ice cream.

This makes two restaurants in a row that we left wondering why it has taken us this many trips to Albuquerque to discover it. We’ll be back on our next trip for another 4.5 Addie experience.

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

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