May 13

Summer Food Drive 2013 W-E Bobcat Bites, Santa Fe, NM

Bobcat Bite in a Former Trading Post.

Bobcat Bite in a Former Trading Post.

I had heard of Bobcat Bite for a few years but was always put off by the name. After being skunked at Pie Town, I was ready to give it a try. When I arrived there were about 40 people waiting in line on a Friday afternoon.

Everyone Wanted a Burger.

Everyone Wanted a Burger.

It turns out that there are two lists. One, the first list, is kept inside. Make sure to stop a server and get on that list. When you progress far enough on the first list, you are “promoted” to the big board. Getting promoted from the list to the board was an accomplishment, or at least an event. We,  the patiently waiting customers, took to congratulating, and joking about, each new “Board Member.”

Finally a "Board Member."

Finally a “Board Member.”

I could spot the regulars because they knew to bring reading material. The rest of us played “watch the list.” We watched it like hawks, err Bobcats, and pretty soon we all knew who each party was. After a bit, there were very few strangers waiting for a burger. The crowd, looked like a rural group but was actually very sophisticated. Conversation ranged from construction/architecture to art (Santa Fe is an arts colony) to last week’s New York Times Magazine. Needless to say with an hour plus wait, we gelled. By the way, take out orders, for those who are not blogging, seemed to go a bit faster.

Bobcat Bite Menu

Bobcat Bite Menu

While waiting I had a chance to read the back of the old-timey menu and get the story behind the unusual name at Bobcat Bite which is currently owned by John and Bonnie Eckre. The building for Bobcat Bite was originally a trading post (see the original beams in the photo below) on the Old Las Vegas Highway (Las Vegas, NM not the other one), and then a gun shop, of all things. The highway became part of Route 66 and Bobcat Bite was launched as a family run restaurant in 1953 by Rene Clayton, who owned Bobcat Ranch, to service the hungry motorists.

Originally Founded by the Owner of Bobcat Ranch

Originally Founded by the Owner of Bobcat Ranch

Rene Clayton’s daughter Mitzi Panzer was the first operator in 1953. It has been a Mom & Pop place ever since. The Eckres took over in 2001. The unusual “Bobcat” name stuck because, before I-25 was built, Bobcats came down from the hills (no doubt drawn by the smell) and were given treats at the back door. As the menu states, “it was one of the few local dining spots that was friendly to Bobcats at the time.” I love that line because it presumes that many more places are bobcat friendly today.
Bobcat Crossing

Bobcat Crossing

So still waiting. What else can I share? Oh, they don’t take credit cards. There are no reservations either.
Interior and Customers at Bobcat Bite

Interior and Customers at Bobcat Bite

So still waiting. What else can I share? Oh, they don’t take credit cards. There are no reservations either. I already knew I was visiting for the Green Chili Cheeseburger, which was voted best in New Mexico, a time or two. It is hard to think about the Menu with so many tasty looking burgers being hustled, right past you, to their proper tables. It was like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, but more the Rhyme of the Ancient Hamburger: “Burgers, Burgers everywhere and nary a bite to eat.”
Finally, I was called up along with “Rus Party of 2, a nice couple from San Diego. The tantalizing was ratcheted up a notch as the fans shot the warm kitchen air, carrying the wonderful smell of grilling onions, down along the counter. We ordered Green Chili Cheese Burgers. The neighbors to our left got theirs. More orders walked up our way only to turn left or right and head to other tables. It was a perfect storm of burger teasing. Finally, the server came our way. She must have had our burgers. She did….sort of.
The Rus Party is served.

The Rus Party is served.

She put down 2 lovely burgers on the narrow counter for The Rus Party of 2. The Pavlovian Response was kicking into overdrive now.
Great Presentation of a 10 oz,  Choice Chuck, Green Chili Burger

Great Presentation of a 10 oz, Choice Chuck, Green Chili Burger

It did arrive. 6 of us in the corner all high-fived. The presentation of the 10 ounce Cheeseburger made from choice-grade Chuck, freshly ground each day, was spot-on. They have used the same recipe for decades. The Beef is also natural and  hormone & antibiotic free. It was a grown up burger (not gimmicky or gooey) showcasing the fresh ground beef. It was juicy (ask for napkins early) and flavorful without being too spicy; then the thick-cut bacon kicked in adding extra punch.
The only issues I had were the thickness and the Green Chili. I have a big mouth, but just not that big. I could not get my chomp on and had to bite around the edges, rotating the burger as I ate. It was both messy and not fulfilling. The Green Chili is diced and a bit tame. You don’t get the hot hit of the proto-typical New Mexican green chili, which is something I was seeking.
For me it was a very good burger, and worth the wait. It was maybe even worth a 50 mile drive, but for me it was not the holy grail. Its like horse racing though, everyone has a favorite. Regulars and tourists keep the small kitchen (150 square feet) pumping out 400 to 450 burgers a day at hefty prices. My check was $16.15 for a Green Chili Cheeseburger with Bacon, home fries (resistable) and a tea. A lot of people love it. Apparently, they ran out of burgers (remember fresh ground daily) the week before.
As I was getting ready to leave, I asked the server about some snippets I had over heard in the dining room but did not credit. It turns out that the snippets were accurate. Bobcat Bite is going to close at this location on June 9th, 2013. They are having a disagreement with the landlord. They are looking for a new spot, but don’t have it yet. They may even change the name.
So for the day I was skunked early and anti-skunked at lunch. A few days later and I would have had another miss.

Bobcat Bite Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Jun 11

Tecolote Cafe – Summer Food Drive 2011

Arriving at the Quirky (and Good) Tecolote Cafe

I was looking forward to my visit to Tecolote Cafe in Santa Fe for spicy, blue corn laden New Mexican food from the Vortex (Santa Fe is reputed/chided for being in an supernatural energy vortex) and I was not dissapointed.

"Tecolote" means Owl in the Nahuatl Aztec Indian Language

Tecolote Cafe is quirky but they know their food and the spirit of the cantankerous New England army cook and founder, Bill Jennison (who passed last May) pervades from the “No Toast” motto to Bill’s son-in-law Matt Adkins who runs the place with his wife Katie. Matt told me the “No Toast” story. Apparently, Bill was a crusty son of Massachusetts who worked around the hospitality business for many years, finally settling in Santa Fe. In the 1980’s Bill decided that Santa Fe, the adobe Disneyland, needed a breakfast spot dedicated to serving fresh LOCAL New Mexican food.
He sought out authentic recipes from his archives, his hospitality colleauges, and long time residents. He sampled the recipes around to his network. They loved the food but were not sure about his breakfast concept. As his former wife, who owned the Guadalopue Cafe and loved the food, but not the operating hours,  queried “Why do you want to be in a breakfast place where you will work yourself to the bone making this fabulous food, only to be answering complaint after complaint about the toast.” Bill had a simple, pragmatic New England answer. “No Toast!” and thus the Tecolote Cafe was born, without toast.

Tecolote Cafe is Quirky & Offbeat but Welcoming. Matt Adkins is seated @ Center

They do have fresh bread, home-made daily, but they don’t waste it on a side, like some of their competitors might.  Instead it only goes into higher value dishes like the French Toast. After Bill booted a few customers who insisted on toast too stridently, the motto became a tongue-in-cheek jibe at the other places, like the Pantry down the road, which do serve a lot of toast. Do you feel a food war coming on?
If I’d known that story when I sat down, I would have ordered French Toast too to have an opinion on the argument, but I had already submitted my request before Matt joined me. I was visiting to sample the Atolé Pinon Hot Cakes ($5.70), which translates as Blue Corn Meal, Pine Nut Pancakes. They sounded authentic and interesting.

Atolé Pinon Pancakes are Literally "Blue."

The first thing I noticed was that my hot cakes were “Blue,” the second was the attention to detail; the maple syrup was served piping hot. The pancakes are a different savory earthy experience that really can grow on you. They are very different in their specific taste, but similar in their adult pancake audacity to those from the Beach Grass Cafe in San Diego (bacon cheddar) that have won some national pancake awards. There is bouncing around from the taste undertones to the taste overtones.
Pine Nuts in Pancakes

The Atolé Piñon Pancake have Piñon (Pine Nuts) in them

As I’d been sitting waiting for the pancakes to arrive, and before Matt joined me, I read the menu and soaked up the “Fanta Se”, vortex conversations in the room. Two women at the table next to me actually uttered these gems. “The messages are in the air. You just have to follow them.” and “If you find yourself stuck deep down in a conundrum, call me. I will be there for you.” I can just imagine one friend phoning the other, from deep down inside a black swirling conundrum and the second friend steadying herself to throw a rope down into the maelstrom, to help haul her pal out. I wonder what I would have picked up at the community table?
While being a traveling food blogger “Aureur” (a new word for an aural voyeur?)  I surveyed the menu, where the printed attention to detail, around the Red Chili and the Green Chili caught my attention. The menu read “Our chiles flucuate from hot, to Very, to Very VERY HOT. So if you are not sure ask your server for a sample. ” That sentence sold me. Mindful that I still had yet another breakfast to eat I ordered an egg with two side dishes of chili: one red and one green.

Red or Green?

The chilis are both smoky with a fine heat that builds. I preferred the red, until I added salt to the green. Matt explained that they add just enough salt to the purely vegetarian chilis to mellow or balance the flavors of the peppers and the Roux. They expect you to salt to taste for yourself. How grown-up is that?
If you are passing through, Tecolote Cafe has been on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives for the Huevos Yuccatan, and won best Huevos Rancheros (in New Mexico) in 2001. When I come back through I am going for the Carne Adovada
P Chef
“The Smartest Way to Learn to Cook™”

Tecolote Cafe on Urbanspoon

Jun 11

Lone Mountain Ranch Second Summer Food Drive Stop 2011 W – E

At Smart Kitchen, we have been working very hard at “putting up” all the exercises of our Lesson 7: Basic Proteins, which includes intriguing information on Wagyu Cattle, the Japanese breed from which the super-flavorful Kobe Beef is made.

With Wagyu beef on my mind, I wrote to Lone Mountain Cattle Company in Golden New Mexico and told them about the Summer Food Drive 2011. To my surprise, Griff Foxley wrote me back and arranged for an invitation to visit the 28,000 acre ranch at 6,800 feet an easy drive from Santa Fe, which has had an interesting history.

Originally part of a Spanish Land grant, the ranch has subsequently been in many hands, including those of the Warden of the State Prison, who arranged field trips to the ranch for his convicts, hard labor field trips. Some of the prisoners’ work still remains, like the old “Main House,” a former building from the Alamosa, Colorado Japanese Internment Camp from WWII, re-purposed  as the owner’s home on the ranch. It served that purpose from 1945 until 2011, when Bob Estrin, the owner built a new modern home.

After navigating a few miles of ranch, I reached the ranch headquarters and pulled up to speak with Stan Hartman, the ranch manager. It turns out, he forgot I was coming but we laughed about it and improvised. I was able to visit, with Stan (maybe interogate) and then shadow him a bit as he worked with his cowboys on the AI program. In the city AI means “artificial intelligence.” On the ranch, “artificial” is in the name but the activity involves helping make new bovine babies. Cows are in heat for only 18 hours every 21 days. Begetting new calves builds the herd and builds future product. Conception is crucial.

Wagyu Cattle in the Pens

Because they are highly prized for their blood lines, each animal is genetically tested and its DNA kept on file with MMI Genomics. It is a different way of doing the beef business which has been a game of weight gain and pounds. Lone Mountain is concentrating on flavor and marbling, hoping to find sustainable profitability in higher quality meat.

"NI" is also practiced at Lone Mountain. Here is an 1800 LB "de-horned" Wagyu Bull

Lone Mountain started with 9 Wagyu Cattle in 2005 and has grown its herd with meticulous breeding, (both AI and natural)  to 300 animals, each insurable for thousands of dollars.

We had time to kill before the AI began so Stan took me on a mini-tour, that covered miles on foot and in Stan’s ranch truck but covered a miniscule portion of the very large property. Stan showed me how they graze cattle on pasture grasses until they are at least 20 months old, but typically older. Wagyu don’t start building the marbling that they are known for, until 20 to 25 months of age. Until then the cow-calf pairs are on the range, under the supervision of Stan and his cowboys but otherwise essentially on their own. Apparently, the imported Japanese cattle can cope with high altitudes, dry climates and predators that can include bears, mountain lions and coyotes.

Wagyu Cattle and Calves on the Range

Around age 30 months the steers identified as beef animals are “fed-out” meaning they are put on a higher ration of hay and grain to put on weight. As we were driving, Stan took me by the new “Main House” to see if Bob, the owner was available.

The Clean, Modern, Asiatic new "Main House"

It turns out that Bob, who is a film editor (River Runs Through It) and also the President of the American Wagyu Association, was in working on genetics and had a moment or two for us. Bob first learned of Wagyu when his daughter took him out for a high end Japanese meal in LA. “They had Kobe on the menu for $128 a serving” Bob tells me and as a rancher in a dry area, he was hooked on the potential margins.

Bob Estrin of Lone Mountain Ranch discussing Genetics & Marbling

Since then, he has boned up on the genetics, grading and marbling. He is a font of knowledge on the subjects that give Wagyu its tenderness and flavor. He was very generous with his timeand we discussed marbling and breeding for a while. I learned a few things that will augment Smart Kitchen’s Kobe and Wagyu sections.

Bob also cautioned me (and us) about the explosion of “Kobe-Style,” and “American Wagyu-Style” burgers being sold for premium prices at restaurants and grocers. If they say style they are not pure Wagyu. There are firm rules on the use of the “Kobe” name but few on the variants which at a minimum have to be only 24.9% Wagyu, with the other 75% being comprised of other breeds like Angus or Hereford. Ground or processed meat products are the easiest to blend and mix, so if you are unsure and want 100% Wagyu stick with steaks or roasts.

Watch out for "American-Style" or "Kobe-Style" on the Label

Bob mentioned that the Mine Shaft restaurant down the road in Madrid (pronounced “Mad-Rid”), NM served 100%Lone Mountain Wagyu Beef Burgers and I was sold on extending my Lone Mountain stop by just one burger’s worth. On the ride back to ranch headquarters Stan regaled me with the benefits and flavor of Wagyu, which has a higher proportion of mono-saturated fat than traditional beef which helps make it more tender. In fact, Stan and his father count their chews on Wagyu steaks and find that a bite disappears in 6-7 chews as compared to 30 chews or more for a Prime Graded steak from another breed.

The Mine Shaft Restaurant in Madrid, NM

As I bid Lone Mountain farewell, I turned right for a detour to Madrid for the Mine Shaft and some Lone Mountain beef.

The 100% Wagyu has a “beefier” taste and cooks more quickly. I really enjoyed the 100% Wagyu burger and can’t wait until Lone Mountain has their consumer direct site online to buy some July 4th burgers. In the meantime, if you have a hankering for Lone Mountain Wagyu, you can find it at fine restaurants like Alexander’s Steak house in the Bay Area.

P Chef

Smart Kitchen

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Sep 10

SalsaFest 2010

At 5 PM September 14, 2010, Safford, AZ trailhead for the Arizona Salsa Trail, celebrates SalsaFest.

We’ve been through Safford, doing part of the Salsa Trail, a few years back. It was an eye opener for the destination, a throwback to another time. The restaurants, housed as they are in some interesting old buildings, are the draw that might get me to go back. And the food was all right, if you like a more traditional (almost historic) version of Mexican in the place we tried. A return trip might uncover another gem.

I wish I could give the food from our choice (thankfully which I have forgotten by name but still remember by geography and can avoid) higher praise but we are a little spoiled by some of the great Mexican Chefs cooking in Phoenix and LA, in the style of Mexico City with fresher ingredients and more improvization. We like Barrio Cafe, in Phoenix, Freida’s in Beverly Hills, Elote Cafe in Sedona, and Richardson’s in Phoenix. And of course there are the road houses, taco joints and burrito havens like The Owl Bar in Socorro, New Mexico, King Taco in LA, Cafe Rio (a small chain), H&H Car Wash in El Paso and one of my favorites for red or green chili, B&E Burrrito in Hatch, New Mexico.

Now I’m thinking Mexican and that the SalsaFest might just get us burning a tank of gas this year, if nothing else to get that much closer to Hatch, NM. If you are in the Sonoran Desert this week, you might want to check it out too.

P Chef

Jul 10

Why a Summer Food Drive?

Holly Springs, MS August 2009

A Great Treasure of Americana: Holly Springs, MS

The return of the Summer Food Drive is fast approaching. Starting tomorrow your P Chef will be hitting the road solo for a few days and thousands of miles of food touring. The drive is shaping up to be about burgers, BBQ & Pie, with a few sightseeing, sleep and gym stops along the way. I love finding an unspoilt gem like Holly Springs, MS above, being overcome with it, like you never want to leave. But then the road (or Mrs. P Chef) calls and 10 minutes later, you’re lost in a new and exciting and infuriating place. See below for that obscure, GPS defing road to the Phillips’ Grocery burger place outside of Holly Springs. 
The road to Phillips Grocery in Holly Springs, MS

The Joy of Searching for the Right Road to that Little Place!

In this instance, after exhausting all possibilities and making a few circuits, the correct road ended up being the little driveway looking thing in the middle. And then once on the right road, another gracious tableau discovered at Phillips’ Grocery, which was built across from a former train station, now abandoned.

Phillips Grocery, Holly Springs, MS

It was a Beautiful Find

The Train Yard at Holly Springs, MS

I was waiting for the Ghost of Casey Jone's to Fly on By

The Front Window of Phillips Grocery est. 1848

You Could Tell it was Est. Before the War 'tween the States

So you drive all this out of the way and you love the look and the  feel. The whole abandoned, pre-civil war, ambience thing is like stumbling on a “Faulkneric” mythical Brigadoon. And then you face the real burning question. You haven’t eaten in 350 miles. What will the food be like? That is the curiousity that kills this cat. And the curiousity that fuels my search, mile after mile and year after year, for another perfect, often unobtainable meal. 

Bacon Cheese Burger @ Phillips Grocery

I was Expecting a Ghost Burger but Got Much Better

In this case the food was good, but not great, not in line with the expectations driven by the distance, or the ambience. In fact the burger was probably decent but got an ambience bump up to “Good” by the whole “Finding Lost Dixie” thing. There should be a 2009 blog post about the actual visit to Phillips’ Grocery, but my point in writing today is to get my psych on for the upcoming miles.