Popeyes' Preamble. Two hawk-eyed readers e-mailed me to point out that the forthcoming Westside Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits isn't the first of its kind in Albuquerque. Apparently, Popeyes moved to the Duke City in the mid-'80s, but quickly folded due to a watery chicken-based market. "With New Mexico's taste for chile, Popeyes' spicy cayenne chicken seemed like a winner," says chowhound Rick, "but with its high prices and four other competitive chicken places within blocks, it didn't stay in business." Ex-pat Gino also remembers the chicken shack's short shelf-life on Juan Tabo and Lomas, and fondly recalls his application for employment there when he was just "a pimply-faced teenager." Gee, when you put it like that, maybe losing yet another fried-food establishment wasn't such a bad thing after all.
The News on Slate Street: Slate Street Café opened its doors this past month, and the deafening whoosh! of Downtown's lunch-happy business and food folk hasn't quieted since. Slate is a quiet, blink-and-you-miss-it avenue between Fifth and Sixth Streets, nestled right in the heart of the legal district. And it's there, housed in the old Sugar Plums building at 515, where you'll find the latest offering from business partners Myra Ghattas and Chef Albert Bilotti (formerly of Al's NYPD and, before that, Kanome). But don't let the "café" part fool you. The menu actually says "bistro" with a Western accent, and the space is huge—about 7,000 square feet, including the large kitchen and catering areas in the back.
Inside, the building has a finished-industrial look with illuminated glass and paper-backed banquets, impossibly high ceilings and a color palate that rests firmly in off-white, green, rust and (what else?) slate gray. Like the space, the food is polished and a little playful. Breakfast offerings include Mexican-style oatmeal and an excellent "green eggs and ham" omelet. Or try the brown bag fish and chips for lunch, and you'll be treated to Guinness stout-battered salmon and house-made chips in a hot brown paper bag. The side of lemon-basil tartar was some of the best we've ever had. It's all very affordable for the level of quality here, with entrées priced between $6 and $10. Go ahead and pair your power lunch with a glass of wine. Co-owner Ghattas is a certified sommelier.
Meanwhile, Back at NYPD. ... Now that Albert Bilotti is out of the NYPD picture, remaining two business partners Carrie Eagle and Joaquin Garofalo have a few ideas in the works for Downtown's pizza authority. The team, who first worked together at Martini Grille more than 10 years ago, plan to renovate the space, adding an enclosed back dining room, an arcade and even beer on tap. "We lose a lot of business in the winter because so much of our seating is out on the patio," says Carrie. "The renovation should take care of that and make NYPD more of a destination spot." Carrie expects to complete the project by the end of the fall.
And Speaking of Pizza Downtown. ... You won't find Tony's Pizza on north Fourth Street anymore (although, honestly, I could never figure out what times to go when it was there anyway). No, Tony's quietly picked up and moved to the old Ermy's Café at 700 Tijeras NW—so quietly, in fact, that we didn't even notice for the first few months. Hey, sorry Tony! You'll find the same New York-style pizza and even those God Father-y high-backed booths, which makes for a charming, if somewhat cramped, space.