Alibi V.24 No.17 • April 23-29, 2015 

A Drinkable Feast

Albuquerque, Give Me Some Of You

Celebrating John Fante with a rye ale, a green chile panini and Ask the Dust

The American West holds a significant literary fascination. There’s something haunting, even intoxicating, about the desolate expanses, rugged countryside and arid steppes we all know and love. Generations have tried to capture it, yet no matter how beautifully rendered, it can hardly be said that it’s ever been fully encapsulated.

Such is the mystery and the majesty. Some writers, however, have come close. So in recognition of John Fante’s birthday, ADF takes a sup and a bite in celebration of his most famous novel.

Book: Ask the Dust

For my money, there’s no better novel about Los Angeles or the American West. Equal parts delusion and salvation, the journey of Arturo Bandini from nobody dreamer to published novelist embroiled in a doomed love-affair embodies the very same Manifest Destiny that saw the country stretch from ocean to ocean. Originally published in 1939 to lukewarm reviews but enough sales to push it into paperback, the book eventually fell out of print (it’s been theorized that many early copies went the way of paper drives for the war effort)—leaving it to quietly slip into near-oblivion. It was later rescued by ADF favorite Charles Bukowski, who read it while bumming about penniless in the LA Public Library. Bukowski and Black Sparrow Press plucked it from obscurity in time for a dying John Fante to see it and his other books back in print for the first time in decades.

Bandini, the lowly struggling writer of immigrant parents, is a misguided misfit—one both self-loathing and vulnerable, and at turns, pugnacious and cruel. In poverty-torn, Depression-era Los Angeles, the semi-autobiographical story (like the man who wrote it) is maddening and wildly entertaining, clumsy and radiant. And while it’s fair to say some of the interracial undertones haven’t aged as well as those of systemic inequality, the star-crossed love triangle is every bit as feisty and engaging as those offered up in literature today. And I defy anyone to find a better last page in the past 75 years.

In short, it’s another beer Albuquerque can brag about, and one that will stay with you long after the glass has run dry.

Beer: La Cumbre’s Red Ryeot

Fierce and brash, La Cumbre (like Fante) delivers a consistently innovative product. Their newest canned tallboy, the Red Ryeot is touted as “A Burqueño Red Ale” and, like Ask the Dust, is gorgeous inside and out. Maybe it was my idiot-pour, but the thick creamy head had serious staying power, hardly lacing the glass at all. The beer is a cloudy, tantalizing, sunburnt amber. There’s lots of sap on the nose with big lacquer-y spice in the first sip, and bright and roasty hops to balance it all. A crisp, slightly sweet pucker lingers on the tongue, softened a touch by the carbonation. The long, slow finish is very sturdy. In short, it’s another beer Albuquerque can brag about, and one that will stay with you long after the glass has run dry.

Bite: Joe Mama's Green Chile Meatball Panini

Bandini is an Italian-American gone West in search of fame and fortune, as is this green chile meatball panini from Joe Mama’s Food Truck. It’s a competent blend of Italian and Western-American flavors, starting with four big ol' honkin' green chile meatballs (a perfectly cooked medium+ by the way), with a light pepper jack cheese to keep tomato slices, red onions and a pinch of fresh cilantro in place. It’s all wrapped up in slices of thin, butter-toasted, flour-dusted sourdough—delivering a sandwich that will stick to your ribs. If spice and heat is your cup of tea, ramp it up with a quick slather of Sriracha. You can find Joe Mama at Truckin’ Tuesdays—a lunch hour on Civic Plaza that hosts a pod of different food trucks every other week.

So hoist a few, folks, in celebration of food, drink and literature—and the hope that someone out there writing about Albuquerque has a few lines as monstrously good as Fante’s about Los Angeles: “Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town!” Now get crackin’, you drunken dreamers!