Alibi V.13 No.2 • Jan 8-14, 2004 

Chewing the Fat

Richard Agee on His New Menu at Atomic Cantina

Yeah, it's a bar ... but with food that's not “bar food”

An uncharacteristically blithe Agee.
An uncharacteristically blithe Agee.

When Richard Agee isn't dropping off copies of this paper at a location near you he is the man behind the menu at Atomic Cantina (315 Gold SW, 242-2200). I got him to take a few minutes out of his morning to talk with us about cooking, girls and white truffles.

How long have you been cooking, Richard?

In a commercial kitchen? About 14 years.

And how many different kitchens have you worked in?

Do you really want me to answer that?

Ha! Yes.

More than 20. Probably less than 50.

I wonder, have you had more girlfriends than kitchens or vice-versa?

What? That's a trick question. I've gone out with more girls than that but slept with. ...

Wait, never mind. What's your favorite cookbook?

Without even giving it a thought it would be The Joy of Cooking because it's got everything basic you would ever need. You could pull anything out of the most esoteric cookbook and figure out how to cook it using The Joy.

What's your favorite place in Albuquerque to shop for food?

La Montañita because they get more local produce and generally more great produce. Right now they have four kinds of wild mushrooms and white truffles!

Really, white truffles?

Yeah, 120 bucks a pound. I got three the size of pinballs for about a buck each. [Extensive conversation about truffles, their prices and uses ensues.]

What were your goals in designing a menu for the Atomic Cantina?

I'd heard from a lot of people that this place seems a lot like a bar, not a restaurant. Well I've had some of the best meals in bars! For the food here I wanted to keep it cheap and down to earth so that people weren't confused when they looked at the menu. I mean, we are in a bar. The one thing the owners said they wanted was fish tacos. I knew the only way to do it was to use fresh, soft, corn tortillas. And if I was going to do all that I might as well put an array of Northern Mexican-style tacos on. We decided to do the tacos at happy hour for a dollar a taco. It's been going pretty well.

There's a lot on this menu. French onion soup, enchiladas, fried artichoke wrap. Which items are you most excited about?

My personal favorite is the chile soaker. I came up with that one night when I was drunk. It rules! It's a grilled burger soaked in red chile for a few minutes. You get the full flavor of the chile without killing your mouth or getting chile all over your shirt.

So you're serving at lunch and during happy hour?

Actually, starting Jan. 3 we're going to be serving seven days a week—we'd been turning away a lot of movie-goers on Saturday afternoons. We want to give Downtown workers a new place to eat that's cheap, fast and has really good food. The rest of the day we're making it fun to come in and drink in the afternoon and eat before the music starts cuz this is most importantly a music venue.

Atomic Cantina should be open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon-9 p.m. on the weekend.