Occitania is a cultural region centered on the narrowest part of the Iberian Peninsula. It includes Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, rugged mountains, fertile valleys, and grape terrace-filled hills. This land of figs and fish is mostly French but includes parts of Spain and Italy. The Northern Italian restaurant Torinos’ @ Home, off Jefferson in the Journal Center, is the next best thing to a plane ticket to Occitania’s northeast corner.
Only about eight booths long, the Cuba Farmers’ Market has a big heart. And since there’s not always enough booty to go around, getting there early is recommended. Cuba is a hub for a large, beautiful and funky area. The market is a distillation of the surrounding mountains, canyons, valley and scrubland, and it foments a sense of community that’s been waiting to happen. Locals are “over the moon about it,” says Shari Smoker of the UNM Prevention Research Center, which helped create the market last year. “They just love it so much. It’s giving people a place to have a sense of community and talk to their neighbors and get to know their growers.”
Pastoral paintings of thoughtful, grass-chomping cows adorn the red walls of Albuquerque’s brand-new designer burger joint, bRgR. The restaurant’s lineup of burger names could double as the course catalog of a tantric yoga ashram, including (in order of the stages of spiritual growth) the Harmonic, Elation, Euphoria, Jubilation, Ecstasy, Nirvana and, finally, Enlightenment. The beef, which is grass-fed and grain-finished, comes from Heritage Ranch, a national beef company that matches local beef producers with consumers, state by state.
The most local salads in town might come from a bakery. An indoor growing operation—lights, fans, reflectors and of course plants—was germinated in the west end of Golden Crown Panadería last April. For the counter staff, it's almost too local for comfort, as the expanding tangle of greens, tomatoes and peppers is growing into their workspace. If you order one of the appropriately named “huge” salads, they find the scissors and start snipping. They also make one of the best loaves of green chile bread on the planet.
Throughout the growing season, New Mexico is home to fresh food markets every day of the week. You can follow the progression of summer by watching the diversity of produce unfold like a kaleidoscope on vendors’ tables. And you can travel to markets around the state and marvel at the differences that elevation and latitude make in what can be grown.
The Urban Store has been open since January and is the brainchild of Kathy Isaacson and co-owner Chuck Alex. The Nob Hill shop, on Silver, is deceptively ordinary. Issacson sports a T-shirt bearing the store’s working philosophy—“grow, eat, return.” How simple is that?
If you had to pick a single Albuquerque street on which to dine for the rest of your life, you could do worse than Fourth. The diversity of restaurants on this North Valley artery is matched by a uniform unpretentiousness, as if by some silent but Spanglish-speaking truce. Dennis Apodaca has built a restaurant empire on a single half-mile stretch of that pavement. First came Sophia’s Place, named after his daughter. Then came Ezra’s Place, named after his son. And finally Jo’s Place, named after his mom, joined the block party in March.
Meat, of all the ingredients a restaurant serves, is arguably the most deserving of care in how it is sourced. Unless, perhaps, the name of the restaurant in question is Cafe Green. At the three-year-old Downtown breakfast and lunch joint, the greens of both the salad and the chile persuasions are local. And some of the meat on the menu is too, if you consider Pueblo, Colo, to be local. (We do.)
Last week I explained the new direction this review column is taking, including the fact that I’ll no longer be eating or writing about mystery meat. There are many shades of mystery, and this simple-sounding mandate was tested numerous times during my first attempt to follow it at Five Star Burgers—with tasty results.
I’m tagging along with Michael Foltz and Marissa Evans visiting feed suppliers in the North and South Valleys. Today’s the day to populate the backyard coop Foltz has been building for the past few months using mostly recycled wood and fittings. It’s a cozy roost to house seven or eight birds, with a run protected by chicken wire. A nice little goat-fence-style gate opens into the small enclosure.
The Alibi's new local-centric mandate for food criticism
By Ari LeVaux
At the Alibi, we’ve always had high standards for the food we cover, and now we’re aiming higher—by turning our gaze down upon the earth beneath our feet and toward local foods. Without abandoning the appreciation of good cooking, we're expanding our criteria to include the processes that bring the ingredients to the kitchen—an area where too much food criticism, and too many restaurants, fall short. Welcome to Locovore.
When the roosters get tough, the tough make coq au vin
By Ari LeVaux
Coq au vin, literally “rooster in wine,” is a recipe that can be simple or complex. My version is geared toward those starting with a big, tough old rooster in the yard, but it works with any chicken. An old hen would also do the trick, but I don't kill my hens. So that leaves the roosters, the meaner the better.
Urban farmers take living well into their own hands
By Christie Chisholm
A colony of 80,000 bees holds enough sting to kill you—actually, it holds enough to kill about 80 of you. But sitting a few feet away from a hive that’s nearly as tall as she is, Chantal Foster is unfazed as yellow-and-black honeybees whiz by on a pollen-fueled highway. Maybe it’s because, with rare exception, the potentially deadly flying insects seem to have no interest in her. The bees are on a mission, and it’s about getting frisky with flowers, not ferocious with humans.
Searching for the best crops to plant with garlic, Ari LeVaux developed a technique called "tossing seeds randomly." He put all the seeds he didn't get around to planting last year into a jar, shook it up and threw them by handfuls. This experiment produced the "garlic patch friends" and a springtime strategy for maximum yields.