When I traveled to Albuquerque, N.M., in search of something hot to challenge my palate, I assumed I would be raving about experiencing the kind of fiery moment where the cartoon character takes a bite of something and smoke comes out the back of his head.
Instead, I learned that chile in New Mexico can be as multi-layered as fine wine and does not have to be overly spicy to be appealing. New Mexican chile should not be confused with Texas-style chili (a stew with meat and beans). Instead, in New Mexico, it is an ingredient or sauce and comes in red and green varieties (usually, green is more subtle than red).
On my quest for a chile education I tried several touristy spots. But it was at three venues best known to locals, and all located near Albuquerque’s historic Old Town, where I really got in touch with my “hot” side.
Golden Crown Panderia
Pratt Morales, owner of the Golden Crown Panderia, with a loaf of green chile bread.
// © Fran Golden 2010
When you walk into this local neighborhood bakery, the smells are familiar — from cookies baking and soft notes of vanilla to the scent of rich chocolate. But there’s something else, too, and that something else is green chile, featured in green chile bread, a delicious concoction produced here each day.
The bakery is run by a very enthusiastic father/son baking team and that’s surely part of the charm of the place, which is located in an old residential area.
Pratt Morales, who recently turned 70, started the bakery 35 years ago after getting bored with a career as a certified public accountant. Now, he operates the bakery with his son, Christopher, aged 32, who bakes during the day and dances tango at night. Pratt will tell your clients about his collection of antiques that decorate the place and they shouldn’t be surprised to receive a few hugs after their conversation.
The green chile bread is made with multigrain flour, green chiles (adding just the right bite), tomato, garlic, onion and Parmesan cheese and can be bought in loaves or ordered up in sculptures, including fabulous life-size turkeys for Thanksgiving (mail order is also available). You can watch the baking process from across the glass display cases.
Clients should come for the bread, but also hang out and have a cappuccino and munch on some biscochitos, the official cookie of New Mexico (available in anise, chocolate or cappuccino flavors). Golden Crown also makes pizza with New Mexican green chile crust ($3.99 for an individual size).
1103 Mountain Road NW
Albuquerque, N.M. 87102
The Candy Lady
The Candy Lady herself, Deborrah Ball
// © Fran Golden 2010
Anyone with a sweet tooth needs to stop at The Candy Lady. But don’t think you’re going to avoid chile here, either.
Owner Deborrah Ball serves up New Mexican treats including homemade red or green chile fudge and she makes chile-spiced pecans too — delicious.
The shop’s offerings are, in fact, a combination of savory, sweet, spicy and naughty. It’s the latter that put the place on the map when it first opened in the early 1980s. A customer, returning from a visit to an erotic baker in New York, asked Ball if she too could create some X-rated confections. She did. A church group decided to picket, loudly, against the “obscene” chocolates.
All are friends today, with several of the church group members now regular customers — although, presumably they avoid the corner of the shop set aside with a handmade sign declaring “X-Rated room, by law you must be 18 to enter.”
“Any body part, we can do in chocolate,” Ball proudly noted.
Other handmade treats at The Candy Lady include hard candy, hand-dipped fruits and nut brittle, based on a recipe from Ball’s mother, who started the whole thing selling candy from her house as a sideline. Red or green chile peanut brittle candy are among the varieties.
524 Romero Street
Albuquerque, N.M. 87104
Duran’s Central Pharmacy
Duran’s Central Pharmacy serves up friendly service and authentic New Mexico cuisine. // © Fran Golden 2010
To get to the best place to lunch with locals, you need to walk past aisles of cold medication and beauty products to the back of Duran’s Central Pharmacy. There, you’ll find the real thing when it comes to authentic northern New Mexico cuisine.
For some 45 years, Duran’s has been dishing up such delights as green chile chicken enchiladas and huevos rancheros, both with just the right bite.
The dining area is very casual, with just a few tables inside and more on the patio. Or, clients can grab one of the red stools at the counter, where they can watch as a woman makes tortillas by hand and observe pots loaded with chile boiling on the stove.
Here, people start lining up at noon to get a seat. On my visit, those in line included a local newscaster.
As I dove into a combo plate of taco, enchilada and tamale, with red and green chile and beans ($9.90), and let out an audible “yum,” the waitress told me how she used to come as a customer and liked the atmosphere so much she decided to work here. An elderly couple at the next table chimed in, telling me that they come to Duran’s every week.
The carne adovado (red chile meat stew) actually caused me to sweat slightly, but with great pleasure.
1815 Central Avenue NW
Albuquerque, N.M. 87104