Thursday, October 02, 2008

New Mexico: The Last Frontier

Few things in life are as rewarding as a pretty girl waiting for you by the gate as you get off the plane after a long flight, and in today's world of TSA and protecting us from our freedoms, having anyone waiting for you at the gate is a relic from a bygone era. Happily, Maria's flight arrived before mine and there she was: waiting by the gate as I got off the flight. How nice.

Of course, such a rare occurrence such as this does not go unnoticed by my fellow passengers and I spy envious and longing glances from those around me. Ah, such is this charmed life that I lead...

Which is tempered by the fact that I barely endured the short, 45 minute flight from Denver to Albuquerque - having spent about twenty minutes of the flight in the lavatory trying to flush the McDonald's out of my system.

There are few horrors in the world worse than traveling to a place, such as Albuquerque (land of delicious food), and being burdened with a stomach illness (perhaps Giardiasis). How will I be able to sample the wonders of New Mexico if I can barely last twenty minutes in an airplane?

The beautiful thing about Maria is that she's open to eating. She likes to eat. She likes to sample a variety of dishes and textures. In this respect, we're highly compatible. Plus, her distaste for benign chain restaurants, and her insistence that we never eat at one, warms my heart immensely.

Problem is: I'm struggling. My stomach is fighting an all-out assault on its' system - and losing. A veritable war is going on in my tummy and I'm trying to remain stoic about my condition. It's part shame and part male bravado that propels me forward pretending that all is well on the Western Front. Maybe we can just go to the hotel and crash, I mean, it is nearly midnight in Albuquerque.

"Are you hungry?"

Oh, there it is. The three words I've been dreading. The three words that's code for: "you know, I'm starting to feel hungry so let's go eat." This is a bad time for me to go on an adventure binge but the ramifications of having a hungry and, therefore, grouchy woman on your hands is a difficult proposition. The choice becomes clear: don't go to eat and suffer the grouchiness of a hungry woman, or go grab something to eat and battle to keep the war raging in the tummy at bay. Either way, I suffer and there's no way out of that. But there is one path that leads to a lesser amount of suffering...

Prior to my departure from Baltimore, I did a bit of research into the places we need to check out while in Albuquerque and for late night eating, only one place stood out: Frontier Restaurant. Located on Central across from the University of New Mexico, Frontier is the quintessential New Mexican restaurant. Open now until 1am, the servings are large, the seating area is huge, the food is delicious and there's no one around to bus and clear the tables.

We arrive around midnight and it looks as though an army swept through here. Dozens of tables display the remains of the once hungry masses. Dirty plates, cups and napkins are all over the place. It reminds me of what an archaeological dig might find a millennia from now after our civilization has been wiped out. Odd and strange remnants of the eating habits of the beings that once were.

Maria's BLT Sandwich.

Ordering and getting your food is strictly assembly line. Green lights above the registers flash when the cashier is available, and grouchy locals are at the ready to poke and prod you mercilessly if you zone out and fail to notice the blinking green light. The menu itself is huge and varied. Think "New Mexican Denny's" and you kind of get the gist of what Frontier is all about. There's American comfort food like pancakes, burgers and french fries. There's also Mexican comfort foods like tacos and enchiladas. Top it all off with green chiles and a side of green chile stew and it's decidedly New Mexican.

Maria goes for the BLT and an order of fries. The BLT is nicely done with well-toasted bread and melted American cheese. The fries are typical frozen foodservice fries. Like a true addict of flavor and texture, she wants to know if I feel hungry for onion rings (I do not) and suggests that I can have some of her fries if she can have some of my onion rings. Even though I'm not hungry, I allow myself to be manipulated into ordering onion rings. Such is the power of women.

Unlike the fries, the onion rings are a jewel. Crispy, crusty on the outside and tender on the inside. I love them. I want more of them. I want to douse them in ketchup and pepper them with salt. Bring me more Dr. Pepper, please.

Green Chile Stew with french fries and onion rings.

From my readings, the "must have" dish at Frontier is the Green Chile Stew. It's chiles, ground pork and spices in a rich broth. As I peruse the menu, my stomach quivers in fear of throwing chiles into the mix, but I delude myself into thinking that I'm feeling better and convince myself that I can handle it (even though I know I can't) and go for a small cup of the Green Chile Stew.

Quite simply, it's beautiful. The flavors are a brash mix with the fire of green chiles that slowly (but decidedly) creep up on you then hit you with all their might and fury. My taste buds are dancing, my tongue is ablaze and my stomach just got ambushed.

The Green Chile Stew was everything I had heard about it and then some. I decided to ignore the battle in my stomach and was rewarded handsomely. However, I would have to pay dearly for the next 24 hours...

Frontier Restaurant
2400 Central Avenue SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106

The Misery of McDonald's


That's the only way to describe it.

Utter misery.

Yesterday I left Baltimore on another odyssey. This time to Albuquerque, New Mexico to visit the Trinity Atomic Bomb Site. However, my connection on United was through Denver and while in Denver, I took a wrong turn.

I was hungry. It was 7:30pm or so and I wanted to grab a small bite to eat. The United terminal in Denver is considerably large and there's a variety of eateries to choose from - none of which are entirely compelling. My usual quickie meal in Denver is tacos at Que Bueno! but they're quality has been declining and the offerings didn't look too appetizing.

In the center of the concourse is a French bistro serving all sorts of odd fare. There's a couple of French dishes like onion soup or coq au vin but I didn't want a sit down meal that would cost over twenty bucks. I wanted something quick, cheap, fast and small. Just something to carry me over until I got to Albuquerque. I chose McDonald's.

Having not eaten at McDonald's in months, I thought a cheeseburger Happy Meal would suffice. Small fries, a cheeseburger and a Dr. Pepper. Simple. Quick. Small.

How dumb could I possibly be?

Not fifteen minutes after eating, my stomach was grumbling. I had to use the facilities. Ten minutes later, I emerge and head to my flight.

My usual boarding retinue is to wait until the last moment possible to board. It's a strategic move that keeps my time in the aluminum tube to a minimum while allowing me to choose an open seat (or combination of seats) at the last moment. If I time it correctly, I can be the last person to board - meaning that those three empty seats in row 8 really are empty, and all mine.

As I stood pensively outside the aircraft door, the flight attendant asked me if I was alright. I told her I was fine. She thought I was scared of flying. I wasn't scared - just unsure of the growling in my stomach. But I went ahead anyway.

By flight level 150 (15,000 feet), I had to make my way to the lavatory. It didn't matter that the "fasten seat belt" signs were illuminated. It didn't matter that the plane was still at a climbing attitude. I had to go and I had to go now. Making my way to the back, the same flight attendant commented about the sign. I couldn't wait, I told her, this had to happen now.

Luckily, it's a short flight from Denver to Albuquerque, about 50 minutes. I spent at least 30 of those minutes in the back.

I won't elaborate further except to say that it was a long and excruciatingly miserable night in Albuquerque.