We pause at the close of the intensive period of the Great Memphis Barbecue Sandwich Tour for a Special Report from our Senior New Mexico correspondent, Jon Berry. Jon is Nancy’s nephew. He works in Los Alamos or somewhere like that — I’m not sure exactly where. If he were more specific, he’d have to kill me. And if I told you …
Jon was willing to admit that he recently was in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. As Jon reports, Cloudcroft (population 674 in 2010) is a former lumber town at elevation ~9000 feet in the Lincoln National Forest in the Sacramento Mountains 3.5 hours southeast of Albuquerque. The altitude means that it stays in the 70s in the summer, which is a truly wonderful thing in New Mexico. That’s why Cloudcroft has over 500 hotel rooms.
Here’s Jon’s report on Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue.
We arrived there at noon on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend along with hundreds of other people, most of whom rushed into line at Mad Jack’s (no other restaurant seemed to have any line). We weren’t up for the line, but they have a food truck serving presumably the same food in a park next to their restaurant. That was a great option.
Jon got a Chile the Kid sandwich.
The “Chile the Kid” is a combination of three things on a toasted roll: chopped brisket, green chile (the iconic spice of New Mexico), and house BBQ sauce with a definite sweetness to it. Savory, spicy, and sweet, it’s one massive, messy, and magnificent sandwich!
Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue has an excellent pedigree. James Jackson, the owner, is from Lockhart, Texas, and being from Lockhart is a pretty good brisket pedigree in itself. Texas Monthly had a write-up about him, and Texas monthly is not generous with attention to non-Texas barbecue. They wrote that “He nailed the brisket with a hefty bark, good smoke, and just the right amount of tenderness,” and praised the “Chile the Kid sandwich, with rough chunks of chopped brisket mixed with chopped green chiles on a buttered bun. The sweetness of the bun and the heat from the chiles are nicely balanced, and the smoky, salty brisket is as good chopped as it is sliced. The sandwich is a nice nod to New Mexico.”
Nod to New Mexico, indeed. This understates the role of New Mexican green chilis in anything they touch.
Fresh New Mexico green chilis are prodigies of the food world. Go to Hatch, New Mexico, (or, more conveniently, Albuquerque) in the fall after the chili harvest. People all over Albuquerque and around the state have large metal mesh baskets that they rotate over fires on a spit to roast the fresh green chilis.
(That was at the Farmer’s Market in Vail, but you get the idea.) The fall New Mexico air smells almost as good as it would if they were cooking pork over hundreds of wood-fired pits — almost as good as Evergreen, Alabama, the home of Conecuh Sausage, the best smoked sausage in the world, and the best smelling town in the world.
New Mexico green chilis are related to Anaheim peppers — the “New Mexico group” of capsicum annum as opposed to the”Anaheim group.” The New Mexico peppers have far more flavor than the comparatively insipid Anaheim peppers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are hot. Indeed, New Mexico chiles usually are mild, but they can be quite hot, as at Genero’s Cafe in Gallup, New Mexico. Hot or mild, New Mexico green chilis generously spread over, say, enchiladas, makes for a wonderful meal. My favorite dish in New Mexico, where I spent a lot of time litigating voting rights cases on behalf of Navajo and Pueblo voters, was the blue corn cheese and onion enchiladas topped with lots of green chilis and a fried egg at Sadie’s of New Mexico on 4th in Albuquerque. (Sadie’s also has an addictive salsa.)
I’m confident that green chilis would go very well with brisket. The green chili cheeseburger is a great food, and good brisket would welcome them with open arms.
I’ll recommend the Chile the Kid at Mountain Jack’s. Go to Albuquerque. Have dinner at Sadie’s. Get some salsa to bring back to me. Then drive down to Cloudcroft and try a Chile the Kid or some brisket or sausage, or all three. Let me know what you think.
And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box. Or bookmark us and check in from time to time. If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state, or country for good restaurants (in Europe, usually close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event). Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome. And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.