Tag Archives: San Antonio

BOSQUE DEL APACHE AND GREEN (RED) CHILE CHEESEBURGERS

Last week we drove south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico. The refuge sits on the bank of the Rio Grande and is one of the largest winter stopovers on the Central Flyway. There are thousands of water birds during the months of November through March. The largest colonies include snow geese, Canada geese, and Sandhill cranes; there are ducks of all sorts as well.

The main shows are always the flight at sunset when the geese and cranes settle in to ponds for safety during the night and then again at sunrise when the birds fly off in clouds to head to feeding grounds throughout the region. We were a little disappointed this year, because the evening spectacle was not as impressive as in the past. In part that is because some of the birds have already begun to head north in the spring migration.

Still, we enjoyed the birds of winter. We saw pintails, shovelers, mallards, many other ducks, and grebes. There were Gamble quails, red-winged blackbirds, herons, roadrunners, dozens of red-tailed hawks, and a merlin. Reportedly there was a trumpeter swan and a bald eagle around, though we didn’t see either one – we have seen them in the past.  We also saw a peccary and a skunk. It was a treat for anyone who enjoys wildlife.

After the evening flight, we stopped for a relaxed meal at the Buckhorn Bar in the nearby hamlet of San Antonio. This one-street town is probably the epicenter for the New Mexico green chile cheeseburger passion. Cafés and greasy spoons all across the state offer their version of this delicacy, but the Buckhorn and its big competitor, the Owl Bar and Café, sit just across the highway from one another, and both have at one time or another vied for the title of best green chile cheeseburger in the world if not the universe. Just down the interstate the McDonald’s and Burger King in Socorro, the largest nearby town, offer their versions of the sandwich, and a local gasoline station also serves a very tasty rendition, so there is no lack of opportunities to enjoy a GCCB, as the locals call it.

The standard question that is asked by the server in any New Mexico roadhouse is, “Red or green?” That means you are supposed to tell him or her whether you want red or green chile on top of whatever you order. If you can’t make up your mind, the standard reply is, “Christmas!” so that you get both red and green chile.

It has always been a puzzle to me as to why there is never a red chile cheeseburger choice, or maybe even better, a Christmas option. This is my effort to correct that culinary deficiency. For the green chile part, I roasted some Anaheim chiles – pretty conventional for a GCCB. For the red chile part, I decided to use chile colorado in two forms: the straight stuff and in mayonnaise. Forty years ago I learned to make chile colorado from our laboratory dishwasher who was from Mexico. This version is a little embellished from that recipe, but it is not very different from practically every recipe out there. The most important thing is to use ground chiles rather than commercial chili powder, which contains a mix of chiles along with garlic and onion powders, cumin and oregano, and probably a bit of MSG. The following recipe makes a lot more sauce than you will need for the cheeseburgers, so think about using the leftovers with fresh corn tortillas for enchiladas or chilaquiles.

RECIPES

Chile Colorado

Ingredients

  • ½ cup ground red chiles (your choice on the heat level)
  • 2½ cups water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, toasted in a small  dry skillet
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crumbled between your hands
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

Method

  1. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chile powder until it darkens lightly and becomes fragrant. Stir frequently and do not allow to scorch. Stir the toasted chile into the water and set aside.
  2. Wipe out the skillet, and return it to medium heat. Heat the oil and add the onions and garlic, stirring until the onion is translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Stir in the chile and water, cumin, and oregano, and bring to the boil. Then reduce to the simmer for 40 minutes until the raw taste of the flour has cooked out and the chiles have mellowed. Adjust the seasoning with salt.
  4. Cool and store in a non-reactive container. (Red chiles can present a challenge for stains)
  5. Makes about 1 pint

Red Chile Mayonnaise

Ingredients

  • ½ cup mayonnaise (homemade or commercial)
  • ¼ cup chile colorado

Method

  1. Combine the mayonnaise and chile colorado
  2. Set aside until ready to use.

Green/Red Chile (Christmas) Cheeseburger

Ingredients

  • 4 good-quality hamburger buns
  • 8 tablespoons red chile mayonnaise
  • 4 Anaheim chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and opened
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons chile colorado
  • 4 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 8 deli slices, cheddar cheese
  • condiments (lettuce, sliced tomatoes, dill pickle chips, ketchup, mustard as desired)

Method

  1. Slice the hamburger buns in half, and spread the cut-side of each half with red chile mayonnaise. Toast on a hot griddle until lightly browned. Set aside.
  2. Make 4 hamburger patties from the ground beef. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Sauté  one side of the 4 hamburger patties on the griddle over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Turn the hamburgers only once. When you turn the hamburgers, coat them with the chile colorado using a pastry brush. Then top, in order, with chopped onion, cheddar cheese, and roasted green chiles. Saute for another 5 minutes or until the hamburgers are done to your liking.
  4. Place the cooked hamburger patties in the prepared buns and serve immediately with condiments as desired.
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ON THE TRAIL OF THE GREEN CHILE CHEESEBURGER

The best green chile cheeseburger I have ever eaten was at Ski Apache near Ruidoso, New Mexico. I realize that there is a situational bias to that statement. Every day during ski season, weather permitting, cooks fired up an outdoor grill close to the lift line. The scents of fresh roasted green chiles and hamburger would drift up the lift line creating hunger pangs that made it hard to unload at the top. Then you had to deal with the wonderful fragrance as you made it down the trail as quickly as possible to get in line for your own burger.

Since then, I have been looking for the perfect green chile cheeseburger. I am not alone in that quest, nor am I the first. In fact, the State of New Mexico has its official Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. New Mexico has an official state cookie – the biscochito – and two official state vegetables – the chile and the pinto bean – but it does not have an official state dish, probably because there are a lot of candidates – enchiladas, Frito pie, fry bread among them. Nor does the state have an official sandwich even though nearly every New Mexican would probably agree that the designation should go to the green chile cheeseburger.

Nobody knows exactly who invented the GCCB. Some say it was the original Blake’s Lotaburger store in Albuquerque. (Blake’s is our local junior McDonald’s or In-N-Out with stores all over the state.) Of course that claim is disputed, and there are several claimants to the honor. Whatever the origins, the GCCB can be found in virtually every city and hamlet across the state, most of them claiming that they have the world’s best GCCB.

The first GCCB to gain national recognition came from the Owl Café in San Antonio, NM, a tiny little town just off Interstate 25. It was made famous by the commentator, Charles Kuralt who discovered it in his journeys around the USA. For years I always stopped at the Owl on my many trips up and down the interstate. Then I discovered Manny’s Buckhorn Tavern, just a short distance  across the road in San Antonio. The rustic outsides, the numerous flashing beer signs and the armada of parked motorcycles suggested that it was not the place to be, but once inside, it felt comfortable and welcoming. Bobby Olguin, Manny’s son and heir was at the flat top behind a partition, frying up Buckhorn Burgers. The solitary middle-aged waitress was scurrying around taking orders, and the stuffed mountain lion and various birds of prey occupied the walls of the back room.

Bobby always stuck his head around the partition to give a welcome, and if things were slow, he would pay a little social visit at your booth. Then things changed. the Buckhorn was discovered by the Food Network and Bobby Flay, who lost a throw-down to Bobby Olguin. After that, there was a long waiting line at the front door and a sign that said, “Please wait to be seated” near the entrance. Bobby hired some cooks to work the flat top so that he could work the dining room, and sadly, the stuffed mountain lion disappeared because Bobby had watched Robert Irvine’s television series about restaurant re-dos. Bobby thought the place needed a face lift and the mountain lion had become too dusty and mangy. Nothing much else has changed, and the GCCBs are as good as they have ever been.

San Antonio, besides being the epicenter of the world of the GCCB is also the gateway to the Bosque del Apache National Bird and Wildlife Refuge. During the winter, birders from all over the world come to watch the hundreds of thousands of sand hill cranes, Canada geese, and snow geese along with bald eagles and numerous other birds. Of course, many of those tourists visit the Owl and the Buckhorn.

One of our previous governors, unwilling to get caught up in the controversy of who had the best GCCB in New Mexico, but wanting to promote the competition and with the encouragement of food writers, suggested the promotion of the GCCB. The Office of Tourism took up the effort in 2009. They created the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, identifying restaurants across the state with noteworthy GCCBs. The list was updated in 2011 with the help of noted Santa Fe cookbook author, Cheryl Alters Jamison, along with other food writers and cooking professionals. Their list included around 200 noteworthy GCCBs. Both the Owl and the Buckhorn recused themselves from any competitions to select the state’s best GCCB. Still, there were lots of potential candidates.

Sparky’s is a perennial favorite. In part that is because the place is in Hatch, home of the world-famous New Mexico green chile.  Bert’s Burger Bowl in Santa Fe is often mentioned as a contender because it has been featured on Guy Fieri’s  “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on the Food Network. Unfortunately, some of the strongest contenders have shuttered their doors. One of my favorites was the Outpost in the town of Carrizozo, just down the road from San Antonio. It was a family biker bar with motorcycles lined up in front, 12-foot rattlesnake skins tacked up on the walls, a terrarium filled with lizards and other desert varmints, and a pool table toward the back of the dining room. They had a wonderful GCCB along with crisp but greasy French fries, but I guess the owner just got tired and decided to close.

The now-closed Outpost in Carrizozo, New Mexico

The now-closed Outpost in Carrizozo, New Mexico

In my view, the Santa Fe Bite stands in a class of its own. It formerly operated as the Bobcat Bite in a tiny little adobe building just off the interstate several miles from Santa Fe. It had quirky hours, and there was always a line waiting for coveted few seats when it was open. After a lease fight with the adobe’s owner, the restaurant relocated to much better, bigger digs in downtown Santa Fe. They are still jammed at lunch time. Their burger is made of 10 ounces of freshly ground sirloin, prepared to your liking. Because it is so big, even for medium rare it takes a while to prepare. Just be patient. You can get it plain, with cheese, with green chile, with bacon, or with all of the above along with fresh house-made potato chips and a side of onion and pickle. Of course, there’s mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise available, but to me that just covers up the great taste. The Santa Fe Bite GCCB is definitely not for the faint-hearted, and you should be prepared to ask for a doggy bag.

Green chile cheeseburger with bacon and house-made potato chips at the Santa Fe Fite

Green chile cheeseburger with bacon and house-made potato chips at the Santa Fe Fite

If you’re interested in following the GCCB Trail, check out the website. You won’t be disappointed wherever your travel takes you.

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