Evidence of Evolution

I am not a scientist. I am not a proselyte. I do believe I am a witness to evolution. At least to the evolution of grocery shopping in El Paso.

Over the past few months as a new Whole Foods Market was being built, the Sprouts Farmers Market developed an olive bar, a soup bar and a pretty fair salad and take out entrée bar. Greatly appreciated, but a little out of the way for me. Suddenly, since the Whole Foods opened, the closest and somewhat corporately neglected Albertsons nearest to it has evolved to include a modest soup and salad bar and a fairly decent bulk foods display of grains and nuts.  It even has had a facelift inside and out and is has more varied in all areas than previously. I will give it credit for having a wings bar that has provided last minute suppers at my house. People who are familiar with the Whole Foods concept know about well stocked cold and hot food bars, many prepared foods to take  home and an exhilarating variety of produced and seafood new to us. The evolution in markets here is a good thing for our palates.  Rumors of HEB and Trader Joe’s are floating and we await the next step in evolution in El Paso

I managed to hit both Whole Foods and Albertsons and find the makings for a different and fun dinner. I love the cold bar at Whole Foods.  I can build an interesting salad with lettuces, grains, vegetables and cheeses that lets me have a salad for two without over filling the vegetable drawers in the fridge. It makes salads fun at last! Sometimes the well-stocked olive bar adds a new kick to a salad as does a wonderful cevichi bar.

The other night, I picked up roasted purple and white cauliflower florets, roasted broccoli and mixed greens for my dinner salad. Around the corner at Albertsons I found mushroom agnolotti on sale. The agnolotti are similar to ravioli. The mushroom ones were excellent and I’m be trying the artichoke one’s soon. My luck held out and large shell on shrimp were on sale, too.

This dinner came together quickly.  I let the shrimp sit in a coating of garlic powder while I put the salad  together and made a blistered tomato sauce for the agnolotti.  I pan grilled the shrimp and plated it up for an good evolved meal. I’m getting spoiled by convenience. If I watch myself, I don’t blow the budget with what I bring home (most of the time).

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Dona Lupe’s is a Treasure

Two steps up off Pershing Street near Piedras in Central El Paso is Doña Lupe’s restaurant. You leave behind the glare of the street and enter a cheerful Mexican world of wall murals and brightly painted furniture. After you are enchanted by the decor, you fall in love with the food.

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Yesterday, Nancy was our server.  She and the other staff are super attentive and helpful. Nancy’s great sense of humor makes dining at Doña Lupe’s fun. I wanted something light so I ordered the fajita salad. They were kind enough to change the menu’s chicken  to beef on the salad for me.

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Beef fajita salad with a little jalapeño salsa at Dona Lupe’s… delicious!

We were seated where could watch the ladies in the kitchen work on our lunch. Lorena Vicente was busy with my salad. I watched her arrange the greens and the carefully place the toppings. She is a plating artist! Beautiful mixed greens, beef fajita strips, tomato, red onion, mushrooms and avocado were a pleasure for the eyes. A little homemade jalapeño salad added a little kick.

Lunch started with a cup of sopa de albondigas – meatball soup in a vegetable broth. A hint of cumin in the meatballs was a nice accent.  Of course there were tostadas and jalapeño salsa on the table, this is El Paso!

Doña Lupe offers the gamut of traditional El Paso Mexican dishes – enchiladas, tacos, mole and more. You just have to keep coming back so you can work you way through the entire menu. My lunch buddy had the chile verde con carne with beans and rice.  It looked tempting, but I was more than happy with my beautiful custom built salad!

Doña Lupes at 2919 Persing is great for lunch.  I’m going to have to drive a cross town soon to try their breakfast menu.

 

 

 

 

Tosca Stone Oven Pizzeria – Always a High Note

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That’s me parked by the front door at Tosca Stone Oven Pizzeeria at 4017 N. Mesa, ready for a great dining experience.

It has been a pleasure watching Tosca Stone Oven Pizzeria (4017 N. Mesa) evolve over the past couple of years.  It was build on a solid foundation laid by the Sunset Pizzeria which had the best crust in town. The magic has been watching Tosca expand its menu beyond its Sunset roots in pizzas and salads to include calzone, pasta, soups and outstanding desserts.

Tosca’s Italian roots include an excellent marinara sauce for both their pizzas and pastas and some very exciting white pizza options. Many restaurants in El Paso, put a few pickled jalapeño slices or a little chopped green chile on something and call it special. What excites this Gringo Gourmet and supports my chile addiction is the way the Tosca chef’s have crafted the use of chiles into recipes that make you want to work your way through the entire menu.

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Pedro is a expert at tossing and spinning pizza dough into a perfect base for Tosca pizzas.

I love white pizzas.  My favorite at Tosca is the Green Devil – that wonderful Tosca crust topped with roasted poblanos, long green chiles, zucchini, pine nuts and a seranno sauce.  Fantastic flavors melt in your mouth and make your eyes roll back in your head. Right up there with the Green Devil is the green chile chicken pizza.

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Paulo pulls a green chile chicken pizza from the stone oven.

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Green chile chicken pizza – without the motion blur.

In a more traditional style, my favorite red pizza is the Rustica – prosciutto, artichokes and a three olive medley on that amazing marinara sauce.

While I rave about Tosca’s pizzas, I have to share the spotlight with some of their other great creations.

I dearly love mussels and frequently order mussel appetizers and side salad as a meal in Italian restaurants. Tosca has taken mussels to a higher plane with their Mussel Beach pasta.  Spinach pappardelle pasta cooked perfectly al dente, mussels, scallops, and shrimp in a spicy marinara sauce liberally sprinkled with parmesan cheese made my Sunday night dinner one to remember! There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this dish!

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Mussel Beach is a new Tosca favorite for me!

Not to be outdone in menu experimentation, my friend, Jack, had to try the green chile chicken pannini – chicken, long green chiles and Swiss cheese with a lemon parsley mojo had him raving.

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Tosca roasted potatoes are the perfect accompaniment for a green chile and chicken pannini.

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Alex keeps things moving smoothly and sets the bar for great service at Tosca.

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Lisa, Cody and Alejandra provide knowledgeable, friendly service and personal attention to guests at Tosca.

One must save room for dessert at Tosca.  The créme brûlée is so good that I had to dive in before shooting the picture.

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Silky smooth custard and a perfect sugar glaze make a wonderful  creme brûlée.

Tosca also has a craft beer and wine bar that we will explore in another post. Until then, visit and savor Tosca.

 

Food Trucks Rock

As in most big cities food trucks are becoming the rage in El Paso.  I’m fascinated by these mobile kitchens, the people who own and staff them, the menus and the whole experience.  Fantastic food prepared fresh before your eyes in a carnival-like atmosphere of happy eaters is quite an experience. These modern food trucks and the fare they dish up are a far cry from the old “roach coach” burrito trucks of yesteryear.  (They are still around, though.)  This new generation are true mobile kitchens, some with appliances I’d love to have in my home kitchen.

Robyn Renner and Lisa Noe started the Red, White and Chew Mobile Food Truck just 3 months ago.  I discovered them at Food Truck Friday on a Title Max Parking lot on the West Side.  They specialize in great pizzas and calzones.

Robyn is the creative chef who invents special recipes and executes them beautifully.

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The t-shirt reads, “BECAUSE BEING A FREAKIN’ AWSOME CULINARY BAD ASS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL JOB TITLE.” Robyn is one freakin’ culinary bad ass in my book!

I almost missed a photo op when another customer got up his Mac and Cheese Pulled Pork pizza. You can see it at the bottom right of the photo just before he picked it up and dashed off to find a table.

My first experience with Red White and Chew was Robyn’s fantastic muffaletta calzone stuffed with ham, olives, artichokes and cheeses with a marinara dipping sauce on the side.  Last night, I tried the Pesto Porker pizza.  The delightfully chewy home made pizza crust topped with pesto and roasted garlic and a combination of  sausage crumbles, pepperoni slices and diced smoked ham and more pesto drizzles was almost too rich.  It’s explosion of diverse flavors with the bite of roasted garlic and pesto kept me going until I ate the whole thing. I’ll have to do penance with the veggie pizza next time!

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Red, White and Chew’s Pesto Porker. Sorry about the lighting – the photo was shot on a folding table in a parking lot with an iPhone. Trust me, it was a beautiful and delicious pizza.

Look out, Robyn, I’ll be back!

Still Lovin’ Sabertooth and Their Neighboring Hope and Anchor

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Sabertooth and what a great place it is.  Eclectic menu! Great flavors! Talented Chef and Staff!  It remains a real favorite.

Sabertooth is adjacent to the Hope and Anchor Bar.  You can go to the bar, get a beverage and take in to the 24 seat restaurant.  Or, waitstaff from the restaurant will take your order and serve you in the bar.  It’s a good deal, either way.

Last night, we went to the Hope and Anchor because the restaurant was full.  We ate on the patio and it was a good experience.  Since it was the middle of the week, we didn’t get carded and tossed out for being too old in a place that is very popular with the younger crowd.  It was a good experience and one we’ll repeat.

I had my favorite nopalito and corn stuffed chiles rellenos as a birthday treat. See how good they are! Jack had the pulled pork tacos and a side of ranchero beans.

Look out, Kassandra and crew, we’ll be back!

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Sabertooth’s chiles rellenos – before.

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Sabertooth’s chiles rellenos – after.

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Pulled pork tacos with red cabbage, avocado crema and a squeeze of lime.

 

 

 

SABERTOOTH – an Amazing Discovery

Some things are so good you have to share them.

Thursday night was a night of things to!  The Shootist played at the Plaza Film Festival.  Great John Wayne movie! It ended about 9:00 and we set out to find a bite to eat. For some time, I’ve been driving down Mesa and seeing the sign for Sabertooh Food Co. a new restaurant in what was a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream store when I was a teenager.  I’d been curious about it and it was open.  We went in and were WOWED!!!

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It is a tiny place.  Just 24 seats. Its patrons staff are on the young side.  They are casually dressed and boast an assortment of hair styles, more than a few tattoos and the occasional piercing. Fortunately, they welcomed a couple of senior citizens. The didn’t card us or throw us out for being too old!

The kitchen is open and you can enjoy watching the chef and crew prepare your meal.  I love open kitchens in restaurants and always manage to pick up a few new cooking tips and ideas when I get close to working professionals. The night crew allowed me to take their pictures.

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I have to confess, I was so intrigued by the atmosphere and the kitchen and the menu as a whole that I didn’t take food pictures Thursday night.  I remedied that the next day.

The menu is eclectic and enticing.  Thursday night I ordered a “Border Treats” appetizer.  It was spears of jicama and cucumber served in a tumbler with a chile-lime sauce.  Just the right combination of heat and acid to make the jicama and cucumber a great refresher and good way to get the palate ready for main event.

I enjoyed a falafel sandwich on pita bread. The generously portioned sandwich included hummus, tzatziki, cabbage and arugula. The vegetables were crisp.  The falafel was fried when I ordered.  The hummus made we want to order it as an appetizer on another visit.  There was a little bite to the tzatziki that was a pleasant surprise.

My friend, Jack, had the jalapeño bacon burger.  It comes with a side of fresh cut fries that are crisp on the outside, tender on the inside and and lightly seasoned with a house blend of spices.  Once you try them, you’ll never order fast food chain fries again!   The burger patty was thick and cooked to medium rare perfection.  Topped with greens, tomato, sliced avocado and a cilantro lime aioli and served on a toasted buttered bun, it was hamburger bliss.  Jack later complained that he ate too much for the hour.  I reminded him that no one forced him to eat half the appetizer and everything on his platter except the one fry I was allowed to taste!

Sabertooth’s motto is “Feed Your Savage Hunger.”

The diverse menu offers something for savage omnivores like me and items for my  savage vegetarian and vegan friends. Please note that I’ve had vegetarian meals both times I’ ve been there just because they sounded so good on the menu!

The menu includes a marinated portobello sandwich topped with herbed feta and greens;and a vegan quinoa lettuce wrap of crunchy veggies with a spicy peanut soy dressing appeal the Meatless Monday side.  A pulled pork torta with avocado sauce and a mango salsa is on my must try list. I watched one of the line cooks work on marinating skirt steak for the fajita stake sandwich which put that on my list, too.

The desert menu includes, but is not limited to, the Sabertooth Elvis – a sandwich of peanut butter, homemade jam and banana dipped in tempura batter and fried.  If you want to live dangerously, you can add bacon to the sandwich.  And, no, I I have not had the Elvis, yet.

I am the Gringo Gourmet with a penchant for all things nopales (prickly pear cactus)…  I went back for lunch on Friday just to try the chiles rellenos stuffed with finely diced nopales, and roasted corn in a wonderful cilantro cream sauce. The rellenos were egg battered, deep fried and topped with cotija chese and an avocado drizzle. They are served with a mound of azafron tinted rice.  My mouth waters at the memory.

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Chiles Rellenos from Sabettooth. I will try to replicate them or at least approximate them. They are good enough to make your eyes roll back in your head!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just had to include a closeup of the relleno filling of nopales and corn in cilantro cream. The relleno is topped with crumbled cotija cheese and diced tomato.

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Pulled pork tacos with crisp red cabbage, cilantro and avocado sauce.

Jack came along and had the pulled pork tacos.  He raved about them with every bite.

he restaurant is next door to the Hope and Anchor Bar.  That building housed a nursery and flowershop 50 years ago when I was enjoyed the ice cream shop next door.  Right now, if you want a drink, you may purchase it at the bar and bring it into the restaurant.  The restaurant staff will serve your meal in the bar.  Convenient either way.

I am enchanted with Sabertooth. Its atmosphere is friendly and fresh compared to many tiny restaurants.  The menu is varied and original.  It shows that the owner and chef have worked in some of the better restaurants in town and learned many things that helped them to create a great dining experience.  They have taken the time to train their cooks well and have taught the waitstaff how to provide efficient, attentive, but not intrusive service.  The overall experience would work as well in a softly lighted white tablecloth setting.  It is more exciting the way they have chosen to make it colorful and lively as well as delicious.

Sabertooth Food Co. is at 4012 N. Mesa, Ste. B.  They open at 11:30 a.m. and stay open late – very late on Friday and Saturday.  They are closed on Sunday.

I hope you’ll give them a try and satisfy your savage hunger as well as I did mine!

 

Sofi’s Does it Right!!

In a border town with a Mexican restaurant seemingly on every corner you find lots of good ones.  And occasionally an exceptional one that keeps drawing you back.

One of my favorites is Sofi’s.  It’s on the small side.  It features homestyle cooking.  Sofi is there almost all the time making sure it is maintaining quality food.  Service can be a little on the casual side, but the food more than makes up for any of that. Sofi’s is in a strip mall on Crossroads close to Doniphan on the West Side.

One of my favorite Mexican treats is sopes.  A sope (it is pronounced so-pay) is a cornmeal masa base topped with a choice of fillings and garnishes. Masa is dried field corn that is treated with slaked lime to loosen the hull from the kernels.  If it us used wet, it is just masa.  If it is dried and packaged, it is called masa harina (flour).  Masa harina is transformed into corn tortillas, tamales and other familiar Mexican food staples.  Some cooks bake their sopes on a griddle, others deep fry them.  At Sofi’s, a little red chile power is mixed in the masa, the bases are formed and fried so they have a nice texture to them.  I chose deshebrada – shredded roast beef – for my sopes.

The platter arrived with sides of beans and rise and containers of creama (a thinned sour cream), creama con aguacate (creama and avocado mixture) and a red chile sauce.  Half a lime to squeeze over the sopes makes  them even better.  Sofi’s serves a killer good salsa and tostadas as an appetizer, so it is a good thing that the serving includes three sopes.  I could have the table salsa on one and the three sauces on the other two.

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The platter arrives.  Yes, this is a single serving.

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A sope en estilo bandera Mexicana – a sope Mexican Flag style, red, white and green.

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A sope disected:  the masa base topped with shredded beef, lettuce tomato and red chile sauce and a squeeze of lime.

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Yes.  It was all good.  Try Sofi’s.  You, too will love the food.