Food, History and a Fun People Encounter!
In the heart of Albuquerque's historic Old Town, sits a sweet little house with a bunch of dining rooms. Don and I visited last September and had a fine time!
Dating Back to the 1700's
The restaurant in our book was housed in what was once a hacienda belonging to Don Manuel Armijo and his family. The rambling, Pueblo-Spanish style building sits across from the Plaza that was once the bustling center of life in the 1700's.
This is how the casa looked in 1935, long after the Armijo Family left. The second story was evidently added to the structure around 1872, when one of the daughters got married and needed a dramatic stairway.
Under the Portal
When we arrived last fall, the long portal was offering shade for the Native American vendors selling their crafts. We took a peek, but moved towards the door near the corner... hungry for lunch.
The building was divided into 6 dining rooms, with hints of what the old home must have been like. I took a good look at the classic stairway that was imported from Spain, after the second floor was added. This allowed the young bride an impressive way to show off her 30-foot wedding train.
I asked if we could be seated in the dining room with the tree, since I'd seen it in the almost cartoonish cookbook illustration. The tree room had once been the courtyard. It was enclosed with a skylight back in the thirties when La Placita opened.
Windows and Doors
Our young waiter, Matt was happy to seat us at a table on the raised terrance beside the tree. The nearby window once gave a peek inside the house. Now the glass was covered in painted flower designs. The doorway into the next dining room revealed the 4-inch thick walls. I wonder how many coats of paint have gone on that wood trim.
Menu and Book
I loved the vintage photos on the menu. It could have been the same menu cover given to the writer/ illustrator who visited the restaurant over 65 years ago, for the Ford cookbook. The book's recipe for Sopapillas called for lard and the illustration showed a smaller tree. But at least I found sopapillas on the menu. Often restaurants no longer serve the recipes that are featured.
The illustration showed a fireplace covering half the wall. I had to hunt a bit for that fireplace, but I found it.
There were corner fireplaces in many of the rooms. These had once been used for "top of the stove" cooking, while the baking had been done outside in cone-shaped, mud ovens. This fireplace behind the bar was used for stacking wine carafes.
Dining With a Tree
For a while no one else was in our dining room. I had expected tons of tourists in this festive part of town. But eventually some others diner arrived and became interested in the cookbook they saw on our table.
The trunk today, looked to be about 4 feet in diameter. The branches lifted up through a metal portion of the skylight. The branches above the roof, swayed in the breeze and cast odd shadows in the room. A leaf or two had managed to drop onto the brick floor.
meal was hearing from Matt that many recipes are still used from the day when La Placita first opened in 1931. The same family still runs the restaurant.
I obviously was dressed for my dining adventure on this day. Luckily I didn't burn myself on the scalding little pillows off goodness. And I also managed to keep the drippy honey off my embroidered blouse... bought 20 years ago at a thrift shop and used for very special occasions. What a yummy and sticky treat!
Our Waiter, Matt
I was delighted when Matt saw our cookbook and laughed. He actually recognized it! He said he had been working at La Placita for 10 years, starting in high school. He was sad that his days with the La Placita family might be coming to an end soon. He had just graduated from college
He couldn't rave enough about the family who owns the restaurant. His favorite working memories revolved around Christmas and the festive decorations and the families who came every year on Christmas Eve and posed beside the tree. It made me want to come back in December.
Best Server on Trip
"From: Matt (Top Candidate for Best Server Award) September 24, 2105
Yep, Matt won!
The New Building
As we headed into Hot Springs, we spotted the neon sign and building, totally surrounded by cars. This oasis of white washed stucco and neon has been the home of McClard's BBQ since 1942. The original business opened just down the road, in 1928.
A Packed House
We headed through the lot, towards the corner door, under the metal awning. We stepped inside to find the 3-room restaurant packed. It was a seat yourself place with others waiting. At least the bustling staff did help point out tables as they opened.
We thought about sitting at the counter, which might have given us a more authentic experience. But there was no room there either.
Locals or Tourists?
We didn't have to wait long before we were seated in a booth, surrounded by diners, feasting on bbq! We noticed a lot of talking between tables, but determined they were not all chatty locals. Many of the dining folk belonged to the same club... of Corvette drivers who were enjoying the annual Corvette Arkansas Weekend.
Alex and Alice McClard
There were lots of photos on display, showing Alex and Alice in their white aprons and posing in front of their building. I'll bet back in the day, when things got really hopping and orders were being hollered, those nearly matching names could have been a problem. Alex's great grandson, Scott McClard is now running the business. Hopefully Scott doesn't have a wife named Scout or he could have the same issues.
More Stuff on the Walls
The most obvious might be President Clinton, since he once lived in Hot Springs. Most of the celebs would not impress anyone under the age of 50... Jerry Van Dyke for example.
The hickory smoked, pork ribs were pretty amazing with a crispy outside and a moist & meaty inside. There were 5 big & yummy ones! The beans were full of flavor and mystery. There was almost a mashed texture, with hidden flavor bursts of...? I'm not sure. The chopped slaw had lots of flavor without being mayo-soupy. Very yum.
If I'd been able to handle more food, I would have ordered the old McClard's tradition, Tamale Spread. I spotted an order nearby and it was quite a sight, with 2 tamales, fritos, chopped beef, onion, beans, cheese and sauce. The recipe was created by Alex years ago, when he needed something hearty to sober up his dishwasher.
By the time we paid up at the counter, there were a few empty chairs and the staff was getting to slow down a bit. There is no purple in my photo, but I spotted a little of the royal color on almost every server and cook. A few had purple shirts, but I also saw a purple arm band and a purple band-aide, displayed on a pocket. It took me a while, but I'm guessing this was in honor of Prince, of Purple Rain fame. He had died just the day before.
A Retro Exit
As Don and I headed out the corner door, we noticed a cute Chevy Nova parked nearby. That added a nice touch to the retro image, as we pulled out of the lot. Fun little place and pretty amazing BBQ!
Grandpa John's Cafe
How could we resist a cafe that seemed to merge with an old movie theatre? And the name Grandpa John's was pretty homey. Plus, the red letters on the marquee invited a little chuckle. NOW SHOWING LORD OF THE ONION RINGS! My kind of corny, food humor.
Hopping with Locals
At noon the place was busy with local diners, moving along the buffet line. There were a few large community tables, one of which was filled with a family of 10. I guessed that was a Mormon family and I began to wonder how many of the 1,000+ residents are Mormon. I did see some Coke being served, so maybe not all!
Don and I could have boldly joined others at a large table, but how could we resist the cute wooden booths. I'm guessing these might be original from when the cafe opened in 1918 as Kraus Cafe and Confectionary.
I went for the buffet, which gave an option of All You Can Eat, or One Main Course & 2 Sides. Since my clothes always get tight on a road trip, I went for the lesser. I kind of enjoyed my meatloaf with corn casserole, salad and potato bread! Don's tuna salad was pretty decent as well. Why didn't we go all out and have...
...Ice Cream or Beer?
We should have ordered ice cream or beer, in honor of John A. Kraus, the original owner. He came to Nauvoo as a business man in 1912, making cigars. He ended up making ice cream, using cream from local cows and ice from the Mississippi River. After opening the cafe, he got a liquor and beer license and brought in some billiard tables. The movie theatre (behind the left side of the cafe) didn't go in until 1950.
In 1987 the cafe changed its name to Grandpa John's Cafe, after the original owner. It wasn't clear to me if family still owns this little restaurant, but I did hear a grandpa story from a woman who worked at the cafe.
She told me that when she was a little girl, her grandpa took her to the cafe and they sat on the stools so she could have ice cream. She laughed to let me know her grandpa didn't have ice cream. He had a little beer instead. She said the movie theatre still opens for special shows at Christmas and Halloween.
What a fun step back in time.
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.