My friend Madge has a new car. (Well, new to her).
Madge has a friend that knows how to make cars run and look better. (That would be me.)
After cleaning Madge's car and degreasing the engine and such (also pulling my father into the act), Madge felt that lunch was in order and invited me to lunch. I asked her what she wanted and she said flatly, "Something spicy." I can do that.
Carlsbad Tavern is a place I have passed several times in my travels to Scottsdale and I thought the name was cute, but for the longest time, I thought the place was attached to the apartment complex that literally hugs the tavern itself. I have wanted to try this place for a while, but since Madge left the decision up to me, I chose this place. It prides itself on New Mexican cuisine and that is certainly spicy.
We pulled into the parking lot and walked through the outdoor entrance onto the property. A maintenance man was busy cleaning the large moat-like fountain that surrounded the front half of the building. We crossed a small wooden bridge and I could see a large patio set up with outdoor bar, fireplace and plenty of tables and chairs. If it hadn't been 4,000 degrees outside, it would have been a nice place for lunch. We entered into the restaurant and approached the host station.
We were given a choice of sitting in the bar to our left or the dining room to our right. We wanted a nice comfy table and ended up in the dining room. We were handed our menus which were small newspapers with humorous stories and photos with the menu inside. The interior of the restaurant is cave like (not surprising) with plushy bats hanging from the ceiling.
Inside the menu was a good smattering of choices, both traditional New Mexican and some twists on the cuisine. The menu is also broken down where the right hand side of the menu was for the dinner set, as many of the entrees are unavailable until after 4 PM.
Madge and I ordered our standard fare of two Diet Cokes and two waters and checked out the menu thoroughly. I was a bit surprised that we did not receive chips and salsa, but then I remembered that not all New Mexican restaurants I have been to are devoted to this practice. However, "Chips and Two Salsas" ($2.25) were on the menu and Madge and I decided to try them.
We also went for the Green Chile Cheese Crisp ($4.50). Madge, having just returned from SoCal and Disneyland decided to continue the Magic Kingdom feel and chose the Enchantment Platter ($12.25). This platter consisted of a carne adovada burrito, a chicken enchilada and a chile relleno. It was served with a dose of red and green chile sauce and a sopaipilla. I decided to go with a basic New Mexican staple which was the Carne Adovada Plate ($8.95). For good measure, I had them toss on a sopaipilla for an additional $0.75.
Madge and I received the chips first. It was a large basket of tri-colored chips. They were served with a small cup of a tomatillo salsa and a Salsa de Casa, a tomato-cilantro salsa. We tried both. The tomatillo salsa was tart and tangy, but only had a small kick to it. It was really quite refreshing. The Salsa de Casa was very hearty and had a lot of cilantro. Madge thought it had too much cilantro. It also had a nice kick to it. In the end, I gravitated to the Salsa de Casa while Madge was busy eating the tomatillo salsa to her heart's content.
Our waiter approached and told us that they were having computer problems so the orders going to the kitchen were being delayed. This was nice to hear because it did take longer than expected to get our cheese crisp. Thankfully, he kept our glasses full of beverages.
Our Green Chile Cheese Crisp finally arrived and it was pipping hot. It was a 12" tortilla smothered in melted cheese and then topped with a nice layer of green chile. The tortilla was crisp and crunchy, which I was pleased with because I hate ordering a cheese "crisp" and getting a tortilla that is limp and wet from the oils in the cheese. The cheese was thoroughly melted and covered every inch of the tortilla. The green chile sauce also covered the cheese fully. My first bite was interesting in a good way. The initial taste was the smoke of the roasting of the chiles in the green chile sauce. Everything was perfect on the cheese crisp, but I could easily see where this could turn people off because the main taste is not melted cheese. Madge liked it as well, so I would say that, for us, this was a success.
As we divided the last piece, our platters arrived. These were large, ceramic platters in a midnight blue color and were very hot. The size of the servings was good for two lunch-hungry types.
The first thing I noticed on my platter were the large chunks of pork in my entree. Lean, meaty and perfectly cooked. Along with the carne adovada was a flour tortilla, black beans and rice. The black beans were cooked but still had some texture to them. They also had a nice amount of spice heat to them. The rice was decent, but not really that flavorful, although it also had some heat to it. The tortilla was fresh and hot. But the star of the show was the Carne Adovada itself. The meat was really great and had a wonderful taste. The red chile sauce was perfect and had a great amount of spice that certainly had me sniffling throughout my meal. The mixture was also covered with a cheddar and jack cheese mixture.
Madge was quite pleased with her choice as well. I was able to taste a bit of Madge's selection and the standout was the chicken enchilada. The chicken was fresh and moist. The sauce was excellent and really a nice contrast to the adovado sauce in Madge's burrito. Her dish also came with black beans and rice.
At the end of our meals, we slathered our sopaipillas with honey and devoured them. However, I can't give a fair accounting of the sopaipillas as I waited until the end to eat them and by that time, they had cooled to room temperature and were more chewy than a hot one would have been. My fault completely.
We finished our meals and the dishes were cleared while Madge and I drank the last of our beverages. We compared our meals and thought they were "very good." One of the things that Madge pointed out was that Carlsbad Tavern's take on New Mexican cuisine is spicy, but not fire-on-a-plate like Los Dos Molinas or some of the super hot dishes at Arriba. I agreed, but for me it was a medium spice and heat which is what I usually order anyway. However, for someone who wants a mega-hot cuisine, this is not the place.
Still, Madge and I left very satisfied and very happy with our selections. I liked the place itself and could see sitting on the patio in cooler weather sipping a Prickly Pear Margarita and munching on a Green Chile Cheese Crisp. The bill was $34.00 and change (Madge paid so I only saw the bill briefly). A good value for the food and service.
Ultimately, this would not be the place for a New Mexican cuisine traditionalist. However, for a good, hearty meal, I would recommend this place. Madge said she would return.
After a great lunch at Carlsbad Tavern where Madge was kind enough to pick up the tab, I was left with one poignant thought: I need to work on Madge's car more often.
3313 North Hayden Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251