Amuse-bouche

Black Bird Saloon

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Molly Boyle

More than a cen­tury ago, the town of Cer­ril­los teemed with trains, trav­el­ers, and prospec­tors. At least 20 sa­loons are said to have lined the mining vil­lage at the peak of the 1880s min­eral boom, as mil­lions of dol­lars in turquoise, sil­ver, gold, lead, and zinc were ex­tracted from the “lit­tle hills” for which the place is named.

To­day, the windswept streets of Cer­ril­los are a far cry from the boom­town that was once ru­mored to have been a con­tender for the state cap­i­tal. But two wa­ter­ing holes re­main for daytrip­pers and tourists on the Turquoise Trail: the sto­ried Mary’s Bar, now run by the late pro­pri­etor Mary Mora’s daugh­ter Kathy, and a wel­come new­comer that sits just across the road, the Black Bird Saloon.

In­side the Black Bird, which qui­etly opened in April with a small but creative break­fast, lunch, and bar snack menu, owner-op­er­a­tors Kelly and Pa­trick Tor­res seem to be en­cour­ag­ing time travel. The restau­rant is suf­fused with a rick­ety Wild West charm, its in­te­rior ac­cented by rus­tic wooden tables and chairs, tree branches, antlers, a long weath­ered stand­ing bar made for cow­boys and bik­ers to hook their boots into, a pot­belly stove, and mul­ti­ple ren­der­ings of the spot’s name­sake gothic feath­ered friends.

Pa­trick told us the cou­ple re­cently moved from Santa Fe to set­tle into the ad­join­ing quar­ters of the build­ing, which he said dates back to at least the 1880s and served as a mer­can­tile in the early 1900s. Ser­vice is small-town friendly with no frills — cus­tomers or­der at the cash reg­is­ter un­der a chalk­board menu with daily spe­cials and weekly up­dates and then grab cut­lery and nap­kins from a sta­tion along the wall. (Ex­pect to pay for bot­tled wa­ter in­stead of be­ing served tap, as the drink­ing wa­ter in both Cer­ril­los and neigh­bor­ing Madrid is known to be fairly sul­fu­ric.)

As Marty Rob­bins sang on the stereo about gun­ning his lover down in a dim café, we or­dered the Black Jack Ketchum burger, named for the train rob­ber who, ru­mor has it, was treated for a gun­shot wound by the Cer­ril­los town doc­tor. It was juicy and delicious, the thick Angus beef spiked with a gun­pow­der sea­son­ing along with Gouda, onion, cilantro, and “ban­dit sauce” (may­on­naise and sam­bal chile paste) on a squishy kaiser roll. A Monte Carlo sand­wich of tangy house-made pi­mento cheese, Bri­tish back ba­con, slaw, and white farm bread was tasty but less well con­ceived, the thick­ness of the smoky home­style ba­con mak­ing the rest of the sand­wich un­wieldy.

The Game Trail burger fea­tured a bulky elk patty on a roll along­side the in­trigu­ing com­bi­na­tion of arugula and blue­berry mus­tard — it too was darn good, the sharp ping of the sauce com­ple­ment­ing the nutty greens and dense, slightly sweet meat. The stars of the day’s show were fried in peanut oil: the whis­perthin and well-sea­soned shoe­string Crow’s Nest fries, along with an­other side, a mound of crisp and pep­pery house-made potato chips. The meal went down nicely with a few pints of La Cum­bre’s El­e­vated IPA, though there may have been a re­sult­ing scuf­fle over

who got to have the last few morsels of those fries.

On an­other trip for a late­morn­ing break­fast, the Black Bird was packed. Whether be­cause of the town’s an­nual Art in the Park event or a more ro­bust than usual crowd of week­end vis­i­tors stop­ping in to see where Young Guns was filmed, proud lo­cals min­gled with awestruck tourists on the tav­ern’s porch. The bar­room pi­ano of Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time” tin­kled in the back­ground, while a griz­zled biker told a half-heard joke that ended with the puz­zler, “That’s only hearsay; I heard it from my sis­ter.” Mean­while, we lit on one of the more fla­vor­ful break­fast bur­ri­tos around, a sim­ple hand­held wrap of but­tery eggs, white ched­dar, a le­git­i­mately fiery and smoky green chile, and more of that hulk­ing, for­mi­da­ble ba­con. The Lit­tle Hills break­fast — a blue-tin-plate spe­cial of two glis­ten­ing sunny-side-up eggs, sliced avo­cado and tomato, toast, and blue­berry mus­tard — was pro­nounced nearly too sub­stan­tial for my pal to steal a bite from my bur­rito, though the ba­con’s al­lure proved all-pow­er­ful.

Though a small heir­loom-tomato-and-cu­cum­ber salad tasted less home­grown and more chain gro­cery store, a short Ma­son jar of sweet pick­led cukes made for a nice coun­try-brunchy side. A brown pa­per sack of roasted, shelled, and salted Lit­tle Pitts­burghs peanuts came along as a snack for the ride back. Named for Cer­ril­los’ base­ball team, they were pun­gent — like the new-vin­tage es­tab­lish­ment they came from — with old-fash­ioned good­ness.

Pic­nic trip in Cer­ril­los, 1911, photo Jesse Nus­baum; courtesy Palace of the Gover­nors (NMHM/DCA), Neg­a­tive No. 061646

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