Ed David, the hard-working independent creator of the Faded Rose, finally has Bubba and Garcia’s up and running in Riverdale, in the building that was the original Rose before he built a bigger home next door for his eternally popular New Orleans cooking.
It’s a measure of the town’s thirst for something new that every table was full and a small crowd waited at the bar three days into the soft opening. No ads. No press releases. No lunch the first week.
What we found as a member of the early crowd didn’t surprise us, given David’s obsession with detail. Service was good, particularly given the newness of the place and staff. Food was good. The setting is bright and fun. Some kinks need addressing — a little warmer food in some cases, for example, though the plates were plenty hot.
The name is emblematic of the motto: “Where the Deep South meets the Southwest.” The schizoid menu has a lineup of country cooking — chicken-fried steak, pork chop, grilled chicken and hamburger steak with slow-cooked vegetables and cornbread — and a long and creative list of New Mexican dishes. Most everybody seems drawn to the Southwest dishes first, but we’d give the edge on quality to the home cooking.
Kinks? Surprising blandness in most of the Southwestern dishes. But we got every bit of the heat promised in carne adovada ($7.50 with two side vegetables), a red chile-fired pork stew that we sided with good black beans and calabacitas, a cooked-down pile of squash, onions and corn. We thought most of the dishes could have used a touch more salt. But that’s correctable, where too much is not.
We opened with a chip-o-rama — guacamole, salsa and white cheese dip. All good and fresh. Guacamole, mostly just good mushed avocados, was best. We’d have liked a whole lot more of the advertised Mesilla Valley green chiles in the queso and more chile too in the chunky salsa.
Four of us went through a number of the Southwestern options, but couldn’t get them all, including some appealing ones — “roadhouse red” chili, green chile stew and chicken tortilla soup. A visitor a few days later told us the chili was the best he’d had in Little Rock, “real” in a Texas sense that it didn’t have beans or tomatoes thrown in, and the peppering level was just right.
Enchiladas come stacked, in the New Mexican tradition ($6.75), or rolled and you can also top them with a fried egg for a buck. Cheese and onion are the fillings; you can top them with red or green chile sauce, the former very smooth and mild, the latter chunkier, but still not very spicy. Tamales are stuffed with pork, chicken or vegetables (a little more than $7 for a plate.)
Get it all, like we did, by having an $11.75 combo platter. You’ll be hard-pressed to finish it. Hard-pressed, too, to identify the various elements in a platter that kind of clumps all together under a red and green mantle — enchilada, soft taco, tamale and chile relleno. We liked the well-fried stuffed pepper, with its light, eggy batter.
Our waiter told us there was a cook straight from New Mexico at the stove, so the dishes are authentic. He makes the caramel nut flan himself and the “fried cheesecake” is freshly made for dessert, too. It’s kind of a New Mexican blintz — a sweetened cream cheese mixture folded in a flour tortilla, which is deep fried, then dusted with cinnamon and drizzled with raspberry syrup. Good.
As we mentioned, we gave the edge to the country cooking, based on a well-cooked center-cut pork chop drenched in a good cream gravy and accompanied by black-eyed peas (a little overcooked), cornbread (we like ours a little thicker) and THE BEST CABBAGE IN THE WORLD. The secret ingredient is tasso — cured and seasoned pork that David buys from his andouille supplier in Opelousas, La. It was so good, one of us had it with dinner and then another bowl for dessert.
There’s lots more to try. Bubba’s picks include fries smothered in brown gravy, a fried bologna and cheese sandwich, a half-pound burger (you know an Ed David restaurant can make a burger). The Garcia offerings include carne asada (a small steak smothered with chile sauce), fish tacos (made with fried tilapia) and a tortilla burger, a half-pounder on a tortilla with green chile sauce, lettuce, tomato and guacamole. Our mouth waters.
Drinks? Belly up. Bubbas will find five brews on tap, as well as 18 bottled varieties. Effete Bubbas can get Barefoot Cellars wines by the glass. South-of-the-border types can choose between margaritas and high-dollar ($9 and up) shots of premium tequilas.
If the Dixie Cafe went to Santa Fe, this is what you’d get. Ed David got there first.
Bubba and Garcia’s
1615 Rebsamen Park Road
You’ll be attracted to the Santa Fe end of the menu, because it’s different. But the country cooking is real and good, from tasso-flavored cabbage, to real smashed taters to slow-cooked black-eyed peas. They ought to invent a vegetable plate. Look for lunch specials with smaller portions and prices than the platters on the all-day menu (which is cheap already).
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Inexpensive to moderate prices. Credit cards accepted. Beer, wine, tequila available.