Hold the Enchiladas

Patrick and Kelly Torres

IN PATRICK AND KELLY’S Clint Eastwood-style saloon and restaurant, dating from the 1880s, there is that little menu rebellion-of-absence, but what there’s plenty of is what’s widely considered the best tavern food in the state, maybe in the West. You won’t find standard New Mexican fare, but a deep exploration of Western cuisine—dishes that trace their lineage from the Puebloans to the miners, and ranging from a Mexican Jack Rabbit Burrito to the Crow Jane (an at once sweet and tangy sliced bavette steak) to the Cult of The Ancestors (grilled king trumpet mushrooms, sage, Spanish goat cheese, and apricot compote on grilled rye).

Oh, and then there’s that poem in the bathroom…

P: We met at a restaurant, of course, in Albuquerque, but didn’t actually get together officially until 2000.

K: Patrick was my manager and I was a server, but over the years, I made may way up through the kitchen to management. I had no formal training. My background was in fashion and marketing; I used to dress mannequins.

P: Black Bird was in the making for a long time for both of us. We started talking about it a dozen years ago.

K: Yeah, we wanted a lifestyle change…to slow down.

P: But, of course, now we’re crazy busy!

K: And we wanted a live/work set up, like in Europe. In those small Italian and Spanish villages, all the owners live behind their restaurants. What a life! That was really the inspiration for Black Bird.

P: We looked around for a long time…wanted something unique, not typically Santa Fe. And then we found it.

K: It actually kind of found us. This was exactly what we were looking for.

P: And it had to be called the Black Bird.

K: Patrick has a connection with blackbirds, ravens, crows. They always show up for him. The poem I painted in the restaurant bathroom was from me to him for our one-year anniversary. It’s been around for a while, but has more meaning now.

P: Early on in my life, I realized that I had this spiritual connection with blackbirds. They would show up at significant times of my life: times of decisions, when I needed guidance. And it wasn’t just like, “Oh, there’s a raven flying by.” It was present. Fortunately for me, I was able to recognize that and took it as instruction or guidance for decisions. Now, as it’s evolved, they direct me on my path, wherever I am. The poem Kelly painted in the bathroom here—I see people crying after reading it. So yeah, it had to be the Black Bird.

K: We wanted the menu to be different, and thought, “Okay, we have this saloon; what would people have killed and eaten here?” I took myself back to another time, when Native Americans and settlers and miners were hunting

for game.

I’m a huge meat eater…love our game sausages. We have Braunschweiger because my grandfather used to love it, so that’s my connection with him. We started with the [Trail Blazer] elk burger…that’s been on the menu a long time. The meats are high quality, farm raised, and sourced from all over North America. My favorite thing on the menu right now is the Bone Marrow Butter Mushroom Toast, which is odd, because I’m a meat and cheese girl. But everything on the menu has some sort of connection. Sometimes I overthink things and live in a fantasy world in my brain. [Laughs]

P: Seems to translate pretty well.

K: We keep our ingredients simple and fresh, while trying to source locally and organically, and we are committed to keeping our standards high and affordable. Maybe you wouldn’t expect this menu when you walk in. It’s Western, but different.

P: No enchiladas.

K: We source from amazing purveyors…love Josh from Dr. Field Goods Kitchen. His butcher is incredible. And we emphasize local, local, local, including using our garden in the back.

P: A restaurant is hard work. You get tired. It’s a lot, but when you see people’s reaction and their love for it, and they feel your passion—well, there’s just not a description for that. It’s euphoria. I’m getting chills just talking about it. Look, I get to stand out here and see people laughing, visiting, and enjoying. And then for them to thank me for what I’m doing? We’ve been cooking together for 20 years. Now it’s in a restaurant, and for people to love that and connect with that is beyond words.


Learn more at blackbirdsaloon.com

Photo Andy Johnson