There's an error in the local food formula. Part of the locavore rationale for rustling regional ruffage is to conserve energy and cut carbon costs related to the ridiculous distance food travels in trucks, trains and planes. But what hippie do-gooder is going to cover my fuel cost and compensate for my carbon footprint during the frequent trips I'll be making to Embudo Station this summer in order to suck down all-local fare along the Rio Grande River?
As more and more regions develop outstanding and distinct local cuisine, won't we all be guzzling gas just to get to it?
In the case of Embudo Station, the answer is—in Palin family parlance—"Hell, yes." A lot of restaurants with oasis-like locations under towering cottonwood trees on the banks of iconic rivers, not to mention captive audiences of rafters, thirsty tourists and hillbillies, wouldn't bother with the quality of the food. This is America, after all, and we are stupid and fat enough to eat anything, especially when we're miles from anywhere. Embudo Station has itself sometimes coasted on lesser fare, but no longer.
Ever since its May 9 reopening under new management, the family-friendly roadhouse has gone foodshed-tastic, with all of its primary ingredients sourced from New Mexico, including the entirety of its beer and wine list. I don't think chef Rob Dejka harvests salt from Torrance County's Laguna Salina just yet, but give him time.
Dejka's expertise doesn't lie in subtleties, but nor does the "comfort food" banner on the sign suggest such a thing. The flavors are bold and well-partnered, like the characters in a cop show from the '70s. Potato skins ($5) arrived as perfectly baked tubers on a bed of fresh greens and topped with bacon, aged cheddar, green onions, a dollop of homemade sour cream and a sprig of dill. Eating the greens was like mainlining chlorophyll. The sun was shining on my intestines for the rest of the day. The bacon was hardy and thick-cut, closer to speck than typical American bacon, and limned with char and iron. If Monica Bellucci and I were the last two people on earth, I would punch her in the neck to get to those potato skins first.
Instead of a soup of the day, Embudo Station offers a soup of the moment; when the day's ingredients are what you can get your hands on, things can change considerably over the course of a few hours. Mine was a ginger carrot concoction ($5), not so strained as to be ready for polite society, but with discernible chunks of ginger. A strong note for some, no doubt, but I don't mind being manhandled by a flavorful soup.
After a digestive stroll along the river with a Santa Fe Brewing Company seasonal pilsner, I laid into Tierra Amarilla lamb tacos with a side salad ($12), billed as coming with a spring pico de gallo and a habanero peach jam. I'm not sure there was a jam, technically, but there was no mistaking the whole peach chunks—interracially mixed with tender lamb cubes—or the simple profundity of the combination. The pico de gallo was coyly pornographic, less spicy than I like, but its timidity was balanced by a steamed (and then cold-dunked) whole jalapeño, allowing me to self-modulate the fine, sadomasochistic line between pleasure and pain—to hell with those blue hairs who looked at me like a crack addict as I sucked that pepper to death, eyes shifting and sweat beads rolling into my salad.
The salad ingredients were spread out and left for me to mix myself. Considering most restaurants overdress salads, this was a samurai-worthy strategy that gave me control over the fresh raspberry and blueberry vinaigrette and lulled me into ravaging the salad into oblivion.
I couldn't finish the lamb tacos, so I tucked them into a biodegradable to-go container and carted them, like a security blanket, home to Santa Fe, all the while keeping an eye out for the best price on gas.
1101 Hwy. 68, Embudo
Open 11 am-8 pm Thursday-Monday
Live music Friday-Sunday