One of the biggest adjustments for our Berkeley-based group has been to the local cuisine. Ft. Sumner’s small population only supports four restaurants, distinguished more by style than by significant differences in their menus. Despite our pining for lettuce other than iceberg, New Mexican cuisine would meet with the approval of Alice Waters in its use of a local, seasonal ingredient: the chili pepper. Accordingly, the quintessential (existential?) question in Ft. Sumner restaurants is: red or green?
The variety of chili pepper most commonly grown in New Mexico are called Anaheim. They are fairly mild, generally; when ripe, they turn red and may be dried and used to make chili powder. However, New Mexican cuisine is distinguished by its use of fresh, immature green chilies. Rather than being dried, these are cooked, giving a fleshly vegetable texture with plenty of chili zip. Red chili sauce is made similarly, with fresh (rather than dried) red chilis.
Just about everything on the menu in Ft. Sumner can be had with red or green chili sauce. Unfortunately, that’s the main source of variety. Broad sectors of the menu can be concisely summarized as: hamburger (red, green, or plain), burrito (red, green, or plain), straight chili (red, green, or an empty bowl). That said, steaks, passable salads, and tacos are also options. Mark was surprised to learn what a Frito pie was, although Texas claims to have originated that dish.
On to the restaurants themselves. Fred’s is my favorite, despite its frequently having unscheduled closures when we want to go there. It also has a bar (the physical bar dates to 1800s) and a drive through package liquor store. The latter results in annoying doorbell ringing punctuating your meal.
Sadie’s is the next restaurant we frequent. Its menu is a bit more limited than Fred’s and features more Mexican dishes. (The menu appears longer because all options are explicitly itemized, and the kitchen likes to stick quite exactly to those items.) Chips here are saltier and the salsa spicier. There is also no beer, to the dismay of the engineers.
Rounding our our tour of Ft. Sumner are restaurants we don’t go to as a group. Dariland is a burger-and-shakes place; no chili here, it looks like.
There’s also the hamburger trailer (“Hamburgers, etc.”).
I’ve also seen signs indicating that the gas station/convenience store Allsup’s has hot food, so maybe that makes four and a half places to get food.
Thankfully, our local grocery, Dave’s Venture Foods, has a pretty solid selection. Most evenings of the week we’ll cook for each other. With Belinda providing courier service of Asian noodles from the Bay area for the Taiwanese guys, I think the best food in Ft. Sumner is found at home sweet home.
Maybe we should start charging other people to eat at our place.