Flying Star's renovated Nob Hill location still a welcome setting - Albuquerque Journal

Flying Star’s renovated Nob Hill location still a welcome setting

The Southwest Bennie, Flying Star’s version of eggs benedict, consists of poached eggs and green chile turkey sausage over English muffin halves. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

Flying Star’s longevity in Nob Hill is a minor miracle. Consider that across the street stand the empty husks of Zacatecas and Tio David’s, two restaurants that opened with considerable promise and then closed in the relative blink of an eye.

Known as Double Rainbow when it opened in 1987, the Nob Hill spot kicked off the city’s coffee shop boom. Its combination of funky décor, inhouse-roasted coffee, baked goods and hearty diner food proved to be both popular and influential. Within a couple of decades, owners Jean and Mark Bernstein added eight locations and a spinoff operation called Satellite Coffee.

The expansion was rapid; too rapid, it turns out, as the business fell behind on its bills and creditors came calling. In 2015, the Bernsteins had to close the Santa Fe and Bernalillo locations as part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

Six years later, Flying Star is back from the brink, a recovery symbolized by the Nob Hill location’s reopening after several months of renovations.

I visited on a recent weekday morning to check out the new look.

Flying Star’s brioche-based French toast. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

At first glance, it’s nothing too dramatic. Brick walls have been exposed, there are new seating arrangements and the booths have charging ports. The menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads and bowls, concise enough to fit on a placard that stands by the entrance, remains much the same.

I was there for the all-day breakfast. The bar for breakfast/brunch dining in Nob Hill is set high by two nearby establishments, The Farmacy and The Shop. Flying Star’s spaciousness gives it a significant advantage over those places, even with prices that are a few ticks higher. It’s a place that welcomes hanging out, and that’s what the crowd of old-timers and college students was doing when I was there. No one seemed in any particular hurry to leave.

The drinks menu is highlighted by two old standbys: the Red Stuff ($3.95/$4.95), a mix of cranberry juice and herbal teas over ice, and an Iced Java ($4.95/$5.75) that tastes a bit like a coffee shake.

Occupying the place of honor atop the menu, the Mexican Latte ($5.45/$5.85) was served in a big glass mug, allowing views of three distinct layers: the foam on top, the body of the drink and a silty layer of cinnamon and cocoa at the bottom. Spicy and sweet, it’s a terrific drink for a cold morning.

Huevos Rancheros served to-go with red chile on the side. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

The breakfast menu offers an even split of the sweet and the savory. On the savory side are breakfast sandwiches, burritos, and the Southwest Bennie ($14.95), Flying Star’s outstanding version of eggs Benedict. Whereas the typical eggs Benedict is a rather tidy affair, in Flying Star’s version the English muffin halves are buried under a jagged pile of shaved Parmesan and queso sauce dusted with blood-red cayenne pepper. Each bite bursts with flavor and heat and the sauce and runny egg yolks make a sort of gravy for the green chile turkey sausage. It’s pricey, but worth it.

On the sweet side, French toast is available in two variations: the Fabulous ($13.95), served with bananas, strawberries and a caramelized brown sugar sauce, and a minimalist version called, fittingly, Just French Toast ($10.95). The latter comes as two big slabs of brioche, stacked and cut into quarters. The toast was nicely caramelized, but the dish was a little one-dimensional and would have benefitted from a sprinkle of nuts and dried fruit.

Flying Star has incorporated more gluten-free and vegan options into its menu over the years. I picked up two of those gluten-free dishes to go: Huevos Rancheros with corn tortillas ($12.95) and Gluten-Not Flapjacks ($11.50).

The huevos rancheros presented a pretty standard assemblage of two eggs over papitas, pinto beans and shredded cheese, with a red chile on the side that was more smoky than hot. As with the Southwest Bennie, the eggs were well prepared, and the yolks stayed runny even after heating in the microwave.

The gluten-free flapjacks were a nice surprise. Rather than simply swapping out the wheat flour for rice flour, Flying Star fortifies the batter with millet, flax, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and then tosses slivered almonds and dried cranberries over everything. Besides making the dish healthier, the add-ins give it textural contrast. The five pancakes in the takeout container stood up to the syrup well while remaining light and fluffy.

Service was solid. The eat-in order came out in about five minutes, the to-go order took 15.

My visit to Flying Star’s original location reminded me of its virtues. It’s offers a welcoming setting for both large parties having a meal and lone coffee drinkers hunkering down to do some work. We’re fortunate to have such a place in our city.

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