At La Finca Bowls, their two-year-old restaurant on Broadway in East Downtown, Mekala Kennedy and Nathan Sauceda-Halliday took a ubiquitous concept – proteins, veggies and rice in bowl – and elevated it with carefully curated mix of ingredients. The results were something like alchemy, as in the Farmers Bowl, a combination of skirt steak, corn and squash that conjured up a backyard barbecue.
Kennedy and Sauceda-Halliday have brought that same magic to the cheese boards at their new place, the Mouse Hole Cheese Shop. The cheeses and accoutrements on each board are chosen to reflect a different region of the world. Thus, the All Local ($22) has New Mexico cheeses, Los Ranchos Bakery bread and red chile pistachios. On the Pardon My French ($24) board, you’ll find grapes, cornichons and baguettes slices. Vamos a España ($26), the Spanish-themed board, offers two different types of Manchego cheese, alongside Marcona almonds and dried figs.
Beyond the boards, the Mouse Hole offers something the city has long lacked: a bona fide cheese shop with dozens of varieties and a staff eager to answer all your cheese-related queries.
The Mouse Hole sits at the corner of the same building on Broadway, just south of the Martin Luther King Jr. intersection, that houses La Finca Bowls. There’s free two-hour parking in front. Several spaces were available during a recent midweek lunch hour.
The entrance is set behind a small patio. A display case of cheeses greets you just inside the door, and shelves of breads, jams and pickled vegetables line the walls. The customers that day were evenly divided between takeout and eat-in. For dining in, you order at the counter, take a number and find a seat in the cozy, light-filled dining room. At the dining room’s lone couch, I saw three people attacking a cheese board with a zeal that bordered on violence.
The menu, written on a board behind the counter, is divided between the cheese boards and small plates described as Nibbles.
After a brief conversation, the counter attendant steered me toward Vamos a España, the Spanish board. Along with the three cheeses, it came with an impressive assortment of goodies chosen to complement the cheese. From the savory side, there were marinated cherry tomatoes, Marcona almonds and sliced red bell peppers. Representing the sweet were dried figs and membrillo, a paste made from the fruit of the quince tree.
After a few minutes, my board arrived. It had a casual, unfussy appearance, as if it were put together in the kitchen using whatever ingredients were on hand. The names of the cheeses had been written in chalk on a strip of slate along the bottom of the board.
Manchego, the most popular Spanish cheese, featured prominently, showing up in regular form and in a smoked version. Like pecorino Romano, the Italian favorite, Manchego is made from sheep’s milk, but it’s not nearly as pungent and salty. Firm, pale yellow and a little porous, it has a nutty, tangy flavor that paired well with the membrillo, figs and almonds.
The other cheese was a soft, spreadable tetilla, a cow’s milk cheese from the hot and humid Galicia region of northwest Spain. The pale-yellow cheese had a creamy mouthfeel and a faint, intriguing bitterness that found an ideal match in the excellent sweet and spicy olives.
You can add meat to the board for an additional $6. I chose a Basque Salumi. The thin medallions were exceptional: buttery, earthy and with a little snap of heat.
The only thing missing from the board was some bread.
The Nibbles selection is priced from $6 to $9 and includes baked brie and marinated olives. The White Bean Salad ($7) was very good, the plump, tender beans getting a charge from a viscous red wine vinegar-based sauce with red onion and cilantro.
Also terrific was the Artichoke and Pepper Escabeche ($9). Escabeche is a Spanish dish in which meats, fish or vegetables are pickled in vinegar. The tender artichoke hearts and leaves were the star of the Mouse Hole’s version.
Drink options include a selection of wines from Milagro Vineyards in Corrales for $9 to $15 a glass, a rotating beer selection and bottles of Taos-based Zia soda.
La Finca Bowls is gluten-free shop, so it’s no surprise that the Mouse Hole has ample gluten-free options. The bread and crackers can be swapped out to make any of the boards gluten-free.
The counter was well-staffed, and the people I talked with were very knowledgeable. It would have been fun to stand there and talk cheese with them for a while, but customers kept coming in.
With the Mouse Hole Cheese Shop, Mekala Kennedy and Nathan Sauceda-Halliday maintain the high standards they brought to La Finca Bowls while filling a longtime void in the Albuquerque dining scene. It’s a bonanza for cheese lovers.