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Fiesta fuel: It is time to eat

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s Balloon Fiesta time. That means it’s time to eat.

That’s right – it’s breakfast burrito time (but isn’t any time a good time for a breakfast burrito?), Free Bird French Toast time and piñon coffee time. This year, there are many options in which to fill the belly at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Let’s start with a local favorite: Breakfast burritos are hand-held wonders that make the ideal meal for watching colorful hot-air balloons fill and ascend in the cold morning air. In fact, some like to say that the breakfast burrito was invented at the Balloon Fiesta.

Marcus Cassimus, owner of Hello Deli, has made thousands of breakfast burritos over the 18 years he’s had a tent on the field.

Piñon Coffee is the official coffee of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta this year.

Piñon Coffee is the official coffee of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta this year.

“It used to be when people went to balloons … if they ate healthy all year, they would eat a corn dog. People (still) want to enjoy fiesta but I notice people want something healthier.”

So this year, he’s setting up two booths – one with locals’ favorites, the other with health-conscious Greek eats such as falafel and chicken kebabs, Cassimus says.

Don’t worry, there will be no shortage of the hand-held favorites. Cassimus says the fiesta routine entails having 200 to 300 breakfast burritos rolled by 4:30 a.m.

Mile of booths

Spectators who get hungry on the field can expect to find an array of options this year, whether it’s for an early-morning treat or for an evening meal or snack, says Jim Garcia, a member of the board of directors for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

“The board wanted some diversity … not just breakfast burritos,” he says.

Yes, you’ll also find the usual favorites of tacos, cinnamon rolls, Philly cheese steaks, cotton candy, turkey legs and more. Deep-fried burgers? Yep. Fresh fruit and smoothies? Yep.

“We wanted a variety and that’s what we’ve done,” Garcia says.

Balloon Fiesta-goers can walk off that funnel cake as they make a trek to buy a cup of hot cocoa as there are more than 40 booths or “over a mile of just booths,” he adds.

Last year, 850,000 people attended the event.

“This is bigger than a NASCAR race,” he says. “It’s one of the largest events in the United States.”

“Every year we try to get new vendors,” Garcia says. “Last year was one of the highest sales for vendors. If the balloons don’t go up, people still eat … they’ve gotta eat.”

Eat like a rock star

Why not try the Free Bird French Toast with sea-salt caramel sauce and the “famous Purple Rain Drops” from Rock & Brews, which is new to the fiesta this year.

Billy Whitaker, assistant general manager for Rock & Brews, which has a location in Albuquerque, and – you guessed it – has a rock ‘n’ roll theme, says the eatery is setting up a 10-foot tent complete with rockstar lighting.

Whitaker says that the purple raindrops are a “Gene Simmons’ favorite.”

So what are these purple rain drops that the Kiss frontman and bassist and co-founder of Rock & Brews enjoys so much?

They are little doughnut-like desserts that are filled with chocolate, fried and drizzled with raspberry sauce and topped with whipped cream.

In an effort to “venture outside the burrito,” Whitaker says the booth will also sell Huevos Rockcheros (a play on huevos rancheros), which is made up of eggs, tortillas and chile served in a boat-shaped dish. And, you can order your dish “Kiss-mas” (that’s Kiss-speak for New Mexico’s Christmas – red and green chile).

And, no. Simmons won’t be stopping in at fiesta. He’ll be in Dallas opening another Rock & Brews. “But you never know,” Whitaker says. “There could be other celebrities …”

Get your buzz

You’ll need some coffee to warm your hands and there will be no shortage of piñon coffee by the New Mexico Piñon Coffee Co., which is the official coffee of the Balloon Fiesta this year.

Allen Bassett, president of the Albuquerque-based coffee company, says that it’s the first year a local company is the official coffee supplier for the event.

Fiesta-goers will find the piñon-flavored coffee in various tents, as well as at two concession booths. No fancy coffee drinks at these booths – just piñon coffee and hot chocolate, he says. Each cup is $3.

Volunteers from Paws and Stripes, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs for wounded U.S. military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, will staff the booths throughout fiesta in exchange for a “very large donation,” Bassett says.

He estimates that the company will brew, give out and sell 200,000 cups of coffee during the event.

That should keep fiesta-goers buzzing till the last balloon leaves the field.