Albuquerque had a lucky day 53 years ago when a K-Mart maintenance man with a sandwich truck decided to open a barbecue place on East Central. Because the way you spell barbecue in Albuquerque is P-O-W-D-R-E-L-L’S.
Pete Powdrell and his descendants have made Burquenos happy ever since, serving hickory-smoked brisket, ribs and so much more. The Southern barbecue he brought to town originated with his grandfather’s Baton Rouge, La., recipe that matured with his investigation of East Texas smoking techniques.
Taste in barbecue is highly personal, at least as personal as the way you like your eggs or your steak cooked; either it’s done right or it’s not. While Albuquerque now has close to a half-dozen good barbecue options – and I know them all – Powdrell’s remains the go-to place. To my taste, they always get it right.
The sauce is a balance of sweet and tangy, with no single ingredient dominating. It’s neither distracting nor overpowering, not too sweet and not too sharp, glazing into a deep ruby patina on the meaty ribs and amping up the moist and tender hickory smoke-infused brisket.
A half-pound brisket dinner with two sides (I recommend the fresh coleslaw and delectable house recipe potato salad) and toast runs $13.95; the rib dinner is a buck more.
Half BBQ platters of chicken, smoked sausage either mild or spicy, pork, irresistible ribs or brisket, considered the epitome of barbecue, the meat that tests the prowess of the grillmaster, run $8.50-$9.50; the full platters are priced between $15.95-$17.95. If you can’t make up your mind, there’s the combo plate ($22.95) laden with brisket, pork ribs, chicken and sausage.
And can they fry. Any restaurant that makes fried onion rings in house deserves a cheer, but these sweet, crunchy babies ($7.95) rate a standing ovation.
Their fried zucchini ($7.95) is the crispiest and lightest that ever took a dip in ranch dressing.
You may be in danger of losing it if you order the fried mac and cheese, $3.50 a side, a dish of addictive little cheesy explosions you never imagined possible.
Just for a change, I recently ordered a sleeper from the menu, the steak and pork ribs dinner ($21.95) with a surprisingly tasty and tender rib-eye that wore its smoky flavor like a designer ball gown.
Sweet potato pie, ($3.75) a golden orange slice of gently pumpkin pie spiced delectable creaminess, provides complete contentment.
The simple, homey warmth of the 1936 historic house on North Fourth Street, its mantel crowded with family photos, conjures a bygone era, a quieter time, when a family meal was a celebration, and grandma delighted in cooking up a storm.
The legendary Powdrell welcome – an easy graciousness that exceeds what customarily goes by the name “service” – is an essential ingredient in the comfort served here. Take-out is fine, but dining in is so much better.
Thank goodness some things never change.