Flying the New Mexico flag — showing the Zia people’s sun symbol in red on a brilliant yellow background — Santa Fe BK opened last Saturday on North Eighth Street in Williamsburg. For now, it consists of a wooden porch in front of a Dutch door painted blue-green with the top half open to distribute the burgers, burritos, fries, and coffee that form a brief menu.
“As soon as we get our liquor license and can dispense margaritas, we’ll open up the dining room and backyard and expand the menu to include red chile and green chile,” says co-owner Melissa Klein, referring to a pair of peppery potages midway in thickness between a soup and a stew that form the centerpiece of the cuisine. New Mexicans Klein and John Watterberg have been plotting this place for years.
As I approach before noon, customers were already sprawled across the porch, with a toddler in sunglasses sitting in a tiny lawn chair in the middle, surveying the hubbub. While I might normally have waited a few days till the line subsided, such is my affection for green chile cheeseburgers that I threw caution to the winds and went immediately. I’d acquired an obsession with them a few years back while wandering around northern New Mexico and couldn’t wait to compare my memory with the current manifestation. The green chile relish spooned onto the burger there has a piquant and tart flavor that elevates them to sublime status, making ketchup, mustard, and even mayo seem trivial and superfluous.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Meeting a couple of colleagues there, we first grabbed some cheeseburgers ($9 each). Wrapped in yellow paper that echoed the flag motif, the restaurant’s logo was branded on the top of its bun like a young steer and minced green chiles oozed out the sides in a wave of melted yellow cheese. The entire bun slouched a bit, reflecting its production-line nature, which saw burgers efficiently flying out the window to waiting customers with rhythmic regularity.
One bite, and I was hooked. The patty was of modest size and cooked through, but not to the point of dryness. (When I retested it days later, it actually had a pinkish shade in the middle). The beef tasted modestly beefy but not assertively so. What stuck out were the chiles. While many green chile cheeseburgers I’ve tasted through the years have typically used canned green chiles that tended to be mild, Santa’s chiles had a bite, almost a burn. “We make our green chile from scratch with Hatch chiles,” Klein later told me.
I’d dug out a picture of the burger from my favorite cheeseburger place, Stop and Eat in Española, New Mexico, a dusty roadside refuge favored by low riders. It looked very like Santa Fe BK’s, and the one I held in my hand was enough to kindle memories — similarly verdant, redolent of mountains, reddish earth, and windblown vistas. Call it my Proustian madeleine, if you will.
The fries ($3) that came alongside were good, too, crinkle cut and crunchy. The zigzag allowed for a more crispy surface area, and the spuds had been fried to the deep yellow of the horizon just before sunset. Don’t get me wrong, these are not Williamsburg’s greatest fries, but they’ll do just fine.
I tried all three breakfast burritos, which are available from 8 o’clock in the morning till they run out. The flour tortillas turned out to be homemade, on the thin side and tasting of milled wheat. All contain egg, cheese, and green chiles, and the three choices of primary fillings run to bacon, sausage, and potato. If you like strong flavors, pick the bacon, which tumbles out the end in crumbles when you bite into it; if you prefer something more mellow, shredded spuds are the way to go.
The coffee is fine. Over-roasted and strong, it’s made by New Mexico Piñon Coffee and supposedly contains roasted pine nuts, though I couldn’t taste them. Nothing better for breakfast than a burrito and cup of coffee, and this is your only chance in town to go New Mexico all the way. Still, it’s the green chile cheeseburger that’s seared into my memory, and that’s what I’ll be coming back for soon.