When I first learned that Frontier Restaurant had been chosen by Little Lee’s followers, I went to their Web site to peruse the menu and familiarize myself with it. Two things immediately caught my eye…images of the Western movie legend, John Wayne and a GIANT sweet roll…both prominently displayed on the Web site’s home page. The sweet roll looked like the same one my grandmother had treated me to as a kid in San Marcos, Texas at a place called Gil’s Broiler. The “Manske Roll” was a cinnamon roll roughly the size of my head. Unlike cinnamon rolls you’d pick up at the market, the Manske Roll wasn’t dripping in icing. Rather, it was always drenched in butter, I mean, margarine. I said, “Well, we’ll see if this sweet roll lives up to the Manske.”
John Wayne was probably my favorite actor growing up. To me, he epitomized the essence of cool. Any restaurant that would adorn their walls with his likeness had to be cool.
As I made my way down Route 66, where Frontier is located, the architecture caught my attention. This must have been THE place back in its heyday. Motor courts, probably from the 30s and 40s, sat alongside motels of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Coffee shops and old gas stations harkened back to a time of soda fountains and juke boxes, drive ins and sock hops. I bet if Bugs Bunny would have actually taken a left at Albuquerque, he would have ended up here.
This stretch of Route 66 is cool and funky. The tempo…young and energetic. I noticed the hustle and bustle of the street corner just opposite the University of New Mexico. Lo and behold…it was the Frontier Restaurant.
I walked in and was instantly filled with sheer delight…wagon wheel chandeliers, southwestern-inspired art lining the walls, little kids and college students running about and a life-size mural of John Wayne staring at me from a distance.
Dorothy Rainosek welcomed me into her home-away-from-home and introduced her husband and co-owner of Frontier, Larry Rainosek.
Both Larry and Dorothy were incredibly gracious, their cheery smiles brighter than the great red shirts they were stylin’.
Larry asked me if I needed anything to drink then led me to a soda fountain that resembled something from The Jetsons. I found out it was Coca Cola’s latest and greatest called Coca Cola Freestyle. The fountain serves up to 125 different flavors of soft drinks as well as flavored waters, sports drinks and more. I chose Dasani Peach Flavored Water with a little soda and I was in heaven.
Larry noticed my equipment and knew I might need some room. “Why don’t we head down to Dining Room 5.” I loved the fact that they had a “7-minute-wait-from-this-point” sign, and as I walked past it, I had a feeling the Frontier Restaurant was going to deliver.
I set up my equipment in Dining Room 5, aka the Rug Room. To keep costs down, Larry and Dorothy lined the walls and the ceiling with rugs to improve the acoustics. But, what it did was enhance the ambience of the space. I totally dug the rugs.
I sat with Larry first and Dorothy joined a short while later. I began my interview with a typical background question. “So, are you from Albuquerque?”
Larry responded, “No, actually I’m from Austin, Texas.”
I was amazed. “Well, I’m from San Marcos!” (By the way, San Marcos is about 20 minutes south of Austin!)
He looked equally amazed. “Do you know Gil’s Broiler?”
I exclaimed, “Gil’s Broiler…Home of the Manske Roll?”
He said, “Well, yes, that’s my brother.”
I was in shock. “Your brother owns Gil’s Broiler?!”
After we both realized how small a world we live in, he told me how he began his own breakfast adventure as a youth in Austin working for his mentor, Roland Manske, at his restaurant. Aha! That’s where “Manske” came from…I thought for sure it was another word for “totally awesome!”
Larry and Dorothy moved to Albuquerque and began Frontier in 1971. Since then, the small restaurant with just one dining room now serves roughly 200 to 300 covers per hour on the weekend and has gained legions of fans, myself included.
Larry sat down with a giant tray of New Mexican specialties: Western Hash Browns, Carne Adovada burrito, Huevos Rancheros made with Frontier’s Green Chile Stew and a homemade tortilla. To top it off – a glass of freshly squeezed OJ and the Frontier Roll. I’m salivating as I’m thinking of it.
First up, the Western Hash Browns…green chilies, cheese and potatoes. Need I say more? Of course I will. They’re like regular hash browns, just kicked up a notch…well, try several notches. And, speaking of kickin’, let’s talk green chilies. I had heard about New Mexico chilies, but this was the first time I’d tried them in New Mexico. Wow. They were flavorful and spicy, but just the right amount of spice. Add cheese and perfectly julienned grilled potatoes, and what do you have…perfection, that’s what.
Next, Huevos Rancheros. Yes, please, I’ll have another! I’ve had Huevos Rancheros before, but never with green chile stew….it’s something I highly recommend. Even though Huevos Rancheros come with a corn tortilla, you can not pass up Frontier’s freshly made flour tortillas. They’re just the right tool to sop up the rest of that green chile stew.
Okay…onto the Carne Adovada burrito. The burrito is probably one of the least expensive items on the menu. It’s not too terribly big – perfect for a breakfast on the go. Now, if you can’t handle spice, this might not be for you. The adovada is made from the New Mexico red chile so it has more of a kick than the green. But, if you can handle a little, then by all means, go for it. With each bite, my nose ran a little more, but I couldn’t seem to stop eating. The flavor was addicting and I was happy to acquiesce.
I washed each meal down with their freshly squeezed orange juice. I saw the contraption whipping out each glass with my own two eyes. Trust me – it goes directly from the orange into your glass.
The pièce de résistance…the Frontier Roll. I couldn’t wait to devour it. I asked Larry if I should just use my hands because “we’re all family here” and he said, “Well, if you use a fork you can dig right into the center.” Of course! How silly of me. Another tip Larry gave me was that if you can’t finish the Frontier Roll, take it home with you and if you have a toaster oven, toast it upside down…it’s even better!
I dove in and it was just as good as the Manske Roll…a fitting end to my first New Mexican breakfast chow down.
I bid farewell to Larry and Dorothy who I promised I would visit should I find myself back in Albuquerque. And, if you happen to wind up there, give yourself a treat and make Frontier Restaurant a stop during your stay in the ABQ. And, please tell them Little Lee sent you!