Monday, February 4, 2008

Two Albuquerque Mysteries

Two Albuquerque businesses sitting side by side on Lomas have deceptive names. Monroe’s is a restaurant serving New Mexican food, and The Palms is a store selling Native American jewelry, Pueblo pots, and other assorted hand-crafted goods.

My first trip to Albuquerque in the 1980’s introduced me to Monroe’s. Asking around for good local food in a non-pretentious atmosphere, I was steered to the small restaurant. I have been returning ever since for its enchiladas, huevos rancheros, excellent green chile cheeseburgers, and sweet potato fries.

My curiosity was piqued on the history of the non-Hispanic name, and I discovered Monroe’s originally was owned by Monroe Sorensen, a Scandinavian who had a little chile parlor on the corner of Rio Grande and Mountain. When Sorensen retired, Miguel Diaz, a native of Puerto Rico, purchased the eatery in 1979 and moved it to a refurbished gas station on Lomas, retaining the name and customer base. A second Monroe’s is located on Osuna, and although the menu is the same, the decor is the more typical adobe style. You can’t go wrong eating at either location. For my dollar, Monroe’s fresh ingredients and consistency rate it among Albuquerque’s best little gems.

The Palms was a discovery made one day after lunch at Monroe’s. Somewhat off the beaten path for a trading company, the selection and prices make The Palms a must-stop for any visiting friends and family wanting to purchase Native American art.

Guy Berger, the owner, worked at the trading post during summer vacations as a young man, and now has over 20 years experience in the business. Berger says the unusual name came from the original owners, the Del Frate brothers, who opened a beer garden at the corner of Rio Grande and Central in 1941. Searching for a name, they glanced at a cut-out ad featuring a group of palm trees and decided The Palms would fit their purpose nicely.

The beer garden location, which thrived on weekends, needed cash flow during the week so a small food market was instituted using The Palms name. In 1967 the market moved to a larger location on Lomas and 15th NW. Popular among local residents and many Indians from Albuquerque’s surrounding pueblos, The Palms often accepted trade goods in lieu of payment for groceries.

In 1968 the market acquired so much jewelry that Angelo Del Frate decided to open the back room to collectors, and the Palms Trading Company was born. Currently, the 5,000 square foot showroom contains one of the most complete inventories of Pueblo pottery and Indian jewelry in the industry.

The entry room is chock-a-block full of silver from concha belts to bracelets, and the side room displays pots, storytellers, rain gods, kachinas, antique pottery and more. There’s a small selection of Navajo rugs. You won’t go wrong purchasing a piece from The Palms, and you might be treated to the sight of a potter from Acoma or Jemez auditioning their wares for Berger or one of his knowledgeable staff.

Monroe’s New Mexican Food, 1520 Lomas Blvd. NW, 87104; (505) 242-1111 or 6051 Osuna Road NE, 87109; (505) 881-4224.

The Palms Trading Company, 1504 Lomas Blvd. NW, 87104. (505) 247-8504.

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