Serving BBQ and comfort food for more than two decades
Cowgirl BBQ is one of the few restaurants that's been open since I moved to Santa Fe more than two decades ago. And that's saying something in a town where restaurants come and go like tumbleweeds. I remember the first evening I sauntered through those saloon doors to find a rowdy crowd of locals and visitors alike drinking beer and margaritas, tapping their feet to the music from a live band and enjoying some real fine grub.
The Cowgirl, as folks round here call it, has been serving up authentic barbecue and comfort food since June of 1993 (that's the year I moved here). But it has deep roots in the West Village of New York City, where the Cowgirl Hall of Fame Restaurant opened on Valentine's Day in 1988. The concept there was to celebrate American cowgirl culture through foods of the West and Southwest using the Texas chef's family recipes and those collected on regional road trips.
Barry Secular was a partner in that famous first Cowgirl, along with Margaret Formby, who founded the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Museum in Hereford, Texas. And after the Cowgirl in NYC met with resounding success, he decided it was high time to head on out to the real American West and open a second Cowgirl Hall of Fame Restaurant in Santa Fe, in a 100-year-old building in the historic Guadalupe district that is now a landmark—one of the city's popular spots for dining and nightlife.
Today, the Cowgirl takes up almost an entire city block, with a large front patio, live music, a billiard parlor, private dining and party rooms and a catering kitchen The menu continues to celebrate foods of the West and Southwest, with dishes that include Chuckwagon Chili (there's a vegetarian option, too), Bunkhouse Brisket and the BBQ Sampler Platter of mesquite-smoked ribs, brisket and BBQ chicken with Texas toast, BBQ beans, cole slaw and potato salad, 'natch.
But there's a contemporary twist to the food as well. Take, for example, the Seared, Chile-Dusted Pork Belly Tacos with salty lemon cabbage, chipotle mayo and jalapeno pickles, an item that most certainly wasn't on the menu back in '93. Or the Bourbon Salmon Platter, which may not have been a cowgirl recipe, but is still finger-lickin' good.
Signature fare here includes the the World-Famous Butternut Squash Casserole, a heap of comfort food if ever there was some; the Five Pepper Nachos with Salsa Diablo, which comes highly recommended by The Wall Street Journal; and Locally-Raised Yak Meatloaf, baked with a Left Hand Milk Stour and molasses demi-glace and served atop chipotle mashers.
And the Cowgirl is famous for The Mother Of All Green Chile Cheeseburgers, a People's Choice Winner of the Santa Fe Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown made with a secret blend of all-natural beef, local buffalo and applewood smoked bacon and served in a cheddar/green chile bun with melted brie, truffled green chile, a slice of heirloom tomato and hand-cut truffle fries.
Of course, there's plenty of Southwestern fare too, from the Sierra Nevada pale ale-battered chile rellenos topped with red or green to huevos rancheros, the smoked chicken tortilla short stack and fajitas with chicken, flat iron steak or portobello mushrooms. Try your best to leave room for dessert. Who knows if the American cowgirl ever ate an Ice Cream Baked Potato, but she sure did miss out if she didn't.
Cowgirl BBQ also offers Blue Plate lunch specials and daily beer and Happy Hour specials along with the best local bands and national touring musicians. This month, you can catch Brunch on Sundays with Boris McCuetchon, Monday Karaoke hosted by Michelle Ledig, singer/songwriter Erin Bent on April 27 and The St. Range (with SantaFe.com's editor Braden Anderson) on April 29.
There's a reason the Food Network has featured the Cowgirl in many of its shows, including in a segment on Best. BBQ. Ever on Ted Allen's show "Best.Ever" and also in “Guilty Pleasures,” which cited the Frito Pie made with brisket that's been smoked for 16 hours and the Chimayo red chile pork ribs, cooked over mesquite wood and served with housemade BBQ sauce. And Rachael Ray, on her Food Network Show “$40 a Day,” raved about her visit: “Not only is my lunch pick a bargain, but it’s big on fun and big on down-home BBQ flavors!" Indeed, so much fun that it feels like there's always a party going on at the Cowgirl that you want to join. See you there.