Treats of the East
Portales and Clovis offer way more than peanuts: rock ’n’ roll history, craft beer and cheese, mom-and-pop restaurants, and a boot shop as big as a rodeo arena.
Why Go Now
Two of New Mexico’s county seats just 19 miles apart, Portales (Roosevelt County) and Clovis (Curry County) boast pleasant temperatures in the 50s in February and mid to high 60s as March moves into spring. Portales is well-known for Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU), surrounded by miles and miles of picturesque dairies, and peanut farms. Clovis is home to Cannon Air Force Base and a regional hub for trains and cattle sales. Famed for its rock ’n’ roll history, it’s a worthy Mecca for fans of music past or present. Together, Portales and Clovis are a thriving outpost of southern agricultural culture. When you arrive in Portales, more under-the-radar attractions include a bucolic B&B and a trio of bustling owner-run restaurants on the Portales courthouse square; in Clovis, discover a real-deal diner hidden away in the stockyards, a super-sized boot shop, and a surprisingly complete 25-acre zoo. Don’t miss Clovis’s glittering municipal rock ’n’ roll museum and Norman Petty Studios where The Fireballs and Buddy Holly recorded their classics. At night, two-step to the old-school country songs of rising young star Will Banister at Kelley’s.
From Albuquerque, take I-40 E. 116 miles to Santa Rosa. Turn S. on U.S. 84 42 miles to Fort Sumner, then E. on U.S. 60/84 37 miles to Melrose. Take N.M. 267 S. 32 miles to Portales. Turn right on N. Avenue I, then left on W 18th Street. Turn right on S. Avenue D (N.M. 206) and find Almost Home B&B a few blocks S. on the right. When you’re ready to start the tour, take N.M. 206 back to W. 2nd Street. Turn right and drive two blocks to the Portales courthouse square. W. 2nd becomes U.S. 70 as you continue N. to Clovis. Returning to Albuquerque from Clovis, drive W. on U.S. 60/84 to Melrose, then retrace the route through Fort Sumner and Santa Rosa to I-40.
Day 1: Portales
Portales is an agricultural center surrounded by 40 dairies, a cheese factory, and peanut farms: It’s the nation’s largest producer of Valencia peanuts. Located right in town, ENMU is New Mexico’s third-largest university; its nearly 6000 students from 49 states and 17 countries add spice to the farm culture and a pronounced bustle to the downtown restaurants—themselves an insider’s secret worth the tri. Native son Will Banister won’t base his career in Nashville because he loves his home town. “It’s just home,” he says. “I love the people. Anywhere you go, people are waving to you.”
The area’s only B&B, Almost Home, has a distinctly rural feeling, complete with red barn, tractor, and a pair of Arabian horses, all situated on the southern outskirts of town but just two miles from the downtown square. Gary and Judy Piepkorn opened Almost Home in 2007, after Gary retired from 37 years as a chaplain in the Coast Guard, Air Force, and Navy. He grew up working on his family’s Minnesota dairy farm; the orange Allis Chalmers tractor was his grandfather’s. Judy is a nurse, finishing her master’s degree at ENMU, where Gary teaches in the religion department.
Almost Home’s three immaculate rooms, a bargain at $85 each, feature private outside entrances, queen beds, full baths, air conditioning, abundant space and storage, flat-screen TVs with cable and DVD, coffeemakers, and farmland views. It’s the perfect way to get out of town without giving up the amenities of home.
Judy serves breakfast in her big kitchen. “I like to be creative,” she says, “and I use fresh local ingredients whenever I can.” She serves only fresh pure juices and is happy to accommodate gluten-free diets, allergies, and vegetarians. Her Santa Fe Breakfast Bake combines eggs, corn, black beans, and hash browns, with or without meat. She was proud to mention that her New Mexico Corn Tea Muffin recipe came from New Mexico Magazine.
Vines is the region’s most frequently recommended restaurant. Four years ago, Karyl and Mark Vigil converted the former hotel—the second-oldest building on the downtown Portales square—into an elegant bistro with low lights, intimate wood booths, art and flowers, perfect for a romantic lunch or dinner. A second dining area is more casual, although it features a magnificent Tigerwood mahogany bar and back bar from The Palace Hotel on Ratón’s historic First Street.
Vines’s real draw, though, is the food. Separate lunch and dinner menus are supplemented by specials photographed and posted daily on Vines’ Facebook page. Chef Adam Baca’s recent offerings have included grilled swordfish over sweet potato polenta and black bean corn salsa. Steak offerings have included bacon-wrapped sirloin with mushroom risotto and baked tomato, and a ribeye with pesto butter and asparagus.
Simpler fare includes unique pizzas and pasta dishes. The green chile is local, roasted and peeled in the kitchen. Entrees are priced from $8 to $26 and include gluten-free and kids’ menus.
Justin Cole is the latest in a long family line of zymurgists fermenting ales, whiskeys, and moonshine going back to Prohibition-era Big Stony Creek, Virginia. Born and raised in Clovis, he returned from college in Socorro to work for two years as bar manager at Vines before opening Roosevelt Brewing Company on the downtown Portales square between Vines and the Yam Theatre. He has a hit on his hands: The high-ceilinged dining area is packed day and night.
It’s a charmed enterprise. Cole advertised for a chef and got Tyne Sansom, a French-Canadian who grew up in Maine and came to Portales when his wife enrolled at ENMU. Both in their 20s, Cole’s and Sansom’s creative partnership has spawned an exciting destination where Cole’s handcrafted ales and lagers accompany Sansom’s kitchen creations. Using local farm-to-table ingredients—even the brewing yeast is grown locally—the regular menu features 15 “specialty pies,” pizzas with names like Dragon’s Breath, The Buffalo, Panama, and Red Chile Enchilada, baked in a wood-fired oven alongside calzones, sandwiches, and specials, all priced $6-12. Daily creations posted on Facebook include collaborations between chef and brewmaster like Nut Brown Ale Red Chile Beef Stew and IPA Cupcakes . Live music at night adds to the bustle.
The Do Drop In is also located on the square’s northeast corner. The espresso bar dispenses caffeine to accompany homemade muffins, desserts, salads, and daily soups and specials. The menu offers 14 sandwiches, but the staff makes sandwiches to order, too. Students do homework while other patrons play board games. A cozy fireplace and eight flavors of ice cream offer more reasons to hang out.
Day 2: Clovis
From Portales, take N.M. 467 north to reach Clovis via the Blackwater Draw Archaeological Site (closed from November–March) and Oasis State Park (which offers a fishing pond and camp sites), or zip straight up U.S. 70 to Clovis, passing peanut farms, dairies, and a cheese factory amidst vast farmlands. Stop at the Blackwater Draw Museum for fascinating displays on local human activity going back 13,500 years—the oldest positively defined cultural group in North America, discovered in 1929. In Clovis, don’t miss Joe’s Boot Shop where 16,000 pairs of cowboy boots share a 37,000-square-foot showroom with custom hats, Western wear, and Western home furnishings. Picnic under giant shade trees at 157-acre Hillcrest Park, home to an indoor swimming pool and aerobic workout center, botanical garden, and sports fields, then enjoy the compact but impressive Hillcrest Park Zoo. We especially enjoyed the inquisitive giraffes, adorable bobcats, impressive Bengal tiger, and a trio of alligators.
From Hillcrest Park, follow irresistible grilling aromas to Dakota’s Steakhouse, marked by a packed parking lot with a huge buffalo sculpture, just off busy Prince Street. Locally owned and run by Jim Clark and family, Dakota’s draws lunch and dinner crowds for ribeyes, salmon, and catfish, along with other steaks, seafood, burgers, soups and salads. Great servers handle food and crowds with smiles: we heard a waitress singing on her way to the kitchen.
Hidden away in the sale barn at the Clovis Livestock Auction—a.k.a. the stockyards— Mom’s Café is a classic diner where folks eat in booths under black-and-white photographs of the stockyards when the phone numbers had three digits, circa 1930s and 40s. A jukebox offers old country music. Serving breakfasts from 5 o’clock and lunch until 2, the menu has all the standards, including omelets, huevos rancheros, chicken-fried steaks, burgers, sandwiches, and Mexican plates. Myrle Rush bought Mom’s years ago. Asked who Mom is, she smiles and says, “Right now I am.” Take the Hull Street bridge south over the rail yard just west of downtown: Mom’s is on the right.
Thanks to Norman and Vi Petty, rock music traces important bloodlines right to Clovis. Norman Petty Recording Studios produced most of Buddy Holly’s hits and others by Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, and the Fireballs, who became the house band. The studio, kitchen, and musicians’ apartment are unchanged from their heyday, and available for morning tours by appointment. Clovis’s downtown Norman & Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum provides an equally fascinating immersion in stories and memorabilia from the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll that, because of one seminal recording studio, burst upon the world from right here in Clovis.
Time your visit to be at Kelley’s Bar & Grill on a Wednesday or Friday night when Will Banister’s band packs the place with dancers boot-scooting around the cornmeal-dusted wooden dance floor. The food’s great, too. Banister’s songs are so good that you can close your eyes and consider it a concert—but be careful not to get run over by ecstatic dancers. It’s a show that will stay with you all the way home.
Need To Know
Almost Home Bed & Breakfast 8168 N.M. 206; (575) 356-0011; almosthomebedandbreakfast.com
Archaeological Site, N.M. 467 eight miles north of Portales (575) 356-5235; enmu.edu/services/museums/blackwater-draw
Museum, Admission to both $3 adults. U.S. 70 seven miles north of Portales; (575) 562-2202;
Do Drop In
123 S. Main St. (575) 226-5282; portalesjava.com
El Rancho Restaurant
101 S. Chicago (575) 359-0098; on Facebook.
Roosevelt Brewing Company
201 S. Main St. (575) 226-2739; rooseveltbrewing.com
Vines Italian Restaurant
107 W. 2nd St. (575) 356-4525; vinesitalianrestaurant.com
219 S. Main St. (575) 356-8541; portalesmainstreet.com/yamtheatre.html
816 Lexington Rd. (575) 935-3535; dakotasonline.com
Hillcrest Park Zoo
1201 Sycamore St. (575) 769-7873; hillcrestparkzoo.com
Holiday Inn Express
4728 N. Prince St. (575) 935-8777; hiexpress.com/portales
Joe’s Boot Shop
2600 Mabry Dr. (575) 763-3764; joesbootshop.com
Kelley’s Bar & Grill
2208 N. Prince St. (575) 762-0044
504 S. Hull St. (575) 763-5050
Norman & Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum
105 E. Grand Ave. (575) 763-3435; pettymuseum.com
Norman Petty Recording Studios Kenneth Broad, tours.
1313 W. 7th St. (575) 356-6422
Oasis State Park
Camping, fishing, hiking. 1891 Oasis Rd. (575) 356-5331; emnrd.state.nm.us/spd/oasisstatepark.html
All content ©2014 Tim Keller