Moat Mountain Smokehouse – Santa Fe Chicken Nachos

Just as a tattoo on a woman’s lower back connotes a certain proficiency for sex, brewpubs and good bar food have a natural correlation. The craftsmanship that goes into a microbrew, as well as the implied connoisseurship associated with a unique beer selection, sets a precedent for attention-to-detail in other areas of the pub experience.

Of course, girls with tats above their asses are often tawdry and disgusting, so it’s touch and go. The same can be said for brewpubs. The master brewer is almost never the head chef as well, and sometimes the beer is not even very good.

It was with these conundrums running through my head that I entered the Moat Mountain Smokehouse last weekend in North Conway, New Hampshire. North Conway is tourist town in the best sense of the word. It is a good point-of-entry for various outdoor activities, which is why my friend Greg and I chose it as a launching pad for our ascent of Tuckerman’s Ravine, a storied Northeast ski destination on Mount Washington. Furthermore, it’s full of outlets (including Nike, Reebok, and Adidas) and mini golf courses. Our hotel was called the Comfort Inn at Pirate’s Cove, with Pirate’s Cove being an incredible mini course.

In such a Shangri-la of skiing and relaxation, the outlook for good nachos seemed positive. Of course, nachos are the ultimate après-ski snack, but when presented with the opportunity to eat nachos the night before waking up at 6AM to scale a mountain, you just have to sack up and roll with the punches.

Along with other barroom favorites, the menu at the Moat Mountain Smokehouse featured no less than four variations of nachos. The Bear Peak Brown—a Newcastle-like brown ale—also made a good first impression. I went with the “Santa Fe Chicken Nachos,” but decided to substitute the “mango salsa” for a classic “red salsa.” Perhaps this move was not in the spirit of being the consummate “nacho hunter.” Perhaps I was just put off by the fact that I see no correlation between “mangos” and “Santa Fe,” and I generally don’t like fruit-based salsas. At any rate, I had a feeling that salsa was not going to be the straw that broke the back of these nachos.

The nachos arrived on a baking tray, which I thought was a great touch. That’s how we serve them at home, and the presentation provided evidence of a good cheese-melting process. Weirdly, the meat turned out to be slices of rotisserie chicken, and again I failed to see the connection to Santa Fe. At this point, I was willing to just drop the whole Southwestern thing and move on.

Despite good presentation, the cheese was pretty unflavorful, condiments were unremarkable, and the red onions combined with the rotisserie chicken to make me think of Thanksgiving. A nice thing to think about in general, but perhaps not while one is consuming nachos.

Overall, I would give Moat’s nachos a low to average rating, though that is not to say that I did not pick up another potential piece of the puzzle in the hunt for the holy grail—serving nachos on a baking tray is a nice idea that I could see working well in other manifestations.

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Black Tie Nachos

Convention may suggest that nachos are messy. That nachos are not acceptable fair at fancy black tie affairs or benefit parties. Yet, if we look closely at the single chip build, popularized by Chili’s restaurant, we can see the potential of utilizing nachos as passed hors d’oeuvres.

The Chili’s method (by no means exclusive to the chain) simple combines all ingredients utilized on each individual chip. The result is very balanced, and almost completely mess free. Celebrity Chef Alton Brown also champions the single chip nacho in his “Ultimate Nachos” recipe.  Typically (or I should say, in my experience), single build nachos have a layer of refried beans topped with cheese, and capped with a single jalapeno. Other strong options are a chipotle grilled chicken or carnitas version. Simple, again, and relatively mess free. The only true issues with single build nachos are a) they minimize the grand communal nature of the dish and b) they are awfully time consuming to prepare.

However, when you are at a catered affair, what do you care about how long it took them to make the hors d’oeuvres? You’re probably more concerned with the fact that mini egg rolls and crap carpaccio are no match for the nachos you really want! The individual chip nacho solves these woes. Eating while standing, as one does at black tie affairs, is not really communal anyway. So, an individual chip is great. Plus, you are not encouraged to stuff your face at these events.

According to my friend Abby, nachos are on some caterers lists. Yet, who knew this was an option? When will I someone be bold enough to take the right path? All the nacho hunters wish for is to be passed a heavily built chip at the next bar mitzvah we attend.