Green chile stew: A Taos Inn treasure

The finished dish, just waiting to warm hungry winter bodies. Scott Gerdes

The Historic Taos Inn, originally made up of several adobe homes surrounding a small plaza, dates from the 1800s. Dr. Thomas Paul Martin came to Taos in the 1890s as the first and only physician. He purchased the largest of the houses. Over time, the Martins bought up the rest of the houses around the plaza. After “Doc” Martin died, his wife, Helen, who was related to one of the Taos Society of Artists founders, enclosed the plaza and created the Hotel Martin in 1936.

In later years, new owners renamed it the Taos Inn. On the National and State Registers of Historic Places, the Taos Inn’s comfortable lodgings as well as its inviting central lounge and nightly music scene have made it the “living room of Taos,” a community gathering place. The fountain in the center of the lobby is the remnant of the original communal well.

Whether coming to Taos for the first time, or a Taos denizen for many years, everyone usually visits the Taos Inn at some point. The laid-back atmosphere is welcoming to all. And as a local advocate of the arts, the walls of the entire inn and its restaurants feature art exhibits showcasing the local Taos artists of today.

The original house is now the renowned Doc Martin’s Restaurant, known for its great food and impressive wine list, which annually wins coveted awards from Wine Spectator. Both Doc Martin’s and the super casual Adobe Bar are serviced by Chef Bill Hartig’s kitchen.

Chef Hartig has had a long career in cooking. Raised in San Diego, he grew up bilingual, speaking Spanish as well as English. He spent several years at restaurants in Albuquerque that included Artichoke, Scala and Zinc. Two years ago, however, he came to the Taos Inn, and since then has had a love affair with Taos. He’s here to stay.

When Chef Hartig joined the Taos Inn, he was told that it had an enduring history of offering an award-winning green chile stew and that it was his responsibility to keep the tradition going. In New Mexico, you could almost say that green chile is one of the state’s official flavors. Completely different from the chile served in other parts of the country, green chile stew is uniquely New Mexico; smooth, creamy and with a definite bite, and there are probably as many recipes as there are families who make it.

The Taos Inn’s green chile stew is no exception. Over time, this time-honored dish has been passed from chef to chef, and each has tweaked the treasured recipe to reflect their unique version. Chef Hartig was also eager to put his mark on it (or should we say, “in it”). Since he arrived, he has slowly revamped the restaurant’s menu and in the process, has seized the opportunity to recreate green chile stew from scratch. Lucky you because the new recipe has gone back to its roots — a real stew with potatoes, pork and plenty of spicy Hatch green chile — another this is “Why Taos Now” moment.

Chef Hartig explained, as I watched him prepare the ingredients for the large stock pot of stew, that green chile varies considerably in temperature. He always uses hot chiles for the restaurant’s green chile sauce and now for the green chile stew as well. But what is labeled as hot might be medium or it might be fiery. As they say in New Mexico, “The chile is the chile!”

Fortunately, the rest of the ingredients tend to mellow it a bit, taking the edge off the fire and bringing out the true flavor of the chile. The result is a hearty, soul-satisfying bowl of tradition.

But, the Taos Inn offers much more than stew. The menu for Doc Martin’s Restaurant has something to satisfy every palate, focusing on “New American Fare with a Taos Twist.” Everything is made in-house, including the pasta and the bread, and Chef Hartig strives to use the freshest available ingredients, including bison.

Doc Martin’s restaurant also serves its great food in the Adobe Bar. So whether enjoying a more formal meal with a great bottle of wine at Doc Martin’s, or a margarita and a snack at the Adobe Bar, a visit to the Taos Inn is a must. But try the new green chile stew. Both the Taos Inn and the stew are Taos treasures.

The Taos Inn, Doc Martin’s Restaurant and the Adobe Bar are located at 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos. For reservations, call (844) 276.8598.

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