Red or Green?
Chiles and Beyond
Sparky's in Hatch serves up champion green-chile cheeseburgers,
barbecue, innovative drinks and a generous dollop of whimsy.
by Peggy Platonos
Hatch, NM, will be hosting its annual Chile Festival again this year during the last weekend of August. But Hatch is worth a visit at any time of the year for more than its famous green chile peppers. It is, after all, the home of Sparky's, an eating establishment that announces its whimsical uniqueness at the curb in no uncertain terms with gigantic figures of Paul Bunyan (burger in hand), Uncle Sam (green chile pepper in hand) and dinosaurs.
Sparky’s restaurant as seen from the parking lot across the street. On top are old advertising figures for Hires Root Beer. A statue of Colonel Sanders sits on the bench in front; a Ronald McDonald statue stands at the corner. The Nutt family purchased most of the whimsical figures online. (Photo by Peggy Platonos)
Sparky's green chile cheeseburgers regularly receive rave reviews from customers and last year took first place honors on the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, as reported by New Mexico Magazine. But those much-acclaimed burgers were almost an afterthought in the development of the restaurant.
"Sparky's started with my wife and daughter, who were just going to do drinks and coffee," says Teako Nutt. "Then I decided, if they were going to do that, I'd like to do barbecue too."
Smoked sausage, pulled pork, sliced brisket and center-cut spareribs joined espresso drinks, milkshakes and freshly made lemonade and orangeade as part of the new venture. The barbequing was, and still is, accomplished overnight in a smoker at the back of the restaurant, using pecan wood from a local orchard and Teako's special dry rub.
The green chile cheeseburgers were added, you might say, by popular demand. "For years, we had been holding a cookout and giving away green chile cheeseburgers every Saturday at our family business, Franciscan RV in Hatch, and we were actually listed on the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail as a result — the only non-restaurant to be listed," Teako explains. "My son, Dillon, who was in high school at the time, insisted we had to have green chile cheeseburgers on the menu. He said his friends would never leave him in peace if we didn't. So we added green chile cheeseburgers to the menu, too."
The food menu kept expanding, and now includes char-broiled chicken breasts and ribeye steaks, Tecate beer-battered chicken strips and (on Fridays only) cod, pulled-pork burritos and tacos, and even Chile Cheese Hot Dogs.
In keeping with their original idea, Teako's wife, Josie, and their daughter, Michelle, have developed an extensive beverage menu that includes drinks with names as creative as the combination of ingredients that go into them. You can sip on Crimson Pucker (a pomegranate-flavored fresh lemonade), the Mudball (essentially a chocolate milkshake with two shots of espresso added), or the Wired Cow (an espresso drink with white and dark chocolate).
The location being Hatch, the self-proclaimed chile capital of the world, it should not really surprise anyone that chile peppers and powder not only appear pretty much everywhere on the food menu, but also find their way into some unlikely drinks at Sparky's. There's Green Chile Lemonade, a lemonade-based drink called El Rojo (made with Guajillo chile powder and mango syrup), a Green Chile Milk Shake, the Chile Mango Shake (with Hatch green chile), Sassy Strawberry Lemonade and the Sassy Strawberry Shake (both made with Guajillo chile powder and frozen strawberries).
Yes, dining at Sparky's is definitely an adventure — a nicely choreographed adventure, incidentally. Despite the fact that it's a popular place, particularly on weekends, and customers nearly always have to wait in line, the line moves along quickly enough that first-timers may worry they won't have time to look the menu boards over thoroughly before reaching the counter and having to place their order.
Um, no, you don't sit down and order to a waitress. You place your order at the front counter, where you receive a tall metal holder with a big number attached at the top. You pay for your food immediately. Then you go find a table, either in the small room next to the counter or in the larger room reached by going back outside. There's live music in that larger room Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 12:30 to 3:30 — good music, but loud.
Wherever you alight, you place your numbered holder on the table. In a relatively short period of time, your drinks arrive at the table — the sharp-eyed servers finding your number and delivering the right order to the right table every time. Shortly thereafter, your food arrives — again delivered unerringly to the correct table.
Considering the fact that all the char-broiled and fried items are cooked to order and all the specialty drinks are made to order, the wait is by no means unreasonable. It is a highly efficient system.
Sparky's opened in 2008, and has been, from the beginning, rooted in whimsy. "We're toy collectors, and Sparky was the name of a 1948 robot toy from Japan," Teako explains. "As he walks, a little flint is struck and causes him to spark out of his mouth. That's how he got his name. He's one of our favorite toys, so we decided to use his name for our restaurant."
A people-sized metal sculpture based loosely on the original Sparky stands in the patio outside the restaurant. It was made by Josie out of old farm parts: oil pans, shock absorbers, transmission gears. A bigger version of Sparky will be arriving in the near future, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and a green chile cheeseburger in the other, as he is pictured in the restaurant's logo.
Food prices are reasonable at Sparky's, ranging from $3.99 for the Sausage Bites appetizers and the pulled-pork burrito, to $14.99 for a 10-ounce ribeye steak, with the majority of meals costing $6.49 to $7.99. Most come with a choice of at least one side dish from a list that includes Pineapple Cole Slaw, Seasoned Pinto Beans, Sweet Corn with Hatch Green Chile & Onion, and Wedge-cut Fries. The most expensive drinks, at $3.99, are 20-ounce milkshakes and the Mudball espresso-laced chocolate milkshake.
Sparky's is located at 115 Franklin St. in Hatch, just off Hwy. 26. It's open Thursday through Monday from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A catering menu for large parties is available. For more information, check out the website at www.sparkysburgers.com or call (575) 267-4222.
Send Mimbres freelance writer Peggy Platonos tips for restaurant reviews
at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (575) 536-2997.