by Ric Murphy · photos by Stephanie Cameron
On a busy fall morning, I managed to track down Shawn Weed, owner and executive chef of The Acre, to discuss the background and philosophy behind the newly opened Albuquerque restaurant that serves up simple, creative vegetarian food for a variety of palates. “I’ve got something for you. It’s roasted butternut squash soup, with toasted pepitas,” Weed declared. With that, a smile danced across my face. I soon became convinced The Acre will make a lot of people happy with its delicious food, warm welcoming atmosphere, and Weed’s pleasant demeanor.
Weed is originally from Indiana, where his grandparents owned a farm they referred to as “The Savage Acre.” Coming from Midwest farm country, New Mexico might have seemed like a curious spot for Weed’s family to relocate. But, Weed explains, “My parents were eager to see another part of the country. They said to me very matter-of-factly, ‘we’re going to New Mexico. If we don’t like it we’ll go somewhere else.’”
Although Albuquerque quickly became home (Weed’s parents still live there), Weed was eager to explore the world and experience new things. By age twenty, he was running a restaurant in Scotland, followed by stints working as a wine buyer in California, studying art at the San Francisco Art Institute, and cooking as a private chef in New York City. But, decades later, Weed was called back to New Mexico.
With The Acre, Weed has created a very down-home, approachable restaurant. “No one needs another person to decipher my menu. It’s accessible. We’re on the mac and cheese and apple pie side of the fence for vegetarian restaurants,” Weed explained. “We even have a carrot dog on our menu! It’s our very own version of a classic hot dog, with grill marks and everything!”
Clockwise from top left: ‘Chicken’ & Waffle: Buttermilk, sage-thyme breaded cauliflower, and bourbon maple syrup. Wedge: Grilled iceberg, smoked tomato, radish, hardboiled egg, and blue cheese buttermilk. Buffalo Cauliflower: Red hot, blue cheese, celery, and carrot. Shawn Weed, chef and owner of The Acre.
He noted that almost all his dishes can also be prepared for vegans, with just a few simple changes. “I’m not doing something that’s pretentious. It’s for normal people to come have great food. I’m a chef that feeds people. I want this place to be busy,” he said with a smile. “I’m taking a gamble that I’m going to be busy. And I’ve already booked more catering gigs than I expected to.”
Weed likes to joke that his restaurant is like vegetarian food for carnivores. Simple and delicious, yet very creative. He saw an opportunity in Albuquerque that allowed him to be a chef, and not just a recipe writer. “It will be easy to see that the food is real. I’m using ancient grains like kamut in one of my salads. And thanks to things like the Food Network, the average restaurant-goer is more educated than they used to be. They’re learning about ingredients and techniques and cooking styles they would never have been exposed to otherwise. They’re more willing to try new things and they’ll go out to farmer’s markets and support local growers and learn from them, too,” said Weed.
Weed’s new restaurant will also support local growers. His rotating “Catch of the Day” special will highlight seasonal ingredients from New Mexico farmers. It could be locally-grown Thai basil, which would be featured in a pesto sauce. Or it could also be local apples that will go into a pie, or maybe local iceberg lettuce featured in a chopped salad. Growing up on a farm, Weed really came to appreciate local farmers and the food they grew. “We knew the other farmers down the street. We knew how they liked their sweet tea,” Weed recalled. “I think it’s important to support local. The quality and taste of the food is so worth it!” In addition to growers, The Acre’s wine and beer list will feature some local favorites, such as Marble Brewery, on tap.
“I want there to be a sense of community at The Acre. There’s a communal table in the center of the room, right as you walk in,” Weed said with pride. “Everything on our menu is shareable, so a group of four can try so many things and then talk about what they liked and maybe meet someone new in the process.”
4410 Wyoming Blvd NE, Albuquerque,