Guy meets girl in Hawaii. Guy and girl move to Alaska. Guy and girl start a restaurant in New Mexico. It may not be a traditional restaurant origin story, but it’s the one that guided Gary Lange and Kaitlin Armstrong-Lange (aka Casey) to open Kasey’s Steakhouse. The couple’s love for local, made-from-scratch food has made the restaurant a fast favorite in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill after only a year in business.
As it happens, Kaitlin and Gary grew up in the restaurant biz and had early dreams of being restaurateurs. Gary hails from Michigan where, even as a 15-year-old, he dreamed of becoming a chef on a cruise ship. Kaitlin grew up in Albuquerque and attended Highland High School, dreaming of earning both culinary and business degrees, and opening a restaurant. (This trio of goals only emerged at the urging of her parents, who told her if she wanted to have a restaurant, then she needed to know how to run the business.) She earned her business degree from the University of New Mexico and studied culinary arts at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island. Fresh out of school, she joined the kitchen on Norwegian Cruise Line in Hawaii, where she met Gary, who was also living his youthful ambitions.
Working the cruise-line kitchen was grueling—they’d be in the galley every day for five months straight, then have five weeks off. “I was tired, but I was excited to be cooking and teaching everyone else how to make the food,” Kaitlin says. Between breakfast, lunch and dinner, the kitchen would churn out 10,000 meals a day. As Gary attests, to produce at this level, they quickly learned the skills of organization, time management and delegation. The couple moved to Denali National Park, in Alaska, working in the kitchen at the park and the resort, and fulfilling Gary’s lifelong goals of living in both the 49th and 50th states. He proposed to Kaitlin with Denali behind them. Ever the nomads, the couple spent time in Oklahoma, finally putting down roots when they returned to New Mexico in 2010. Back in Albuquerque, Kaitlin worked in a few kitchens at local restaurants, including Flying Star, and became the kitchen manager at the Sandia Resort and Casino golf course. Even with long days julienning carrots and tasting sauces, the Langes daydreamed about starting a restaurant and planned and taste-tested menus for several different concepts.
All this imagining solidified in December 2014 when Gary and Kaitlin combined their combined 30-years of restaurant experience to open Kasey’s Steakhouse on the far southeast edge of Nob Hill. (The name Kasey’s borrows the “k” from Kaitlin and the remainder from Kaitlin’s nickname, Casey.) For Kaitlin, who grew up in the neighborhood, and the duo, who live there today, Nob Hill was a clear choice. The steakhouse-focus filled a niche in the district—as well as an empty building Kaitlin’s father and uncle own. The building’s former identities include phases as a fried-chicken restaurant, a bridge club and an aquarium store. Today, the 96-seat restaurant has a modern ambiance, and the Langes have consciously combined white linen tablecloths with brown-paper table covers. The restaurant is at once refined and laid back. “It has a casual atmosphere. People can wear shorts. We’re kid friendly, and pet friendly—on the patio,” Gary says.
The menu reflects the same blend of upscale and down-home. The restaurant serves beef from southern New Mexico, including ranches in Deming and Truth or Consequences, where cattle are grass-fed. Steaks are hand-cut in-house, and diners can choose from four compound butters, including red-chile-lime or blue cheese, to top their ribeyes. Each dish has a unique twist, from the popular coffee-rubbed flank steak, which diners report has the perfect savoy flavor, to the fiery Barn-Burner Burger (with fried jalapeño and onion strips, ghost-pepper Jack cheese, and chipotle mayo, with green-chile-battered onion rings on the side, of course). The duo created the dishes together, drawing flavor influences from their backgrounds and travels. The red-chile, pulled-pork eggrolls epitomize this trend, rolling New Mexican, Mid-Western and Asian influences into one tasty, fried package. Whereas many steakhouses have priced menus at American Express Black Card–levels, Kasey’s dishes remain affordable, with an eight-ounce filet topping the price list at $26.
Kasey’s also draws local cheeses from the likes of Tucumcari Cheese Factory and Old Windmill Dairy, pork chops and bacon from Kyzer Farms in Albuquerque, and beans from Michael Thomas Coffee. Kaitlin is even planting a garden out back to grow tomatoes, spinach, herbs and other kitchen ingredients. Everything is made in-house—from the blueberry vinaigrette that tops the salads at lunch to the English muffins that are the first layer in the towering Stardust, with mushrooms, filet medallion, a poached egg and Béarnaise. The kitchen staff smokes the bacon, cures the corn beef, and bakes the bread and dessert daily, even churning the ice cream for the apple galette à la mode. (However, it’s the bread pudding with whiskey-caramel sauce that most customers rave about.) “We pride ourselves on what we put into the food,” Gary says. Although Gary says it may sound corny, he adds, “We put a lot of love into it.”
When it comes to daily operations, Kaitlin takes the helm in the kitchen. “We have a good team,” says the executive chef. Gary handles duties in the front of house and is going to Central New Mexico Community College—he’ll transfer to UNM in the fall—for computer engineering.
The neighborhood has quickly embraced Kasey’s, flocking to the red-roofed eatery for fried chicken and pumpkin waffles for brunch, and sidling up to the bar for basketball games and snacking on made-in-house soft pretzels (try them with the beer cheese). The bar serves several New Mexico craft brews and even local wine on tap—yes, you read that right: Following trends in larger cities like New York and San Francisco, the steakhouse has eight wines on tap, including one from St. Clair Winery.
Kasey’s has become involved in the community, too—participating in the 2015 Macaroni & Cheese Festival (with a three-cheese macaroni with coffee-rubbed brisket and barbecue bread crumbs) and 2016 New Mexico Restaurant Week. The restaurant has launched menus for several special occasions, as it will do again for Easter and Mother’s Day, when the popular brunch menu will become even more likeable. In the fall, Kaitlin also plans to cook take-out Thanksgiving dinners, as she did in 2015, with everything from smoked turkey to pie.
Sound like a lot for a restaurant only in its second year? “This is our life right now,” Kaitlin says. “We enjoy working together. This is our hobby and our business, too.”
Kasey’s Restaurant is located at 400 Washington St. SE in Albuquerque. 505.241.3801. kaseysabq.com.
Story by Ashley M. Biggers