Freight House Kitchen & Tap – Bernalillo, New Mexico

The Freight House in Bernalillo

Many of us look at an unused and timeworn historical building and a wave of nostalgia sweeps over us as we imagine what life was like when that building teemed with activity. Some see such a building as a pig in need of lipstick, nothing a coat of paint and a few nails can’t fix up. Others see that same edifice as having served its purpose, a structure which should be razed to make room for a modern complex. Still others view a weathered building as a thing of beauty from which they draw inspiration. For restaurant impresario Matt DiGregory, driving by the Santa Fe Freight House nearly two decades ago planted the seed for an idea that took years to germinate.

The long-time owner of The Range Café and Standard Diner drew inspiration from the two story Mission-Revival façade, envisioning it as the potential site of a restaurant with the thematic look and feel of the railroad industry which once thrived in Albuquerque. Because of the historical nature of the building, DiGregory was unable to realize that particular dream at that particular location. In 2015, he did the next best thing, launching The Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room, a restaurant inspired by the grand Santa Freight House. The restaurant is located in the yawning complex which previously housed the Flying Star on Bernalillo’s heavily trafficked Camino Del Pueblo. Fittingly, the Freight House Kitchen is in close proximity to the town’s Railrunner stop.

Pickled Veggies

It’s easy to see why the Santa Fe Freight House was such an inspiration to DiGregory. Though constructed some seven decades ago and currently in disuse, the Santa Fe Freight House remains an impressive structure. Located on First Street practically beneath Lead Avenue, the building is emblazoned with red neon signage which reads “Santa Fe Freight House” flanked by the words “Rail” and “Truck.” Lintels, window sills, base and canals are made of concrete while the stucco is a greyish adobe. The Freight House was one of the last additions to the sprawling railyard made by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. It is on the National Historic Register.

The halcyon days of the railroad is revisited at DiGregory’s Freight House Kitchen, a bustling establishment with 176-seating spaces on two levels and two expansive patios. Even the restaurant’s logo is thematic, depicting a locomotive engine designated “FR8” barreling down the track. Framed vintage photographs of life around the railyards festoon the brick walls, but the true masterpiece is a painting of the restaurant’s historic namesake. Even the wait staff gets into the act, sporting shirts emblazoned with clever play-on-words slogans such as “The Chew Chew Crew” and “We Smoke The Good Stuff.”

Tempura Green Beans with Manchego

The Freight House Web site purports to “raise the bar on bar food,” showcasing gastropub fare–high quality, freshly prepared food several orders of magnitude superior to the stereotypical pub grub of yore. During the railroad’s prosperous past, you could find food of this caliber near a railyard only at Fred Harvey establishments. The menu is very eclectic, offering both “chili” and “chile” (and you thought never the twain shall meet) as well as a number of sandwiches, burgers, plates and smoked items. Brunch is served on Sundays from 9AM to 3PM.

If appetizers are the preamble to a great meal, The Freight House’s “Snacks,” an inventive array of comfort food starters, will get you started on the right foot. The Snacks menu has so many intriguing options, in fact, that ordering two…or ten would constitute a very good meal. Our early favorite is the pickled veggies, a colorful mélange of pickled al dente vegetables (crisp carrots, cauliflower, green beans and celery) arranged artfully on a rectangular plate. Sometimes pickling vegetables brings out the worse in them, particularly when those vegetables are imbued with lip-pursing sour properties that take away their native freshness and flavor. Among the pickling spices used by the Freight House chef are cardamom and juniper berries, two aromatics with strong, distinctive flavors. They impart an invigorating quality to the vegetables that you’ll enjoy immensely even if you think you don’t like vegetables.

Smoked Bison Meatloaf

Another Freight House appetizer, the tempura green beans with Manchego, is almost a polar opposite to the pickled vegetables. Where the pickled vegetables are garden-fresh and crisp, this fried dish is crispy in other ways. Green beans are sheathed with a light tempura batter and fried to a crispy texture then sprinkled generously with shredded Manchego, a mild, nutty-flavored Spanish cheese. The green beans are served with a creamy green chile ranch dressing with a little kick and lots of flavor. Reflecting on the Freight House’s Snacks menu, you have to wonder if the chef isn’t consciously also trying to get children of all ages to eat their vegetables…and we would if they all tasted this good.

From the smoker, you’ll find such summer favorites as baby back ribs, beer canned chicken, smoked prime rib (Friday and Saturday nights) and a smoked bison meatloaf served with garlic mashed potatoes topped with a barbecue glaze and green beans. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes is a comfort food combination favorite that has made generations pine for a nap immediately after consuming a plateful or two. Being a very lean meat, bison offers a slightly different textural experience than beef, but its sweeter, more intense flavor more than makes up for any textural difference. A tangy barbecue sauce is slathered on generously to imbue the meatloaf with a summery, smoky feel. You’ll want to ask for the restaurant’s green chile gravy (maybe even an extra portion) to enliven the mashed potatoes. It’s an excellent green chile gravy.

BBQ Beer Can Chicken with Mac and Cheese and Garlic Green Beans

Beer can chicken—sometimes called chicken on a throne or dancing chicken—earns its name because of its preparation style. An entire chicken is placed over an opened, partially-filled can of beer. The chicken must be placed on a grill in an upright position in order for this dish to work. The heat of the grill warms the can, causing the beer inside to evaporate. Ostensibly, the beer, now in gaseous state, fills the inside of the chicken, imparting moistness and flavor to the chicken. While it may disappoint some diners that you don’t taste the beer at all, most of us are in it for the chicken, not the beer. The Freight House’s BBQ beer can chicken is indeed moist and tender with a mild smokiness. Few things go better with beer can chicken than mac n’ cheese, a rich, molten, cheesy version the restaurant does well.

The Freight House dessert menu is a winner, offering a number of innovative options that will make choosing a challenge. If it’s on the menu, one unique and delicious option is the olive oil rosemary ice cream cake topped with a peach compote. Ice cream is made on the premises in flavors that go well beyond vanilla and chocolate. Olive oil and rosemary is one such example. Too much rosemary and it could overwhelm the flavor profile. The olive oil also poses textural challenges. Kudos to the chef for optimizing the proportions of each ingredient to create a deliciously decadent (without being overly rich) ice cream . The peach compote serves as a very nice foil.

Olive Oil Rosemary Ice Cream Cake with Peach Compote

If a visit to the Freight House Kitchen & Tap Room doesn’t inspire you to travel the rails, it will inspire you to come back to see what the inventive kitchen staff is cooking up. It’s bound to be good.

Freight House Kitchen & Tap
200 South Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
(505) 588-2143
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pickled Veggies, Tempura Green Beans with Manchego, Bison Meatloaf, Olive Oil Rosemary Ice Cream Cake, BBQ Bear Can Chicken

Freight House Kitchen & Tap Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Starr Brothers Brewing – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Starr Brothers Brewing in the San Antonio Commons (Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights)

Poets, musicians and authors have long rhapsodized about the loyalty of dogs, the most faithful and loving companions anyone can have. Their love is unconditional, their loyalty boundless.  They’re  truly man’s best friend.  Poets, musicians and authors obviously didn’t know Chato, the sleek and powerful best friend to the Dominican nuns who taught generations of Peñasco’s best and brightest at St. Anthony’s (my alma-mater).  No matter where they drove in their ancient rattletrap of a car, Chato sprinted along to ensure their safety.  When the nuns raffled off that car to raise money for the purchase of a newer, more reliable vehicle, Chato suddenly changed his lifelong residence from the convent to the home of the new car owners…..and everywhere that car went, Chato was sure to go.

In his own way Chato demonstrated the loyalty for which dogs are renowned, albeit to a car instead of to his people.  Among people–who tend to be the most fickle and disloyal of creatures–studies have repeatedly shown that beer is one of the things about which we as consumers tend to be most loyal.  According to a Nielsen (and you thought they only did television ratings) study conducted in 2015, 48% of beer drinkers purchased only one to three brands of their alcoholic beverage of choice in the year preceding the survey.  Only 15% of beer drinkers purchased ten or more brands of beer in the same period.

Dining and Bar Area

Not all beer drinkers are so brand monogamous.  Those who drink craft beers are much more likely to purchase a variety of brands. Almost one-third (32%) of all craft beer drinkers who buy beer at least several times a year bought seven or more brands in the year preceding the survey.  Younger, more frequent craft beer drinkers were found to be more brand “promiscuous,” as 37% purchased seven or more brands of beer in the year preceding the survey.  The survey revealed that younger beer drinkers were more apt to purchase a broader set of brands,  likely resultant from the more adventurous nature  of youth compared to older demographics.  Being younger, it’s conceivable as well that they have not established brand loyalty.

Albuquerque’s burgeoning craft beer industry means beer drinkers have many more choices than the beer drinkers of yore.  It seems a new brewery pops up every week with no surfeit in sight.  Indeed, the New Mexico Brewer’s Guild Map indicates there are (as of this writing) some sixty-six craft breweries across the Land of Enchantment with nearly half of them concentrated in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.  As  competition for beer buyers continues to intensify, breweries are looking for ways to differentiate themselves–to stand out from the crowd–from their brewing brethren.   The differentiator which resonates most with gastronomes, of course, is food.

Herbed Brie with Heidi’s Raspberry-Lavender Jam

Several Duke City breweries have elevated culinary offerings from the “pub grub” (typically deep-fried, stick-to-your-ribs fast foods) of yore to true gastropub fare–high quality, freshly prepared food that may surprise discerning diners.  They offer diverse menus, several orders of magnitude superior to what bar-goers of yesteryear were accustommed to.  In January, 2016, the Starr Brothers Brewing Company joined the fray, launching in an underserved Northeast Heights area in a sprawling 5,000 square-foot edifice.  Situated on heavily-trafficked San Antonio about a mile east of Cracker Barrel, Starr Brothers operates a full kitchen that features a wide-ranging menu showcasing some of the most surprising culinary fare of any brewery in the city.

“Small bites” to get you started include poutine, an artery-clogging Canadian French fry delicacy made uniquely New Mexican with red chile gravy and green chile; pizza constructed on naan flatbread and much more.  Our server informed us the Cubano has become an early favorite of the brewery’s habitues though the burger isn’t far behind in popularity.  Of more interest to my Chicago born-and-bred Kim is the Italian beef sandwich which we’ll return for  Where you’ll do a double-take is with the entrees, some of which seem more likely to be found in a Chicago chophouse than a brew pub in Burque.    The menu truly has something for every member of the family and indeed, several families were dining at Starr Brothers during our inaugural visit.

Bone-In Pork Chops

My Kim often chides me for ordering items we’ve never previously had instead of tried and true favorites.  Sometimes it pays off and we uncover a new favorite.  Other times we wish we’d ordered one of the standards.  The herbed brie is in the former category, an appetizer we hadn’t previously enjoyed elsewhere.  Molten brie is formed into four golf ball-sized orbs encased in panko breadcrumbs and served with Heidi’s raspberry-lavender jam.  To be honest, we might have regretted having ordered the brie (which lacks the sharpness this turophile enjoys) had it not been for the jam.  The lavender to raspberry is in perfect proportion to bless you with the invigorating and exiting floral qualities of lavender without detracting from the sweet, slightly tart flavor of the raspberries.

In ordering the bone-in grilled pork chop (singular), we expected something closer to the waifishly thin pork chops served for breakfast in several Duke City eateries than what was delivered to our table.  Our server got her work-out ferrying a plate with two Flintstonian-sized chops with bone “handles” that looked like Lakota battle axes.  We were momentarily mesmerized and took proper pause to gape with awe and reverence at this porcine bounty (if only lamb chops were similarly sized).  Imbued in a brown sugar honey sweet ale sauce and topped with toasted pecans, the pulchritudinous pork chops are easily an inch thick and grilled masterfully so they’re still moist and tender on the inside.  Noting a little bit of raspberry-lavender jam remained, we used it as a sauce and found the combination absolutely magnificent.  Our accommodating server even brought us another ramekin of that wondrous jam.  The pork chops are served with mashed sweet potatoes.

Grilled Bistro Tender Steak with Fingerling Potatoes and Wilted Spinach

We weren’t sure with what cut of meat we would be rewarded for ordering the “grilled bistro tender steak,” as “tender” tends to be an adjective, not a cut of steak.  Tender, it turns out, is a perfect descriptor for a slab of meat sliced into several medallions and served with fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach.  The steak is prepared to your exacting specifications with a medium degree of doneness providing moistness, flavor and tenderness.  It’s an excellent steak, especially around the “rim” where just a bit of caramelization appears.  The fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach are a perfect accompaniment.

Starr Brothers is no slouch when it comes to desserts.  While the Polychinka (a crepe stuffed with caramelized banana and topped with nutella, chocolate ganache and powdered sugar) sounds most interesting, it’s hard to pass up bread pudding, especially when it’s described as “chef’s choice” made with the seasonal draft (which turned out to be strawberry ale during our inaugural visit).  At the risk of hyperbole, this is one of the best bread puddings in the city, a sure-fire addition to Larry McGoldrick’s bread pudding hall-of-fame.  Thick slices of bread impregnated with chocolate and berries are caramelized on the edges, moist and tender on the inside then topped with a premium vanilla bean ice cream.  Portion size is prodigious, but the bread pudding’s flavor profile is even larger.

Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding

Lest you think there are no Starr brothers or that they’re a pair of wizened and hirsute gentlemen like the Smith Brothers of cough drop fame, there really are Starr brothers.  They’re the children of owners John and Heather Starr.  If our inaugural visit is any indication, Starr Brothers Brewing is a rising star!

Starr Brothers Brewing
5700 San Antonio Drive, N.E., Suite B1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2752
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding, Tender Steak, Pork Chops, Herbed Brie

Starr Brothers Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bosque Brewing Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Bosque Brewing Company, Almost as far North on San Mateo as you can go

In 1978, the number of breweries across the fruited plain had fallen to an all-time, post-Prohibition low of 89.  That year President Jimmy Carter signed into law, a bill that legalized home brewing on a national level.  Since the craft brewing market began to pick up steam in the mid- to late-1980s  there has been no surcease in  sight. Today, there are more than 2,500 breweries operating across the United States with another 1,500 breweries in the planning stage.  According to the Brewers Association, as of 2013 the craft beer industry experienced  double-digit growth four straight years in both dollar sales and volume.

So what accounts for such growth in popularity of local beer?  Experts theorize that similar to the locavore trend in the culinary world, cervisaphiles (aficionados of beers and ales) have grown tired of being subjected to industrially brewed swill (anyone remember the “skunky” beer commercials?) and have discovered the pleasures of carefully crafted beer flavors made under the same roof where it’s consumed.  A similar evolution among consumers also transpired among oenophiles (wine connoisseurs) and coffee-drinkers.

A busy Saturday Afternoon at the Bosque Brewing Company

These trends have not been lost on the Duke City which in 2014 was named by Livability.com as “America’s best mid-sized city in the country for beer.”   According to the Web site, Albuquerque is known for its “cultural diversity, authentic landscapes and genuine characters – and that extends to its brews. Residents here enjoy mostly sunny days and have their pick of micro-breweries that always have fresh beer on tap.”  As of July, 2016, Yelp listed more than thirty brewery restaurants in the metropolitan area from which cerevisaphiles can pick with new ones launching virtually every month.  

The Bosque Brewing Company entered the keenly competitive craft beer foray in November, 2012 and, despite a location far from the beaten path, has experienced significant growth.  Thanks to a March, 2014 expansion, the brewery now has a production capacity of 3,500 barrels per year–ten times more than what it sold during its first year of operation.  A second location on Girard just south of Central Avenue in the University of New Mexico area launched in late spring of 2014.  I wouldn’t be writing about The Bosque Brewing Company, however, if it didn’t also serve food that’s a notch or two above most pub food.

Red Pepper and Smoked Gouda Soup

Surprisingly–considering the quality of the food–the Bosque Brewing Company didn’t (during my inaugural visit in 2014) boast of a large kitchen in which a staff of chefs, sous chefs, expediters and servers prepared and served your food.  Instead, all the food was prepared behind the bar on small countertop stoves and a panini press.  The kitchen’s motto “Flavor Is Boss” was an ambitious expression considering the spartan cooking capacity, yet large flavors emanated from that Lilliputian kitchen.     In June, 2016, after my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Ryan apprised me that the Brewery had “completely reimagined their menu” and now served “outstanding” food, a return visit became inevitable. 

During our return visit our server informed us that the brewery now had a full-service kitchen and is now able to prepare and serve more than just sandwich-type fare.  The menu now offers true gastropub fare–high quality, freshly prepared food that may surprise discerning diners.  It’s a diverse menu, several orders of magnitude superior to the stereotypical pub grub of yore.  Small bites include duck confit egg rolls, long the domain of the Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro.   The “something to share” section of the menu offers so many intriguing options that you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to have.  Similarly, burger and sandwich fare is mouth-wateringly inviting.  Then there’s the “Big Appetites” section of the menu which lives up to its name though it could just as well be called “Big Flavors.”  Cumin is used in the chile recipes.

Thai-Style Mussels

11 May 2014: The special of the day during our inaugural visit was a German brats made with a housemade tarragon sauce and sauerkraut.  The tarragon with its sweet-tangy flavor and anise-like notes should be bottled and sold. It is that good! The bratwurst sandwich is thick, meaty and heavily spiced while the sauerkraut has a tangy, zesty flavor without the lip-pursing qualities of some sauerkraut. The German brats weren’t available during our second, but our server informed us the menu changes frequently and that the brats might someday make a triumphant return.  Even if the brats aren’t available, the tarragon is (on the tarragon turkey sandwich).  It’s too good not to grace the menu.

11 May 2014: Soup of the day is not to be missed if it’s roasted red pepper and smoked Gouda soup.  While it’s undoubtedly even better on a cold winter day, it’s a delight any time of year and would probably taste just as good cold as it does steaming hot.  The smooth, mellow flavored smoked Gouda pairs exceptionally well with the vibrant sweet-savory-tangy flavors of the freshly roasted red peppers for a full-flavored and hearty soup. The salad and soup section of the menu also lists New Mexico’s ubiquitous green chile pork stew, always a crowd-pleaser but especially good on blustery days.

Reuben

2 July 2016: Perhaps no sandwich is as ubiquitous on deli and sandwich shop menus as is the Reuben, (corned beef, house-made sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing served on rye) a sandwich with several variants, most of them delicious.  The Bosque Brewing Company’s version is very admirable in that the corned beef is piled high (or at least high for Albuquerque) and the sauerkraut is plentiful.  The marbled rye is a perfect canvas, offering an assertiveness that counterbalances the sweetness of the thousand-island dressing.  No longer served solely with a heaping helping of Kettle chips, you can have your burger or sandwich with your choice of fries or seasonal veggies or you can substitute house or Caesar salad or soup for two dollars.

2 July 2016: Mussels are offered two ways on the “something to share” section of the menu.  Now, if mussels are prepared well, they’re too good to share unless you really love someone.  Few Thai restaurants could have prepared mussels quite as good as the Thai-style mussels (blue point mussels with a spicy coconut milk broth with ginger, garlic, Thai chile, and cilantro served with a baguette to sop up the juicy goodness).  The blue point mussels are fresh and meaty with none of the characteristic off-putting “fishiness” that defines bad mussels.  The broth is wonderful, reminiscent of an excellent Tom Kha Gai (Thai coconut soup).  While the baguette does its job admirably and dredges up the broth with efficiency, you’ll probably ask for a soup spoon, too.

Duck Poutine

2 July 2016: Poutine, an artery-clogging Canadian delicacy, is to Toronto, Canada what red and green chile are to New Mexico.  In other words, it’s a long-time favorite, a tradition and a way of life.  At its very core, poutine combines three simple ingredients: fresh-cut pomme frites (French fries), homemade gravy and toothsome cheese curds.  Beyond these three ingredients, poutine is open to both interpretation and augmentation.  On the “Big Appetites” section of the menu, the Bosque Brewing Company offers an Albuquerque meets Toronto poutine dish big eaters will enjoy.  That would be the duck poutine (a heaping mound of fries topped with red chile duck gravy, white Cheddar cheese curds, and shredded duck confit).  The red chile doesn’t register much in terms of heat, but its flavor does sneak in just a bit.  Molten white Cheddar cheese curds and a plenitude of shredded duck confit bring out the best in the fries (which don’t appear to be the standard out-of-a bag variety).  Ryan may confiscate my man card when he finds out I could finish only about half the prodigious portion.

The Bosque Brewing Company is located almost as far north as you can go on San Mateo before its terminus, but if you’re thinking San Mateo east of I25, you’d be wrong. Make sure to consult your favorite mapping application before heading there. If the beers are comparable in quality to the food, this brewery is going places.

Bosque Brewing Company
8900 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 750-7596
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 July 2016
1st VISIT: 11 May 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: German Brats, Reuben Sandwich, The Italian Sandwich, Roasted Red Pepper and Smoked Gouda Soup, Duck Poutine, Thai-Style Mussels

Bosque Brewing Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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