What is it about French words that make them sound haughty and pompous to some people and elegant and refined to others? Think I’m kidding? In Massachusetts, I knew a guy who sported the nickname “Le Cochon” like a badge of honor for two years before someone had the heart to tell him it meant “the pig.” He had thought that sobriquet was a testament to his prowess with the ladies (on second thought, maybe it was).
Still questioning my observations on French words? Take an informal poll of men (women are smarter) in the office and ask them what the word “bistro” means. I did and most respondents gave me some variation of “snobbish, hoity-toity, fancy, upscale” restaurant. In truth, a bistro is a small restaurant which typically features simple fare and sometimes provides entertainment. So, if you’re looking for a fancy, upscale French brewery when you see the name “Corrales Bistro Brewery” you’ll be in for a disappointment. If, however, you’re looking for terrific sandwiches you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The Corrales Bistro Brewery opened shortly after New Years Day on 2007 at the former site of Essencia, a wonderful fine-dining establishment which closed in 2006. It’s the brainchild of entrepreneurial Fritz Allen, proprietor of another business, Hanselmann Pottery in the same commercial center as his brewery.
Allen had to request a change in Corrales zoning laws to clear the path for his undertaking. An amendment to a village commercial zoning ordinance allows him to brew no more than 5,000 barrels of beer a year. The Bistro offers nine New Mexican beers on tap, carrying some of the area’s most popular labels: Tractor (Los Lunas), Il Vicino, Chama River and Turtle Mountain. Not one to imbibe adult beverages, my interest is solely in the bistro’s food. Initially the menu featured fairly typical pub grub: sandwiches, burgers, salads, soups and bar-type appetizers. An expanded menu was introduced on August 10, 2007 that also includes wraps, new appetizers and a section for “Superburgers.”
The Bistro has three distinct dining areas. As you walk in the door, you’ll see what almost appears to be a waiting area, but is in fact, an inviting casual lounge in which you can relax on oversized couches and armchairs. A tropical fish tank (on top of which are several teddy bears) has an almost hypnotic feel to it. A long wooden bar with a granite top separates the lounge from a more conventional dining room with tables and chairs.
The restaurant’s walls are adorned with unframed limited edition giclee prints by BC Nowlin, an Alameda, New Mexico native with a dramatic flair for vibrant and colorful paintings depicting Native Americans as sojourners toward brighter destinations.
The third dining area is seasonal as it’s outdoors on a shaded patio offering magnificent views of the Sandia Mountains. During balmy summer days the patio is made even more comfortable with a mister which dispenses fine, cooling mist. Appetizers include chicken wings, nachos, quesadillas, green chile cheese fries and roasted garlic and feta bread dippers. For New Mexicans who have salsa running in their veins, the old stand-by, chips and salsa, are also available.
The chips are lightly dusted with red chile but are otherwise lightly salted. These are substantial chips–thick enough to support the weight of any size scoop of salsa. The fire-roasted salsa has the pronounced taste of New Mexico green chile and is made with finely chopped tomatoes. The only downer is that there just isn’t enough of it.
Fire-roasted salsa and sour cream come standard with the Corrales Blue Quesadilla appetizer. This is one of the very best quesadillas in the metropolitan area, easily on par with the breakfast quesadilla at the Calico Cafe. What makes this quesadilla special is that it’s crafted with two complementary cheeses, an ultra-sharp bleu (not blue) cheese and a mild Cheddar. It also includes New Mexico green chile, tomato, onion and Mexican herbs all grilled on flour tortillas.
The Superburger section includes an impressive array of creative burgers all starting off with a half-pound of beef. Basic toppings are lettuce, tomato and onion. Your creativity will dictate what else goes on. For a New Mexico inspired departure from the traditional burger on the bun concept, try the New Mexico Tortilla Burger, a half-pound of beef wrapped in a tortilla with chopped lettuce, chile con queso and fire-roasted salsa. It’s an outstanding burger grilled to your exacting specifications. At medium done its pinkish insides are dripping with flavor.
Alas, our sole experience with a more conventional burger (albeit one with bleu cheese and peppercorn encrusted beef) proved the Bistro Brewery doesn’t always get it right–or maybe they wanted to emphasize the “black” portion of the burger’s name. By the standards of other restaurants, the Black and Bleu Burger would have been fine–that is if you don’t mind a well-done burger when you requested medium and expected pinkish juiciness.
This breath-wrecking burger is served on a Kaiser roll. Prepared to my exacting specifications, it would have been a fabulous burger. After all, how can you possibly go wrong with this pungent, powerful seasoning and bleu cheese, a favorite fetid fromage?
There are nine sandwiches on the menu, including one named for the former occupant of the edifice. The Essencia lives up to its name. It packs bountiful amounts of turkey, cream cheese and salmon lox on lightly toasted sourdough. The salmon has the prominent flavor of brine and appears to have been cold-smoked. Detractors may retort that it has a “fishy” taste, but lox lovers will appreciate its freshness and concentrated flavor. Despite being piled high, the turkey barely makes a flavor impact.
The Ruben sandwich is a grilled triple-decker sandwich skyscraper high with corned beef, turkey, Swiss cheese, mild sauerkraut on lightly grilled rustic rye bread. Russian dressing is in there somewhere, too, but it’s lightly applied to give the meat the opportunity to shine. Shine it does. This is one of the best Ruben sandwiches in the Duke City area. A propeller-headed mathematician friend of mine with a penchant for French words said it was “an order of magnitude” better than others he’s had in town, including Lovell’s Ruben at Gecko’s. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but agree it is a very good Ruben.
Faithful readers of this blog have been subjected ad-nauseam to reading about my passion for pastrami, a passion shared only by Meg Ryan in the movie “When Harry Met Sally” when she gave Katz Deli diners an impassioned appreciation for this mildly smoked corned beef. Alas, with few exceptions (Sophia’s) pastrami in the Albuquerque area tends to evoke one reaction–disappointment. Still my pursuit for pastrami perfection goes on.
A the Corrales Bistro Brewery, pastrami is showcased in a uniquely named sandwich called El Pancho Greenblatt (pastrami, green chile and Cheddar cheese in a tortilla). It’s a nice idea, but not very well executed. Outstanding pastrami literally melts in your mouth; you barely have to chew it. This is not outstanding pastrami. It is chewy and tough, fairly typical of the pastrami delivered by corporate distributors which seem to favor relatively thick slices of pastrami instead of thinly sliced shards that delis on the East Coast use. Distributors also seem to eschew marbling on their pastrami. There’s a lot of flavor in the marbling of a good pastrami and there wasn’t much flavor in this one.
Still, the Corrales Bistro Brewery’s sandwiches are made the way you might make a sandwich for yourself. You wouldn’t scrimp on ingredients and neither does the Bistro Brewery. You wouldn’t haphazardly toss tomatoes and lettuce on your sandwich; you’d position them carefully so they complement your sandwich. That’s the way the Bistro Brewery makes them. These are excellent sandwiches!
Our waitress told us everything on the menu is made with an extra ingredient–love. The chef, by the way, is the entrepreneurial Fritz Allen himself. Obviously his talents extend far beyond owning and managing the complex in which the Bistro is situated.
Sandwiches are served with thin-cut French Fries, the flaccid, droopy ones that taste best. These are not the pale, golden and cardboard stiff super-salted fries served at chains.
Okay, if you’re still inclined to believe French words show refinement and class, I’ve got one that describes the sandwiches at the Corrales Bistro Brewery–magnifique!
Corrales Bistro Brewery
4908 Corrales Road
LATEST VISIT: 24 April 2009
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, The Essencia, Ruben Sandwich, New Mexico Tortilla Burger, Corrales Blue Quesadilla, Viking Roast Beef Sandwich