There are ranchers throughout New Mexico who might not think there’s anything even mildly amusing about a brewery and gastropub called The Stumbling Steer. These robust ranchers would likely equate the term Stumbling Steer to the clumsy gait exhibited by their precious livestock after they consume locoweed, a poisonous plant found in every one of the Land of Enchantment’s 33 counties. Ultimately leading to paralysis and death if not controlled, locoweed accounts for millions of dollars in livestock loss each year.
The name Stumbling Steer obviously has nothing to do with the bane of ranchers throughout New Mexico. According to the gastropub’s Web site, the name has everything to do with a commitment to a farm and table approach. All the spent grains used to craft the brewery’s (ostensibly delicious) beers are fed to locally grown cattle which purportedly gain fat…or flavor. Those selfsame cattle provide the beef which graces a very imaginative menu. It’s a menu which changes with the seasons, keeping things fresh and fun.
The Stumbling Steer is no ordinary brew pub. It’s a gastropub, a British term for a public house (pub) which specializes in high-end, high-quality food. The term gastropub, a portmanteau of pub and gastronomy, is intended to define food which is a step above the more basic “pub grub,” but in actuality, it can be several degrees of magnitude better. Gastropubs not only emphasize the quality of food served, they provide a relaxed milieu in which patrons can obtain cuisine (as opposed to grub) comparable to what they might receive at the very best restaurants–and ostensibly, at reasonable prices. The menu, of course, has to complement an assortment of wines and beers, the latter being a staple of pub life in England.
The Stumbling Steer opened its doors for both lunch and dinner in February, 2014, occupying a rambling edifice which housed The Quarters since 1994. There are few, if any, vestiges of The Quarters in sight. Thematically, The Stumbling Steer is a mishmash of western ranch meets neo-modern. Just above the entrance to the yawning complex is an elevated water tank emblazoned with the gastropub’s moniker. A sprawling covered patio increases the restaurant’s 270-seat capacity. The interior is cavernous, segmented into a bar area and a dining area although you can eat at both. It’s a brightly lit space. Seating is just beyond personal space proximity and is more functional than it is comfortable. The ambiance is festive (or you can translate that to “noisy” if you’d like) and fun.
The Stumbling Steer is the brainchild of a quintumvirate of friends who understand and appreciate good food (gastronomes) and good craft beers (cerevisaphiles). One of the five founding partners was Chef Thanawat Bates who’s got major chef creds, having guided culinary teams at several four- and five-star and five-diamond resorts in highly competitive culinary markets. Chef T. has since moved on, but his imprint on the menu and culinary standards remains.
The Stumbling Steer’s menu exemplifies what gastropubs are all about, offering some of the bar and pub foods with which diners are familiar, but up-scaling them with gourmet qualities and inventive touches. Why, for example, offer the ubiquitous starter of French fries when you can let diners enjoy Southwestern Poutine (French fries, cheese curd, green chile, gravy and jalapeño)? Why visit another pub which might serve a standard lettuce, pickle and tomato burger when you can get The Stumbling Steer Burger (half-pound of Angus beef, pastrami, mushrooms, onions, Gruyere cheese, house sauce on a Challah bun)? Half of the fun of the dining adventure is trying something you may not have had before–something creative and different.
What could be more different–and more audacious–than Brussels sprouts? Named America’s “most hated vegetable” in a 2008 survey conducted by Heinz, Brussels sprouts are almost universally reviled. Many diners hate them without ever having tried them (probably because they heard someone else express their disdain for this villainous vegetable). Andy Griffiths even wrote an anti-tribute to Brussels sprouts. Entitled “Just Disgusting!,” its lyrics posit: “Who wouldn’t hate them? They’re green. They’re slimy. They’re moldy. They’re horrible. They’re putrid. They’re foul. Apart from that, I love them.”
1 March 2014: At The Stumbling Steer, the Crispy Brussels Sprouts appetizer is so good, even the most fussbudget will enjoy them. If you’re of the mind that these Brussels Sprouts are palatable solely because their flavor is masked, you would be wrong. Texturally, they’re crispy with slightly darkened, but not burnt edges. That in itself is an improvement, but they’re taken to a new level with the addition of a cilantro-tamarind sauce paired with garlic, peanuts and shaved almonds. The sauce is enlivened with a pleasant piquancy that pairs well with the tanginess of the tamarind and the freshness of the cilantro.
1 March 2014: French restaurants throughout the Duke City don’t have exclusivity when it comes to preparing delicious French Onion Soup. In fact, The Stumbling Steer’s version is competitive with the best offered in town, but it’s not your standard everyday French Onion Soup. It’s not even French. It’s Welsh Cheddar Rarebit, slightly modified from the traditional Welsh method by ladling a thick Cheddar sauce over crouton, then briefly toasting the two together so that the cheese sauce turns thick and bubbling. My pet peeve with most French onion soup is the lack of “beefiness” in the broth. That’s not the case with this soup which melds so many wonderful flavors together. Not only is it delicious, it’s warming and comforting.
28 November 2014: 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. To my knowledge, the very first poutine offered in Albuquerque is the Southwestern Poutine (French fries, pork green chili (SIC) gravy, mozzarella cheese curds, cilantro crema, jalapeño) at the Stumbling Steer. If you’re not into tradition, it’s actually a very good rendition. My Kim, however, is a traditionalist and wanted actual curds in their solid form, not melted in combination with cilantro crema. That just meant more for me.
Kricket, a faithful reader of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog (and one who should comment more often) may be The Stumbling Steer’s biggest fan. Her enthusiasm for the gastropub prompted our inaugural visit: “Gil, I beg of you, review The Stumbling Steer. I keep saying I will try different appetizers, but those fried pork bites are like bits of pork belly *butter* and I can’t avoid ordering them. This place has my undying loyalty (and if they delivered, my arteries would last about a week).” The fried pork bites were initially available as an appetizer only for dinner, but are now a mainstay in the standard menu.
28 November 2014: In its 10th annual Best of the City edition for 2014, Albuquerque The Magazine readers named The Stumbling Steer’s appetizers “best of the city. Two of its appetizers were highlighted: the transformative Crispy Brussels Sprouts and for a sweeter encounter, the Fried Pork Bites “deep-fried pork belly that can be dipped in Greek yogurt and apple powdered sugar.” It’s easy to see why Kricket is so infatuated with these grown-up chicharrones. They’re crispy morsels of golden porcine meat and fat–sinfully decadent on their own and differently delicious when combined with other ingredients. With the apple powdered sugar, their flavor profile isn’t so much altered as it is boosted. The pork bites become pork candy, sweet without detracting from the integrity of the pork. The Greek yogurt offers a cool contrast.
1 March 2014: Adventurous diners might eschew burgers for something just a little bit different–perhaps something you’ve had before, but prepared in a uniquely creative manner. One option is the Monte Cristo Porchetta, a sumptuous sandwich stuffed with slow-roasted pork, Fontina, Gruyere and a fried egg on top served with a ramekin of an Ancho chili-wild berry sauce. The sandwich needs absolutely no amelioration, but that sauce gives the otherwise boring French fries some personality. The porchetta (pork) is nicely roasted with a crispy skin and is seasoned with aromatic spices and herbs which imbue it with addictive properties. Our only complaint about this sandwich is that it didn’t have enough pork (a roast would have been good).
1 March 2014: Another sandwich showcasing the sumptuous qualities of pork is the B2LT, not your mother’s bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Bacon, one of nature’s perfect foods, isn’t even a component of this sandwich…or at least the bacon you might be thinking of. Instead, a quarter-inch thick braised and seared pork belly is used. That’s like bacon all grown up. It’s thick and smoky with fatty and crispy elements playing two-part harmony on your taste buds. The tomato and lettuce are served on the side so you don’t have to discard them and risk getting mayo on your hands. The canvas for this sandwich is soft and pillowy Ciabatta bread. Persnickety eaters might consider the pork belly a little too fatty, but if you’re a purist, this sandwich is for you.
28 November 2014: Give the Stumbling Steer an “A” for effort alone in crafting deliciously different burgers which don’t stray too outlandishly far from tradition. The eponymous Stumbling Steer Burger is of the most creative offerings on the menu. Starting with a half-pound of Angus ground beef, this burger is a melange of delicious ingredients: pastrami, mushrooms, onion relish and Gruyere cheese with red onions, tomato and lettuce on the side. To maximize your enjoyment, eschew the “on the side” ingredients (the tomato is typical of the artificially ripened variety, who needs red onions when you’ve got onion jam and the lettuce is cold and wilted). The onion relish is caramelized in the fashion that renders onions deliciously sweet and tangy. It’s my favorite ingredient in a pretty good burger that truly takes two hands to handle.
28 November 2014: In recent years, America has embraced the soulful Southern staple of chicken and waffles and Albuquerque has followed suit. Fried chicken is one of the most versatile of American comfort foods because it’s wonderful on its own and maybe even better when paired with sweet or savory partners (the old “gravy vs. syrup conundrum.”) The Stumbling Steer’s fried chicken (breast, thigh and leg) is fried in duck fat and stacked atop a Belgian waffle with a Corn Flake streusel and real maple syrup. The fried chicken is moist and delicious with a crispy batter (but not too much of it). If there is one surprise in this entree, it’s the Corn Flakes streusel which should be sprinkled liberally on the waffle (or chicken) for best results.
1 March 2014: During our three years in England, we often enjoyed sticky toffee pudding, a lush muffin-like mound of bread pudding topped with a rich caramel toffee. It’s a high-calorie indulgence rich in flavor and deliciousness. The Stumbling Steer’s version takes a couple of liberties from the English version. These liberties–a sea salt toffee and vanilla ice cream–work very well. The sea salt toffee, in particular, lends just a modicum of savoriness to what would otherwise be a too sweet, too rich dessert. One of the most common mistakes made with bread puddings is the absence of savoriness to offset the cloying nature of the dessert. The toffee is served in a small pitcher and can be dispensed onto the bread pudding in quantities you control.
1 March 2014: The king of rock and roll loved a particular sandwich crafted from peanut butter and mashed bananas so much that he consumed some twelve to fifteen of them in one sitting. Today, there are many variations of the “Elvis,” including one at the Stumbling Steer that might have adult pelvises gyrating and children pinging off the walls. The main ingredient in the Steer’s Elvis Fudge Brownie is decadence. Other ingredients in this interpretation of the Elvis are banana ice cream, bacon caramel, peanut brittle and chocolate sauce. You probably gained three pounds just reading those ingredients. It’s a very sweet, very rich and probably not something you can (or should) consume in one sitting. The peanut brittle lends a nice savory offset to the cloying dominance.
The Stumbling Steer Brewery & Gastropub has the potential and chef creds to excite Duke City diners for a long time.
The Stumbling Steer Brewery & Gastropub
3700 Ellison Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 28 November 2014
1st VISIT: 1 March 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Monte Cristo Porchetta, B2LT, Ale French Onion Soup, Crispy Brussels sprouts, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Elvis Fudge Brownie, Southwestern Poutine, Chicken & Waffles, Crispy Pork Bites, Stumbling Steer Burger