It wasn’t that long ago the terms “pub grub” and “bar food” conjured images of peanuts, potato chips, pickled eggs, a perfect coupling for plenty of pints. By design, everything served in pubs and bars was loaded with salt which made patrons even more thirsty, ergo they consumed even more beer. Sure the salty snacks were often free, but the savvy pub owners knew they could easily recoup the pittances they spent on snacks with parched customers quaffing one often watered-down pint after the other.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, economics, social conventions and strict drunk driving laws made drinking at home a preferred option to visiting the local pub or bar. Convenience stores, supermarkets and even gas stations undercut the local pubs, making it much cheaper to drink at home. At about the same time, drunk driving became socially unacceptable and legislators began to enact stricter drunk driving ordinances. To remain a viable business enterprise, pubs had to do something.
Recognizing that people still liked the socialization and atmospheric aspects of the pub, many pubs were transformed into what they are today–restaurants which serve beer and alcohol on the side, a concept called the “gastropub.” A gastropub is a British term for a public house (pub) which specializes in high-end, high-quality food. The term gastropub, a combination 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. It wasn’t long before the concept crossed the pond. Understandably, the colonists embraced the concept.
Gastropubs not only emphasize the quality of food served, they provide a relaxed milieu in which dining patrons can obtain cuisine (as opposed to grub) comparable to what they might receive at the very best restaurants–and ostensibly, at reasonable prices. In order to be successful, pubs had to retain a milieu of casualness. Eating out at a pub should never be as formal as at a restaurant. The menu, of course, has to complement an assortment of wines and beers, the latter being a staple of pub life in England as in America.
Though not all of them call themselves “gastropubs,” the Duke City has, over the past decade or so, seen an increase in the number and quality of pubs, taverns and bars serving high-quality food you don’t have to be “four sheets to the wind” to consume. In fact, some of them accord themselves quite well in restaurant reviews and are held in high regard by their patrons as much for their food as for their libations. On March 19, 2010, the Abq Brew Pub entered the fray and in a short time began to earn acclaim as one of the best places in the city for adult beverages and excellent food.
The ABQ Brew Pub is located on Uptown Boulevard just south of the Coronado Mall. It is situated next door to the Uptown Sports Bar with which it shares a kitchen. There’s a distinct line of demarcation between the Abq Brew Pub and the Uptown Sports Bar. Though both have an adobe-hued stucco facade, the latter’s is just a bit more earthy and dark. The distinction extends to the tin roof. The ABQ Brew Pub’s is reddish while the Uptown Sports Bar’s is a light gray or silver. Other differences can be found when you step into both.
The Uptown Sports Bar lives up to its name with more than fifteen television screens all tuned to sporting events. The ABQ Brew Pub is more akin to a restaurant with a bar at its cynosure. There are far fewer televisions and a lot more art at the Brew Pub. High ceilings and Chaco style stonework lend a more upscale feel. Owner Adam Krafft invites patrons to “unfranchise your taste” with a selection of ten award-winning micro-brews produced by New Mexico’s largest producer of beer, Sierra Blanca. Among its beer menu is the Pancho Verde Chile in which New Mexico’s official state vegetable is a featured ingredient.
The menu is surprisingly upscale, a far cry from the days of peanuts, potato chips and pickled eggs–none of which are featured fare on the “Pub Fare” section of the menu. The ABQ Brew Pub’s ten-item pub fare menu includes appetizer-type items unlike any you might have seen a couple of decades ago. The menu also includes a four-item “tapas” menu, showcasing such “little dishes” as black cultured mussels and marinated cured ahi tuna. Two soups, including a Sierra Blanca inspired variety are available as are six salads.
Eight entrees, some the type of which you might find at a high-end restaurant, showcase the dinner menu, but the one most popular entree on the menu is a not-so-simple, not-so-humble burger. In 2010, the ABQ Brew Pub’s Southwest Burger was selected by an esteemed panel of judges as the winner of the second annual Governor’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge during the New Mexico State Fair. In doing so, the burger earned automatic inclusion on the New Mexico Tourism Department’s New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.
The Southwestern Burger is an eight-ounce behemoth constructed from Angus beef, two slices of American cheese, three strips of bacon and garlic mustard topped with a crunchy green chile tempura and chipotle mayonnaise on a fresh ciabatta bun. Cheryl Alters Jamison, the scintillating food and travel author who served as one of the judges says “it sounds a little frou-frou, but it’s anything but.” You can trust Cheryl, the New Mexico Culinary Tourism Liaison and five-time James Beard Award winning author who does more for promoting the New Mexico culinary experience than anyone.
Shortly after the Southwest Burger was selected as New Mexico’s very best green chile cheeseburger, throngs of hungry patrons stormed the restaurant to get theirs. The demand was so great that for a while Le Paris French Bakery couldn’t supply enough of their unique ciabatta buns and the Pub had to use standard burger buns until the ciabatta could be replenished. Though the demand has since tapered off somewhat, it remains the most ordered item on the menu though repeat visitors now tend to share one.
Weighing in at nearly a pound, the Southwest Burger is easily big enough to share. It’s certainly an unconventional burger, a fact not lost on traditionalists who might frown upon the liberties taken with the sacrosanct burger New Mexicans love like no other. Adventurous diners will enjoy it. The beef is prepared to your exacting specifications. Medium for me ensures plenty of pink and a profusion of juiciness. The bun is substantial enough to hold in all the ingredients without dominating the flavor profile. The tempura sheathed green chile retains a hint of roasting, but isn’t quite as piquant as fire-eaters like me might like.
Perhaps out of curiosity or to say “been there, done that,” the Southwest Burger will likely be what you order on your first visit, but taking in the menu, you’ll certainly plan a repeat visit or ten to try other menu items. The tapas menu is especially intriguing and if the apple wood smoked bacon wrapped California dates complemented with a cranberry Balsamic dipping glaze are any indication, the tapas are hard to top. Bacon, dates and cranberry Balsamic are a classic sweet, savory and tangy troika that may make your taste buds dance.
A more healthful, but no less delicious option is the House Salad. If the term “house salad” evokes images of iceberg lettuce, artificially ripened tomatoes, cucumbers and a large dollop of gloppy salad dressing, you’re in for a treat. The ABQ Brew Pub’s rendition is an artful plating of mesculin lettuce, cucumber, Crimini mushrooms, country tomato, Bermuda onion, Greek feta cheese and your choice of dressing. The mango cilantro citrus dressing is a winner with equal pronouncements of tanginess and piquancy.
The flavor profile of the ten-ounce grilled pork chop topped with a smoked chipotle piquillo pepper chutney includes sweet, savory, smoky, piquant and tangy in well-balanced proportions that will thrill adventurous diners. Reminiscent of Chop Houses throughout the Midwest, this is a substantial bone-in chop decorated with grill marks. It would be an excellent chop without the chutney, but the chutney elevates it by an order of magnitude or more. The chop is prepared to your exacting specifications and is surprisingly tender for a near one-inch thick piece of porcine perfection.
An excellent accompaniment to the pork chops is the Saute of Wild Mushrooms in Sherry. The mushrooms are fried briefly over high heat then served in a sherry broth, a combination which might make you swoon. It has an expensive flavor, but can be ordered as a side dish which complements meat dishes very well. It also makes an excellent mushroom soup.
Desserts are out-of-the-ordinary as well. The ABQ Cranberry Bread Pudding with a white chocolate and caramel drizzle is wholly unlike any other bread pudding we’ve had in Albuquerque. Four triangle-shaped wedges resembling a crustless French toast are impregnated with a white chocolate and drizzled in a tangy cranberry glaze with a decorative trail of caramel and a sprig of mint. It’s a fine way to end a meal.
Our inaugural visit so impressed us that we returned within a year (a good indication the restaurant has potential to become a semi-regular). Alas, the ABQ Brew Pub was beset by kitchen and service issues. An anomaly? It’s hard to know for sure. Neighbors at the tables near us indicated service and kitchen issues are commonplace, but the “great food” is worth waiting for. That’s not what we wanted to hear about a restaurant with potential to be on our erratic rotation.
The first SNAFU (situation normal, all fouled-up) was with an appetizer order of carnitas pork quesadillas. The menu indicated these quesadillas were crafted in a flour tortilla with Jack and Cheddar cheeses, green chile, country tomatoes, green onions and cilantro. Instead of green chile, however, the quesadillas were replete with jalapeños–not the grilled variety we appreciate so much, but greenish sliced peppers. When you’ve got your heart set on green chile, no substitute will do–no matter how good the quesadillas may be (and they were quite tasty). The quesadillas, big enough to be served as an entree, too, are served with sides of guacamole and salsa, both of which are surprisingly good.
Green chile was the subject of another kitchen faux pas. When the menu offers “green chile roasted ribs,” you might expect for the green chile to be incorporated into the roasting process or at the least to be a prime ingredient in the sauce with which the ribs are slathered. That wasn’t the case. The green chile was served in a ramekin, intended to be applied onto the ribs after-the-fact. Worse, the green chile was served cold. While the ribs were meaty and substantial, this case of misleading enticement was hard to forgive–even though the ribs were quite good. The chile, too, was quite good and it had a piquancy I love, but it wasn’t delivered as promised (or at least hinted about) on the menu.
The ten-ounce Angus choice-cut of top sirloin came highly recommended by a trusted colleague with a sophisticated palate. He calls it the “best west of the Mississippi.” That’s high praise indeed for a slab of beef costing fifteen dollars, much less one offered at a brew pub. Thankfully the kitchen delivered on its promise. This is indeed an excellent steak, as tender and flavorful as any in town. You would be hard-pressed to find a hint of sinew or fat on this meaty marvel, probably because this cut of beef comes from the gluteus maximus, a thick cut of which is often used for Chateubriand. The only way to top this steak is with sherry-wild mushroom glace.
The top sirloin is offered with your choice of sides. A surprising summer sensation is watermelon gazpacho, a refreshing and flavorful soup served cold. This sweet-savory soup is the perfect cure for the sweltering summer doldrums, melding the flavors of cilantro, green onion, cucumber and watermelon in a semi-pureed soup you’ll be slurping up. Watermelon has very few calories from fat, making this a very guilt-free to enjoy this super soup.
The ABQ Brew Pub’s may have been a “hit and miss” experience during our first two visits, but when it hit, it was a home run, delivering on the promise of the more refined and upscale experience of gastropub cuisine done very well.
ABQ Brew Pub
6601 Uptown Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 2 July 2011
1st VISIT: 23 October 2010
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: ABQ Cranberry Bread Pudding, Southwest Burger, Saute of Wild Mushrooms in Sherry, Grilled Pork Chop, Garden Salad, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon Wrapped California Dates, Ten-Ounce Angus Choice Cut of Top Sirloin, Carnitas Pork Quesadillas, Watermelon Gaspacho