Starr Brothers Brewing – Albuquerque, New Mexico
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.
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.
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.
3 July 2016: 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.
3 July 2016: 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.
3 July 2016: 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.
3 July 2016: 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.
13 September 2016: In the Land of Enchantment, our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburgers transcend the seasons. They’re enjoyed all year-round, however, two factors combine to make September the one month in which they’re enjoyed more than in any other. The first factor is the freshly picked, recently roasted crop of green chile. The second factor is the celebration of the green chile cheeseburger in two premier competitive events–Santa Fe’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown and the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. On September 12th, 2016, Laguna Burger earned bragging rights at the State Fair event, ending a two year reign by national chain Fuddrucker‘s. Finishing second in the blind taste test adjudged event was Starr Brothers.
Frankly had Starr Brothers not garnered such a prestigious honor, it would probably have taken several visits before the Starr Burger crossed my lips. That’s not so much an indictment of the burger as it is a credit to how diverse and alluring the rest of the menu is. My server became animated in describing the burger, touting it as the best in Albuquerque. If it’s not the Duke City’s best, it’s on a very short list as one of the best. This is a sensational burger! The canvas is a brioche bun, a rich, eggy bread of optimal thickness–resilient enough to hold up against moist ingredients without becoming a dominant flavor. Atop the bottom bun are chopped onions, a sliced tomato and fresh greens then comes a choice beef patty prepared to your exacting specifications. The beef is topped with a green chile ranch aioli, molten melted cheese and strips of bacon in a crossed (X) pattern. The green chile ranch aioli has a nice bite to it, The beef patty is moist and seasoned well with a premium beef flavor (obviously not thawed). You have your choice of a salad or fries with your burger. The seasoned fries are addictive, with or without the uniquely flavored ketchup with its notes of smokiness and piquancy.
6 May 2018: Much like jumbo shrimp, jumbo wings is an oxymoronic term. Despite the term itself meaning “very large,” nature (and perhaps a little genetic modification) have pretty much decided shrimp and chicken wings are rather miniscule in size. More often than not, however, “jumbo” wings do tend to have a bit more meat on the bone than the paltry poultry some restaurant suppliers and grocers carry. Starr Brothers offers “jumbo” wings with your choice of dressing: buffalo sauce, mango Habanero, lemon pepper, Sriracha, atomic or barbecue. Save for the dry-rubbed mango Habanero, all sauces are wet. If the mango Habanero rub actually has any Habanero influence, it’s very diluted. We didn’t get much heat from the wings. Served on the side are carrot and celery sticks with a small bowl of blue cheese dressing.
6 May 2018: Having grown up in the City of Big Shoulders, big pizza and big steaks, my Kim has a great appreciation for a traditional accompaniment to a Chicago chophouse steak—the wedge salad. Two ingredients are de rigueur. First, of course, is a crisp quarter-head of iceberg lettuce sliced so it includes the core of the lettuce. Next is my favorite fetid fromage, a creamy, rich blue cheese. Beyond that, a wedge salad, can be topped with literally anything. At first browse (and more importantly, first taste) the Starr Brothers’ version didn’t appear much different than any other except for one ingredient: iceberg lettuce, bacon lardon, Maytag bleu cheese, tomato, red onion and smoked garlic ranch. Distinguishing itself above every ingredient was a small, tear-shaped Peruvian pepper called the sweety drop. Sweety drop pepper seeds are a combination of a cherry pepper and a jalapeno pepper, accounting for the sweet heat they generate. Who would have thought the tiniest ingredient in a large salad would make the greatest impression?
6 May 2018: When founding Friends of Gil (FOG) member Jim Millington recently called the Greek Chicken at Starr Brothers “better than any Greek restaurant in town” and “so damned good that I couldn’t believe it,” we knew we’d have to try it. My Kim tends to order Greek chicken at every Greek restaurant so she didn’t even bother looking at the menu. When the Greek chicken arrived at our table, it didn’t look like any other Greek chicken she’d had. Expecting a half chicken–carcass, bones, skin and all–her plate was instead brimming with farro, a soft wheat grain. Nestled atop more farro than she’s eaten in her life were a grilled, marinated chicken breast, Greek olives, oven-roasted tomatoes and a dollop of goat cheese all sprinkled with Balsamic vinegar. As a lazy diner who doesn’t always like crab, lobster or chicken because it takes work to get to the good part, the chicken breast would have suited me, but my bride doesn’t mind working around carapace or bones. Sorry, Jim, she liked the chicken, but didn’t love it.
6 May 2018: Personal space proximity to other diners at the dog-friendly patio meant we got to check out dishes destined for other tables. Espying a bounteous burrito being ferried to a neighboring table enticed me to order one of my own. The Starr burrito is fairly typical of hand-held burritos throughout the state, a flour tortilla sheathing green chile, cheese, potato and your choice of protein: steak, pork, carne adovada or chicken. Green chile is definitely the star of this burrito. It’s got a great roasted flavor and a pleasant piquancy. Alas, there isn’t enough of it. With green chile this good, the burrito shouldn’t be prepared for hand-held consumption. Green chile should be slathered generously all over the burrito and even on the accompanying seasoned fries.
In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2017, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Starr Brothers Brewing a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its Poutine Burqueño as one of the “dishes…that’s lighting a fire under the city’s culinary scene.” Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.
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
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LATEST VISIT: 6 May 2018
1st VISIT: 3 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Strawberry Blonde Bread Pudding, Tender Steak, Pork Chops, Herbed Brie, Starr Burger, Starr Burrito with Fries, Greek Chicken, Mango Habanero Chicken Wings, Wedge Salad