Cruisin’ for a brewsin’
Who doesn’t have fond childhood memories of eating cotton candy or a hot dog after a ride on a roller coaster? Given that the Santa Fe Farmers Market is essentially an amusement park for non-adrenaline-addicted food lovers, Second Street Brewery’s new outpost in the Railyard— located at the northern end of the Santa Fe Farmers Market pavilion — could be one of those establishments whose prime location attracts hungry visitors in droves.
This incarnation of the brew pub seems like a popular kid’s better-dressed older sister. You’ll spy a lot of the usual suspects on the menu — burgers, green-chile-cheese fries, and nachos — as well as more-upscale items like pomegranate-glazed quail, a farmer’s plate, a steamed-salmon and spinach salad, and a half rack of barbecue ribs. The décor is a tad swankier as well: finished-concrete flooring, industrialchic lighting, handsomely grained wood bar and tabletops, and walls of divided-pane glass — including two “garage doors” that can be raised in fair weather.
Much like the original location, the new spot has a railroad view. You can watch the New Mexico Rail Runner Express roll in and out of town while you dine. Every Saturday, Santa Fe Farmers Market vendors set up shop just a few steps away. Not once was our service slow, unfriendly, or in other ways poor.
The idea of a brew pub composing entire dishes from items purchased at the farmers market had me feeling proud. The farmer’s plate — described as an assortment of grilled sausages and cheeses produced locally — doesn’t give local foods much good publicity, though. The sausages turned out to be two measly, sloppy-looking patties; luckily, the lamb meat was rich and redolent of fennel and spice and could speak for itself. The cheeses weren’t given their due, either, displaying the tough, dry edges of food that’s been sitting uncovered for too long. The rest of the platter seemed like an afterthought: limp, virtually tasteless white-bread toast; a mushy and excessively sweet fruit chutney (local pineapple!?); a scattering of celery and carrot sticks; and an inexplicable garnish of sprouts.
Though I admire the kitchen’s aspirations, the new, fancier dishes struck me as being like the goals of Icarus, who wanted to fly close to the sun but ended up plunging into the sea. One night’s special, Thai curry steak, consisted of strips of beef in a red-curryflavored cream sauce and accompanied by flavorless green rice. Aficionados would call the ribs “froufrou barbecue” — the honey-citrus sauce was sticky-sweet and laced with too many unnecessary spices and seasonings. The accompanying steamed carrots and broccoli were an incongruous afterthought.
The bar food, though, won me over. The greenchile-cheese fries provide the fried-salty-starchy-spicy combination beloved in bars everywhere. The chile is fiery and fresh, the cheese gooey-stretchy on top and crunchy around the edges. Even a half order of nachos includes a slew of stuff — cheese, beans, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and jalapeños — atop a heap of tricolor chips.
This is food that begs for beer, and Second Street delivers something to appeal to a range of tastes: the chocolate-toffee notes of the cream stout; the floral, grapefruity Cascade Lager; the sweet, nutty, and tannic Rail Runner Pale Ale; the mild and winning Kolsch; the well-rounded Rod’s Best Bitter; and an IPA so full of floral hoppiness you can almost chew it. Not a fan of beer? Never fear. Second Street offers a decent selection of wines, including one or two from New Mexico’s stalwart, Gruet.
Sandwiches satisfy for the most part: a portobello panini with pesto, feta, and tomatoes; a gratifyingly messy patty melt; a generous ham croissant ramped-up with Gorgonzola, avocado, and spicy sunflower sprouts (a gooey bottom layer was its only flaw). Neither the Cobb nor the Caesar salad was particularly generous or memorable. Still, the lighter choices are appreciated.
Given that in a while, more fresh produce will be steps away, I hope Second Street will expand its salad and fresh-vegetable roster. Disney’s California Adventure lures patrons by calling one of its restaurants Bountiful Valley Farmers Market, though according to www.themeparkinsider.com, it serves “not farm-fresh fruits and veggies from local farmers, but chicken, fish, and mozzarella sticks.” I know the Railyard’s Second Street Brewery can do better than that.