Cruisin’ for a brewsin’

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Lau­rel Glad­den For The New Mex­i­can

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.

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