Restau­rant Re­view

Blue Corn Café Down­town

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Alex Heard

New Mex­ico din­ers have re­ally ben­e­fited from the craft­brew­ing boom, which you can read all about in Jon C. Stott’s 2014 book, New Mex­ico Beer , a well-re­searched look at the his­tory and out­put of ev­ery brew­ery in the state. But be­cause the mi­cro­brew land­scape is al­ways chang­ing, Stott’s ros­ter al­ready needs up­dates, which he pro­vides on his blog (www.beerquest­west.com). For ex­am­ple, Red Door Brew­ing Com­pany, which opened in Al­bu­querque last Septem­ber, was too new to make it into his first edi­tion.

One of Santa Fe’s older op­er­a­tions is the Blue Corn Café & Brew­ery, which was launched in 1997 and has a dou­ble foot­print here. The beer is made at the south­side lo­ca­tion, at the cor­ner of Cer­ril­los and Rodeo roads, which is also home to a large restau­rant. The down­town café, on Wa­ter Street, oc­cu­pies a col­or­ful, sprawl­ing, high-ceilinged space on the sec­ond floor of the Plaza Mer­cado. Both spots of­fer a va­ri­ety of pro­pri­etary beers on tap, as well as wines and drinks from their full bar, in­clud­ing an ex­ten­sive se­lec­tion of mar­gar­i­tas. And both fea­ture sim­i­lar menus that are heavy on North­ern New Mex­ico fare, ham­burg­ers, sand­wiches, sal­ads, and mis­cel­la­neous pub-grub ap­pe­tiz­ers like hot wings, queso, and crab dip. Judg­ing by two re­cent trips to the down­town restau­rant, the beer is more re­li­able than the food, which is some­times fine but in gen­eral is dis­tress­ingly in­con­sis­tent.

For a din­ner visit, I took a friend who’s an avid home brewer. He tried two Blue Corn cre­ations and liked both: Toro Blanco, a white dou­ble IPA, and Wrin­kled Kilt, a Scot­tishtype ale. Toro Blanco is a wheat beer, fea­tur­ing the lib­eral use of hops, with a high al­co­hol con­tent of 9.1 per­cent ABV (al­co­hol by vol­ume). Com­pared with him, I’m a craft-beer ten­der­foot, and my taste buds sim­ply don’t re­spond well to bit­ter, hoppy beers. But I liked the Toro Blanco, which was bal­anced in a way that many hops-heavy beers are not. I also en­joyed the End of the Trail brown ale (5.5 per­cent ABV), a mild, smooth, and nutty brew that’s a good en­try point for peo­ple who are new to th­ese richer, heartier beers.

To ac­com­pany the suds, we started with a small plate of bar­be­cued baby-back ribs and a bowl of green chile stew. Both were good. The ribs weren’t smoked, but you don’t ex­pect that from a sec­ond-floor gas­tropub in the heart of down­town. In­stead, they were braised in Blue Corn lager to the point of fall-off-the-bone ten­der­ness, seared, and coated with honey-chipo­tle sauce. (You can also re­quest a tra­di­tional tomato-based bar­be­cue sauce.) The green chile stew was thick, medium-hot, and very green — there’s no tomato in this recipe, and ap­par­ently not much beef broth, which is of­ten used to give the stew a soupier tex­ture and browner hue. There was a gen­er­ous amount of pork and potato, and both were per­fectly cooked.

Our en­trees ar­rived right on top of the ap­pe­tiz­ers — the servers at Blue Corn some­times rush things — and they were markedly in­fe­rior. I or­dered that day’s spe­cial, a carne adovada bur­rito. What I got was carne asada, which was tough and al­most fla­vor­less. It was wrapped in­side a big, bland flour tor­tilla; in­side and out, the other dom­i­nant el­e­ments were a just-av­er­age red chile sauce and heavy, oily melted cheese.

My friend or­dered the New Mex­ico shep­herd’s pie, an in­ter­est­ing con­cept that doesn’t quite work. A typ­i­cal shep­herd’s pie has for its bot­tom layer a sa­vory mix of spiced meat and veg­eta­bles, and the whole thing has a roof of oven-browned mashed pota­toes. In the Blue Corn vari­a­tion, the top layer is melted cheese. Be­neath that is a too-thin layer of mashed pota­toes that was sog­gily mixed with ground beef, a tiny amount of green chile, and cal­abac­i­tas that gave off ex­cess wa­ter, diluting the fla­vor even more.

A sec­ond out­ing, for lunch, was beer-free — I was with a teenager, so we tried Blue Corn’s “spe­cial recipe” root beer and fresh-squeezed lemon­ade. Both were tasty, but the root beer needed more car­bon­a­tion and the lemon­ade some­how lacked pulp. The food that fol­lowed was, as be­fore, a high-low mix. The Black and Blue Burger — An­gus beef, ba­con, and blue cheese on a brioche bun — was great, but the Cae­sar salad I or­dered with it was dry and dull. My friend liked the hot wings well enough, but I thought they tasted too much like liq­uid smoke. Our dessert, a dulce de leche cake, was a B. Shaped like a cup­cake, it had the dense tex­ture of a brownie and could have used more sa­vory-sweet spice.

The take­away? If you’re look­ing for a beer, ap­pe­tizer, and burger, head on over. But, for now, this is an iffy place for a full-on meal.

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