Rowley Farmhouse Ales
The equal strengths of the menu and the beer program make for a sorely needed locally owned reprieve from the construction snafus, chain drive-thrus, and auto-body shops of Cerrillos Road.
“God love ya, have a beer,” my Irish great-grandmother used to say to guests in her home, and for a wee respite from these uncertain times, we might do well to heed her suggestion. In the interest of such escapism, I headed to Rowley Farmhouse Ales, a cheery new brewhouse just off Cerrillos Road. On a side street near AutoZone and the Artisan art supply store, Rowley offers over 20 beers on tap and nearly as many by the bottle, in addition to a small wine list and a well-executed — and well-priced — menu of strikingly good pub food.
The brainchild of brewmaster John Rowley and chef Jeff Kaplan, the gastropub is rustic but well appointed, featuring a long, smooth bar made from reclaimed wood and a heated, tented beer-garden-style patio with picnic tables. Rowley’s main focus is on farmhouse ales, or sour beer, which originated in regions of Belgium and puts a locavore spin on brewing methods — along with souring bacteria, the wild ales contain multiple yeast strains from their natural environment. These elements are said to contribute to a more complex flavor and a lower alcohol content, and a 10-ounce draft of the Rowley Ab Initio-Grapefruit, a Berliner Weisse sour, proved tartly invigorating.
In addition to one or two of Rowley’s own creations, the rest of the tap list is intelligently curated, containing a good mix of ales, stouts, IPAs, pilsners, and Hefeweizens from breweries near and far. The offerings change several times a week, according to the helpful and quite knowledgeable waitstaff. On Wednesdays, they tap a special, rare keg. Recently, it was Lagunitas’ Born Yesterday, a mellower IPA with fewer piney notes and more of a citrusy finish (and one of only two kegs shipped to our state). We also sampled Upslope’s refreshing Blood Orange Saison and Marble’s complex spice-laden Pumpkin Noir. We were wowed by Founders’ Kentucky Breakfast Stout, a creamy American imperial with notes of dark chocolate, coffee, and caramel. Further research yields that some innovators have used this as a base for a beer-ice-cream float, and I applaud their genius.
Even if you’re not a beer drinker, come for the thoughtful food, which is locally sourced where possible and heavy on comfort. The crispy Korean chicken wings are dusted with a sprinkling of peanuts, the fried chicken’s eggshell-thin breading giving way to tender, flavorful white meat. These were served alongside a red-pepper-flecked cucumber salad. My companion, who tends to make top-five lists, quickly marked these as a new contender for best wings in town.
The poutine is a bit more elegant than usual, with house-cut shoestring french fries bathed in a red-wine sauce under melted Old Windmill Dairy cheddar cheese curds and hearty cubes of seared Four Daughters flat-iron steak from Los Lunas. A bowl of milky New England clam chowder includes Manila clams in their shells, along with smoky bacon chunks, tarragon, and corn. I may have wished for a bit more depth from the broth, but the soup’s ingredients were stellar. A simple and lovely farmers market salad features a warm piñon-studded goat-cheese pillow over a bed of fresh balsamic-dressed greens, tomatoes, and beets.
Chicken and waffles are a highlight. Kaplan knows his way around a fryer, and our plump, juicy breast boasted a lightly golden, nicely crunchy coating. Including a fluffy Belgian waffle drizzled with house-made maple syrup infused with Santa Fe Spirits’ Colkegan whiskey, the dish was a pleasure from start to finish. So too was the ambrosial mac ’n’ cheese, which presents a blend of Parmesan, blue cheese, and mozzarella melted in a heap of elbow macaroni dotted with more of that thick-cut bacon. The sirloin burger, cooked slightly past the requested medium, nonetheless brought big flavor to a brioche bun with bacon, cheddar, and a faintly sweet caramelized onion marmalade. The slightly cinnamony homemade ketchup made a boon companion to a pile of nicely fried skinny onion rings.
The vibe at Rowley is convivial and pleasant, with an emphasis on fun — Kaplan only semi-jokingly advised us to steer clear of political conversation a few nights after the election — and on educating beercurious customers. On both my visits, a conscientious waitstaff informed me up-front what the kitchen had run out of and what the new draft selections were; when I marveled at their efficiency and breadth of knowledge, a server confided to me that there were “cheat sheets” posted around the establishment for ease of communication between staff and patrons.
The equal strengths of the menu and the beer program make for a sorely needed locally owned reprieve from the construction snafus, chain drive-thrus, and auto-body shops of Cerrillos Road — and the pub’s ample lot offers a sensible alternative to hunting for a parking spot elsewhere. On my last visit, I couldn’t stay away from current affairs altogether when I spotted — and felt immediately compelled to sample — Rowley’s newest elixir on draft, a Russian imperial stout called Grab ’Em by the Putin. Rich and brawny, it was smoother and went down more easily than other stouts I’ve tried. Draining its last restorative drops, I felt ready to face the world again.