Amuse-bouche The Root Cel­lar, re­viewed

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The Root Cel­lar

101 W. Marcy St. (en­ter through The Hive Mar­ket) 505-383-3879, www.the­root­cel­

Din­ner 4:30-9:30 p.m. Tues­days-Fri­days; 4:30-10 p.m. Satur­days; closed Sun­days and Mon­days

Veg­e­tar­ian and gluten-free op­tions Noise level: muted, with mu­sic at a low vol­ume Hand­i­capped ac­ces­si­ble No chil­dren un­der twelve Beer, cider, mead, and wine Credit cards, no checks

The Short Or­der

If you’re look­ing for a dark, cozy down­town hide­away to grab a lo­cally pro­duced drink in peace, seek no fur­ther than The Root Cel­lar, a tap­room and eatery that opened down­stairs from The Hive Mar­ket on Marcy Street in Novem­ber. The beer, cider, mead, and wine all hail from New Mexico, and the small menu of mostly sand­wiches is well ex­e­cuted, if not com­pletely in line with the ex­pec­ta­tions gen­er­ated by the gas­tropub-style at­mos­phere. But fear not — a newer menu is said to be in the works, and with chef Greg Menke at the helm (he’s also owner-op­er­a­tor of the nearby Bee­stro), we can rest easy that we’re in good hands. Rec­om­mended: Al­bu­querque Michelada, French onion soup, French dip panini, Vivác wines on tap.

Ev­ery­one should have a hide­out — an un­ex­pected subter­ranean spot for when the sun is too bright, the sky is too cloudy, or the world has be­come a bit too much to bear. You might take a good book along to such a den, or a com­pan­ion wor­thy of your se­cret place. Maybe you go there to chat with a bar­tender, have a glass of wine, or lis­ten to mu­sic, but the goal is al­ways the same: sweet es­cape, the kind you won’t find above ground or at a more well-known es­tab­lish­ment. Last Novem­ber, The Root Cel­lar opened its doors down­stairs from The Hive Mar­ket on Marcy Street, where the for­mer base­ment of Blue Rooster (and be­fore that, Rouge Cat), has been trans­formed into some­thing re­sem­bling a Ger­man ratskeller (hence The Root Cel­lar’s cog­nate moniker). The tap­room is the brain­child of The Bee­stro chef-owner Greg Menke, who in 2015 took the next step in cre­at­ing a hon­ey­bee­cen­tric em­pire by open­ing The Hive Mar­ket’s re­tail space, filled with New Mexico-made prod­ucts. At The Root Cel­lar, Menke presents a lengthy and ro­tat­ing list of more than 20 dif­fer­ent beers and ciders on tap, along with nearly as many wines, all impressively hail­ing from in state. There are also a cou­ple of of­fer­ings from Menke’s Fal­con Mead and a small menu of mostly sand­wiches that heav­ily over­laps with that of The Bee­stro lunch counter down the street.

After you’ve de­scended the stairs from the mar­ket to the base­ment, you may need a mo­ment to ori­ent your­self near the ham­mered-cop­per bar that lines one wall, es­pe­cially if you ever found your­self squeezed among the sweaty, gy­rat­ing throngs who fre­quented the lower level of the old night­club. Now the place gets an A for quiet, dimly lit speakeasy-style at­mos­phere, with its long, var­nished bier­garten ta­bles and high-backed booths made of dark wood and bur­gundy leather, well sit­u­ated for tête-à-têtes.

We be­gan one visit by sam­pling both the Moun­tain Mead and the Cherry Mead, both of which were quite sweet, the for­mer a bit milder and honey-redo­lent, while the fizzier cherry mainly re­minded us of sherry. An in­no­va­tive list of 11 beer, cider, and wine-based cock­tails beck­oned — these elixirs in­clude sev­eral in­trigu­ing com­bi­na­tions, like the Santa Fe Ap­ple, which min­gles Bosque Brew­ing Com­pany’s Lager and New Mexico Hard Cider, and the Java Black Vel­vet, made up of three-quar­ters Gruet Sau­vage sparkling wine and one-quar­ter Santa Fe Brew­ing Com­pany Im­pe­rial Java Stout. The Al­bu­querque Michelada, a Box­ing Bear Brew­ing Co. Body Czech Pil­sner served in a glass with a salt-and-pep­pered rim along­side a beaker of hot sauce mixed with tomato and lime juices, proved a nicely pre­sented ver­sion of one of the tasti­est ways to gussy up a beer.

We also took ad­van­tage of the Win­ter Happy Hour (4:30-6 p.m. daily, $5 select glasses of wine, $4 lo­cal pints, and $7 select cock­tails). We or­dered a pint of the Santa Fe Brew­ing Com­pany’s thick, malty Black IPA along with some chips, gua­camole (which we por­tioned out care­fully, wish­ing there were more), and a mild house-made salsa.

The French onion soup, served in a clas­sic brown crock with melted Gruyère and pro­volone over broth-swim­ming crou­tons, is the menu item most well-suited to the at­mos­phere and am­bi­tion of this gas­tropub — rich and restora­tive, it’s ex­actly what you crave in a cozy bar on a blus­tery day. The French dip panini, too, achieves the same pur­pose, with ro­bust, thinly sliced slow-roasted beef pressed be­tween halves of a crusty baguette. It’s served with a bright

horse­rad­ish cream and a stout jus along­side a hand­ful of potato chips that seemed like an af­ter­thought (my king­dom for some French fries to go with this stel­lar French dip). Both of these pub-grubby items went well with a glass of the Vivác Caber­net, avail­able on tap for a rea­son­able $6.

The Cubano panini ben­e­fits from a fla­vor­ful amal­gam of shred­ded pork roast, melted Jarls­berg Swiss, dill pickle, and smoky-sweet black for­est ham, but it lacks a cer­tain ex­tra mus­tardy zip. The Root Cel­lar salad, which we or­dered with falafel, also needed more zing, es­pe­cially for the near-$13 price tag; the falafel was dry, and though its ac­com­pa­ny­ing tzatziki sauce was tasty, there wasn’t quite enough of it. The rest of the salad was com­posed of fresh chopped cel­ery and red onion, car­rot rib­bons, mixed greens, and cubed boiled potato with a rather tame vinai­grette.

At this junc­ture, at least, the food is not quite the main event at The Root Cel­lar: I’m more in­ter­ested in the clubby, el­e­gant pri­vacy the room has to of­fer, along with its well-tended drink se­lec­tions and ea­ger sup­port of lo­cal pro­duc­ers. Over two vis­its, I couldn’t help wish­ing for more cost-ef­fec­tive, gas­tropub-style din­ner en­trees or spe­cials, along the lines of shep­herd’s pie or a burger, or per­haps more in­ter­est­ing (root-veg­etable­based?) sal­ads. There’s also not much on the “gnosh” menu be­tween the $7.95 chips, gua­camole, and salsa and a $15.95 char­cu­terie plate. Given the kitchen’s tal­ent with soups, I would wel­come a cou­ple more of those, or even some sim­ple mixed nuts, a pickle plate, or a dish of mar­i­nated olives.

But there’s good news along those lines: On a re­cent evening, in re­ply to one pa­tron’s as­tute query (“Are you a restau­rant with beer or a bar with food?”), our server al­luded to a newer and more sub­stan­tial menu, com­ing soon, which we’ll be ea­ger to pe­ruse when it ar­rives. For now, I’m de­lighted to treat the place as a low-key tav­ern (which in­cludes a ban on vis­i­tors un­der age twelve), par­tic­u­larly as this is one of the more af­ford­able places down­town to grab that glass of wine. And when you fac­tor in a chef who con­sid­ers his in­gre­di­ents — and their sources — as thought­fully as Menke has proven him­self to, it seems The Root Cel­lar may be­come a des­ti­na­tion eatery yet.

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