Amuse-bouche The Root Cellar, reviewed
The Root Cellar
101 W. Marcy St. (enter through The Hive Market) 505-383-3879, www.therootcellarsantafe.com
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.