Great Brews and New Mexican Soul Food
First visit: September 17, 2011
Thirty-first visit: November 8, 2013
Add Nexus Brewery to Albuquerque’s ever burgeoning collection of craft breweries.
Brewing in New Mexico has become an art form. Such breweries as Turtle Mountain Brewing Company, La Cumbre, Marble, Chama River, Hallenbrick, and many others have risen to prominence among beer fans. ABQ Beer Geek maintains the Albuquerque Beer Scene Blog with links to the best breweries in the area as well as a list of events of interest to brew fans. Reviews by ABQ Beer Geek can be found in the Weekly Alibi, and he maintains a Facebook Page with up-to-date ramblings (almost daily). Products from these breweries have found their way into many fine t(and some none-too-fine) local eateries. One of my favorites (within walking distance), Corrales Bistro Brewery, serves two of my favorites: Marble IPA and Turtle Mountain IPA. I guess that makes me a hophead.
Nexus Brewery opened its doors on May 26, 2011. Ken Carson, the affable owner, has a hit on his hands. In his own words,
“When I told my wife that I was going to quit my banking job and open a brewery, she said, “Great!” I felt like I was in the middle of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation movie, where Captain Kirk and Picard gets pulled into the NEXUS, a heavenly place where everything is perfect… to open an establishment that rivals Kirk’s nirvana, oh my goodness, I have to do this! First, we’ll take a cue from Milwaukee’s history book and create great tasting beer that will make Albuquerque ‘famous.’”
Well, banking’s loss is our gain. Together with Maun Massen, Head Brewer, has created a small collection of really fine brews. Unable to decide, our server (we sat at the bar) poured us six small samples: American Stout: 5.8% ABV, American Red: 7.0% ABV, American IPA: 6.8% ABV, Belgian Wit: 5.0% ABV, Cream Ale: 6.0% ABV, and a killer Barley Wine: 10.5 ABV. The stout was Jane’s favorite, and the American Red won my heart. This brew is a stronger deep red ale with strong malt and caramel notes. Dry hopped for that American finish of citrus and pine. Excellent brew nicely finished. My second choice is the American IPA — a big bold American IPA. A light golden color with a big hoppy/citrusy finish. Made in West Coast tradition with lots of citrusy and piney hops. Every brew is excellent. The Barley wine may be an acquired taste for many. You need to try it to believe it.
New Mexican Soul Food
Yeah. New Mexican Soul Food. Not what you would expect in a bar. Bar food is usually boring and predictable. Not so here.
Red Chile Flaked Onion Petals with ranch dressing. Southern Fried Swai* Po Boy – lettuce, tomato and beer battered fries. Southern Fried Chicken withWaffles- with real butter and maple syrup. Southern Fried Swai* and beer battered fries – 2 generous Swai fillets with fries. 4 Fish (swai*) Tacos – with fresh Pico de Gallo.
*Swai — Fresh water farm-raised fish that tastes better than catfish. Really.
At the urging of our affable and lovable server Reina Carson (Ken’s daughter), I settled on the fish tacos, since I am still dieting. What I got was a freshly prepared (no steam tables here) plate with four corn tortillas (warmed but soft), shredded cabbage, a dish of pico de gallo, and a generous pile of bite-sized pieces of the fish that had been coated with a cajun spice rub and NOT deep fried. The pico de gallo was fresh and medium hot. Cabbage? yeah, crispy and beats shredded lettuce all hollow. The fish? Tasty, spicy, and perfectly done. These tacos are among the three best fish tacos I have ever had anyplace. Yeah!
In a few weeks I will be moving on to the consolidation phase of my diet, and then I can add (once or twice a week) some fried food. When that happens, I will beeline back to Nexus Brewery and attack the rest of the menu. Starting with the Southern Fried Swai.
The Fish Sliders (swai) are perfectly fried, moist, and incredibly tasty. The greens are the real thing with bits of bacon. The fried zucchini is comparable to the very best I have ever had in the U.S. Southland. This is inspired, soulful stuff. This food goes great with their Scottish Ale, a brown ale that reminds me a little of Moose Drool from Montana. A strong very malty, deep brown ale. Malt flavors predominate with nutty flavors mingling within. The malty sweetness is balanced by light hopping rates and alcoholic warmth rising through the malt. 8% ABV 28
A strong very malty, deep brown ale. Malt flavors predominate with nutty flavors mingling within. The malty sweetness is balanced by light hopping rates and alcoholic warmth rising through the malt.
This is just one of the reasons why Bob and Linda and Jane and Larry keep coming back to Nexus. This is Jane’s favorite dark heavy. She is really a light lager fan (say Kingfisher brewed in India—the New York stuff is crap).
Pick up a growler or two before leaving for home (keep it in the trunk of your car).
Chopped Pork Sliders
Good tender and juicy pork with a little bit of barbecue sauce, but not overpowering. You can get two, three, or four. The beer-battered fries are very good. This plate makes a delightful lunch. The sliders are just the right size, and there is no grease or oil to be found anywhere on this plate.
Watch out—these beauties can become habit forming. Oh, yeah.
Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles
Chicken and waffles is a soul food dish combining waffles, a breakfast food, with (usually) fried chicken. It is served in certain specialty restaurants in the United States. The dish is most commonly made by serving fried chicken with a waffle, the waffle then typically being covered with butter and/or syrup (as is common practice among those who eat waffles for breakfast in the United States). This unusual combination of foods is beloved by many people who are influenced by traditions of soul food passed down from past generations of their families. A version of this dish mostly known within areas that have Pennsylvania Dutch influences consists of a plain waffle with pulled, stewed chicken on top, covered in gravy.
History (one version):
“As unusual as it might seem, the marriage of chicken and waffles actually has deep roots. Thomas Jefferson brought a waffle iron back from France in the 1790s and the combination began appearing in cookbooks shortly thereafter. The pairing was enthusiastically embraced by African Americans in the South. For a people whose cuisine was based almost entirely on the scraps left behind by landowners and plantation families, poultry was a rare delicacy; in a flapjack culture, waffles were similarly exotic. Chicken and waffles for decades has been a special-occasion meal in African American families, often supplying a hearty Sunday morning meal.”
The version from the Nexus kitchen is the simple, classic one with beer-battered chicken lightly spiced and fried to a crispy golden brown by a master fryer. No grease, just moist and tasty chicken. The waffle? This is Sunday morning stuff. Perfect.
I grew up in Maryland, which is far enough south for fried chicken to qualify as southern (especially on the Eastern Shore). This dish as made by my mother for Sunday dinner was covered with a light-colored sage cream gravy. I loved it. The Nexus version, without the gravy, is as good as it gets, and you will swear that you are eating it in the Deep South. Or even the Eastern Shore. This is heavenly stuff, and I might get hooked.
The Chicken and Waffle dish has been awarded a Hot Plate Award by Albuquerque The Magazine in their May 2012 Food and Wine issue. And Antoinette Antonio, TV channel 4 Best Bites host, has interviewed the Nexus folks for her May 24 broadcast.
Cinco De Mayo and First Anniversary at Nexus
On May 5, Nexus threw a Cinco De Mayo celebration. The Casuals, an outstanding local jazz and blues group, played during the fest. Check their Web site for a calendar of local appearances.
For this occasion, several new menu items were introduced. Several leaned more toward New Mexican rather that southern/soul.
I stuck with my newest favirite Chicken and Waffles, but Jane, an enchilada fan, tried the new Green Chile Chicken Enchilada. Flat enchiladas smothered in green chile, they are as good as any we have had in the Duke City, and better than many. The chile is very piquant. Be prepared for a real treat.
Several weekends later, Nexus held a three-day-long First Anniversary party with yet more new menu items (such as red chile barbecued ribs) and introduced a new brew especially for this celebration — Beam Me Up Scottish Ale. This potion is similar to my favorite Scottish Ale, but packs a 11.0 ABV wallop. Smooth and delicious, this may become my new favorite if they continue to brew it (please). This was served in a commemorative 12-oz. goblet, Get one.
Ken has a sure fire winner here. Great food, great brews, and great people. Hang out here. I will.
Get on their mailing list and watch out for the matanza, which Ken assures me will become a semi-regular event on some Sunday afternoons. Get there early. The pork and lamb go quickly.
Please drink wisely. Always appoint a designated driver.
The fish tacos remain a hit. I had these on my first visit, when they were plated as a do0it-yourself kit. They are now fuppy assembled for you and taste exactly the same. Many of my friends come here specifically for these, which remain among the best in Albuquerque.
Pickle chips, deep fried. This is a real taste treat, and you need to get a plate of them as soon as you sit down. Slightly crispy, and never greasy.
Habit forming. Bet you can’t stop at one.
Red Beans and Rice
A new menu was released around Nexus’ First Anniversary, and I find the Red Beans and Rice to be the very best in The Duke City. Spicy and succulent. Topped with thin slices of Andouille, this dish would be at home in NOLA and the surrounding bayou country.
Blue Corn Enchilada
In early November 2013, Nexus added several new menu items. This Blue Corn Enchilada is new, and it us a sure-fire winner. It comes in three varieties: chicken, beef, and pulled pork. I had the pulled pork with a fried egg on top (classic New Mexico style) smothered in Red and Green. Both the chiles are nicely piquant and very tasty. The pork is fabulous. This dish is as good as it gets.
This place gets better and better by the day. Sweet people. The new and expanded menu is a real hit. Try the bread pudding, which is very good.