Ever been to The Stumbling Steer Brewery & Gastropub on the westside? If not, you've missed out.
My wife shoots me a text yesterday telling (not asking) me, "You're taking me out to dinner tonight." I figured she just had a bad day at work and this is how we were going to relax, however, her subsequent text text informed me that The Steer is closing this Friday. Short notice. Very bummed. This sucks in a major sort of way.
Why such an attachment to The Steer?
If you've lived in the 505 for the last five years or so, you've noticed there's a new brewery popping up on every corner. In fact I'm pretty sure the neighbor's cats opened one in my backyard, contributing to the market saturation here. While we love our beer here in Albuquerque, we've become a bit inundated with these establishments, meaning not all of them will be staying open. We have a lot of really good breweries here, but a brewery that makes amazingly killer food? That, my friends, is much harder to find.
Pictured above: their house fish & chips. What made these the best, in my book, was that they really upped the production value by serving them on nice dishware and accessorizing them with my new favorite side - minted mashed peas (not pictured). Amy calls them baby bird peas because they look like mama bird chewed them up and spit them back out onto the plate, which sounds worse than it actually is. They mash the peas up and mix them with mint leaves so they have a buttery, minty taste. Never had them prior to The Steer, so the gold standard's been set and will be hard to beat.
The beer. Oh my gosh, the beer. When The Steer had first opened, I wasn't super-impressed with their beers since Marble Brewery kind of set the bar for Albuquerque brewing when they first opened in 2008. This caused other breweries to go for that super-hoppy flavor, which smells increasingly like dog food the more you drink it. However, after The Steer found their footing and their flavor, the beers mellowed out and developed more depth and complexity while still being butt-kickingly delicious at a reasonable ABW level (which is a big deal because I like to drink beer, not get trashed off two imperial IPAs). It became tradition to bring a growler or two home with dinner.
The decor did it for me. This is significant because I remember this place when it was Quarters BBQ (which still has a restaurant and package liquor section downtown on Yale). Back then, it was very dark and the bar area was sectioned off in glass. Even though the northeast-facing wall had floor-to-ceiling windows, it still felt very dark and dreary. Since it became The Steer, those enclosed bar walls were knocked down and the entire place was opened up, giving a bright, airy feel to the entire place. It's a big deal to eat in a comfortable environment.
Shown above: my grandfather's birthday get-together, set to the blues sounds of Boulevard Lane, a local band who played there on occasion when Chris Ravin or the Todd Tijerina band weren't jamming out. What I liked about The Steer was that it had a great family atmosphere that paired well with good music, good beer, and good food. Lots of breweries still have that "bar" kind of vibe, and while I'm not opposed to it, it doesn't have the same comfort level that makes my kids enthusiastic about going there, since it takes much more than nachos to please my young non-beer drinkers. It wasn't just the food and the beer that I loved, it was that I felt that it was a good place to go with my wife and kids. Which brings me to...
...the service, which for me, was the pinnacle of this establishment. People like Ian, Emma, and Caroline made every visit special. Meet Caroline, shown above all by her lonesome, since she was the only one working our section when I took this. This laugh was genuine, as was her smile and her persona. (Side note: she was one of the best wait staff we've ever had here, so in the high likelihood she's job hunting right now and someone reading this has an establishment in the line of work she may be looking for, whatever it is, hire her immediately and pay her ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS.) She stood out to us because of the friendliness and the willingness to make conversation every time we paid The Steer a visit for dinner. As a parent, it's a big deal when the staff talk directly to your kids and not just to the parents. They remembered what we liked, and since their food was so good that we'd venture out on a mission to try everything on the menu, we'd often be retorted against with something like "aw, no Steer Burger tonight?"
The biggest reason I'm sad about The Steer's closure is because it felt like "our place." Prior to meeting my wife, there were lots of breweries and restaurants I've been to before, like Turtle Mountain Brewing Company, which still remains my #1 brewery and restaurant for the last eight years up to today. I've made a lot of memories at Turtle Mountain which were all amazing, but every memory I've made at The Steer since February of 2014 included Amy and the kids. Even the few times I'd gone to grab a beer with a buddy of mine, I always had my family in the back of my mind, feeling as though they should be there with me.
The Steer had a short run in the grand scheme of Albuquerque breweries, but it'll still keep a place in my heart as a place my family and I held dear. Amy and I will miss your blond ale with lime, Sam will miss your Steer Burger, and Emma will grieve over the loss of your amazing mac & cheese.
So long, Steer. It's been real.