Rowley Farmhouse Ales (1405 Maclovia St., 428-0719) specializes in the kinds of beers that European farmers historically made from the grain, hops and yeast they grew and had at hand. And so, on a blustery fall day, I met a foodie friend for lunch at this little gastropub off Cerrillos Road. At first glance it doesn’t look like much: A small bar/dining room area that leads out to large tented patio. A row of tall red chairs line the long bar while a handful of tables sit against the wall. Wooden farm and kitchen implements hang on the earth-tone walls.
Beer is what probably draws most people here. Owner John Rowley is a chemist who came to New Mexico to work at Los Alamos National Labs, but whose real passion is beer. He’s been an active home brewer for seven years and is the president of the Sangre de Cristo Craft Brewers. At Rowley Farmhouse Ales, he specializes in rustic, sour ales that are a delight to connoisseurs and something of a novelty to those who’ve never tried them.
My foodie friend, I came to find, doesn’t drink beer. I ordered a sample of a recommended sour ale, which was bright, crisp, grapefruity and, yes, sour. It struck me as an adventure better taken on a hot summer day. My dining companion gave it a whiff and his face reminded me that sour ales are indeed an acquired taste.
Luckily, Rowley has a couple dozen offerings on tap, many of them unusual, and the rotation includes some familiar local brews like a lager from Bosque Brewing, La Cumbre’s Dank IPA and a pale ale from Marble Brewery. I took one look at the dark clouds outside and ordered a dark, chocolatey breakfast stout. Perfect.
Maybe this is a brilliant marketing plan, to serve a carefully curated list of unusual beers, and maybe Rowley will find a broader appeal with a few more safe bets on tap. My preference would be for a more approachable beer list, but the market will decide.
For me, the food is more of a draw.
Jeffrey Kaplan is the man behind Rowley’s ambitious gastropub fare and it goes beyond what we’ve come to expect from beer halls. Kaplan is a California native—and graduate of the California Culinary Academy—who has been working in restaurants and hotels for ages. He came to Santa Fe a few years ago to work for the Castle Ranch (a since-closed steakhouse), but at Rowley, he’s focused on food that goes with beer and he’s got great ideas. Some of them are perfectly executed and some could use a little improvement, but there’s much to be excited about here.
Kaplan’s chicken wings ($7) are Korean-style, which means fried to crispy perfection, then tossed in a tangy, sweet glaze and garnished with ground peanuts and green onion. They are fantastic. A big bowl of sweet, salty and spicy pecans, peanuts, almonds and cashews ($6) is addictive and huge—I loved them but couldn’t even finish the bowl.
The savory popover ($5) is a brilliant match for beer. This thing is the size of a man’s fist, and it has the light, airy interior one wants in a popover. It can be a challenge to deliver popovers to the table at their peak, though, and this one was was a little dry, a little tough. The Gruyere cheese sauce that came with it was the perfect match, although it was a little too thin to cling to the popover.
The braised flat iron poutine ($12) is a haystack of house-cut fries in a little cast iron skillet, studded with steak and Old Windmill Dairy cheese curds. I love this idea! But the meat is the weak link. Flat iron steak is just terrible, a crummy cut of meat that used to be ground into hamburger until some genius decided to give it a fancy name. But it’s so often gristly and off-tasting that it should just be ground into hamburger. Given a better cut (brisket even?) and thicker gravy, this could be a real winner.
My dining companion was very disappointed by the marrow and mushroom bruschetta ($13), which sounded so great and arrived with a striking presentation: a long bone cut in half to expose the creamy marrow. I love marrow, but I agreed this version was rather more jiggly than creamy, and the whole thing needed more seasoning.
I wish I had an auxiliary stomach so I could have tried more of the menu, like one of the BLTs made with Kyzer Farm crispy pork belly or with bacon and fennel pollen-dusted salmon. The “Duck Me? Duck You!” sandwich, with duck paté and roasted duck breast, is very tempting, as are the chicken and waffles, burgers and mac and cheese.
Rowley Farmhouse Ales has only been open a couple months and deserves a little time to work out these minor kinks. Assuming it does, it could become one of my favorite spots for a pint and a snack.
Rowley Farmhouse Ales at a Glance
11:30 am-10 pm daily
1405 Maclovia St., 428-0719
Best Bet: Chicken wings
Don’t Miss: Spicy nut bowl