A while back I wrote about a couple of pizza places I happened upon while exploring outside Santa Fe. After that story (Far Out Pizza, May 7) was published, I got an earful of advice from local aficionados complaining that I had missed a few. I tried to explain it wasn't that I "missed" other pizza joints or purposefully neglected them, it was just that I happened to drive by, and stop, at Nomad Mountain Pizza in Jemez Springs and Mamacita's in Abiquiú.
So it was that pizza was on my mind as I recently steered my car into an open spot in front of the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid (2846 Hwy. 14, 473-0743). Someone on Facebook had professed their love for the Shaft's unique grilled pizza, so I figured while I was there, I should check it out. Knowing cell service is hit or miss in Madrid, I looked up the menu beforehand and found what I was looking for: a 10-inch grilled, handcrafted pizza in three varieties—pepperoni and green chile, Margherita, and Greek-style, with pesto, feta and pepperoncini.
The look on my face must have registered as something other than dejection when our server informed us they hadn't served pizza for some time. As happens all-too-often in these parts, the restaurant information "out there" didn't jive with what's actually available in the restaurant (an unfortunate occurrence I have also written about before). The server's response to my fallen visage was, "Yeah, you ain't in Santa Fe no more," doing little to buoy the spirits of my sad little pizza-loving heart. And yes, she actually said that.
Luckily, on the way home from Madrid sits another pizza joint that one person, who posted six times about pizza on my Facebook feed, claimed to be "INCREDIBLE … I can honestly say it's one of the best pies I've had in a LONG time … we've been there four times … and they have a beautiful, outdoor, dog-friendly patio!!!" And so I pulled into Beer Creek Brewing Co. (3810 NM-14, 471-9271).
Though it was too cold to sit outside with a pooch, the high walled patio was as nice as claimed, spacious and shaded by a large tree. Inside, it was cozy with a cabin-like vibe, and pretty much packed with locals, Sunday drivers and families. Despite the fact that the staff were recovering from the previous day's first-annual Oktoberfest celebration, they were warm, welcoming and quickly had a Santa Fe Brewing Company Merky IPA ($4) in my hand. Beer Creek obviously brews its own small-batch beers, so what's available changes frequently. One beer that's more of a staple is the Coming Soon Pale Ale, so named, according to Beer Creek's website, "because we had a 'coming soon' sign out in front of our brewery for such a long time while waiting for our licensing that locals started calling us the Coming Soon Brewery."
Food-wise, Beer Creek offers a straightforward menu of salads, pizza, sandwiches and pasta. I caught the hungry eyes of my tablemates wandering to the meals of other customers, feasting on steaming ramekins of macaroni and cheese ($14) and overstuffed sandwiches. I overheard discussion of whether to order the Gold Mine ($13), a Hoagie roll loaded with ham, salami, pepperoni and provolone, or the Marcos ($13) a classic meatball sub drenched in mozzarella and marinara. But in the end, we were there for one reason: pizza.
Starting with the basics, Beer Creek's dough is housemade, as are its pizza sauces which include marinara, Alfredo, -olive oil and garlic or sweet basil pesto. My group chose two pizzas from the specialty menu and two build-your-own concoctions for the pickier of the bunch. They arrived fast and hot—as well as steamy, melty and smelling heavenly.
The Farmer (12-inch $16/16-inch $24) was a favorite—topped with a harvest of the usual veggies including mushrooms, black olives and green peppers—as was the San Margherita (12-inch $17/16-inch $25). Instead of the typical Margherita pizza, Beer Creek's had something really interesting and creamy going on. At first I thought perhaps there was Alfredo sauce as a base but upon closer inspection attributed the creaminess to the fresh mozzarella. I am guessing there was also a layer of dry mozzarella because it was much cheesier than the more tomato-focused classic.
Crust-wise, I'm still a little torn. I liked the crunch of the cornmeal dusted crust but, unlike my favorite doughs, Beer Creek's is more crumbly and bready than crispy and chewy. I tuned into the table debate and it seems we were equally split at 50% bready, 50% chewy, 100% crispy. Overall, it's quality pizza and beer. Plus, they serve in the restaurant what they say they do via their advertising.
The only trickery was in the name. Excited to see more of this creek called Beer, I asked our server where it was. "Oh, there's no actual Beer Creek," he smiled. "It's just what would happen when we first started brewing beer–there'd usually be a creek of it running out the door."