Turtle Mountain Brewing Company
It's Not Just About the Beer
By Scott Sharot
When I first walked into Turtle Mountain Brewing Company, I flashed back to my days as an indentured servant in my father's Hudson Valley, N.Y., gin mill. There before me on the walls were replicas of brightly colored metal beer trays, including Rheingold, Schaffer and Genesee, the very same trays I used to deliver draft beers to the back room of my dad's tavern, where the ladies sat, drank, smoked and snacked. Pressed paper coasters emblazoned with beer logos seemed like old friends, displayed in a giant frame. Turtle Mountain's walls are plastered with posters, accolades and all manner of beer-related memorabilia.
My first visit was on a Friday night and the place was jumping with a diverse, all-ages crowd that included "hop heads" (beer aficionados) and families with kids. Everyone was casually dressed, including me. After sitting there for almost an hour, I was surprised to see someone smoking at the bar, which is still allowed in Sandoval County. The ceilings are high enough that I didn't notice the smoke right away, even though we were sitting in the nearby open dining area.
Owner Nico Ortiz spent 19 years doing "market research" in hundreds of bars, breweries, garages and beer festivals all over the world before opening his brewpub. He offers a revolving, seasonal selection of robust, "hoppy," high-octane beers. The alcohol content of each beer is measured by weight, not by volume, and the specs are listed on a marker board, which also lists the original gravity and bitter count. Those in the know can size up their libation before ordering. You can also taste any of the beers before ordering. Our server told us the two most popular brews were the red rye, whose amber/red color probably helps it win the popularity contest. It's a more mainstream noncommittal kind of beer with a pretty color and mild flavor. The steam ale has more gravitas, i.e. it's more robust and reminiscent of a certain West Coast pale ale of a similar name (at least back when the aforementioned California "über" beer was first introduced). Beer prices seem fair at $3.50 a pint, $4.50 for 22 ounces and $6.50 a liter. You can get a sampler platter with a three-and-a-half ounce taste of all the beers on tap for $5.50. There is also a take-out option called the growler. For a reasonable $7.49 you can bring home a half gallon of freshly brewed beer. Beer prices drop by a buck during happy hour from Monday to Friday, 3 to 6 p.m. An ever changing (though limited) wine list is offered, plus a very good house-made root beer with free refills.
The staff is affable and knowledgeable when it comes to beer. Our server stayed on top of service, even on a slammed Friday evening. He brought extra plates and silverware as needed and remembered what everyone was drinking; a rare talent these days.
The menu is limited and features pizza, salads, calzones and grinders (Italian hero sandwiches). The pizzas are some of the best wood-fired pies in the metro area, with a superb cracker-thin crust, all chewy and golden brown with a hefty tomato sauce that is thick, herby and unique (probably helped by the addition of wine). There are nine different pizzas to choose from, all in a 10-inch format. The Sierra Blanca ($6.50) is a simple cheese pie, but all of the others include a generous portion of high quality toppings. Number nine on the pizza menu is the bomb. Actually, it's Adam's Bomb ($8.50) and it sports generous portions of pepperoni, anise-scented sausage, spinach, mozzarella cheese, spicy green chile and a hint of toasted pine nuts. My companions loved their Chicoma pizza ($8.50) featuring pesto, chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. We also shared a Villa Grande salad. It was large enough for four as a first course and filled with good quality feta cheese and olives, ripe tomatoes, croutons and dressed with a very good Greek dressing.
My friend couldn't resist the Manzano Calzone. When it arrived there was an audible gasp from the table. It was gigantic and stuffed with Italian sausage, ricotta and mozzarella cheese, sauteed mushrooms and better than average green chile. Green chile, when served on pizza or in calzones, is often lackluster, but this chile had some kick. I also appreciated the fact that the mushrooms inside the calzone were well-cooked since I have difficulty with uncooked or dried out 'shrooms in pizza products. I was pleased to see that the menu also features grinders, an East Coast term for a hot Italian (hero) sandwich. It was a sensory/memory thing from my youth, up and down the East Coast. The Bear Mountain grinder did not disappoint. It was stuffed full of ham, very good salami, pepperoni, sautéed onions and pepper, plus a little too much tasty garlic mayo that oozed out onto my shirt.
Choosing a dessert was simple because there is only one choice, a large rich chocolate brownie á la mode with vanilla ice cream and covered with Hershey syrup. The portion was large enough for four to share.
Turtle Mountain offers delicious, high quality food and excellent house-brewed beers all fairly priced, served in a comfortable, congenial atmosphere. So what are you waiting for? Head west, young man/woman/person, westward ho!
Turtle Mountain Brewing Company; 3755 Southern, Rio Rancho; 994-9497; Hours: Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri and Sat 11 a.m-10 p.m., Sun noon-8 p.m.; Price Range: Inexpensive; Major credit cards accepted.
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