Il Vicino Brewery Canteen is a paradox in street appeal. Given its industrial warehouse environs, the brewpub’s covered patio filled with happy people stands out like a bright yellow dandelion in a sidewalk crack. Alas, this off-the-charts street appeal is hampered by the low odds of anyone driving by. It’s on Aztec, two blocks north of I-25 and midway between Candelaria and Comanche. The only reason you’d be in the neighborhood is if you were lost or perhaps having some custom plastics manufactured nearby.
The establishment is part of the ever-expanding Il Vicino empire, the Nob Hill pizzeria that now includes outposts in the Heights, Santa Fe, Colorado and Kansas. IVB Canteen caught my eye not only because of its fresh-brewed beer and differing dining concept (there’s no pizza here), but because the menu brags about made-in-Albuquerque prepared foods like salsa, bread and mustard.
The menu also boasts Alpine Sausage Kitchen smoked ham. But according to Alpine owner Bill Schmaeh (pronounced “shmay”), he hasn’t sold the Canteen smoked ham in a few months.
OK, that’s kind of an awkward way to begin a relationship with a restaurant. And then there’s the fact that I’m not really a sandwich guy, and sandwiches make up most of IVB Canteen’s menu.
So I may not have met my soul mate restaurant. But I have to say, I could see cheating here once in a while. I think it has my number.
A sandwich called the “sauce hog” is made with IPA BBQ sauce. The very concept holds a special place in my heart because I love a hoppy IPA, and I’ve made several attempts to cook with it. Beyond beer-bathing my brats, I’ve never found an IPA recipe that tastes good to me. But someone at IVB Canteen sure did.
Beyond beer-bathing my brats, I’ve never found an IPA recipe that tastes good to me. But someone at IVB Canteen sure did.
The sandwich came on a puffy, shinny brioche bun with slices of aged cheddar. Despite its name, my order didn’t go overboard on the sauce, though the pulled pork was sufficiently permeated. The sauce was tangy and satisfying, but it didn’t taste strongly of IPA. (Maybe that’s the trick to cooking with it: A little goes a long way.)
While some sandwiches, like the sauce hog, can be cherry-picked for their prime parts, others have to be taken as a whole. You’re either on that bus, or you’re off.
To be honest, I’m not generally on the bread and cheese bus. But I could not have been more into the Frenchy. Made of non-Alpine smoked ham and a wheel’s worth of brie cheese, it was grilled onto an English-muffin-like bun baked at Fano. A slathering of Original Sin mayo, mixed with locally made Lusty Monk mustard, sealed the deal. I ate my sandwich and drank my beer, and it was good. And it was funny. I was laughing at my inability to stop eating this sandwich.
The appetizer menu features another made-in-Burque product: Papa Jeffe’s Salsa. It was quite tasty, and spicy enough to make me pace myself. Housemade hummus was delicious as well.
The single non-sandwich entrée on the menu is the chef salad—a bed of organic salad mix and arugula weighed down by a load of meats and cheeses. It was a good salad, top to bottom, if a little overwhelming in the protein department. Ordering the same salad cheese- and meat-free resulted in a decent-sized bowl of greens for only $3.
It’s not exactly destination dining. But if you’re looking for well-crafted bar food, a fresh IPA and a funky location in which to knock them back, IVB Canteen is worth the detour.