Enter the Nexus
Geeking out at New Mexico’s only soul food brewery
By Ty Bannerman
Ken Carson, former president of the Bank of Belen, is a bit of a Star Trek geek. “When I told my wife that I was going to quit my banking job and open a brewery, she said, ‘Great!’” he writes on his blog. “I felt like I was in the middle of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation movie, where Captain Kirk and Picard get pulled into the NEXUS, a heavenly place where everything is perfect.”
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
So Captain Carson (as his employees sometimes call him), with the blessings of his wife and the guidance of one of the world’s most popular sci-fi franchises, opened the Nexus Brewery, probably the only purveyor of both handcrafted beer and “New Mexico soul food” in the world. A “heavenly place where everything is perfect”? You have to admire a man who is willing to set the bar that high.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
It’s a bit of a journey to try to find the place, though. The brewery is awkwardly located in a generic office space/warehouse complex on the I-25 feeder road just north of Montgomery. Chances are good that you’ll miss it the first time you go, but if your experience is like mine, you’ll keep coming back and soon be able to get there in your sleep (the Weekly Alibi legal team does not recommend this, please stay awake while you drive). Judging by the consistently full restaurant and stuffed-to-the-gills parking lot, plenty of others have learned the route as well. With food like this, it’s not hard to see why.
Cuisine in New Mexico has long been about blending the traditions of different cultures—whether the classic blend of Spanish and Native American or the more recent phenomenon of green chile finding its way into a sushi roll. Why should it be any different for African American soul food? At Nexus, you’ll find slow cooked, pulled pork in your nachos and calabacitas happily sharing the menu with red beans and rice. The word “fusion” doesn’t seem right for a joint like this, though; this is just good food that tastes good together.
Let’s start with those nachos ($11). A mountain of corn chips with fresh pico de gallo, cheddar cheese and green or red chile that’s not afraid to show its teeth. Nothing out of the ordinary here, and you could certainly ignore the waiter’s pulled pork recommendation and instead stick with the usual nacho suspects of chicken or beef and have a pretty good appetizer that’s right on par with your expectations. But why on earth would you do that? Adding pork to the dish elevates it from your typical nacho plate to something smoky, rich and sweet that you’re just not going to find anywhere else.
So Captain Carson (as his employees sometimes call him), with the blessings of his wife and the guidance of one of the world’s most popular sci-fi franchises, opened the Nexus Brewery, probably the only purveyor of both handcrafted beer and “New Mexico soul food” in the world.
For entrees, the Signature Dishes section of the menu does a fine job of showcasing the kitchen’s strengths. A warm and comforting bowl of gumbo ($9), for instance, may not be quite up to Louisiana bayou standards, but the touch of cayenne and the morsels of andouille and shrimp are certainly enough to bring a nostalgic tear to the eye of any expatriate Cajuns. Fish tacos ($8) are perfectly blackened fillets of swai (a sustainably farmed Vietnamese catfish) that balance juicy, delicate flavor and fiery spice beautifully; the taco portion of the dish isn’t much beyond some pico de gallo and a tortilla to transport fish to face. But with fillets this good, anything more elaborate would be a needless distraction.
By far, the star of the show is the Southern fried chicken and waffle (two pieces for $10, additional pieces $2 each). A dish that traces its origins back to the pre-Civil War South, the chicken and waffle combination has only recently begun to make inroads into New Mexico. After tasting the version offered up at Nexus, I can only ask, what took it so long? Of course, the fact that the kitchen at Nexus can really fry up a chicken—and I mean it’s the best I’ve ever had—helps. Stick that savory, salty, crunchy, spicy dark meat (or breast for $2 extra) next to a fluffy, sweet, butter-battered waffle, and each bite will bring you closer to that “heavenly place where everything is perfect.” Please note that the menu says to allow 20 minutes for the chicken. No problem as far as I’m concerned; I’d happily wait all day.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Of course, Nexus is first and foremost a brewery and has a wide range of handcrafted beers. Before I went myself, I’d heard from some friends that they’d found that Nexus’ beer was a weak point and that the pints they’d had tasted strange. Now that I’ve sampled quite a few of their brews, I think I know why they have that perspective, though I don’t share it. At Nexus, the different styles of beer on tap are all very distinctive, sometimes idiosyncratic. Their chocolate stout for instance is very bitter and coffee-like, and the cream ale is light to the point of vanishing. These are beers with unique character, in other words, and you may have to work to find one that suits you. I recommend that you start with a flight and sample them all. You’re bound to find one that tickles your fancy. For my money, the real gems are the Scottish ale—a sweet and caramelly number that any lover of traditional British beers should seek out—and the intensely aromatic IPA, which is a standout even in a city with a multitude of excellent IPAs. Nexus offers additional styles on a monthly and seasonal basis, so you’ll want to keep those flights coming.
Finally, dessert. There are only two to choose from, which keeps things simple. I’d avoid the stout float (the bitter beer just doesn’t quite harmonize with the ice cream’s sweetness) and hone in on the biscuit bread pudding ($6) instead. I consider myself something of a bread pudding aficionado, and this decadently sweet concoction, drizzled with syrup made from the brewery’s own Scottish ale, is one that I’ll gladly sacrifice my waist line for.
So, does Captain Carson’s brewery live up to Star Trek’s heavenly Nexus? It’s been years since I saw the movie, but from what I remember, the main feature of that Nexus was a puffy William Shatner bragging about his horsemanship and arguing with Patrick Stewart for all of eternity. Give me chicken, a waffle and a pint of Scottish ale over that any day.
4730 Pan American Freeway East, NE
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (kitchen closes at 9 p.m.) Sunday through Thursday
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.) Friday and Saturday
Price range: $8 to $14
Vibe: Bustling and happy.
Star Trek Captain: James T. Kirk
Vegetarian options: Salads and such.
Extras: Live music on weekends.
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Southern fried chicken and waffles, nachos with pulled pork, Scottish ale and the Wrath of Khan
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