In many ways, Albuquerque and Portland, Ore. couldn’t be more different. Climate tops the list, with the sogginess of the Northwest distinctly at odds to the arid expanses of New Mexico. And even our fictional television series glare at each other from across a wide genre divide: While Portland gets a perky little sketch comedy series about hipsters, Albuquerque is known for an award-winning, critically acclaimed Greek tragedy about the rise and fall of a hubris-filled drug dealer. But there is at least one area of commonality: beer.Oh, how our two towns love beer. Both of us have literally dozens of microbreweries and a seemingly insatiable population of thirsty beer drinkers to support them. It was only a matter of time before some cross-pollination occurred.And so it has. Last year, the owners of Portland-based PINTS Brewing Company decided to test the waters in Albuquerque with the similarly named Ponderosa Brewing Company. Staking out new territory in a still-developing part of town, you could call it a pioneer venture in more ways than one.Ponderosa has taken up residence in the fitfully-growing Sawmill district, the mixed-use, master-planned community going up on the site of the old American Lumber Company’s eponymous sawmill. As such, it’s in an awkward part of town—other than some new housing, there’s not much draw besides the restaurant—and it may take first time visitors a few wrong turns before they find it. Just remember to head north from the Natural History Museum, look for the industrial metalwork and you’ll be fine.Inside the restaurant, a wood motif reigns supreme and a large mural depicts the sawmill itself in its glory days. From the entrance, the diner can go either left or right. Left leads into a spacious room with televisions and a couple rows of booths, perfect for downing a pint or two and watching your favorite sportsball event. Right will take you away from the televisions, but be warned! The back corner of the space is given over to a children’s play area. A godsend for parents like myself, but undoubtedly an epicenter for giggling, laughing and other horrific sounds of children having a nice time, the kind of thing that reinforces the lifestyle choices of the child-free.When it comes to comestibles, the good news is that the beer is spot on. Over the course of a few visits, I discerned a short-list of favorites, including the Zaftig stout, with its caramel notes swirling into a coffee-like bitterness and finishing with an almost berry-like aftertaste, the Stage One double oatmeal IPA, which has a sticky, piney hop forward flavor and smooth oatmeal body to back it up and the seasonally available Pumpkin Butt, which balances the earthy goodness of pumpkin with a melange of spices.Unfortunately, the food is not at a similarly high level. The stacked enchiladas I ordered on my first visit were perfectly serviceable, but the green chile, even at the height of chile season, was unforgivably bland. My dining partner’s steak was overcooked. Fish and chips were by far the best of the entrées we tried, but didn’t really have much to recommend them beyond what other places in the city offer. The fish is cod, the batter crunchy, a touch greasy and with a bit of malt vinegar it gets the job done.My suggestion then is to skip out on the entrées and stick with appetizers and assorted “bar foods.” The Burque nachos, for instance, are a testament to the species, especially piled high with red chile pulled pork. Or hey, how about chips and salsa? The salsa is of the pico de gallo variety and is fresh and zingy. There’s also a happy hour menu with beef sliders and the like for very reasonable prices.Maybe that seems like damning the place with faint praise, and, well, as a dinner choice I can’t really recommend it. But the beer is exemplary and the ambiance is nice. I especially appreciate the children’s play area, though that obviously has a select appeal. Like so many of Albuquerque’s breweries, it’s a place to stop by for the beer and, then, if you’re feeling hungry grab a bite, but don’t expect too much. Drop by for happy hour, and hope that this pioneer can get its kitchen to match the rest of the package.
Ponderosa Brewing Company 1761 Bellamah NW639-5941Hours: 11am to 10pm, Sunday through Wednesday11am to 11pm, Thursday through SaturdayVibe: The Great NorthernExtras: Happy hour menu, 3pm to 6pm, 9pm to closeThe Alibi recommends: Burque nachos, Zaftig stout, Pumpkin Buttponderosabrewing.net