For those who consider themselves gourmands, most chain restaurants lack the cultural cachet of small-scale, local operations and are a frivolous use of precious gastrointestinal real estate. A visit to one of these establishments is usually out of familial or occupational schmobligation, being stuck in an airport or on an interstate, or an attempt to study society’s lowest common denominator … or derive condescending pleasure from it. Much insight into our civilization and many jokes can be squeezed from the analysis of a Cheddar Bay Biscuit, a Never Ending Pasta Bowl, a Southwestern Egg Roll, a Bloomin’ Onion or a Triple Chocolate Meltdown.Excessively covered in the local news and subsequently buzzed about amongst the citizens of Albuquerque, Rock & Brews is a newcomer to the world of mainstream food, dreamed up by veterans of mainstream music: The Demon (Gene Simmons) and Starchild (Paul Stanley) of KISS. These are two of the glam rock gods behind the most spectacularly ridiculous stage shows of the ’70s, the greatest non-live live album of all time and, now, the Backstage Burger and the Beast of Birden Chicken Sandwich. The restaurant chain, which emerged in Southern California in 2012, has rapidly expanded to eight frothy locations including one near the intersection of Montgomery and San Mateo—a socially fragmented part of town bogged down with enough commercial strips and parking lots to make anyone want a mind-altering refreshment.I pilgrimaged to Rock & Brews on the second Saturday night of September. After one of the abundant, exceedingly friendly, lanyard-wearing staff informed my companion and I about the 45-minute wait, we bided our time and took inventory of the atmosphere. The lofty ceilings and communion between indoor and outdoor space, picnic-style seating and copious oversized flat screen televisions lend a Las Vegas-meets-Texas steak house-meets-sports bar feel. The walls are emblazoned with an exuberant, large-scale collage of the most obvious figures in rock from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s—The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, etc. Women are represented by Joan Jett, Blondie and Fleetwood Mac in the dining room, with Janis Joplin hiding out in a bathroom stall. Jimi Hendrix is the only black man I spotted on the walls. This narrow, clumsy, erstwhile, historically inept context of rock, defined by Rock & Brews as mostly white baby boomer males with multi-platinum albums, aggravated me immediately. The "November Rain" video played behind the bar, and its New Mexico-desert-filmed aerial guitar solo scene calmed my nerves.Later at our picnic table on the patio, we were sandwiched between a multi-generational family and a group of non-conforming conformist young adults. The patio boasts spectacular views of the Payless ShoeSource, Chick-fil-A and the Ross Dress for Less. It is also equipped with a play area for children. You see this operation, which is founded upon the institution of rock and roll—which is traditionally intertwined with sex, drugs, Satan worshiping and other hedonistic activities—touts itself as a family-oriented restaurant. At this point my head was about to explode, but not from the paradoxes posed by the Rock & Brews concept. Instead my ailment was the result of a collection of discordant, high-pitched squeals ringing from the play area.Once my friend and I were set up with waters and brews selected from a vast array of draughts and bottles, we set out to decide what "Opening Acts" to order. We selected the Hatch Green Chile Mac ‘N Cheese ($9.99) and the Giant Soft Authentic Bavarian Pretzel ($8.99, plus $1.79 to add Bier Cheese). The small dish of overcooked pasta arrived glued together with a flavorless sauce and garnished with approximately a fourth of a cup of bright green, chopped chile. The pretzel tasted like it came from a nearby gas station rather than Bavaria, and the spicy sweet mustard that went with it possessed a distinctly radioactive flavor. The bier cheese was unangenehm. Though I’d made up my mind to order the "VIP Salad" called Paint It Blackened Salmon Caesar ($14.99) and maybe an "Any Way You Want It" "Front Row Pizza" ($8.99 to $16.99), the poor performance of the "Opening Acts" combined with the persistent shrieking in the play area left me not too excited to go crazy with KISS. Plus, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a cloth napkin and a seat back to lean on when paying $14.99 for a salad. We got our check and left to the sound of some desolate Sheryl Crow song. At this particular time and place, rock and roll really was dead (kind of like it was in the 1983 "Lick It Up" video). Being that there are plenty of folks here with conventional palates, I predict that Rock & Brews will do great in Albuquerque. For the rest of us, the niche this place purports to fill is already occupied by any of the many local breweries, music venues and food trucks (and various combinations thereof). The La Cumbre drafts at Sister have more thunder.
Rock & Brews4800 Montgomery NE881-4248rockandbrews.comHours: 11am to 11pm Sunday through Thursday11am to 12am Friday and SaturdayVibe: McRocanrolMakeup: Bring your ownRock and roll: ‘Till about 11, and party on Saturdays if you can find a babysitter.Extras: Play area; general sense of discomfortThe Alibi recommends: The Launchpad