Restaurant Review: The Stumbling Steer

The Stumbling Steer Brewery And Gastropub

Ty Bannerman
6 min read
Just Out of the Gate
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The Stumbling Steer is a name that provokes questions. “Why is it stumbling?” is typically the first thing people ask me about the place when I tell them I’ve been spending some time there, and they usually follow up by offering their own theories. “It sounds like it might be sick” is a popular hypothesis, and also an unappetizing one, so best to go ahead and clear the matter up right off the bat: The steer is stumbling because it is drunk.

Well, not really. The beef that fills out the menu at this massive Westside steakhouse/brewery is locally sourced from a herd of cattle in the southern part of the state. As a sort of paean to the synthesis The Steer is attempting, these theoretically happy cows are being fed the spent grains from the restaurant’s brewery operation. By the law of transference, if not strict reality, the image conjured by the practice is of a happily tipsy steer sort of stumbling about from its beer-fed life in the New Mexico sun. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

The point of all this is that the beef is local and presumably treated well, “cows with names” as a friend of mine puts it. If you’re in the south of New Mexico, I suppose you could stop by and meet a few, maybe even feed them some malted barley and decide for yourself if they are happy or at least satisfied with their pre-slaughter lives. I don’t offer any definitive statement on that matter here, but I’ll always take a local cow over an out-of-stater. Call it New Mexico pride.

The restaurant itself is a meaty sort of place: beef and pork and chicken and fish, though the server I asked couldn’t tell me much about the provenance of the non-beef meats. As I mentioned above, it’s also a massive place. Nicely appointed, upscale and comfortable, but massive nonetheless. No matter how popular it becomes, I can’t imagine that the Steer will ever be filled unless the entire population of Albuquerque needs a night out.

And let me be straightforward: It deserves to be popular. Even with some missteps from the kitchen and serving staff, none of which were unusual for a place that only has about three months under its belt, there seems little question that the Steer is poised to become an Albuquerque favorite.

Appetizers are a real strength here and a must for any visit to the Steer. The deep fried pork bites ($6), which is a tortuous way of saying “chicharrones,” set the overall tone of somewhat debauched savoriness and arrive in a brown paper bag on a plate sprinkled with powdered sugar and accompanied by a dipping cup of yogurt. Rub the tender little belly morsels over the sugar, dunk into the yogurt and try not to fill up too quickly because we’re only getting started. The sausage board ($18) is the next don’t-miss item; it’s a cutting board spread with kielbasa, frankfurter, chorizo and other succulent finger foods nestled in a beery, sweet-ish sauerkraut and arranged among a constellation of jewel-like mustard dollops. But you’re still not allowed to finish with this round, so I hope you brought enough guests to get you through the preliminary course. Do not, I repeat,
do not set into your entrées until you’ve had a few of the crispy Brussels sprouts ($8). Maybe that sounds insane to some of you, but Brussels sprouts have undergone a renaissance in local kitchens of late, and these are the best Albuquerque has to offer. Nutty flavored, firm flesh with a zing of chile, a touch of garlic and a surprising zest of coconut, these sprouts demand your attention and almost single-handedly roll back three generations of American malignment.

Now, the Stumbling Steer is a brewery (though the operation is currently off-site), and before we move on to the mains, a word about the beers is in order. There are seven house-brewed options on tap (barring special concoctions), and I’d recommend that you shell out for the flight ($6 for four 5 oz. samples) so that you know what you’re getting into before you commit. For my money, the big winner here is the pale ale which achieves a balance of bittering and aromatic hops in a deliciously crisp and refreshing package. The IPA, on the other hand, swerves way too hard toward the bitterness and comes across as harsh. I’ll leave the rest for you to figure out, but definitely give the wine-like Imperial stout and the nutty, chocolatey brown a try.

At long last, we come to the entrées. Here things get a little bit inconsistent. The first time I had the Steer Burger ($12), for instance, it was juicy grilled perfection, one of the very best burgers that this city has to offer. The next time, well, the chef heard my “medium rare” request and raised me a “well done.” A rookie mistake, sure, but when you’re paying more than a tenner for a hunk of ground beef, rookie mistakes shouldn’t be on the table. Similarly, the Korean baby back ribs ($22) is an impressive slab of pork with a tangy, slightly spicy sauce, but the meat itself was dry.

I had a happier experience with the braised pork belly ($19), which is incredibly tender and melt-in-your-mouth good with just a touch of ginger (apparently from the beer the Steer braises it in). And the shepherd’s steak ($22), a deconstructed shepherd’s pie with a highly flavorful cut of beef garnished with a pork ragu and a side of cheesy mashed potatoes, came out perfectly cooked to order and was a fine dance partner for the aforementioned Imperial stout.

For dessert, our server suggested the Elvis fudge brownie or the sticky toffee pudding ($7 each). Caught up in the indulgent spirit of the place, we opted for both. The brownie features banana ice cream, peanut brittle and a bacon caramel sauce, and if that sounds like a little bit much to you, well, it kind of is. This is definitely a late-stage, shag-carpeting-his-lamps-and-watching-six-TVs-at-once Elvis that we’re talking about here. The toffee pudding, though, served up in a cast-iron ramekin, offered exactly the muted, rich sweetness that I hoped for.

So, yes, during my visits, the Steer took a few stumbles, but the overall experience is one to savor. With more attention to the details and correcting the mistakes that have been pointed out, there’s no doubt in my mind the Steer will learn to walk gracefully into its position as a mainstay of Albuquerque’s gastropub scene. As for me, I’ll definitely be in the bar with a plate of sausage and a pint of pale ale.

The Stumbling Steer Brewery and Gastropub

3700 Ellison NW


Hours: 11am to 10:30pm Monday to Wednesday, 11am to 11pm Thursday to Saturday, 11am to 10pm Sunday

Vibe: Upscale barn

Range: $17 to $22 for entrées

Vegetarian: Salads and sprouts

The Weekly Alibi recommends: Fried pork bites, sausage board, braised pork belly, the Steer burger (but send it back if it isn’t cooked right)

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The Steer burger

photos by Eric Williams

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The sausage plate

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Braised pork belly

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