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Hail to the beer sponge
Thursday, 08 March 2012
Photos by Wes Naman
Il Vicino Canteen perfects a fine formula of quality beer and tasty pub fare, all in a comfortable brewery setting
By Mike English
Albuquerque’s bursting brewery scene is a well-documented phenomenon. The Duke City rates as the top beer city in the United States in a recent survey by, and the number of new breweries opening doors to a clamoring clientele seems to be a bottomless barrel. But when it comes to brewery food at Albuquerque’s beer-making meccas, some would say the glass tilts to half empty.

Maybe it’s part of the micro-brewery ethos that a brewery is about beer, period. And in Albuquerque you can find several breweries — La Cumbre, Tractor and Marble, for example — where the beer stands on its own, or alongside a minimalist nosh menu.

But that’s starting to change, and perhaps nowhere else in town will you find a blending of top-notch beer and pub-style food as you can at Il Vicino Canteen. And that’s not surprising. Il Vicino, the company, got its start as a wood-fired pizza eatery and craft brew destination in Nob Hill in the 1990s. Since then the business has grown to include nine restaurants in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas and the brew house in Albuquerque.

ImageThe renovated 6,500-square-foot Il Vicino brewery, with a spacious tap room, opened in the warehouse area north of Candelaria in 2011. There, longtime Il Vicino head brewer Brady McKeown plies his craft, undeniably making some of the best brew in town. It’s a comfortable place worthy of multiple visits, in the humble opinion of this beer drinker. And as noted, one of the big draws is the food.

Don’t go to Il Vicino Canteen expecting an extensive menu of full-kitchen fare. The food-prep area is a simple set of coolers and countertop behind the bar. But also don’t worry that your only option is nachos. Here are some of the must-eats:

Hail to the Beer Sponge. As you knock back a Wet Mountain IPA or Pigtail Pilsner, there’s nothing like warm, soft and salty carbohydrate loading, complete with Lusty Monk chipotle mustard, made right in the South Valley. Seriously — these two big hot pretzels ($4.25) are worth a visit all on their own.

Straight-up tasty sandwiches. Multiple brewery visits create opportunity to sample all eight Il Vicino Canteen sandwiches, the staple of the brewery’s food menu. You want a hot sandwich? Then the Cubano ($7.50) is right up there with most in town. Perhaps you’re looking for a more European twist? The decadent Frenchy ($7.50) is hard to beat: smoked pork loin, caramelized onions, melted brie and a special mayo. On the cold side of the sandwich aisle, the Super Hero ($9.75) packs a worthy protein punch, with high-quality Italian prosciutto and salami, topped with mozzarella, arugula and roasted red peppers.

Stay healthy my friend. Maybe you prefer beer and vegetables. The Canteen has you covered. In addition to the Veggie sandwich ($7.50), which is truly all-veggie with its hummus base, the brewery serves a Chef Salad ($7.50) with organic greens, meaty bits and chipotle vinaigrette.

ImageIl Vicino continues to tinker with its food menu, occasionally adding items to the 12-foot chalk board that lists special beers and foods of the day. On my last visit I tried the Texas-style Chili ($3.50/$5). You can also order soothing Chicken Noodle Soup ($2/$3), or you can always ask for a Brat ($5). It’s a brewery, after all.

Finally, some words about beer and atmosphere at Il Vicino Canteen. On that same chalk board, a daily listing of specialty beers is artfully displayed, which is a big part of the ambience. My recent visit inspired me to try the Galaxy IPA and Hop X Pale Ale, but I could have tried a special stout or any number of other additions to the brewery’s five-beer roster.

Atmosphere-wise, Il Vicino Canteen gets it just right: warm colors, high ceiling, exposed metal posts and beams, concrete floor, pub tables, garage doors that open to a covered patio, along with the requisite windows behind the bar for views into the brewery — its all there. Add The Beatles’ Abbey Road and The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman to the overhead speakers, as on my recent visit, and you have the formula for a fine afternoon.

Il Vicino Canteen
Noon-10p, Sun.-Thu., Noon-midnight, Fri.-Sat.
2381 Aztec NE, 505.881.2737
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