Eats: De La Vega's Pecan Grill and Brewery
De La Vega's Pecan Grill and Brewery
500 S. Telshor (next to the Mesilla Valley Mall)
Las Cruces, New Mexico
When driving west during the spring and summer along Interstate 10 from El Paso to Las Cruces one cannot help but notice the army of pecan trees that surround the highway just outside the New Mexico city's limits. But outside of pie during autumn, I never find much use for that particular nut, so other than providing a burst of color to the otherwise dichromatic scenery, I hadn't given the trees much more than a passing glance.
That's partially why my family and I came across De La Vega's Pecan Grill and Brewery by accident. We were actually on our way the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market when I spied a large silo decoration (a sure-fire sign of a brewpub) adjourning a restaurant close to our exit. After spending the morning at the Market (which, in spite of it's lack of beer-relatedness*, was quite fun), we decided on lunch at the brewery.
* Check out the print and screen work done by one of the market's artists, Tom McFarland, who will be starting his first semester at the Rhode Island School of Design in the fall of 2010.
As most readers have probably already recognized, most new brewpubs in this country follow a specific pattern: rust belt industrial décor complimented by American bistro pub fare and a predictable roster of beers (IPA, brown ale, blonde/pilsner, lager, and a porter and/or stout in their most homogenous forms). De La Vega's does not follow this pattern, and instead seems to be focused more on the individuality of its restaurant venture. For sure, brewpub staples such as burgers, sandwiches, fried appetizers and salads that are in no way healthy for you are all there, but additionally, the restaurant offers its own takes on catfish, pasta, shrimp as well as a few varieties of soup. The house cuts are of Sterling Silver beef, and the meat is cooked over a fire fueled by the titular wood, giving the food a subtle smoke flavor**. My wife had the catfish - the fillet could have been thicker, but the flavor and breading were both tasty. I enjoyed a hamburger stuffed with cheese, topped with a garlic aioli and served on a potato roll (I think it was called the "lava burger"). As long as you're expecting a gourmet burger, I would highly recommend this sandwich, but be warned: it's a two-handed, multi-napkin, possible-knife-and-fork-involved affair.
**I can't vouch for whether or not pecan is the smoking wood of choice for New Mexicans, but it certainly gets a lot of play in the Las Cruces region. My personal preference is for apple wood.
The front of the house is phenomenal, both in look and execution. High-rise ceilings reveal murals depicting local farms and scenery; the color scheme is cool and natural; a smartly-designed floor plan divides up space so that four-top tables receive the impression of privacy even when located in the center of the room. There is a beautiful patio area/waiting room with couches and fireplace, a fully-stocked bar and a large AV-ready room that I can only assume is available for private groups.
Similarly, the service at De La Vega's was excellent. Some families go hiking together, some spend time doing yard work: our family eats out. Even in our short time in the El Paso region, we've witnessed the entire quality of service gamut, and this was near the high water mark. Rather than spell out each specific instance, I'll surmise the experience with two points: No less than six different staff members offered us assistance during our meal; I'm a big fan of the collective approach to food service - few things bother me more when dining out (or working at a restaurant) than servers consciously ignoring tables that aren't technically "theirs". A second aspect that we loved was our daughter's meal. She's not a heavy eater, preferring to pick off of everyone else's plate, but we're always sure to order her something specifically that she'll enjoy, and this time we asked for broccoli. Now, as far as I could tell, nothing on the menu contained broccoli, but knowing that restaurants with rotating specials tend to keep a lot of ingredients off-menu, I gave it a go. Our server's*** professional and respectful response was exactly what this customer wanted to hear: "I'm not sure if we have any, but I'll ask the chef, and if we do, I'll bring some right out." Grace loved the steamed vegetable, which she chooses to eat like a lollipop.
*** Unfortunately, I cannot recall the particular server's name, but if any of the De La Vega's management is reading this, just extend thanks to the entire staff.
This is all good and well, I'm sure you're thinking, but what about the beer? De La Vega's has a good variety, most of which fall into the aforementioned expected styles. With my food, I tried the Las Cruces Lager (I usually go lager with a burger). It wasn't the ballpark refresher I was kind of hoping for on a 95-degree day, but what it did have was a sweet malt start and a legitimate hoppy finish. I also had a D's Pecan Beer, which provided the exact flavor the name would suggest, and even better, was one of those rare beers that my wife and I agreed on. (Although I think it would work better as a late fall/early winter seasonal.)
Rather than stopping by the next time you're in the Las Cruces area, El Pasoans should make a trip to De La Vega's. And if any of you out-of-staters come to visit, this is where we're taking you for dinner.