By: Rob McCorkle
Last but certainly not least on Las Cruces’ five craft breweries and brewpubs roster is Pecan Grill & Brewery. As the name implies, this establishment’s outstanding cuisine served in a classy setting gets top billing, but its award winning beer more than holds its own. What has been known since 2009 as De La Vega’s Pecan Grill & Brewery, located adjacent to Mesilla Valley Mall at the busy East Lohman-South Telshor Avenue intersection, has jettisoned the De La Vega part of its name. The handsome, 10,500 square-foot structure custom built in 2002 by Tom Springer to house an Italian restaurant underwent a $1 million renovation and change in ownership in 2008 to transform it into one of the city’s most casually elegant drinking and dining establishments.
“The Best Things in New Mexico” website has ranked Pecan Grill eighth among the state’s Top 15 restaurants. I can’t argue with that rating. I’ve eaten a variety of dishes during the past year, including a tasty, home-style Thanksgiving dinner, and never been disappointed. But in the past few years, Pecan Brewery’s small, handcrafted batches brewed in house have been gaining growing recognition and have racked up more than a dozen awards in statewide and national competition.
So, I asked the owner’s daughter, Ashley Springer, if Pecan Grill & Brewery was opened primarily as a restaurant or bar? The operations manager told me it was both, but added that when her dad met local home brewer David Allan several years ago and hired him as the brewmeister, the brewery operation took on added significance.
“We kind of have a stigma due to the size of our place and the look of the exterior that we’re expensive, but our prices are not that bad at all,” Ashley said. “The brewery side is really coming on because craft breweries are trending, but we do have high-end clientele who come in for a steak dinner.”
Ashley believes one of the things that sets Pecan Grill & Brewery apart from other similar establishments is the “fun ambiance” that offers several different seating options, both indoors and outdoors. “It’s a good place to bring a date and have a quiet dinner or go to one of the two bars which will be a bit crazy later at night similar to a nightclub. Or you can just come listen to live music on the patio.”
Locals will appreciate the interior decorating featuring large murals in the restaurant depicting a pecan orchard framed by the Organ Mountains and three crosses in a corner of the bar and mounted over one of the booths in the dining room.
Most of Pecan Brewery’s beers, including its widely distributed signature Pecan Beer, are contracted out to Rich Weber’s Sierra Brewing Company in Moriarty, NM. The amber brew flavored with pecan extract is one of two Pecan Brewery varieties bottled and sold in New Mexico groceries and liquor stores, and found on tap at select establishments. The other is an award-winning, golden-hued, heavily-hopped American wheat beer called Hop n’ Wheat.
Pecan Brewery’s profile has been raised substantially since Allan took over as head brewer in 2013, bringing his affinity for finely crafted beer and extensive home brewing expertise to the operation. Patrons will find at least one or two of Dave’s in-house specialty beers among the bar’s 18 taps at any given time. Dave’s brews have won the nod from judges at the New Mexico State Fair and earned medals at the U.S. Open Beer Championship and North American Brewers Association competition. Not bad for a professional pest exterminator who admits he really didn’t like the commercial light beers he first tried years ago. That changed, he says, when he drank an “awesome” dark bock at a craft brewery one day and set out to try to duplicate the taste at home. “It was awful, but I drank every bottle because it was my first child.” Infatuated by craft brewing, Dave kept at it, studying, researching and finally creating some prize-winning brews. Hired in 2013 to head up Pecan Brewery’s beer operation, Dave began bringing home awards in 2015 for a number of his brews, including his barrel-aged English-style strong ale (Gnome Lord), Imperial Smoked Lager aged in whisky barrels that bested a competing Samuel Adams beer and Gratitude Porter Pumpkin Beer.
Dave’s one-barrel (31 gallons) set up uses a rim direct fire system that occupies a small area near the restaurant’s kitchen that permits him complete control of the temperature, flow rate and other brewing variables. He is especially proud, and rightly so, of his barrel-aged Gnome Lord incorporating molasses and brown sugar. He recently shared a pour from a refrigerated bottle that had been aging and oxidizing for two years. Hints of cherry, caramel, brown sugar and smoky oakiness danced on the palate. Amazing ambrosia. He will be entering his latest batch of barrel-aged Gnome Lord in the Great American Beer Festival. So, a word to the wise: next time you belly up to the bar at Pecan Brewery, ask which specialty beers are on tap and give ‘em a try.
Fans of Pecan Grill & Brewery can take home a souvenir cap or t-shirt. Beer lovers can buy a 64-ounce growler or 32-ounce “squealer” to take home their favorite variety of light or dark brew.
Ashley says the restaurant and bar have an “interesting vibe” all around with a diverse customer base. Look for college kids and their parents, the 30-something singles crowd, baby boomers and travelers stopping at the convenient location just off Interstate 25 as they pass through town. A growing number of patrons are stopping in to grab a bar stool or table in the new, spacious Tap Room accented by a horseshoe-shaped, granite-topped, corrugated tin-wrapped bar. With wood-covered, vaulted ceiling and rock columns, the dining area has a mountain lodge feel to it. Sports fans can catch their favorites on Las Cruces’ largest flatscreen TV – a 110-inch monster! Others come for Monday’s Open Mike that starts at 8:00 p.m. and live performances Friday and Saturday by the Cajon Brothers, Chris Baker and other local favorites. Poker Thursdays are drawing an ever-growing crowd as well.
Whether you’re in the mood for something light to go with some suds, wine or a mixed drink in the bar (check out discounted Hoppy Hour Bites) or prefer a more formal dining experience featuring more upscale dishes such as Beef Wellington, Pecan Crusted Salmon or Lamb Shank braised in dark cherry brandy sauced, Pecan Grill has it covered. From the first time I dined here (Green Chile Chicken Lasagna) to the last occasion (Caribbean Jerk-Style Ribs and Green Chile Cheeseburger Sliders), I’ve been pleased and left satisfyingly satiated. With an extensive menu prepared under the watchful eye of executive chef Arturo Tovar, the hardest part of visiting Pecan Grill & Brewery is deciding what to order. Perennial favorites include the pecan and Panko-crusted Stuffed Hatch Green Chiles appetizer, Brewer Bites (burger sliders) with onion strings and the Famous Lava Burger. Splurge on a House Specialty such as Red Chile Short Ribs or Hatch Chicken Alfredo, or penny pinch on Taco Tuesdays with $1 beef or potato street tacos. It’s all good.