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Precious Cargo: Freight House serves top-notch food, craft beers at affordable prices

The Freight House in Bernalillo offers a house-smoked barbecue combination, with three meats and two sides. (Jason K. Watkins/For the Journal)

With good food and local craft beer, The Freight House Kitchen + Tap in Bernalillo has a lot going for it.

It’s a taphouse-style restaurant with modern architecture and a welcome emphasis on food, and it’s accessible enough, both physically and financially, to become a neighborhood institution.

Chicken and waffles are a delicate affair; they’re now no longer the province of greasy spoons in the Deep South and hipster restaurants in Portland. If they’re too sweet, the dish feels like dessert. If they’re too savory, the waffles seem like a novelty. The Freight House chicken and waffles ($11.99) are nicely balanced, though, and come with an assortment of flavor punches, including green chile gravy, honey maple syrup and calabacitas. The two small round waffles are made with corn, so they’re more savory than sweet, and the two extra-large chicken breasts are breaded and fried to a dark golden brown. Together, the flavors were delicious.

The best deal at The Freight House is the house-smoked barbecue combination ($17.99 for three meats and two sides). The dry-rubbed baby back ribs were the best I’ve ever had, and by far the most tender – the quarter-rack of ribs fell apart when I tried to pick them up, and they were slathered in a tangy barbecue sauce with just enough spice to get my attention. The Texas-style brisket is tender and juicy as well. It’s smoked for hours until it can be cut with a fork.

The carved turkey was good but a little too dry and tough to compete with the brisket or ribs. It was the largest of the three portions but my least favorite. (Other meat options include bison meatloaf, chicken and pork loin.) Ten side dishes guarantee you’ll find a couple you like; my house slaw came in a little metal box and was excellent, if a little spicy, but the roasted garlic mashed potatoes were thick and a little bland and could have used some butter or sour cream to add some flavor.

Popcorn tossed in a homemade caramel-like coating and sprinkled with bacon chunks at Freight House. (Jason K. Watkins/For the Journal)

The Freight House offers free Wi-Fi, a nice touch. The restaurant posts specials on Facebook and hosts family game nights every week. It also has a covered, dog-friendly patio. The spacious interior is designed for a lot of light, and the modern-industrial tables and chairs are a lot more comfortable than they look. The walls are covered in canvases by an artist (on a recent visit, it was work by a loud fauvist painter from Taos). The place feels like your rich uncle’s living room – during my visit, two state senators and their two guests chatted two tables away about New Mexico’s education system while a young couple wearing shorts sat down for a date across the room. The place is casual; everyone fits in.

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More than 25 beers are on tap at any given time, including a bunch of Albuquerque brews and seasonal specials like the summery Citra Smash IPA from La Cumbre Brewing Co. I opted for the nonalcoholic homemade lemonade, a cocktail-like concoction of lemon, sparkling water and mashed berries. It was refreshing and not too sweet but could have benefited from a bit more lemon.

My favorite part of the meal was an unplanned dessert that sounded too good to be true: popcorn tossed in a homemade caramel coating and then sprinkled with – of all things – bacon chunks. I wanted to buy a movie-theater-sized bucket of it, but that would have cost more than the meal. The dessert was the best part of the meal.

The Freight House is a brewery-centric dining establishment with food that’s on par with the brews. Situated near the Rail Runner stop in Bernalillo, it makes a nice meeting spot where good beer and excellent food come without a high price or a lot of pretense. You might even run into your senator there.

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