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Foothills oasis: Boxing Bear fills a void with excellent beer, food at Bridges on Tramway

A flight of Boxing Bear’s best, clockwise from bottom left: Headlock Hazy IPA, Bearfest Lager, Chocolate Milk Stout, Black and Blue Tart and Applebear Cider. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

If the Interstate 25 corridor is the fertile crescent of Albuquerque’s dining scene, then Tramway, the long north-south byway that demarcates the eastern edge of the city, is the barren desert.

Even as it grew from an unpaved country road to a busy artery lined with apartments and housing developments, Tramway has remained stubbornly resistant to restaurants. Dining-out options are few and far between on the roughly 10-mile stretch that runs north through the Sandia foothills from Interstate 40 to County Line Barbecue.

The recently opened mixed-use project Bridges on Tramway aims to change that. Built out of the bones of an old Hastings and Tradesmart at Candelaria, it promises a variety of eating and drinking choices.

The development’s name comes from the pedestrian bridges that arch over the road at several spots between Copper and Comanche. There’s a Burrow Cafe on one corner, serving crepes and bagels. A Paleta Bar and a taco shop are preparing to open next door.

Boxing Bear fills the northeast corner of the complex as a kind of anchor. The Tramway taproom is Boxing Bear’s third location, after its West Side brewpub and West Downtown Taproom. It’s still getting up to speed; on a recent weekday, several employees in black T-shirts were being trained to run the register and pour beers. Groups of patrons arrived steadily, most choosing to sit outside on a spacious east-facing patio with views of the Sandias that gradually surrenders to the shade as the afternoon progresses.

Inside is a high-ceilinged space with stained concrete floors and tables set far apart to conform to pandemic standards. The brewery’s familiar, colorful cans with big block letters are stacked in a cooler. For the time being, you order and pay at the bar and take a number.

Boxing Bear serves as a reminder that these are good times for beer drinkers. The new place serves old standbys such as Chocolate Milk Stout and Black and Blue Tart alongside a few seasonal offerings. A big chalkboard on the wall lists the day’s rotation with each beer’s alcohol percentage and IBUs, or bitterness units. Prices run from $1.75 for a 4-ounce sample to $6.50 for 20-ounce pour. For $8, you can do what I did and get a flight of five 4-ounce pours served in a wooden holder shaped like a bear’s paw.

There’s always something new to try, such as the Bearfest “Stay at Home” Lager, a light, refreshing palate cleanser that’s ideal for summer drinking. It matches up particularly well with pizza.

The Black and Blue Tart, a wheat ale the color of raspberry sorbet, has a slightly sweet, citrus quality that makes it another good choice for the hot weather. The Headlock Hazy IPA, aromatic and juicy, tamps down the bitterness of its less turbid cousins.

Even murkier than the Headlock, Boxing Bear’s Applebear Cider looks like a Granny Smith apple that’s been run through a juicer. It has a distinct apple aroma but is drier than the smell suggests.

Boxing Bear’s Chocolate Milk Stout has earned enough plaudits over the years to qualify as a local treasure. It’s proof that stout can be a drink for all seasons. Drinking this smooth, sweet and smoky brew on a hot day evokes iced coffees and cookouts.

The food menu at the new location is currently limited to a few appetizers and six varieties of pizza. The sandwiches that are popular choices at the West Side location were not available at the time of my visit.

The eminently shareable giant pretzel ($10), artfully hung from a hook and served with ramekins of queso and mustard, highlights the appetizer menu. Boxing Bear also offers a meatless Frito pie appetizer ($6) with red chile pinto beans and corn chips nesting under a pile of chopped lettuce, diced tomatoes and onions. The ample serving of Fritos threw the balance of the dish to the dry side, and it wasn’t spicy at all – the jalapeños that often show up in Frito pies were sorely missed here.

Boxing Bear offers six versions of its 10-inch pizzas, including the pepperoni with green chile, mozzarella and red sauce. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

Boxing Bear’s pizzas, priced from $9 for the Classic Cheese to $13 for the Meat Lovers or the Chicken Artichoke, are proof that you don’t have to go to a pizzeria to get a good pie. The pepperoni and green chile ($11.00) has an ideal balance of mozzarella cheese and red sauce, and the green chile, singed from the oven, brings considerable heat to the mix. The crust held up to it all without getting soggy underneath. It’s an outstanding presentation that’s plenty for two to share.

Boxing Beer turns out some of the best beers in the region. The good food is a bonus. It should be a solid anchor at Bridges on Tramway for years to come.