As regular readers will already know, we’re big supporters of local restaurants. Confronted with a choice of A) The Chain vs B) The Local, we’ll opt for the local eatery each and every time. I believe that local eaterys contribute much more to a community than just jobs and chow. Local restaurants - especially in the current economy - are bucking the tide, going it alone. They are putting it all on the line to be a part of a neighborhood and community that is richer for having them there.
This is why it pains me when I frankly just don’t like a beloved local joint.
The Squeeze In opened their third iteration this weekend. It’s so convenient, actually walking distance or a short bike ride from our house, at The Grove on Foothill and South Virginia. The Grove is a welcome new addition to our south suburban Reno scene - hosting Whispering Vine wine shop and Yosh’s Deli (opening soon), in addition to a fine little farmers market in the summer.
I’ve had issues about the Squeeze In up in northwest Reno since it opened there. The service is awesome, and it’s abundantly clear that they have a successful formula that seems to work for a lot of folks over time. It just wasn’t working for me and mine. Somehow, I hoped this third try might be different somehow.
Here’s the deal: The off-beat, ski-bum scribble all over the walls decor makes me weary. It totally fit in wacky old Truckee, but when I saw it in a northwest strip mall, it seemed contrived and awkward. At the decidedly upscale and chic ‘Grove’ location, it takes contrived and awkward to new levels. It’s completely out of place. The similarly frantic cutesyness of the menu takes it right over the top. My elderly mom has a hard enough time trying to decode a regular menu. She won’t even try with the menu at the Squeeze Inn, and I’m not sure she’s wrong. ‘Hot Sweaty Busboy’ Omelette? What’s that? Eggs with B.O.?
I could chalk all of this up to my own overly picky aesthetic, if the food were consistently good. It’s good … occasionally, as I’ve blogged about …. but not so we can count on it. Saturday’s opening day was a let down - and wouldn’t you know, I left the phone/camera at the house.
We both ordered omelettes. I got a Number 60: Nicky’s Big Fat ‘Greek’ Omelette made with egg whites. The menu said “no windex required… Red bell peppers, spinach, olives, feta cheese and pesto.” The only thing Greek was the feta cheese. To dump an entire small can of sliced black olives into one smallish omelette doesn’t make it Greek. Nor does big wet wads of spinach. The sliced tomatoes that I got instead of potatoes were mushy. Thank gawd for their signature Tomato Pesto sauce on the side to liven things up.
Ron ordered a egg beaters omelette with green and red bell pepper and sausage. He reported the sausage as grey and tasteless, and looking uncomfortably like SPAM. The potatoes were coolish.
For this and coffee, the tab was nearly $35. And, that included the one very small slice of toast.
Sunday morning, we took my mom to Lakeside Bar & Grill on Lakeside and Moana. This is what used to be Truckee Bar & Grill II for nearly 20 years. Cesar is the new chef/owner, and he comes from a solid chain restaurant background. I’m glad he’s decided to risk it here at a favorite location, because he’s got the potential to really shine as a niche player.
Here’s my breakfast omelette:
This is exactly what I asked for, and miles ahead of what I got at SqueezeIn. The spinach, tomatoes and dash of cheese are nicely incorporated, with just enough of each. Not too little or too much. A nice balance between fluffy fresh eggs and the additions. And ‘fresh’ is the operative word at Lakeside. Everything tasted like absolutely fresh high quality ingredients. You never get the sense that Cesar is cheaping out to keep the price down.
I poked my head in back to give my regards and kudos on the meal and watched Cesar, intensely focused and deftly plating a picture perfect California Benedict worthy of FoodNetwork. The fierce pride he takes in each plate of food is obvious.
Cesar also raised the bar with the staff and the restaurant interior. It’s not anything uppity like The Grill at Quail Corners (which I’ll mention in a moment), just really comfy and nice. The help is so well trained and function like a real team, right down to the busboys. They’re classy in spite of their more humble surroundings.
Given a lot of choices around Reno, I’ll default with glee to Lakeside Bar & Grill every time. And for three of us, Sunday breakfast …. $29. That’s some difference from the $35 tab for two at SqueezeIn.
Now, if I could talk Cesar into doing even a simple, cursory webpage - all the better to link you to.
So, I mentioned The Grill at Quail Corners. Ron and I stopped in for a quick lunch there on Friday. Hmmm, what shall I say …. pretentious, expensive and, gee … not special. Won’t make that mistake again. Ron’s burger was dry and tasteless, and plated in what must have been a hurry. Let’s call it unintentionally deconstructed. The french fries weren’t half as good at Lakeside Bar & Grill (Hot. Crispy. Tender.). They were just your same old frozen food service fries … kinda blah, taking up room on the plate. The waitress was confused by Ron’s asking for just a half-order of fries.
I ordered a salad special - a very small portion of fish wrapped in proscuitto and grilled, atop a bed of uninspired, undressed greens and grilled cantalope slices. But it came on a really big goofy plate, which must have justified the price? No? Oh, and I don’t recommend grilling cantalope.
The Grill at Quail Corners might work for the die-hard lunch ladies and the expense account crowd, but I value my dollars too much for that.
Then there’s Pegs Ham ‘n Eggs at South Meadows. Love it. Love it. Love it!
Although they are all owned by the same family, there are different managers at each. The downtown location was always a little too busy and noisy - attracting a younger crowd. The northwest location is just too far away. We eat at the South Meadows Blvd location probably two to three times a week. And although the menu has plenty of huge skillets and large portion offering available, they also don’t make you feel like some sort of annoyance if you’re a light eater.
Their sliders are great. The fries are hot-crispy-tender-yummy. The half BLT is so perfect, served with a cup of fruit, coleslaw, salad or whatever. The house made soups are to die for ( in close competition with Cesar at Lakeside!). Yes, the decor isn’t going to make the restaurant design magazines, but the food and people are what we come for. And, the prices are entirely fair. The owners know us by name and the staff is wonderful. The love, energy and commitment are truly there.
When we’re not at Peg’s or Lakeside, we’ll often be spotted at Tamarack Junction. It’s not ‘cuisine’, but pretty much what you expect for casino chow. That said, they really have knocked themselves out over the years to give us exactly what we wanted. I can’t say that for every similar establishment in Reno. Again, a consistent level of quality, staff that has been there for the long term, and very fair prices are what keep us going back.
Bistro7? What can I say? I’ve loved it and hated it. Loved it when they weren’t over-reaching. You can guess the rest. I’ve taken some national celebrity types to B7 (that they didn’t recognize, which is funny) since it was a place that could make Reno seem like a little more than it is. But I can only take so much ‘clever’ food hits and misses until I run the other direction looking for well-made classics. I’ve heard they have a new executive chef, so we really should give them another try for lunch. Hope springs eternal.
Although they aren’t strictly speaking a Reno restaurant, Adele’s in Carson City, is still identified by Renoite’s as THE PLACE for that special meal. Quite honestly, I think Charlie Abowd’s cuisine always provides a good reason to drive to Carson City for lunch. Adele’s is light years ahead of pretenders such as The Grill, having withstood the tests of time, recessions and their ill-fated foray into downtown Reno.
We went down to Adele’s with friends last week, and we all had a great experience. I’m not usually a fan of duck, but Suggie’s plate darn near changed my mind. Another of our group tried the individual portion of rack of lamb, and pronounced it very toothsome. My seabass in a saffron butter sauce was a delight, while Ron supped on a downsized portion of beef short ribs that were falling apart tender.
Charlie has apparently heard the news that aging upscale diners are beginning to feel the pinch - both in their wallets and waistlines, and are looking for scaled back offerings that might be more in line with who we are today. If he’s really on a less is more approach, offering smaller plates of wonderfully crafted, stunningly, fresh seasonal elements, then he’s on the right track with us. We’ll make the drive even more often.
Oh, and here’s another way Charlie Abowd get’s it. He’s so on to the Social Media marketing reality. I’m seeing Facebook posts that make me drool. I told Katie at Peg’s South Meadows today that they really need to get on that social media/website train or be left at the station. That goes for Cesar at Lakeside Grill, too.
We were at Washoe Grill on Fourth St. about a month ago on one of our very snowy nights. I adore the warmth and more elegant western charm of the place. But the menu just misses for us somehow. Maybe it’s because we’re just not that ‘into’ big portions of meat anymore. If they had offered some smaller portions of really incredible, local grass-fed and finished beef, heritage pork, wild game or something of that nature … maybe we’d be inclined to return. Otherwise, we decided to leave it to the dedicated carnivores. The service that night was lackluster and emotionless, definitely not in keeping with western hospitality. It might as well have been Denny’s as far as the salad and soup selections were concerned.
Francis’ Asian Bistro is another longtime local place that riffed off of the old Palais de Jade on Moana Lane, and the now closed Kyoto. We took my cousins from Arkansas there a few months ago, wanting to really give them an authentic experience. At the end of the evening I was greatful that they were so unaccustomed to upscale dining experiences that they would never realize what a disappointment it was. I told Ron after we parted that the place had lost that certain energy and passion that a place needs to carry it through the tough times. We both sensed that the kitchen was just going through the motions with Asian ingredients in a thick brown sauce. The sushi was at best mediocre.
Perhaps the energy has been diverted to the new Rim in the Grand Sierra Resort, which we haven’t tried. Our experiences with casino offerings of this type have been mostly dismal - more hype than substance.
With Kyoto’s closing, I’m hoping that Reno will be blessed in the near future with another authentic Japanese restaurant, but I won’t hold my breath.
Finally, I’d like to mention Sezmu on Mt Rose Street in Reno. I’ve only been there once, but it was really very good. I like to go back more often, but am waiting for warmer weather. It was blisteringly cold the night we went with another couple, and were seated right by the front door - it’s not a big space and tables are limited. We all thought we’d freeze to death, and asked for another table. We loved the meal, but were pulling our coats around our shoulders all evening. Sezmu is offering some of Reno’s only truly inventive cuisine, and I couldn’t fault the execution in any way.
Sezmu get’s it right, without over-reaching, without letting the food fall victim to creativity. Small plate offerings are there in spades, so it’s great for socializing and sharing. It’s definitely worth being persistant, as I’d like to see them succeed. I’ve noticed that they need to keep their website updated. When we’re planning a night out, I’m on the web immediately, checking specials and such.
Oh, and here’s a pet peeve of mine. If a restaurant is going to have a web presence, then put the damn address, phone and hours of operation right on the front - HIGHLY VISIBLE. If I’m on my iphone, I don’t want to go through two or three tiny pages to find out that you’re not actually open on Sundays or Mondays.
Well, that’s my take on the current crop of local offerings. One thing that I’ve discovered is that creating a restaurant brand that endures over the long haul takes a herculean effort. I really do admire the people who hang it all out there on a nightly basis, take the successes and the criticism’s, and still survive to make it better and stronger.
I salute them. You should too, with your business. Chains come and go. There is no loyalty to the community. It’s the locals that make our city thrive with a rich tapestry of food and culture.