Last Saturday’s elegiac paean to the Liberty Belle, as predicted, provoked a near-unprecedented stream of memories, running the gamut from hilarious to poignant. All are saved; nothing goes to waste in the ol’ writer’s garret and they’ll be trotted out soon – when I can get them all into one pile. Er, file.
There arrived among these contacts some peripheral restaurant notes not associated with our Belle Farewelle specifically, in these cases memories of other favorite now-bygone restaurants, or their signature dishes. I’m reminded of two 2001 back-to-back columns – merged into one in my earlier “Mapes” book – about Eugene’s restaurant, a Reno classic that closed two decades before. Following those columns I was accused by not one but three, which approaches all, readers of writing-for-food, which is to say, “Write something nice about a restaurant and then pick up a free dinner in return.” These readers were probably unclear on the concept that for a columnist to realize a freebie meal out of any joint, which I’ve never done in 24 years, it’s mandatory that the joint be open for business at the time of publishing the compliment. These three readers have since moved on to the RGJ’s Contract Bridge or the fascinating “Patents” column that appears in the main news section,, both of which use large-print and single-syllable words, just for them.
Ergo, I will not receive a free meal in exchange for a gratuitous mention from Della’s Coach and Horses. Nor from the Big Hat, at the southwest corner of Moana and South Virginia when that intersection was the south end of Reno (and no, it wasn’t called the White Hat; I’ve been taken down that path before.) Ahh, the Jubilee, at the north end of the grade starting up Washoe hill heading for Carson City, or Hagel’s Villa – known by a host of names but mostly Hagel’s – in Washoe City, east side of 395 just north of Winters Ranch. Great suburban dining when parties were more prone to get out of town a mile or ten for a cocktail. Within that category and I’m surprised no one nailed it this week, was the Christmas Tree – now politically correctly-but-stupidly renamed to “Tannenbaum” by new out-of-town owners here now to help us local-yokels out, gastronomically speaking. [It’s now a banquet affair with BYO food.] They have asked me for a plug, but won’t get it.
Chop Suey on a Cowboy tabletop
The Chinese Pagoda got a few votes, down on the north side of B Street in Sparks at what I’ll wildly guess was 4th Street. It later moved to Stoker Drive and into the former Circle RB restaurant, named of course for Reno Browne, where the Pagoda served Chop Suey on Formica tables still with the Circle RB wagon wheel and branding iron pattern. True international dining. Or try the Toscano, on Lake Street for a Sunday family dinner – many were the nights three or four families’ kids went in one private booth for their minestrone soup while our folks had a little red wine in another. Or one could go next door to Columbo’s for Reno’s first pizza, Ralph Festina and his charming wife in the kitchen. [And I heard about the “charming…”] By the way, that Colombo’s was indeed downtown on Lake Street, not the one later on the river (Truckee River Lane) nor the even later one that’s now a Black Bear Diner.
The coffee groups sound off, gastronomically
Signature dishes? The Seven Ayem Senior Moment Krispy Kreme & BS Kaffeeklatch, led by Red Kittell, started a list and George Twaddle took it to his Lions Club where it was lengthened. Kittell, a City of Reno Historical Resources Committee member, thinks these should all be added to Reno’s heritage by a City Council fiat:
The Lancer’s spinach salad (I kind of like Ascuaga’s)…any pastries from PollyAnna’s…Woolworth’s (downtown) grilled cheese with a milkshake…morning coffee at the Eagle Thrifty lunch counter (someone will probably ring in with coffee at Grey Reid’s Bird Cage)…how ‘bout escargot at the Mapes Coach Room?
Now then, from the Wigwam, Second at Sierra, hot apple pie with the brandy sauce, which at this writing 473 readers have confided in the past that they ALONE have Les Lerude’s recipe for, but none will share…shrimp scampi at Eugene’s (my vote would be for any of their desserts)…illegally imported abalone at Bill Fong’s New China Club (see reference to the Toscano above – same place, became Fong’s a decade later)…a Wolf burger at the Jot Travis Student Union on the university campus, remembered by all as a burger with a fried egg on the top…Festina’s Pizza, refer to the Columbo reference above; Ralph Festina left Columbo’s to open his own parlor. And took his wife along (she later drowned in Virginia Lake).
A toss-up between local Sierra and Tahoe Beer, built by Reno Brewing Company on East Fourth at Morrill Avenue…Chism Ice Cream, anywhere…Steak Diane at the old 19th Hole, capped with a Coffee Diablo expertly mixed by barmeister Jeff Courson. We’ll skip the tale of the local attorney who fried his Rolex trying to mimic Jeff’s expertise with flaming brandy. But we’ll include that Jeff stayed his post alongside Geno Oliver at the Liberty Belle until a week ago yesterday as you read this. Great guys.
Space dwindles: Minestrone soup and antipasto at Ric Panelli’s Spaughi’s…a martini at the Glory Hole…got to include a chili cheese omelette at Landrum’s on South Virginia…Shakey’s munch-a-bunch-all-you-can-eat-pizza-and-wings, if the Wolf Burger at the Jot couldn’t get your cholesterol into quadruple digits, and finally, or probably not finally, but sadly, a drum roll please: prime rib at the Liberty Belle.
And we ain’t done yet…
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A nice tribute: Waiting in Victorian Way traffic behind Sparks Fire Department’s new red “triple” engine earlier this week, I noticed its placard on the hose bay “Keep Back 343 Feet”. Pulling alongside the cab, I asked the fireman by the window, “What’s with 343 feet?”
“That’s one foot for every firefighter that died in 9/11.”
Have a good week, and God bless America.
© Mar. 23, 2006 RGJ