July 16, 2011

Reno, Nevada: Casinos, Meet Farm-toTable

Despite dire predictions of bad eating in Reno, a recent trip there turned up some interesting watering holes. Turns out there’s a burgeoning food culture centered on local ranches, farms and some small, family-run dairies that are struggling to gain a foothold. One of those, Laca’s Vacas Dairy, is owned in part by a descendant of a Basque shepherding family. Many Basques still live in the area, and their culture and customs have left a mark on the region’s culinary landscape.

Beautiful fava bean crostini at 4th St. Bistro
The area even has its own member of the edible Community of magazines, edible Reno-Tahoe! When I discovered the magazine online, its “Eat Local Guide” (nine pages covering the region between Carson City and Fallon) became my dining search engine. After a great dinner at a place called The 4th Street Bistro, I saw a wooden crate in the foyer that I was sure was supposed to hold edible Reno-Tahoe. It was empty. Just then, a woman entered the restaurant carrying a thick stack of magazines. As if I had wished her into existence was Jaci Goodman, publisher and advertising director of edible Reno-Tahoe, carrying the new summer issue of the magazine.

Jaci took us out to the back terrace of the restaurant, where she had been having dinner with the magazine's publisher, Amanda Burden. Since I’m a contributor to edible editions in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley, I was excited to meet the minds behind Reno’s version. Jaci and Amanda introduced us to 4th Street Bistro Chef Natalie Sellers, who’s put in time at some top San Francisco kitchens. All had gravitated to Reno for its smaller size, friendliness, and the chance to make a mark on a community that’s opening up to the idea of local and sustainable agriculture.

The next night we had been planning on eating at Louis’ Basque Corner, one of the few restaurants I could find that was open in Reno on the Sunday of Fourth of July weekend. Jaci set us up with a table, and  owner  Brian Elcano was on hand to greet us. After he and co-owner Chris Shanks took over in March, they replaced the old vinyl floor with hardwood, and added all new kitchen equipment. The new equipment alone, Jaci had told us, resulted in a leap in quality at the 44-year-old restaurant. Like many Basque restaurants, Louis’ occupies the bottom floor of what used to be a boarding house for shepherds. Meals are still served family style, and are hearty, multi-course affairs.

Loved the braised oxtails at Louis'
Also the crispy sweetbreads
So if anyone tells you Reno is just a faded pioneer town full of casinos, washed up gamblers and anomie, you can raise a skeptical eyebrow. “Scratch the surface here, and there’s a lot going on,” Jaci told me. “People here are friendly; we look out for each other.”  


  1. Love this piece! Natalie and Carol have such a wonderful place—I begged them to let me design their website (years ago), and we've been friends ever since.

    Good for you, seeking out the farm-to-table places. I've got to get back to Reno and try the Basque food. (I live in Farm Central: Santa Cruz, California.)

  2. Thanks for the comment, Tanya! Nice website. I envy you being in Farm Central and a really beautiful town, too. There's Basque food in Bakersfield, too!