edible updates

THE LATEST SCOOP
Keeping you informed of local food-and-drink news.

Written by Michael Tragash
Illustration by Greg Brady

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Construction and cooler temperatures can’t slow down our food-and-drink scene in Reno-Tahoe. We’re still seeing lots of exciting new concepts, ownership changes, moves, and more, creating new experiences. Keeping up with all the changes has become quite the task. Fortunately, we’re serving up your Edible Updates on a silver platter. 

Midtown is business as usual

The Virginia Street Project is well underway, and construction crews are working hard to create a more beautiful and pedestrian-friendly Midtown Reno for us all to enjoy. While it may seem daunting to access your favorite local spots, remember that it’s business as usual for Midtown business owners. In fact, construction hasn’t slowed growth in Midtown at all. New businesses are opening monthly, and even more are on the horizon.

Take Amari, for example. This new bar opened in July, on Cheney Street, amid the hustle and bustle of an active construction site. Owners Cady Auble, Sadie Bonnette, and Ivan Fontana placed Amari next to Bonnett and Fontana’s other Midtown businesses, Death & Taxes and Midtown Eats

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Amari's owners, from left, Cady Auble, Ivan Fontana, and Sadie Bonnette. Photo by Gagewood Photography.

And though they aren’t bitter about the construction, there is a lot of bitterness at this business: Amari, which is Italian for “bitter,” celebrates the bitter flavors of classic apéritifs and digestifs, such as amaro and fernet. It’s a place to embrace and explore the bitter side of the spirit flavor spectrum, with a specific focus on Italian spirits, cocktails, and drinking culture. Amari is intimate, elegant, and classic, with a cozy and sophisticated interior warmed by polished wood, exposed brick, velour booths, and brilliant candlelight. 

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Amari in Midtown

Amari offers an experience unlike anywhere else in the community. Just a few minutes here and you’ll feel as though you’ve been whisked away to a quiet Italian neighborhood bar perfect for casual conversation or that special first date.

Farther south, Martin Street (near South Virginia Street) underwent a similar transformation, but that didn’t deter Reno local and famed hairstylist to the stars Tyler Colton from choosing it as the home for The Emerson, a beautiful midcentury modern lounge in the heart of Midtown, which opened in July. While the vibe is classic and casual, the cocktail program is anything but, thanks to award-winning mixologist Anna Maye Vetter. Vetter is known for her whimsical and creative approach to cocktail design, particularly with regard to clever flavor combinations and presentation, and you can experience it all here. The menu includes such classics as grasshoppers and Negronis as platforms for her creativity, but Anna Maye’s Baller menu is where her personality and approach really shine. The Rub-A-Dub-Dub, made with Truckee’s Old Trestle Theory 001 Gin, house-made rum punch, pineapple juice, and coconut milk, is served in a miniature porcelain bathtub and garnished with rose petals. It looks and tastes so luxurious, you’ll wish you could slip in for a soak! 

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The Rub-a-Dub-Dub cocktail at The Emerson in Midtown

Vetter’s whimsical presentations set against the soft and luscious surroundings of The Emerson have made her cocktails some of the most photographed in town. There’s no doubt that those photos shared on Yelp and social media, along with a concise food menu and distinct programming such as drag bingo and classic movie night, have helped many of us to forget about the construction in favor of new experiences. 

Remember, Reno started as dusty dirt roads. Embrace that pioneer spirit and make your way to Midtown, where, regardless of construction, it’s alive and well.

Downtown updates

Downtown Reno always has been destined for greatness, and thanks to the dedication of the Downtown Reno Partnership and our local business owners, it’s starting to come together. The Downtown Reno Partnership has helped make the area safer and more enjoyable for all citizens, and business owners are once again investing in the heart of our city, bringing new experiences that add thrills and much-needed attention to the area. 

On Third Street, between Virginia and West streets, you may have noticed a new store called Shim’s Surplus Supplies. But Shim’s is anything but a surplus supply store. Behind that fancy window display of supposed wares is what some call Reno’s first Prohibition Era-like speakeasy, hidden in plain sight in the heart of Downtown Reno. Skip the front door and look for the non-descript one behind the building that reads “Delivery Only.” That’s the entrance, and the password is … well, you’ll have to go to find out! Once inside, you’ll find yourself in a dimly lit, swanky, sophisticated, secret drinking establishment where the well-dressed bartenders craft new versions of classic cocktails. 

Sierra Street said goodbye to its Subway restaurant earlier this year, and Blind Dog Tavern was quick to snatch up this prime location. Josh Callen, Blind Dog’s owner, saw the opportunity to expand from his cozy corner in Arlington Towers and quickly transformed the fast-casual restaurant space into a hip, monochromatic, metropolitan bar with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer sweeping views of Sierra Street. Hailing from the Bay Area, Callen has longed for a big-city vibe in his bar, and that’s exactly what he has in Blind Dog’s new home.

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The Peruvian Sour cocktail at Blind Dog Tavern in Downtown Reno

Just up First Street, there’s something new sizzling on the banks of the Truckee River, and it’s all coming from an Israel-based fast-casual concept called BurgerIM, which opened in July on the corner of Arlington Avenue and First Street. The name, a combination of the word “burger” and the Hebrew suffix -im (pronounced “eem”) meaning “many,” is perfectly suited to the concept, which encourages you to create your own experience with customizable, slider-sized burgers. If you’re hungry for variety or like to try everything on the menu, Yelpers recommend the Duo or Trio, which give you the opportunity to build two or three, three-ounce burgers by choosing from the restaurant’s six base patties (which include vegan, vegetarian, and non-beef options), three buns, and 18 toppings. If your appetite is a bit bigger, try the Big BurgerIM; these quarter- and one-third-pound specialty burgers offer options that include Hawaiian salmon, falafel, Greek lamb, and dry-aged beef patties. If you’re feeding a picky crowd, try the Family Box, with eight burgers, so everyone can build their own. And oh, yeah … don’t skip the sides. Like with the burgers, you have options, including fries, onion rings, sweet potato fries, and “styled” fries, and you can even order a half-and-half option, so you don’t have to pick just one.

A pig by any other name

On the other side of the Truckee River, Pignic Pub & Patio is cranking out a lot more than great cocktails and live music these days with the addition of a custom-built, permanent kitchen trailer called The Pig Shack Eatery. The new restaurant utilizes the wonderful equipment in Pignic’s Community Grill Yard — including wood smokers and ceramic, charcoal, and gas grills — along with the fresh herbs, veggies, and fruits found in its edible gardens and other local sources to create breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner menus that take inspiration from cuisines found in the southern part of the U.S. and the Caribbean, such as Cajun, Creole, soul food, Cuban, and regional barbecue variations. Examples include a slow scramble with smoked brisket and collard greens; Cajun shrimp with cheese grit cakes and a side of ham hocks and peas; or Pignic’s take on a Cubano sandwich, with house-marinated Cuban fried pork, holiday ham, Riesling mustard sauce, organic mayo, pickles, and sweet onion. Not to be missed is the hamburger, a take on the one at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Conn. (recognized by the Library of Congress as the birthplace of the hamburger sandwich), which two of the owners visited before creating their version. Pignic Pub & Patio co-owner Ryan Goldhammer has long dreamed about The Pig Shack. Countless catering events, private parties, and special supper club dinners held at Pignic all led to its creation. With the support of their partners at Revision Brewing Co. and a seasoned team of chefs in the kitchen, it now is a reality and Reno’s newest dining destination.

New faces on Fourth

Reno’s Brewery District continues to come together as business owners breathe new life into the historic buildings along the Fourth Street Corridor. Many in the community still consider this area a risky proposition (with a homeless shelter and services nearby), but it’s changing faster than you can blink. The neighborhood already boasts traditional Basque dining (Louis’ Basque Corner), a restaurant featuring American specialties (The Depot), urban wineries and breweries (including Nevada Sunset Winery), a boutique hotel (The Jesse), bars, and a taqueria, all sitting among industrial warehouses and operations. The next wave of entrepreneurs is here, and they’re all thinking well beyond the stigma, bringing completely new concepts and reviving this historic area.

So what’s next? How about a meadery? Will Truce and Jake Conway thought that was exactly what was missing from the neighborhood and opened Black Rabbit Mead Co. in early July. 

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Black Rabbit Meads. Photos by Annie Mason and Lora Wagener

Mead quite possibly is the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage, with evidence found in China dating back as far as 7000 BC. It’s also one of the simplest alcoholic beverages to make, with only three ingredients: honey, water, and yeast, all fermented together. It also can be infused with herbs, fruits, and aromatic spices as well, adding flavor and even medicinal benefits. Truce and Conway, both local high school teachers, started making mead as a hobby several years ago, along with fellow teacher Al Sindlinger, who owns Al Bees, one of Reno’s top honey-producing operations. Truce’s master’s degree in microbial ecology and Conway’s experience as an avid homebrewer had them excited to see what they could create, and after years of tinkering with mead in a home kitchen, they decided to go professional, opening Nevada’s first meadery. Black Rabbit Mead Co. makes cider-style meads with honey sourced from the Sierra Nevada, infused with flavors of the high desert as a celebration of the mountain life and all that makes our home unique. 

Sparks is popping

As our population grows, Sparks really is heating up, and local businesses are taking notice and staking their claims in the Rail City. It’s not all for food and drink, either. The entertainment options are making Sparks a destination like never before. You can feed your creative side at Board & Brush, a business that features DIY wood projects and custom sign-making workshops, which opened its first Sparks location on Vista Boulevard in the D’Andrea Marketplace, in July. 

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Board & Brush is open in Reno and Sparks

In Downtown Sparks, the Nugget Event Center is bringing A+ entertainment and plenty of visitors to the area. And just outside its gates is the newly remodeled Galaxy Theatres; Piñon Bottle Co.’s second location; Golden Rotisserie’s first location outside of Truckee; and Sparks’ first urban winery, Engine 8, too. 

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Nugget Event Center in Victorian Square in Sparks

Recently, we’ve heard a lot of news about great local businesses taking up residence at Sparks’ The Outlets at Legends. BurgerIM and IMBIB Custom Brews have both let it be known their second area locations would be inside this shopping center. And Stanley Restaurants, owner of Rue Bourbon in Midtown, recently added Old Granite Street Eatery to its portfolio and announced the opening of Old Granite Street Pub at Legends as well. At the Sparks Marina, Great Full Gardens announced it would be joining Lighthouse Coffee and Sparks Water Bar (a new restaurant from the owner of Gar Woods and five other restaurants at Lake Tahoe and in Truckee) with its first Sparks location, and we’ve heard rumblings there could be others in the near future.

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Construction is under way at the new Sparks Water Bar, next to Lighthouse Coffee, at the Sparks Marina

Word to the wines

The 2019 Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence, which recognize restaurants whose wine lists offer tantalizing selections that appeal to a wide range of wine lovers and are appropriate to their cuisines, are out, and Northern Nevada once again has proven that its proximity to wine country has its perks. Recognized on the list are some usual suspects, including Atlantis Steakhouse, Roxy, Bistro 7, and Charlie Palmer Steak. But there are two relative newcomers that may surprise you. Boomtown Steakhouse made its first appearance on the list in 2018 and earned a place in 2019 as well, thanks to the efforts of Rob Medeiros, general manager, and Ricci DeFiglio, director of wine, who have created a list that’s both intriguing and affordably priced. 

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Cocktails at Atlantis Steakhouse

New to the list in 2019 is Cactus Creek Prime Steakhouse at the Bonanza Casino, recognized for its reasonable pricing and California focus. Cactus Creek actually was Reno’s first steakhouse to exclusively serve USDA Prime beef, a lead followed by many of the best steakhouses in the city. The Sheltra family knew this would be an unbeatable point of differentiation, and adding an affordable wine list to pair with it has won the restaurant great favor with local food fanatics in the know. If the affordable USDA Prime beef isn’t enough of an attraction to this restaurant, the Southwest-inspired dining room truly is an experience in and of itself. Imagined by Russ Sheltra, the room actually was created by a former Disney set designer, with surprises hidden throughout.

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Cactus Creek Prime Steakhouse

Our patronage at longstanding local institutions and all of the new concepts and cuisines that have arrived support the growth we’re seeing in Reno-Tahoe. Sharing these stories and your own experiences with others will inspire them to show their support, too. We’re all an active part of putting the Reno-Tahoe region on the map, and in so doing, we’re helping our local food community thrive.

Until next time, remember to eat, drink, and support local!

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Michael Tragash is a local food influencer and a local community director with Yelp.com. He’s passionate about connecting people to all the useful, funky, and cool businesses and happenings in the Reno-Tahoe region. You usually can find him exploring the local food-and-drink scene or the natural beauty that surrounds us.

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