PJ & Co. offers dressed-up old-school selections and Tex-Mex favorites.
What is it like when the owner of a favorite Reno restaurant and saloon must shut down under mandate?
“It is gut wrenching,” says Steve Erickson, owner of PJ & Co. in Reno.
On March 18, 2020, this beloved Wells Avenue eatery with a strong local following shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Unsure when it would open again, Erickson was deeply worried — about his business, his employees, and how both could survive.
Fast forward to June 1, 2020: Helped by federal government pandemic programs, Erickson and 21 former employees returned to work. The doors unlocked, “and the regulars showed up like we’d never closed,” Erickson says.
Back in their second home, customers beamed. The staff beamed. A loyal crew, many of whom have worked here for decades beamed. One busser has been here for 35 years, and in the kitchen, chefs Elias Godinez and Victor Novarro have loyally served for 32 and 28 years, respectively. PJ’s, as it’s known by locals, was back. Everything familiar was in its place: the fringed cottage curtains, Reno Rodeo and dirt bike posters, Wolf Pack memorabilia … all a part of PJ’s down-home charm.
Spotlight on Breakfast
This “classic American café,” as Erickson describes his 35-year-old restaurant, comes to life at 7 a.m. sharp for breakfast. Chef Novarro, who arrives at 5 a.m. to prep and be ready for the day, says it’s briefly quiet at opening, “but within five minutes, it’s busy.”
The breakfast menu is filled with numerous options that will surely include your favorite breakfast food. But if you want to venture into more unfamiliar territory, try PJ’s Eggs Benedict, an all-time favorite and something you probably don’t fix at home. The ample dish stars three eggs, poached to gentle perfection; Canadian bacon, tender with a tinge of saltiness; and an English muffin, lightly toasted (making it easy to cut). A sauce of velvety, creamy, sherried cream cheese finishes the dish — a savory pleasure. (Seven other eggs Benedict dishes to research are on a separate menu.)
Another breakfast winner is huevos rancheros, which features refried pinto beans, two eggs, salsa, cheese, and sour cream loaded on a flour tortilla — buenos días! For another top seller, chef Novarro points to the Biscuits-n-Gravy. The nontraditional gravy sparkles with added pork, garlic, white pepper, and red chile flakes. A generous gravy serving tops the saucer-sized biscuit. Add a bloody mary (the best in town, PJ’s loyal customers will tell you) to cap the meal.
The open kitchen buzzes from morning to night. Serving fresh food cooked to order daily is labor intensive: The kitchen crew tends to daily soups, beans, rice, and chili; whips up guacamole, sauces, and salsas; and bakes from-scratch cornbread and coffee cake. Slicing potatoes for French fries is a daily ritual, as is the preparation of burger patties, formed by hand from a special ground chuck provided by Ponderosa Meat & Provision Co. in Reno.
With breakfast service over, the restaurant remains active until closing. The menu for lunch and dinner (one and the same) features a dizzying array of choices: 15 hamburgers, ranging from all-American to veggie; more than 20 sandwiches, including the BLTA, which reigns; a parade of soups; and fresh salads, of which the Cobb and pasta choices are favorites. Not to overwhelm you, but check out the Tex-Mex menu, too, available starting at 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Hint: Bestsellers are the fajitas and pork back ribs.
PJ’s has an outside patio that should open this spring for a pleasant al fresco experience. And Bike Night, a Wednesday night event for bikers to socialize in PJ’s parking lot, will start in April, weather permitting, says Erickson, an avid dirt biker and motorcyclist.
Inclusive and friendly, PJ & Co. boasts an atmosphere and hospitality that are as huge as its meals. Early in his career in the restaurant business, Erickson learned that you don’t want your customers leaving hungry. It’s a philosophy he has earnestly maintained.
“No one leaves here hungry!” he says.
Reno food writer Sandra Macias is happy to be back after a two-year coronavirus hiatus. She’s particularly pleased to write about PJ & Co., a familiar local fixture of 35 years. May its legacy thrive “for many moons,” as owner Steve Erickson puts it.
PJ & Co. Restaurant & Saloon
1590 S. Wells Ave., Reno
775-323-6366 • Pjandco.net
Breakfast served 7 – 11:30 a.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Sat. – Sun.
Lunch/dinner served 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Mon. – Fri., 1 – 9 p.m. Saturday; Lunch only served 1 – 4 p.m. Sun.
Tex-Mex menu served 4:30 – 9 p.m. Mon. – Fri.
Pico de Gallo
(courtesy of Steve Erickson, owner, PJ & Co. in Reno. Makes about 2 cups)
1 white onion
3 large tomatoes
2 serrano chiles
1 bunch cilantro (stems removed)
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 2 limes
Chop onions, tomatoes, serrano chiles, and cilantro, each separately. Place the ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir in salt, pepper, and lime juice. Mix all gently and serve.