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REVIEW: Get your homestyle cooking fix at Hometown Cafe

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Hometown Cafe in Lemon Valley is a diner-style restaurant that specializes in homestyle cooking. Locals know the restaurant for its diner breakfast classics, burgers, specialty sandwiches, fried appetizers and a fair selection of house-made pies. The aesthetic is a pure slice of Americana, ripe with checkered tablecloths, tchotchkes, a small dining counter and a staff that warmly greets regulars.

The every-diner feel spurs nostalgia and comfort

As someone who spends a ton of time thinking about food and cooking, I enjoy dining at restaurants that challenge expectations. I sometimes appreciate molecular gastronomy, weird fusions and chefs looking to say something with their dishes. That said, there’s something special and comforting about walking into an archetypal diner.

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A warm, welcoming diner. Image: Kaitlin Young

In my experience, most diners make a strong effort to excel at eggs, fried batters, fried potatoes, toasted breads, breakfast meats, sandwiches and bar foods like burgers, fries and onion rings. These foods are ubiquitous at diners in towns and cities, big and small.

Diners tend to bear strong resemblances whether you look to the past or present. They look the same in my dreams and in person.

You can communicate a lot about food with photos, but sound offers something special. Video: Kaitlin Young.

In movies, television and our regular lives, diners are places for discussion, rest and a converging of worlds. New lovers, former lovers, rule breakers, rule followers, artists and accountants – we all seem to frequent diners.

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen the trope of ‘fight scene in a diner’ actualized, but most of the other stuff really does seem to happen. We catch up. We talk about days past. We talk about days ahead. We work through the grind of life at diners, and we do it together while eating syrup and hot sauce.

Getting started at Hometown Cafe

My wife and I walked into Hometown Cafe just after 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday. The restaurant was swamped when we arrived. The cashier at the front said we could sit anywhere we liked. We chose a booth in the heart of the restaurant.

The atmosphere was warm and comfortable. One wall at the front pays homage to the Reno Air Races. Opposite the plane photos, there are quarter machines selling temporary tattoos, bouncy balls and the like. You better believe that we capitalized on the glow-in-the-dark temporary tattoos.

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Glow-in-the-dark temporary tattoos from Hometown Cafe. Images: Kaitlin Young.

A young gentleman snagged a couple coffees ($2.35 / coffee) and some waters for us right after we sat down. The coffee was pretty tasty but a bit thin. Our friendly server came by a minute later with some menus.

We decided to go with potato skins for $6.99 for our appetizer. My wife ordered Suzie’s Favorite, a scramble, for $9.99. I went with the New York Steak Sandwich for $13.25.

Come with an appetite

Our potato skins arrived quickly. They came with bacon, jack and cheddar cheeses, sour cream and a large side of house-made ranch. The potatoes seemed to be full-sized Russets with just the right amount of inner flesh scooped out. I have high expectations for this dish, and Hometown Cafe delivered with precision. The potatoes had an excellent proportion of flaky potato to crisp, crackling skin. They included a ton of crispy bacon bits under and on top of the cheese. The cheese, too, was melted and crispy in all the right places. The sour cream and ranch were both thick and satisfying. Especially for only $6.99, I’d travel back to the restaurant just to eat this appetizer again.

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Truly wonderful potato skins. Image: Kaitlin Young.

Suzie’s Favorite included quick scrambled eggs, ham, mushroom, spinach and jack and cheddar cheeses. My wife nixed the ham from her order. She went with sourdough toast and home fries to accompany her eggs. Everything arrived in large portions. The home fries were very nicely crisped, but they could have used more seasoning. The toast seemed adequate. The scramble had a nice ratio of produce ingredients to egg. It came topped with quite a bit of melted cheese, and I dig that.

Boomerang capturing the cheesy magic. Video: Kaitlin Young.

Next up was my steak sandwich. Browsing menu photos before coming to the restaurant, the ‘whole-steak’ (not sliced) sandwich caught my eye. The meal included a hearty New York steak served within a French roll and accompanied by a side of lettuce, tomato and pickles. I ordered the potato salad for my side. The potato salad was mildly seasoned, but the potatoes, eggs, mayo, mustard and celery hit all the right marks. The lettuce, tomato and pickles didn’t really have a well-suited place on the sandwich, so I ate them straight with some salt and pepper.

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Suzie’s Favorite sans ham. Image: Kaitlin Young.

The steak seemed to have been cooked on the griddle, and it was mildly seasoned. Sautéed red onions and mushrooms sat under the steak; these added some additional seasoning, sweetness and welcome moisture to the sandwich. The French roll absorbed the juices well, but I wish it had been toasted with some butter and seasoning. I ordered the steak medium rare, and it came out close to that ideal. The ‘whole-steak’ approach was visually attractive, but in practice, I had to do more gnawing than I really wanted. It might be the case that a steak cooked to medium would have been the better choice. You might need a more marbled, tender cut to better pull off a whole-steak sandwich. Overall, the steak was a great size and generally pretty tasty. Next time, the steak and eggs might better conform to my preference.

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Tasty steak sandwich. Image: Kaitlin Young

Service, dessert and recommendations at Hometown Cafe

Service was excellent through the first half of our meal, but it faltered a bit during the second half. Our server was friendly, but I think she got tied up with closing duties halfway through our meal. She dropped the check after our entrées came out, making it a little awkward to order dessert. In fairness to her, it might have seemed crazy to order dessert after the mountain of food present in our appetizer and two entrées.  

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New York Steak Sandwich with potato salad. Image: Kaitlin Young.

We ended our meal with a slice of house-made cherry pie. The day we dined there, they had Dutch apple, cherry, chocolate mousse, pecan, Boston cream and blueberry pies available. A slice is $3.25, a la mode is $4.25 and a whole pie only runs $10.99. They also offer deep fried ice cream for $5.99.

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Cherry pie at Hometown Cafe. Image: Kaitlin Young.

After I wrangled our server, she said I could order the pie warm, cold or a la mode. I went with cold. The fruit filling didn’t have much cherry flavor. Cherries aren’t in season, so maybe that was my mistake. The crust had a beautiful color, but not much flakiness or crispy bits. The whipped cream helped the dessert along.

The menu is large; the staff is friendly, and you’re likely to leave with leftovers. The potato skins are definitely my standout recommendation. I’ve always loved diners, and I’d be happy to visit this one again.

Hometown Cafe Details

Visit Hometown Cafe at 9251 Lemmon Drive, Reno, NV 89506. They are open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reach them by phone at 775-972-5354.

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Kyle Young
Kyle Younghttp://www.grpnv.com
Kyle Young is a local freelance writer. He offers content writing, blog posts, copywriting, and editing services. His current writing foci are food, cooking, and the oddities native to Reno, Sparks, and Tahoe. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor’s degree in English writing. He gained some food chops while working as a dishwasher, line-cook, and food-truck operator. He learned quality control, imports/exports, and logistics at a local spice and seasoning manufacturer. When not hustling as a writer, he plays Scrabble, cooks, wrangles three pups, and attends live music/comedy with his wife.

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