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Day 36 – Faded menus

By ThisIsReno

Submitted by Karl Breckenridge

A bunch of guys were yakking about old restaurants the other day in our trek around Virginia Lake, maintaining of course the requisite distance from one another – and one among us mentioned this gig I’ve undertaken, a column a day for This is Reno during the freeze on our lives. That degenerated into a reference to Faded Menus, a topic I’d trot out occasionally when there was nothing else to write about. Like for instance this Monday morning.

Another so-called friend mentioned that I did that to get a free meal, and I pointed out that to get a free meal, which I never did, the restaurant has to be open (you all remember what a restaurant was, a place to go and you sit down and they bring you food).

Finding now little else to write about, while my writing partner Jody Rice is busily researching the old YWCA on First Street, KOH radio’s studios that were a casualty of the Greyhound station and the Coney Island Amusement Park on the Reno-Sparks border, I am going to take the easy way out and attempt, through the use of a couple of old City Directories and phone books, and my sieve-like memory, to re-create a Faded Menu column.

I will not receive a free meal in exchange for a gratuitous mention from Della’s Coach & 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 rabbit hole before).

Lee’s Drive In. Image: Karl Breckenridge

Ahh, the Jubilee Club, 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. 

Within that category 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.

The Chinese Pagoda got a few votes, down on the north side of B Street in Sparks at what I’ll wildly guess was Sixth Street. It later moved to Stoker Drive and the former Circle RB restaurant, named of course for Reno Browne, where they served chop suey on Formica tabletops 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 1950s Sunday nights when 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.

Signature dishes? The Eight Ayem Black Bear Diner Senior Moment Bear Claw & BS Kaffeeklatch, led by Red Kittell, started a list. Kittell, a former City of Reno Historical Resources Committee chairman, thinks these should all be added to Reno’s heritage by City Council fiat:

Lerude's Wigwam
Lerude’s Wigwam. Image: Karl Breckenridge

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 where the business of running Reno was really conducted (someone will probably ring in with coffee at Grey Reid’s basement 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 (I have it, or one of them)… shrimp scampi at Eugene’s with Joe and Gilbert (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, 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.

Eugene’s. Image: Karl Breckenridge

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 it closed on St. Patrick’s Day of 2006. Great guys. And, little known fact for proof-readers and editors, the Fey brothers bought and re-opened the Little Red Barn as the Liberty Bell in 1958, but changed its name to Liberty Belle with an “e” a year later out of deference to the real bell in Philadelphia. So you’ll see it both ways.

Space dwindles: Minestrone soup and antipasto at Ric Panelli’s Spaughi’s… a martini at the Glory Hole or Vario’s… 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 there you have them – less than a tenth of the potential Faded Menus in our valley. Let’s hope there aren’t a few more by the end of the year. Have a good day and a great week, but, stay safe, huh?

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

Karl Breckenridge

Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally. 

Read more from Karl Breckenridge

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