Nugget Diner - Reno, Nev.
My favorite time in Reno is early
on a Sunday morning. When you can walk down Virginia Street and you
can't really tell who has been up an hour and who has been out all
night, not that anyone cares anyway. Regardless of what anyone says,
Reno is a better town than Las Vegas, at least better than the Las
Vegas that has reinvented itself. Those that would disagree I am
pretty sure are the same people that are willing to wait in line for
two hours to dine at Chili's, or the Outback Steak House.
In Vegas the homeless, penniless,
or generally uncouth are rounded up and sent to types of refugee
camps. It's hard to understand why a segment of the Vegas population
is still upset about a proposed one-cent increase in property taxes
for homeless programs. I guess all the visitors to Vegas deserve to
not have their eyes soured by any unsavory segment of the population
while they spend their "hard earned money" in luxury.
Reno is not that way. Walk downtown
and you will soon realize that everyone is welcome and thank god for
that! No "reinventing" necessary in the "biggest
little city in the world." Many of the lights on Virginia
street are originals, no pyramid, Eiffel Tower, Grand Canal or
exploding fountains with opera music. If Vegas is all superficial
and artificial, Reno is real to the core. What you see is what you
get, if you can't handle it, go elsewhere.
This isn't as much a political
commentary as it is about food, but since I am on the subject, I
will let you in on a little secret that only the Reno locals know
about. Warning, once you know about my little secret, your eyes will
be forever opened. Keep in mind, if you journey to my little slice
of heaven off Virginia Street, your views on food, company, and
conversation may never be the same.
I have been making pilgrimages to
the little diner in the back of the Nugget casino (233 N. Virginia)
for a number of years since my parents came to call Reno home.
Whenever I need an attitude adjustment or my values and priorities
get screwed up like they sometimes do, or I simply need the best
comfort food anywhere on earth, I know where to go.
I am sure the grill is the same as
well as the original counter stools. Some of the cooks might even be
originals. The signs on the wall certainly haven't changed and
neither have the prices or the quality or quantity of anything you
order. The diner is famous for the legendary "Awful, Awful
burger." It is without a doubt the best burger anywhere in the
world. Served in a basket on top of 1 lb. of fries. They have been
making this burger for 35 years. For $3.50 you better be prepared
because only a few have finished the burger and the fries.
What makes the Nugget Diner so
special is not just the food, but the company, conversation and
stories from the other pilgrims sitting next to you at the counter.
The last time I was there was no exception. I went for the
"Breakfast Special," (two huge fluffy buttermilk pancakes
topped with an egg cooked the way you like it for 99 cents) early on
a Sunday morning. I was armed with the Sunday Reno Gazette and a
light heart. Francisco greeted me with a smile just as big as the
one he had the day before when I had myself an "Awesome
Dog" ( A true foot long hotdog shipped from the Sausage Company
in Hackensack New Jersey. Made by Otto Sanmeier, master sausage
maker). The half-pound hot dog is sliced down the middle and grilled
to perfection. The basic dog is $1.99. I opted for the dog topped
with Kraut for $2.35. Add chili for $3.15. Not many establishments
can boast they have the best burger and the best hot dog anywhere.
I sipped my coffee and eyed the
front page of my paper. The article informed me that the corporate
reform bill President Bush was preparing to sign would in effect
make his own actions as a business man a criminal offense. Thank god
my breakfast saved me from having to read on.
The stool to my left was soon
occupied by a fellow patron who stumbled in the back door and
created a stir when he began frantically searching for the cigarette
he had originally been storing behind his ear. He never did find it.
His ragged suitcase soon occupied the space below his stool. He said
hello and began his tale, similar to many I had heard before on
different stools at the same counter.
Randy was from Chico, CA; he had
hitchhiked for eight days to get to Reno, a true pilgrim. When he
arrived, he had $800 in his pocket and "the machines looked
good." Now he had $1.06, just enough for a breakfast special
and some company. He told Francisco he did not have enough for
coffee. "Just the special." he said. I scooped up his
money, handed it back, and bought his breakfast. I though about
buying him the "Hangover Omelet" (A four egg omelet filled
with Chili Grande, smothered in cheddar cheese and salsa for $5.95)
but Randy didn't need the complimentary "Nugget Bucket Bloody
Mary" that comes with it. Randy said what he really wanted was
the "Awful, Awful burger." I told him he would have to
settle for the breakfast special.
Randy asked what my name was. When
I told him I was called "The Snapper," he said "god
bless you Snapper!" He turned his eyes toward the ceiling. I
sipped my coffee. He told me I was a good man but not quite as nice
as the black lady who took him to Mervyns the day before and bought
him $60 worth of clothes. He told me he had to hitchhike back to
Chico that night. "I am a good-looking guy" he said,
"the man is looking after me, I'll make it."
Two middle-aged men took the two
stools to the left of Randy, they looked annoyed. Randy turned to
the man next to him and said "you are impatient, are you
waiting for an "Awful, Awful burger?" The man ignored
Randy. I wondered what was troubling those two. By the looks of
them, it could be any number of things, their round on the golf
course, the money they lost at the casino, who drives the nicer
S.U.V., or the hit their portfolios had recently taken and what it
meant for their retirement. I wanted to tell them to leave it at the
door but Randy spoke first. He asked why people ignored him and
looked away when he spoke to them. He said "I am a good person,
I like to talk to people." He said, "thanks for listening
The college students on my right
ate burgers and drank Budweiser's. The two men to the left of Randy
made eye contact with me, they looked away from Randy. Randy told me
he slept under a bridge last night. I told him I knew the bridge he
was referring to. He said the breakfast I just purchased for him was
the first food he had eaten in two days. I had two crisp $100 bills
in my pocket, money in the bank and thousands in credit.
I thought about giving Randy my
newspaper but when I looked inside the first article I saw was about
how the wealthiest people in America were buying the priciest life
insurance they could find in order to avoid taxes. I chose to spare
Randy the details; he had more pressing concerns. He thanked me and
I shook his hand and wished him luck. I said the next time I see him
he can buy me breakfast at the Nugget.
As I left the diner I poked my head
between the two middle aged men at the end of the counter. They
still seemed concerned about something. I knew it was not when they
would eat again or where they would sleep that night. I said,
"this is what makes this place special." One of the men
said, "you mean helping people?" Before I could answer
him, Randy asked the man if he was going to finish his pancakes. The
man said no and slid the plate over to Randy. Once again I left the
Nugget with a full stomach, another story, and my priorities in
Biscuits and Gravy for $1.95
The Sicilian Sub (Fried Calamari Sandwich) $4.95
Chicken Fried Steak $5.65
Southern Fried Chicken Dinner served with mashed potatoes, veg., and
biscuits with honey
The chef special served daily from 11am