Everyone’s talking about March Madness. I don’t follow sports unless a sports thing becomes a news thing and then I’m drawn in. Or unless a sports thing becomes a social thing – then I’m there. That’s what happened when I went to a March Madness dinner to watch the momentary – it turned out – appearance of Virginia on the March Madness stage. First, they were in – and then – they were out. And that was that. But we were still there – and the host was white but stoic. It reminded me of last March and a trip to Reno Nevada – for the final stop of our daughter’s basketball run at Sacramento State.
We’d been there many times – Reno is the home of tournaments and championships and playoffs for high school volleyball and basketball players. In fact, our visits run together a little – except for some stand out moments like the time I was unpacking the team food and the parking lot rocked with the force of an earthquake. Or the time I almost didn’t make it – in a storm – the snowflakes created a mesmerizing swirl that barely allowed me to make out the markers of Interstate 80 in front of me. In fact, that’s the reason we were in Reno a day early for the Big Sky Conference Tournament. We raced ahead of a snowstorm and we beat it to town.
So, we had a lot of time and well – we were in Reno. But because we know our Reno – me, my husband and my two brothers – we were looking forward to visiting some of the favorite food stops we’d uncovered over the years. I mean – we had to get back to the Gold and Silver Inn. It’s not an inn, at all – just a bar and a diner and it’s open 24 hours a day and it serves up a mean chicken fried steak but we like the fried chicken. I mean we all looked happy the last time we were there a few years back.And there’s the Nugget. The Awful, Awful burger isn’t awful at all – just awful big and awful good – that’s their motto. We were going to make those stops and try out a Basque restaurant that had been in town since the Gold Rush. We had even talked about it.
And then – something weird happened. We found something else – A WHOLE NEW FOOD THING. And it all started when I asked my brothers to step away from the Blackack table to walk along the river so I could try out my new Nike tennis shoes. We were rounding the corner to hit the river when we saw it – Liberty Food and Wine Exchange. I walked in and said to myself – Self, what’s this? This looks cool. It looks hip and happening. It looks a little like Oakland. Then, along the river, we spotted another restaurant, Campo and what looked like a string of restaurants lined up. We stopped for a beer at one – the Old Bridge Pub. I didn’t even take a picture there because I hadn’t realized yet that I had stumbled onto a food story worth telling. When we got back to the Blackjack table, we shared our food news and someone told us we just had to go to The Depot. I looked it up and was surprised to find it was yet another new hotspot. What’s going on? I mean – I was beginning to wonder if we were in Reno anymore.
At The Depot Craft Brewery and Distillery that night we were shut out. No room. It was jammed with people on both floors having the kind of fun we wanted to have – enjoying the brew and the bourbon created right inside the old Depot building built in 1919. Are you kidding? We made reservations for the next night and took an Uber back over to Liberty.
There, we learned we were sitting in a restaurant on top of what is a butcher shop which is where the sausage is made – quite literally – and the salami, chorizo, and bratwurst. All for the restaurant and the catering end of the business which – the waitress told us – caters parties out at Tesla. Things were forming in my mind now. Of course! Food comes with the business of doing business – which Reno seemed to be doing these days. Food like the New England Clam Chowda, the All-day White Polenta, and the Rigatoni with Bolognese we enjoyed that night. And – for my brother Frank’s birthday – the chocolate cake with – yes, that’s popcorn on top. They seem to be doing that now.
There was a guy running around who looked like Mark Ruffalo. We asked who he was – it wasn’t Ruffalo – but he was a Mark – Mark Estee, and he was the owner and he’d been busy in Reno. The waitress told us he had created Campo – and sold it just after he created and sold Burger Me. Wait. What? A new burger place? We’re burger chasers from way back. The Awful Awful may have to wait.
Undeterred, we walked straight into driving snow to check out the St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral and to go to mass. When we walked out the sky cleared just for a moment which allowed me to take this picture of the church spires which we learned went up in 1908.
At Burger Me – a little later – we ordered the burger and the fries and the onion rings. And we were surprised to find a French Onion Soup on the menu – which we threw in – mostly because the weather had turned again and we had fought through a blizzard to have them Burger Us.
Then, that night we showed up with great anticipation at The Depot. I was starting to get a grip on what was going on in Reno. And I learned that the thing we had stumbled into had a name: Reno-ssance. And it was fed by not only Tesla – but Apple and Amazon and other big companies. Apparently, a new art scene was popping up too. And of course, the food dreamers were doing their work – farm to table, even. My mind was coming up with its own name for the whole thing: Reno-me?
At The Depot, it was steaks all around. And bourbon and beer except for Margaret who was getting her game face on. You can see it right there – kind of.
Finally – on game day – we walked over to the Reno Convention Center to watch the Hornets. Stingers Up! We filed in and took our seats as we had countless times over the past four years – to watch our daughter play at The Nest at Sac State or at college gymnasiums up and down California and the West.
It was a promising start. But things started slipping and the coach had to have a few of those talks. The team was up and down and then up again. And then down at the wrong time. Then the buzzer. We knew this game could end everything but it was quite a shock when it did. Suddenly – Margaret’s college basketball career came to full stop.
While we waited for Margaret to emerge from the locker room I decided to see if Reno had anything else to offer us – you know – in the food way. I found it. Brasserie St. James – a brewpub. There – we took one final poke at the Reno food scene and this is what we came up with.
We were stoic too. We kept it going – my brothers broke down the game – they love to do that. And we all reminisced about the season and Margaret’s career but we were dancing around the elephant in the room. Finally, one of us just came out and asked Margaret if she was sad. No, she said – better to end with a close game than a wipeout. So, that was that.
P.S. I called Margaret to tell her I had written a little post about our Reno adventure because March Madness got me thinking about it.
Then – in a display of her faith in my sports knowledge she said, “Mom – you know that was not March Madness, right?”
P.P.S. On the way out of town we passed Liberty Food and Wine Exchange and my mind flashed on a take-out counter in the restaurant. I told my husband to pull over. I ran in and picked up a couple containers of bolognese, just so we’d be able to Reno ourselves once when we got back to the Bay Area.