Al fresco Reno
Our writer goes in search of our city’s most inviting outdoor dining
I begin my day with a short bike ride followed by the comfort of a cappuccino while I read the newspaper. This is as good as it gets. My morning routine on Bibo Coffee Co.’s backdoor patio is always enhanced by the constant migration of artsy hipsters and cyclists. If I am ever overwhelmed by all the pop culture at 680 Mt. Rose St., there is plenty of ambiance to soothe me.
The tranquil trickle of the modern metal fountain acts as an underscore to birds’ songs and human conversations. Japanese maple trees border the patio, while a curtain of trees and vines secludes the patio and proffers snippets of a neighbor’s backyard. The 10 a.m. sun shining overhead encourages me to make a break for breakfast. That’s a good beginning for my day’s plan: I’m going to bike and eat and drink my way around some of my favorite outdoor restaurants.
The two twin pine trees that erupt from the patio of Daughter’s Café present a superb spot for a shaded meal. The cobblestone patio seems built around the trees, which give protection to the 13 tables outside the spacious two-story house at the corner of Bell and First streets. Secluded from traffic by spruce bushes and the smell of cedar, the patio is quaint and relaxing. The underwhelming scenery is nice because the family of women who live in the house and run Daughter’s Café are some of the most energetic and opinionated people in the local service industry. With a rotating lunch menu and a regular New Orleans-tinged breakfast menu, Daughter’s offers a unique dining experience. It’s so distinctive that it’s not uncommon for patrons to be chastised for special requests, and substitutions are rarely permitted. Still, the feeling of the familiar service mixed with the modern approach to the palate leads to a truly memorable meal beneath the coniferous giants.
Time and I have always disagreed when it comes to tempo, and I am often too late for the breakfast menu when my day permits leisure. The Stone House Cafe on Arlington Avenue and Plumb Lane is a fine candidate for a late breakfast for those who dawdle. The restaurant’s servers also conveniently encourage drinking early in the day with an excellent and affordable cocktail menu that’s almost as extensive as their outdoor seating area.
Built of cobblestone and elevated off the surrounding streets, the Stone House patio wraps around more than half of the house and doubles the capacity of the restaurant. Metal tables shaded by umbrellas and large trees surround a few rock-walled fire pits. Flowers invade the nose and divert the eyes, while birds claim pieces of pastries in exchange for drowning out the flow of traffic with their whistles. The staff melds in with the environment cloaked in colors like light orange and sea-foam green, complementing the colors of the garden that envelops the entire patio. Don’t stop to smell the staff too long, though, as the roses are more appreciative of the attention.
Chic and classy is great and all, and hipsters like me need a lot of chic and class in our lives, but sometimes I just can’t keep from wanting to get dirty. Being from the South, there are times when the only vegetable I want to eat is a potato. That being said, the best potatoes in Reno are loaded with pulled pork and smothered in savory barbecue sauce at The BBQ House on Wells Avenue at Roberts Street. I usually find myself cleaning the scraps off one of the fire-engine red picnic tables that sit alongside the most culturally diverse street in Reno. Signs in Spanish advertise “travel mundo via aero México” across the street from an Irish pub, while groups of people speaking both Spanish and English stroll down the street. The potato is a meal in itself.
For lighter fare that won’t require a nap afterward, the happy hours (Monday-Friday 4-6 p.m.) at the Wild River Grille are full of pleasant afternoon delights. Along with the $3 Margaritas and the $5 crab cakes, I enjoyed jazz fused with the rush of the Truckee River. A constant flow of people, ranging from Pioneer Center patrons to vivacious vagrants, satisfied my appetite for people-watching as I sat at the granite table in a comfy metal chair among small, slate fire-wielding bowls that kept the patio cozy 30 minutes after a rainstorm. And with the bike rack 20 feet from the door and auto parking more sparse than change on the Riverwalk, I wasn’t the only cyclist still a little wet from the day’s commute. Soon, I became part of the scenery.
Starting at the river, a bike ride in Reno is always nice, and the walk up the steps to the deck at the original Silver Peak on Wonder Street is a refreshing way to end it. Forty steps from the bike rack and without ever going inside, I was drinking a Red Roadster beer and leisurely watching the sunset. This view could be what inspired the name, although with an adult bookstore, a dive bar and a tattoo parlor in the foreground the name could have easily ended up being Dave Silverman and Trent Schmidt’s Dioramic Dream. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, though I can definitely imagine the Red Roadster being quite the superhero character if things had played out that way.
I headed west to Caughlin Ranch for dinner at Francis’ Asian Bistro. My favorite sushi in town is not all that can be eaten when you sit outside, as the view is even more jaw-dropping than the view from Silver Peak’s deck. The entire Reno valley from UNR to the Atlantis was framed by Tiki torches rising above a wrought iron fence as the sun slipped behind the mountains behind me, leaving the eastern sky full of purple, pink and blue. With a gas lamp and red wine coordinating some climate control, only the duet of a satellite’s smooth jazz and 50 mph traffic could make my guest and I feel the slightest discomfort. Francis’ is one of the few places where you always feel worth a little more than your bill.
A night can’t end with Francis, though. For the end of a night we need another saint: St. James. St. James Infirmary is bound to cure what ails you. After ordering one of their many rotating specialty cocktails, I take the stairs hidden behind the bar to the roof where a hardwood deck lifts me comfortably above California Avenue. The deck is enclosed by iron bars wrapped in white rope lights and has a criss-crossed canopy of small white bulb lights. The effect is almost cinematic, keeping my attention on the deck or on the moon winking slowly in the southern sky.
Pedaling away, I hope the moon keeps on winking slowly until I get home. I don’t want the sun to start another interminable summer day without me.
Bibo Coffee Co
680 Mount Rose St.
97 Bell St.
Stone House Cafe
1907 Arlington Ave.
463 Roberts St.
Wild River Grille
17 S. Virginia St.
Silver Peak (original)
124 Wonder St.
Francis’ Asian Bistro
4796 Caughlin Pkwy. #101
St. James Infirmary
445 California Ave.