Dish it out

Dish Café brings local, sustainably raised food full circle

Dish Cafe owner Nancy Horn sorts through a bag of fresh swiss chard from River School Farm.

Dish Cafe owner Nancy Horn sorts through a bag of fresh swiss chard from River School Farm.

Photo By amy beck

Dish Café & Catering, 855 Mill St., 348-8264,

President Obama recently was treated to some special pastries while departing Reno aboard Air Force One. The goodies had been made with the care customary to their creator: from scratch with the freshest ingredients. While we might never know what he said as the First Incisors sunk in, we do know that the creator of all that goodness was also hired to cater for the entire White House Press Corps during the President’s visit. The author of the feast? Reno’s Nancy Horn, owner of Dish Café.

Dish Café will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Nov. 21. Expect a party. The restaurant’s success—voted best caterer in Reno by RN&R readers and others three years running; featured in Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network—is a dream come true for Horn.

“I have worked for this my whole life,” she said. “To have this restaurant, to take care of people, to eventually get a show and publish cookbooks.”

With a degree in journalism, she is set to achieve her goal of writing about food. And a television show may also be in the works.

Horn grew up with fresh, homemade food. She remembers her mother baking bread every Friday and her father fishing on weekends. She spent summer months making jam. Nowadays, Horn makes a point of cooking meals at home with her family.

“Parents are no longer teaching their children how to cook,” she said. “We’ve lost the basics, that really bonding part of our lives.”

Horn also has seen to it that her son knows how to cook. As he prepares to go to college, they are compiling recipes that will be easy for him to make in his dorm kitchen and share with others.

At home and in her restaurant, Horn uses seasonal, organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as meats that are humanely raised without antibiotics. You’ll find dishes like the cowgirl panini, with tri-tip, caramelized onions and goat cheese, and desserts like white wine cupcakes. But you won’t find Trader Joe’s soup boxes or evidence of pre-prepared brownie mixes in her garbage. A daily menu changes according to availability. If squash is in season, be prepared to see it “used for all it’s worth.” Dish Café buys its produce from local farmers, such as Lattin Farms or members of the collective Nevada Grown. Other, smaller farms, such as River School Farm, often stop by the cafe with whatever happens to be growing. Dish also gives back to a few farms in the form of compost. During the summer, 20 gallons of kitchen compost are picked up weekly by Grow for Me Sustainable Farm/Girlfarm and fed to their chickens—the same chickens that produce eggs Horn buys for Dish.

As for the price, Horn admits, “We take it in the wallet.” But it’s worth it. For example, while Horn pays a seemingly exorbitant $3 for a dozen very fresh eggs, there is a tangible difference in taste. “And aren’t we worth $3 a dozen?” Horn asked. “I would rather spend more money on the ingredients that go into my dishes than on advertising.” So far, word of mouth from satisfied customers has been enough.

She and her husband, Joe Horn, also started the Reno chapter of the international Slow Food movement ( Every six to eight weeks, potluck dinners are open to anyone. The dinners include a guest speaker, tips and recipe sharing. “It’s a great way to connect with people,” Nancy said. It’s also a great way to find out about people and restaurants in town, like Dish Café, that are willing to pay a little more for better food.