New Orleans is a city famous for innovation on two fronts: music and food. Southern “soul” food, of the collard greens and okra and sweet potato pie variety, melded with French culinary experimentalism to give birth to the distinctive flavors of Cajun and Creole dishes. And African musical rhythms and improvisational forms were melded with European instrumentation and melody to create the first unique American artform: jazz.
I enjoyed a refresher course in jazz history at a recent concert at EJ’s Jazz Café; Ricardo “The Black Liberace” Scales entertained the crowd with historical anecdotes in-between tunes. His sobriquet is misleading because, though he is indeed possessive of a flashy style of performance and dress, his music is more substantive than stylish—something of an anomaly in the fluff-heavy world of “smooth jazz.” In fact, Scales impressed more with his diversity and lyricism than his showmanship, which came as a pleasant surprise to this music fan who generally likes his jazz to be more at the harder, freer end of the spectrum.
The Scales concert was a special event put on in collaboration with KJZS 92.1, but even on regular nights without special out-of-town guests, EJ’s offers high-quality music for fans of jazz, Tuesday through Saturday evenings and for Sunday brunches.
Perhaps even more impressive than EJ’s contribution to Reno’s musical nightlife is its contribution to Reno’s dining life. EJ’s serves a variety of Southern soul food, Creole and Cajun dishes, all of which are dynamite. The wine and liquor selections are impressive, and the nightly specials are intriguing.
The food is spectacular—every bite worth savoring, served in large portions, and nicely presented. We started with the Zydeco Gumbo ($3.99), and it seems a damned fine place to begin—it will remind you, in case you might have forgotten, why okra is worth loving. I had the Crawfish Etoufee ($12.95), which was great.
My gal, Danielle, had the New Orleans Pasta Medley ($12.95), a tasty, robust dish with Creole sauce, sautéed veggies and shrimp over pasta. After only two bites, Danielle gesticulated dangerously with her fork and proclaimed it to be “the best pasta dish I have ever had.” She let me try a few bites, and I must admit to spending the rest of the meal feeling rather covetous.
The one nit I have to pick involves space—or rather, the lack of it. The many tables are low to the ground and densely crammed. The servers are to be admired as they deftly glide between tight chasms while balancing plates—but a trip to the restroom requires bravery and a willingness politely to apologize to head-nodding music fans when one disturbs their reverie. I would be willing to buy a cup of gumbo for anyone able to make it across the restaurant without bumping a seatback. And many of the seats face away from the stage, requiring painful neck-straining to see the musicians.
EJ’s also serves a number of desserts, with banana dishes emerging as a specialty. We shared the Banana Foster Custard ($4.95), and it proved that the erogenous stimulation of dinner at EJ’s continues unrelentingly with dessert. With its romantic ambience, location and diverse pleasures, EJ’s is a unique attraction in Reno and is destined to become a prime date spot.