Mama knows best

“Mama” Inez Stempeck prepares her locally famous meatballs at Casale’s.

“Mama” Inez Stempeck prepares her locally famous meatballs at Casale’s.

Photo By David Robert

Casale’s Half Way Club

2501 E 4th St.
Reno, NV 89512

(775) 323-3979

“If Mama Ain’t Happy … Ain’t Nobody Happy,” reads the sign as you walk in the door of Casale’s Halfway Club. When my date, Monica, and I looked through the smoke-filled bar, we could see Mama Inez hustling in the kitchen with her helpers, in the middle of plating up her famous spaghetti and meatballs, raviolis, and pizzas. Several of my native Reno friends recommended Casale’s as one of the most historic restaurants in Reno. Since 1937, the Casale family has been offering good home cooking.

To say this place has character is an understatement. There is so much character here, it’s oozing out the walls—from the pictures of Mama Inez to the electric grape lights lining the entrance to the dining room. Cigarettes are welcome here because, as Mama said, “This is Nevada!” If eating in a smoking establishment bothers you, you might want to pass on this one.

Mama is the server and the chef. She came out to our table and asked us if we were ready to order. I asked her what she recommended, and she said the ravioli, meatballs and pizza. I will always order what is suggested to me by the chef of a restaurant, so I ordered the ravioli with meatballs ($10.50), the Royal Combo pizza ($10) and the “with” ($3.50). The “with” is what you eat with pizza: a salad, salami and pepperoncinis.

Right after we ordered, Mama came to our table with garlic bread and salad. She told us that the food takes a long time to prepare because everything is made to order. She was right, it took about an hour to get the food. I was OK with that because I was busy soaking the place up, looking at all the stuff on the walls and talking to the bartender. A trip to Casale’s is as much about the experience as the food. The salads were great, and the garlic bread was the perfect snack to tide us over until our food came.

The food arrived just in time—we were very hungry and out of garlic bread. The pizza had sausage, onions and mushrooms atop the sauce and cheese. It was amazing. It had the kind of home-cooked flavor that only a grandmother knows how to make, when everything is just right. I’m sure Mama has made so many of those pizzas that she has it down to a science. The ravioli and meatballs were also delicious. The meatballs are big, about the size of a tennis ball, and they have a little spiciness to them but not too much. The raviolis are probably the most perfect raviolis I’ve ever seen, stuffed with just the right amount of meat and sealed with precision. They were flawless.

I asked Mama if she had a pasta making machine in back, and she said, “Oh, no! No machines!” Then she went on to tell me about how her son made her a new cutter, but it was too sharp, so she went back to the same one she had been using for more than 50 years—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’m really glad Monica and I came here, it was a pleasurable experience. It’s a great taste of Reno’s heritage, and Mama will make you feel right at home.