On a recent Thursday, I visited Coach’s BBQ with my wife, Kat, in search of rib meat clinging so loosely to the bone that a hungry look would shudder it free, sauce so spicy it would force my pregnant wife into labor and in such abundance we’d have to forgo napkins for soap and water to clean our faces. What I didn’t expect was Coach’s to be one of the friendliest restaurants in Reno. In fact, the owner’s wife summed it up best: “We figure we’ll be nice to people, and they’ll come back.”
Match that with good food and you’ve got yourself a winner. Owner Don Cortez definitely picked up some secrets while coaching football in Texas and the Oakland area, lending him some credibility when he said, “I know barbecue.”
Plus the former coach knows a thing or two about rivalries. While Coach’s was briefly affiliated with another local barbecue joint, it is no longer, and Coach promised Kat and I that his barbecue would be better than the other guy’s, or we’d be eating free that day.
Coach’s opened last June in a location that looks like a gigantic sun room. Once inside, the combination of direct sunlight, smoking meats and too much food might cause you to break a sweat. But that’s all part of the experience. It’s laid back, evidenced by the scrawling on every wall by customers given Sharpies and free rein of the place.
University of Nevada, Reno students get 25 percent off on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so I went hog wild. Kat ordered Coach’s hoagie ($8.99) with pulled pork, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese. I ordered the 2-way ($14.99): a choice of two meats from a selection that includes chicken, brisket, linguica and more. I went with the pork spare ribs, homemade beef links, macaroni and cheese, and potato salad. To round out the meal, I also ordered a slice of jalapeño cornbread ($.99) and an order of fried pickles ($4.99).
Hats off to Coach’s sides, which are pretty exceptional. Granted, the elbow macaroni had gone a little soft, but for overall flavor I was pretty impressed. Even more impressive was the jalapeño cornbread topped with butter and honey, and although baked the previous day, it was still moist and crumbly. However, sides are nothing without good meat.
Coach’s meat is darn good, but if not for the genuinely superb service and family atmosphere of the place, Coach may have lost himself that wager he placed earlier. I was served a few ribs off the end of the slab which were a little dryer than I like. And my beef link, though masterfully seasoned, was all chopped up and poorly presented. Coach did acknowledge this is something being remedied. In the end, I drowned it all in a mix of Coach’s absolutely inspiring sweet medium and spicy habañero barbecue sauces, so any dryness and poor presentation mattered little.
When we were licking our fingers clean, Coach’s wife approached the table and asked if we’re from the South, to which I replied, “No, why?”
“Because you eat like you’re from the South,” she said. Then she brought us a free piece of sweet potato pie ($2.99), which is like a less spiced version of pumpkin pie that would’ve been all the more awesome with a scoop of Coach’s homemade vanilla ice cream ($.75).
Give Coach’s a try, and I’m sure they’ll win you over. And do it soon because this place still needs to be here when my daughter grows some teeth and can take advantage of their 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. kids eat free Tuesday special.