Where there’s smoke
In a short span of time, a music/dive bar on the south end of town went through several ownership changes and then closed. After decades of success, a veteran bar and grill in a nearby neighborhood sat vacant for a few years. Combine the former with the latter and you get the new Hellfire Saloon.
A Western theme of kitschy artifacts adorns the walls, along with pub-height tables, hewn from reclaimed Truckee timber and hand-finished by the owners. There are TVs tuned to sports programming and a prominent stage for live music events. I’m told a mix of cover and original bands are booked for weeks to come.
The menu includes bar classics along with trendier fare. We started with slow-smoked wings doused in Hellfire Habanero sauce ($11, 12 pieces, other sauces available). I’ve been a wingnut since the ’80s, and these dinosaur-descendent morsels were among the largest I’ve seen. The wings were crisp-yet-moist—the sauce sweet with a very fiery kick. By the pound and in quality, this was a great deal.
Brussels sprouts ($8) often get a bum rap, yet have become a trendy item when combined with bacon and other foodie favorites. Hellfire doesn’t skimp on the bacon and Parmesan cheese, but the result was a tad bitter, greasy and underdone. I took it home, added a few dashes of balsamic vinegar, then put it back on the heat for a quick finish. Yum.
Though I’m a fan of chili con carne ($5 per cup) in its original form—sans beans—the “rich and thick signature chili” was definitely stout enough to stand a fork in. Tons of meat, thick gravy, well-cooked beans, slightly sweet and barely a touch of heat. Satisfying for spice-challenged folk as well as we who add hot sauce to everything.
Among the wedge salads I’ve tried, this one ($12) bests them all. Half a head of iceberg lettuce, incompletely quartered so toppings can fill-in the nooks. Topped with super-chunky blue cheese dressing, diced tomato, minced chive, panko bread crumbs and barbecue pulled pork—or your choice of meat—it’s not your average salad. The pork was a little sweet with just a touch of spice, and very good bark—a salad even a devout carnivore can love.
The Nevada Blue avocado burger ($10) was topped with blue cheese, spinach, and tons of avocado, with tomato slice and lettuce leaf on the side. The side of French fries wasn’t as crispy as I long for, but the seasoning salt was great. The burger was cooked to order—medium—and perfectly seasoned. That’s a tasty burger.
Though not quite as amazing, my Basque burger ($12) with side salad was still yummy. The patty is a blend of beef and chorizo topped with grilled onion and Jack cheese, served on garlic butter-grilled sourdough. The patty was grilled-to-order medium rare, and the onion and cheese were spot-on. But it was a bit dry and could have used a condiment to complement the seasonings and smooth mastication. Something other than ketchup. The salad was a nice portion of mixed greens, tomato, onion, carrot and crouton.
For barbecue we ordered the Bonanza Feast ($36), including a half rack of ribs, a half pound of beef tri-tip or pulled pork—we went with beef—half a roasted chicken, and a choice of three sides, for which we chose a double order of baked beans and one of coleslaw. The rib rub had good flavor, similar to the pulled pork—not super spicy, but fall-off-the-bone goodness. The tasty tri-tip was very tender with good smoke flavor. The baked beans were thick and rich with a ton of bacon. The coleslaw was crisp and not too sweet, though a bit bland and could’ve used more dressing. The chicken was seasoned just right, moist and toothsome.
This combination of a dive music joint and an above-average bar and grill is a venue I know I’ll revisit, if only for those insanely enormous and perfectly cooked wings.