by David Toll
Photographs by Robin Cobbey
To celebrate the increasing freedom from pandemic worry and constraint, last weekend Robin and I embarked on a culinary adventure: Dining Out in the Sagebrush. We left Gold Hill early Saturday morning bound for Carson Valley and breakfast at The Taildragger Cafe. It’s located at the airport serving as home base for the glider tours that use the skies between the Pinenuts and the Sierra Nevada as a playground. From US 395 turn east at Airport Road.
I won’t sermonize about what you’ll find there except to say I’m sure you’ll find at least one of your favorites on the menu. It’s a down home kind of place . . . no matter where home is. The Taildragger isn’t fancy — you can see that from the photo — but it has three splendid qualities:
1. Great Menu. By which I mean enormous: Breakfast — served from 6 am to 11 — takes up two pages on the menu. To give you an idea, there are five 4-egg omelettes, topped with cheese — Denver, Ham & Cheese, California, Chili Cheese and Create Your Own. All of them are priced at $7.99.
2. Great prices. Everything costs less than you might expect. No wonder the place is almost always full when we visit — the locals have discovered it, and keep it going strong for the rest of us. The three-page Lunch and Dinner menu leads off with its most expensive item. They call it the Bomber: “Eight-ounce Ribeye steak served open on Sourdough bread with grilled onions, mushrooms and garlic” — $12.95. On the breakfast menu corned beef hash with two eggs (above, with eggs poached) is $8.95 (to see the menu, Click Here).
3. Great food. None of the above would be worth beans if the food was ordinary. It is exceptional.
After breakfast we continued south on US 395 through Minden and Gardnerville to Holbrook Junction, just north of the lake bisected by the Nevada-California line. Starts with T and has five letters . . . an a . . . and an o . . . no, it’s not Tahoe, it’s Topaz.
There’s food to be had at the Topaz Lodge, but we turned east at the Junction and continued on to the comfortable little town of Wellington at the south end of Smith Valley. The little settlement dates back to the 1860s when this road was the main artery of commerce connecting Carson City with the booming city of Aurora. Stagecoaches and freight wagons creaked through here in an endless parade, but by the late 19th century Aurora had faded and Wellington transformed itself into an agricultural community rather than a way station serving highway travelers.
Our first stop was at the Wellington Station RV Park to claim our spot for the night. This is the most welcoming commercial RV park we’ve visited in Nevada so far. It’s like a garden with RV slots that overlook the west fork of the Walker River. Showers and laundry are only a few steps away. It’s easy to see the appeal to people who live here permanently.
The Heyday Inn, on the east side of town, occupies what was originally Pierce Station, built as a grocery store, hotel and feed store in 1875 and repurposed over the years. In 1945 it became the Heyday and has been a culinary landmark on the Nevada map ever since.
Yes, we had picons at the bar — the staff here has been schooled by Gage Smith, famous on Facebook for Picon Drinkers of the American West — and then dined like nabobs. I can’t decide whether we had a sumptuous feast or a lavish banquet, but it was wonderful. If you’ve been here yourself, please use the Comments option below to suggest your own description of the experience (if you need a reminder, the menu is here).
The meal would have been an event in any case, and it was enhanced by friends from home, fellow soldiers in the struggle against Corrupto De Gasbag and the smelly commissioners of Storey and Lyon Counties.
Down for the count in space #25 and then up again for breakfast at Rosie’s on Wellington’s west side (see the menu here). Robin had the Chorizo and eggs (on the left, below); and for me: huevos rancheros (on the right). Having the Heyday might be a fluke; having Rosie’s as well makes Wellington one of the unsung Nevada towns that should be famous around the world for the food. But if it were that well known parking wouldn’t be so easy and what would happen to the peace and quiet? It’s a chilling thought . . . let’s leave well enough alone.
The beautiful green Smith Valley is stippled here and there with cottonwood trees, barns and farmhouses, there are chalky brown hills rising above the highly productive farmland, and the bright blue sky was dappled with silver-white clouds gleaming overhead.
We meandered home through north through Smith Valley and Wilson Canyon into Mason Valley and and paused in Yerington for a quick visit to the Supermercado Chapala across Main Street from the Lyon County Court House.
It was another gorgeous day of sunshine, perfect for our re-emergence into the world, blinking and stretching like bears coming out from the cave. We then resumed our journey north on US 95A, took the Ramsey-Weeks cut-off to US 50, and up 6-Mile Canyon home. Express Riders used this road to bring the news of Lincoln’s assassination to Virginia City. — it was busier then but never more beautiful.
Parting Shot —
“Nevada Skies” by Trish Reynolds