Austin’s Awesome Eateries
January – February 2019
There’s a reason they don’t call it the hungriest road in America.
BY MEGG MUELLER
Anyone who has survived a roadtrip across the Loneliest Road in America—U.S. Route 50, more commonly known as Highway 50—can probably sympathize with what I’m about to say; the town of Austin may have been where the trip got sketchy if you were feeling a bit peckish.
There have always been restaurants in Austin, which I will quickly add is one of my favorite towns in the state, but the trouble I often encountered was when I was rolling into town around the dinner hour, particularly in spring, fall, or winter. There simply wasn’t any place to eat, save the gas station’s tiny store. I’m not above a frozen burrito or bag of chips, but sometimes, you really need a good hot meal after a day exploring Nevada’s back roads.
I’m happy to say, that day has come.
Meet the Silver State Café & Saloon. Also known as the Silver State Bar & Grill, depending on the sign you see, but regardless, welcome to good food in Austin, after dark.
SILVER STATE SAVIOR
Dee Helming opened the café and bar (conveniently situated right next to one another with a doorway in between) in March 2018. She’s been in Austin since 1981, so if you’ve been to town you’ve probably crossed paths with her. She was, until recently, with the Austin Chamber of Commerce, so if you had your Highway 50 passport stamped it was probably Dee. She also owns The Union Street Lodging, a great little bed and breakfast in town. She’s also the current president of Nevada’s Pony Express Territory and principal officer of the Austin Historic Mining District. What’s really something is that she was manning the kitchen on our recent visit to the Silver State.
Dee brought in some help at the B&B so she could focus her attention on her newest venture, and from the look of things, it was a good idea. Since opening, the Silver State has been full most of the year, just like Austin itself, thanks to Ormat’s geothermal plant expansion. Austin has just three restaurants; Dee stays open the latest and adheres to her posted hours of 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. There is no smoking allowed in the Silver State, either the restaurant or the bar.
Walking into the café, you might just step back outside, check up and down the street to make sure you’re where you think you are before stepping back into the pleasant and welcoming environs of the restaurant. Clean, casual, and spacious, the café has an eight-seat counter for those who want to get close to the action, plus plenty of comfortable booths and tables. Not overly decorated or themed, the café has a warm, inviting feel, whether it’s your first visit or your tenth. While that’s nice and all, the real reason you’re here, however, is the food.
SATISFACTION, AT LAST
Associate editor Eric Cachinero and I settle in at the counter, ready to have a hot meal. Dee’s static menu is simple and delicious; pizza, sub sandwiches, soups, and salads. Daily specials shake things up with wing night, stews, chicken strips, and flatbread pizzas among the changing items. I choose the combo pizza and Eric decides on the pastrami melt sandwich.
Eric and I both love comfort food. After a day like we had (see page 28 for that story) we aren’t usually looking for high-end fancy dining with foods we’ve never heard of. It may be why we’re such fans of the meals we find in rural Nevada on a roadtrip; it’s always just a little more delicious than if we’d had it for lunch on a normal workday.
Pizza may be my favorite food, and I’ve noticed a trend toward super thin crusts that don’t stand up to the toppings they should be shuttling toward my mouth. Whatever magic Dee placed on her crust, it was thin but substantial, crispy but not brittle, and perfectly held my myriad toppings in place. Every bite—including the leftovers the next day—was delicious and exactly what this weary traveler needed. Eric’s sub was piled with pastrami, Swiss cheese melting everywhere, topped with mustard and pickles. It was either really tasty or abducted by aliens because I looked over at Eric not long after it arrived and it was already gone.
LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE
The next morning is a balmy 12 degrees as we set out, and no way is the quick gas station breakfast we normally have going to cut it. Thankfully on the other end of the food spectrum from Silver State, is the Toiyabe Café.
Located just east of the Silver State on the opposite side of the street, the Toiyabe Café opens at 6 a.m., which allows us to get a jump on the daylight. In the summer months, the Toiyabe stays open until 8 p.m., but in the winter months they close at 2 p.m. so plan accordingly so you don’t miss a chance to stop for a bite.
The restaurant only has a few patrons as we come in, and there are plenty of open tables. I beeline for the one next to a wall heater, and our waitress quickly brings us water and the requisite coffee while we peruse the menu. I’m in the mood for waffles, so I get the waffle combo with scrambled eggs and sausage. Eric spies the biscuits and gravy over hash browns and is immediately sold.
What a way to start the day. My plate holds an enormous thin waffle, a large serving of perfectly scrambled eggs, and two clearly-homemade sausage patties the size of saucers. The sausage was amazing, with slightly crispy edges and just enough spice to keep things interesting. I dunked it in the maple syrup, and the salty-sweet combo was heavenly, and livened up the entire meal. Across the table, Eric is silent. If you’ve read any of my previous Cravings stories, you know this means he’s happy. He’s staring at a gigantic plateful of biscuits and thick country gravy atop a serving of golden, crispy hashbrowns that cover the entire plate.
He digs in, and lets a small sigh escape. He’s still for just a second, then attacks his plate voraciously. It’s definitely a hit, and while he slows his pace toward the end of his meal, he clearly enjoys every bite.
Hwy 50 will always be a wild and lonely roadtrip. The miles between towns and often between seeing another car guarantee that. But I’m happy to say, it will no longer be a hungry roadtrip, thanks to Austin’s awesome eateries.