Rattlesnake Club: A New Spot to Sink Your Teeth Into
March – April 2020
A delicious future awaits Reno’s Rattlesnake Club.
STORY BY ENGRID BARNETT
PHOTOS BY KIPPY S. SPILKER
The Rattlesnake Club offers a new vision for elevated dining in northern Nevada. At the helm of the project is pulmonologist and restauranteur Dr. Jeff Bacon. He’s on a mission to bring the best in locally grown, seasonal fare to the region. To facilitate this vision, he’s assembled a winning team which includes Executive Chef Ethan Phelps and Managers Trish Ide and Dave Grayden.
The Reno restaurant has overcome numerous road bumps since opening in June 2019, making the club’s hard-won success all the sweeter.
A BIT OF A BITE
Renovating the restaurant came with unwelcomed surprises. What began as a quick restoration of the Country Garden Restaurant (located in the Arlington Gardens Mall) ballooned into a $3 million construction project, including a 6,000-square-foot addition. The renovation also featured an adjoining café/coffee bar for Jeff’s favorite hobby—coffee roasting. Outside, there’s a 600-square-foot greenhouse, plus terraces and an expansive patio.
Along with a time-consuming property restoration, the restaurant got off to a rough start for other reasons. Within a month of opening, Jeff declared a two-week closure and saw a 50 percent staff turnover. As he explains, “The pantry was bare. The room was too boomy (we’ve since added sound-dampening panels), and I needed to take a more hands-on approach. I’ve had quite the learning curve so far. I’ve found [success in the restaurant business] all goes back to employees. The people helping me are key to the Rattlesnake Club’s success.”
After assembling a new team and revamping his role, Jeff reopened the club to rave reviews. A visit to the club today reveals that the doctor’s ambitious concept continues to blossom into delicious fruition.
The menu changes about six times per year to reflect the availability of fresh, seasonal ingredients: delectable duck breast is rendered crisp and served with wild rice pilaf and seasonal vegetables; seared diver scallops rest on a bed of arugula with crispy prosciutto and carrot puree; and a bourbon-marinated bison New York steak with house-made crispy fingerling potatoes are just a few examples. Already, the Club’s pizza selection has become a favorite, with pies featuring ingredients like heirloom tomatoes, wild mushrooms, Humboldt Fog goat cheese, garden-fresh herbs, honey, and more. A gluten-free cauliflower crust is also available.
The restaurant’s interior is equally stunning, boasting 25-foot ceilings and a well-appointed dining area punctuated by iced-gray Oregon granite. Outside, you’ll find the club’s greenhouse, which is used to produce seasonal herbs and vegetables. It also holds the distinction of being the only large on-premise restaurant greenhouse in Reno. Next to the greenhouse, guests find the inviting patio perfect for summertime dining and special events.
Jeff grew up in Michigan and has fond memories of a Detroit riverfront restaurant named the Rattlesnake Club. Before relocating to Reno, he completed his residency in Salt Lake City, falling in love with the American West’s landscapes and climate in the process. When it came to naming his restaurant, he looked to his old favorite and it proved an easy decision with plenty of brand potential.
When selecting a chef to head up his new venture, the decision proved trickier. Jeff explains Chef Ethan has been with the restaurant since its opening but was initially hired as the pastry chef. Allowing him more oversight as executive chef has precipitated much of the Club’s current success according to Jeff.
Chef Ethan’s resume includes the iconic French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, California. He’s graced the Rattlesnake with exquisitely prepared American cuisine and a delectable selection of bread, patisseries, and mouthwatering goods baked daily. You can find many of these items in the adjoining café. From tantalizing frangipane-filled croissants to melt-in-your-mouth cookies, they pair beautifully with Jeff’s house-roasted, fair-trade coffees.
Jeff has officially crowned the glass-lined walls of the roasting room his “office.” After all, he’s a self-confessed coffee-roasting addict who started in his garage with a small roaster. Jeff envisions making coffee tastings available in the future.
READY TO RATTLE
But first on his agenda remains the evolution of the restaurant side of the business. The immediate future includes an upgrade to a more formal dining establishment and an increasingly wine-heavy focus.
“The direction we’re going is stocking a lot of small boutique wines. Stuff that you can’t buy. You won’t recognize some of the labels,” he says. “That’s where the training of the staff comes into play. They’ll be prepared to make solid wine-list recommendations. There are a lot of smaller vendors in the Reno-Tahoe area, and we’re not going to limit ourselves to utilizing just two or three of them.”
Jeff also trains staff for exclusive wine tastings, and the restaurant has branched out into winemaker’s dinners, too. Jeff envisions more pairing events in the intimate setting of the establishment’s greenhouse. This verdant environment will allow guests to explore the spot where many of the restaurant’s ingredients are grown while savoring food that also draws on a variety of local purveyors. The Rattlesnake Club sources ingredients from Plan B Farm, Dayton Valley Aquaponics, Sierra Seafood, Sierra Meats, and G&S Packaging.
Not only will special events allow locals to get up close and personal with the food chain, but they’ll also highlight the establishment’s most unique feature, the greenhouse. As temperatures rise, this greenhouse will be a flurry of activity. Jeff explains, “In the next few months, we’ll be spending a lot of time in the greenhouse. Last summer, I started with herbs and basics. But this year, I want it to not only supply heirloom tomatoes but also zucchini, winter squash, carrots, peppers, and lettuce. And of course, we’ll keep growing herbs, particularly lemony variants that work well with our ever-expanding cocktail menu.”
One thing’s for sure. Expect to see delicious developments at the Rattlesnake Club in the coming year.