The Depot Craft Brewery & Distillery
May – June 2015
The Depot Craft Brewery & Distillery
Historic backdrop provides the perfect setting for elegantly innovative, yet classic eatery.
BY MEGG MUELLER
Reno’s burgeoning craft-food scene gave birth to a new entry, appropriately, on New Year’s Eve. As any parent knows, infancy is not without its trials and tribulations, but The Depot Craft Brewery & Distillery has soared through any growing pains and come out flying, stronger than ever. Classically cool, yet hip without pretension, The Depot pulls off a trifecta of food, libation, and ambiance that is hard to come by. There are many eateries that manage two of the three, but when all three dazzle the senses, you’ve got something special.
SURROUNDED BY HISTORY
Let’s start with the location. The Depot began life as the three-story headquarters for the Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad in 1910 and was open until 1937. The building’s beech wood floors, exposed brick, and tile evoke an industrial feel, however the building’s décor also exudes warmth; it’s a place to gather with friends and family yet it feels tough enough to endure a raucous night out, too. The contrasts at The Depot are many, but all serve the greater good of this distinct restaurant.
For more than a year, co-owners Brandon Wright, Chris Shanks, and Justin Stafford worked on the building’s restorations before the New Year’s Eve 2014 opening. The three envisioned a space to create not only great food, but also craft beers and distilled spirits. In fact, The Depot is the first combined brewery and distillery in Nevada.
“The building had been on my radar ever since I purchased Louis’ (Basque Corner) in 2011. It was truly a diamond in the rough and staring at it every day only enhanced my desire to see someone do something to bring it back to its original grandeur,” Chris notes.
“Our goal from the beginning was to showcase every level of our production facilities while paying tribute to the original architecture and design,” Chris says. “We were able to keep the original staircase, entryway tile, window and door frames and second-floor hallway flooring. These elements were our inspiration.”
BEVERAGES, WITH A TWIST
Brewmaster Brandon Wright—previously brewmaster at Reno’s Silver Peak Brewery—oversaw creation of the brewery, which also serves as the restaurant’s distillery. Along with his fine crafted beers, he creates The Depot’s Silver Corn Whiskey, and a house gin. Brandon is cranking out almost 600 gallons of beer per day, distilling 30-45 gallons of wash about three times a week, and working on the perfect gin, which will be released in-house and for retail sale later this summer. With five house beers and room for special batches, The Depot can cover many a palate with its tasty brews: for instance, the Voyager IPA nails the IPA beer trend, but takes it to another level with great citrus notes that ride under the traditional hoppiness; the Explorer is an almost perfect pale ale with a lingering finish that settles down at just the right moment. Both of these beers are served in a glass crafted to retain just enough of the beer’s head so it’s the same start to finish. An almost champagne-like flute delivers the Ranch Hand—a straw-colored American Ale that combines flavor, refreshment, and subtlety all at once. The glasses are chosen specifically for the beer style; another touch that makes The Depot a step above.
Behind the bar, you can see the gleaming copper kettles of the brewery; on top of the bar is a line of small brown bottles containing such exotic elixers as agave syrup, maple stout syrup, and beet tarragon syrup for The Depot’s craft cocktails. The ingredients insinuate the obvious mixers with character and once again, step the quality up a notch to the unexpected.
SPEAKING OF UNEXPECTED
Chef Kevin Clement samples the stuffed poblanos, a recent vegetarian addition to the menu. Stuffed with potatoes, surrounded by black beans, and topped with cotija cheese and salsa, the dish brings a smile to his face.
“So many non-vegetarians are ordering these, we just added them to the menu as a main dish,” Kevin says. He wasn’t sure his lunch staff had the dish down, but the smile reveals they did. “The first day we had it on the menu, people said it was the best ‘Mexican’ food they ever had. I’m really proud of that, since I’m not a vegetarian cook.”
Raised in Reno, he did his time at almost every level of the kitchen—from dishwasher to salad guy to cook—before heading to New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America. He cooked in Peru, Las Vegas, and Park City, Utah, among others before settling back into Reno, where he worked at the Atlantis Casino Resort, Campo, and Midtown Eats where he was head chef. The chance to helm a kitchen much larger than his previous jobs, plus the chance to be a part of The Depot’s fresh ideology was too good to pass up.
Kevin is quick to note his staff is integral in the success and day-to-day operations of the kitchen, and, like Chris, he gives a nod to the building itself.
“The mentality of the building informed the menu, totally. There’s a simple joy here, and we take pride in our work. We’re not trying to create something totally new, but we want to give people something to connect to,” Kevin says. “This is bar food, but it’s elevated.”
Take the Reuben sandwich; pretty standard fare on bar menus, but Kevin’s pastrami is smoked in-house for four days, and that subtle smoke flavor turned this routine sandwich upside down. It was proclaimed the “best Reuben ever” by my boyfriend, who’s had more than his fair share of them.
I chose the taco of the day—corned beef tacos. It was a gorgeous plate of corn tortilla tacos with an incredible twist on flavors and textures, featuring tender corned beef, a little cabbage, and a crema sauce that brought each bite together in perfection. It was tacos, elevated.
Kevin’s favorite part of the menu is the snack menu. He’s creat- ed such inventive dishes as artichoke, cheese, and kale dip; bone marrow with a balsamic onion jam; a poutine with oxtail gravy and cheese curds; and duck confit sliders that dare diners to take a slight step outside their comfort food zone, but not one so far they no longer recognize their meals.
It’s a gamble that is paying off for the young restaurant, and it’s obvious the team behind The Depot isn’t shy about taking chances. The restaurant’s debut on New Year’s Eve was admittedly ambitious and not without its challenges.
“We opened to amazing fan fair; so much so that we ran out of almost every product we had! To open on New Year’s we had to fast track production of our beer and food because we only had four weeks. Additionally, we had to train staff on new products, steps of service, restaurant flow, kitchen production and every other facet of a pretty substantially sized business,” Chris relates. “All of these factors resulted in a few unwanted—but not unexpected—missteps in the first month of operations.”
With the help of their customers and staff, those missteps were addressed and corrected, and business is settling into a steady, growing rhythm. Tweaks are still happening, like the addition of a happy hour, weekend brunch, beer dinners, and the opening of the patio for games. All fairly standard, but because it’s The Depot, expect those tweaks to have a personal flair.
“We wanted to create a space that remind- ed patrons of the original building while put- ting our contemporary touches to it,” Chris says. “It is a very similar approach to how we craft our beer, spirits, and food. We start with the classic and familiar and then apply our visions.”