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Friday, September 7, 2012

The Little Nugget Diner caps any evening of excess in Reno.

After an evening spent in Reno quaffing intoxicants and caffeine I sought out late night eats at the Little Nugget Diner in the rear of The Nugget, a divey casino on Virginia St. in the shadow of the Reno Arch.

The place is about as old school as it gets short of offering coin-pay slots. Unlike the majority of downtown casinos paired with hotels, The Nugget is a standalone casino, but with the added bonus of a diner, far in the back. So far you can avoid passing through the casino and enter the diner from the alley; an approach popular enough to warrant signage.

The diner is about as well-worn as a greasy spoon can get. I settled in on a stool next to the cashier with a view of the grill and fryers. The Awful-Awful burger, short for “Awful Big and Awful Good” is what brought me to the Little Nugget that evening, but a quick perusal of the menu hinted the diner's true forté: breakfast.

From left: The Back Door, The Grill, The Night Shift in Repose.

The sandwich is fairly decent, and better than what's offered at most fast-food chains. Built on a soft, lightly grill-toasted onion roll, the standard Awful-Awful offers slices of American cheese, tomato, red onion, pickle, and an exorbitant amount of lettuce slathered with a special sauce that reminded me of Thousand Island dressing sans pickle. The burger itself – likely a third-pounder, pre-cooked weight – is quality beef (for mass-production meat) and pepper seasoned. Wanting more I ask for bacon which comes as crispy and curly as if you'd fried it at home. In short, the Awful-Awful is a delicious burger worth revisiting.

What makes this truly awful-awful is the staggering pound of shoestring-cut french fries the sandwich rests atop. It's an awe-inspiring image, not unlike the famous Botticelli painting of Venus standing upon a giant clam shell, but certainly more tasty than a 500-year-old piece of canvas smeared with tempura paint.

The fries are actually quite good, uniquely seasoned with a blend that betrays the presence of a green herb. Ranch dressing is a popular dipping condiment here. It's just that there's SO MUCH of them I barely made a dent. Momentarily saddened to leave such bounty behind, I bade my goodbyes to the night crew, not realizing my next visit would be sooner than I expected.

The excesses of the evening – alcohol, caffeine, animal flesh, grease and second-hand smoke – led to a night populated with whacked-out dreams. I had resolved to skip breakfast and snag a carryout pizza for the train trip across Nevada that afternoon. Restlessness and unexpected hunger had other plans. And so I returned to the Little Nugget Diner for an omelet, but not just any omelet.

The four-egg Hangover Omelet sports a pile of chili, cheese and salsa, inside and atop. The chili, usually an afterthought with such builds is tasty on its own; the advertised melted cheese wasn't so melted as it was abundant; salsa was a straight-forward chunky tomato variety. Paired with the omelet is a plank of slightly golden hash browns – tasting of margarine but not unpleasant, choice of toast, and a horseradish-tinged Bloody Mary!

It's not haute cuisine or even the least bit exotic or unique. What the Little Nugget Diner excels at is familiar comfort food in excessive proportions to soothe the alcohol-ravaged body, and to reassure the down-on-their-luck that all is not lost.

Well… maybe it is. Eat an Awful-Awful and nurse that pound of fries for every ounce of ranch dressing you can beg, borrow or steal. Clorox – famous for manufacturing bleach – operates a large Hidden Valley Ranch factory in the Reno area, so you know its springtime fresh.

Little Nugget Diner on Urbanspoon Photos from the Picasa Web Album: Labor Day Trip 2012

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