I've been living in Mount Pleasant for over 20 years and I remember well when Main street was spotted with "greasy spoon" cafes from Broadway up to King Edward. Slowly, they've almost all disappeared. Some have tried to cash in on retro-chic and self-consciously brand themselves as destinations for bohemian recreational slumming (Helen's Grill, for example), and upped their prices. Others, like Pings, have been reinvented as modern restaurants, the old weather-beaten sign the only evidence of past culinary sins. But a handful remain, seemingly oblivious to the area's ongoing gentrification, paying zero attention to the new zeitgeist, insisting on being themselves. They make no pretensions to serious food but offer, instead, honest no nonsense basic dishes, the purpose of which is primarily to prevent you from being hungry while not breaking the bank. I've got a weakness for these places because I like to travel high and low in most of my cultural adventures. And I'm aways looking for a perfect breakfast for $3.99 and a decent hamburger and fries for a five.
On the northwest corner of Broadway at Main street, beneath the Lee building, is Reno's restaurant. If you sit in a window booth you'll get lots to look at because there's a busy bus stop right outside. The setup is as basic as it gets. Think of dining in a Vancouver Island ferry restaurant in the late 70s and you'll get the idea. No table service - you grab a tray, peruse the many blackboard menus, try in vain to delineate the "specials" from the regular menu items, and then you tell the cashier what you want. You pay, then get a nicely laminated number, and then you seat yourself. The menu ranges from classics like various breeds of hamburgers, meatloaf, veal, pork chops and mashed potatoes, many breakfast variations to a wide array of Western-style Chinese dishes. There are so many items on the blackboards that it's actually bewildering to stand there and try and make a decision. For those watching their pennies a tip: often a plain old hamburger will be perversely more expensive than a hamburger with toppings like bacon or cheese, which will be on the specials board, so watch out for that.
The "service" is friendly, enthusiastic and efficient. No matter what you order, you'll probably be offered what passes for coffee. Personally, my standards for coffee are very high but somehow the coffee at Reno's goes down well with the food. You might think of this as proper pairing. The food itself is probably what you would expect - serviceable, utilitarian and filling. It comes to your table piping hot and there's always someone making the rounds to refill your coffee. And Reno's doesn't completely eschew modernity - believe it or not they've got free wifi!
So, primarily, the draw of this restaurant is for a shift in ambience, a little bit of time travel. Even the owner's vague attempts to "modernize" the place only add to the charm. The decor is a mishmash of a rookie set director's idea of retro: posters of Marilyn Monroe, a collection of old clocks, a jukebox in the corner that springs to life seemingly at random. Cast your eyes around and you'll take a journey though the last four decades. It's a bewildering soup of clashing styles but somehow the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and it works.
(thanks to fmed for taking the pix)
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