A new version of a legendary Reno greasy spoon has opened in the Mark Twain Saloon in Virginia City and it's the best one since the original closed about 20 years ago. If eating chili-cheese omelettes and potatoes fried in a couple of ladles of oil doesn't sound appetizing, stop reading now. The next 900 words are not for you.
For those who've never heard of Landrum's, it was an eight-seat art deco diner hauled on a railroad car and opened in Reno on South Virginia Street in the late 1940s. One person behind the counter was the waitress, cook and bus boy.
It served typical diner food by tresses with a lot of sass. They sold their "I sat on a stool at Landrum's" bumper stickers. They were open 24 hours and the cool thing to do was to go in at 3 a.m. and run into all kinds of people, from some of the most powerful people in Nevada to performers from downtown Reno.
Some where along the line it started serving a chili cheese omelette. The menu at the new restaurant claims Landrum's invented the chili cheese omelette. I don't know if that was true. But it pretty much had the franchise on them, as far as I could tell. No one did them better. I ate them probably three times a week as a college student in Reno.
The formula was surprisingly simple. The waitress would whip the eggs -- I can't remember if it was two or three -- then put the whipped egg on the heated grill. Rather than go for a fluffy omelette, she'd keep spreading it out to make the egg as thin as possible. When the egg was mostly cooked she'd put a couple of ladles of homemade beanless chili in the center of the egg, sprinkle on cheddar cheese and then fold each side of the egg over the top. Then came another handful or so of cheese on top of the omelette and then a cooking pot lid was put over the whole omelette to let it finish. In the mean time cottage fries drenched in oil were cooking crispy brown on the side. And the waitress/cook timed the toast perfectly so it finished the same time as everything else. Homemade salsa came in a stainless steel tub with a stainless steel ladle.
The portions were huge and the cost went from something like $2.85 in the late 1970s to around $4 by the time it closed under the original owner in the mid 1980s.
Seems like a pretty simple formula. Only after Landrum's closed under its original owner, it was never replicated at either the original location or the two knock offs that opened, one in Reno and one in Sparks.
In fact, after the original Landrum's reopened under new owners, waitresses/cooks from the original were unable to replicate it.
If I had a choice between a free dinner at French Laundry and a chili-cheese omelette like the Landrum's original, I'd take the chili-cheese omelette hands down. With all the grease, it's not going to make people's gourmet lists. It's probably more because it's comfort food. I pretty much lived on them through college.
A new Landrum's has opened in the Mark Twain Saloon on Virginia City's main street. It's being managed by one of the cooks from the original restaurant. I had the chili-cheese omelette this morning. It's not quite like the original. But it's close enough.
It costs $6 and the portions of omelette and potatoes are less.
The new Landrum's is in the back of the Mark Twain Saloon and is kind of hard to find. I had to ask for directions. I got there and all the seats were taken -- just like the original Landrum's. This one has nine seats and they're all spaced apart. The original had eight that were close together. One tucked away in a corner really wasn't accessible except to children and Vern Troyer, so really it had seven seats.
The waitress/cook was overwhelmed with the orders. It makes me realize now how efficient the waitress/cooks were at the original. I think they had extra arms. It took her a while to get to my order. The coffee I ordered didn't arrive for more than 15 minutes, until just before the omelette arrived. I looked into the cream container and saw what I thought was curdled cream. I asked for new cream. Turns out they have homemade cream there now. That's a plus. They also have a pretty good salsa to go with the food, something missing since the original Landrum's.
This may be a gripe unique to me, but to really enjoy an omelette I need toast to go with it. I was more than halfway through the omelette and potatoes when my toast arrived.
Many of these are fine points that will be worked out as the waitress/cook gets more experience and grows another couple of arms. She said she used to eat the original Landrum's, so I think she has a sense of what she's supposed to do.
The good news is that there's finally another Landrum's serving a decent chili-cheese omelette. If you're a Chowhounder coming from out of town I don't think it's worth the drive up Geiger Grade to Virginia City to try a chili-cheese omelette. But if you're passing through Virginia City and need something, it's worth a try. And anyone nostalgic for the original Landrum's chili-cheese omelette now has a place to go to get the chili-cheese omelette fix.