Meet Your Merchant: Restaurant offers taste of Truckee history | SierraSun.com

Meet Your Merchant: Restaurant offers taste of Truckee history

Priya Hutner
Special to the Sun
Chris St. Martin and Ryan Dierks opened the Truckee Tavern and Grill on June 18 in downtown in the same location that formerly housed Dragonfly.
Courtesy Priya Hutner |

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What: Truckee Tavern and Grill

Where: 10118 Donner Pass Road

Phone: 530- 587-3766

Online: www.truckeetavern.com

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Ryan Dierks and Chris St. Martin are captivated with Truckee history. They also are passionate about good food.

No strangers to the restaurant business — St. Martin worked at Cottonwood for eight years as bar manager, and Dierks was employed there for 10 years as a waiter and bartender — they knew they wanted to open a restaurant, while also being part of the past and a part of the local lore of Truckee.

So when they learned Billy McCullough, former owner of Dragonfly in downtown, was looking for a buyer, Dierks and St. Martin jumped at the opportunity.

They purchased the restaurant for an undisclosed amount earlier this year, and once the contract was signed, renovations began immediately on Truckee Tavern and Grill.

“We were lucky to have so much community support … This energy fueled us.”
Chris St. Martin

“Chris and I put on our tool bags on and began renovations. Chris’ mother in law painted the bar while my father helped with the brickwork,” Dierks said. “We did most of the work ourselves.”

Upon opening June 18, the men instituted a social media campaign and began promoting their weekly specials on Facebook and Instagram.

“We were lucky to have so much community support,” St. Martin said. “People were excited that we were opening a new restaurant. This energy fueled us.”

SUSTAINABLE AND ORGANIC FOOD

St. Martin said he and Dierks want to offer an experience at Truckee Tavern and Grill and “invoke emotion and memories in the dining experience.”

Chef Donovan Webb, formerly of the Manzanita Restaurant at The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe, collaborated with Dierks and St. Martin to create the menu. The trio also worked together at Cottonwood, where Webb was a sous chef.

The food is fresh and the menu changes seasonally. The tavern uses local organic products whenever possible, and St. Martin and Dierks purchase produce from locals such as Gary Romano of Sierra Valley Farms and Greg’s Organics.

“All the proteins we serve are hormone-free and organic when possible,” Webb said. “We believe in simplicity in the food we serve. Nothing should overpower the flavors, and that’s what makes the food delicious.”

The menu offers a number of entrees from a 7-foot Argentinean style grill that serves as the flaming centerpiece of the tavern’s kitchen.

“There’s a space in the rear of the grill where we actually build a fire,” St. Martin. “Then we rake hot coals forward and cook on the coals and not directly on the flames. Cooking on hot coals reduces flare-ups from the flames.”

‘A GREAT RESPONSE’

For those who love Italian, all the pasta served at the tavern is homemade.

“We sent Donovan to work in two restaurants, Flour+Water and Central Kitchen, both in San Francisco, to research the art of making pasta,” St. Martin said.

The menu offers a variety of choices for any diet or palate. Appetizers include items such as Shishito peppers in a honey lemon sauce; roasted cauliflower with lime and pine nuts; and a Portobello mushroom served on creamed greens.

The menu also offers entrees that are perfect for sharing, particularly the meat and poultry dishes from the grill.

In addition, there is a selection of fish entrées and a homemade pasta dish served with fresh vegetables and house-made ricotta cheese.

The restaurant offers a unique twist of flavors that accompany its many side dishes, such as the tavern’s signature mac and cheese with three cheeses and figs, creamed rainbow chard, and coal-roasted zephyr squash.

“We’ve had a great response to the food,” said St. Martin.

HISTORY WITH A TWIST

The Tavern’s bar — complete with an inviting brick wall and wood surface — creates a warm, easy setting. It boasts over 50 small craft distilled whiskeys and 25 small batch distilled gins.

“Truckee was one of the biggest producers of gin and whiskey during prohibition,” Dierks said. “Truckee had a number of illegal stills and supplied San Francisco back in the day.”

Several cocktails reflect the history of the Truckee. The Silver Mirror is a house specialty prepared with gin, lemon, honey, peppercorns and fresh sage.

“The Silver Mirror is named after a local speakeasy that existed in the 19th century,” said Dierks, adding that the speakeasy was located on the ground floor of the Truckee Hotel and prided itself in serving the finest bootlegged whiskey at $1 per shot.

The Wilkie Cup — prepared with rye, basil, maple and Fernet Branca — is named after W.F. Wilkie, a merchant who owned the Truckee Mercantile Company that was located where the tavern sits today.

The restaurant offers daily happy hour specials the owners coined “Early Night Bites” from 4:30-6:00 p.m. Each night offers a different food and drink theme.

The tavern is open for dinner Sunday-Wednesday, 5-9 p.m., and Thursday-Saturday until 9:30 p.m. The bar opens at 4 p.m.

Priya Hutner is a freelance writer and can be reached at pria78@gmail.com.