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Takeout Tuesday: Pizza and waffles from scratch at Midtown's "food + drink"

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18 St. Lawrence Ave. in Midtown{ }(Instagram: @thefoodanddrink)

It's no secret, I love food. I mean, just look at me. Some could argue I love food a little bit too much, but can you really?

I love all aspects of food. I enjoy the cooking part, and most definitely the eating part. From hosting elaborate meals and big gatherings like Thanksgiving, to backyard barbecues in the summer with friends and family, nothing unites people quite like food. I definitely consider myself a foodie.

When I travel I spend way too much time researching ad nauseam where we should eat, often planning my days around when we can eat certain things. Because of that, I feel like I have developed a competent palette. I always keep my eyes and ears open for the next best thing to come out of Reno and beyond. And I have some great spots tucked around the region that many have never heard of. We will explore that when quarantine is over with a show I've been wanting to put together for years now called "Hidden Eats."

I absolutely love the food scene in our area, which is why I want to try and showcase a new restaurant every week I'm trying for takeout. Only locally owned spots. I hope by showcasing these places, maybe you'll try a place you never heard of. Or maybe it will inspire to you to get takeout and support a local restaurant. Today's feature: food + drink.

food + drink in Midtown

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First up on my list of places is a restaurant I've had an eye on for months and finally had a chance to give it a shot: it's called "food + drink," which occupies the space formerly held by Creme on St. Lawrence Avenue in Midtown. It is run by a relative newcomer to Reno in Aaron Foster, who opened up shop in Midtown after getting his first taste of the restaurant business at a four-table location he ran in Graegle, Calif.

"It was either a mid-life crisis or nervous breakdown," Foster said with a chuckle. "You could probably argue it either way. I kept getting upset when I went out out to eat once I learned to cook a few things, and I always thought like 'I could do this better.'

"Being out in Graegle, it's a town I love, but it's 700 people and it's busy for like 3 months."

Supply trips to Reno opened his eyes to the possibility of moving to a bigger space and living in a place with a little more going on.

Foster, whose eclectic personality is showcased on the food + drink Instagram page, also creates art out of license plates, many of which are on display inside the restaurant. He spent 5 years in Los Angeles as an actor, hosted a makeover show on HGTV and has appeared in shows at local theaters and a few short films.

For now, he's focused on pumping out delicious scratch-made pizza, tacos and waffles at food + drink.

"I hate to use the word artisanal pizza and tacos because if anyone else uses that about their food I feel like they sound like a jackass," Foster said. "But I don’t know what else to call it. I make pretty much everything from scratch. We only do a couple of things -- we make pizza, we make tacos, we make waffles -- and we try to do those few things as well as possible."

Adapting to the pandemic

It's no secret opening a restaurant and surviving is a difficult task. The odds are not in the favor of the owner. Around 60 percent of new restaurants fail in their first year, and four out of five are closed before their fifth birthday. Add in the volatility of a pandemic, and the timing of a January opening wasn't great. But Foster may have been the first restaurant in the area to adapt to shutting his door and going takeout only, something he did almost a week before it was mandated by the state.

"I posted a video on Friday that I'm closing and we're going to do takeout and let's see what happens," Foster said. "I don't want to say it went viral, but it went local viral when the news picked it up and Saturday we were completely overrun. Anyone who ordered on Saturday, March 14th, people had to wait like 2 hours, which is ridiculous and I apologize for that still."

But Foster was able to pivot to a new system to avoid that disaster again. He created an online system where people could pick a time slot every 15 minutes. So someone can order up to three pizzas at 4:30, then again at 4:45 and so forth.

"It's a number I can keep up with myself," he said.

When Foster's parents came to visit for Christmas, they expected to be here for a few weeks to help their son with the opening of the restaurant. That start date was delayed until late January, and then the pandemic hit, which resulted in his parents staying put. That may have been a lifesaver.

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"I would hesitate to say I'm a one-man show because I couldn't do it without them," Foster said. "I make all the pizzas, but they do everything else like dishes and prep and everything else like letting my dog out. I'm super grateful they are here."

The food

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Enough backstory. Let's get to the food! The menu at food + drink is more limited than usual while doing takeout, which is understandable considering it is just Foster and his parents.

I went on the food + drink website in the early afternoon on a Friday, selected my time slot of 7:30 p.m. and away we went. I picked two pizzas so I could get a little variety (Tony's NYC & the Grasshopper) as well as two decadent liege waffles (more on those in a bit).

Let's start with the pizza. As mentioned earlier by Foster, this is a "artisan pizza." It's not cheap, but you get what you pay for. And it is a very satisfying experience. The crust, which comes from a dough that rests for 48 hours before being baked, was a perfectly crispy and blistered without drying out. It had a nice chew to it (but not too chewy). The tomato sauce was bright and flavorful. The standout of Tony's NYC pizza was the thick-cut spicy Italian sausage. It was one of the best sausages I've had on a pizza. The pizza was great out of the box, and even better when I threw it back on my pizza stone in the oven when I got home.

The second pizza was the Grasshopper: homemade pesto sauce, bufala di mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, arugula, evoo, sea salt, cracked pepper, shaved parmigianno reggiano (you can add bacon but with all the meat on Tony's NYC my wife vetoed the bacon). I'll admit I'm a sucker for this style of pizza to be topped with arugula. And this pizza, with homemade pesto as it's base, definitely hit the mark.

You can tell Foster knows what he's doing with his pizzas. It turns out he learned his craft from one of the best in the business.

"When I got this idea in my head that I wanted to make pizza, I ended up going to the International School of Pizza in San Francisco (yes, that's a thing) run by Tony Gemignani (Tony's NYC pizza is a nod to Gemignani), who is one of the best pizza guys in the world," Foster said. "I think he's a 14- or 15-time world champion. He’s got 15 or 20 restaurants. He’s got a book -- The Pizza Bible -- and I ended up taking his class.

"I had no business being in this class. I’m just a guy with a pizza oven in the back of my car like a barbecue. I had no idea what was going on."

Liege Waffles

I decided to snag a couple of Foster's liege waffles he can warm up for you to be eaten right away or frozen to eat later (I chose the latter saving them for my Sunday brunch). They were an explosion of flavor.

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"Liege is a city in Belgium," Foster said. "They are made with dough rather than a batter and are an absolute nightmare to make. I don't give the recipe out anymore. I gave it to a few people early on and they said they read half the recipe and then gave up. There's four different rises, and it's like 20 hours to make one.

"It will destroy your waffle iron and it's a nightmare to clean the whole thing," he added with a chuckle.

Thankfully for us, Foster is willing to put in the work because these waffles are a showstopper. I made the mistake of over toasting mine in the oven, but it was still incredible.

"The dough is rolled in pearl sugar that also comes from Belgium," Foster said. "Some of it caramelizes, but some of it stays so you get crunchy explosions of sugar. It's kind of a candy bar that we call a waffle, but it's super yummy. It's hard to be locked in a restaurant all day with those looking at you."

Paying it forward

Despite the poor timing of his restaurant opening as a pandemic struck, Foster is thankful for Reno's support.

"It's been completely ridiculous and fabulous and hard to keep up on some night," Foster said. "There have been so many generous donations and tips that we are turning it back and trying to donate pizzas.

"You can nominate your favorite waiter or barista that has had an impact on their income. I can't help them pay their rent, but I can give them a pizza and salad for the night and at least make it better for a few hours."

Foster admits it is going to be difficult to survive given the current climate and the fact he opened so close to the shutdown. But he will continue slinging amazing pizza and waffles for as long as he can. We can only hope for the day when we can sit at his bar sipping cucumber margaritas and downing some of his tacos with tortillas made from scratch.

"When we do a re-opening and it's all legit and safe," Foster said, "we are going to have one hell of a party I'll tell you that!"

Nevada Sports Net's executive producer Alex Margulies will feature a local restaurant once a week in his "Takeout Tuesday" feature. You can contact him at amargulies@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter at @marguliespxp.

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