Fallon’s farm-to-table pioneer Steve Hernandez grows what he can, and makes a short drive for the rest.
Fallon, NevadaNear the bay window on the right side of the Slanted Porch restaurant’s main dining room in Fallon, Nevada, hangs a black-and-white family portrait, sepia-tinted by time. One daughter sits at a piano, another by her father’s side. Stern-looking parents occupy stiff chairs, and the only boy, kneeling, smiles at the family baby, who’s front and center holding a doll nearly her size.
“That’s Norma Frazzini,” Steve Hernandez, chef and owner of the Slanted Porch, says pointing to the infant. “She was the youngest of the Frazzini children, and the one who sold me this house in 2003.”
Hernandez recounts some of the stories Frazzini would come by and tell him while he was refurbishing the place — how she and her sister would sit on the porch (which was closed in back then) and race to spot the rare car whizzing by; how her brother would mount fireworks to the tree on the side of the house, drawing a small crowd on July 4; and how she herself was married in the bay window that looks out at that tree.
“It meant so much,” Hernandez says, “just putting that history in the property.”
Opening his first restaurant in a place with deep roots resonated with Hernandez because Fallon was his hometown. After high school, he moved to San Francisco, where he spent 10 years earning his chops at the California Culinary Academy and Bay Area restaurants. During another near-decade in Reno, he began dating a Fallon girl. When he’d drive the hour east of the city to spend time with her, they’d lament the dearth of good restaurants at which to eat in the small town.
“So I got the bright idea to open one,” Hernandez says.
It was 2004 when the Slanted Porch served its first meal. Back then, Hernandez says, eating local wasn’t as common as it is now, which also meant it was more difficult. But he started with an advantage: His father’s nearby cattle ranch supplied him with beef, and the area around Fallon is crawling with produce farms, such as Lattin Farms (see sidebar). Today, in addition to sourcing as many of his ingredients as possible from Pioneer Farms, Workman Farms and other nearby operations, Hernandez also maintains his own hoop-house, where he grows greens and root vegetables used in the kitchen.
This caring connection to food is why six-year Slanted Porch sous-chef Kelli Kelly and her husband opted to stay in Fallon even after he retired from the Navy and they considered moving to Las Vegas.
“I’ve found my calling, as far as the culinary industry goes,” Kelly says. “When I envisioned where I wanted to be, it was in a small, community-based, farm-to-table restaurant, and I was already there.”
She lights up describing how she and Hernandez touch almost every ingredient — and every plate — put before their customers.
“Being with your food from seed to plate completely changes the experience,” she says. “You really learn to respect the ingredients a lot more.”
This translates into letting a beet be a beet, instead of coating it in sugar and trying to turn it into a sweet potato, for instance. Hernandez and Kelly favor ingredient combinations over additives as a means of creating interesting flavors.
The approach is apparent in the menu’s most popular dishes, such as the Monet sandwich (pictured right), an open-face stack of toast, avocado, pesto, tomatoes and onions, simple elements combined in an unexpectedly savory whole. Likewise, the garnish and dressing on the Cottonwood hot turkey sandwich — roasted garlic salsa, melted Havarti cheese, tomato and mayo — merge into a surprising, sloppy Joe-like sauce.
These are both on the menu for lunch, which is easier to catch than dinner, since the Slanted Porch is only open on Friday and Saturday nights. Those evenings, seasonal dishes complement a standard menu.
“In order to keep the quality up, we have to minimize the hours that we’re open,” Hernandez explains. “I mean most of our stuff is homemade, so it’s very labor-intensive.”