Bistro gives nod to Dayton’s Italian heritage
Appeal Staff Writer
In the more than two years since they purchased the building and began renovations, Jackie Behan and Jerry Massad have managed to turn a ramshackle bar into a restaurant featuring Italian and Tuscan cuisine.
They opened Dec. 20 and were completely full for New Year’s Eve.
“So far it’s been very well-received and we hope it continues that way,” Behan said. “Our goal was to fill a void in Dayton.”
She noted that Old Town Dayton now has four restaurants. In addition to J’s Old Town Bistro, there is the Gold Canyon Steakhouse, Compadres and Chuck’s Old West Grill.
“Old Town has four restaurants and each of them has a different style,” she said. “We really like the destination thing, that Old Town will be the place for dining and people will have a choice.”
The restaurant is in the latest of its many resurrections over the years, from a store to a bar to an auto-repair shop, to a bar and restaurant to a bar again, and even an ice cream parlor.
It was last known as the Old Corner Bar, but now it harkens back to the Italian roots of the Dayton area as an Italian bistro, with chicken parmesan and piccatta, pasta dishes, and ravioli, fettuccini, lasagna and pizza.
Appetizers include calamari, artichoke and zucchini frittis, meatballs and a variety of skewers.
There are dishes suitable for vegetarians and dieters, kids and anyone with a love for Italian cuisine.
The prices range from $5 for appetizers, $9 for pizzas and $15 for entrees.
“Our primary goal is to have an excellent product at the best cost we can provide,” she said.
The restaurant also has an extensive wine list and their liquor license application was approved by the Lyon County Commission on Thursday.
Behan said Italian cuisine was chosen as a nod to the Italians who settled Dayton and operated the first farms and ranches in the area.
“Also, I’d been to Tuscany and absolutely fell in love with the simplicity and taste of the food,” she said. “It has a little less of an American appeal, for example, Tuscan pizzas are very light, with a crisp crust.”
She said in addition to traditional dinners with salads, guests can order little plates with a combination of many items, like the Mediterranean cultures eat.
The new restaurant seats 85 and soon will add 10 more spaces, Behan said.
“In the summer we’ll have a patio and will add about 24 spaces out there,” she added.
Three chefs, all graduates of culinary schools are among the eight or nine employees working under Massad, who oversees the kitchen.
“Jerry is a fanatic about quality and freshness in the food he prepares and we know we will maintain the quality throughout,” Behan said.
The stone building was built in 1860, and Behan and Massad had to demolish the interior down to the studs and add 1,000 square feet of new kitchen, bathroom and storage area to bring it into the proper condition for a restaurant.
The entry doors are original, created from old growth Tahoe Basin pine and hauled to Dayton by wagon in the 1800s, she said.
Behan and Massad brought in an Art Deco bar and back bar to replace the one that had been there, that Behan said was removed before they bought the building.
The new bar came all the way from Chicago and was built in 1909 by the Schlitz Brewing Company for the historic Lucky Lady Pub in the city’s Pullman district.
It was shut down by Prohibition in 1920, but in 1933 the Lady was back in business and was outfitted with the solid mahogany bar.
Behan and Massad purchased the bar and back bar online from a Chicago antique dealer and had it shipped in sections to Mound House, where it was stored for almost a year.
When installed in the bistro, the bar was retrofitted with refrigeration, brew taps, sinks and bar guns.
The first business at that location is listed in historic records as being M. Meyer and Co., a grocery business in 1862. By 1875, it was listed as Meyer and Clegman Hardware and Supplies and remained as a general merchandise store from 1890-1907.
Andrew J. Loftus bought it and it became the Braun and Loftus drug store. In the 1930s there was an auto-repair shop put in the back part of business, with the front being a saloon.
The place is listed as the Meyer Building housing the Old Corner Bar in a survey the Comstock Historic District performed in 1987.
J’s Old Town Bistro’s hours are 3-9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant has off-street parking to the rear. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 881-7351.
If You Go
WHAT: J’s Old Town Bistro
WHERE: 30 Pike St., Dayton
Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.