Thursday, January 29, 2015

J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room: Gardnerville, Nevada

      Northern Nevada is known for it's large population of Basque communities, largely composed of sheep ranchers.  They originally hail from the northern regions of Spain bordering France on the Bay of Biscay.  They are renown for their cuisine which often centers around lamb and is best served family style.  My cousin had recommended several fine Basque restaurants in his neighboring communities of Winnemucca and Elko, but our time ran short and we had heard of a very famous one south of Reno in the village of Gardnerville.
      J.T. Basque ( has been serving the area for over 50 years.  They are located in the village of Gardnerville, about 40 miles south of Reno.  They have been voted Best Basque Restaurant in the Carson Valley including Reno for more than a decade running.  Their food contains only local grass fed beef, chicken, lamb and vegetables.  Everything is, of course, homemade.

       It all started in 1896 when an early Gardnerville entrepreneur named Hans Nelson bought and moved the building from its original location in the Virginia City, Nevada area. Since then, the authentic Victorian building has served as a hotel, saloon and dining hall throughout its more than 100 year history in downtown Gardnerville. With the exception of the hitching post and horse outside, the Lekumberry family has restored the building's façade to look as it did over 100 years ago. 

      The menu specializes in traditional Basque Cuisine:  top sirloin steak, lamb shoulder, lamb chops, chicken, rabbit, pigs feet with tripe, and an assortment of sweetbreads and stews.  Everything is served 'family style'.  All, that is except the Picon're on your own with that one!

       Barb and I timed our visit to arrive a bit early for dinner as there is often a 30-40 minute wait for a table.  There are no reservations.  We had visited Carson City and Lake Tahoe earlier so our appetites were primed and ready when we arrived.  Their definition of 'family style' is each course is served individually with plates swapped each time the next course arrives.  Before your order is taken the waitress offers you a glass of traditional Picon Punch, which consists of Amer Picon Orange Bitters, Grenadine, Soda, and Brandy.  Since I already had a pint of Sierra Lager from the bar, I passed, it sounded awfully tart anyways.  We both ordered the Lamb Chops.  The first 3 courses come as 'all you can eat'.  Want more?  They'll bring more at no charge. 

 Course #1:  Cabbage Vegetable Soup, Bread, Butter, & Red Wine
Course #2:  Simple Lettuce Salad w/Oil & Vinegar
Course #3:  Ox Tail Stew & Beans
Course #4:  4 each Garlic Sautéed Lamb Chops & Fries

      I asked as to the authenticity of French Fries as Basque culture and the waitress just smiled the replying the Basque do eat lots of traditional potatoes,  but Americans seem to prefer fries.  NOTE:  Later I was informed by a friend of mine who hiked the Camino Trail throughout the Basque Region that French fries are actually a Basque creation and a part of their normal diet.  As you can tell from this picture I had already laid waste to one lamb chop before I remembered to take the picture.  There was plenty of fresh roasted garlic on each chop which gave it the most remarkable flavor.  We did intentionally skip Course #5:  Ice Cream.....there just wasn't any room left. 
      The entire meal was delicious.  We did not order seconds on the first 3 courses as we were saving ourselves for the lamb chops, which filled us more than sufficiently.   The waitress was incredibly helpful with everything including all our questions.  Tab for the meal was a bit more than average, $60, but well worth the experience.  I even picked up a souvenir bumper sticker:  NEVADA:  So many sheep, so little time. 
      I have a rack of lamb and some lamb loin on order with a local butcher which I will pick up tomorrow for our freezer.  Have to experiment with some of this Basque Cuisine myself! 

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