This was my first Basque food experience! My brother in Boise, ID has talked about the Basque cuisine for a long time. But I knew little about the Spanish and French Basque sheep herders that immigrated to the US west until our fine meal experience last week!
A Building with History
The 113 year old building itself is amazing. It was moved from Virginia City to Gardnerville in 1896. It was an inn for sheep herders in 1947 when 22 year old Jean Lekumberry left the French side of the Basque Pyrenees for Nevada to make a living herding sheep. In 1960, Jean and his wife and brother bought JT's and worked the bar, restaurant and inn themselves.
We were greeted by a colorful bar scene when we entered JT's. Jean Lekumberry is no longer alive to serve up the picon which is the caramel colored traditional Basque cocktail. But his daughter was working the bar that night. (not pictured) We would have loved to sample a couple, but they're known for being very strong and we knew had a long, mountain drive back that night.
The Bar Décor
A lot of the décor is up high in the bar. The upper wall is covered in well worn cowboy hats, all signed by the owners. The ceiling is covered in dollar bills...for good luck we were told. There was a juke box playing traditional Basque music, that seemed to have little yodeling! And the wall paper and old polished bar added to the old west appeal.
Old Fashioned Dining Room
The dining area brought back a different era. The banquet hall with long tables and autumn leaf décor made me feel like I was in a 1960's American Legion hall. The framed family photos and restaurant history displays hanging throughout made me feel like I was visiting a grandparent's home in my childhood.
Our Dining Experience
Don and I did have our own table. In 1960's and before, there was one seating at dinner. The dinner bell rang promptly at 6 pm and herders, travelers and locals sat down at long tables and passed the bowls down. The food is still served family style, but we did get a choice of entrée. In this photo you can see that a small bottle of red wine came with our meal, which started with a tureen of vegetable soup and basket of bread. Note the flags. French Basque? I forgot to ask!
The Food Kept Coming
After our soup, a large bowl of salad arrived. Then the lamb stew and bowl of beans. (Basque restaurants still serve the hearty basic dishes cooked by sheep herders long ago...lots and lots of lamb!) Then our entrees came. Don's steel head trout with a picante style sauce was delicious and moist. My Basque chicken was smothered in a yummy tomato and pepper sauce. Too bad we were almost too full when they arrived. Miraculously I was able to sip coffee and eat my whole bowl of cheesecake ice cream! All meals are one price...$26.95!
Good Bye JT's
By the time we left, the bar had filled with a loud, mingling crowd of locals. I noticed a baby and toddler getting lots of attention and everyone was being greeted by name. This could have felt awkward as if we'd entered a private party, but the group was friendly and welcoming. We thanked our waiter, David and walked out in good spirits.
We had to grin to notice this sign in the window of the barber shop that shares the building with JT's. Now we know there are a few things we can return for... a haircut, a prayer and a picon!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.