Finding Bliss at Kerouac’s
Relish in a delicious path to enlightenment in eastern Nevada.
BY ENGRID BARNETT
By the time you reach the easternmost edge of U.S. Route 50, affectionately known as The Loneliest Road in America, Kerouac’s restaurant in Baker feels more like a mirage than a reality. The brainchild of chef Jake Cerese and architect Kate Claeys, Kerouac’s vintage décor (think 1930s Underwood typewriter) and high-end American fare represent the perfect homage to life on the American road as does their neighboring venture, the Stargazer Inn. Far more than a watering hole at the end of a long trip, Kerouac’s ambience, friendly staff, and gourmet comfort food prove that little slices of home can be found in even the most far-flung places.
PART 1: TAKING A TRIP
Jake and Kate are recent Nevada transplants. After spending a decade living and working in New York City, they wanted a change. So, they launched a quest to camp in every national park in the U.S. By 2016, they had stayed in 15 parks. Great Basin National Park near Baker marked their final stop. At the time, neither one had intentions of relocating to eastern Nevada, because both were settled in their careers and lives back east. Yet, once back home, they couldn’t stop thinking about the area.
“We were really struck by Baker. It’s a unique small town of very well-educated, traveled people—truly an eclectic group,” Jake says. “We wanted to be outside in nature, to have some sort of stake in the park service, and we wanted to have a relationship with a small community—to have an impact with a couple of small businesses as well as get involved in the town’s politics, culture, and daily life.”
PART 2: FINDING A PLACE TO CALL HOME
When they moved to Baker in February 2017, they wanted to make the restaurant a hub for locals and a welcoming spot for road-weary travelers and that spirit infuses every aspect of their restaurant—a true home away from home.
“From the moment we moved here, we wanted to let everyone know that we’re here because we want to be here. We want to work with local business. We’re not looking to be the whole pie, just a slice of that pie,” Jake says.
They underscored these intentions by making Baker their permanent residence, a place where they can have an impact and make a difference.
Kerouac’s embodies the spirit of American roadside culture, an unpretentious everyday place where everyone feels welcome.
“People come here because they’re on their own ‘great American road trip.’ So, I wanted to design it with a timeless feel—as if you could walk into the place in the 1950s or today. We pay attention to all of the details, from the tableware to the silverware to the art on the walls, and you can get anything from a high-end cocktail to a fancy glass of wine,” Jake explains. “But you can still sit down and enjoy a burger and a beer whether you’re a rancher, tourist, hiker, or foodie. We wanted it to be a place where Jack Kerouac would’ve felt comfortable to visit. Our restaurant is an embodiment of that spirit.”
PART 3: NOURISH YOUR SOUL
Kerouac’s menu looks like it was actually typed on the 1930s Underwood typewriter that lovingly decorates the restaurant and it offers fresh takes on American classics. Jake’s love of Americana and his vast culinary background—including work at Michelin restaurants in New York—shine through in his dishes.
“We get lots of visitors—some foreign—but many Americans who are more often than not on their own [Kerouac-inspired] road trips. So, classic fare like burgers and pizza just make sense,” Jake says. “But we make everything from scratch, using high-quality ingredients and incorporating subtle changes…little twists that bring out the flavor of the food and highlight my background and expertise. We want to put our own spin on it, but we don’t want the meal to be unrecognizable either.”
Fresh ingredients, meticulous preparations, items baked from scratch, and painstaking attention to detail all define Kerouac’s menu. The pizza dough relies on 48- to 72-hour fermentations to enhance flavor, the buns for burgers are brioche made in-house, and the bread is freshly baked every day. From toast to sandwiches to croutons, there’s no pre-packaged stuff here. Instead, you’ll find luscious, hearth-baked, whole grain loaves made from natural starter with long fermentations. The craft is impeccable; the vision quaint and welcoming.
PART 4: THE SOURCE MATTERS
Among the biggest challenges that Jake and Kate faced in moving to Baker was sourcing ingredients in a remote corner of Nevada.
“Kate and I are passionate about getting the right ingredients that are local, organic, and sustainable. This is hands down our greatest obstacle, but we strive to work with local purveyors to deliver the highest quality to our guests,” Jake notes.
Jake leaves no detail to chance, and this carries over into his wine selections and craft cocktail menu, too.
“Good food elevates good wine, and good wine elevates
The spirits used in cocktails are first-rate and the juices are hand squeezed, whether you order a honey and gin-infused Neal Cassady or non-alcoholic mint lemonade. Kerouac’s stocks a wide selection of wines by the glass, top-notch micro brews, and small-batch ciders. “We want it to be a special experience for those who come. It may be a bit more money than you were looking to spend at your average roadside diner, but our quality and care are unmatched.”
PART 5: FREEDOM TO CHOOSE
Whether you opt for a Dharma Bum Burger featuring a 5-ounce beef patty smothered in smoked cheddar, heirloom tomatoes, red onion, and Bubbie’s dill pickles on a housemade brioche bun or a scratch-baked Mediterranean pizza piled with Kalamata olives, roasted red pepper, red onion, fresh rosemary, and feta, quality defines every aspect of your meal.
No matter where you’re headed or where you’ve come from, you’re sure to find bliss and a lovely little slice of home in Baker. Jack Kerouac would have parked his battered suitcase here for a meal and a drink, and you should too.
COME IN OFF THE ROAD
Kerouac’s Restaurant & Stargazer Inn
115 S. Baker Ave.
Baker, NV 89311
Kerouac’s Buttermilk Biscuits
Jake loves this recipe because, “It’s simple enough that it’s not going to intimidate someone cooking at home. At the same time, it highlights Kerouac’s fundamental philosophy when it comes to fresh baked goods. No shortcuts are taken. This recipe produces a flaky, delicate, sexy biscuit.”
Makes 10 to 12 biscuits
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) frozen, unsalted butter
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups (10 to 12 fluid ounces) cold buttermilk
Melted butter and coarse sea salt for garnishing
Freeze butter 24 hours in advance. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Add flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt and stir well.
Remove butter from freezer and using a cheese grater or grater attachment for a food processor, grate frozen butter directly into dry flour mixture. Ideally you will have pea size pieces of butter dispersed throughout your dry mixture.
Mix rapidly to combine, careful not to let the butter melt. At this point your mixture can be used immediately or stored in the fridge or freezer for future use.
Transfer the mixture into a large mixing bowl and make a well. Slowly add cold buttermilk mixing by hand to combine. You should mix gently until the dough comes together, careful not to overwork the dough.
Roll out onto floured surface to desired thickness, at least 1 inch to 1-1/2 inch thick. Using a dough knife (bench scraper) or kitchen knife, cut biscuits to desired shapes. I do squares rather than traditional circle biscuits because it allows me to use all the dough without having to re-roll it thus overworking it.
Place biscuits on parchment-lined baking sheet and brush with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and just baked through.