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For more than 50 years, John Ascuaga’s Nugget has done diners proud.
Photo: Charlie Johnston (all)
Throughout John Ascuaga’s five decades as a casino owner he has never lost his passion for food and beverage service. His Sparks resort, John Ascuaga’s Nugget, is one of Northern Nevada’s largest hotel-casinos and home to eight unique eateries. And while nearly everything about the property has changed since its early days as a 60-seat coffee shop with a handful of slot machines, Ascuaga’s philosophy has remained steadfast: never sacrifice quality.
JOHN’S OYSTER BAR
One of the Nugget’s oldest, most-loved restaurants is John’s Oyster Bar, which opened in 1959. The locals’ favorite has changed little in its 50 years, and its no-nonsense menu is about one thing: fresh seafood. “You’ll notice there are no fried items,” says Executive Vice President of Food and Beverage Dave Brody. “It’s all basted, steamed, or grilled.”
The lack of batter and hot oil makes the seafood taste like, well, seafood. One menu highlight is the Seafood Extravaganza, a veritable ocean in a dish of lobster, crab, jumbo shrimp, scallops, calamari, clams, and mussels sautéed with tomatoes, garlic, shallots, herbs, butter, white wine, and lemon juice served with saffron rice. From the buttery lobster and tender scallops to the demure flavor of the calamari, every item stands out with its own distinct taste.
If there had to be only one menu item the Oyster Bar was famous for, it would be the pan roasts. These stews meld cream, white wine, clam broth, butter, cocktail sauce, and lemon juice with a variety of seafood to create one of the richest, most decadent soups imaginable. Though Ascuaga would never reveal a favorite among his restaurants, frequent lunchtime sightings of the casino mogul suggest the Oyster Bar is a strong contender.
On the opposite end of the traditional eatery spectrum from John’s Oyster Bar is Trader Dick’s, a Polynesian-Asian-American amalgam with the resort’s largest, most eclectic menu. “There’s something for everyone here,” Brody says.
Singling out any of the nearly 70 offerings (that’s excluding desserts) as a standout would be next to impossible. Thankfully, the menu offers John’s Recom-mendations to assist in the daunting prospect of selecting a meal. Prawns with Honey Glazed Walnuts are marinated and deep fried before being tossed in a honey dressing and served with white rice. The subtle sweetness of the prawns and robust honey flavor of the walnuts make this one of the richest dishes at Trader Dick’s. Don’t worry about flavor overload; your whole table will gladly share in the indulgence.
Trader Dick’s and its adjacent bar—home to one of the largest saltwater aquariums in Northern Nevada—host more parties and celebrations than any other Nugget restaurant. “The bar is a big part of the experience,” Brody says. “It’s just a fun restaurant.”
THE STEAKHOUSE GRILL
As much as Ascuaga loves food, beef is perhaps closest to his heart. It comes as no surprise that The Steakhouse Grill is widely regarded as one of Northern Nevada’s best places to find bovine bliss. One of the menu’s most popular starters is the Creamy Five Onion Soup with leeks, shallots, and white and green onions served in a hollowed-out Caruso onion and topped with a Gruyère and Swiss cheese crust. Steaks run the gamut from the juicy and succulent Jackpot Filet Mignon to the colossal 24-ounce porterhouse—and all are U.S. beef. John’s 20-ounce Bone-in Rib Eye Steak, at nearly two inches thick, is easily one of the best pieces of beef in Nevada—pair it with sautéed button mushrooms or a creamy Béarnaise sauce. For dessert, indulge in bananas foster, prepared in an applause-worthy flaming tableside display by the servers.
The Nugget’s newest restaurant, Restaurante Orozko, is named for the Basque village where Ascuaga’s parents lived before immigrating to America. With such a personal significance to Ascuaga, not a single detail has gone unnoticed by his paternal eye—even the stone columns are made from granite collected at his Genoa ranch—and the attention shows. Not your typical family-style Basque eatery, Orozko is an upscale celebration of fine Basque and Spanish cuisine.
Paella is a perennial favorite of lobster, prawns, clams, mussels, chicken, and chorizo sausage, cooked with saffron rice and served in a traditional pan. Its close cousin, Seafood Zarzuela, replaces the chicken and chorizo with calamari and cod and incorporates a spicy tomato sauce. These massive, flavorful creations are great to share. A traditional tapas menu provides great starters—try the jumbo prawns in spicy garlic sauce—and complements an evening of cocktails in the Orozko Lounge, which features live entertainment Tuesday through Saturday.
All restaurants are inside
John Ascuaga’s Nugget
1100 Nugget Ave., Sparks
John’s Oyster Bar
The Steakhouse Grill
MORE NUGGET EATERIES
The Rotisserie Buffet features nightly themes in a French country setting. Ext. 3514
Rosie’s Café is a 24-hour diner serving American favorites. Ext. 3764
The Noodle Hut specializes in quick Asian favorites such as Won Ton Noodle soup and Pad Thai. Ext. 4765
Gabe’s Pub and Deli is adjacent to the race and sportsbook and serves sandwiches and other deli favorites. Ext. 3545
BEST IN THE WEST NUGGET RIB COOK-OFF
More than half a million people are expected to attend the 21st annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, September 2–7. Rib cookers from around the world vie for prizes that include best ribs, best sauce, and people’s choice. nuggetribcookoff.com, 775-356-3300