February – April 2022
Discover the cuisine at the heart and soul of Nevada’s Basque culture.
The Basque who came to Nevada seeking gold in the 1860s may not have all found riches, but the treasures they brought left an indelible, tasty mark. Many found work as sheepherders, forming communities with fellow Basque immigrants. Others started up boarding houses and kept alive their culture, language, and traditions. One tradition that outsiders came to embrace was the communal dining experience: picture enormous platters of steaks, steaming bowls of savory soup, and abundantly flowing homemade red wine. It’s the kind of meal that makes you wish you grew up Basque.
Marie Louise Lekumberry knows something about growing up Basque. Found along the Lake Tahoe Loop road trip in the historic town of Gardnerville is a building hauled over from Virginia City in 1896. Marie’s parents, Jean and Shirley Lekumberry, along with Jean’s uncle Pete, purchased the business in 1960. They kept the original name—The J.T.—and raised their children around the restaurant.
“As kids, we grew up working in the business washing dishes, bussing, and serving tables, then eventually running the place after our dad died in 1993,” Marie says of the restaurant, officially known as J.T. Basque Bar and Dining Room. “It was something we have always been a part of.”
Growing up Basque in the small town gave Marie and her brothers a strong sense of identity as both Nevada and Old Country Basque. That identity was forged from the beginning.
“Back in the day, our Basque hotel, bar, and dining room was crowded with retired sheepherders and the younger ones newly arrived from the homeland. Basques would gather to eat, drink, play cards, and dance.”
Today, the Lekumberrys still honor their parents’ traditions but have added a few personal touches.
“We have expanded the menu, evolving from just one entree served each night to your choice of seven or eight,” Marie explains. “My favorite is the Basque Chicken. It’s a classic Basque dish made with a fresh, delicious sauce of red and green bell peppers, onion, tomato, and herbs. It washes down well with the bottle of red table wine that accompanies the family-style lunches and dinners.”
The building has been updated but has held onto its turn-of-the-century Nevada soul. Most importantly, as the town has grown and the world has changed, Marie and her brothers have held true to something they witnessed growing up.
“As more tourists come our way, we’ve built on our parents’ tradition of welcoming all to the J.T.”
THE MARTIN HOTEL
A staple in Winnemucca since the 1890s, the historic Martin delivers to-die-for lamb shanks and deep-fried sweetbreads for the real-deal Basque experience at lunch and dinner. House Burgundy wine comes with all full dinners, as does homemade bread pudding.
VILLA BASQUE DELI AND CAFE
This capital city restaurant is famous for flavorful homemade chorizo; it’s so good, you’ll want to grab a pound or two from the deli to take home. The casual atmosphere and unique offerings—think burgers with beef and chorizo patties—make this the perfect breakfast and lunch spot in Carson City.
THE STAR HOTEL
Built in 1910, The Star Hotel in Elko has been owned and run exclusively by Basques. Get ready to hear some of the language: it’s definitely still spoken here. The family-friendly bar is small and can be a busy, noisy place, but when you’re faced with a gorgeous steak the size of a dinner plate, everything else disappears.
OGI DELI, BAR AND PINTXOS
For breakfast and lunch, authentic offerings at Ogi Deli in Elko include the Solomo sandwich—pork loin with sauteed onions, peppers, and tomatoes—and pintxos, which literally means “spikes.” Think skewers of chicken or chorizo, fresh seafood, potatoes, and more, often served atop bread.
If you’re searching for excellent lamb chops, this is the good place (that’s a direct translation of Toki Ona) in Elko. The menu is a Basque-American combination, sure to please all palates.
LOUIS’ BASQUE CORNER
For rabbit just like Amatxi (grandma) used to make, Louis’ is your spot in Reno. Since 1967, this has been one of Nevada’s best-loved Basque restaurants. Try the oxtails, which are braised then baked and come with an out–of-this-world thick brown sauce. You’ll fight over the bread to sop up every last drop.
Visit travelnevada.com/basque to learn more.