I’ve passed through the town of Gardnerville many times on US Highway 395, usually during autumn ‘leaf-peeping’ road trips. Usually I would stop at the Overland Hotel‘s bar for a Picon Punch. Recently it closed because the long-term owner retired and sold the business (though it is due to re-open in 2015). When I posted about its closure I vowed to check out the other Basque restaurant and bar in town, J. T. Basque, as soon as I could return to the area. Last month I made it, and I’m so glad I did!
The lovely building that houses J. T. Basque Bar and Dining Room was relocated from Virginia City, Nevada, in 1896. Since that time it has been a Basque sheepherders boarding house with a saloon, dining room, and barber shop. In 1955 members of the Jaunsaras and Trounday families purchased the place, naming it J. T. Basque, after the first initials of their families’ names. In 1960 brothers Jean and Pete Lekumberry, immigrants from the French Basque area of the Pyrenees Mountains, took over the restaurant, keeping the name J. T. Basque.
For many years Jean was the bartender, his wife Shirley ran the restaurant and hotel, and Pete was cook. By all reports, Jean Lekumberry was a great host who made all visitors feel right at home…and he could really spin the yarns. He passed away in 1993, but a large photo of him hangs behind the bar as a friendly greeting to all patrons, locals and visitors alike, and his likeness is the restaurant’s logo (with his signature beret and cigar).
Today Jean and Shirley’s children, Robert, Marie Louise, and J.B., run the restaurant, with the same welcoming hospitality that their parents were known for. The Lekumberry family clearly cares for their historic treasure, having fully restored the building not long ago.
The dining room and bar is decorated with many photographs and displays memorializing the restaurant’s history and the Basques in the area (as well as wonderful seasonal decorations by Marie Louise and a ceiling covered with dollar bills in the bar). The owners’ passion and dedication is also evident in the wonderful service by all the staff and the delicious food, much of it from local sources, such as the natural grass-fed beef from the Lekumberry’s own cattle ranch in Genoa, Nevada.
As at most of the Basque restaurants in California and Nevada, the menu at J. T. Basque includes a choice of several meat entrees and is served Basque family-style with several courses (though at lunch you can order from an ala carte menu, if desired). Main dishes offered during lunch and dinner are top sirloin steak, lamb shoulder steak, chicken, sweetbreads, pigs feet with tripe, and lamb chops. On Friday and Saturday dinner you can also get shrimp scampi or roasted rabbit. Before your main arrives you are served all the homemade soup you want from a tureen, bread, a green salad with homemade vinaigrette, beef stew, and ranch style beans. You also get a bottle of house red wine!
I was torn between the rabbit and the lamb chops, but when I heard at the bar (over a pre-dinner Picon Punch) that the lamb was from a nearby ranch that had excellent meats I decided to go with the chops. Roasted garlic cloves are offered as a topping, and I highly recommend getting them. You get French fries with your entrée, in crispy ‘shoestring’ size, the only way fries should be prepared in my opinion! Thick ‘steak’ fries? No, thank you!
The lamb chops were amazing! So juicy and tender, on the bone with a good dark brown sear, and cooked just how I ordered them (medium rare).
After dinner you get ice cream and coffee. And you may want to return to the bar for another Picon Punch or two. On the night I went the crowd in the bar was jolly and friendly. Co-founder Shirley Lekumberry was there greeting old friends with her daughter Marie Louise, the restaurant’s hostess. I enjoyed chatting with Marie Louise about the history of the building and J. T. Basque. I can’t wait to return to try the rabbit or sweetbreads!
J. T. Basque
1426 Highway 395, Gardnerville NV 89410
Open for lunch Mon-Sat 11:30am – 2:00pm, dinner Mon-Fri 5:00pm – 9:00pm, Sat 4:30pm – 9:00pm