chefs table

THE REAL DEAL

J.T. Basque is as authentic as it gets.

WRITTEN BY BRETT FISHER
PHOTOS BY SHEA EVANS

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The restaurant’s historic exterior

There are Basque-style restaurants, and then there are Basque restaurants.

J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room in Gardnerville is the real deal, defined as much by its history and culture as the authentic cuisine inspired by Basque Country in Spain and France.

JT Basque PinconFord
An old Nevada license plate on a vintage Ford truck

The initials “J.T.” give a respectful nod to the restaurant’s previous owners, the Jaunsaras and Trounday families. Circumstances led Basque immigrants, and brothers, Jean and Pete Lekumberry to later purchase the establishment. And the Lekumberry family has owned and operated the eatery since 1960.

Becoming restaurateurs was not the brothers’ ambition, but they did show a knack for the business.

“Dad and Uncle Pete were very hard-working, enterprising guys,” says J.B. Lekumberry, Jean’s son, who now co-owns the restaurant with his sister, Marie.

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Marie and J.B. Lekumberry, owners of J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room in Gardnerville

Culinary community

A key ingredient of J.T.’s decades-long run has been an unwavering commitment to tradition, a value woven into the Carson Valley’s rural fabric.

“That thread still continues today and goes right to the heart of this community,” J.B. says. “That’s what we’ve been able to carry on for approaching 60 years.”

Generations of loyal patrons are as much a part of J.T.’s success as the family proprietors who have run it over time.

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Picon punch

“We — and our customers all through the years — have been stewards of that tradition,” Marie says. “There’s a real continuity here that brings people back.”

Tradition at J.T. includes providing quality food and an authentic Basque experience, complete with communal tables and a congenial spirit among diners.

“For us, it’s a pretty simple formula,” J.B. says. “We just have to keep doing it right and make sure we’ve got good food out there.”

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J.T. Basque’s character-rich bar

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Folded bills decorate the bar ceiling

Rustic cuisine

In the Basque culture, food is never wasted, and that includes animals harvested for consumption. Everything from the tongue to the tail and the organs in between is used in Basque cuisine.

J.T. is not only an authentic Basque restaurant, but it’s also decidedly Northern Nevadan, as the Lekumberry family uses local ingredients whenever possible.

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A hamburger with local Ranch One beef

From their own grass-fed, hormone-free, Carson Valley beef to local lamb and even domestic rabbits, homegrown meat products are something the family takes pride in offering patrons. When available, local produce, including Winnemucca potatoes and Smith Valley onions, is used as well.

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Lamb chops with garlic

“That’s important to us,” J.B. says. “We try to offer that as much as we can and introduce it into the restaurant.”

The staple of any Basque meal is a nourishing bowl of soup. At J.T. Basque, meals begin with cabbage soup, a savory vegetable medley featuring white beans, carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, diced tomatoes, and green cabbage, which gives it body, texture, and a distinctively sweet flavor.

An entrée course then follows — something hearty yet delectable, such as chicken and rice. The poultry is seasoned with lively spices and served on a bed of cooked rice that’s flavored with tangy tomato sauce, red bell peppers, peas, onions, garlic, and even a little bit of heat supplied by dashes of cayenne and white and black peppers.

“It’s like a sheepherder’s paella,” J.B. says.

Originally, chicken and rice at J.T. was a second dish left over from a Sunday chicken dinner, and it has since become an entrée on its own featured on the restaurant menu.

“What you had left over was always incorporated into the next day’s meal,” J.B. says. “Whatever was left in the kitchen became something else, and this dish came out of that.”

Using food from a previous meal is a common Basque practice, whether that means serving dinner leftovers for lunch the next day or making a new dish out of them.

“You just finish it up, and that’s always been our history,” he says. “It’s a true tradition.”

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Sweetbreads

Brett Fisher is a veteran print journalist with more than a dozen years of experience writing for publications in Oregon and Nevada. The native Oregonian and Oregon State University alumnus also is a self-described foodie who has been enjoying good eats throughout the Reno-Tahoe region for more than 15 years. He has called Carson City home for the past decade.

J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room
1426 U.S. Hwy. 395, Gardnerville
775-782-2074 • Jtbasquenv.com

Lunch served 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Mon. – Sat.; dinner served 5 – 9 p.m. Mon – Fri., 4:30 – 9 p.m. Sat.

Cabbage Soup

(courtesy of J.B. Lekumberry, co-owner, J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room in Gardnerville. Serves 20)

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2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 medium yellow onion, halved and sliced

2 large carrots, peeled, split, and diced (about 2 cups)

4 ribs celery, split and diced (about 3 cups)

1 head green cabbage (core and stem removed), chopped into 2-inch chunks

16 fluid ounces diced tomatoes, puréed

2 large bay leaves

1/16teaspoon Mediterranean oregano (small pinch)

1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes

6 quarts homemade beef, chicken, or vegetable stock, or 6 quarts water plus 8 fluid ounces beef consommé plus 2 tablespoons wet chicken base (jarred, not dried)

Optional: 1 cup potatoes, peeled and diced or 1 cup small white beans (cooked)

Cook garlic and onion in 8-quart pot over medium-low heat with a little oil. Sweat onion and garlic. Add 6 quarts of your homemade stock, or add 6 quarts water along with 8 fluid ounces consommé and chicken base. Add bay leaves and oregano, then increase heat to high. Add celery and carrots. Bring to boil. Add cabbage and blended tomatoes, and return to boil. Add parsley flakes and potatoes or white beans (if desired). Bring to medium boil for 30 minutes. Salt and pepper, to taste. To eat for lunch, start cooking after breakfast, or after lunch to eat for dinner. Enjoy!

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