At Adele’s Restaurant good food is in the family’s blood.
WRITTEN BY MIKE COLPO
PHOTOS BY CHRIS STOWELL
Good chefs believe that good cooking is an act of expression. Great chefs know that it is an act of creation. It is these rare alchemists, deftly balancing technical proficiency and artistic inspiration, who understand that what they create is not a meal, but a carefully assembled collection of memories, ambiance, and allegiance that only honest, thoughtfully prepared food can inspire. If the highest art of a cook is to create not a meal but a memory, then success can only happen once the physical results of their labors are destroyed. A transformative meal only changes a life once it has been eaten. And so it is that the work of a great chef is, by its nature, an act of deepest trust.
Honesty and trust are some of the first words mentioned in virtually every conversation about Charlie and Karen Abowd, owners of Adele’s Restaurant in Carson City. Charlie’s father, beloved local chef Paul Abowd, opened the restaurant more than 33 years ago, naming it after Charlie’s mother. Charlie and Karen purchased Adele’s from his father 18 years ago, and have been hard at work maintaining its well-deserved reputation ever since. It’s a task they take seriously and enjoy fully.
“I have a deep respect for my parents and longtime customers,” Charlie says. “Some of these folks have been coming here regularly for 33 years. I mean, this is not my restaurant. I’m just the innkeeper.”
Despite Charlie’s comforting humility, the Abowds didn’t just stumble into a successful business. They have steadily cultivated the Adele’s reputation by consistently satisfying customers and maintaining a farm-to-table relationship with local growers that borders on legendary. It’s a rare business that can boast owners who the suppliers describe as “great,” “wonderful,” and “fiercely loyal.” It is to these relationships –– more than the recipes, the stunningly diverse menu, or the swoon-worthy wine list –– that the Abowds devote their considerable energy and passion.
But what about the food? For Charlie and Karen it all starts with a place. Their roots may be planted firmly in Nevada soil, but their epicurean inspiration takes its cues from regular culinary pilgrimages.
I had the pleasure of speaking to the Abowds before and after a recent trip to Arizona. Prior to departure, Charlie exclaimed, “First place we’re going when we get off the plane is this amazing pizza joint. Best pizza in the country! We’re going to order four pizzas!” He then described at length the various ways in which this superlative pizza achieves its noted supremacy –– so vivid and enticing were the descriptions that after our interview I sped home and eagerly whipped up a homemade margarita pie (Ediblecommunities.com/renotahoe/blog/say-cheese.htm).
Upon his return, talk simmered on the subjects of Hatch chiles, and a remarkable wine being made in Arizona by a certain well-known musician (Caduceus.org).
The Abowds are planning an upcoming trip to Turkey to garner inspiration for their recipes and, more significantly, to study the country’s self-contained and thriving food shed in hopes of gathering lessons applicable to Nevada’s similar climate. How does this relate to the dining experience at Adele’s? Charlie sums it up nicely: “You can always tell where I’ve been last by what’s on the menu.”
Indeed, it’s a comment that captures two of the most elemental components of Adele’s infamous menu: the stunning variety of its peripatetically inspired selections, and Abowd’s commitment to supporting local farmers and local foods. Passionate food pilgrims the Abowds may be, Karen and Charlie also are very much citizens of their community. They express this unique blend of worldly wanderings and deep Nevada roots nowhere more eloquently than on a menu that is as utterly mouthwatering as it is deserving of its legendary reputation.
“The quality of what’s produced here is like nowhere else I’ve worked,” says Anthony Kingsland, the floor manager at Adele’s. Charlie and Karen’s values, and their commitment to quality, Kingsland says, “make it easy to stand up for their product. There’s simply less food going back to the kitchen.” For the person manning the front of the house, this is a sure sign that the kitchen staff does its work right the first time and that the customers are happy.
Of course, all of these things mean precious little to diners if the food is not delicious. Taste buds stand up and take notice when introduced to a delicious meal, often compelling the diner to respond with vague murmurings of “yum” and “mmmmmm.” But our taste buds also are tied to higher faculties, deeper parts of ourselves that are only aroused in the presence of the sublime. These wiser elements of our spirit avoid the disappointing insufficiency of words in favor of a deep and respectful silence.
During our most recent meal at Adele’s, my fiancé and I sat down and quickly settled into a robust conversation about our upcoming wedding. It was one of those talks fated to end not in compromise, but a clear, one-sided victory. We slipped past our bread and wine almost without notice, too engrossed in conversation. And then an appetizer of salmon spoons arrived.
“Oh!” Their delectable appearance was a pleasant surprise.
We thanked our server and returned to the debate at hand. “You see,” I began in earnest, “if we do that, then we need to be ready for …”
And then I took a bite. Oh. Oh. … Silence. My eyelids gently descended. My shoulders relaxed. The creases simply slid off my brow. Peace, quite literally, filled me. My fiancé gave me a smile, recognizing the start of a “food moment.” That was before she took her first bite, at which point I watched as she began to inhabit her own private island of relish and indulgence.
We remember little about our conversation that evening. What we do remember –– vividly and viscerally –– is that meal. It was perhaps the best either of us had ever had. But more than that, as the bites slowly disappeared and we slipped toward the bittersweet finale, we remember a deep feeling of gratitude. We had shared in something only a great cook can provide. At Adele’s, the preparation of a meal begins long before the food ever enters the kitchen. It starts in the soil, at the hands of a trusted farmer. It passes on to Adele’s, and in the hands of the dedicated staff, that food becomes something with the power to plant us firmly and faithfully in the soil of our home.
Mike Colpo is a local editor and writer who gladly drives a rust-bucket because he ends up spending all of his money on really good food.
Here’s a sampling of locally produced goods
you’ll find on Adele’s menu
* Carson City Farmers’ Market, Carson City
Misc. veggies, fruits, berries, and cherries
* Churchill Butte Organics, Steve and Marcia Litsinger, Dayton
Herbs, leafy greens, salad mix, spinach, and sunchokes
* Hungry Mother Organics, Mark O’Farrell, Minden
Mixed veggies, eggs, tomatoes, melons, and herbs
* Lattin Farms, Rick Lattin, Fallon
Onions, misc. veggies, leaf salads, spinach, and melons
* Nancy’s Green Barn Farm, Nancy Dineen, Dayton
Eggs, turkey, and goose
* Nevada’s Own Perennials, Dan & Rachel McClure, Smith Valley
Mushrooms, tomatoes, and herbs
* Rawhide Meats, Walker Lake (via Wolf Pack)
Misc. cuts of range-fed meats, primarily beef
* Smith & Smith Farms, Brenda & Carole Smith, Dayton
Misc. veggies, berries, and cut flowers