When my wife and I were married, after a lovely ceremony in her parish church in Los Angeles and an all-too-brief honeymoon at the Highlands Inn in Carmel (during which I was hit by a car—but that’s another story), we met her dad at the San Jose airport (he had driven her truck with a few of her belongings—most came by moving van—up from Los Angeles) and drove from there back to Chicago where I had been living.
Different people have different strategies for travelling. Some meticulously plan their routes noting possible delays, road conditions, and weather with the objective of getting from A to B as quickly as possible. Others laboriously research the areas through which they will be travelling with an eye to seeing every possible—and I mean every possible—sight (this tended to be my dad’s strategy when we were kids). I travel by restaurant guide. Not the grandest or even the best restaurants but the most notable restaurants, particularly those that feature regional specialties.
So when we arrived in Reno to spend our first night on the road I knew where I wanted to eat that evening: Louis’s Basque Corner.
Most people don’t know it but all of the large towns in Nevada have a Basque hotel. You see, the Basques are shepherds and in the sheep country of the American West of Idaho, Nevada, and California there are quite a few Basque shepherds and hotels that cater to them. And the hotels frequently have restaurants. Some of the restaurants aren’t much. Some of them are very posh, indeed. In fact one of the finest French restaurants in Northern California is a Basque restaurant and it’s not unheard of for a Basque Master Shepherd to sweep into the place fresh from round-up, tracking sheep dung onto the fine carpet, and be greeted by the proprietor as visiting royalty.
In Reno the Basque hotel and restaurant is Louis’s Basque.
When you walk into Louis’s Basque you get to the restaurant by walking past a long wooden bar. Sitting at the bar are a few hard-drinking working men. Beyond the bar is a large room not unlike a church hall with some picnic-table type tables and chairs. That’s the restaurant.
Ordering at Louis’s is easy. “Chicken, beef, or fish?”, the lady asked. I ordered chicken, my new wife (probably wondering what she had gotten herself into) ordered beef. The meal began with vegetable soup which you served yourself from a substantial cauldron at your table. Then came salad—perhaps a half-bushel of freshly made tossed salad (which was excellent by the way).
Then our entrees arrived. Mine was a whole braised chicken on a platter smothered with green beans, peas, and onions. My wife’s was perhaps two pounds of roast beef. In case you got hungry they also brought out two casseroles for you—one of baked beans and the other of tripe.
Dinners are served family-style at Louis’s. We shared our table with an oenologist (a winemaker with a college education) and his wife. When the pitcher of wine we’d ordered arrived he tasted it, pronounced it “punch”, said “harsh, tannic wines can be improved a lot this way”, reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of cherry lifesavers. He carefully dissolved one cherry lifesaver in a little water, mixed it into the “punch”, and re-tasted it. He was right—it was very much improved.
Dessert wasn’t much—a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
I’d characterize the cooking as country French. Respectable. And the quantities! One thing I can guarantee you: you will not go away hungry from Louis’s Basque Corner.
Here’s the recipe for the baked bean casserole we were served. I’ve got the tripe recipe around here somewhere, too, if you’re interested.
Baked beans from Louis’s Basque
1½ lb. dried kidney beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups water
2 cups beef stock (homemade, canned, or from cubes)
3/4 lb. boneless pork, cut in small pieces
3/4 lb. ham steak, with bone
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ lb. Spanish chorizo or good Mexican chorizo, cut in 3/4 in. pieces (fresh Italian sausage works well, too)
Salt and pepper to taste
- Put the beans and at least twice much water into a heavy 8-quart pot.
- Cover the pot and bring it to the boil.
- Turn off the heat and let it sit for one hour.
- Drain the beans and return them to the pot.
- Add all of the other ingredients except the chorizo (or Italian sausage), salt, and pepper.
- Bring the whole shebang to a boil and simmer for one hour.
- Add the chorizo (or Italian sausage) and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- It’s done when the beans are very tendered and the liquid has thickenened.