Column: Remembering Carson's great restaurants

"Conversation is the enemy of good wine and food..."

- Alfred Hitchcock

All my life I've been a gourmet. Great food and drink are as important to me as anything in the way of worldly pleasures.

The purpose of today's column isn't to extol the virtues of the good old days, but is an attempt to remind you young "dot-commers" that your apparent lack of experience in the world of fine quality culinary creations has left you content with the mediocre fare being offered by most of today's dining establishments. You deserve better.

In the 1970s and early '80s, Carson City had, for the most part, better restaurants than it has today, and our population was under 25,000. When I say better restaurants, I'm talking about standard menus featuring superb quality ingredients and preparation. I'm not talking about unique food creations of the likes of my good acquaintance, Wolfgang Puck (Spago's of Hollywood and Las Vegas).

Of course, in those days we only had about seven or eight genuine dining restaurants, and in most instances the owners were the chefs. Please bear in mind that none of these restaurants had much in the way of atmosphere, but most were adequately decorated. Who eats atmosphere, anyway?

The old Bonanza restaurant on North Carson Street was an excellent steak house in the mid-1970s before the U.S. government changed its beef grading system, eliminating two lower grades and relaxing cattle feed requirements, making it possible to group the poorer grades into "choice." This eliminated the demand for "prime" grade, driving the price so high few restaurants could afford to serve it, so the Bonanza closed its doors rather than serve "choice."

The Guitar Restaurant, also on North Carson Street, featured some of the best Latin-American food I've ever eaten. The owners were Argentines who not only originated their own Argentine dishes but put a unique twist on their Mexican dishes.

There was nothing heavy about their food. Everything was light, extremely tasty and was well served. Today, no Mexican restaurant in this city can compare with the old Guitar!

Dug's West Indies, again on North Carson Street, was one of the best Polynesian restaurants you could ever hope to find. His exotic drinks were works of art (although he did short-pour the rum once in awhile) and his selections and quality were outstanding. As much as I'm a fan of John Ascuaga's, his Trader Dick's could never quite equal the consistency of Dug's West Indies.

Enrico's, also on North Carson Street, was another excellent restaurant for steaks and American-Italian dishes. The owner, Harry Ramirez, wasn't the chef but he knew quality as well as anyone. Also he had the best bar in town. It was a favorite watering hole for Carson City's movers and shakers including the Nevada Appeal's revered Guy Shipler ... and me ....

Hagel's Midway Inn, about halfway to Reno in a little "A" frame building in New Washoe City, was the premium place for prime rib. Hagel's quality was always outstanding and somehow he survived the meat crisis, procuring the best of the highly variable "choice" grade and properly aging it. He also had a fine bar with the most creative bartender (Morrie) in Nevada.

The Golden Dragon was the best Chinese restaurant Carson City has ever had. The vacant building is still standing next to Valley Chevrolet. Where Teddy Chu beat everybody was in the quality of his raw materials and his genius as a chef. He didn't cut corners which is so typical of Chinese restaurants. Seasoning can be camouflage while quality of ingredients is just that! Teddy got good prices for the best Chinese food this side of San Francisco!

Another of those fine Carson City restaurants of yesteryear is still in business. It's Heiss' Steak and Seafood House located on Telegraph Street cross from the Laxalt Building. This restaurant has managed to get consistently good beef for as long as I can remember. Perhaps their steaks are the best in town. I'm sure aging is their secret. It's a good solid meal with no frills.

In the Basque corner, last but not least is Thurmans' Ranch house out on Highway 50, which specialized in "Basque type" dinners and lunches. Thurman's is a good value, and I think their beef is generally better than the Basque restaurants in Gardnerville and Reno.

The only "new" Carson City restaurant in the same league with the first seven mentioned above is Garabaldi's, which specializes in Continental-Italian cuisine. It's excellent! Do my wife and I dine out these days? Not often, I'm afraid. When we can no longer contain the urge for great food and drink, we book a Crystal cruise. Then we work it off and get ready for next time.

Bob Thomas is a Carson City businessman, local curmudgeon and former member of the Carson City School Board and Nevada State Assembly.


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