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Welcome to delicious Destinations, a GourmetStation blog. Through the charater of T.Alexander and occasional real-life guests, our aim is to share with you light-hearted fun ideas about food, gift giving, entertaining and culture. At the same time we would love you hear from you. Please share your experiences from home or abroad.

Mountains From Coast to Coast

Posted: October 27, 2008
by: Mark Stine

This past Labor Day, pre and post, I had the good fortune to visit my place in Banner Elk, NC…a beautiful, peaceful place where I often end up being just plain lazy. Resting reading… and as happened this trip, watching a CSI Las Vegas marathon. You may remember Banner Elk from last year’s blog. This portion of the trip was pre Labor Day…..post Labor day I ended up in Reno visiting ski buddy and environmentalist, of the Sierra Club variety, Dave Hornbeck.

Reno is a small easily managed town….high desert surrounded by mountains with Lake Tahoe within easy striking range. Dave is lifelong resident, stints hopping around the globe not withstanding. The first day after my arrival, we did a walking tour from his close in suburban styled home to downtown Reno. Situated along a scenic river…Reno, while hosting gaming like Las Vegas, was actually a real city before gaming ever came along, with lots of local flavor and history.

One of the spots we stopped in for local flavor and refreshment was a Basque Bar/restaurant. Basque influence abounds around town and in many of the surrounding mountain community areas.


The bar was empty save for one individual, who Dave finally recognized as an old acquaintance. We were greeted with a smile by Erika, the bartender. Dave ordered us something called Picon Punch. I heard it as Pecan Punch…having lived in the south for so long…I thought Picon was just a peculiar local dialect for Pecan. Wrong!!


Picon Punch


* Torani Amer / Picon Amer  (American and French versions of the liqueur)

Club Soda


Lemon twist


So try one and enjoy!

from www.wineglobe.com

* Torani Amer is a liqueur made in a similar style to Amer Picon, a French aperitif with notes of bitter orange, cinchona bark and gentian. It's almost impossible to find Amer Picon -- a key ingredient in the Basque cocktail Picon Punch -- in the States these days, but fortunately the South San Francisco-based Torani syrup company has filled the cocktail gap with this version. This is a very sophisticated liqueur, and probably not to everyone's taste, but people who enjoy Italian bitters such as Fratelli Averna will likely love Torani Amer, and some folk who usually shun such products might just enjoy it in the Hoskins Cocktail.

Esquire magazine had a recent article coincidentally on Basque food. “Traditional Basque food specializes in its mastery of sweet and hot peppers, salt cod, anchovies and fish and shellfish from the Bay of Biscany”

The bar adjoined a family style Basque restaurant, with checkered green table clothes



and a lively history in its long term location, provided a wonderful old world ambiance backdrop. As a boost to the potential future of the area, a new minor league baseball stadium was being constructed nearby and should contribute lively crowds and patrons to this area for many years to come.

If you are interested, check out the Santa Fe Hotel, not an operating hotel now, but where the “Family Style Basque Dinners” are served up and worth the price of a tasty Picon Punch too. And when you are there say hello to Erika! She was very informative and friendly and while not Basque…certainly knew her local history.


Santa Fe Hotel

235 Lake Street

Reno, NV

775 323 1891

Lots of historic old buildings have been preserved in downtown Reno, so if you have the chance, take a walking tour of town. The old Postal building…art deco vintage is one worth checking out. There are plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants, some fronting on the scenic river, to give you rest spots along the way as you tour.

The next day it was off to the mountains of California. The destination was to an area north of Yosemite. There is a wilderness area north of Yosemite and north of that is a recreational area in the Stanislow National forest. We were headed off to the family cabin  there…a rustic affair dating to 1923 built on National forest land that are maintained through long term leases. On the drive up, the first stop was Levitt Lake.


An alpine lake surrounded by incredible mountain peaks, I would like to have said that I hiked in the four miles to reach it from the main road, but four wheel drive got us there over some rough bumps, even if Dave’s vehicle did take some scratches from some road hugging brush. Great fishing there if you care to give it a try.

The next stop, at a slightly lower altitude was Kennedy Meadows, which to me felt like a step back into 1940’s California. Tall pines….horse corrals… old buildings, barns and the smell of campfires. What was intriguing was the bar area (are we detecting a theme here?) which was spartan in appearance and featured a dance hall area adjacent with old framed photos on the wood lined walls. We were 3 hours from Reno, yet the Basque influence was evident again with shots that looked to be from the 30’s. All you hear about today is Basque Separatists ...but I found nothing but Basque integration going on, in food and drink and warm cultural influences. …this influence came about through Basques arriving from France and Spain to work in the sheep industry moving herds of sheep between grazing areas with their specialized dogs.


The real treat though, was rustic camping and hiking at Mill Creek, a campground area. an hour or so drive from Kennedy Meadows …adjacent to the rustic old cabins, some which have been in the same families since the 20’s Localized hikes uphill, (actually up mountain ) revealed spectacular views of the Dardanelle’s a series of three peaks…as well as up close looks at lava flows in an area that was very active 100,000 years ago.


Back at the Hornbeck cabin…after hiking and touring about, I slept on an outdoor sleeping porch. The views at night were incredible with a stunning glow from the milky way, views of ancient red spruce soaring like spires into the night and occasional shooting stars. (more pedestrianly  known as asteroid debris burning up in the atmosphere).

The air even in early September was crisp at night and cold weather sleeping was a welcome respite. However it being bear and cougar country…at every snap crackle and pop all night, it had me snapping to attention! How did the pioneers ever do it?? We won’t talk about the baby bear I swear I saw in the shadow of the flashlight one night around 2 am, munching on the spilled dog food, which actually turned out to be a shadow cast by the Weber grill. Ah yes…something to laugh about in the light of day.

If you ever get up this way, make a point to also stop at the Pine Crest Lake reservoir. Surrounded by cabins of varying vintage, there is a wonderful hiking trail which takes a few hours to circumnavigate the lake and brings you back past a beach area. It all had a distinctly 1950’s “Summer Place” feel to it… a place locked in time….warm ..safe…secure….without all the drama of that old movie.

Eating was also a treat….cooking on vintage stoves and heating devices at the cabin, my host Dave, in addition to being a lawyer, former pilot, Sierra Club hike leader and one man historian was able to pull off some tasty meals…all with some great wine.


This was one of my better Labor Day holiday memories, thanks to my place in the mountains of North Carolina and Dave’s family cabin in the Sierras of California. Two different world views of the mountains, culture and food…and a bear’s shadow too!

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