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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 8: June 2021
Poem: 286 words
By William Heath

Louis’ Basque Corner

for Frank and Holly Bergon
 
If you’re bored by Reno’s casinos, 
those ersatz palaces of glitz, 
and hunger for sturdy food, 
Louis’ Basque Corner is the place. 
The old railway towns of Nevada 
had small hotels by their stations 
where Basque sheepherders 
from Spain and France found 
the basic comforts of home. 

After summering in the mountains 
and deserts with their flocks, 
in the winter they sought bed 
and board at a Basque hotel. 
Hearty fare, family style 
on long communal wooden tables 
covered by well-worn oilskin, 
Louis’ restaurant remains faithful 
to this culinary ritual. 

Start with a Picon Punch: 
in an ice-packed glass pour 
Amer Picon, a bittersweet orange-
flavored liquor from Marseilles, 
add a dash of grenadine, a splash 
of soda, a flourish of brandy, 
a rim-twist of lemon. Alumni 
of this potent aperitif caution: 
one, two, three, floor. 

Sharing a meal turns strangers into 
accomplices, everybody elbow-to-elbow 
as waiters arrive with “the set-up,” 
vegetable soup, a house salad 
featuring heirloom tomatoes, 
bowls of slow-cooked white beans, 
pungent bread, crisp fries fluffy on 
the inside, sprinkled with garlic bits, 
heaping platters of roast chicken. 

Topping the fulsome prelude, 
a selection of savory entrees: 
mountain oysters in season, 
sweetbreads in two styles—sautéed 
in garlic and onions or soaked 
in a red-wine mushroom sauce—
beef tongue or oxtail stew, 
juicy lamb chops or lamb shank, 
prime rib, steak to your taste. 

This Basque bacchanal is abetted by 
carafes of cabernet, tall mugs of beer, 
plates are passed, toasts proffered, 
good talk flows and feelings glow. 
Don’t forget desert: ice cream, 
a tangy variety of cheeses, 
fresh fruit, and strong coffee. 
Give thanks for this ample feast—
and for stopping at two Picons. 

 

 

Publisher’s notes:

1. Founded by Louis and Lorraine Erreguible in 1967, Louis’ Basque Corner has been feeding folks and celebrating Basque culture for half a century, and the Picon Punch is world-famous. In the following article, Larry Olmsted, “TravelFoodGuy” for USA Today, describes his visit to the restaurant (made the year after Louis and Lorraine had retired, and the new owners had made small changes): Great American Bites: Feast for less at Reno’s Louis’ Basque Corner (ABC News online, 23 February 2012).

2. The writings of Nevada novelist, critic, and essayist Frank Bergon focus on the history of the American West, and he is the only novelist to present Basque American experience linearly across four generations (Visions of a Basque American Westerner: International Perspectives on the Writings of Frank Bergon).

William Heath
Issue 8, June 2021

is a poet, novelist, historian, and scholar. More than a hundred of his poems have appeared in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies; the finest are collected in The Walking Man (Icarcus Books, 1994) and in his chapbook Night Moves in Ohio (Finishing Line Press, 2019). His most recent chapbook, Leaving Seville (2020), comprises poems from his time in Seville and time he spent in Catalonia with his wife, Roser, a native of Barcelona.

Heath is also the author of three novels. His first, The Children Bob Moses Led (Milkweed Editions, 1995; paperback, 1997), about the civil rights movement in Mississippi, won the Hackney Literary Award for best novel, was nominated by the publisher for the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, and was nominated by Joyce Carol Oates for the Ainsfield-Wolf Award. In 2002, Time magazine online judged it one of the eleven best novels of the African-American experience. In 2014, it was reissued as a twentieth-anniversary edition by NewSouth Books.

His second novel, Blacksnake’s Path: The True Adventures of William Wells (Heritage Books, 2008; ebook, Argo-Navis, 2013), which tells the story of an unsung hero of the American frontier, was nominated for the James Fennimore Cooper Award for the best historical novel and chosen by the History Book Club as an alternate selection in 2009. Devil Dancer (Somondoco Press, 2013), Heath’s third novel, is a neo-noir tale about the shooting of a stallion in Lexington, Kentucky.

In addition, he is the author of two nonfiction books: Conversations with Robert Stone (University Press of Mississippi, 2016; paperback, 2018); and a work of history, William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest (University of Oklahoma Press, 2015), the latter of which won two Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America for best Historical Nonfiction book and best first Nonfiction book, and was a finalist for the Ohioana Award for best book by an Ohioan and/or about Ohio as well as the Jon Gjerde Prize for Midwestern History.

Heath’s reviews and scholarly essays are published in The Massachusetts Review, The South Carolina Review, The Kenyon Review, The Texas Review, Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, The Journal of American Studies, The Indiana Magazine of History, and Northwest Ohio History, among others.

He taught American literature and creative writing at Kenyon, Transylvania, Vassar, and the University of Seville, where he was a Fulbright Professor for two years. In 1981, he began teaching at Mount Saint Mary’s University, where he served as faculty advisor for the college’s award-winning magazine, Lighted Corner; in addition, he edited a national literary magazine, The Monocacy Valley Review. He retired, in 2007, as a professor emeritus in the English Department.

Author’s website: www.williamheathbooks.com

 
 
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