ADVENTURER | CHARLIE JOHNSTON
Café at Adele’s has been a Carson City landmark on par with the Capitol and Governor’s Mansion essentially since Paul and Adele Abowd opened it in 1977.
And while Adele’s isn’t a seat of government, decision makers from around the state often fill its seats and attest to what has made the eatery one of Nevada’s favorites for 35 years. “This is the best place to eat in town,” says Carson City Mayor Robert Crowell during a recent lunchtime visit. The restaurant has come a long way since Paul and Adele lived upstairs and offered dinners a few nights a week, and new goings-on at the capital city’s culinary capital ensure that future generations of politicians, locals, and visitors will share in the mayor’s admiration for the restaurant.
When Paul and Adele’s son, Charlie Abowd, and his wife, Karen, took over the family business in 1994, the pair had already been at Adele’s for a while—Charlie as a chef and Karen as a waitress—and knew precisely how to continue growing its reputation. Constructed in 1864, the building was designed and served much of its life as a residence. As unique and aesthetically pleasing as it is to occupy a piece of the city’s history, it comes with a host of challenges, especially for a restaurant. In the kitchen as the midweek dinner crowd starts to trickle in, Charlie shows me the wall that was the exterior of the original house as he reminisces about the miniscule space he had before expanding. The kitchen is still a bit small by most standards, and I am amazed to imagine him churning out his culinary masterpieces in the tiny room he describes.
The litany of improvements and updates under Charlie’s and Karen’s stewardship extends beyond the kitchen and includes al fresco dining, a new wine and banquet room, and an overall modernization of the restaurant that was completed early this year. Karen employed her more than 40 years of professional interior design experience to maintain Adele’s classic charms while updating its ambiance. The once ubiquitous lace table clothes were jettisoned in favor of dark wood that joins fresh carpet and local art on the walls for a more contemporary feel. Some of the art is even Karen’s own, testament to the diverse skills the husband and wife team brings to the restaurant. A longtime patron who expressed concern before the remodel recently told Karen that the updates make her feel young again.
The most striking changes at Adele’s, however, are on the menus. “Charlie loves variety,” Karen says. “He has such a creative mind.” That imaginative approach to food is responsible for menus that can only be described as encyclopedic.
Most conspicuous among these changes is the addition of breakfast, served daily from 7 a.m. for the first time in the restaurant’s history. Hugely popular variations of eggs Benedict with velvety Hollandaise and local poached eggs on homemade biscuits steal the show. “I had to buy a bigger smoker to keep up with demand for the pork belly Benedict,” Charlie says with a chuckle. The pork belly variety joins a lineup that includes traditional honey-smoked ham eggs Benedict, meaty crab cakes eggs Benedict, and rich Filet Mignon eggs Benedict. Homemade pastries, Charlie’s locally famous chiles rellenos, bananas Foster pancakes, a Dungeness crab omelet, and more provide the same diversity and flawless execution at breakfast that regular lunch and dinner diners have come to expect.
Organic and locally sourced meats and produce star on new dinner and lunch menus that retain old favorites while incorporating new dishes that borrow from Charlie’s imagination and Lebonese heritage. The list of daily specials focuses on sustainable and wild-caught fresh fish and has been pared down, with many of the most popular specials taking up permanent residence on the regular menus. Lunch covers the gastronomic gamut from light to sizeable and pleasantly simple to tantalizingly complex.
Specialty salads such as herb salmon with tarragon vinaigrette and macadamia nuts and crab, shrimp, and combination Louis’ are among Adele’s most popular lunch dishes. Charlie’s pulled pork is another hot item and is available everyday on the open-faced pulled pork sandwich with melted provolone atop a house-made jalapeño cheddar biscuit and occasionally in specials such as whimsical pulled pork tacos with black bean and corn salsa.
Falafel spoon appetizers feature the Abowd family’s traditional recipe on a layer of creamy roasted red pepper eggplant hummus and are topped with zesty lemon garlic olive oil vinaigrette and cool yogurt enhanced tahini sauce. Dinner mains from succulent steaks and chops to coast-to-restaurant-fresh seafood and expertly executed international fare make full use of Charlie’s diverse repertoire. The Nevada Lamburger on a Dutch crunch roll with grilled onions, Jamaican relish, and optional goat cheese uses local lamb and is available for lunch and dinner, as is the equally well-liked chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich with Panko-crusted chicken breast topped with gooey melted Swiss cheese, maple-cured ham, and bacon.
It’s a challenge to find the pasta—linguine, gemelli, or angel hair; I suggest linguine—amid the generous portion of seafood in the Pasta Portofino. Flambéed clams, mussels, and shrimp are given a surprising and lively kick with red pepper and a hint of anchovy. A plump prawn and big flavorful lobster chunk top the dish and beg to be dipped in the accompanying warm drawn butter.
It’s little wonder that the Abowds’ inspired approach to food, atmosphere, and genuinely friendly service has won the eatery unparalleled respect and admiration among generations of diners. And it’s safe to say their enthusiasm and passion will continue Adele’s legacy for decades more to come.