Pass the pickled tongue: 2 more Basque restaurants open in time for the weekend

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Bakersfield takes pride in its Basque restaurants, but like restaurants of all types all across California, they’ve been shut down for all but takeout and delivery — if that.

But with restrictions easing and restaurants given the green light to re-open to dine in customers — with restrictions — the Basques are back. As of Friday, all of them. So diners who have been missing their pickled tongue are in luck. Two of Bakersfield’s favorite Basque restaurants are among the latest to come back.

Pyrenees Cafe opened Friday for the first time in almost three months. Owners Rod and Julie Crawford, who had given up on takeout orders after a few profit-less weeks, concentrated instead during the restaurant shutdown on repairs and additions.

The additions included vintage-looking — but new — booths, which replace the long boarding-house style seating arrangement rendered unworkable in this era of social distancing. Rod Crawford’s father built them.

Rod Crawford says it’s good to be back.

“It’s kind of a scary time for everybody,” he said, “and for my wife and me it’s been very, very nerve wracking. And all the changes that we’ve got to to do (mean) … we’re not going to be the same. We were wondering if people are going to come back. Well, people are going to come back.”

Pyrenees Cafe’s reopening means the four best known Basque restaurants in Bakersfield are all seating diners again — Wool Growers, Chalet Basque and across town, Benji’s French-Basque.

Owner Bernard “Benji” Arduain, who moved to Rosedale Highway in 1986, says he missed his customers and they missed him.

“We opened (Thursday) and it was very good, very busy,” he said. “Nothing (has changed). …. Just come in. We are ready.”

The seating arrangements at most of these restaurants are drastically different now; guests at Pyrenees might notice the missing bar stools. But the menus haven’t changed much and neither has the hospitality.

“I’m so tired of the restoration, the mess, the cleanup, trying to make things hospitable, make it safe,” she said. “It’s been a rough road. But we’re back, we’re open and we’re fully booked. And I’m ecstatic. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the day brings.”

So two more of Bakersfield’s favorite best restaurants are back just in time for the weekend. It will look a little different, but it’s been a long time coming.

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