By Virginia Still
Four years ago, Executive Chef John Gardner and his business partners, Frank and Annette Lemos, took over the location at 2600 Geer Road in Turlock and after months of remodeling, they opened Table 26 in March 2015. The menu is consistently changing and revolves around the seasons, local ingredients and creativity.
“It is difficult to find establishments that want to lead with passion; that is where I have become fortunate and have been a part of establishments that have allowed me to utilize my creative uniqueness,” said Gardner. “Now I have my own place and I am blessed to be here.”
The remodel began from the ground up, removing carpeting and laying down concrete as well as adding a banquet room with a wall of deconstructed wine boxes and new décor. They also turned the former freezer space into two walk-ins that contain produce, dairy, meat and other products.
Paying homage to a restaurant in Modesto that he loved so much back in the day, Chef Gardner prides himself in serving up a phenomenal steak. One thing that sets the steaks at Table 26 apart are that they come from Omaha, Nebraska and are cooked over an Oakwood fire grill. They offer a few different size rib eyes for the meat eaters like the 20-ounce certified Angus Beef Chef Rib-Eye topped with thyme roasted mushrooms, the 12-ounce Ancho Chili Rubbed Rib-Eye, and the 12-ounce grilled Rib-Eye topped with roasted garlic butter served with a baked potato and sautéed seasonal vegetables. The Chef’s rib-eye changes every season depending on what is available.
“I grew up going to that restaurant and it is no longer there,” added Gardner. “Their steaks were always amazing because of the smoke they use and actual wood and not gas. This gives it flavor and other characteristics. I think that plays true for what we do. There is always the ability to put out a product but how do you do that properly and make it a little bit better.”
Although the grilled rib-eye is a number one seller at the restaurant, another staple is the Jack Daniels steak which is a 10 oz. certified Angus beef blade filet that is bbq basted and served over cheddar mashed potatoes topped with crispy onions and mushroom and bacon braised green beans. The Oak Grilled New York on the menu is another top seller served with truffle mashed potatoes, arugula salad with a balsamic glaze and Pt. Reyes mushroom ragu.
“We are cooking down these beautiful mushrooms and tossing them with Pt. Reyes blue cheese at the last second, it is just warm and delicious,” Chef Gardner passionately explained. “It is just rich and clean with that blue cheese. Then we hit it with a couple olive oil roasted tomatoes that cut the richness and acid. They are meshing with each other and it is just like going back and forth so it all goes well together and then that truffle brings out that richness as well.”
The ability to make it better is important to Gardner, even if it means grinding peppercorns for fresh ground pepper instead of buying ground pepper. They also use Fiscalini cheese for their cheddar mashed potatoes and other recipes. Wine is purchased from local wineries including Lodi, Fresno, Napa, and Amador to continue the true support of local business.
The Cioppino is a guest favorite and is a bowl filled with goodness including clams, mussels, crab legs, cod, salmon, tuna, and calamari that emphasizes the local area, using olive oil from Lodi, tomatoes from Modesto, Ratto Brothers basil and parsley as well as Gilroy garlic.
A constant throughout the year and something very special that you can find at Table 26 is their selection of cheeks. Whether it is halibut cheeks, pork cheeks, or beef cheeks guests will be able to find a cheek on the menu. Originally, when they were talking about putting cheeks on the menu, the owners weren’t sure that it would work. However, three years later the cheeks are coveted and are a crowd pleaser. This fall, beef cheeks will be on the menu served with horseradish mashed potatoes and crockpot sauce.
“The beef cheeks are constantly used so it’s this muscle that has this rich flavor,” added Gardner. “Because the more the muscle is used the more flavor it has. We go ahead and we break that down with that local wine and we braise it for about four or five hours and honestly the only way that I can describe it is, hey, it is beef cheeks.”
Another fall menu must-have is the roasted butternut squash risotto made with local squash that is grown minutes away from the restaurant.
With an Executive Chef that started culinary school at age 17 and grew up canning with his grandfather making batches of pickles, olives, and jams, his love for food can be savored in his unique dishes and the passion for food can be seen on his face.
All three owners are from the local area and wanted to create a restaurant where people felt comfortable; like being invited to their dinner table at home. They serve up lunch and dinner and a Sunday brunch with bottomless Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s.
Table 26 has a full bar and is open six days a week; closed on Tuesdays.
“In the kitchen we make sure that we are putting as much thought and effort as we can,” stated Gardner. “It is expensive but, in our opinion, it is the best way to go. I think that is where we found our success. This restaurant has progressed and we have meshed very well together and we have created a great concept; one that you can see. We are just wanting you to join us at our table.”
If you go
2600 Geer Rd, Turlock, CA 95382
Sunday – 10 am to 9 pm
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 11 am to 9 pm
Friday – Saturday, 11 am to 11 pm