On the culinary trail from Bozeman to Missoula
Sipping wine on a breezy summer day in a place called Paradise was a little slice of heaven, indeed. And it wasn’t the only experience that had me in high spirits on a three-day road trip that began in Bozeman and took us northwest to Missoula. With the guidance of our local Montana companions, my husband and I sampled surprisingly innovative dishes, traditional Montana classics, fine wines, craft beers and distilled spirits. Come along for a few tastes on our Montana culinary road trip.
“… Buy local. Be nice.” in Bozeman
The slogan on the side of Victory Taco’s food truck (shown below) captures the essence of Bozeman that we felt during our short stay. The town’s location is central to many of southwestern Montana’s outdoor attractions, there is a sense of community spirit, and the people we met couldn’t have been nicer. Although downtown Bozeman retains the historic appeal of the past, well-heeled new residents and big money infusions in recent years have meant a boost for the local economy. Downtown streets are lined with trendy shops, art galleries, and restaurants (including Montana Grill, billionaire and Montana rancher Ted Turner’s place). Although delicious traditional western food staples are available in and around Bozeman, an emerging food scene with much wider variety is creating interesting new venues and showcasing chefs.
122.5 W. Main Street, Bozeman
One of the very latest on the food scene in Bozeman is Victory Taco. Housed in a shiny silver 1948 aluminum Spartan Manor trailer on the corner of Main Street and Grand Avenue, Victory Taco has grabbed onto the gourmet food truck trend serving fresh tacos and homemade sauces. On their menu are imaginative concoctions of quality ingredients such as “The Fin” (grilled mahi, pineapple salsa, red cabbage, fresh guacamole, cilantro lime cream) and “The Bird” (Ancho lime chicken, roasted tomato sauce, red cabbage, pickled onions, and cilantro). They also sell homemade ice cream, an ingenious and irresistible combination of food offerings.
207 W. Olive Street, Bozeman
When a former elementary school faced demolition in 1992, a group of community members purchased the building for historic preservation and renovations began for what is now the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture. An upscale, yet casual restaurant, Emerson Grill, is also located in the building in this peaceful residential neighborhood just a couple of blocks from Main Street. The menu is Italian-inspired home-style American cuisine and the impressive wine list includes vintages from Napa Valley, Provence, and Tuscany. We devoured our entrées of risotto with sausage and swordfish (shown below). Starters included an ample serving of antipasti (with imported cheeses, meats and spreads), calamari, and a tasty baked brie in a puff pastry (with apricot, roasted garlic and sage).
The Nova Café
312 E. Main Street
For breakfast, the lively and cheerful Nova Café was perfect for fueling up before our busy day. Ingredients for their hearty breakfast classics as well as specialty dishes are supplied by local organic farmers and producers who are specifically listed on the menu. My choice of the Western Omelet was a good one, but others in our group opted for more creative fare such as cottage cheese pancakes with strawberries and rhubarb, the 1/2 and 1/2 Eggs Benedict option (one English muffin topped with pulled pork and the other with lox), and the Forager Omelet stuffed with a fungi and Portobello mushroom blend, artichoke heart, roasted red pepper, spinach, and provolone cheese.
121 W. Main Street
Craft distilleries have been cropping up in Montana since 2005 when state laws putting Prohibition-era restrictions on distilling were repealed. Bozeman Spirits produces vodka, huckleberry vodka, whiskey and gin (a bourbon whiskey will soon be added), all produced with locally-sourced grains and pure water from the melting snow of the Gallatin mountain peaks just south of Bozeman. It was here that I sipped my first Montana Mule (Bozeman Spirits 1889 Whiskey, ginger beer, and lime) served in a chilled copper mug. The spirits menu also includes temptations such as “Box O’ Chocolate” that is made with 1889 Whiskey, muddled Bordeaux cherries, orange, caramel, chocolate bitters and cherry juice.
Where to stay in Bozeman:
The Lark Bozeman
122 W. Main Street
Conveniently adjacent to Victory Taco is The Lark Bozeman. Originally a fairly typical small town roadside motel, the building underwent an impressive and inspired renovation to become the contemporary and alluring property it is today. The very comfortable 38 guest rooms and common areas have a hip atmosphere with elements of luxury and art.
Bozeman to Philipsburg via Butte (140 miles)
Imbibe and hang out with the locals in Butte
Butte is a picturesque old mining town named for the steep hill upon which it sits. The historic downtown is aptly called “uptown” as its buildings line streets climbing to the top. Visible on Butte’s landscape are 14 headframes, steel structures that are remnants of the town’s rich mining history. Headframes straddled mine shafts and were used to lower workers, mules, and equipment into the mines and to bring up loads of ore.
21 S. Montana St, Butte
Named for the iconic structures, Headframe Spirits, is a key player in the micro-distillery industry. Opened in 2012, its innovative and business-savvy owners, John and Courtney McKee, are producing spirits with advanced technology, a “continuous flow” distillation process, while honoring the historical roots of Butte. Numerous historical artifacts are on display in the tasting room which has the original hand-laid marble tile floor from the building’s days as Butte’s first Buick dealership. Each spirit in their product line is named for one of the key mines of Butte’s past with related images on the labels from the World Museum of Mining’s archives: Neversweat Bourbon Whiskey, Anselmo Gin, Destroying Angel (one of the four mining lodes directly beneath the distillery), High Ore Vodka, and Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur (a portion of the proceeds from Orphan Girl sales are donated to the World Museum of Mining).
2301 South Montana Street
Muzz and Stan’s Freeway Tavern is a great spot for mingling with the locals (one of whom is Evel Knievel’s son, a Butte native) and for getting a taste of good, old-fashioned saloon fare. A must-have food experience in Butte is a breaded and fried pork chop sandwich, for which residents are quite fond and zealously loyal to their favorite eatery. Having only tried the Freeway Tavern’s “Wop Chop”, I can’t make a claim to how it rates among the others, but it was delicious and I would have liked a second serving. Although I learned that Pabst Blue Ribbon is wildly popular in this part of Montana, a Sam Adams paired nicely with my sandwich.
Travel tip: If you’re visiting Butte between Memorial Day and the end of September, take the Trolley tour operated by the Butte-Silver Bow Chamber of Commerce to see the many historic landmarks in town and hear the interesting and entertaining stories about the town’s famous and colorful past residents.
Wine, dine, and mine in Philipsburg
About 55 miles northwest of Butte, mostly along a scenic two-lane road, is the quintessential small silver mining town of Philipsburg. First settled in 1866 as a trading center for the area, the town has been recognized as one of the “Prettiest Painted Places” in the United States and was selected by the governor of the state as Montana’s first “Tourism Community of the Year”.
101 W. Broadway, Philipsburg
One of Montana’s newest craft breweries, Philipsburg Brewing has an ideal corner location in a historic bank building constructed in 1888. With its bright open architecture, it is a warm and welcoming place to chat with locals and imbibe in lagers and ales made using Montana malt and local mountain spring water. Adding to the feeling of being in a western town of days gone by, there were two women dressed in period costumes greeting customers in a promotion for the upcoming Prospector Ball (July 2015).
From Philipsburg Brewery we crossed Broadway Street and went up a block to reach the cozy and rustic Silver Mill Restaurant which opened in 2012. Located in a registered historic building, it still has the original brick walls and hardwood floors, and a restored stamped copper ceiling.
Our dinner included a delicious and hearty steak and potatoes dish as you might expect to find in a Southwest Montana town. The surprise was in the nice wine list as well as diverse starters and other entrées of fresh seafood and pasta dishes. Chef Tony’s culinary training and passion go back to growing up in his family’s Italian restaurant business in New York State.
The Sweet Palace
109 E. Broadway, Philipsburg
Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, The Sweet Palace is a fun place to stop to see the enormous inventory of candy in this old-fashioned candy store. If you do have a sweet tooth, you’ll have no shortage of goodies to choose from with 50 kinds of fudge, 72 flavors of saltwater taffy, 20 varieties of caramels and an assortment hard candies including a colorful spectrum of candy sticks.
Travel tip: Visit Sapphire Gallery at 115 E. Broadway where it’s fun to do indoor mining by sifting through a bag of stones looking for sapphires. We found several beauties. The shop can also appraise, heat treat, and facet your new gems to be ready to wear.
Where to stay in Philipsburg:
103 W. Broadway, Philipsburg
Restored in 2003, each of the eclectic rooms and suites at the Broadway Hotel is decorated uniquely with vintage furnishings. Except for the updated Jacuzzi and bathroom, I felt like our room, Las Palomas (the inn’s honeymoon room), perfectly represented a room of fine inns of days gone by. And the Philipsburg Brewery is right downstairs — an added bonus!
Philipsburg to Paradise via Superior (170 miles)
Eat up then saddle up in Superior
Superior is a small town of about 800 people founded in 1869. The area is well-known for recreational activities such as horseback riding, hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, and enjoying the great outdoors.
116 Black Bear Trail, Superior
We spent a wonderful couple of hours horseback riding with Rugg’s Outfitting through the hills and meadows of the area. But before the ride, we got to enjoy a special Montana food experience — a BBQ lunch at a gorgeous setting on the Clark Fork River. Ray Rugg owner of Rugg’s Outfitting and one of our trail guides, grilled up local beef burgers (and a salmon filet for my pescatarian husband) for our group. Dunluce Brewing provided four of their tasty craft beers as the perfect accompaniment for our lunch.
Welcome to Paradise
After driving 38 miles (mostly on the St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway) from Superior , we reached Paradise. Paradise seems like a well-chosen name reflecting the gorgeous scenery all around, but some historians believe that the name is derived from “Pair O’ Dice,” which was the name of a roadhouse on the old trail through here.
Quinn’s Hot Springs
190 Quinn’s Canyon Road, Route 135, Paradise
We found a heavenly combination of excellent food, wine, and accommodations at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort. I loved our cabin, one of 13 luxury cabins just opened in 2013 facing the Clark Fork River and a railway running along the banks on the other side. The cabin itself was spacious with a separate bedroom, cozy living and kitchen areas, and a large contemporary bathroom. Before dinner, we spent some time on the swing watching the occasional train passing by while breathing in the fresh mountain air.
The Harwood House dining room dates back to 1948 and features a warm and welcoming fireplace. Steaks, seafood, and prime rib are specialties, but the menu also includes Montana favorites such as wild game meatloaf made with buffalo, elk, & ground beef. I couldn’t resist the sirloin which was nicely paired with a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a dry Italian red wine produced by Cantina Zaccagnini. The steak was so juicy and flavorful that I devoured it and the accompanying fresh asparagus without taking a photo. After dinner, we relaxed in the mineral hot springs pool, one of six soaking and swimming pools on the property.
Paradise to Missoula via Ravalli (70 miles)
Travel tip: Instead of taking the same route back southwest to Missoula from Paradise, we took a beautiful stretch of Montana Highway 200 east partially along the Flathead River that looped south through the Flathead Indian Reservation. There was a special culinary treat to enjoy on the way.
Make room for doughnuts in Ravalli
Ravalli is home to just over 100 people, but don’t miss stopping here along the way. Just be hungry when you arrive.
Windmill Village Bakery
26715 US-93, Ravalli
Open March through December
David and Nancy Martin are the friendly owners and bakers at Windmill Village Bakery. In this picture-perfect setting next to a peaceful pond and the namesake windmill, they turn out fresh pastries, pies and doughnuts every day. We had a few bites of their specialty pecan sticky buns, but the big draw (literally) is their potato-based doughnut which we tasted soft and warm right out of the fryer. Do not attempt to have two!
Get fresh in Missoula
Missoula is a bustling small city of 85,000 people. Home to the University of Montana it has a youthful vibe in its historic downtown with many shops, restaurants and cultural venues. The Clark Fork River runs right through Missoula and the Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers run nearby, making it a popular year-round destination for fly fishing, rafting, kayaking, and other water sports. In between eating and drinking experiences, we went on a fun and exciting kayak excursion on the Clark Fork River with Montana River Guides.
Clark Fork Market, Missoula Farmers Market, People’s Market
Various locations on Higgins Street
Every Saturday from May through October
The lively markets of Missoula are full of freshness, hand-crafted products, art, and entertainment. There was a wealth of baked goods, organic produce, fresh cut flowers, jams, and honey. But I was particularly impressed with more unusual offerings such as Wild Alaska Seafood (salmon, halibut and scallops); local beef, lamb and pork; artisan specialties like Camelina Gold, an oil made that is high in Omega 3’s and low in saturated fatty acids; and Silk Road’s locally made, but globally inspired, spice blends.
Plonk Wine Bar
322 N. Higgins Ave, Missoula
A college town in western Montana doesn’t necessarily evoke visions of an upscale wine bar with gourmet cuisine and artistic decor, but that’s exactly what Plonk Wine Bar offers. Our group sampled several beautifully presented and prepared dishes, fine wines, and cocktail creations while enjoying the bar’s eclectic music collection.
241 W. Main St, Missoula
I’m a big fan of many styles of pizza and dinner at Biga Pizza was a big treat where you can watch the pies being made and baked in the brick oven of the open kitchen. Locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients are found in their nice selection of homemade antipasto plates, salads, pizzas, and other items. Our group shared several pizzas, but my favorite was the mushroom & arugula pizza shown below (portabella and button mushrooms, herbed mascarpone, roasted garlic, mozzarella, fresh arugula, cherry tomatoes and herb oil).
Big Dipper Ice Cream
631 S. Higgins Ave, Missoula
Pizza and ice cream are always a good idea. So it was a welcome bonus to the evening to get dessert at Big Dipper Ice Cream, the final stop on our Montana culinary road trip. Big Dipper has received many accolades in media such as being recognized as one of America’s Best by Food and Wine Magazine and mentions on Good Morning America. We waited in line for about 15 minutes (not uncommon on a weekend evening) to place our order, and it was well worth the wait for their homemade ice cream which is available in cones, sundaes, floats, shakes and by the pints and quarts.
And that’s the scoop on our three-day road trip in the great state of Montana from Bozeman to Missoula!