It was time to hit the road to promote Taste Our Place, a program by the MT Office of Tourism (Dept. of Commerce) and MT Department of Ag. The goal – seek out food and beverage locations using Montana sourced ingredients.
Our first stop was Infinity Bakery in Havre. We didn’t have time for a sit-down lunch but we had time for some incredibly yummy scones, baked doughnuts and cookies. Infinity has a soup and salad bar in addition to an array of baked goodies. Note to self, buy a spare cookie or scone to go. Yes they are that good. I also noticed on their menu they are using locally brewed Triple Dog beer in a chocolate stout doughnut and in a kielbasa cheddar beer scone! So, where’s my food photo? Ahh, I was a little too hungry and it was gone by time I thought to take a photo!
After a nice little burst of sweetness from my scone, we headed just a few miles out of Havre to High Horizon Gardens hydroponic farm. Their lettuce and micro green growing operation was beyond impressive. Owner Cody Miles referred to it as “living lettuce” and that’s how it is sold. The butter lettuce was pretty enough to be a bouquet after he wrapped the roots in plastic wrap. Several varieties of lettuce were under the LED grow lights with a sophisticated water system underneath.
While High Horizon doesn’t serve their product, it is definitely Grown in Montana and then sold locally to restaurants and grocery stores. I sampled butter lettuce (tasty) and radish micro green (also tasty) but I was amazed at how peppery that was. Cody is currently growing about 600 heads of lettuce a week and his goal is 1,200. I’ll be looking for living butter lettuce at the IGA store in Havre and at 2Js Grocery in Great Falls.
Crawford’s Distillery was next on our agenda. Technically, it isn’t food but their distilled spirits are made from local grains and corn. Our choice was a
pretty drink, non-alcoholic style, with pomegranate juice and fresh squeezed lime. Named the Mutton Buster, it was also healthy. Other cocktails on the menu included local names like the Fresno Splash (for nearby Fresno Reservoir) and Hi-Line Lemonade for Havre’s location on US Hwy 2. Crawfords makes vodka, whiskey, rum and moonshine (named Milk River Moonshine for the local waterway). I learned that moonshine is made from corn and a sugar base and that it starts at 160 proof but is cut down to 80 proof. How do they know? A thermometer with a gauge is in the still and that shows the proof.
Crawford’s spirits can also be found at several lounges and One Stop Liquor in Havre. Noble’s Liquor Store in Great Falls also carries them. The distillery has been open over a year now and they have already purchased a larger location and hope to expand and serve casual food with their spirits.
To round out our day in Havre we stopped at Andy’s Supper Club, a longtime restaurant that changed
hands a couple years ago. The new owner made a few cosmetic changes and has local photography featured on the walls but that classic supper club feel remains the same. Andy’s rib steak comes from Bear Paw Meats and they use one variety of High Horizon’s lettuce in their salads.
We sampled several appetizers, a salad and shared a delicious steak. Their rolls were served with honey butter and the honey came from Buhmann Apiaries just east on US Hwy 2 near Zurich. Andy’s lounge carries several Montana distillery products and a wide variety of Montana brews.
Our first day ended at Virgelle Merc B&B in the restored homestead-era town of Virgelle, Montana. Our choice of lodging was either the B&B rooms over the antique store or individual homestead cabins. We chose the B&B rooms, all named for local people who lived there when the town was booming.
I took an evening stroll near the old railroad and it was so peaceful. When you live in a residential area of
a larger town you get used to the noise of traffic but Virgelle was so quiet. My night’s sleep came quickly and I didn’t wake up until I sensed the aroma of fresh brewed coffee and sausage being cooked on a wood-burning cook stove. Now that’s the way to wake up!
Our breakfast was baked stuffed French toast served with homemade chokecherry syrup (made from chokecherries picked right out my window at the B&B), fresh fruit, and sausage made in the nearby town of Big Sandy. It was one of those mornings where I could have sipped java and visited but I knew we had a busy schedule. Off we went to take the Missouri River ferry crossing and yes, we felt a little like Huck Finn as we sailed across the river!
A late-morning stop in Loma at Ma’s Loma Cafe had us visiting with owner Greg Bouchard. The cafe is a busy place serving breakfast, lunch and dinner along with a variety of desserts. Ma’s is on Central Montana’s Pie a la Road trail and the list of fresh-baked pies was extensive. We selected four different
kinds – sour cream lemon, cherry, apple and chocolate peanut butter pie. They were cut to share between the group and we all had our favorites. Greg’s wife Maria stepped away from the kitchen for a brief visit and photo. Local products used at Ma’s include safflower oil from the Oil Barn in Big Sandy, Montana milled flours and they also have Montana brews and spirits on hand.
Off to Fort Benton we went for our next food stop at the Wake Cup Coffeehouse & Restaurant. I’ve been to the Wake Cup many times and I have my favorite menu items but I tried something different.
My choice was pork carnitas, just the two-taco size since, well, I just had pie. Locally raised pork on my tacos was delicious and at my first bite I wondered if I should have ordered three! Amanda, Wake Cup manager, said they try to find as many locally grown or raised products as they can to serve at the restaurant.
Wake Cup also roasts their own coffee and a new addition to the other side of the historic building is
Golden Triangle Brewery. We visited awhile after eating and then Amanda said they had made a pie and wanted us to try it. Wake Cup is also on Central Montana’s Pie a la Road trail and of course we ate the lemon meringue pie she produced! The meringue was made with marshmallow creme, yum.
We squeezed in a visit to The Clubhouse in Fort Benton to talk up the Taste Our Place program with them. Cindy was very receptive and said in addition to serving Montana beers and spirits they use Wheat Montana buns for their extensive list of burgers. She filled out the forms right away and even though I’ve eaten at The Clubhouse before, I’ll be back to try a new menu item.
This road trip was almost over but we had one last stop in Fort Benton at the Union Grille in the Grand Union Hotel. We arrived early so we could visit with Chef Joshua Boyd. The list of Montana products they use in their food is very extensive and they take the extra step and tout products and their growing location on the menu. That’s really what Taste Our Place is all about.
Our group did a tasting menu that started with a smoked trout hush puppy. That was followed by ricotta gnocchi, pan roasted lamb saddle and dessert was cottonwood ice cream. Prior year’s seeds are saved from produce and we ate spiced squash seeds on our trout appetizer. Montana cheese was in the gnocchi, kamut was used in the risotto served with lamb, and our dessert had cottonwood bark flavors.
We definitely tasted Montana on our road trip. My recommendation is to look for a logo that says Taste Our Place and ask restaurants if they are able to use Montana products. Not only are they tasty, you support Montana’s economy. This week I’m “tasting” a little less food after our whirlwind tour but my memory is still vivid as I recall each item we ate.