I have returned from the vastness of the Great Northwest a better person. Now a wiser and happier young man, I feel it necessary to share with you some mention of the food I consumed and some of the events I was privy to [even if those events were of an incriminating nature].
Glacier National Park is in the Northwest section of the expansive state of Montana and I’m pretty sure it’s the only national park shared by both the United States and Canada. Whatever the case, it gets damn cold in the winter and one can only assume that Jack Torrance would be quite comfortable there during those months. Suffice it to say that I haven’t heard of any confirmed sightings of those freaky little twins. While the weather can be downright unbearable at times, in late July, the days are comfortable and the nights a cool breeze of calm.
Our drive to Glacier National Park started in nearby Kalispell and eventually took us to West Glacier and ultimately East Glacier. As you might have guessed, WG and EG flank the park. While Kalispell has succumbed to the pressures of corporate America, albeit well short of complete inundation, East and West Glacier are fairly devoid of anything remotely representative of large scale commercialism. Speaking specifically to East Glacier, a seasonal boom town, their internet free zone is made up entirely of Five and Dime trinket stores, local one-off eateries, a few watering holes, and all the outdoors and huckleberries any human could possibly consume. I think it safe to say that we found our meals in remote Montana surprisingly solid and at times … flat out awesome.
The Belton Chalet
Kalispell is a fast-growing but small town of roughly 20,000 denizens and as you head east for the Rockies, it stands as the last bastion of Burger Kings for some distance. As we worked our way across Route 2 and past the handful of very popular local eateries, Papa Buddha and I settled in at The Belton Chalet in West Glacier.
A fun little joint that was teeming with life when we arrived, The Belton Chalet is both a lodge and a restaurant. The interior is a charming flotsam of knick knacks with a cornucopia of odds and ends decorating the walls and enough rooms that I spent more than a few minutes peering around corners. As it stands, between the uniforms for the waitresses and the overall look of the place, it’s easy to identify with the Swiss/Bavarian Chalets from across the pond.
During my one and only interaction, I found the food quite pleasant, even if a little odd. The out of place Vietnamese duck tacos ($11) were not so much tacos as "enclosed tortillas of the flash fried variety." Though perhaps not an ideal representation of any specific cultural inspiration, bites of crispy exterior showed well with the juicy bits of Donald found within. The accompanying sides of julienned vegetables and Vietnamese sweet sauce were just good enough to not detract from our focus on the weekend to come.
Despite several other out of place menu listings and copious amounts of bacon within said menu, we gladly ordered more straight-laced Montana grub for our entrées. Both my Delmonico (above – $34) and Papa Buddha’s bacon-laced elk special ($33) were delivered at the requested medium rare and each went down with no less than a grin.
Service from all of the embroidered up ladies remained pleasant and energetic throughout the course of our meal, a none to surprising fact considering the area’s reliance on tourist dollars. Forgoing any comparisons to restaurants in culinary hotbeds, The Belton Chalet offered a reasonably priced meal under the circumstances. Channeling our innermost Cookie Monster, we downed some raspberry short bread in short order and walked out the door perhaps most disappointed by our inability to secure mountain view seats.
Go East Young Man
The subsequent drive out R2 was a beautiful landscape against the backdrop of a slowly diving sun. Watching the road with a seductive sunset strip tease just out my side window was no easy task. I did spend a disproportionate amount of time wondering how Montana authorities handle the temporal speed restrictions denoted by the unhelpful phrase of “nighttime speed limit” on all of the posted signs.
Arriving in East Glacier to a bachelorette party in full swing and the groom’s gathering of lifelong friends, it was apparent that these two crews were settled in, each with their own longtime familiarities. By night’s end, we were all fast on our way to making the weekend one for the ages. Neither food nor drink nor fun was out of reach for the next few days.
Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant is East Glacier’s de facto Mexican offering. Opened in 1990 in a building with a long history, Serrano’s has a seemingly non-stop flow of patrons (at least during the months when the town is operational). A family owned joint, Serrano’s actually expanded into a few Montana towns; however, they have reduced back down to a single outpost for no reason other than the preservation of the owner’s sanity.
Witness to the tacos during the Rehearsal Dinner and a quesadilla during a to-go session, Serrano’s showed as strong as one might expect for any Mexican restaurant found outside of an area heavily populated by Mexican natives or their nearby compadres. Actually, the food at Serrano’s was easily better than a number of restaurants found in those areas!
During the Rehearsal Dinner, where we packed the backyard, enough of the guests were face first in a plate of soft flour tortillas laden with stewed meats, competent salsas, and necessary fixins’ that my night was left to discussions more important than ones of culinary adventure. Still, with my cover as Atlanta’s resident restaurant grouch sufficiently blown mere moments after arriving, plenty of people took the time subject me to an onslaught of "How would u describe the food Foodie B?"). Thanks to the fresh execution (even in buffet form), I was able to give an honest but admittedly neophyte response: “Really good.”
My visit a few days later gave me the opportunity to analyze the menu. Ultimately, Serrano’s menu is a very diverse cross-section of regional offerings from California to Texas and down into Mexico. A low risk, high return experience, I saw many a folk slinging back a margarita or five and gleefully walking out after a reasonably priced, fun little escapade. With freshness a seemingly inevitable feature for a restaurant this busy, I ended my two visits with similar feelings as the other guests. Save for the fact that these guys don’t make their own tortillas, I had no problems with the chicken quesadilla I took out the door. Without any frame of reference for the rest of the food, I can say that if the tacos and quesadilla are any indication, you should be in for a tasty good time.
Glacier Peaks Casino
Unfortunately, pictures of my jaunt to the nearby Glacier Peaks Casino have been lost in the annals of bits and bytes. Located in Browning, MT, Glacier Peaks is coin casino in the heart of Blackfeet country. As with many of the Indian Reservation operations, there are no table games at the casino. Some ten-miles from East Glacier, Glacier Peaks Casino is as high on eye candy and foodie novelty as it is on nighttime danger. More than a handful of locals made mention of that. Still, the promise of Native American frybread was enough to coax me into visiting the casino’s Jackpot Restaurant. That the casino was actually producing frybread topped with meats (aka “Indian Tacos”) was all the more reason for me to take the drive.
For those unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, frybread (aka fry bread or fried bread), is a doughy flat bread introduced to the Americas by its various native tribes. As with many dishes that hail from a widespread geographic base, there are a multitude of examples each defined by the individual tribes who produce the fried bread. Thankfully, others out there have given frybread more attention.
Truth be told, the example in Browning was pretty underwhelming. Without the depth of great ingredients, the bites seem most likely to impress on account of the food’s scarcity off the reservations.
Meanwhile, if the food truck fever for novelty tacos is any indication, one can only wonder how long until at least one mobile dispensatory starts dishing out something similar to these Indian tacos. Fun to eat because of their scarcity, these frybreads topped with smoked and pulled meats offer a window into a culture and cuisine often overlooked.
Two Medicine Grill
What waffle house is to Southeast US, Two Medicine Grill is to East Glacier. I believe it’s the town’s only year-round restaurant; and, as one might expect by the previous sentence, this diner offers an orgy of post-debauchery dishes chock-full of processed, fried, and probably fried again goodness. Too bad they close at 9pm!
Still … can u really complain about two pieces of engineered bread wrapped around grease-oozing bacon amongst a gooey stratum of sliced American ingenuity (even if its good … it’s not really cheese)? Who doesn’t desire a basket of *tempura* fried grease sticks (baby carrots) & discs (zucchini)?
If the answer to those questions is anything but no and me, then you didn’t drink enough in the hours leading up to your visit to Two Medicine Grill. Even the most callous of souls can take comfort in the huckleberry milk shake, Josh-2’s favorite pies, and the locally infused and festooned walls.
Whistle Stop Café
By the time I left the outskirts of Glacier National Park I had learned three somewhat amusing truths. First: people take pictures of the dumbest shit. Second: that East Glacier might as well go on the record and declare itself the huckleberry capital of the world. Third: unlike the other eateries I visited, who might need to be framed against the confines of other vacation eating establishments, Whistle Stop Café stands up against restaurants of its ilk from all over.
In four mornings in the park, I made four pre-10 am visits to Whistle Stop, a small restaurant willing to hand out free puppies at a moments notice. For anyone who reads me regularly, you will probably recall my unwillingness to voluntarily rise before anything ending in pm and my unabashed and frequent lambasting of even the most popular breakfast joints. Keep that in mind!
If you have a yearning to coax your sweet tooth out of a deep and early morning slumber then I will tell you that the huckleberry French toast at Whistle Stop is a "for the table" requirement, even if you find yourself in the umami and savory camps. And though I’m firmly entrenched in these camps, I make no apologies for my desire to take an order of this huckleberry cream cheese filled fried plate of awesomeness into a dark back alley and do naughty naughty things to it.
If my desire to be considered a sane and fully desirable male wasn’t as acute as it is, you could also bet your bottom dollar that you’d have found me with my shirt off and my upper body lathered in the housemade huckleberry compote that comes on top. Call me crazy? Think I’ve gone too far? Well, while I was busy destroying the Whistle Stop’s food with military precision, the New York Times featured the French toast via some heavy hitter food porn amongst a somewhat depressing article on the state of the glacier. I won’t fault you should you decide to hoard an order all to yourself, but truth be told … it’s much more of a beignet than French toast.
Each day, I interspersed my disproportionate appropriation of the aforementioned with an omelet of varied ingredients. Taking time to commandeer bites of my table buddies’ omelets, I sampled everything Whistle Stop had to offer in that department. Each was a staple of consistency, full of fresh veggies and perfectly cooked proteins. Just for good measure, each omelet came topped with delicious cheddar cheese worthy of Tillamook’s praise and an artfully displayed dollop of sour cream. Needless to say, I’d have motor-boated the shit out of any one of the omelets in manner that would have made Vince Vaughn proud.
Though our group took great pleasure in introducing the wait staff, most if not all from Iron Curtain countries, to the nuances and wonders of the Arnold Palmer, all of them remained friendly and attentive through each of my visits. Perhaps someone might beg to differ with me on the pacing, but in a small town in the middle of vacation, I don’t want a server around much of the time.
My biggest disappointment as it pertains to Whistle Stop is that I didn’t have an opportunity to see what they do for dinner or lunch. But just to beat a dead horse … how could you not smile ear to ear after eating breakfast with the mountains in the background!
All Good Things Must Come To An End
By the time I left, I had managed to sneak in some tasty huckleberry ice cream and some gamey, in your face faux-smoked Elk jerky (the only thing in sight I’d dare say was cost prohibitive). But the highlight from a food perspective was clearly Whistle Stop.
The five day, four night visit from the wedding party was a rowdy one that found us at the epicenter of town gossip. As the last man standing by Sunday night, I was uniquely privy to our already healthy legend. I confirmed that reports of stolen golf carts were only mildly aggrandized (I prefer to think of it as temporarily borrowed with the intent to return in good working order) while most every single serving friend who approached me that night had heard of picnic tables converted into firewood. While not totally off-base, those weren’t exactly accurate either.
Though I tried to convince the town folk that based on hospital visits taken (2), fines incurred (no comment), visits from security (lots) and party members ticketed (no comment) that this was a rather humble showing from our band of misfits. I have no doubt that we left an indelible mark on the loveable townies who call East Glacier home.
The scene of the crime was vast and the consumption of life furious. The aforementioned and referenced acts were committed by some combination of my rather large patchwork family (yes that includes you Layne and Brice), familiar faces like Scott, Chad, Walker, Louie, Jonathan, Ben, Peter and Nick and our new found partners in mischief like Tristan, Jennifer, Dani, Shilpi, Gretchen and Heather. To those that I did not mention, I formally apologize, rest assured that y’all are welcome additions to the group.
As it pertains to those who read this, the food and drink served as the means to the sharing of the human condition, just as it always has and always will.
POSTAL SCRIPT: All pictures available In Montana collection on Flickr