Bozeman/Virginia City/Gardiner Eats (Yellowstone trip Sept. 2013)
About a month ago I spent a week in Montana and Yellowstone. I was impressed with Montana's seeming focus on sustainable/local/organic, and I was astonished at the amount of food we were served, and the low prices we paid for it, at least in comparison to living in San Francisco. Here are some notes on what/where I ate (and keep in mind that many spots outside Bozeman can be seasonal, so be sure to check websites for hours/months they're open):
We arrived in Bozeman and, after checking into the hotel, headed downtown, literally Main Street. It was the very tail end of a marathon, so Main Street was closed to traffic—a bonus for walking around. We were jonesing for breakfast even though it was about 2pm and ended up stopping at Bagels Etc., pretty much the only spot still serving breakfast at that hour. (We headed into another place first but it was exactly 2pm and they stopped serving breakfast at...2pm.) I had a breakfast skillet of a veggie scramble laid out on a bowl of potatoes. And when they said "skillet", they really meant a whole pan of food being piled in front of you. I forgot to take a picture, but it was impressive. As far as taste, it was filling and satisfactory if not extraordinary. The chai tea latte was fantastic though. I'd never had one, and I realize now you can get these anywhere, but it was my first one and I loved it. The gal behind the counter was incredibly friendly too, a recent transplant to Bozeman, and she passed along a great tip on a hike near Big Sky, which I plan to do on my next trip out that way. According to an article in the local paper, Bagels Etc. was opened earlier this year by a Montana State University grad. They have a lovely creekside patio in the back that they share with the bar next door, and on Fridays during happy hour they offer $5 growlers. I'd go here again, maybe regularly, simply because it's got the kind of breakfasty comfort food I like and the service was great and the location was nice.
307 East Main St., Bozeman
From there we went and did some hiking nearby. In the evening we just grabbed food at a spot right by our hotel, Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom. Pretty awful. I think their main business is as a sports bar serving the college crowd.
1940 North 19th Ave., Bozeman
Day trip to Virginia City, a historic mining town celebrating its 150th anniversary. Lots of great history and old, original buildings here. Had lunch at Outlaw's Café: My dad had a BLT, my mom and I had grilled cheese. Very basic food. But our waitress had worked there 12 years and she was kind enough to spend a long time talking with us about the area. (We were the only people remaining after the lunch rush.) Friendliness and charm go a long way in my book.
118 W. Wallace, Virginia City
When we got back to Bozeman we stopped at a spot that I *think* is called the Greenery. It's a group of buildings on North Rouse Street that look like they were built with reclaimed materials, and seem to have a green ethos. There's a coffee shop and a gardening store and a pet store and a gymnastics school for kids. We had coffee and sweets, then I walked back through downtown and out 19th Street to our hotel. Along the way I stopped at the Community Food Co-Op, which I loved. It reminded me of the first co-op I encountered 20-plus years ago in Takoma Park, MD. It was stocked with what you’d expect: organic produce, paper towels made from recycled paper, etc, plus it had a hot bar/salad bar. I got some apples, as well as some sautéed kale and seared tofu from the hot bar. Prices seemed in line with what you pay for this type of stuff anywhere. If I lived in Bozeman, I'd shop at the co-op for sure, and their satellite café farther down Main Street makes a nice spot for lunch.
Community Food Co-Op
908 W. Main, Bozeman
Drove from Bozeman to Gardiner, where we stayed while visiting Yellowstone. Gardiner is a cute late-19th-century outpost that originally served the Jardine mining operations, and now serves the gajillion tourists who pass through, mostly in the summer months. Many of the restaurants are only open seasonally. We had lunch at the Raven Grill at the recommendation of our hotel manager (we stayed at the Absaroka Lodge), and it was excellent. We were told the chef is from New York originally but has been in the area for something like 20 years. My dad had an elk burger that he really liked (pictured); my mom and I both had the salmon cake salad (pictured). Delicious! Loved the huckleberry lemonade too. Sat outside (cooler out there) and enjoyed the view. It was late afternoon so there was no wait. We liked the Raven Grill so much that we planned to eat there again later in the week but ended up being persuaded to try a different spot (see Thursday info).
The Raven Grill
220 W Park St, Gardiner
After driving into Yellowstone and spending the afternoon/early evening there, my dad and I had a late dinner at the Iron Horse Bar & Grille. This appears to be the town watering hole, probably because it's one of the only places (or maybe THE only place?) that stays open late, and because it has a huge outdoor deck on the Yellowstone River. I found out later in the trip that the Iron Horse is a relative newcomer to Gardiner. The food was nothing special, but as noted previously about Montana restaurants, the portions were enormous. I got a vegetable salad (pictured), my dad got chicken strips, and we split a basket of sweet potato fries. Sat out on the deck. Our waiter was great; the bartender was not. We had to wait for a table outside to come available, and the gal behind the bar took forever to come over and was sour when she did. Luckily she didn't ruin our experience. Later in the week we came back here for a nightcap and a few rounds of pool, including two with local outfitters. It was quite a mix of locals, tourists, and “foreigners as locals” (for instance one of the local outfitters I played pool with was from Australia).
Iron Horse Bar & Grille
Spring Street, Gardiner
Hiking in Yellowstone, along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Ate an early dinner at the Canyon Lodge Dining Room across from the Canyon Village visitor center. This was really just cafeteria food, but after a day of hiking, it was some of the best food I'd tasted. Had the salad bar and split a salmon burger with my mom.
Canyon Lodge Dining Room
Canyon Village, Yellowstone
Several times during our stay in Gardiner we stopped at a little coffee shop/ice cream shop/gift shop called Cecil's, across the street from the Yellowstone Association. They have some crazy good ice cream in there, made in Livingston, Montana. And some nights there's an older gent working who has amazing tales to tell of hiking up in the mountains. He's originally from Massachusetts, been in the area for 30 years. And he's seen it all—even been chased by a grizzly! Good fun to listen to.
Cecil's Restaurant & Gift Shop
3rd & Park, Gardiner
Hiking in Yellowstone, Bunsen Peak and around Mammoth Hot Springs. When we got back to Gardiner we'd planned on having dinner at the Raven Grill, since it was our final night, but while walking down Park Street we encountered a young couple who ran a restaurant just outside of town. Rob, the husband, was quite the salesman, and convinced us to come by for dinner. So we did. The Lighthouse is about 7 miles outside Gardiner, in Corwin Springs, and it's a family-run operation. Rob and Penelope are married and run the front of the house/act as waitstaff. Penelope's brother is the chef, and they told us he'd trained at the St. Regis in San Francisco. The menu is his creation. The restaurant is called the Lighthouse after their father's hobby of collecting lighthouse memorabilia, which is displayed throughout the place. We had a great meal of homemade strawberry lemonade, an appetizer of truffled mac 'n' cheese, a side salad for me with house-made sesame vinaigrette, New York steak for my dad (the meat came from a farmer down the way so it was truly local) which had a side of creamed spinach that was heavenly with some kind of unidentified spicing, a dish called the Wok for me (a stir-fry with shrimp—tasted more like sweet-and-sour to me), and a curry for my mom. The chef seems fond of celery—it was in both my salad and my Wok—which wasn't unpleasant, just noticeable. (For instance I was surprised it was in the salad, maybe because you don't typically see it in salads in California.) We finished off with three of their mini cakes for dessert: hot fudge (my dad nearly slumped out of his chair with pleasure at the first bite; the chocolate was rich and roasty), banana-peanut butter-chocolate chip, and apple cinnamon (our least favorite though still good). They all had the same cream cheese icing/sauce. I also liked the presentation of the meal: the Mason jars for drinks (no, it's not original anymore, but it's still a nice aesthetic), the dishware. I highly recommend checking this place out: The food is delicious and the couple that run it are charming. It's only open June through September, fyi. (Several pictures posted of this meal, but NOT of the dessert. That's from the next night.)
Corwin Springs, MT
Drove back to Bozeman. Stopped for a snack at Bagels Etc, and stayed downtown for the Art Walk. Tried to get into Blackbird Kitchen for dinner (it got some positive comments on Chowhound) but the wait was an hour and a half. Had dinner instead at MacKenzie River Pizza Company, and it was quite good. This is the original location of this small chain. Our server Shane was excellent, bringing shots of beer to my mom so she could taste before choosing, and adding a gratis drizzle of caramel on our dessert. We had a wedge salad (for Dad), a spinach salad for me (excellent, with tomato, red onion, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, and blue cheese), and split a small thin-crust MacKenzie River pizza (olive oil and garlic, spinach, roasted zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, mozzarella, feta). We finished off with an apple cobbler made to order and served in a tiny cast iron skillet (pictured). We thoroughly enjoyed our meal.
MacKenzie River Pizza Company
232 E. Main St., Bozeman
Oh, one thing I left out (if you can believe I left *anything* out) is that none--not one--of the local restaurants served local trout. If anyone knows why, in the heart of fly-fishing country, the restaurants don't (or can't) serve local trout, I'd love to hear the reason!
To my knowledge, all “game” in restaurants is farm raised. I believe it is illegal to sell wild game. Some resorts will cook the fish you catch for your consumption only. What is the best is fresh not frozen meat. My wife used to have trout for breakfast and dinner dipped straight out of the trout ponds behind Alice’s Restaurant by Targhee Pass when they were in business.