Montana Trip Report
Day One Kalispell/Missoula: We arrived in Kalispell, joined the rest of our traveling party and left immediately for Missoula. On scenic highway 83 we meandered through the Swan River National Wildlife Refuge and took a short detour to Holland Lake. There we enjoyed lunch at the Holland Lake Lodge ( http://hollandlakelodge.com/) which included a very good curried chicken salad, a green chile cheeseburger that, while it could have used more chiles, was surprisingly good and cooked medium-rare as ordered, and a veggie burger that was reportedly quite tasty. Staff very friendly and the dining room opens to a nice view of Holland Lake.
Dinner in Missoula was at Ciao Mambo ( http://www.ciaomambo.com/index.php) which just hit the spot after our long drive–excellent pastas and salads and a perky serving staff. Part of a five-restaurant chain in Montana, Idaho and Oregon, Ciao Mambo describes its menu as “immigrant food.” Indeed the pastas we sampled were earthy, boldly seasoned and large enough to share. We particularly enjoyed the Insalata di melanzane alla Parmigiana, the Frutti di Mare and the Spaghetti Arabiatta.
Day Two Missoula: We awoke in our B & B, the Gibson Mansion (highly recommended; http://www.gibsonmansion.com/) to a tray of homemade scones, freshly ground coffee and juice that was placed outside of our room at the precise time we had ordered it the night before. What a great way to start the day! Then to breakfast in the dining room--Banana Macadamia French Toast, fruit and more of the excellent coffee (or tea if you prefer).
Dinner was at Finn and Porter inside the Doubletree Hotel. Although the food was OK (steak the best; this is Montana after all), the real attraction is the view overlooking the Clark Fork River and the giant “M” on the hillside. Watching the bikers and joggers ascend the hill to reach the “M” as day turned to evening was fun. Oh, and they made a very good dry martini.
Day Three Missoula/Kalispell: Beer and pizza at Moose’s Saloon in Kalispell. What a hoot! The menu is limited to pizza and salads; the floor is sawdust and peanut shells; and the ambiance is rustic to the max. Everyone who ever passed through the place must have carved his/her initials on the walls and tables! Pizza and salads were good; the beer was excellent with several Montana craft beers on tap. Everyone was having a great time. Tips: The word “Moose” does not appear on the outside of the bar, just “Saloon;” don’t be discouraged by the windows next door that are covered with butcher paper (We thought the place had gone out of business until we tried the door). There is no table service; just order your pizza at the window behind the bar.
Day Four Glacier National Park: We spent the next two nights at the the East Glacier Motel and Cabins in East Glacier Park. We stayed in the motel part which was clean and certainly adequate to our needs. Don’t expect the Hilton. East Glacier is just a wide spot in the road but it does have a very good Mexican restaurant, Serrano’s. Excellent margaritas, tasty Tex-Mex cuisine and a cheerful wait staff. We were surprised to find a tofu dish on the specials board! This place is small and fills up fast so be prepared to wait unless you come early or have a reservation. We stopped in Brownies Bakery and Deli after dinner and had huckleberry ice cream and a tasty walnut huckleberry brownie. They also serve Montana Trading Company coffee here which is a step up from that served at the Whistle Stop Café but still not strong enough for some in our party.
Day Five East Glacier Park/Waterton Lakes Park, Canada: Breakfast at the Whistle Stop Café (across the street from the East Glacier Motel) was acceptable given the location but certainly nothing special. Don’t expect speedy service if they’re busy (which they probably always are). The restaurant advertises its “World Famous” French toast which was the strangest French toast we’ve ever eaten. Think giant popover stuffed with yogurt and a few huckleberries. Coffee was weak.
After breakfast we crossed the Canadian border to Waterton Lakes Park which is worth the drive just to see the Prince of Wales Lodge against the backdrop of the Waterton Lakes. The nearby little village of Waterton is quaint and is a good place to stop for lunch with several cafes. We ate at Zum’s Eatery & Mercantile on the main drag with a patio overlooking a small park across the street. Food is nothing to write home about but the beer was cold and the patio was a relaxing place to unwind for awhile. Note that according to our server the law requires that burgers must be cooked well done (and they were, very well done). Be aware that the fries cost $8.00 an order, more than several of the sandwiches! However it should also be noted that the chicken dinner ordered by one of our party had enough fries for all four of us.
On the way back to East Glacier we re-entered Glacier National Park and took the drive to Many Glacier Hotel. This is a beautiful old lodge on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake with a terrific view of the lake and Mt. Grinnell. Although we did not eat there, the dining room has that nostalgia inducing historic Western lodge ambiance.
Day Six Glacier National Park/Kalispell: Breakfast at the Park Café in St. Mary was a treat. The café serves local meats and is justifiably famous for its homemade pies. Everything we tried was delicious. Take a piece of pie with you for lunch; we did and it lived up to the hype. Expect a short wait for a table as this place is very popular.
The culinary highpoint of our trip, without a doubt was dinner at Capers in Kalispell (http://www.capersmontana.com/). Emphasizing locally or regionally sourced produce, seafood and meats, this restaurant would be a gem in any major city, let alone small town Montana. A creative menu skillfully executed, an excellent and wide-ranging wine list and reasonable prices have made Capers quite popular in the Kalispell area so do call in advance for a reservation.
We ate at the bar so I can’t comment on the table service but bartender Jeremy did an excellent job of taking care of us and his wine recommendations were spot on. The rather lengthy wine list emphasizes northwest wineries, the majority of which I imagine will be new to many diners from other parts of the country. Let Jeremy be your guide. The beer list will give you a chance to try Moose Drool Brown Ale, a local favorite.
The “Three Cakes, Three Sauces” starter was excellent consisting the night we dined of a dungeness crab cake, a wild shrimp cake and a salmon cake. The cakes were almost 100% seafood with just enough binder to hold them together and the sauces were delicious. Mains were a nut-crusted halibut filet, wild salmon perfectly medium rare as ordered, and roast duck. All were expertly prepared and beautifully presented. Desserts of American Apple Brandy Crumble with Cinnamon Ice Cream, and Flaming Chocolate Mount St. Helens with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream were shared and relished.
We ate much better in Montana than we had expected and the combination of good food and the natural beauty of the area made this a very memorable trip.