Three weeks on the road to Montana and back. Found some pretty average food where it ought to have been spectacular, and some great food where we wouldn't have thought. Assumptions-psh!
We left Central Coast at the start of a bad hot spell (San Jose posted 112, someone said), so we made for the North Coast via Petaluma our first night out. Had a good breakfast in Santa Rosa at the Parkside Cafe. Owner Daniel Patrick, grad of Johnson-Wales, had been in the rest & catering busisness and found the location while visiting relatives. Small, homey, and delicious. Good coffee, (not 'brown liquid') homemade hash, nice job on the eggs, toasts, etc. Good service, owner does all the cooking. Open every day but Christmas. Highly reccommend. 404 Santa Rosa Ave --main drag--just south of downtown. Next to a sewing machine shop with a fantastic display of old WWII Army Aircorps photos and memorabilia!
That night we ate at Trinidad at the pier. The only rest in town open. Long lines promised good food; but they must have all been hungry travelers like us for the food was dissapointing. (must admit we split a combo plate and hubby insisted on light breading rather than sauteed in wine-$3.00 extra., and it did not do the seafood justice. Salad was iceberg ick. Garlic bread was mediocre. (and it's so easy to make; why can't you get decent garlic bread in a restaurant?)
A particularly nasty breakfast in Crescent City (on the main highway, ocean side) where both young waitresses ate their breakfast behind the counter in full view between table visits (worse that flip-flops, let me tell you) wiping their mouths with the backs of their hands in between filling coffee mugs. Oh, yuk! when I quietly called them on it, they both looked like "what, bitch?!" Two more days till Montana--ackkk!
Flathead Lake/Kalispell. We cooked at our cabin, but found an amazing bakery-deli in Kalispell: Gresko's Fine Foods at 647 East Idaho. Stopped in to get a huckelberry fix, Gelato-style. They also served a Scharffenberger (sp?) Chocolate, and local Flathead Cherry (Lambert/sour blend) gelato. Wow! was it good. They have a wonderfull selection of oils, vinegars, pastas, condiments, wild Alaskan seafood, Philly Hoagies--he's a Philly boy--fresh cheeses, deli meats, and good pastries and breads, deli sands and soups. High marks! Owners Steve and Martha Smith.
I tried the Sat. Kalispell Farmer's Mkt, but it turned out to be more crafts than produce--it was a bit early in the season, but got some nice rhubarb, onions and chard.
On the road from Flathead to Ennis along I-90, we stopped for gas in Drummond. ("World's Largest Bull-Shippers"--guess it used to be a big beef-shipping town) pretty small--only two blocks long & wide, but I spied Jimbo's West Pit Bar-B-Que, so we stopped. Pulled up to the curb (empty) and went in (empty)uh-oh, but the place served up neat&tidy in a big way, so we ordered from 'Jimbo',and had the pulled pork sandwiches. Very smokey, tender and moist. Served on an okay bun, spicey sauce-Western Kentucky style-on the table, good not-too-sweet slaw. Talked to Jeff (his Dad is Jim,)he'd come from Western Ky 13 years ago after his BBQ business partner had passed away ("just didn't have the heart for it any more") and established himself as a dry-waller. Found this location, took 2 years to remodel it and build his 2,000#-capacity smoker. Jimbo's has only been open 2 months, but will get a real following if people can find it. He does all the major bbq cuts: ribs, briskets, loins, shoulders,(he'll custom smoke anything--turkey, game, buffalo, you name it))and hickory smokes them for up to 30 hours, depending on cut. We had a great lunch and got a rack of ribs to go! At 32 East Front St, Drummond, Mt.(406-288-2288) about an hour +/- east of Missoula on I-90. (He'll pack in dry ice and ship!)
Next find was in Dillon at the south end of the Jefferson-Ruby river drainages( in Montana, it's all about the rivers) Dillon is a nice small college town with a great old brick downtown business area. Walking wound looking at second-hand stores, we asked where to eat . Papa T's was recommended. In business about 25 years, Thom and Evelyn Lohman run a pizza and sandwich place with a great old back-bar, with an arcade area for the kids. Original stamped-tin ceiling adds to the ambiance. Hubby's hamburger was good, and my BBQ philly cheese was very juicy.All Montana beef. Very good beefy flavor, more so than Calif. Harriss Ranch beef, that's for sure. Their homemade potato chips were excellent; crisp outside tender inside, just dark enough to get some caramelization. They serve several Montana micro brews. Hubby liked the Moose Drool brown ale from Big Sky Brewing in Missoula. Like everybody in Montana, Papa T talked us up to find out where came from and what we were doing in Montana. Friendly, friendly folks!
In the Bitteroot Valley, south of Missoula, we found a little to-go shop along the east side of the highway (main drag) just north of downtown Hamilton. Painted 'Napa Auto' blue&uellow, it's hard to miss. They serve all kinds of espresso drinks (he's from Seattle) and good pita breakfast sandwiches as well as standard lunch sando's. My Reuben was excellent, and the Huckleberry-lemon slushy was to die for. Good food and very reasonable prices. Owner Art was as friendly as they get! sorry I don't remember the name-they were out of business cards.
Last but not least was our lunch stop in Locke, just off I-5 1/2 hour so of Sacto, on the river. Al the Wop's serves the best burger! (a bit greasy, this is NOT extra-lean 7% grind) irregular, crusty, juicy, cooked to your order, between two grilled slices of bread, with ripe tomato slices, red onion rings and several green lettuce leaves. A bit pricey at $8.50, but man, that burger satisfied! Funky place, has it's own charisma, popular with visiting Delta tourists. They also serve great steak sando's for lunch, and steak and pasta for dinner, which we had some years ago. Far from fine dining, but it's great to go to a place where local folks run a friendly, funky joint. Never did find out why there are jars of peanut butter and apricot jam on the tables/ Locals--got a clue?
A place we ate years ago in next little town of Walnut Grove, Guisti's, was closed. I remember very good Minestone soup and homemade bread. Any one eaten there lately?
We had a great trip and it was fun finding some places we'd definitely return to. I'm sure there were others along the way we missed--maybe we'll find them next trip! I liked the fact that we ate at locally owned-places where we got to chat with the owner or cook. Made the good food even better!