dateline: Montana

It took little more than a glance for me to fall for Montana. I knew it was a kindred place as soon as I looked out the plane window onto the snow-covered tarmac. I’ve never seen an airport that responded to snow with such nonchalance, and I liked it. Montana  is rugged and capable; my dream partner. That impression was reinforced by the un-plowed streets, surrounding mountains and random road signs that declared “Danger Ahead.” I felt like I was taking my life into my own hands just driving to get a coffee.

It didn’t take me long to discover that the Treasure State is also awfully friendly. I had only to ask the girl making my coffee where to find the best breakfast in Bozeman to be pointed towards Main Street Overeasy. Taking a seat at the counter, I spent the next hour or so watching the most jovial set of line cooks in the business. Frying eggs and hash browns, they looked more like they were cooking for family than a room full of strangers. They said “please” and “thank you” to each other, and never yelled. Not once.

Reasoning that I should try and eat as many species as possible during my seven days in the Montana wilderness, I started with Bison, Bacon and Eggs, a wonderful conglomeration of bison sausage, homemade biscuits, crumbled bacon and poached eggs served with a side of hash browns.  The bison sausage was a bit more gamey and less greasy than traditional sausage; I loved it. Still, I couldn’t help but envy companion’s stack of blueberry corn pancakes. And I think we both had diner’s remorse when we glimpsed the chicken-fried steak and eggs. I’ve never seen such a big chicken-fried steak in my life.

My week didn’t totally go as planned, at least in terms of food. Tourist spots beget tourist food, and I didn’t eat as much game as I thought I would. A quail quesadilla. An elk tenderloin. A bison pot roast. I found a bus that served Mexican food, but it was closed for the season. And I discovered the wonder that is the huckleberry ice cream sandwich. Seriously, they should give these things out at the airport the way that hula girls hand out leis when you touch down in Hawaii. Everyone would go to Montana.

The only thing in Montana as sweet as those ice cream sandwiches are the people who live there. I’ve never had such great service anyplace else, or met more welcoming people. Whether I was buying gas, asking for directions or checking into a hotel, everyone seemed to really want me to have a good time and see the best that the area had to offer. It was something of a surprise coming from Boston, I had to consciously let my guard down. (There was one not very nice person, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t from Montana. Scroll down.)

Of course, you’re probably wondering where I ate. These are the one’s I’d recommend:

Wild West Pizza, West Yellowstone. Good pizza, and beer. Live music, sometimes. They also have a dining room for families or people not into the bar scene. The bartenders were great sources of local knowledge, recommending everything from good beer to local sights.

Buck’s T-4 Lodge, Big Sky. The best meal I had in Montana. Huge wine list. Lots of game on the menu. I wish I could have eaten here twice.

Running Bear Pancake House, West Yellowstone. So much better than the hotel breakfast. Huge pancakes served with huckleberry syrup. Need I say more?

Living in Montana seems like it would be hard in some ways. Winter is long. In the summer the place is overrun with tourists. I didn’t see a green vegetable for almost a week. I ordered a salad that arrived as a plate of iceberg lettuce and nothing else. There was some wildly overpriced and soggy butternut squash ravioli. And yet, given the opportunity, I’d give Montana a chance. Why? Let me sing you a song…

Oh, give me a home. Where the buffalo roam…

Where the deer and the antelope play…

Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word…

And the sky’s not cloudy all day. 

See more Montana photos here.