If you happening to be driving Highway 308—the short, rolling-hills connector between Red Lodge and Highway 72 leading south to Cody—consider stopping at Hungry Bear Bakery Cafe in whistle-stop Bear Creek. Grab a big $1 cup of coffee and maybe a slice of “world famous” banana cream pie and eavesdrop, from a corner table, on nearby ranchers gathered for the morning gabfest about weather, politics and the price of cattle.
Hungry Bear Bakery Café
116 East Main Street, Bear Creek, Montana
Cody. The name conjures up images of the Wild West and Buffalo Bill Cody. Sure enough, there’s a Buffalo Bill Historical Centre (containing no less than five museums), daily summer rodeos and wild-west shootouts, and more than 25 restored historic western buildings. With a population of only 9,500, it’s easy to get around and sample a surprisingly eclectic food scene. Cody also provides an eastern entrance to nearby Yellowstone National Park.
Our Place Cafe is definitely what you’d call a character place. You immediately know it from the front verandah, the wood paneling and the mishmash of cowboy art and memorabilia blanketing the walls. The regulars, most greeted by name, start trickling in around 6:30 am, and their spoons are soon stirring the 25-cent cups of wake-up coffee. The older couple who own the place wander slowly but efficiently through the place, filling half-empty cups, taking orders and chewing the fat. Not long after, substantial cheese omelettes and scrambled eggs with toast arrive hot off the grill. My two hot biscuits cover a dinner plate and are smothered in generous scoops of gravy. As a Canadian, this dish doesn’t stir pangs in my heart (other than the arteries complaining), but in this place, it seems the perfect thing to be eating.
There are a couple of things that make Beta Coffee House a little different than most cafes. One is the cleverly named shot in the dark, a rich, flavourful java combining a shot of espresso and one of the day’s locally-roasted drip coffees. The other is the breakfast burritos/bagels. Pre-made and then heated at most cafes, they are instead made to order here, meaning the egg is freshly cooked. Amen to that.
Many frugal road trippers, needing an unobtrusive, free place to catch up on their email or cruise the Internet do so at local libraries throughout the U.S. and Canada. For such tasks, Cody has a beautiful new public library, complete with a gorgeously tiled bathroom. While there, check out not books but Biblio Bistro, where you can drink a pond-side organic espresso or order a sandwich (try the tri tip on an onion roll) or salad, both featuring locally-supplied foods. Just don’t expect the café to be mouse quiet.
1500 Heart Mountain Street, Cody
Monday to Friday 9 am-5 pm
Cody is smack in the middle of Wyoming cowboy country. So when I go for lunch, I obviously head straight for… Whole Foods Trading Company (no, it’s different from the mega chain). It’s a deli-style restaurant featuring non-genetically modified breads, organic greens and various vegan options. You’d guess that in ranching country, this place would be virtually empty, other than a few tumbleweeds blowing between dusty tables. Not so. On a weekday at 11:45, the place is packed with people filling their plates with quinoa salad and ordering Portobello burgers or roasted pork paninis. Many items are sold by weight. So not being terribly hungry, I’m able to order a small piece of green chile chicken enchilada and then fill the plate with a fresh kale salad and strawberries. I thus enjoy a tasty, healthy lunch for about $7, the experience enhanced by the extremely friendly, patient staff.
Whole Foods Trading Company
1134 13 Street, Cody
Monday to Saturday 8 am-6 pm
If you insist on a Cody meat infusion, head to Proud Cut Saloon (1227 Sheridan Avenue). Sporting a motto of Kick Ass Cowboy Cuisine, it’s a popular spot for rib-eye steaks and ribs. You can watch the latter being cooked in a glass-door smoker on the front sidewalk.
Maybe Rocky Mountain MoJoe should instead be called MoFood. That’s because the sandwiches and paninis are generally enormous, complete with a side salad for $8.50. Pretty much everything is prepared in house, including the chicken soprano, which includes roasted peppers, cheese, pepperoni and garlic aioli. In fact, I’ve ordered just that at the counter when I look into the kitchen and see several pieces of freshly cooked tri tip beef, just waiting to be sliced. So I switch my order to the beef dip, ignoring the overly salty au jus and focusing instead on the tender meat, covered with sautéed onions and melted Swiss. It’s very nice, but if I’d been hungrier, I should have stuck with my original choice (the lesson, as always: never go against your gut… unless you want it to get bigger). MoJoe is also popular at breakfast, with one dish featuring meat, fried egg and syrup stuffed inside a pancake.