Finally, on the homestretch of this month-long eating excursion, I kick things into high gear, gorging on a half dozen meals in one day. And you wonder where the Marathon Mouth label comes from?
I start things off at 6 am with, a rarity on this trip, a truly healthy breakfast, and in the unlikeliest of places. First, the meal, a hearty bowl of Cream of the West at Woods Bay Grill, near Bigfork, on the northeast corner of massive Flathead Lake. This hot cereal boasts these virtuous grains: Montana oats, hard red spring wheat, barley, rye, triticale, soft white wheat, spelt and bran, with a side of toast. Now the place—a little roadside diner, the walls lined with deer racks and wildlife art, the latter for sale. The rest of the breakfast fare is your traditional eggs and not-so-healthy biscuits with gravy and chicken-fried steak. But to show this tasty seven-grain cereal isn’t a lonely outlier on the menu, there’s also house-made, low-sugar jams for the toast.
Woods Bay Grill
14509 Highway 35, about 4 miles south of Bigfork, Montana
Daily 6 am-7 pm
I must say *Pocketstone Café, on the northeast shore of Flathead Lake, is a wonderful place to have breakfast (for your reading pleasure, it’s my second in just over an hour). The rough-hewn wall planks and hardwood floors and tables are matched by a big, central espresso bar fronted by a display case featuring mouthwatering deep-dish fruit pies, chewy oatmeal-raisin cookies and mammoth cupcakes. It’s also a warm, friendly place with an accommodating staff. The waitress is happy to let me mix and match the buttermilk and orange pancakes (great honey-maple and huckleberry syrups), with a side order of thick, meaty bacon. She also has the cook redo the order when it isn’t to her satisfaction. It’s nice to see the owner of a fairly new restaurant admitting on the website that things have improved since the opening and can continue to get better. Judging by the waiting times on many summer mid-mornings, they’re doing a damn fine job already.
444 Electric Avenue, Bigfork, Montana
Daily 6 am-3 pm
Continuing with my healthy eating trend, I pull into Bonelli’s Bistro in Kalispell and go straight past the usual lunch standards of paninis, wraps and sandwiches, though the homemade meatball sub looks tempting. Instead, I focus on a list of 10 salads and decide on one featuring a mound of organic mixed greens topped with quinoa, tabbouleh and hummus and a fan of rice crisps. It’s very nourishing and a nice late-morning palette cleanser, though the tahini dressing is a little astringent for my taste—that, and an obtrusive sound track.
38 1 Avenue East, Kalispell
Monday to Saturday 8 am-3pm. Closed Sunday
Another popular place for lunch in Kalispell is Wheat Montana Bakery & Deli, a sister company of the one near Three Forks, Montana. It offers massive cinnamon rolls, hearty soups and sandwiches and even bags of flour for purchase. Needing to pace myself, I save this for another trip.
Wheat Montana Bakery & Deli
405 South Main Street, Kalispell
Monday to Saturday 6 am- 6 pm, Sunday 8 am-4 pm
And then there’s Moose’s Saloon, little changed since I first visited four decades ago. The wooden booths, walls, and pillars are still blanketed in carved initials; the floor is still covered in sawdust (don’t wear Crocs, like I do) and there’s still great bags of free peanuts in the shell; just spit the shells on the floor, like everyone else. Once your eyes adjust to the gloom, grab a beer and maybe a pizza and soak up the atmosphere. There’s no place like it.
173 North Main Street, Kalispell
Opens at 11 am
A few miles north, Whitefish is a more charming town than Kalispell, thanks to its smaller size, compact historic downtown and more upscale status at the foot of Whitefish Mountain Resort.
If you’re going to make audacious claims, you’d better be able to back them up. Fortunately, Amazing Crepes lives up to its name. Essentially, it pulls it off by doing one thing very well and adding some creativity to the process. The simple menu is broken into two parts: savoury crepes and sweet crepes. The former includes a couple with eggs, one with wild smoked salmon and another with fresh pears, gorgonzola and toasted almonds. The latter features a fresh fruit and granola crepe and one with Nutella and banana. A few minutes after I order, a golden-brown crepe arrives, buttery smooth and filled with rich, interesting flavours. The only thing that keeps me from awarding a * is my lovely brie, pesto and spinach crepe is a little salty for my taste. But on the whole, this is a great place for something fresh, light and inventive. And it’s good that things are light, as I have to pace myself for the day’s two remaining meals.
123 Central Avenue, Whitefish
Weekdays 8 am-4 pm, weekends 8 am-3 pm
You’d think it would be hard to distinguish yourself if you offered the usual lunchtime fare of paninis, wraps and salads, especially if you’re located in a nondescript strip mall on the main drag of Columbia Falls, just outside of Whitefish. Yet *The Palette Cafe pulls it off, and they do it the usual way: with imagination, attention to detail and presentation. Take, for instance, the first-class ingredients in my BLT panini—perfectly crusted bread enveloping maple bacon, truffle bechamel, sharp cheddar and arugula. The extra details are a lovely little cup of house-made mustard, an unusually shaped water glass and my ability to combine a half panini with a small salad of hummus, walnuts, spinach and nicely warmed pita triangles. The presentation is enhanced by the artistic way everything is laid out on the plate. A final nice gesture is when one co-owner (a young couple owns the place and her parents help out) sees the panini slopping around my face, as usual, and brings over a couple more napkins.
The Palette Cafe
743 9 Street West, Columbia Falls
Tuesday to Friday 7:30 am-4 pm, Saturday 11 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
You know the importance of first impressions? Well, *Pescado Blanco has me hooked with the arrival of a basket of warm, slightly oily tortilla chips, accompanied by a middling-fiery roasted pepper salsa. It’s all I can do to stop eating them and leave some room for the main course. Fortunately, I only order a couple of their polo tacos, featuring chunks of tender chicken seared in ancho chile and served on handmade white corn tortillas. The accompanying black beans and rice are a decided step up from your typical Mexican plate fillers. I can see why Shelley Adams, author of the terrific Whitewater Cooks books, calls Pescado Montana’s best Mexican restaurant.
235 1 Street, Whitefish
Daily 5 pm to close
Montana Coffee Traders runs a small empire in the Whitefish area. From its roastery, established south of town in the prehistoric year of 1981, to coffee bars in Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia Falls, the company keeps locals well caffeinated. The downtown Whitefish location is jumping in late afternoon, and my potent, full-bodied Americano should keep me awake as I make my dash for the Canadian border, the day’s mountain of food gurgling through my distended belly during the long drive through the night.
Montana Coffee Traders
110 Central Avenue, Whitefish
Monday to Saturday 7 am-6 pm am, Sunday 9-5 pm