Category Archives: Missoula

Sliding Into Missoula, Montana

Road-trip driving occasionally produces white knuckles

Road-trip driving occasionally produces white knuckles

I’m a little jittery to fully enjoy my lunch at Pueblo Lindo, in McCall, Idaho. It’s not the usual three cups of road coffee jangling around an acidic stomach that does it. It’s the two hours of white-knuckle driving to get here in a late October snowstorm, traveling in a 25-mile-per-hour (40 kmh) convoy, hoping we’re going fast enough that I can get up any icy hills in summer tires and using the white van in front of me as a guide to see the road as the “window” created by the slush-encrusted wipers keeps getting smaller and smaller. So by the time I pull up to Pueblo Lindo for a nerve-calming break, it’s all I can do to properly taste the decent chicken burrito with rice and beans, the best part being the accompanying basket of warm tortilla chips with a piquant house-made salsa (all for a bargain $5). By the time I finish, the road’s been plowed, and I can renew the long drive to the next meal. By the way, the McCall public library charges $2 for 15 minutes of Wi-Fi access for non-cardholders. Someone should report them to the Gates Foundation!

Chicken burrito at Pueblo Lindo in McCall, Idaho

Chicken burrito at Pueblo Lindo in McCall, Idaho

Pueblo Lindo
1007 West Lake Street, McCall, Idaho
Daily 11 am-9 pm
Pueblo Lindo on Urbanspoon

Fabulous driving along the Salmon River on Highway 95 north of McCall, Idaho

Fabulous driving along the Salmon River on Highway 95 north of McCall, Idaho

Missoula is a charming college town (population 68,000) with a foothills backdrop and the Clark Fork River dividing the downtown from the rest of the city. But the University of Montana certainly doesn’t encourage motoring visitors; it’s almost impossible to park within a mile of the place without a university or residential parking permit. And the street-naming system is downright weird; an example from below is South 4th Street West (if you’re going to have a quadrant system, follow Calgary’s lead and go, for instance, with SW). The city’s food scene, though, is lively, with a number of fine places you can drive right up to.

I’ve already heralded Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza as one of the best pizzerias in the mountain west (241 West Main Street. Weekdays 11 am-3 pm and 5 pm-9:30 pm, Saturday 5 pm-10 pm). It’s here that I first encounter the outstanding *KettleHouse Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, which because of arcane state laws on microbrewery production limits is for now pretty much only available in western Montana. So, of course, I have to visit the character-filled KettleHouse Brewing Company’s taproom, where an afternoon crowd is gathered to sample a pint or fill a larger “growler” to go. Here’s another bit of strange state law: A small brewery taproom can only serve a patron 48 ounces of beer between the hours of 10 am and 8 pm. Other FAQs from the Kettlehouse website: “Can you ship me some beer? No. Sorry. Plan a vacation in beautiful Missoula instead.” “Do you have food in your tap rooms? No. But you can bring in your own.” Note: Their “six-packs” are four, 16-ounce cans.

Funky taproom at KettleHouse Brewing Company in Missoula

Funky taproom at KettleHouse Brewing Company in Missoula

KettleHouse Brewing Company
602 Myrtle Street, Missoula
Daily noon to 8 pm

There’s definitely something to be said for keeping things simple and doing one or two things well. Le Petit Outre (“The Little Outrageous”) has that nailed. As a small bakery, it produces a wide variety of excellent handcrafted breads—ryes, baguettes, cocodrillos, ciabattas and the like, some baked in a French hearth oven—as well as pastries and nice buttery, flaky croissants to munch on. It also has fine coffee, whether it’s a nice strong blend from a pump pot or a well-crafted cappuccino from its Synesso espresso machine. In good weather, there are a few tables outside; otherwise, it’s takeout.

Le Petit Outre
129 South 4 Street West
Monday to Friday 7 am-6 pm, Saturday 8 am-3 pm, Sunday 8 am-2 pm
Le Petit Outre Breads on Urbanspoon

There aren’t many places I’d frequent simply to sit in the space, ordering latte after pour over just so I don’t have to leave. *Caffe Dolce is such a place, with its tile floor, light orange walls and high ceiling reminiscent of a centuries-old Italian building. Actually, owner Peter Lambros had it built only a few years ago, though an Italian artist did spend a Michelangelo-like 750 hours on a scaffold to paint the ceiling (a side room is lined with Italian pottery for sale). One of the baristas says she loves working here, especially on a wintery day, when the high windows make the space feel like a giant snow globe. By the way, they make good coffees here, along with iron-grilled sandwiches, a large selection of gelato and, something of a rarity, a bowl of fresh breakfast fruit. Just order things one at a time, so you can spread your stay out.

Caffe Dolce, a great place to hang out in Missoula

Caffe Dolce, a great place to hang out in Missoula

Caffe Dolce
500 Brooks Street (the one described here) and 2901 Brooks Street (Southgate Mall), Missoula
Check the website for hours, which are too confusing to list here
Caffe Dolce on Urbanspoon

The Montana pasty (paste-ee) is supposed to be the preserve of Butte. It’s where English-born miners carried their Cornish pasties underground in lunch buckets. I guess no one told Lisa she couldn’t take the Butte tradition to Missoula and open Lisa’s Pasty Pantry. Some folks say her version of the meat-filled pastry pocket is better. I can only tell you it’s a mighty tasty pasty: a bunch of hand-cubed beef, potatoes and onions packed into a crimped pastry and then baked till golden. Add a little gravy if you want, and you’ve got a filling lunch for a bargain $6. Though they seemed a little insulted when I don’t finish things off with one of their fruit turnovers.

A hearty pasty quells the lunchtime hunger pangs at Lisa's Pasty Pantry

A hearty pasty quells the lunchtime hunger pangs at Lisa’s Pasty Pantry

Lisa’s Pasties
2004 West Sussex Avenue, Missoula
Monday to Friday 11 am-7 pm, Saturday 10:30 am to close. Closed Sunday
Lisa's Pasty Pantry on Urbanspoon

Death by sandwich? There are worse ways to go. In fact, the amount of mortadella and dough I’ve already consumed this trip might cause my porcine valves to seize up. But when I see the Megadeath sandwich on the Tagliare Delicatessen menu board, I’m powerless to resist. Mercifully, I only order the $9 half loaf, er, sandwich. The whole would be enough to choke a horse, if a horse ate ham, finocchiona (whatever that is), hot sopressata, pepperoni, hot capicola and various other things pressed between two hunks of ciabatta and sawn in half. Some of the meats and/or the “feisty” vinaigrette give this sandwich the slight kick of a mule. If that’s insufficient meat for you, consider the Zeppelin, an unholy alliance of roast beef, turkey, salami, ham and pastrami. Way down the menu, there is a vegetarian option, featuring goat cheese and pickled beets. These takeout sandwiches can be messy, so take care how you eat them.

I'm still kicking after finishing the Megadeath half sandwich at Tagliare Delicatessen

I’m still kicking after finishing the Megadeath half sandwich at Tagliare Delicatessen

Tagliare Delicatessen
1433 South Higgins Avenue, Missoula
Monday 10 am-5 pm, Tuesday to Friday 10 am-7 pm, Saturday 10 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday
Tagliare Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

Best Pizza in the Mountain West

Can I get this entire pizza, from Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria B.C., in my gut? You bet

Can I get this entire pizza, from Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria B.C., in my gut? You bet

Over time, I’ve become a sucker for thin-crust pizzas. Preferably, the dough has some sour sourdough starter and has been rested/proofed a while. The decorated pizza should then be cooked in a smoking-hot brick oven for scant minutes, emerging slightly blackened on the bottom and puffy and leopard spotted along the edges. The true test of a great, chewy-but-still-soft-in-the-middle crust is I could eat it all by its lonesome.

I’ve also learned to love simplicity—a few outstanding, house-made ingredients that complement and don’t overwhelm that fine crust. So, no more three kinds of oily meat, blankets of greasy cheese or hearty ladlings of indifferent tomato sauce; heck, increasingly, I don’t want any sauce. As for ham and pineapple, just banish it to Hawaii, please. Instead, I’m all over freshly-made mozza and sausage and maybe something I’ve never tried before: dried cherries, yes, peanut butter, not so much.

I’ve organized these by best pizza in each mountain state and province, extending the latter to include British Columbia. The list is by no means exhaustive, a starter in pizza parlance. For instance, I’ve yet to try two Arizona standouts: Pizzicletta in Flagstaff or Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. By all means, let me know about your favourites.

Mountain States

Utah
At Pizzeria Seven Twelve, in Orem, the focus is on fresh, creative ingredients like hand-pulled mozzarella, house-made sausage and roasted fennel and cauliflower, all riding atop a thin, bubbly crust with a nice tangy flavour from the sourdough starter. The servers wear t-shirts hammering home that point with single words on the front—simple, local, inspired. Check, check, check. Definitely check it out.

This pie from Pizzeria Seven Twelve has it all: hand-pulled mozza, house-made sausage and sourdough crust

This pie from Pizzeria Seven Twelve has it all: hand-pulled mozza, house-made sausage and sourdough crust

Pizzeria Seven Twelve
320 South State Street, Orem, Utah
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am-2:30 pm, dinner Monday to Thursday 5 pm-10 pm and Friday-Saturday 5 pm-11 pm. Closed Sunday
Pizzeria Seven Twelve on Urbanspoon

Arizona
It’s a tossup (sorry, bad joke), with entertainment winning the day at Screaming Banshee Pizza in Bisbee and The Parlor Pizzeria taking the flavour crown in Phoenix.

I’ve always thought if you’re going for wood-fired pizza, you might as well get a front-row seat and enjoy the show. Sure enough, as soon as I sit down at Screaming Banshee Pizza and start sipping a hearty Kiltlifter Scottish ale, the pizza maker starts rolling out discs of dough and tossing them ceiling-ward three or four times. I’m so entranced, I don’t notice my own Screaming Banshee pizza ($15) getting lifted from the 760-F. oven with a long-handled wooden paddle. It has a lovely, lightly charred crust strewn with creamy fresh mozzarella, strips of fennel sausage and caramelized onion. After a game effort, I’m still left with half to go.

Enjoy the show at Screaming Banshee Pizza

Enjoy the show at Screaming Banshee Pizza

Screaming Banshee Pizza
200 Tombstone Canyon Road, Bisbee
Tuesday-Wednesday 4 pm-9pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-10 pm, Sunday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Monday

At Parlor Pizzeria, it only takes five minutes in a 460 F. oven for my eight-inch Forager pizza to emerge, with, no surprise, a bubbly char on the thin crust. The topping is a compelling, rich mix of wild boar meatball, rabbit sausage and finocchiona. Add some radicchio, thinly sliced fennel and rosemary, and I’ve got a first-rate, six-slice pie for only $10, knocked down to $6 during happy hour (3-6 pm).

Boar meatball and rabbit sausage highlight this gem at Parlor Pizzeria

Boar meatball and rabbit sausage highlight this gem at Parlor Pizzeria

The Parlor Pizzeria
1916 East Camelback Road, Phoenix
Monday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm. Closed Sunday
The Parlor Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

New Mexico
Any surprise that Santa Fe takes the pie here? At Rooftop Pizzeria, you can dine in-house or, even better, head down the elevated hallway to Marble Brewery’s Taproom and enjoy a pint with your pizza from a patio seat overlooking the historic downtown plaza. I pick a New Mexican theme for my plentiful 12-incher—green chile with a fair kick, toasted piñon nuts and a blue-corn crust—alongside tender chunks of chicken, cotija and asadero cheese and alfredo sauce ($13.50). I must say, it goes down nicely with a 21.5-ounce tumbler of Irish Red.

This Rooftop pizza has a New Mexico twist with a blue-corn crust, pinon nuts and green chile

This Rooftop pizza has a New Mexico twist with a blue-corn crust, pinon nuts and green chile

Rooftop Pizzeria
60 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm, with slightly reduced winter hours
Rooftop Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Montana
There’s no contest here. As previously mentioned in my Best of 2012 road food post, the guy sitting next to me at Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza, in Missoula, says it’s the best pizza he’s ever tasted. Here, they use a sourdough starter, known as biga (bee-ga), add fresh, ingenious ingredients like fig paste and toasted hazelnuts and slide it all into a 650 F. brick oven for about eight minutes. I get a half and half—one side their award-winning sausage, cherry chutney and smoked gouda (my favourite of the two), the other a medley of local squash and pumpkin. I wash it down with a pungent, Missoula-produced Kettlehouse Cold Smoke Scotch ale.

This half cherry chutney standout at Bob Marshall's Biga Pizza is in my top three favourite pizzas

This half cherry chutney standout at Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza is in my top three favourite pizzas

Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza
241 West Main Street, Missoula
Lunch weekdays 11 am-3 pm, dinner Monday to Thursday 5 pm-9:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 5 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday

Colorado
I can’t say I’ve tried enough pizza in this great culinary state to yet declare a winner. Here are some places chosen as much for character as fine pizza. One is The Sink, a graffiti-laced rabbit’s warren on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder (try the Buddah, featuring tofu, spinach and artichoke hearts). Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub and Amica’s Pizza are two good reasons for making the pilgrimage to Salida, my favourite Colorado town. Oh, they also both make their own beer.

The atmosphere rivals the Buddah pizza at The Sink in Boulder

The atmosphere rivals the Buddah pizza at The Sink in Boulder

Wyoming. Okay, I’ve only eaten pizza at one place, Lander Bar in downtown Lander. But it gets high marks for character, largely because of the boisterous, young crowd and my seatmates: three local women with a ranching heritage and a penchant for chewing tobacco. As for the pizza, it was a fine chicken and artichoke medley thrown down with a Five Pound brown lager from Lander Brewing next door. If you’ve noticed a theme here, it’s that pizza goes down well with a good craft beer. Sorry, wine just doesn’t cut it for me.

Again, the liveliness of the Lander Bar kept pace with the pizza

Again, the liveliness of the Lander Bar kept pace with the pizza

Lander Bar
126 Main Street, Lander
Monday to Saturday 11 am-2 am, Sunday noon-10 pm. Note: The Gannett Grill is open daily 11 am-9 pm

Canadian West

Alberta
As the name suggests, Una Pizza + Wine obviously breaks my beer-and-pizza rule. It’s also somewhat expensive ($15-20 per pizza) and often has a lineup (though it does Tweet about how long the wait is). But it’s worth bending some rules for one of the top-rated restaurants in Calgary, somewhat unusual for a place largely dedicated to pizzas. Creativity, first-class ingredients and execution are the reasons for its popularity, plus it’s a fun, noisy place to hang out. Our pizza choice is a puffy crust covered with roasted cremini mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, fresh arugula and the trump card, splashes of fragrant truffle oil. Una has also transformed the predictable Caesar salad into a mountain of kale topped with crisp Serrano ham, garlic panko, an organic egg and shaved pecorino Romano.

Una Pizza + Wine
618 17 Avenue S.W., Calgary
Daily 11:30 am-1 am
UNA Pizza and Wine on Urbanspoon

Coco Brooks also breaks some of my rules. It’s not thin crust, it’s a little heavier on the cheese and its toppings are by no means leading edge. Indeed, it pumps out the little cardboard boxes of pizza with industrial efficiency. But the Egg n Bacon is a guilty pleasure, with the soft, puffy filling offset by just a slight crunch of smoked bacon and melted mozza and aged cheddar. And at $6.29, it’s maybe the best value on this list for an individual-sized pizza.

Egg n bacon works spectacularly well at Coco Brooks

Egg n bacon works spectacularly well at Coco Brooks

Coco Brooks
640 42 Avenue SE, #80 (two other Calgary locations)
Monday to Thursday 8 am-8 pm, Friday 8 am-9 pm, Saturday 9 am-8 pm
Coco Brooks - Highfield Industrial Park on Urbanspoon

British Columbia

Getting the pizzas ready for the 850 F. oven at Pizzeria Prima Strada

Getting the pizzas ready for the 850 F. oven at Pizzeria Prima Strada

Here’s how Pizzeria Prima Strada, in Victoria, earns its Italian certification for thin-crust Neapolitan pizza. It begins with a well-aged sourdough starter, mixed with fine-ground Caputo flour from Italy and left to rest for two days. After it’s stretched out and loaded with toppings, it goes into a 650 F. wood-fired oven for a minute, is turned and then finished for another minute in the 850 F. section. “The cook’s eyes are on the oven at all times,” the waitress tells me. My Salsiccia Piccante pizza ($15 for six substantial slices) features house-made fennel sausage, roasted peppers and mozzarella. But it’s that deliciously chewy, leopard-spotted crust that makes it a home run for me.

The sourdough crust at Pizzeria Prima Strada is among the best I've tasted

The blistered sourdough crust at Pizzeria Prima Strada is among the best I’ve tasted

Pizzeria Prima Strada
230 Cook Street (one other Victoria location)Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am-9 pm, Friday-Saturday 11:30 am-10 pm
Pizzeria Prima Strada on Urbanspoon

My Best Road Trip Meals of 2012: Part Two

Marathon Mouth chomps down on salmon tacone at Go Fish, Vancouver B.C.

Marathon Mouth chomps down on salmon tacone at Go Fish, Vancouver B.C.

It’s a bit late, but I realize I overlooked a number of categories in my Best Road Trip Meals of 2012 awards and figured I didn’t want to wait perhaps months to post reviews of some stellar places. So here we go with Part Two.

Continue reading