Category Archives: Travel

Montana Marathon: A Mad Dash Through Kalispell and Whitefish

The Pocketsone Cafe is a lovely place for breakfast in Bigfork, Montana

The Pocketsone Cafe is a lovely place for breakfast in Bigfork, Montana

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?

Healthy grain porridge at Woods Bay Grill near Bigfork, Montana

Healthy grain porridge at Woods Bay Grill near Bigfork, Montana

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
Woods Bay Grill on Urbanspoon

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.

Buttermilk and orange pancakes and bacon at Pocketstone Cafe. Mmm!

Buttermilk and orange pancakes and bacon at Pocketstone Cafe. Mmm!

Pocketstone Cafe
444 Electric Avenue, Bigfork, Montana
Daily 6 am-3 pm
Pocketstone Cafe on Urbanspoon

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.

Nice salad at Bonelli's Bistro in Kalispell

Nice salad at Bonelli’s Bistro in Kalispell

Bonelli’s Bistro
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.

The famous swinging doors at Moose's Saloon in Kalispell

The famous swinging doors at Moose’s Saloon in Kalispell

Moose’s Saloon
173 North Main Street, Kalispell
Opens at 11 am
Moose's Saloon on Urbanspoon

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.

The crepes are indeed awesome at Amazing Crepes in Whitefish

The crepes are indeed awesome at Amazing Crepes in Whitefish

Amazing Crepes
123 Central Avenue, Whitefish
Weekdays 8 am-4 pm, weekends 8 am-3 pm
Amazing Crepes & Catering on Urbanspoon

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.

Fabulous BLT panini and salad at The Palette Cafe in Columbia Falls

Fabulous BLT panini and salad at The Palette Cafe in Columbia Falls

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.

First-class polo tacos at Pescado Blanco in Whitefish. I've already decimated the basket of fresh tortilla chips.

First-class polo tacos at Pescado Blanco in Whitefish. I’ve already decimated the basket of fresh tortilla chips.

Pescado Blanco
235 1 Street, Whitefish
Daily 5 pm to close
Pescado Blanco on Urbanspoon

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.

Getting a final caffeine jolt at Montana Coffee Traders before my long drive into the night

Getting a final caffeine jolt at Montana Coffee Traders before my long drive into the night

Montana Coffee Traders
110 Central Avenue, Whitefish
Monday to Saturday 7 am-6 pm am, Sunday 9-5 pm
Montana Coffee Traders on Urbanspoon

Pedalling through Fort Collins, Colorado

Lovely cappuccino design at Little Bird Bakeshop

Lovely cappuccino design at Little Bird Bakeshop

You could call Fort Collins a self-propelled city. The ubiquitous bike lanes on streets are heavily used, as are the nearly 300 miles of trails that follow creeks and wetlands and pass through dozens of parks and natural areas (visitors can borrow bikes for free from the Bicycle Library www.fcbikelibrary.org 970-419-1050). Even one of the city’s seven microbreweries is largely wind powered (beer “hoppers” can take a Foam on the Range self-guided tour, at least as long as they can safely navigate). It’s not surprising a place this healthy is a college town, with Colorado State University boasting 26,000 students. Many graduates stay, drawn to what Outside magazine bills an American dream town. Indeed, it’s my favourite city on this month-long road food odyssey through four states.

For road trippers, Fort Collins is also a good base for rafting or fishing on the Cache la Poudre, a designated national wild and scenic river that flows through town. Rocky Mountain National Park is just west of town, and Pawnee National Grasslands are to the near east. Not far to the south are Boulder and Denver.

You know you’re in a Colorado college town when a downtown cafe offers four ways of brewing coffee, including pour over, French press and Chemex, the latter two yielding a 30-ounce-plus pot if you’re pulling an all-nighter. The Bean Cycle takes its coffee preparation seriously, using precise measurements for fresh-ground coffee quantity, water temperature and brewing or shot-pulling time. With my double-shot macchiato, the barrista even proffers a shot glass of San Pellegrino as a palate cleanser. The Bean Cycle also makes organic juices and smoothies. Some drinks are to go, but many are headed to laptop-covered tables, including the back and upstairs, where there’s a small bookstore.

Here's how you offer lots of individually brewed coffee choices, Bean Cycle

Here’s how you offer lots of individually brewed coffee choices, Bean Cycle

The Bean Cycle
144 North College Avenue, Fort Collins
Monday to Thursday 6:30 am-9 pm, Friday 6:30 am-10 pm, Saturday 7 am-10 pm, Sunday 8 am-9 pm
Bean Cycle on Urbanspoon

Big Al’s Burgers & Dogs is a no-frills joint famous for two things. First is its 60-40 burger, a juicy patty of beef (60%) mixed with bacon (40%). I’m surprised other burger barons haven’t figured out that everything is better with bacon. Second is its shoestring truffle fries, though the white truffle oil is somewhat overpowered by the generous topping of Parmesan cheese; you won’t need extra salt. I guess there’s a third and a fourth—half a dozen dogs (including one that’s deep fried) and Haagen Daz-based milkshakes such as the Worm Dirt, a chocolate shake with crumbled Oreos and “gummy worm” topping. Big Al also has a big heart, donating the tip jar proceeds to local charities and using recycled wood to help furnish the restaurant.

Big Al’s Burgers & Dogs
140 West Mountain Ave, Fort Collins
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-9 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am-2 am.
Big Al's Burgers & Dogs on Urbanspoon

I’m not sure what’s more fun: sampling the Belgian-style beers at Funkwerks or being asked for ID (hint: I’m much closer to having my car keys forcibly removed than passing my adolescent driver’s test). Once I’ve passed the age test, I sip two wee glasses of Saison-style beers, originally brewed for Belgian farmworkers. These well-crafted, hoppy beers have nice floral notes, a lingering bitterness and a higher alcohol content than most microbrews.

Saison-style Belgian beer at Funkwerks

Saison-style Belgian beer at Funkwerks

Funkwerks
1900 East Lincoln Avenue, Fort Collins
Tasting room/patio open Sunday to Thursday noon to 8 pm Friday and Saturday noon to 9 pm
Funkwerks Brewery on Urbanspoon

Equinox Brewing is a bit like transplanting a pub from the misty moors of England to the high foothills of Fort Collins, minus the tweedy geezers with trembling hands. Mercifully, the tap house/brewery offers only one hoppy India pale ale. The rest of its roster is dedicated to dense, complex ales, porters and my choice of an oatmeal stout that wraps my tongue in a chocolaty blanket. If you know what you want, a 20-ounce pint is the way to go. If not, order the tray of six samplers, most featuring Equinox’s house yeast. Besides Equinox’s Tap House, their fine brews are featured in nine other local bars, but I didn’t find it for sale in any retail outlet.

Equinox Brewing
133 Remington Street, Fort Collins
Monday to Wednesday noon to 8 pm, Thursday-Friday noon to 9 pm, Saturday 11 am-9 pm, Sunday noon-7 pm
Equinox Brewing on Urbanspoon

I haven’t had trout for breakfast in a good three decades, and that was fresh from a stream, dredged in flour and cooked in butter in a cast-iron skillet. So it is strictly for research that I order trout at Silver Grill Café. But I must say, the two fillets are expertly grilled and accompanied by two eggs, a mess of hash browns and swirly rye toast. Despite its modern, scrubbed look, the century-old Silver Grill is northern Colorado’s oldest restaurant and a Fort Collins institution. Its extensive breakfast menu includes eggs with steak, pork chops, tamales and hominy. A whole menu page is devoted to its signature huge cinnamon roll, 10,000 of which are cranked out a month; it can be devoured as French toast or with eggs or even ice cream. Lunches include hot meals like a pot roast open-faced sandwich.

Trout 'n eggs and all the fixings for just $9.99 at Silver Grill Cafe

Trout ‘n eggs and all the fixings for just $9.99 at Silver Grill Cafe

Silver Grill Cafe
218 Walnut Street, Fort Collins
Daily 6:30 am-2 pm
Silver Grill Cafe on Urbanspoon

*The Little Bird Bakeshop is one of those places where you just know the pastries are going to be good, even before taking that first sinful bite. The look says it all, from the plump cranberry raisin oatmeal cookies and plum streusel bites to the chocolate croissant bread pudding and fantastic little stout gingerbread loaf. These mouth-watering treats come out first thing in the morning, to be savoured with a lovely French-press coffee, served in a stainless steel pot, or a perfectly crafted latte from the Elektra espresso machine. That clears the ovens for breads that hit the shelves at 1 p.m., with daily specials such as a Tuscan olive oil batard on Tuesdays. Owner/pastry chef Amy Wyatt pays close attention to the details (even the bathroom is spotless), and it shows in this downtown Fort Collins cafe.

I dare you not to drool, even looking through glass at these Little Bird Bakeshop goodies

I dare you not to drool, even looking through glass at these Little Bird Bakeshop goodies

The Little Bird Bakeshop
#121, 11 Old Town Square, Fort Collins
Tuesday to Friday 7 am-6 pm, Saturday 8 am-6 pm, Sunday 8 am-4pm. Closed Monday
The Little Bird Bakeshop on Urbanspoon

It’s funny how keeping your eyes, and mind, open can lead to great culinary discoveries. For example, I ‘m having trouble parking near my destination restaurant in downtown Fort Collins and end up on a side street. As I get out of the car, I glance in the window of Choice City Butcher & Deli and see a great-looking toasted sandwich packed with meat on some guy’s plate. That draws me into this busy downtown lunch spot and, a few minutes after ordering, I’m happily digging into a BLT thick with bacon and an accompanying side of zesty potato salad. The sandwiches here are delicious and large; in many cases, a half will suffice. Order the sausage sandwich and you get to choose the meat (including wild boar and duck cilantro) from the deli case. The space is comfortable, with hardwood floors and wood tables, but the noon-hour din can make it hard to hear your completed order being called out. Choice City also features some three dozen beers on tap and is rated in the world’s top 10 restaurants that serve beer.

Great sandwiches at Choice City Butcher & Deli

Great sandwiches at Choice City Butcher & Deli

Choice City Butcher & Deli
104 West Olive Street, Fort Collins
Sunday-Tuesday 7 am-6 pm, Wednesday to Saturday 7 am-9 pm
Choice City Butcher & Deli on Urbanspoon

Can you transplant the rich culture of New Orleans to the high plains of northern Colorado? Probably not. But Lucile’s is doing a good job of making inroads on the culinary front, with five locations between Fort Collins and Denver dishing out large portions of flavourful Louisiana fare. Here, you can indulge in beignets (doughnuts), grits, collards and chicory coffee. The egg dishes include one with fried eggplant and creole sauce and, my choice, poached eggs with hollandaise sauce, Gulf shrimp, creamed spinach and a large, crispy biscuit that I smear with house-made rhubarb preserve. For something different, try the rice pudding porridge topped with raspberry sauce, currants and cream. The Fort Collins location I visit is in a charming old house, the cozy, kitchen feel enhanced by patterned vinyl tablecloths.

Lucile's serves up genuine New Orleans' breakfasts in this lovely old house

Lucile’s serves up genuine New Orleans’ breakfasts in this lovely old house

Lucile’s
400 South Meldrun Street, Fort Collins
Weekdays 7 am-2 pm, weekends 8 am-2 pm
Lucile's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Last, but certainly not least, are two Fort Colllins’ places, Restaurant 415 and Harbinger Coffee that provided my favourite meal and coffee, respectively, on my recent month-long trip through four Rocky Mountain states. You can read about them in this previous blog about my best road trip eats of 2012: https://marathonmouth.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/my-best-road-trip-meals-of-2012/

Cheyenne, Wyoming: Big Boots and Character Diners

One of many artistic cowboy boots scattered around Cheyenne

One of many artistic cowboy boots scattered around Cheyenne

It’s less than an hour’s drive east on the I-80 to reach Cheyenne from Laramie. But after climbing steeply out of Laramie to the Lincoln Monument (at 8,640 feet the highest point on this interstate), it’s well worth taking the quiet, parallel Highway 210 (Happy Jack Road). It traverses high rangeland dotted with fantastic red Sherman granite boulders, an area known as Vedauwoo (vi-de-vu) and frequented by climbers. Just beyond are a couple of high-plains lakes in Curt Gowdy State Park, named after the famous sportscaster.

Cheyenne is by far the biggest city in Wyoming (the Air Force base helps), it’s the state capital and it boasts a major rodeo during its Frontier Days. So, to the victor goes the spoils, at least architecturally speaking. The wide downtown streets are nicer, the historic buildings better maintained and the surrounding residential streets more prosperous than, say, nearby Laramie. It’s worth getting a brochure at the downtown visitor centre and tracking down some or all of the 19 eight-foot-high cowboy boots, creatively painted by local artists and scattered around town. The city’s culinary choices may not be quite as inspired, but there are a few places definitely worth seeking out.

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Rawlins and Laramie, Wyoming

Hanging out at Coal Creek Coffee, Laramie Wyoming

Hanging out at Coal Creek Coffee, Laramie Wyoming

About halfway between Lander and Laramie, Rawlins is the site of the Wyoming Frontier Prison, under lock and key since 1901. As it advertises, “come hang with us” on a tour of this often brutal prison’s history.

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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.

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