Montana is not entirely a culinary wasteland. I can name three truly exceptional bakeries west of Bozeman Pass, and our effete little slice of Heaven here in the Queen City has two outstanding locations for real pizza. However, you can count the number of good Mexican restaurants in FWP regions 1 through 4 combined on just one hand, and have enough fingers left to do more than just express your feelings to SLC friends, who get both Hectors in their backyard and In n’ Outs every 10 miles up and down the front.
What Montana does well is beef, particularly burgers and steaks, and most particularly serving those things in very nice bars. Not the sort which excites cultural tourists from Bend or Issaquah, though there are lots of those, but the sort apparently wholly lacking in rats, staph infections, or aspirants to be the next Kazinski. Places you can wear a non-plaid collered shirt without being assumed a government agent, places your very active toddler can run around at 2 in the afternoon without anyone minding. Until more people, more non-white people, and whatever else makes small-city food in places like Arizona so, so much better on average, this is what we have.
Butte, America is the quintessential Montana town because it is so unlike any other in the state. High on a cold and sunny hill right to the west of the Continental Divide, Butte was for a time the richest cities on earth, and the largest in the US between Chicago and San Francisco. IWW organizer Frank Little was lynched in Butte in 1917, and as late as the 60s the union presence and the associated cache made it a mandatory stop for Democratic politicians. In Montana being a Butte native still enjoys outsized gravitas in both politics and bar fights. Butte is Helena’s tough sibling; higher, colder, sunnier; who enjoyed far higher highs and still enjoys broader notoriety, and whose decline into old age has been prolonged and marked by a certain grace, as well as ever growing evidence of ever more serious decay.
The Metals bank building is one of the tallest still standing in town, which makes Metals Sport Bar and Grill easy to find; turn off the interstate, drive north, and look up. The entrance is marble, and ceilings and 20+ feet up, and the bar and tables are built with surprising ease around the old bank paraphenalia. You can even have a meal in the vault (the door alone weighs 32 tons). The menu is standard upscale pub stuff, with some Montana twists, like pasties and poutine. Don’t look past the burgers (the french onion is divine) and waffle cut fries. The beer list is solid, but not huge. If you need more, three breweries lie within walking distance.
In most things human Montana is not gifted with the charms on abundance, but that makes what you do find all the better.
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