A culinary guide to Montana winters

0
19

The winter snowscapes of Montana are magical. There’s a whole lot of outdoor fun to be had in Big Sky Country once the days shorten and the temperatures drop. But for those in the know, there are plenty of winter treasures to be found indoors as well — namely, in Montana’s restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, diners, and more.

Throughout the state, local small-batch distillers and brewers, bakers and patissiers, java-heads and five-star chefs are working hard to give visitors that first-class Montana culinary experience, even — or dare we say, especially — come winter. Whether you’re looking for an après spot to cap off a fine day on the slopes or are content to enjoy the views of snow-capped peaks from more modest elevations, let yourself warm up with Montana’s on-fire food and drink scene. Here’s where to go.

Après delights

Photo: Jed Sanford / The Jawbone, White Sulphur Springs

Après dining is a long-standing Montana tradition, though it’s changed a bit over the decades. Check out these spots after a day on the slopes.

The Jawbone | White Sulphur Springs

You’ll find equal parts warmth and relaxation at The Jawbone. The upscale cocktail lounge doubles as a fine-dining eatery, offering hearty-yet-elevated dishes like Chilean sea bass and peppercorn-crusted filet mignon. Pair your meal, whatever it may be, with a signature drink such as the Montana Huckleberry Mule — along with a day at nearby Showdown Montana, the state’s first ski area.

Dillon Tap House | Dillon

If you’re a beer enthusiast, this cozy taphouse is for you. You’ll find some of Montana’s most-loved craft beers here, like Meadowlark Brewing’s Hobo Monkey IPA and the Latte Milk Stout from Neptune’s Brewery (in addition to highlights from around the Mountain West). Grab a seat here once you’re off the slopes at Maverick Mountain in Polaris, about 45 minutes away.

Nap’s Grill | Hamilton

This relaxed bar and grill is both a long-standing local favorite and the epitome of rustic-yet-refined Montana charm. Grab a Montana beef burger and a local craft beer or a Prohibition-era cocktail like “Bee’s Knees,” pairing Montana gin with lemon juice and honey. This one’s just 20 minutes from Lake Como Recreation Area in Darby and about an hour from Lost Trail Ski Area in Sula.

Bow & Marrow | Havre

Bow & Marrow is one for the history buffs. In the historic railroad town of Havre, this upscale steakhouse focuses on timeless culinary delights such as 16-ounce ribeyes and Alaskan king crab. You can also expect an inventive selection of shared plates — hello, blistered shishito peppers — and a nice list of Montana craft beers and signature cocktails. It sits about 45 minutes north of the Bear Paw Ski Bowl, a beloved community spot and nonprofit operation owned by Rocky Boy’s Chippewa-Cree tribe.

Fine dining

Photo: Donnie Sexton / Lucca’s, Helena

Montana restaurants of the “white tablecloth” variety have exploded in number in recent years. Get gussied up and scout out these splurge-worthy establishments.

Lucca’s | Helena

If fine Italian fare plated to perfection is your idea of a must-have vacation meal, set your GPS to Lucca’s. With a menu that rotates seasonally but is always focused on Italian traditions with a fresh flair — including house-made pasta — you might as well be inside Montana’s Little Italy. And even though the bistro trends toward the casual, there are ways to take it to the nines, like ordering a reserve bottle from across the pond (e.g., France’s Chassagne-Montrachet).

The Union Grille | Fort Benton

The Union Grille is a farm-to-table Montana restaurant inside the beautifully restored Grand Union Hotel, sitting right on the banks of the Missouri River. Get cozy in the classic atmosphere as you enjoy seasonal dishes from pan-fried gnocchi and steak frites to tandoori-spiced rack of lamb. They have a selection of Montana’s best microbrews, too.

Chico Hot Springs | Pray

Crave luxury? Welcome to Chico Hot Springs. This rustic-styled lodge and resort near the Yellowstone River — about 30 minutes north of the national park — pairs its James Beard-nommed fine-dining experience with access to natural hot springs. Produce is sourced from the onsite garden, and their renowned dishes (like trout almondine and beef Wellington) complement one of the most impressive wine lists in the region. Those in the know often say this is the spot that brought fine dining to Montana.

Note: Parties of 2–6 can have a private dining experience in the Tasting Room, sitting down to the chef’s tasting menu and premium wine pairings.

Pompey’s Grill | Three Forks

If sampling bison is on your Montana to-do list, put the warm and elegant Pompey’s Grill — located inside the Sacajawea Hotel — at the top of your itinerary. This hidden steakhouse gem constructed of reclaimed timber offers a variety of culinary options but caters first and foremost to the carnivores, what with its certified Angus steaks (fired and wood-smoked) and juicy bison short ribs.

Winter spirits

Montana food and drink: A culinary guide for your winter tripMontana food and drink: A culinary guide for your winter trip

Photo: Jason O’Neil/Gulch Distillers, Helena

When the temperatures drop, Montanans drop in to their favorite distilleries, holes-in-the-wall, speakeasies, and bars to warm up from winter’s chill. Here’s where you’ll find them.

Gulch Distillers | Helena

For those longing for a nostalgic sort of micro-distillery experience, Gulch Distillers delivers. This spot is one-of-a-kind in Montana’s capital city. Try the Flying Anvil Single Malt, a classic whiskey with prominent notes of honeysuckle, apricot, and nougat, or the Flintlock Bourbon Cask Spiced Rum, a dry, light-bodied rum with primary notes of banana and spice, finishing with cardamom. You can also nab cocktails, tastings, and back-of-house tours.

Willie’s Distillery | Ennis

Montana moonshine is a Montana must. This rustic, wood-sided small-batch distillery sources fresh grains from local farmers. Along with Montana Honey Moonshine, you can warm up with winter spirits like Huckleberry Sweet Cream Liqueur, Montana Chokecherry Liqueur, or their Big Horn Bourbon. Find it on the banks of the Madison River, right on Main Street in Ennis.

Westslope Distillery | Hamilton

Westslope provides a true small-town Montana experience. (Population of Hamilton? 4,700.) Their smooth Timber Cruiser Rye Whiskey is made with their Lost Trail Rye Vodka — aged nine months in No. 4 charred American oak barrels — and has a dark caramel color with smoky notes of toffee, cocoa, vanilla cake, and nutmeg. Beyond their mainstay bottles, they also offer mixology classes, themed nights, and a variety of cocktails in their library-esque tasting room.

Fifty One Below Speakeasy | Butte

For some undeniable fun, little beats this quirky Prohibition-inspired cocktail spot set within the Miner’s Hotel. The journey to the basement lounge is an experience in itself, involving a vintage rotary phone and a false wall with a secret door. Inside, bartenders serve up signature spirits like the famed Montana Huckleberry Mule and Miners Punch. As long as you can find your way in, you can’t go wrong.

Regional specialties

Photo: Wandering Albatross Photography / Park Avenue Bakery, Helena

In our opinion, Montana’s traditional cuisine doesn’t get enough attention — no Western state has a menu quite like it. From pasties to bear claws, here’s where to earn your local stripes.

Park Avenue Bakery | Helena

This European-style bakery and cafe has mastered the apple bear claw and blueberry-pecan cinnamon roll. You know how steaming your bread is most bakers’ secret to perfect, crunchy crust and a soft, delectable crumb? For more than two decades, Park Avenue’s bakers have used an authentic Italian steam deck oven to get their masterpieces just right. And that attention to detail holds for their lunch fare — pizzas, soups, sandwiches — as well.

Big Sky Grocery | Moore (aka Eddie’s Corner)

In Montana, visiting a local market for something special to eat is a legit winter pastime. And Big Sky Grocery — an Amish-owned market known by residents as “Eddie’s Corner” — is a true farm-to-market experience. You’ll find a rotating selection of delicious fresh baked goods, cheese curds, deli sandwiches on fresh-baked bread, small tokens for gifting, and — should the mood strike — their famous Wilcoxson’s milkshakes.

Mountie Moose Bakery | Townsend

Hidden within this quaint Montana cabin is a variety of winter treats, including chocolate peppermint hot cocoa bombs, maple-glazed long johns, and incredible strawberry and red velvet donuts. All this alongside tasty breakfast sandwiches, lunch items, and a house-brand espresso bar. They can also do full pies and cakes for travelers with a cause to celebrate.

Sherry’s Homestyle Bakery | Phillipsburg

Start your day like a Montanan — with a beef pasty topped with country gravy. This small-town pastry shop has delicious fresh-baked goods like apple fritters and marshmallow-glazed donuts, too, with an espresso bar that boasts nearly 50 flavors. If you’re driving between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, take a little detour off I-90 and let Sherry’s be your fuel-up. Every item on the menu pairs well with those sweet Montana winter views.