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High Mountains, High Cuisine
Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
Think of haute cuisine. We doubt that Glacier Country in Montana was the first place in your mind. Paris, New Orleans, and New York quickly come to mind. In fact, cuisine and Montana usually aren't considered in the same thought processes, at least, not in our minds. It is time for that to change. Glacier Country has more to offer, in the way of dining, than "meat and potatoes," though fine steaks are a staple on most menus. We were pleasantly surprised at the great food we found on a recent trip to Glacier Country. In fact, the cuisine alone may justify a trip to the region; the added consideration of stunning scenery makes Glacier Country a destination of choice. Glacier International Airport serves the region and fresh seafood is flown in daily. The high, jagged Rocky Mountains provide the backdrop for fine dining in this scenic area.
Montana is the fourth largest state in physical size, yet it has a population smaller than some US cites (well under one million people), ranking 44th in population. Most of the people we met, who lived there, had moved from densely populated areas in the US. They came seeking the space and freedom of the West. The state is divided into six travel regions, and Glacier Country is the region that covers the northwest section of the state. Glacier National Park, Flathead Valley, Bitterroot Valley, Mission Valley, and Missoula Valley are all found within the region.
Glacier National Park's world-class, exquisite scenery is the primary draw for visitors. The park takes its name from the more than 50 "new" glaciers; new in that they were formed after the last Ice Age. The glacially tortured, chiseled Rocky Mountains rarely top 10,000 feet within the park. The glaciers of today continue to sculpt the land for future generations to observe. The land is one of breathtaking beauty, which explains why the Native American Blackfeet Tribe set aside the area as sacred, long before the first European settlers arrived. More than 250 lakes dot the landscape. Lake McDonald is the largest and perhaps the most scenic. Over 700 miles of hiking trails in the park means plenty of room to explore without bumping into other travelers. The Going-to-the-Sun Road crosses the Continental Divide at 6,664' elevation and it is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world.
Fine cuisine is not found only in the restaurants. Many of the area Bed & Breakfast establishments feature outstanding gourmet breakfasts. B & B's give more flavor to the location, one feels more a part of an area. It is almost like being home--except for the gourmet breakfasts and someone else to manage the household details. B & B owners take a real interest in their guests because much of their business is from repeat customers or word-of-mouth advertising. They know the area well and are able to direct guests to specific areas of interest.
Our Montana travels began with a two-night stay at the Garden Wall Inn, in the town of Whitefish. The Garden Wall Inn is a restored 1920's home furnished with antiques, such as a claw-foot bathtub. Old black and white photos decorate the walls. The sitting room--well-stocked with reading material, including what looks like every guide book ever published on Montana--and the crackling fire in the fireplace bestows a homey feel to the inn. Definite touches of luxury include an evening turn-down service--complete with chocolates--and the morning wake-up coffee brought to your room a half-hour before breakfast. One of our three-course gourmet breakfasts included scrambled eggs, shrimp and mushrooms piled high on a crescent roll and topped with dill sauce--delicious--followed by a fruit bowl of strawberries, bananas, kiwi, apples and grapes and finished with homemade huckleberry muffins. The inn's location is about a twenty-five minute drive from Glacier National Park.
While in Whitefish, not-to-be-missed is the Tupelo Grill. The prices are moderate and the quality of the food is over the top. Money spent here is money well-spent. As we were leaving the restaurant (after a fabulous meal) we were waiting out front for the rest of our party to join us. A passerby remarked, "Hey, it's worth the wait," assuming we were waiting to be seated.
The town of Kalispell, with a population of around 12,000, sits on the banks of Flathead Lake--the largest body of water in Montana. The Keith House, a Bed & Breakfast Inn, located in Kalispell, oozes charm and elegance--from the many fireplaces to the plush robes. We stayed in Rebecca's Suite, a spacious two-room suite with gas fireplace, turret sitting area, and canopied bed. The holly-motif wallpaper adds cheeriness to the room. We hardly wanted to leave our room, but this 1911 house featuring Victorian decor is well worth exploring. The secluded library with its overstuffed chairs invites guests to relax and enjoy a good book.
While in Kalispell, don't miss Café Max. Nightly specials include such offerings as grilled Blue Marlin, Ahi, or whatever is in season. The Goat Cheese, Chive and Lemon Zest Ravioli served over grilled Shittake Mushrooms (locally grown) with a Tomato Basil Sauce, is one dish that would be hard to top anywhere.
The O'Duachain Country Inn, a beautiful log and wood structure, is located on a quiet five-acre wooded plot of land outside Bigfork. The inn was established in 1985 as the first B & B in the Flathead Valley. Host Mary Corcoran Knoll's stuffed French toast breakfast is one of the best ways we can think of to start any day. The town of Bigfork has a population of less than 4,000, and there is a "touristy" feel to the town. Maybe it's the many art shops in a town too small to support them.
While in Bigfork, don't miss a chance to sample the Coyote Roadhouse Restaurant's superb cuisine. Chef/owner Gary Hastings' nightly menu includes Tuscan, Southwestern, and Mayan dishes. Don't get in a hurry. Gary prepares each entree individually and he has little patience with people expecting a hurry-up job. The dining experience is worth the wait. Located on a country lane outside of town, Coyote Roadhouse is the antidote to the touristy flavor of the town.
The town of Hamilton has Maggie's Wild Oats Café & Coffee House, offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner and an excellent line-up of coffee drinks. We heartily recommend the sandwiches from the lunch menu. Moderately-priced, each is piled high with toppings and served with a side order of soup or mixed greens and choice of house dressings.
The Deer Crossing Bed & Breakfast is located in a quiet spot outside Hamilton. The horses, cat and dog play just outside. The multi windowed Big Sky Suite sits at the top of the stairs, offering great views of the surrounding landscape. Walk outside and the dog will want you to play fetch and the horses may be looking for a sugar cube.
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