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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Eating & Drinking in Kalispell, Montana

Last week I took a road trip with my mom and dog from Portland to Montana. The Visitor Bureau had been trying to get me up there for some time and I was finally able to make the trip to check out the lovely town of Kalispell and the Flathead Valley. The area is beautiful, and we'll get to that, but I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects: food. If you've been reading my blog for a while (or follow me on Instagram), you know I love to try new foods everywhere I go. Well, let me tell you, I only had one bad meal on this trip, and that was my own fault. I won't talk about that today though. Instead, I want to focus on the all the deliciousness that was had.




If you like food, beer and wine, then the Flathead Valley is definitely for you. Almost all the food comes in huge portions, which is surprising, but really works for a budget vacation, because you can easily make two meals out of one, either by taking the leftovers for later or splitting with a travel partner. Besides that, the food really is totally affordable, too.


My first stop in town was to the Kalispell Brewing Co. where I went for a flight of beers. I like a dark stout, like Guinness, which I told the "waiter". He recommended four darker beers for the flight and I was in. So, what I got, from left to right (least bitter to most bitter, and also lightest to darkest) was the Winter at Noon Dunkel, Demersville Dark Schwarzbier, Piolet {pronounced pee-o-lay} Porter, Snowslip Stout. The Demersville and Piolet were seasonal and the other two are normally on tap. The Dunkel is a favorite among regulars and, though I thought it was quite good (high praise from a non-beer drinker like me), the stout was definitely my favorite. The porter was a bit too bitter for me and, in fact, seemed more bitter than the stout, but I wouldn't turn it down if offered again.





The brewery is a lot larger on the inside than it looks on the outside and actually is very bright. The building used to be a auto repair shop. It has been extensively remodeled since it was bought for the brewery, but the feel is still there and the owners did a great job holding onto that history and some of the best artwork on the building.  





Sit inside or outside here. There are two floors and the upper floor is split into an inside area with large floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor deck that overlooks Main Street. It's a perfect place to relax after work or just to enjoy a couple beers. You can also take a tour of the brewery if you like.

As you can see, I really enjoyed my flight of beers. I finished that stout, too, so don't worry about wasted beer. There is some weird law stating that breweries can't serve food in Montana, and they have to jump through a lot of hoops in order to do so. Kalispell Brewing Co. has popcorn for those that need a little somethin'-somethin' to keep from falling off their chairs, but they also allow you to bring your own food in or have something delivered directly to the brewery, like pizza. Also, the beers are not going to set you back much. Our group ordered two full-size beers and my flight and it only cost $13.50




If you don't choose to order food to bring with you to the brewery, there are tons of other delicious food options to choose from in Kalispell and they're all easy to walk to. I was lucky enough to be taken down the street to Hops by the owner, Bonnie. This is the third, and probably last, incarnation of their restaurant. It went from fine dining to Mediterranean to the popular burger and beer joint it is today. They have dozens of beers on tap and over 100 to choose from overall, plus much of the meat and other ingredients are locally-sourced, making it the ultimate Montana dining experience.





Our waiter, Austin, was very gracious and welcomed me to Kalispell before telling us about the drinks and specials. You might think he was showing his best face for the owner, but everyone we met in Montana was crazy-nice and helpful. We started off with the elk bratwurst. Now, I pretty much have a thing against sausages in general, but I couldn't resist trying this local food and would even break my rule to order it again. The caramelized onions and homemade pretzel were very complementary. 

I think I had decided on my main meal before I even step foot in Montana. I mean, where else have you ever seen yak on a menu? My answer: NEVER. You can also choose from bison, wild boar and traditional beef. These yak are bred on a ranch probably 10 miles from town, making it hyper-local. They have a great life roaming the ranch and have wonderful diets. They are mostly used for breeding, but some make it onto your plate here. I went with the yak burger, which came with a mild coleslaw and was topped with a BBQ sauce, more caramelized onions and pickled ginger. It was one of the best - and juiciest - burgers I've ever had. I could only eat half of it, but enjoyed the rest later, even sharing a few nibbles with the dog (who tried to gnaw off my fingers). 

Unfortunately, the dessert we shared didn't photograph well in the low light, but it was equally delicious. Served in a mug, the Irish whiskey chocolate mousse was light and fluffy and made in-house. It is topped with a homemade whipped cream...and I ate most of it, even though I was stuffed. It was pretty potent, so I'm glad I passed on more beer, but I don't regret ordering it over the other desserts offered.


My mom is a lover of BBQ, so we made the decision to check out Desoto's Bar & Grill, which was two blocks (maybe less) from our hotel. It is housed in the old forge and the sign is still hanging on the front of the building. The inside still feels a bit like a forge and is an open plan, so you can see the food being made. It's not large, but that doesn't stop them from having live music on certain days. The owners of this place actually lived in Portland for almost two decades before coming back home to Montana.


What they lack in space, they make up for in flavor...and portion sizes. Check out that ice team my mom has! I wasn't starving, so I figured ordering an appetizer was the way to go. Apparently, it didn't matter. I got the BBQ brisket baked potato, which would have easily fed two people as a main meal. It was packed with brisket slices (slathered in their homemade BBQ sauce which was sweet, but not too sweet, and tangy, but not too tangy), bacon, corn, green onions, butter, sour cream and corn. I ate as much as I could, which might have been 2/3 and when I ran to the restroom, the waitress took it away, but told my mom if I wasn't actually done, she'd be happy to bring me another. How nice (and totally unnecessary) was that? I reassured her that I was done and more than full.



I ordered up a beer to go with my potato. I tried something called Irish Death, which is actually brewed in Ellensburg, Washington. I loved the name and I enjoyed the beer and a 12oz is just $4. What? That giant potato was $10.50. We would have gotten out of there really cheaply if we had just split one, but my mom got her own with the BBQ chicken, which was also very good.



So, I don't know if you've ever had a huckleberry, but they are addicting. Unfortunately, Montana hoards almost all of them for themselves, meaning I had to load up on them while I could. I purchased chocolate-covered and cordials (my absolute favorite) and headed over to Norm's News, the Valley's only old-fashioned soda fountain, and candy shop. You can purchase unique and delicious candies here from the area and from the world. 



Seeing they had huckleberry shakes, I just had to order one. They make their own ice cream here (and also fudge) and take their time getting the shakes just right, so don't expect to order and get it right away. I mean, they also serve hamburgers, hot dogs, sundaes and sides here, so they have customers to serve.


My mom ordered the milkshake special: The Paul, which was like chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. She loved it. My huckleberry shake had whole berries in it and the ice cream was so thick that I broke my straw trying to drink it. That's not a bad thing. I turned it over and kept at it. I was definitely rewarded for my efforts. I shared mine with the dog, who also thought it was a delicious treat.




On the morning we were heading to Glacier National Park, Diane from the Visitor Bureau took me to have breakfast at Sykes Diner, home of the 10 cent coffee. I ordered a cup, and it was just as good as you would get elsewhere for 20 times as much (or more). I also got the breakfast sandwich, because who can pass up a breakfast sandwich? I was pleasantly surprised though, because the biscuit was obviously homemade and done right. Instead of being dry and crumbly, it was fluffy, large and really filling. I could only eat half of it, especially with the side of perfectly crispy hashbrowns. Sykes is located inside Sykes Market, so you can purchase staples or a quick gift, pick up a prescription and get breakfast, lunch or dinner all in one stop. The service is fast and friendly, the food is good and affordable (my sandwich was $7.50), plus it's a fun place to people watch or make new friends.


Okay, so when we first rolled into town, we grabbed a quick lunch at Brannigan's Pub, because they had outdoor seating and were right across the street from the park where we were walking the dog. We liked it so much that we went back for dinner on our last night. The pub serves a long list of whiskeys and other beer and liquor. Unfortunately, I was driving both times, so I didn't try any, but a Jameson or Bushmill's, which I know are spendy at home were just around $4.50 or $5 here. 


The menu consists of Irish staples, like hand pies, bangers & mash and corned beef & cabbage. I was drawn to the sandwiches served on pretzel buns. I tried both the Bistro Melt and the Dubliner. The Bistro has ham, havarti and caramelized onions, while the Dubliner has Dubliner cheese, turkey and proscuitto. Both were outstanding, but the star of the dishes were the planks (Brannigan's fries) which were perfectly cooked. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and everything I want in a fry. I'm going to have withdrawals. I know it. Friday and Saturday nights can get busy, so get their early to snag a table.

Have you ever been to a restaurant where the food was so good, you could eat there every day? It's few and far between for me, but on this trip, 406 Bar and Grill was it. It's definitely a more upscale place, but it still feels casual. They have plenty of outdoor seating, including what you see above.

We stopped in for lunch one day, because it was literally 20 steps from our hotel and highly recommended. The menu has tapas and larger plates, many are Mexican-inspired, but there are Northwest dishes as well. My mom ordered the herb-roasted chicken and I decided to go the tapas route and got the grilled lamb chops and the baked brie toast. Can't go wrong with any of those, right? Many of the dishes have cilantro in them, which I can't eat (white people problems) and instead of asking if they could be ordered without, I just chose the items that sounded good without, and I'll never pass up a lamb dish.

First off, that chicken was so juicy and flavorful, it would be hard to not order it every time you ate here. The lamb chops were cooked perfectly and the balsamic glaze was just right to bring out the flavor of the meat. The brie toasts were slathered with sundried tomato spread and tasted a bit like mini pizzas, but were worth ordering. Had I gone back, I would have ordered the buffalo sliders, because yum. Also, when you order a soda here, you get a large glass, instead of one of those little ones that they have to come back and refill a hundred times. I'm into that.

A little bit outside of town is the Tamarack Brewing Company, where we stopped for lunch before horseback riding. It's technically in Lakeside. They brew their own beers and also serve locally-sourced foods. The brewery is co-owned by hockey legend Lanny McDonald, which is a big draw for hockey-loving Canadians (and probably Americans as well). 


I do regret not trying one of their beers here, but drinking before horseback riding didn't seem like such a great idea for me, so I did the next best thing. I ordered a glass of their house-made root beer. It's brewed with Montana honey and raw sugar on-site. It was really delicious. I'd eaten nothing but large meals my whole trip and I decided to go for something lighter, or so I thought. 




I looked on the specials menu and got the half sandwich, cup of soup and salad. How could that be large? Well, as you can see, it was. This was their Mediterranean chicken sandwich, house salad and clam chowder. The sandwich was messy, but it was really good. The soup was a bit...greasy, but I think maybe they were just having an off day, as Diane said her fish tacos were not quite as good as usual. Look at those tacos though! It looks like they caught the fish, threw it in the fryer and put it on the plate. She says these are her go-to when eating here. They normally come with shredded cheese and sour cream, but she ordered them without. You'll also see that pizzas and burgers feature prominently on their menu. On warm days you can sit on their patio. 

Kalispell has quite a few places to dine that have outdoor seating, so if you come with your pup, you can all enjoy the nice weather. Bonelli's was one of the places that was recommended, but we didn't get to. They have Mediterranean and Italian food. There are only so many hours in the day to stuff your face, and they were only open for breakfast and lunch, and our hotel offered a fantastic breakfast that was included each morning. Montana Coffee Traders also had outdoor seating, but again they were only open for breakfast and lunch. I did get a lunch from there, but it was a salad to go that I ate at Glacier.

I did have other meals while traveling, but these were the things I ate while in Kalispell. I am actually a little confused how everyone in town is not overweight with all these yumtastic options around town, but almost everyone seemed pretty fit. Must be all that ranching and hiking they're doing. I'm already looking forward to another trip up there for more great food (and, you know, seeing more of the area). I've got more Kalispell posts coming up, so you can look forward to activities, culture, lodging and more this month.

Have you ever been to Kalispell, Glacier National Park or the Missoula area? If so, what was your favorite meal?

Disclosure: My visit to Kalispell was sponsored by the Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau, but all opinions are 100% my own.
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