Photograph by Ami Vitale
Western Barbecue Dinner Ride, Artemis Acres Paint Horse Guest Ranch, Kalispell
Cecil Noble is the real deal. A fourth-generation Montanan, Noble was raised on a ranch near Polson, spent 33 years as a wilderness outfitter and guide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and, with his late wife Isabel, started welcoming guests in 2006 to the 80-acre Artemis Acres Paint Horse Guest Ranch to share a slice of “real” Montana with visitors (an additional 800 acres are leased). “I probably have more experience exploring the wilderness on horseback than most people around here,” says the 75-year-old Noble, “and I definitely serve folks some of the most tender flat iron steak.” You don’t have to be an overnight guest to sign up for a Thursday night (summer only) Western Barbecue Dinner Ride. For $75, “mature six- or seven-” year-olds and up get an hour-long horseback ride ($65 for a wagon ride), followed by a flat iron steak or half chicken dinner served in a mountain meadow overlooking the Flathead Valley. Noble cooks on a 19-foot-long homemade grill: three water troughs topped with grates, including one made from 180 welded horseshoes. There are also saddle swings for the kids, porch swings for the adults, and a campfire where Noble enjoys sharing his real-life adventure tales.
Eat at the Old Hotel, Twin Bridges
Who knew that one of the finest gourmet restaurants in the country could be found in the tiny town (population less than 500) of Twin Bridges? The restaurant is housed in a former three-story hotel, and the interior has a homey vibe—that is, if your dining room table is set with fine linens. Open year-round (closed Mondays) for dinner and brunch, the Old Hotel is owned by Hawaii transplants Paula and Bill Kinoshita, who moved to Montana in 2003. The menu is locally sourced as much as possible—particularly during the summer growing season—and rotates weekly. A typical dinner could include an appetizer of bleu cheese- and pecan-stuffed mushrooms in white wine butter followed by Riesling-braised rabbit with fresh strawberries and mint. Dessert might be fresh caramelized pineapple upside down cake with rum crème anglaise, but locals are more likely to request the homemade vanilla bean ice cream. Says Paula, “It surprises us that so many people like our ice cream. We’ve even had people order it for breakfast.”
Steak Night at the Legion Bar and Grill, Roy
Tourists typically don’t find their way to Roy, a stoplight-free former homesteader town in the heart of the state about 35 miles north of Lewiston. Anglers and hunters from the nearby Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and cowboys in town for the annual Father’s Day Roy Rodeo know, however, that Saturday night means Steak Night at the Legion Bar and Grill. While the no-frills Legion is basically a bar with full kitchen, every Saturday it’s also the only—and, arguably, the best—steakhouse within about 60 miles. “This is a town of around 70 people, so we're the one stop for just about everything,” says server Tammy Stahl. “People from all over central Montana come in for Steak Night because it’s such a good deal.” A full appetizer-to-dessert steak dinner costs around $20 (depending on the cut) and usually includes fresh-baked bread. No reservations are needed, but the kitchen staff appreciates it if you let them know you’re coming so they can prep enough steaks, salads, and veggies. Adds Stahl, “If real local and real Montana is what you’re looking for, we’re it.”
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