The drive from Bozeman to Missoula was rather uneventful. We opted to take the northern route so we’d drive through Helena, but now my only memory from there was the sandwich we had at Staggering Ox that bordered on dreadful. What does one expect from a sandwich where the bread looks like a can?
The highlights from Missoula were rather limited as the weather swung from grossly hot to a deluge of rain and hail the size of marbles. We had it on good authority from a bartender at Flathead Lake Brewing that our time in Missoula would be best spent eating and drinking our way through the city. Otherwise the main attractions involved outdoor activities both of which were hampered by the above referenced weather. I’m a fair-weather outdoors[wo]man. I don’t deny it.
Missoula is in the midst of a bit of a growth and revitalization. Parts of the town that once embraced being questionable and sketchy were now being turned into breweries, playhouses and period appropriate apartments. Our Airbnb was one such apartment. The apartments were originally built in the 1890s and our host has been restoring them. He’s been known to do it all over town. When we pulled up, the once dilapidated apartment complex nearly still looked as much, at least from the outside. Questioning looks were shared between Andrew and I as we were wondering just what we got ourselves into. Fears dissipated quickly as we ascended the stairs to the entire floor that was to be ours for the next few days. The apartment looked exactly like it would have back in the 1890s, only restored. One half of the floor contained the kitchen and the bedroom. The other half a living space, a bathroom, and another room that was still under construction. An additional apartment with a similar setup was occupied full-time downstairs.
Biga Pizza was hands-down the food related highlight of Missoula. We managed to squeak in to grab a pizza at their bar before they closed for the night. Their meatball verde pizza has a cilantro-jalapeno base that dreams are made of. It’s bright and refreshing with a subtle spice. I want jars of the stuff to pour on everything. We fell in love with the pizza and owner that we wanted to come back for more the next day, but they’re closed Sundays. We opted for Monday lunch before heading out on the road. After pizza, we went to Big Dipper Ice Cream. I hadn’t realized just how jaded I was by the Portland ice cream scene [read: lines and $$$]. My jaw dropped when I could get two gigantic scoops of house-made ice cream for less than $4. They cater to purists and crazy people alike. I had to get the two scoops so I could get their green tea and black licorice. Breakfast at Catalyst Cafe was a recommendation by the owner/chef at Biga Pizza. The cafe started out as a coffee cart. It’s now a highly popular breakfast destination. We were recommended the Mexican inspired breakfast plates, which is exactly what we got. HEAPING portions of chilaquiles and huevos rancheros are an understatement, but the quality wasn’t sacrificed. It was a perfect combination.
We stayed in Missoula for two nights and got on the road again [after coffee and pastries from Bernice’s Bakery and sandwiches from Biga Pizza]. Columbia Falls was the next destination so we could head into Glacier National Park for a few days. Unfortunately the Going-to-the-Sun road was still mostly closed for the year, so we wouldn’t get to experience nearly enough of it to form an opinion. Columbia Falls is a tiny little town, so if you’re not in Glacier, you spend a lot more of your time in Whitefish. Whitefish is the next town over and a resort town on a much smaller scale in comparison to Jackson. The Airbnb we stayed in was a newly constructed addition to the owner’s shop on their property. It was really nice.
We spent a lot of our first day in Glacier driving around to get a lay of the land. Since the road was blocked only 15 miles in, and there is only that one road, access was pretty limited unless you’re ready to go on some big hikes. The Avalanche Lake hike was pretty easy and the views from the lake up to the surrounding mountains were stunning. We didn’t get anywhere near a glacier, though. It was a fairly crowded hike since it was one of the only “main areas” to go. We had to circle for awhile to even find a parking spot.
Whitefish has a great brewery [Great Northern Brewing!] that serves a solid beers and a plate of nachos as a post-hike feast. Their specialty beers, Guy on a Buffalo [coffee porter] and Big Mountain Tea Pale Ale [made with Earl Grey], were total standouts. The bartender suggested we hit up the farmers market to get a fish sandwich from The Cuisine Machine, a caterer with a food cart. They were out of their famous Walleye sandwich, but if the cod was any indication, it was incredible. Light flakey white fish is a weakness, and I’m particularly picky if it’s lightly breaded. Easily one of the best fish sandwiches of my life. It was there that the owner/chef told us to hit up Polebridge, a small town [village?] on the edge of Glacier to eat at the saloon. A lady at the bakery stand told us the same thing. Their original bakery was in the mercantile out there. We knew what the next day in Glacier would hold.
Polebridge is a trip. We were told that normally there is about 150 or so people that live in Polebridge full time [often in their cars!] and then it jumps to 300 when the summer season hits and there is more work available. There is literally just the one dirt road, the saloon, and the mercantile. The front of the mercantile is the bakery case where you can get various flavors of home baked cookies, that look just like ones made at home. The fruit danishes were sold at a premium because they took so many hours to make. Dinner at the saloon was another home cooked affair. I hadn’t had, but severely craved, a simple steak the whole time we had been on the road trip, so to get a steak salad and a beer and sit outside on picnic tables on the lawn was heavenly. The server, a well-traveled older gentleman, stood outside and chatted with us about Polebridge, his world travels, and why Montana is such a draw to very well educated, well traveled people. It was a really great time. As usual, people get a bit bummed when they hear you’re spending such a short time in their town [we were leaving tomorrow]. I love that kind of pride.
The following morning we’d eat at Farmhouse [a tender fried green tomato benedict on a biscuit!] on our way to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho — the final stop on our road trip.