Sup Like a Local
- July 30, 2018 -
Sup like a local… You new-age punks probably think “sup” is some kind of greeting. Not so. “Sup” is the proper way to say “eat dinner.” Learn something today? You’re welcome.
You FINALLY arrived in Missoula. The Quote 2 Cast Summit doesn’t begin until tomorrow but you need a place to take you team to dinner and reward their dedication. First, don’t even think of checking in at home. Go to one of the “drink like a local” places we listed and have a relaxing beverage. Then get ready to get down to the real business of the day… er, evening: dinner. This is where the company expense account gets a workout. Stretch that AmEx’s lack of spending limit as far as it will go at these awesome brasseries.
Spanning the culinary gambit from franchise chain five-dollar belly-fillers to multi-course wallet-slimming affairs, this town is awash with stuffs to satisfy. Here are the local establishments ATG recommends according to how much time you have or, more importantly, who is paying.
You guessed it, trains are involved here. The Depot is housed in an old brick building bordering the tracks in downtown Missoula. Don’t worry, it’s on the right side, and is THE place to go if you’re on the deal-making scene. Suits, pant and swimming alike, grace the less-formal dining area known as the Depot Deck. They have a formal dining room, but why? Only use it when hosting particularly snooty company or when the deck is full. Also, the menu in there is different and about twice the price, so really only go if someone else is paying and you really like a salad bar.
The Depot Deck is known for a few things, mainly good stiff drinks and shrimp won-tons. Yeah, the won-tons probably come frozen in a bag but the chefs (line cooks) at The Depot swear they’re fresh and we don’t care. They are delicious. They are addicting. They come with mustard that makes your nose run… away… crying.
You’ll munch fried shrimp-filled dough pockets alongside college coeds fresh off the river still in their pineapple-print bikinis, families out for a nice dinner where dad can get a beer and mom a martini, and business associates working each other over for the right to PM the dinner order. The Depot Deck is a communal space and, in the summer, doesn’t get much better for an evening with whomever. Get a Grizzly G&T, a blackened prime rib sando, and gawk at the Pirnie art collection at 201 W. Railroad Street.
The Pearl Cafe
This is where you take your wife for her birthday. It’s the only time you go on your own dime. They make it very worth the coin. You go home and have a very good time. The end.
Not all experiences end this fantastically but The Pearl has an inordinate ability to turn an ordinary evening into an extraordinary evening. Not just in the romantic sense either. Friends and family congregate at this semi-private venue for finer dining and a phenomenal wine list. You won’t be throwing back shots or splitting $20 bottles here. It’s classy. Show some class.
We recommend a suit and tie, nice dress, or pink shorts and boat shoes. Yeah, classy.
Order the french onion soup Gratinee as an appetizer, it’s better than any in France, and is topped with Gruyere which is just fun to say out loud. Try it. See?
For the main duckling with pomegranate cherry sauce and truffle shiitake chevre flan. Not only do you get the opportunity to order flan, which never happens, you get to say shiitake out loud. Also super fun to say. Did you try it?
Pair the expertly pronounced food options with a wine from Spain. No, France. No, Argentina. Wait, California. Okay, this is ridiculous. The wine list is so many pages long and encompasses so many countries and regions that the word terroir starts feeling like it could be used in everyday conversation. Don’t do it. You sound smarmy.
Finish dinner with an Irish coffee and the obligatory creme brûlée. You had to know The Pearl had creme brûlée on the menu. You don’t get to this level of sophistication leaving creme brûlée off the menu. It’s science.
Afterward go next door to The Dram Shop and get any of hundreds of beer or wine styles. Do all this at 231 E. Front St.
Depending on how close you are to finishing marathon training, this one might require a vehicle. The Keep a.k.a. Shadow’s Keep a.k.a. Highlands Golf Course is an homage to The Mansion, a Missoula landmark perched high upon Mount Dean Stone, overlooking the Missoula Valley. Whatever name it goes by now it certainly isn’t called cheap.
Drinks in Missoula aren’t what the big city types would consider expensive, but when a cocktail starts edging up above the $8 range we locals get a little uncomfortable. The Keep starts there and keeps climbing until uncomfortable was a fond memory. But they’re good and you can’t beat the view that comes with each… not the waitress, the city.
Don’t sit inside, don’t even think of using the dining room. Sit on the terrace overlooking the first hole and order a specialty margarita. They do em right here, though, not even remotely traditional. The terrace is part of the lounge and hence serves from the lounge menu. That’s a good thing. You get the same high-quality cooking as the main dining area but for half the price and more than twice the ambiance. That’s not actually a fair statement. You’d need the ambiance to be more than zero to have twice of anything.
Seriously, and perhaps less confusingly, stick to the outdoors here. Old Man Peterson and his blue haired wife, who come to dinner here every Friday night and always sit at the corner table with a view of the parking lot so they can keep an eye on their Buick, won’t get mad if your group gets a little rowdy. You’ll find this place parked next to the ‘98 blue Le Sabre at 102 Ben Hogan Dr.
Unlike other New Jersey transplants, Bob Marshall has contributed positively to Montana, and in a way that embodies the local vibe, and in many ways enhancing it. Bob opened Biga Pizza in 2006 and hasn’t seen a day off since. Except Sundays. They’re closed Sundays.
It’s really easy to undersell just how good this pizza is. The crust, by itself, is so satisfying you’ll wonder why they bother with toppings. Then you’ll try the toppings on the crust and understand that the two work together in giving you a flavor and texture bliss experience, a bliss-perience. It doesn’t really matter what combo of toppings you order, the ecstatic results are the same. Go with the Quattro Formaggio. Yeah, it’s all cheese, and it’s all good. Really, really good. If you’re feeling like too much cheese is too much of a good thing try the fennel marmalade, bacon, and Gouda. This review writes itself with the ingredients list alone. You’re salivating aren’t you?
Not to skip anything but the pizza was just so important. So, we return to the top. Start with a local micro brew. They’re in bottles or cans, no tap, but that just kind of makes things better. You’ll relax a bit in the informality and can consider antipasto plates or salads as a warm up for the ‘za to come. Again, Biga does even salads in a way that asks, indirectly, will you ever eat anywhere else now that you know how good lettuce can be? Question yourself at 241 W. Main Street.
Okay, so here’s what yer gonna do. Ya see that bridge right there? Yeah, the one with the cars and the people, good, good. Ya see the stairs next to the bridge? Take those and go down. Ignore the happy families in the park. Ignore the tubers getting off the water. The place yer lookin’ for is under the bridge. Tell em Marv sent ya.
Paint a picture for ya? Don’t let the location fool you, Scotty’s Table is a high, high end American bistro. Their wine list is eclectic. They have tablecloths and everything.
Located in the basement of the Wilma Theater, but with a wonderful open patio lined by lush greenery, the moment you enter you’ll forget the journey involved descending below traffic.
The wine list is serious business here and you can’t go wrong. Ask your server, they are excellent at recommending something that suits every taste. With that sorted move on to the apps. Whomever wrote Scotty’s menu didn’t feel particularly creative in the naming department that day. They have dishes like “beets” and “cheese tray.” Yeah, it gets the job done but I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to get to them beets. But then they bring out the beets and you bite your sarcastic remark about the lack of creativity in naming this dish because you now see where that creativity went. Served over carrot and fennel crème with arugula salad, pickled carrots, onion, shaved fennel and rice wine vinaigrette then finished with a beet reduction and crumbled goat cheese, making fun of “beets” is a mouthful when you’re mouth is already full of beets. It continues…
For the main course you have “chicken breast” and “local pork chop” alongside other simply named dishes. It’s like having the aesthetic of Ikea furniture dictate the description: minimalist and pointed. However, the presentation, flavor, and quality are like having Oprah’s interior designer layout what your senses experience. You get a delicious bite! You get a delicious bite! Everyone gets a delicious bite!
Eventually you’ll have to stop eating amazing food with boring names and pay the bill. It will hurt. But you’ll forget that pain quickly when you bust out the flashlight you brought cause now the sun set and you’re under a bridge. Descend on this underworld experience at 131 SW Higgins Ave. Unit P3.
If you know anything about this place you’re already thinking “why is it on the list?” Well, you clearly don’t know how often Kym goes here for dinner. Seriously she treats those orange hot wing punch cards like golden tickets. Except unlike a golden ticket you have to pay for the first twelve orders before you get anything free. Also, if Willie Wonka owned a factory that cranked out hot wings instead of chocolate, pretty sure there would be beer-bellied Kansas City Chiefs fans lined up outside the gates instead of kids. But back to the point.
Desperado is a sports tavern in the most traditional sense. Wood paneled walls hung with at least 30 flat-screens surround a log-cabin-like bar. Billy is usually behind that bar and that’s a very, very good thing for you. “Wuderyouhavin?” serves as both a greeting and an offering of service. Your response should always and forever be “PBR bottle and a basket of hot, blue cheese. Please.” Don’t forget the please. And don’t forget the PBR or blue cheese. PBR or P-ber, as some call it, is Pabst Blue Ribbon. A beer that was so American they actually nominated it to run for President. It lost and is now owned by the Russians. Still, PBR is the unofficial official beer at the Despo and you stick to tradition here.
Billy will grab an iPad and take your order. Yeah, they have iPads, which will surprise you because, from the look of the place, they shouldn’t even have electricity. Don’t be fooled by the incongruity of modern technology meeting old time aesthetics. They still only take cash. Gotta stay traditional.
Your basket of twelve wings smothered in hot buffalo sauce, and dried pepper flakes and seeds, arrives with a side of blue cheese and celery sticks. At the same time another round of PBR bottles and a condiment caddy shows up. This is automatic no matter what you order. The caddy has a giant bottle of ranch, use it liberally. The cooling effect of Hidden Valley eases you into the inferno of sauce and chicken in front of you. Twelve wings doesn’t seem insurmountable, but add the gauntlet of singeing spice and you have a real Agrocrag of food here. Never fear, your mouth goes numb after wing #2. Frequent swills off the P-ber bottle help too. It’s over in no time and you want more. Trust me, it gets everyone.
Ride the lava flow of wing sauce at 3101 S. Russell St. They don’t have a website (tradition) so you have to use Yahoo… tradition.
These guys are the NKOTB, and much like Donnie Wahlberg, they’re surprisingly good. Opened in 2018, Saketome Missoula boasts a sushi-first menu that rivals even the most coastal-adjacent restaurants. This comes from their founding location’s proximity to water. The original venue with the same name is ironically located in Big Fork, Montana, a town with regular sized utensils but oversized appetites and wallets. They brought those traits with them to Missoula.
Saketome is pricey. Can’t say that enough. But the prices reflect the quality and the experience. Upon entering you’re greeted by a mural of the man Himself, Bill Murray, in a kimono and coolie hat. He stands watch over the bar, ensuring that nothing he wouldn’t do happens. The door is clearly wide open here.
The drinks are superb. All of them. And they have specialty cocktails for just about any taste. Stick to a lighter spirit, though, if you want the full flavor of the food to show through.
Being sushi-first doesn’t mean Saketome skimps on the other stuff. They’re masters on the grill and fryer. Start with a zensai of grilled shishido peppers and agemono buri cama. Put em together to make your own cheese filled pepper popper. Classy.
Next a plate with chutoro, sake, wagyu, and foie gras. Yeah those last two don’t seem to fit but trust me. Once you go raw your mouth goes awe.
Add to that plate hiramasa, anago, tobiko, and ankimo. The flavors and textures compliment like two desperate people on a Tinder date. You’re gonna score with this combo.
Round two is full of Pure Joy and Kookin Out with Operation buster. You are sharing with someone, right?
Finish with a dessert cocktail and call it a night. Your wallet is empty, your stomach is full, and you’re still confused by the NKOTB reference. Explore the high-end decor/low budget furniture at 137 W. Front St.
Ryan Corwin, a Missoula native, is a bit of a gadabout.
By day, he is primarily the Marketing Director for Montana sporting goods stalwart Bob Ward's, but Ryan also dabbles as a writer, a radio disc jockey, a journalism teacher, a barely-exotic dancer, father to the world's cutest baby, and husband to our very own do-it-all Kymberly Corwin.