My most decadent signature dish for carnivore fly-fishing clients is loaded with so much trans-fat and cholesterol I can feel my arteries hardening just making it. Pan fried, bacon wrapped beef in an amazingly decadent bourbon, butter, and cream sauce.
This killer steak, is made with a fat-marbled filet of Montana beef tenderloin from a grain fed bovine that very well may have hit the end of the road through Mentzer’s “Used Cow Lot” in Drummond Montana
Montana is the fourth largest state in square miles, yet ranks forty-fourth in population, with cattle out numbering people three to one. I doubt that anyone has ever had to ask “where’s the beef” in Montana cow town restaurants where a T-bone often covers an entire dinner plate. During the winter of 2009, between lodge jobs, I worked as a guest chef at a restaurant in Philipsburg Montana (called P-burg by the locals), which is a restored turn-of-the century mining town, located thirty miles South of Interstate 90 between Missoula and Butte; smack-dab in the middle of some of Montana’s best fly-fishing rivers.
I was told that during the nineteenth century gold rush, this now small town with a year round population of six hundred residents, was once a booming mining town of thirty thousand.
During the late 1800’s the restaurant was a boarding house for miners with a simple menu of steak, stew, and the famous miner’s pocket pies called “Pastys”. The mine ran in shifts with the first shift of miners swapping beds out (most likely without a change of linen) with the next shift coming out of the mine to eat and sleep.
This renovated historical restaurant was where I tried out my first northwest meets southwestern flavor experiments. I was contracted for four months to turn up some heat and bring in winter skiers on their way back to the Interstate from Discovery Ski Hill located thirty miles to the south. In short order, even the local die-hard meat and potato lovers were stepping out of their comfort food zone, warming up to me, and often calling to make sure I would be cooking before making a drive into town for dinner.
I was given an apartment above the restaurant as part of the deal. Access was through a towering, outside door, and up a long flight of stairs. It looked like the only improvements made to the entrance of my “saloon girl” quarters, in the last century, were a few coats of paint. On cold, snowy, winter mornings, all I had to do was walk down the stairs and turn left to be to work which really worked for me..
The restaurant and my upstairs apartment were sandwiched between two rowdy cow poke bars. I soon learned I was not going to be getting much sleep Friday and Saturday nights due to the surround sound bar racket. I figured since I wasn’t going to be sleeping anyway, I may as well join the local yokels for my light-weight single glass of wine or red beer after getting off work. By 9:00pm, the really rowdy patrons were usually all that were left in the bar, and pretty darn well on their way to being totally inebriated. If they weren’t on their own lips by 10pm, they were on someone else’s, causing quite a few jealous weekend brawls. The benefit of my sobriety, gave this Montana “tavern athlete” the upper edge for kicking butt on the pool table, along with easy wins at shuffle board and games of darts, however, I was always back in my humble little apartment by midnight, long before the “last call” speed dating started.
Once or twice a month I would drive to Butte, Helena or Missoula to shop and visit friends or relatives. Twenty miles to the north of P-burg, was another small town that I would have to pass through to get on Interstate-90. Drummond Montana is smaller than Philipsburg, yet it has its own draw that brings in ranchers and cow punchers from all over the state. Unless a gas or restroom pit stop has to be made, tourists passing by on I-90 are most likely going to miss the “Used Cow Lot” sign in the center of town. This auction yard is the place to be for cattle country swap meets from late spring yearling sales, through the “end of the trail sales” for fattened steers in late fall.
With approximately two and a half million cattle grazing under the big sky, one would think there would be enough cattle that you would not have to buy a “used cow”. However, the practice of cattle swapping is just what “The Used Cow Lot” is for. Sometimes the same bovine will be bought and sold several times at this lot, before it is finally sent to that great green pasture in the sky.
At the other end of the road from the “Used Cow Lot” you can’t miss the anatomically correct black bull silhouette standing next to the words “The Bulls End”. I ate there for my first and last time, on a freezing fifteen degree day in December 2009. I was on my third date with an interesting and attractive river guide at the best restaurant (of two) in cow town, where I ended up making a complete and utter “bull’s rear end” out of myself.
Since in Montana, ladies will always be given the lead, I was the first through the door. Picture if you can, a slightly over six foot tall, easy-on-the-eyes, all legs, willowy blonde standing at the doorway of an after church, packed restaurant. Of course all eyes were on the statuesque, stranger glancing around for an empty table. From the perspective of seated dinners, I looked to be seven feet tall, appearing as poised as a runway model ready to step out on stage.
That first impression ended a split second later, as I tripped on a sorrel boot lace that had come untied, hit the floor, and went sliding under a small dinning table, right next to a family of ten stunned on-lookers; while somehow miraculously just missing cracking my head on the table edge. My date stared in disbelief, looking very much like the old “deer caught in headlights”. The look on his face was a combo platter of concern and disbelief, mixed with the possibility of wanting to exclaim “I have never seen this woman before in my life!” As soon as I realized the only thing not in tact was my pride, I swallowed what was left down hard, and sat up laughing. This broke the “shock and awe” silence in the room; followed by my companion jokingly being asked by a customer “is she drunk”?
All eyes were still on us as my date helped me up, and we made our way to a small table away from the center of the room. We sat through lunch, sharing a pleasant conversation, while I purposefully did not break eye contact in order to avoid seeing any cupped whispers or glancing smiles in our direction from other customers. I am sure the clumsy blonde, tall drink of water, taking a spill across the floor at the Bull’s End, was the talk of the restaurant for days to come.
As I sheepishly walked out of the restaurant with my date, I knew by the silly grin on his face he was vibrating to say something, and as soon as we were out the door, he exclaimed with a chuckle “See, I knew you were going to fall for me”.