Southwest Style: barbecue eateries in southwest Montana to drool over
June 27, 2012
BY LARA VAIENTI
Montana barbecue at its finest
Barbecue ribs at the Bar 3
As they say sometimes it’s all smoke. But sometimes the smoke has its own importance when it comes to smoking meat. Ask Hunter Lacey, owner of Bar 3 Barbeque Restaurant, located on North 7th in Bozeman. He will speak volumes about how wood and smoke may affect your juicy and tender platter of ribs. Past the smoke and the woods there’s history and its influence on this piece of Americana food type. To Lacey, cooking has been a passion starting in his early adolescence and it never stopped, it has indeed grown stronger and stronger, from one kitchen to the next. Originally from Texas, Lacey named his little restaurant after the cattle brand his family has owned for now 150 years. It all comes from the old American West; Lacey’s ancestors used to drive the 3 Bar cattle north each year, across Texas.
While the Bar 3 Barbeque restaurant reveals little of a majestic Texan ranch (Lacey’s first saddle and various photos of cattle business decorate the wooden walls), resembling more of a casual ski-lodge than anything, the food served here has many things to say. Other than revealing Lacey’s great knowledge on barbeque rules, methods and ingredients, it hints you with nuances of secret spices blended to make your barbeque a unique experience, an experience at a very reasonable price ($ 22.95 for a full slab of ribs) and genuine ingredients.
It is true that often what you pay for a platter of food in Montana as everywhere in the world, reflects its location. If the location is hip, your food will easily be more pricey and not necessarily good nor genuine. At Bar 3 Barbeque the only things not “home-produced” are the ketchup, the vinegar and the flour, according to Lacey. The five types of barbeque sauce that will enrich and relish your pulled pork, baby back, St. Louis ribs and what not, have been made up by Lacy and some friends, after various tasting and concocting experiments; now one of those sauces, the ‘Bar 3’ type, is sold in the main food stores in Bozeman.
In the central kitchen Lacey disposes of in Belgrade, meats are smoked, sauces concocted continuously and pounds of black pepper ground in abundance for the Bozeman’s restaurant. Lots of hands are then kept busy all year round at Lacey’s, also because of his on-the- side catering business satisfying parties, special events and festivities all year round. All food from Bar 3 Barbeque is eat-in, carryout, home-delivered, and a drive-through option will start soon as well.
“For now I’m happy about where I am. It’s maybe not in a hip area, like it could be in downtown, but we are definitely busy here, in our smallness,” says Lacey. “You see, there’s a bunch of fast-food places in Bozeman and there’s a bunch of very expensive restaurants too. My aim is to serve that range in the middle, because few are the alternatives in this town. I wanted to create something approachable serving something yet distinctive.”
The Bar 3 Barbeque menu indeed has many food choices unseen before in the Bozeman area. Lacey’s meats, that he and his employees smoke freshly with Mesquite and Hickory wood, range from Carolina style pulled pork, St. Louis ribs, Texan style beef brisket and Baby-back, to hams, chickens, turkeys and bratwursts. The side-dish choices accompanying the remarkable meats are originally Southern and very flavorful too: among these there are fried green tomatoes, fried okra, ‘Hopping John’ (a creamy ensemble of black eyed-peas, sausage and rice), fried dill-pickles and the mouth-watering green-chili&cheese grits. Five different sauces to smother and enrich the various meats have each, various spices and textures. They are all hinted by special ingredients; the earthy ‘Cattle Drive’ sauce contains some coffee and is more robust in flavor, the ‘Spicy Mutha’ is hot and peppery, the ‘Tennessee Sour Mash’ is sweetened by Whiskey, the ‘Pig
Pucker’ is a piquant mixture containing the traditional Carolina vinegar sauce, while the ‘Bar 3’ sauce, the most popular of all, is a thin and sweet style sauce in the tradition of Texas, the latter, used to brushing the pork ribs while slow-roasting.
Take out or eat in you will find yourself hooked and licking your probably messy fingers. Bar 3 Barbeque is that good and it’s open 7 days a week at 215, North 7th, Bozeman. Phone 406-587-8789
Willow Creek Cafe
“Let Them Eat Cake—and Ribs”
After such a beautiful drive surrounded by the rain-refreshed verdure of the Gallatin Valley, expect even better. First of all, mind the eventual pheasants trying to cross the street in front of you, second, you are about to park your car in front of a 1910 building that has been a café’, a barber shop, a pool hall and a meat shop. The present Willow Creek Café, by Three Forks, started off as the Corner Saloon with simple food for miners and ranchers of the area. Today the restaurant draws on the small population of ranchers, farmers, anglers and artists. Serving what some customers argue are the best barbecue ribs of this side of the Mississippi.
The restaurant retains fully the country atmosphere of once upon a time, replete with floral wallpaper, antique wood tables and chairs, and pressed-up tin ceilings. Paintings of roosters, pheasants and old-fashioned prints of coca-cola and so forth, adorn the walls together with old mirrors, animal-heads and what not.
A chalkboard details the dish of the day, the wines of the list and another specialty of this café’: the house desserts. According to Dean Mitchell, owner of the place, his baker prepares an average of 12-15 cakes each week, from a list of about 30 favorites (among these, the chocolate-heatbar cake, the pecan caramel cake and the regular cheesecake with various fruit-sauces).
The café’ packs its 10 small tables for lunch and dinner every day (Monday excluded) drawing customers from Manhattan, Belgrade, Bozeman and also Butte.
The key to the good food and the constant clientele is because everything is homemade and carefully put together. The huge platters of smoking ribs, which are so tender to come off the bone with the smallest effort, are sweet and unforgettable. Dean Mitchell maintains a certain secrecy in revealing the ingredients that make these ribs so delicious and particular. “We brush them with a mustard-based sauce containing a little bit of honey and we also use some straight coffee. We cook them slowly, and finish them on the grill,” explains Mitchell. “But what makes our ribs so popular and unique is in the spice-mixture. And that’s a secret.”
The Willow Creek Café’ open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm and Sunday 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, also features the main American classics, from burgers to hand-cut steaks, accompanied by soups, salads and fries.