The I-15 south of the Alberta-Montana border mostly traverses expansive, uninspiring terrain, other than the Sweetgrass Hills, which deceptively appear to be only a few miles away. Things change dramatically and suddenly south of Great Falls as the freeway passes through the jagged black rock spires of the Big Belt Mountains, rising above the serpentine bends of the Missouri River. On days when it’s not pouring rain or howling, you’re apt to see more than a dozen flat-bottom boats dangling in the current, while guided fly fishermen (and women) cast their lines into this world-class fishery in hopes of snaring large rainbow and brown trout. If you want to get closer to the action, and the world-class scenery, pull off the hectic I-15 and quietly follow the winding Recreation Road. If that doesn’t make you want to immediately hire a guide, it should at least inspire an urge to read the classic A River Runs Through It (much better than the Brad Pitt movie).
The I-15 continues south to Helena (I’ll cover its eateries in a future dispatch), with Highway 287 leading southeast (free BLM campground just north of Townsend) towards Three Forks. Just before hitting I-90, northwest of Bozeman, it’s worth stopping at the busy Wheat Montana Farms Bakery & Deli (www.wheatmontana.com) for bread or a sandwich.
Bozeman is arguably Montana’s nicest mid-sized city (heck, they’re all mid-sized in this under-populated state), rivaled only by Missoula, another college town. There are historic buildings on the main drag, good running trails along Bozeman Creek and nearby mountains that inspired Outside to name Bozeman the best town for skiing in the west.
Rockford Coffee Roasters is all about the purity of the bean. You won’t find a row of bottled flavourings here. Instead, you have the option of a handcrafted, pour-over coffee, with your choice of bean, for a bargain $2. Beside the usual pulled espresso-based coffees, you can get a marrachino (equal parts espresso and milk) or macchiato (just a dollop of foam) to savour at a counter or long pine table, while listening to a good indie soundtrack in the background. To balance the caffeine pulsing through your veins, chew on a nice scone or fruit muffin (made in house or by local bakers) or order a lunch panini.
Rockford Coffee Roasters
628 West Main Street, Suite 3, Bozeman
Monday to Friday 6 am-8 pm, weekends 7 am-8 pm
The local food movement is now well entrenched in North American restaurants. It’s an effort to source as much meat, produce and other foodstuffs from area farmers, given seasonal limitations. Yes, there are marketing advantages to catering to this niche. But more importantly, it demonstrates the commitment of restaurateurs to establish relationships with local suppliers, who tend to be adherents of organic, sustainable principles. This movement has spilled over from the high-end chefs to diners and cafes that road trippers can afford.
Few such places are as dedicated to the locavore movement as Nova Cafe, an excellent place to stop for breakfast or lunch, by the way. A little placard on each table lists 31 area suppliers of everything from eggs and specialty sausages to wild mushrooms and dairy products. They also do a different take on breakfast standards, such as the plentiful chunks of Montana’s Best Meats bacon in my Mom’s Breakfast Burrito or pancakes made from cornmeal or sometimes cottage cheese. The quickly refilled cups of coffee, of course, are from fair trade, organic beans. The spacious dining area is funky, with watermelon-coloured walls adorned with whimsical papier-mâché creatures such as a hungry crocodile.
312 East Main Street, Bozeman
Daily 7 am-2 pm
The trick at Chickpea Cafe is making a decision. There are so many good looking, and tasting, Middle Eastern items available that even if there’s a short lunch lineup, you’ll need every minute scanning the menu and helpful food photos before placing your order at the counter. I’ll help whittle things down. If you want a light lunch, try the delicious pureed red lentil soup or the plate of crispy falafels atop a bed of hummus. The Iraqi lamb kabob is delectable, as is the signature rotisserie-cooked Angus beef shawarma, whether you choose it as a salad, a plate with sides or a sandwich. Maybe the best option is sharing the Chickpea Garden Platter, a sampling of hummus, tahini, dolmades, falafel, loubia (green beans braised in a tomato sauce), pickles and pita. Too bad they don’t offer it for one, unless you’re really hungry. Prices are a little high, but you’re getting quality food and good quantities, in a comfortable setting with old brick walls.
25 North Willson Avenue, Bozeman
Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday-Monday
As a cafe connoisseur, I figure I’ve seen it all. Pour overs? Routine. Breves? Check. Mezzos? Been there. Yerba mate latte? Done that. Lactos-free milk latte? Yawn. Con panna? Horrors! (Hey, it gives you something to Google). But when I saw The Daily Coffee Bar offering a crio bru, I said, “What the heck is that?” It’s ground cocoa beans made into a coffee-like drink, albeit with antioxidants, no caffeine and hints of coconut and cinnamon. Now, I’ve chewed on raw cocoa beans, which have a nice, lingering chocolaty taste (people either love or hate them). But I’ve never tried it as a drink until now and have to say it doesn’t have a lot of flavour, other than a slight bitterness. Maybe it’s an acquired taste. The Daily also does a nice pour-over coffee and many of the styles listed above. Their sweet treats also include something else I’ve never seen before in a coffee shop: ghost meringues. As their website boasts, the fresh pastries are “just like grandma used to make, but our bakers are incredibly hip and have tattoos.”
The Daily Coffee Bar
Suite 2, 1013 West College Street and North Rouse and Oak Street, Bozeman
Monday to Friday 6:30 am-7 pm, weekends 7 am-6 pm