This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on October 21, 2022. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
As you may recall from my Palm Springs report of October 2021, I travel somewhere interesting with a group of close friends every year on a trip that we call KIA, for “Keep It Awesome.” (The late-night origins of the name remain cloudy.)
We’ve done big cities like New York, Chicago, and New Orleans, but recent years have emphasized the outdoors, including trips to Breckenridge, Santa Fe, and Banff. We missed a return visit to New Orleans in 2020 due to the pandemic, but we rejoined forces last year to tackle Palm Springs, which was a short jaunt for this mostly California-based crew.
This year, everyone was prepared for airplanes again, so we picked Bozeman, Montana, which combines the great outdoors with a compelling culinary scene. While we tend to cook in a couple of the nights — which is why the kitchen of our rented pad is always an important consideration — we also like to feast properly without having to lift more than a credit card on the other evenings.
When I first visited Bozeman almost two decades ago (for my second Montana travel story in as many years), the scene was already lifting off, so much that many had taken to calling the town “Boze-Angeles.” That’s only continued since then, and further ramped up during the pandemic’s work-from-anywhere trend, which boosted home prices so much that some are now using the pejorative “Boze-rly Hills” instead.
As you may expect, relocated and visiting Californians attract the ire of many a Montanan — often, if not usually, for good reasons, I’m sure. But our collective foodie influence probably had at least a tiny bit to do with Bozeman’s booming farm-to-table and craft cocktail movements, not to mention high-quality sushi, vegan Korean rice bowls, natty wines, and the like.
I’ll spare you most of our daytime adventure details, other than to report that racing Polaris UTVs through the rocky wilderness brings you to brisk mountain pools in mere minutes; hitting Yellowstone at the crack of dawn in mid-October reveals eerie landscapes of silky steam, yellow sunbeams, frosty bison, and no crowds, even at Old Faithful; and hiking around the Hyalite Reservoir and up to Blackmore Lake is a great way to get winded in the woods. And always carry bear spray, though we didn’t see any of those beasts ourselves.
Food-wise, our exploration began over fresh beer and fried sandwiches at MAP Brewing, with epic views of the Bridger Range on the northside of town, just a few minutes from the airport. (My other friend and longtime Indy writer Ethan Stewart now lives in that same viewshed; he’d later join us on a couple excursions and advised our movements on numerous fronts.) We then tackled meat-buying at Daniels Gourmet Meats — the lamb sausages and mortadella would later achieve legend status — and grocery shopping at the Bozeman Community Food Co-op on West Main, which I recalled visiting way back when. It’s like a much larger version of the Isla Vista Food Co-op, with ample groceries as well as prepared food items, which we snatched up for our day trips.
The evening’s fare was provided by Revelry in downtown Bozeman, which is run by the former chef at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, who is a friend of a friend. Over bottles of Willamette Valley pinots by Sokol Blosser and Yamhill Valley Vineyards, we ordered almost every appetizer. All were great, though the “Japan Chicken” was my favorite — crunchy, sweet, tangy, spicy, all those taste-feels. A Washington syrah by L’Ecole No. 41 served as our entree pairing for pork chops, fried chicken, and cornmeal-breaded lake trout.
Once we got back to our place, we broke into the many Central Coast wines that I had checked as baggage on the plane, from fresh new releases like Future Perfect’s Portico Hill cabernet franc, Madson’s Sta. Rita Hills gamay, and Rhônedonnée’s “Dawn Patrol” grenache noveau to well-aged beauties like a 2012 Qupé “Sonnie’s” syrah, a 2016 Eden Rift pinot, and a 1983 Château Lascombes Margaux. (Okay, so the last one didn’t come from the Central Coast, but it did come from Ballard Canyon vintner Geoff Rusack’s cellar, as I reported in this Full Belly Files.)
Thursday’s dinner of lamb bolognese by Niko was paired with a bunch of Italian wines from the Bozeman Wine Gallery. Friday’s long, tiring, dawn-to-dusk day at Yellowstone — which began with my first Egg McMuffin in years — left us in a quandary: hit up a burger joint or make food at home? Our buddy George offered to make tacos — chill out, appropriation control, he’s Mexican-American — which reminded me that I’d seen there was a small “Latin grocery” just minutes from our house in Four Corners.
We didn’t expect much, as Montana’s Latinx population is not very apparent and the neighboring Taco del Sol looked pretty gringo-focused. But El Mercadito was as authentic and vibrant as any Mexican market I’ve ever visited, complete with butcher stand, freshly made salsas, and a produce aisle with fruits like mamey, pepino melon, and more pepper varieties than we typically see in Santa Barbara. After George fired up the marinated carne asada, pollo, and elotes on the grill, satisfaction settled in.
Following a stop for brown-spirit cocktails at the Open Range steakhouse, our final dinner on Saturday was at Little Star Diner, a small café a few blocks off of Bozeman’s main drag that grows as much of its menu as possible. The menu is happily eclectic, jumping from the Americas and Asia to Eastern Europe and the Levant, and we toured the world through chile relleno, pork noodle soup, trout tacos, porcini pierogis, and more. The wine list is incredibly affordable and eye-openingly exciting, dipping deep into the natty scene, but with servers who can steer you away from the weirdest stuff.
On our way to the airport Sunday morning, we tried to catch the 49ers at Bar 3 BBQ in Belgrade, but had to settle for suds and smoky bites since the cable wasn’t working. The bartender was happy to hold our unused, $50 bear spray until Ethan could snag it later — “only in Montana,” he texted me later.
As we rolled through the backroads of Belgrade to return the rental car, we drove past an amazing site: a church named after St. John Vianney, a little-known Catholic saint but the same exact name of the East San Jose elementary school where I first met fellow KIAers George (in 1st grade) and JP (5th). I’m not sure what that means, but we’re already planning a destination for 2023 and I noticed that there’s an SJV outside of Nashville as well.
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Get a Job (in Hospitality)
The pandemic did a number on staffing in the hospitality industry, so much so that many of us have simply just lowered the standards of what we expect now when eating out at restaurants or checking into hotels. There remain legitimate concerns over toxic culture and fair compensation when it comes to the hospitality industry, but I’ve also met some of the most fulfilled people in my life working these types of jobs.
If there’s a way to find such happiness, it just might start for you next Wednesday, October 26, 4-6 p.m., at The Leta in Goleta, where Visit Santa Barbara is hosting its third annual Hospitality Career Fair. It’s free, and you can see more details at SantaBarbaraCA.com/CareerFair.
Miracle Bar Is Back
Last year, I experienced what I described as a “yuletide orgasm” at Miracle Bar, the international pop-up holiday concept that was welcomed into the bosom of Pearl Social down in the Funk Zone.
Well, she’s back, and now taking reservations for sipping sessions from November 11 to December 31. There are also a number of special events scheduled this year, including Santa visits, ugly sweater parties, piano sing-alongs, and various drag performances. Get yourself sorted at pearlsocialsb.com/miracle.
From Our Table
- Unless you live under sandstone boulders, you probably realize that this week is our annual Best of Santa Barbara® issue. Check it out here.
- Rebecca Horrigan tried out a new meal delivery service called Thymeless My Chef.
- George Yatchisin has been busy as of late, heading up to Buellton for a beer dinner at Firestone Walker, getting a sneak peek at the Barbareño cookbook, and interviewing Nigella Lawson to preview her Granada appearance next month.
- And I recently wrote about Carolyn Kope at Margerum Wine, who’s turning their tasting room into a veritable restaurant, and got to chat with Adam McHugh about his new book Blood from a Stone, a tale of how the wine industry saved this former pastor’s life.