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Blues, Booze and Barbecue

New restaurant flourishes on Flathead Lake

FINLEY POINT – The sign for East Shore Smoke House is perched atop a towering tree trunk along Montana Highway 35. Written on it in bold letters are alliterative tributes to three of Jim Bassett’s most sacred pleasures in life: blues, booze and barbecue.

“Those are the three things I like,” Bassett, East Shore’s owner, said.

And it’s clear he cares about each of those delights. His beer selection is among the most complete you’ll find anywhere in Northwest Montana, boasting 12 microbrews on tap and another 25 bottled options. The wine list is extensive and, an increasing rarity in an area with lofty liquor license prices, East Shore has a full bar.

Octavio Flores pulls a pile of smoked pork in the East Shore Smoke House kitchen. The restaurant boasts of its entrees prepared in a state-of-the-art smoker that burns hickory, apple and cherry wood.

Then, of course, there’s the barbecue. Along with burgers, East Shore has the other usual suspects: beef brisket, chopped pork, chicken and ribs, all meticulously prepared in a state-of-the-art smoker that burns hickory, apple and cherry wood, depending on the recipe. But Bassett’s restaurant also has a few distinctive dishes, not the least of which is the smoked prime rib, the second-most ordered item behind the ribs.

East Shore also boasts made-from-scratch, cheddar-chipotle biscuits; Flathead cherry and rum barbecue sauces; apple-apricot chutney; grilled swordfish; salmon filets and Cajun shrimp and scallops on freshly handmade linguini. For dessert there are homemade pies and other goodies. Every recipe comes from the creative brain of Bassett’s wife, Janis. She keeps an eye on what comes out of the kitchen, though J.R. Daniels, who Bassett calls “an excellent chef,” runs the show.

“(Janis) is the best cook I’ve ever run across,” Basset said. “She’s back there personally tasting everything.”

The menu’s reasonable prices further reinforce Bassett’s assertion that “this is not a white tablecloth operation.” So do the healthy portions of meat.

“This is home cooking,” Bassett said. “There’s nothing foo foo here. This is the stuff I like to eat.”

Bassett is especially proud of the beer selection. Clearly a barley and hops enthusiast, Bassett motions to each of his favorite beers and rattles off their attributes. Some are imports, a few are out of state, but the core is local. Along with beers from around the state, including Missoula’s best, East Shore offers beers from every Flathead brewery except for Tamarack, which is on the way.

“We’ve got as good of a selection of beer as anywhere – maybe better,” Bassett said.

Surrounded by antiques and historic photographs, Jennifer Groneberg, left, and Claudia Cunningham share conversation over hamburgers at East Shore Smoke House.

The restaurant sits on 10 acres of rolling lawns and wooded terrain nestled between Highway 35 and Flathead Lake. It’s 6.5 miles from Polson. Bassett envisions concerts on the spacious lawns in the future. He has already hosted a variety of musical performances on a stage next to the restaurant, including Kalispell mainstay Good Wood and one of Missoula’s most popular bands Miller Creek. There are two patio areas.

While diners enjoy their meals, a steady stream of blues emanates from speakers placed throughout the restaurant. Even outside in the large parking lot, the blues greet customers. It’s a warm welcome.

The interior design of East Shore is a testament to both Bassett’s personal interests and profession. By trade, he is a lighting and furniture designer. By hobby, he is an amateur historian. Light fixtures inside the establishment, handcrafted by Bassett, are adorned with early 20th century artifacts, including a 1920 Dodge car wheel and bearing caps from old farm machinery. Dozens of American Indian photos line the walls.

With the keepsakes from bygone eras, East Shore’s atmosphere is comfortably and naturally rustic.

“I love the West,” Bassett said.

The Bassetts purchased the building and land in 2005 and immediately began renovation. At the time it was a German restaurant painted blue, far different than the current brown log building. Nearly everything in the restaurant, from the bathrooms to bar to kitchen, was touched up or totally reconstructed.

East Shore opened up this past June. Since then, business has ranged from steady to through the roof, rarely lagging, Bassett said. It’s the seventh restaurant Bassett has designed and the third he has owned and operated. But he said this is his pride and joy.

“By far the best,” he said. “I put by far more time and money into this one than the others.”

Sous chef Eric Poole removes smoked ribs from East Shore Smoke House’s smoker. The ribs are smoked for hours before being wrapped in tin foil and returned to the smoker to finish.

The restaurant is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. except on Friday and Saturday when it stays open until 10. The bar has basically the same hours, though Bassett said they often keep it open until 11 or midnight. Bassett recommends making a reservation for dinner. East Shore isn’t yet listed in the phone book and can be reached at (406) 887-2096.

Bassett believes the restaurant fills a food void on the lake’s east shore and says anyone, regardless of age or taste, can enjoy the ambience.

“This is a mellow place,” Bassett said. “We don’t want people to think this is just a barbecue place because, as you can see, it’s not.”

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