As an unrepentant New Yorker, pizza is something I take very, very seriously. And while I’m no snob, I’m something of a purist: perpetually seeking that sublime combination of thin, crispy crust, light-yet-robust red sauce and mozzarella, the fresher the better.
So upon moving to Montana several years ago it was with the understanding that in exchange for endless bicycling trails, pristine lakes and thousands of vertical feet to ski, I would suffer through the puffy crusts and processed cheese found frequently on what passes for pizza outside the northeast (OK, maybe I’m a bit of a snob).
But in the Flathead, I found, you can have your pie and eat it too. In recent years, pizza restaurants have sprung up in just about every community in the valley – some by “Back East” expatriates and others by longtime Montanans – and seriously delicious pizza is emerging from these ovens.
So, since there are few better ways to end a summer day outdoors in the Flathead than with a hot pizza and cold locally brewed beer, here’s a painstakingly researched guide to some of the valley’s top pizzerias.
A neighborhood staple since 1957, anyone seeking that ineffable “Montana experience” need look no further than Moose’s Saloon (173 North Main St., 406-755-2337), where the lighting is minimal, the beer is cold and the pizza is unlike anywhere else, with lots of cheese and a crispy, cornmeal encrusted crust. This is a unique pie, and though it goes against my traditionalist inclinations, the combo of sauerkraut, sausage and jalapeno toppings is incredible and a local favorite.
In Hutton Ranch Plaza, across from the movie theater, Bullman’s Wood Fired Pizza (175 Hutton Ranch Rd. #107, 406-257-3473) offers the Neopolitan-style crispy, slightly chewy crust characteristic of pies cooked in high-temperature ovens. My favorite pie here is another nontraditional combo: The “Bitterroot” features pistachios, red onions, rosemary, mozzarella, olive oil and sea salt. Goes well with movies.
Traditional brick oven pizza meets locally sourced food with the buffalo sausage and buffalo mozzarella pie at Capers Restaurant (121 Main Street, 406-755-7687). With dough made from Montana hard wheat, it also features fresh oregano, grilled artichoke hearts and roasted Roma tomatoes.
On the west side of town, Anna’s New York Pizza & Italian Grille (1330 Highway 2 West, 406-257-0134 or 406-755-5341) is also run by former residents of the Empire State who know their stuff. The menu is extensive and you can get just about anything on a pie, especially if it’s the colossal 20-inch Big Daddy.
A native New Yorker who has been cooking in the Flathead for years, Dave Sheeran owns Second Street Pizza (306 2nd St. East, 406-862-3620). The slices are New York-style, and so is the atmosphere. Many specialty pies are on offer here, but I like to keep it simple and usually order simply pepperoni. Paired with a Pabst Blue Ribbon, it’s one of my favorite meals in the valley. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
A few blocks away, Jersey Boys Pizzeria (550 East 1st Street, 406-862-2212), is new, but evokes the east coast with its name and slices, which have a thin crust and pleasant oregano flavor in the sauce. Its white pizza, particularly with sautéed spinach and garlic, is delicious.
If you do decide on pizza over the incredible pasta dishes on the menu at Ciao Mambo (234 East Second Street, 406-863-9600), you have chosen wisely, though everything is worth trying at this full-service restaurant. Among my favorite pies is the Napoli, with mozzarella, pepperoni, banana peppers, spinach and roasted garlic marinara. For something different and lighter, try the Rustica, with grilled vegetables, goat cheese and tomato sauce.
A longtime staple of Whitefish dining, Truby’s recently reopened at Meadow Lake Resort in Columbia Falls. Truby’s offers a full menu, but is famous for its brick oven pizzas, which are individually sized if you’ve got a big appetite or perfect for splitting. The Jeff’s Classic, with olive oil, garlic, mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh basil is a great vegetarian option, while the Al “Pie” Cino, with genoa salami, capers, red onions and Fontina cheese is a tangy, salty delight.
One of the best pizzerias in the valley, Sun Mountain Pizzeria (8270 MT Highway 35, 406-837-6664) is under new ownership, but the new pie tossers plan to continue using the whole-wheat dough that results in a crispy, and almost flaky, crust with great flavor. Specialties include the classic Quattro Formaggio (four cheese) pie, and another with prosciutto, a mustard sauce, Brie and walnuts.
Further south, Rosa’s Pizza (8585 MT Highway 35, 406-837-5751) has been a Bigfork favorite for 25 years. The most popular pies include the Rosa’s Combo, with pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, black olives and extra cheese. Another favorite is the Meat Deluxe, topped with Canadian bacon, pepperoni, sausage, beef and bacon bits.
At the Tamarack Brewing Company (105 Blacktail Road, 406-844-0244) in Whitefish, the pizza dough is made using the handcrafted ales brewed at the restaurant, giving the pies a nontraditional, but delicious, crust. Tamarack’s signature pizza is the Sonoran, with ancho chile sauce, mozzarella, sausage, onion, roasted red peppers, fresh garlic and organic Montana goat cheese.
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