Rocky Mountain Fare with Italian Flair

New Three Forks Deli in Columbia Falls features cured meats, cheeses and artisanal sandwiches

By Tristan Scott

Since the earliest Italian immigrant settlements, the cornerstone of a thriving city neighborhood was its offertory of meat markets, grocery stores and delis, where large storefront windows displayed cured hams, trussed pig carcasses, coils of marbled sausage, and other staples of Italian cuisine – olives, oil, pasta, preserves, pickles and canned tomatoes.

In addition to providing traditional Italian fare, these multigenerational markets served the dual purpose as a communal hub for “paesani” – fellow townspeople – to hobnob with one another, exchange news and speak Italian while also filling their pantries.

That nostalgia helped influence the collaborative inspiration between Three Forks Grille owner Tim Seward and head chef Chris DiMaio, who last month opened the Three Forks Deli and Provisions in Columbia Falls, located immediately adjacent to the restaurant, with a swinging door connecting the two.

The new establishment draws from DiMaio’s Italian roots, and features a deli counter offering cured meats and cheeses that can be purchased by the pound, as well as sandwiches and hot specialties, jarred olives and peppers, and beer and wine.

From Coppa to Mortadella, the Italian meats run the gamut of flavors and textures. These hams of old Italy are house cured, while the restaurant’s motto – “Rocky Mountain Fare with Italian Flair – is evinced in menu offerings that include a Bison Sloppy Joe, Steak Sando and Cubano Italiano, which DiMaio describes as a “riff on the traditional Cuban sandwich,” with slow-roasted Porchetta, Prosciutto, Mountina Alpine Swiss, Giardineria, house mustard, all served on ciabatta bread.

Spices are on the center stage of cured meats, and DiMaio has been experimenting with various curing methods in Three Fork’s expanded kitchen.

Curing is the age-old process of preserving fresh meat through salting, smoking and air-drying, and Italy has been the worldwide pioneer in the technique since ancient Roman times.

Pork is the most common cured meat in Italy, although other meats such as beef, venison and wild boar are also cured.

Five years ago, Seward opened Three Forks Grille, and he said customers have persistently asked about the restaurant’s lunch offerings from the beginning. But without the space to contend with a lunch option, Seward stayed focused on Three Forks’ dinner menu, turning down several customers per day during the summer’s busy season.

But when the now-defunct Desert Mountain Brewery left the neighboring space vacant, Seward and DiMaio, who’s been on board since the beginning, started collaborating on ways to expand Three Forks.

“The place has been raging for five years and there’s always someone asking about lunch,” Seward said. “Until now, we didn’t have the kitchen space.”

Seward gives much of the credit for how the new deli has taken shape to DiMaio’s vision and culinary chops and savvy for curing Italian meats.

“I would never have done this without his background,” Seward said of DiMaio. “He was my inspiration to open the restaurant six years ago, and we’ve worked side by side ever since.”

The deli is meant to complement the restaurant, Seward said, providing space for customers to sit and sip a glass of wine while waiting for a table and allowing the kitchen to effectively produce twice as much food.

It’s open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but likely will have extended hours in the summertime, when the deli will offer backpacker lunches for folks heading into Glacier National Park in the early morning.

The deli will have a full wait staff from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to expedite orders for the lunch crowd. Customers can also phone in orders at 892-2900.

For more information, visit online at www.threeforksgrille.com.

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