Restaurateurs, chefs, line cooks, servers. They all go to great lengths to make a meal memorable; to make you feel nostalgic or sentimental while tasting great food; to make you remember the experience long after you finish eating.
It’s a lot of pressure with a lot of competition. But when the ingredients come together to perfection, it can have a profound impact on you.
A few years ago, while visiting Langley, a city on Whidbey Island in Washington, I ordered clams and chorizo in a wine sauce at a small restaurant called Prima Bistro. It was one of those meals you didn’t want to share. So I didn’t. I still talk about the meal with others who attended the wedding that weekend. I’m sure it’s annoying, but I don’t care.
I love food — although I’m better at eating than making it. And lately I’ve been taking the hint, since for three Christmases in a row my girlfriend has bought me a cookbook. Most Sundays, I’m in charge of the meal, poring over recipes I think will impress friends during late afternoon dinners.
Some fail: lamb in the slow cooker. Some are successful: grilled steak marinated in an anchovy sauce. There are also staples like Sriracha cheesesteaks and brown-sugared beer nuts, which are my version of comfort foods.
In the last decade, the culinary scene in the Flathead Valley has greatly evolved, maintaining many of its bedrock restaurants while adding creative new options. When seeking to dine out, I tend to mix the old with the new, trying new menu items while returning to the same meals that I have enjoyed for more than a decade.
With a rather unsophisticated palate, when eating out I tend to order variations of traditional cuisine. I’m still a sucker for specialty sandwiches with a side of dressed-up potatoes. To me, they’re the perfect comfort foods. Here’s a partial list of some of my favorites:
Sauerkraut, jalapeno and sausage pizza at Moose’s Saloon in Kalispell. When I first ordered this for the newsroom during an election night, there were some odd glances. Yes, sauerkraut is good on pizza.
Housemade chili at Desoto Grill in Kalispell. Loaded with meat, but not too heavy, this is one of my favorite meals for a lunch meeting, especially in the winter.
Figsciutto panino at Bonelli’s Bistro in Kalispell. Another one of my lunchtime favorites. The combination of prosciutto, Havarti and figs provides a rich and decadent flavor.
Ginger hoisin pork sandwich at Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls. While I normally prefer beef to pork, I make an exception here. This sandwich has a ton of flavor and is topped with my favorite condiment: Sriracha mayo.
Tot-chos at Last Chair in Whitefish. My favorite type of potato (tater tots) dressed up like it should be (queso, beans, guacamole and meat). Listed as a small plate, I order it as an entrée.
Elk meatloaf sliders at Tupelo Grille in Whitefish. I’m susceptible to trying any restaurant’s sliders at least once. After trying these, I’ve ordered them numerous times either as an appetizer or main course.
Bulldog burger at Bulldog Saloon in Whitefish. How do you make a burger from the Bulldog even better? Smother it with grilled ham, onions and melted American cheese.