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Füd Report from Montana
By Court Reporter Randy Antin

12/17/01

Livingston, Montana

The Pickle Barrel

Huckleberry CreamsicleAt six in the morning, walking through the streets of Livingston, Montana, when the light that casts down over Yellowstone only a few miles away spreads shadows over the small town streets, the home of the tastiest Philly cheesesteak outside of Philadelphia lays silent and cold. The Pickle Barrel is on the corner of one of those small streets in one of those small towns that only tourists and the local ballet troupe call home. But inside during the day, this bastion of the drippy sandwich is a haven from the winter snow or summer heat. It's your typical sandwich place, with a couple different cheesesteaks, meatball subs, french fries, bags of chips, and fountain drinks. There's a jukebox against the wall with a bunch of albums I've heard of but never given much thought to listen to. A local photographer hangs his framed photos of the events surrounding the filming of A River Runs Through It, when Robert Redford brought the glitz of Hollywood to the area. But you're not reading this for a Livingston history lesson.

Wrapped in white paper, that cheesesteak was the wettest, sloppiest bit of goodness that has ever garnered the name. Good tasting Montana beef (the best) with a tomato-y, slightly spicy sauce and cheese so melted you have to look a few times to believe it's actually in there. But there's magic in the sauce because as drippy as it is (a four-napkin meal!), the roll doesn't get so soggy that it falls apart. Instead, the bread holds this treasure like a delicate calf being born. Well, not like that, because that's sort of a nasty comparison. How about the sandwich cradles the saucy meat like a fragile newborn: soft, tender, and oh so juicy. That's gross too, but these Phillies don't play no baseball. They're just a good reason to return to this tiny town. And the Pickle Barrel, with red and white checkered picnic tablecloths and lots of not-really-comfortable chairs, serves the locals as a hangout and treats tourists and other visitors to a hidden joy.

Mark's In and Out

Oh, what pain it causes me to write this. Thinking this place would do justice to my favorite burger place in California (see Forum posting), I was sorely disappointed to find that their fare was only a step above the greasy White Castle in Ann Arbor (circa 1994) that still haunts me on cold nights. Mark's In and Out looked straight out of the 50s, with a sign selling Ted Williams Root Beer and other classic Happy Days-esque memorabilia. Take-out is the only option, and with no tables outside, you either eat in your car as you barrel down the highway or you take it on the curb. Or, like me, you eat as you walk: a tricky concept. The burger had two styrofoam buns encasing what must have been the patty but wobbled as I held it between my fingers. A little bit of mustard and ketchup, a la McDoogie's, and that was about it. A disgrace to all things hamburger. The onion rings were deep fried, browned, and delicious. A saving grace in an otherwise heartbreaking experience.

 

Bear Creek, Montana

Bear Creek Saloon

Bear Creek SaloonBeef and pigs. Let me say that again: beef and pigs. Not pork and cows, but beef and pigs. And when I say beef and pigs, I'm talking about full-bred, 100% tasty Montana beef taking the form of some of the most delectable steaks this side of cowpie heaven. This steakhouse has got enough history to fill a 10-gallon hat, and you could spend hours checking out all the old photos of mining and farming life from the past 100 years on the wall. Or you could spend a ton of time dissecting the Polaroid wall: a virtual Who's Who of Montana high society. But what you should spend your time on is what cut of beef to eat: sirloin, weighing a scant 8 oz.; New York, 12 oz.; rib eye, 14 oz.; prime rib, 14 oz.; or the prize of the establishment, the t-bone, a whopping 18 oz. of beef that goes straight for the arteries. Perfectly juicy and cooked with passion (you can sense the emotional bond that went into preparing this meat), one bite turned this non-steak eater into a carnivorous monster. Complimenting each entree was a delectable baked 'tato with all the trimmings, rolls, and a Greek salad that would have kept Odysseus at home. Almost sacrilegious, but if you really can't do a steak, Cajun shrimp and grilled chicken will satisfy just as well. And a true meat eater should try the buffalo ribeye: little tougher than cow but hey, ever heard of a cow beating up a buffalo? Not on my watch.

Pig race!Now, let's get to the pigs. Every fifteen minutes, a call goes out over the P.A. system, announcing the next race. Yes, race. In the back of Bear Creek Saloon is Bear Creek Downs, the premier pig racing establishment in the state, possibly in the whole region of the country. Set up like a minor league stadium with ads all over the walls, a white-wire fence surrounds a track that's sunk down from the balcony so fans can witness their favorite make an inside move and go for the gold. Five piggies are corralled into a gen-uine starting gate, and at the sound of a bell the gates lift and the little pink and black buggers are off! Occasionally, one might get confused and not be able to find its way out of the starting block, but the others take off like lightning. Pigs can move like lightning when they know there's some food waiting at the end of the track. I have to admit that my pig picking ability was top-notch. I picked the winner in the first two. My secret: always bet on black. Or #4. Or the one that has the best name, like Pumpkin Butt, Raquel Belch, and -- my personal favorite and reigning champion -- Knuckles. I got to say I was a little apprehensive about pig racing at first, but after a number of Bud drafts and that food weighing in my belly, not even the smell of these little hoggies could stop me from whooping it up when Flying Oinker crossed the finish line, leaving Corn Dog, Justa Weiner, and Nota Hot Dog to eat its dust.

 

Dean, Montana

Montana Hanna's

If you ever find yourself about halfway between Nye and Fishtail, Montana, you must stop off in one of late night television's favorite guest's restaurant: Montana Hanna's, named for Mr. Animal, Jack Hanna. You've seen him: the tall, kind of lanky gray-haired man who has tormented Carson, Letterman, Leno, and Conan with monkeys smacking them in the face, cheetahs chasing them around, and birds pecking at their hair. In his restaurant, the only animals here are served drowning in down-home sauces. Fish is the name of the game, especially trout, since you are now officially in the fly-fishing capital region of the state. Sure, beef and elk are on the menu but when you see those words "Trout Hole Restaurant" on the outside, well, you know what the chef's special is gonna be. Fresh as fresh can be, this trout is as pure as the river water it was caught in. Get yourself a baked potato on the side, maybe a salad -- and when I say salad, I mean tomatoes are the gourmet item -- and look out the full-wall windows at the most beautiful view imaginable. Fields, farms, and snow-capped moutains off in the distance, with an elk trying to find a low-point in the barbed wire fence to hop back over. Frankly, you will never eat here. You probably will never find yourself in Southern Stillwater County, Montana. But if you do, put out the word for Jack Hanna's place, and you'll be treated to friendly people at the next table and food that ain't fancy butgood.

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