Love a Good Cafe
This past September Don and I spent a couple nights enjoying some rustic lodges in Glacier National Park.
The Park Cafe
This cottage like diner has been sitting here since 1952. We stopped for a light lunch before entering the park. Evidently the same family still owns the cafe, but the very young staff seemed a little clueless. I didn't push for cafe history.
Obviously the pie is important, since the menu shows an oozing slice of blueberry pie with words beneath...THE POWER OF PIE!" But Don and I were just eager for a light lunch and a glimpse of this cute little place.
Sharing food is what the penny pinchers and old people do. I guess Don and I are both. When you're on a 1-month road trip, it gets costly eating out all the time. We also get tired of eating. I never thought I would hear myself say, "I'm not that hungry. Wanna share a plate?" That seems like what old people say. And now we're old. But the cheeseburger and fries were pretty good. Pie? Another day.
I love a place that dares to not change. The diner chairs, counter and stools are all original. I love the red and I love seeing through to the kitchen. And I loved seeing the firefighters or policemen seated at the counter. Wait those guys rode in on motorcycles and they are not in uniform. But the look was right.
I decided not to take a photo of the bathroom, but it is worth mentioning. Guests in need of a restroom must take a little hike down a pathway to a shed, with plywood doors that lock with metal hooks.
The soap dispenser was resting on the floor. I should have saved the restroom for the gas station.
West Glacier Restaurant
This trim little restaurant with flowers and flag was where we stopped for breakfast after leaving the park, two days later. It was built in 1938 near the park entrance. The place closed during WWII, and was bought by the Lundgren Family in 1946. They owned it until last year.
We walked through a good sized gift shop into the main dining room. There's nothing too special about it. It was last renovated in the 1970's and the old ice cream counter and pie cooler gave hints of the past. But really it was a chat with Karen that was the most memorable.
Pancakes and Chatting
Karen noticed me taking photos of Don's huckleberry pancakes and fried ham and that started up a conversation. The woman of about 60 had been working at the restaurant for 14 years. She said she wasn't sure how much longer she'd be staying.
She said she used to work as the cashier and customers came to her at the counter with their checks. "Things have been changing. Now the servers act as their own cashiers. I ring up an occasional item at the gift shop and I just wander around and kind of oversee things."
But then she smiled and admitted a good thing. "But guess what? I lost 14 pounds since I'm not just standing behind the counter all day."
Both places have resisted change for a long time. I'm glad I got to enjoy a burger and some pancakes before much more renovations or even closings. Change often is a good thing, but I can easily relate to Karen and her woes. Can't we just leave things as they are?
Last month, Don and I found ourselves driving through Great Falls around the lunch hour. I did a quick search on TripAdvisor in search of food. Suddenly I laughed out loud. "What!!"
The O'Haire Motor Inn
Sometimes you have to make a quick change in plans when an opportunity just leaps out at you. Don and I forgot lunch and headed for a retro motor inn, built in 1962. As it turns out, they do have a decent cafe, but we were headed for the lounge with the curious name, Sip-n-Dip. In recent years, we have developed a thing for kitschy lounges, especially Tiki themed. We couldn't pass this up.
The pleasant woman behind the lobby desk said the lounge was indeed open. She pointed to a door and we headed upstairs. This seemed very silly.
There were no customers when we entered the dimly lit lounge. We walked past the piano bar, which was carefully covered with cloth, waiting for 81 year old "Piano-Pat" and her next performance. Marcy, the bartender seemed a little surprised when we decided to sit down and have cocktails.
Don and I were pretty giddy over the bamboo ceiling and shell decor. We've visited a few iconic Polynesian style places in California and Las Vegas, but none of them had quite this focus on mermaids. Not only were there mermaid lamps and mermaids painted on black velvet... there were "real" mermaids!
Sadly there were no mermaids performing on Sunday afternoon, but we got to see the glass windows behind the bar where the mermaids swim... on the nights that Piano-Pat is not performing.
If we'd been on a cruise ship or a beach in Mexico, it would have made more sense to be sipping a Blue Hawaiian and a Mai Tai around noon. We weren't even watching mermaids perform. We were basically watching Marcy clean up the bar from Saturday night. But Marcy was a good sport and took our picture and then her husband came upstairs from the restaurant and joined us for a bit.
Learning the History
Marcy's husband Donnie looks a little weary in this photo. He has been the hotel's bar and restaurant manager for 13 years, so he should be tired. But actually it's just bad timing with my camera. He was actually pretty animated and enthused as he told us stories about the lounge.
Donnie said the tiki themed lounge has stayed pretty much the same since the motor inn first opened. The pool wasn't built for shows, but for motel guests. The windows just happened to look through to the bar area. They added a mermaid show about 20 years ago, but guests are still welcome to swim when there are no shows going on. "Sometimes guests have to be removed from the pool if they do anything inappropriate." Now that was a bit of a creepy thought. I didn't ask any more questions about that.
Donnie took us up the stairs to see the enclosed pool. It was hard to see the underwater windows, so I wonder how many guests have gone swimming, unaware. Supposedly there are signs warning you, but I didn't see them. Donnie said they usually have 4 mermaids per show and they take turns just swimming around for 4 hours, in their special mermaid tails and bikini tops. "We have to lock them in this pool area when the show starts. You gotta keep out the crazies."
Posing With... The Window
Macie invited us behind the bar for a photo. That was sort of silly since there were no mermaids to pose with, but we ended up hearing more stories. Marcy said years back, Daryl Hannah and Nick Nolte were in town filming, when they stopped by the lounge. Daryl recreated her mermaid role by trying on a tail and swimming in the pool. Both signed the glass, but their autographs were lost a few years later when the glass had to be replaced due to a crack. Luckily the pool was drained before 22,000 gallons flooded the lounge.
What a Hoot!
Don and I were tempted to change our road trip route and stay a night at the motor inn. If we could have enjoyed Piano-Pat and Mermaids in one evening, we might have gone for it. We'll put it on the Next Time List.
Who knows, maybe we'll bump into David Letterman if he gets really bored with retirement. Donnie said he hasn't shown up yet, but now and then he leaves his nearby ranch and comes to local ballgames. He might show up. Don and I have noticed, retirement makes people try odd things!
Saturday Night in Small Town Montana
Last month, Don and I spent one night in the quiet community of Lewistown. We were disappointed to learn our hotel restaurant had closed, due to difficulties in keeping a good chef.
Then we were sad to learn our desk clerk at the hotel had no suggestions for dinner. (We declined her offer to share the soup she had heating in a crockpot) Then, much to our relief, a gentleman checked into the hotel who knew all about Lewistown!
The Local Drive In!
Duncan grew up in Lewistown and he had fond memories of The Wagon Wheel, (or is it the Dash-Inn? It seems to have 2 names) He was in town to attend some kind of function that included dinner, but he admitted he had already made a stop at the Drive In.
He seemed like a pretty decent guy as he talked about all the changes in the town since his youth. He almost seemed embarrassed that the places he wanted to suggest, were closed now. Duncan did light up when he described the burgers he loved, pressed and heated between 2 slices of white bread. He admitted no trip home would be complete without a stop for a couple of wagon wheels.
Waiting in Line
I was kind of glad there was a line of cars. It made the Saturday night outing more entertaining. Plus, we needed lots of time to study the menu. How could this tiny building house a kitchen that offered 19 different kinds of burgers? And besides burgers, they had shrimp and mini tacos, halibut sandwiches, fried chicken and turtle sundaes!
So Many Signs
There was more to read than just the menu! There were separate signs listing all the options for Smoothies and Cappuncino, Arctic Swirls and Flavor Burst Cones!
The Order Box
We could have easily been intimidated by all the bold messages. And I'm pretty sure we were the only customers who needed to read anything at all.
I love a place that is older than me. 1952 means this place is super old and I like the way they proudly announce it. We should all be that way. And I like their other sign trivia. One sign reminded us that it was our last chance for a Wagon Wheel stop in 26,000 miles. The sign included an image of the globe with arrows encircling. That amused me.
Eat in the Car?
Our order came fast and we pulled under the shelter where folks can park and feast. I ran back to the "walk up window" with a question for the young man using the little pressing machine (think panini) for the Wagon Wheels.
The friendly guy was sad to say they did not sell tee-shirts, even though he was wearing a nice purple "Dash Inn" shirt. I told him how excited we were to be trying Wagon Wheels for the first time and could I possibly take a photo or two?
His boss chuckled that O'Riley should clean some of those crumbs before the photo. We chatted while he tidied the machine a bit and then pressed the already cooked pattie between two slices of bread. He was a good sport while I clicked photos of him trimming off the crusts before removing the steamy wagon wheel. I said "Thanks, Riley!" and offered a tip. He corrected me politely and then laughed to let me know I'm not the only one who fumbles with his name.
We didn't end up eating in the car. We made the one-minute-dash to the hotel since Lewistown is pretty small. We took our bag to the room, where local Montana beers were chilling.
I'm glad to say we enjoyed the iconic Wagon Wheels and tots. It's so fun to find out about a food that locals love, from a local. On top of that I had a fun time with the locals who cooked our local treats! That was a pretty good dinner and experience for about $8.00!
Dining in Crow Country
This past September, Don and I had a different kind of lunch experience on a Crow Reservation.
A Memorial Visit First
In the morning we visited Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument. There was a lot to ponder as we wandered over the beautiful landscape and learned about those who died during "Custer's Last Stand" in 1876. It hasn't been all that long since they began inviting us to learn about both sides of the Little Big Horn Story. The Indian Memorial, was added in 2003.
A Tourist Lunch?
Across the road we saw a touristy looking attraction with flags and teepees and patriotic banners. This seemed like an odd choice for lunch, but there were few options in this area, which is part of the Crow Nation.
Inside The Trading Post
We walked past a couple of white teepees, towards the entrance of the cafe and gift shop. We were seated by a blond waitress, although rest of the staff appeared to be Native American. From our table there was a lot to look at from beaded vests and cradles to artwork, depicting scenes of the bloody battle... that had happened just across the street.
It was a little odd to be handed a menu with more reminders of the horrific battles. There were photo images and write ups to keep us from forgetting what we had just learned. There was also a reminder of the Trading Post's 30th anniversary. I wonder what this place was like 30 years ago, when the focus was all on "Custer and his brave men".
A Lively Atmosphere
The other half seemed to be locals from the Crow reservation. There were Native American families eating nearby and quite a crowd of young kids in green and yellow sports jerseys, taking over the back room. We were surrounded by voices and laughter and clinking dishes on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I allowed myself to enjoy a little honey with my fry bread!
It had been interesting to eat lunch while observing the locals and tourists all enjoying the same food and atmosphere. The cafe got a little quieter when much of the crowd in uniform excited outside towards a school bus. Back in the corner, one table was still occupied. A blond woman shared a table with a man who was most likely Native American. It made me wonder how much these worlds mixed 30 or 50 years ago.
Through the Gift Shop
Before heading out, I wandered through the impressive gift shop in search of the restroom. A young boy darted past me and slipped. His grandmother reprimanded him, in what I assume was the Crow language. I so wish he would have bumped into me, so we could have laughed and had a brief conversation. I so regretted having no real "people encounter" at this cafe.
Back on the Road
We drove out of the parking lot, past the colorful teepees and I had to laugh at myself. I guess I haven't changed that much since I was a little kid, when I so wished I could grow my hair long and wear two braids. For as long as I can remember, I've been in awe of this world that I'm not really a part of.
Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
My dining blog has become pretty lame when I start including snack bars at tourist attractions. But I can't help myself!
This blurry photo is not where we ate. It is a photo of my TV, showing a scene of Cary Grant in Hitchcock's, North By Northwest! Don and I watched the movie before heading off on a road trip out west. I was eager to stop in South Dakota and see the carved monument for the first time... and equally excited to see if they really had this restaurant.
The cafe looked pretty similar with the large windows and monument view. But, I don't even know if they filmed the restaurant scene at Mount Rushmore or in Hollywood. There were no Cary Grants in gray suits wandering the cafe, but there were some other cute little men. Look up at the amber colored light fixture. There were quite a few of these unusual hanging lamps, with little figures that looked like men chiseling away at the faces of the four presidents!
What a View!
We didn't even need the umbrellas. The weather was perfect and so was our view.
We went for a bison burger with fries and some buffalo chili. It seemed like a good South Dakota dining choice. And our nifty tray had some helpful historic info for our reading pleasure.
Pondering Over our Meal
I saved the history lesson for later and just stared at those presidents while I nibbled away. Dang, I wish I could have crawled up there and spent a little time exploring. But I guess even Cary Grant didn't get to do that. Hollywood had to help create this image.
This was a first time dining experience for me. Now that I've checked "Dining with the Presidents" off my list, I think I'll start planning a President Picnic for next time. I might have to be a little sneaky, but I'm sure there's a flat place for a picnic quilt up there, near Mr. Lincoln's beard!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.