Following Our Cookbook
On recent travels, Don and I had one night in Cody.
We were pretty darn delighted to learn that Cassie's Supper Club was still a happening place after many, many years. How did we find out about Cassie's? Once again, we were traveling with a few vintage cookbooks, put out by Ford Motor Company. Whenever we're lucky enough to find a restaurant that is still in operation, we stop!
Cassie's Supper Club
We headed west of downtown Cody and spotted the snazzy sign! It looked pretty much the same! In the cookbook illustration you can see the showgirl, tipping her top hat and the parrot perched on top. I read later that the owners, Ole and Mabel Nelson (in 1963 when the book was published) had a pair of parrots that were well known to customers.
The facade had changed from stucco to an Old West Saloon look, but it was still set far back from the road, like the picture. We were just a mile and a half from downtown, so I had expected to see the place squished in between shopping centers. That's one big parking lot and I believe it actually gets filled up.
There were quite a few cars, considering the time of day. We headed towards the door near the Buffalo Bar sign.
Hungry, Curious, Thirsty?
The "Howdy Folks" above the door was welcoming enough, but I kind of liked the other words... especially the word "curious".
Greeted by Beasts
Just inside the door, we met up with lot of stuffed fellows. They were keeping a good eye on the huge space. Over the years, Cassie's has expanded to 20,000 square feet, with numerous levels and rooms.
We stepped in to get a look at the first bar, which wasn't open, yet. There were some rustic stools around a curved cedar bar and lots of goodies you'd expect in western bar, like mounted longhorns and cow skulls.
Greeted by Melody
Then we met Mel who filled us in on some more history after she had a good laugh at the book. She tole us about Cassie, who opened the Supper Club in 1933.
Cassie had already spent a number of years running a house for "Ladies of the Night" in Cody. She and another madam were encouraged to close their establishments, so they opened Cassie's for dancing, liquor and later dining. Mel was kind enough to pose with the fine cookbook, right in front of Cassie's original "cabin", which is behind the Restrooms sign. I'm still a little unclear about what this "cabin" was all about. But I know the rest of the building is built up around it.
Mel was pretty amused by the recipe for Chicken Cream Salad. "No, I'm afraid we don't serve this." She laughed as she studied the ingredients with minced chicken, gelatin, mayo and heavy whipped cream... Mmmm. Not to mention, celery, stuffed olives, shredded lettuce and tomato!
Saved for Later!
Mel made sure she got some pictures of the colorful page with her cell phone. The old cookbook claimed that the creamy chicken dish was a favorite of the diners! I don't picture the loyal customers today begging for this salad. Most come in for the huge steaks!
Mel told us to feel free to look around and there was plenty to see. We heard the dance floor gets pretty crowded, especially on rodeo nights. We could barely make out the letters that spelled Cassie's, engraved into the wood floor.
The room was surrounded with western art scenes. The painted wood panels were spotlighted high on the walls. Just past the first piano, were a couple levels of dining areas with white tablecloths and some very early (or late lunch) diners quietly eating. Every room seemed to have its own flavor.
Towards the rear, we found a completely different style of bar. Smooth, polished wood, stained glass, Victorian style wallpaper. I would have loved to have lingered till the place was filled with customers, to see if the two bars attracted different kinds of crowds.
And the Lounge!
The only bar that was open before 5 was a lounge that took me to a completely different era. There were painted western murals and some knotty pine... slick orange booths with branded wood trim. We so wished it had been dinner time or later!
Sharing with Steve
As Don and I headed to the car we heard a voice coming around the side of the building. "Is that the cookbook?"
We stopped and had the best time chatting with Steve Singer, who grew up a couple houses down from Cassie's. His parents knew the Nelsons and sometimes on weekends, he and a few other kids (sibs or friends?) would get to pretty much have a sleepover in the old "Cassie's Cabin" area.
Steve studied the book illustration and pointed where the big trees in the picture once stood. He also remembered how the place looked before the 1980's, when new owners gave the rambling building a wooden facelift and covered all the bumps and warped features.
He clearly had an appreciation for preserving the past.
Steve had fond memories of Cassie's, not just from childhood, but from performing there as a young man. His band West The Band, entertained regularly for 20 years and then he bought the place in the late 1990's. He and Mel have continued to serve up great meals and provide almost nightly live entertainment, but they've also spent time retrieving a lot of Cassie's old history. Many of the original treasures from Cassie's have surfaced in recent years.
Off to Our Hotel
Don and I headed to our hotel, knowing we would eventually be hungry and regret what we'd missed. The Irma Hotel also had lots of history, as well as a restaurant and saloon. It was built in 1902 by Buffalo Bill Cody and there was much to explore while we worked up an appetite.
The Cherrywood Bar
Eventually we ate a simple salad and a sandwich at this gorgeous carved bar. It was a gift to Buffalo Bill from one of his big fans, Queen Victoria. That's an amazing story. But we were served by a summer worker from Eastern Europe and she knew nothing about the history. There was no live music and no dance floor.
Dining in Cody?
We left Cody with some good memories, but our travels only allowed us enough time for 1 meal in Cody. Next time, we will come hungry and have a real dining adventure at Cassie's! Not just juicy steaks, but maybe some dancing on the big wood floor! Next time!
Another Cookbook Dining Adventure!
It's hard to tell this hotel is 126 years old. The fresh yellow paint makes the colonial style hotel look pretty young. It's actually a pretty swanky place that we couldn't afford. We were staying in a cabin, down the road.
Our Lake Lodge Cabins had a cute dining room, but it was cafeteria style which sounded less appealing. Plus, our Lake Lodge was not one of the hotels or lodges featured in our silly 1950 Ford Treasury Cookbook, with recipes from restaurants around the country. Lake Hotel did have a page in our book!
Down the Road
We grabbed our cookbook and headed down the road to check out Lake Hotel and its dining room. The parking lot already made us feel like we might be out of our league.
The ritzy lakeside entrance was made extra snazzy with the yellow tourist car resting in the shade of the modern (added 1928) porte cochere. Looking down at Lake Yellowstone it was fun to imagine the wealthy guests arriving by ship. This was much preferred, since stage coach travel was bumpy and dusty!
Don and I had only traveled 2 minutes from our lodge, but we needed to sit and settle our nerves for a bit in the lovely lounge, surrounded by windows. We sipped on lemon water and pretended we were guests until we got up nerve to peek at the menu and ask about reservations.
The Pre Happy Hour Crowd
We wandered past the small crowd gathering early at the tiny bar near the dining room entrance. The earliest reservation opening was 9:30. "We'll take it!" We decided after a quick look at the menu that didn't look much steeper than most National Park Lodge dining rooms.
After spending time at our own sweet lodge on porch rockers, we returned later in the evening to the lounge. There were indeed some snooty guests, giving the poor bartender a very hard time. But there were some delightful and possibly sober guests, who were enjoying live piano music. Some sang along while others danced. We finally entered the dining room, only a little famished by 9:30.
Sharing the Book
Most National Park lodge employees are international students, which could make my "cookbook encounter" extra tricky. But we lucked out with a young and relaxed American student named Dominique. He was chatty and comfortable and made no attempt to hide the fact that he was glad his busy night in the dining room was almost over... and that his long work season was about to come to an end. He seemed to be the kind of guy that could handle a lady and her cookbook.
Time to Order
because young people don't generally care a bit about an old cookbook. He continued to explore the book, the date and pages. I announced, "Now you know you're going to have to be in a photo with that book? Is that okay?" "Sure." he answered with out paying attention. Then he asked if he could borrow the book for a minute and he ran off and returned with the manager and two servers.
Jim took our photo while Dominique held the book. A few diners seemed to be wondering what was going on, but no one bothered to ask. We placed our ordered and teased about expected spareribs, next time!
We did eventually eat. It was late and we didn't order big or linger long. Don's bacon cheeseburger with truffle fries was just about perfect. My spinach and cold rice salad was the excellent choice after over 2 weeks of road food dining. It all tasted fresh and that bacon was so crispy I had to steal some!
I'll add two more photos as a reminder that cookbook dining adventures bring out the fun in all of us. Wait a minute? I really am not sure what those expressions are about.. on my face! I really just wanted to capture the smile on the Adam, the manager's face. And the other photo shows Dominique's big smile. I guess I could have just cropped myself out... but cropping can sometimes remove part of the story! It was a fun dinner and evening.
Breakfast in a 123 Year Old Building!
This building stands proudly in Uptown Butte, on what some once considered The Richest Hill on Earth!
What a grand example of how wealthy this city once was. Butte was a booming mining town in 1892, when the red brick building was constructed, with its carved stonework... keyhole windows, rounded glass... turrets and cute little pyramid-shaped tower toppers!
The building that once housed a lively Dance Hall was pretty quiet on Saturday morning in September.
The lower level of the beautiful building had a less appealing look, with the words casino and cafe written on the green awning. It made me assume we could order some coffee while we played the slot machines. But as we moved across the street, we became intrigued with the window display. Besides a little neon and an old mining cart, there was a collection of artwork by Jack Ferriter, who was evidently the personal art instructor of local celebrity, Evel Knievel. Curious. This suddenly seemed like a place that needed to be experienced.
Once inside, it was like a dreamy step back in time! There may have been slot machines somewhere, but I didn't see or hear them.
The name Gamer's has nothing to do with gaming. It comes from The Gamer Family, that opened a confectionery business in 1904. Fred Gamer moved to the current location, following a fire in 1932. Inside the front room there was quite a bit of history and memorabilia in the display cases, surrounded by floral walls and lit by art deco lamps.
The Soda Fountain
We walked through the quiet front room and into the warmth of the "soda fountain". Mr. Gamer added this room in later years and it looked like little had changed since then.
Charming is the best word to describe the sight, with white & pastel painted booths, stools and woodwork. But the folks who dined, so early that morning, were equally charming. There was a gentleman at the counter chatting with a retired couple in a booth. Tina, behind the counter was in extra good spirits. "I'm heading for Vegas tomorrow, for a 3-Day Country Music Festival!"
Tina, told me to feel free to go upstairs to have a peek around. What a fun little space with a low ceiling and funny wall sconces and twisty-curly coatracks connected to the iron railing.
If the place had been busier, it would have been fun to do some discrete people watching from above.
I especially would have loved to observe the crowds below, back in the late 1800's when The Curtis Music Hall was in full swing. Besides wondering about the bands and dancing that happened here, I was curious about the three floors above, which once housed miners during Butte's heyday.
Don and I really wanted to order Gamer's specialty, The Pasty. (rhymes with nasty) The little meat filled pastries were once a lunchtime staple, for European immigrants working in the copper mines.
Tina said they didn't have a fresh batch up yet, so Don and I split The Evel Knievel Omelet. Our eggy feast with ham, bacon, mushroom, peppers, tomato, cheese and salsa AND Twin Bridge Montana Cottage Fries, was split onto two plates... each plate could have fed another two diners! Tasty stuff! (tasty doesn't rhyme with pasty!)
...And More Stories
While we lingered over coffee, we ended up chatting with Tina and some of the customers. The couple behind us shared the news of their new twin grand babies. New Grandma was eager to get home and make quilts.
New Grandpa (pictured in tweed coat & cap) got off on stories about Carl, the cafe's second owner. Carl was evidently quite a character. The man in tweed... or sort of tweed, laughed about how he and his friend who was a local judge, sometimes had to wake Carl up when they arrived for breakfast. Carl had an apartment in the building and if the cafe was dark, they knew they better go knock on his door and make sure he was alive!
A couple from Canada, eating at the counter recalled their last stop in Butte 25 years ago. "We came to Gamer's then and met Carl! He invited us back into the kitchen!"
Another man laughed, remembering how Carl wouldn't bother with the cash register. "He'd leave enough in it for people to pay up and make their own change." I thought, what a shame we couldn't have experienced Gamer's back when Fred made food and candy, or when Carl was inviting people to help themselves to more coffee. I was sorry we didn't get to meet Paul Cote, the current and third owner. We heard he was nice.
Good Butte Memories
Our breakfast at Gamer's was a nice way to end our less than 24-hour visit to Butte. As we got up to leave, Tina was greeting a man who looked a little worn, as if he'd worked a night shift... or possibly didn't even have a home.
She waved good-by to us, then turned to hand the man some coffee, as she called him by name. I left with that image, reminding me that there still are places that feel like small-town Mayberry... even a city like Butte that has been described as "rough and tumble" and "past its prime". Don and I left with an appreciation for the rich history of so many great old buildings in Butte. But mostly we'll remember the friendly people we met inside them!
On a Friday night last September, Don and I left our hotel in Uptown Butte in search of food.
We passed an upscale restaurant on Broadway, then headed past a noisy group of bikers holding beers. Then on a quieter corner, we spotted a welcoming neon sign with the words, Chop Suey!
Brick, Neon and Mountains
Actually, this is the neon image that first lured us to the corner.
We were headed literally down Main Street, just after the sun had set. There was a glow behind the mountains and a glow on the red brick building from the neon.
"What a sign!" was my first reaction.
It wasn't until we crossed the street that we could see the words "Noodle Parlors" glowing above the door. What does that even mean... parlors, as in more than one parlor?
We peered in and saw a staircase heading upward. It seemed lit up and open, but it still felt a bit daring. Then a young couple suddenly appeared. They headed in and confidently walked up. We waited a few minutes and then followed.
Up We Go
My camera flash made the stairway look a little brighter than it was. We headed up, kind of chuckling about our bravery.
We turned left into the doorway and found a decorated cashier's cage, with no one attending. Towards the front was an empty room, with community tables. Towards the rear, there was a long and curious hall.
We could hear diners behind the curtains and voices coming from the kitchen at the end of the hall. We had a few moments by ourselves, to absorb this mysterious sight.
There were Chinese lanterns and salmon-pink, bead board walls. There were curtains, that made me think of dressing rooms... and one, lone metal cart.
Our Cozy Booth
A woman with blond hair and glasses emerged from the end of the hall. She rolled the metal cart back into the kitchen, then ushered us to booth #8.
We sat at our cozy table in two wobbly soda fountain chairs, while she left us to fetch menus and tea. We sat there grinning, with raised eyebrows. "She didn't close our curtain. Are we supposed to?" It was like being in a foreign country, unsure of ourselves.
Retro Chinese Menu
The menu was hoot. There were serious reminders, written in red on the cover.
Inside the menu we found a stunning selection. There were 32 different kinds of Chop Suey and Chow Mein. We started with egg drop soup.
As we sat behind our closed curtain, I kept getting the giggles. Having our vision limited, made the nearby voices and sounds extra comical.
We could hear a family with a restless baby... clinking toasts of a romantic couple... a jabbering man monopolizing the conversation across the hall...... and every now and then the sound of a cart, rattling at great speeds down the hall... fluttering our curtain each time.
There was so darn much of it. We had Chicken Chop Suey with Noodles and Pork Choy Mein with Egg Fu Yong. This was food you can't find easily anymore, even if you live in Houston, with the largest "Asia-Town" in the States.
As for the flavors and textures and seasoning? It wasn't packed with any of that, but that's okay. It took me back to my earliest memory of Chinese food. I was 6 in 1963 when I remember eating food just like this in NYC's Chinatown. Ahhh. Simple is nice.
Since we had pulled our curtain closed, I did what I generally consider rude and grabbed my cell phone and googled the restaurant. I was stunned to learn we were in a restaurant that had been run by the same family since 1909. I was even more surprised to learn that the owner Danny Wong, (I believe his great uncle started the business) was 80 and still cooked six days a week. I was like a giddy groupie. I used the excuse of hunting down the restroom, to sneak a peek in the kitchen.
I nervously snapped a blurry photo, hoping no one would notice. I wish I had been brave enough to photograph the bathroom. There were two little saloon style doors (same salmon color) and another tiny door to the toilet. I grinned as I took a look. Then I washed my hands at a shared sink in the hallway .
When, we finished the feast our server Arlene, seemed surprised to know this was our first visit. (We must have hidden our confused expressions. ) She genuinely apologized, since she hadn't encouraged us to order their specialties.
Then she disappeared and returned with some samples of sweet and sour chicken and some kind of stuffed wontons. We nibbled the "just sweet enough" specialties, and learned more about Arlene and her work at Pekin. She was hired in 1979, back when the waitresses carried huge heavy trays in and out of those tiny rooms. After many years, they were finally allowed to use the rolling carts. "Oh Butte was different then." Arlene smiled. "It was pretty rough and tumble. Back then, we stayed open till 3 am. The bars closed at 2, so everyone headed here. It got pretty wild."
History of the Building
Arlene told us the building (which we viewed again in the morning) had been in the original Chinese District. The 2-block area was bustling during Butte's heyday in the late 1800's. The 2-story building was constructed in 1909. That year, Hum Yow and his wife Bessie Wong moved their noodle house and family to the upper level. The street level and basement housed a Chinese apothecary, a sign maker's shop and gambling casino.
Because the building was so near Butte's red-light district, there have been lots of rumors about those little curtained rooms where diners eat noodles, today. Arlene didn't say anything about the restaurant being a brothel, but she did say Chinese miners rented those tiny booths as sleeping quarters at one time. I'm sure Arlene could tell a lot of stories from her 36 years of work at The Pekin. I asked her if she'd noticed a lot of changes during that time. Arlene didn't really need to ponder that. "No. Not really.
Julie in the Lounge
After dinner, Don and I wandered towards the front of the building where we could see the neon, glowing through the window. We noticed a lounge off to the left.
We peeked in and ended up chatting with bartender, Julie. She had her own stories about the Noodle House. She talked about growing up in Butte (which she never fully respected until she moved away for a short while.) She had nothing but rave reviews of her boss, Mr. Wong. "He cooks 6 days a week!" Julie gushed. She said he was 80 years old and had enough money to retire and live comfortably anywhere, but he was so dedicated to the place.
Mr. Wong Himself
We'd been chatting with Julie for quite a while, when Mr. Wong himself strolled into the lounge in his white apron and tidy white hair.
I was star struck. He teased Julie a bit and seemed delighted that we had enjoyed our first visit to Pekin Noodle House. He was more than happy to pose for photos before heading back to the kitchen. Such a treat! What a sweet man and what a welcoming staff.
Good-Byes and Thanks
We headed out later that night. Two months later, I'm still pondering the visit. The history of Butte's Chinese community is fascinating. The fact that Danny Wong's family has run this business since 1909, says much about the Wongs.
At one time 400 to 600 Chinese rail workers, miners and later, service oriented business owners filled the 2-block Chinese community. For many complicated reasons, most of the Chinese businesses disappeared and yet this one still exists. I keep trying to learn more, but my Googling brings up conflicting stories and lots of odd food reviews. I may never know the full story of Pekin Noodle House and how it fit into this Montana world. But, I'm glad I experienced a piece of it!
It wasn't time for a meal when we drove into Butte last fall. But we'd read about this curious place.
As a kid, Evel Knievel ate at Matt's frequently, when he lived nearby. If it was good enough for him, it was worth a visit!
The only thing better than a roadside diner is a roadside house with dining options. This diner was just a home on the highway, before Matt Korn began serving food in 1930.
Customers used to drive up along the tall fat bumper curb and order through the windows. I hear they still will bring food out to your car, but we wanted to sit at the old counter! We said hello the the man in the white apron leaning against the stucco and headed on inside.
My eyes were drawn behind the counter where I spotted shiny milkshake and malt equipment, plus an old cash register.
All that chrome seemed to be surrounded by words. Coca-Cola, Sandwiches, Gift Certificates, Yes! We're Open, Sugar Cones, and SORRY... with a list of this and that and a THX at the end.
Don and I sat down on two of the brown, swivel stools at the 1930's era, U-shaped counter.
We pulled out a menu, showing a tray full of icy cold treats. A very smiley server wearing a snappy little cap, peered over the sweet assortment.
There were no caps worn here, but the two servers who were in the midst of a shift change, did seem to have matching hairdos..
Their hair styles weren't weren't from the 1930's, but not exactly 2015 either.
Coke or Ice Cream?
It wasn't quite 5 pm and Don and I hadn't even checked into our hotel yet.
We thought about just having a Coke, especially if it meant choosing our own frosty bottles from the big red case and popping off the lids... instead of unscrewing!
But the menu was calling me. What I really wanted was the Peanut Burger, served with a mayo sauce made with crushed peanuts. I love getting the local, quirky favorite and maybe I should have.
But we were holding off for dinner later. Instead, I had my peanuts served on top of a chocolate sundae, which was probably just as filling as a burger. It was mighty good, though.
Distracted by a Photo
Don shared a few bites, but he spent most of our visit, chatting with Shawn, a young man sitting at the end of the counter. Shawn noticed Don pointing at a framed photo that was mounted on the knotty pine wall.
Don was pretty sure that was a 1957 Chevy Nomad Station Wagon, just like the one his family owned when he was a kid. Shawn heard that bit of news and lit up. "You had one of those!".
Shawn had a few cars stories himself, since his dad and grandfather were race car drivers. He showed us a photo of the trashed Mustang he and his dad found in an old barn.
He laughed about his first ride in a souped up '57 Chevy, shortly after he was born. His mom had been furious that his dad arrived and drove them home from the hospital in the noisy car that made everyone stare at stoplights.
Chatting with Brandi
Brandi continued to busy herself behind the counter. She chatted with me a bit about her favorite customers... the families that seemed to "grow up" on the diner's food.
She also teased Shawn a few times, especially when he told us he'd just discovered Matt's Place a few weeks earlier, when he started college. "And he's pretty much been here, every day since then!" Brandi laughed. "Don't forget your coat!" She reminded him like a mother when he got up to head out.
Off to Butte
I was sorry we couldn't have experienced a meal or a bigger crowd. But mostly I'm just glad we made the stop. This is one of those places that might not be there "next time".
Matt sold his biz to the Louis & Mae Lawrence in the 1940's. I believe Mae passed away a couple years ago at age 100. As far as I know their daughter is still running things. You never know.
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.