Farm-to-table, fine dining and a bona fide craft drink movement lend flavor to summer.
Walking into Hop’s Downtown Grill feels like suddenly remembering a favorite song you haven’t heard in years. Literally. Behind the bar, rows of old hit-album covers line the wall: There’s the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls.”
Sit down in the warmly appointed dining room and you’ll find other classic hits on the menu (along with one of the most extensive beer lists anywhere). But if you’re hungry for something you won’t find at home, two words: yak burger.
That’s just one of several standout entrees made from local ingredients on the menu at the Main Street restaurant. And Hop’s is hardly the only place in town with unusual regional flavors on the menu. Just down the street, on its shaded outdoor deck the 406 Bar and Grill serves up sliders made from locally raised buffalo. The breakfast buffets at the Hilton Garden Inn and Holiday Inn Express offer fresh, locally grown produce. And even the Kalispell Grand Hotel uses Wheat Montana flour in its homemade dog biscuits.
And, at least during late summer, it’s hard to find a restaurant in town that’s not doing something interesting with the area’s famed Flathead cherries and fresh mountain huckleberries.
While Northwest Montana is best-known for its soaring peaks, Kalispell itself is surrounded by thousands of acres of fertile agricultural land, making it a jackpot for foodies seeking local flavors to match the epic landscape.
Local Drink for Local Eats
Not only that, but the Flathead Valley is a regional epicenter of the craft beer, wine and spirits industry. The most recent addition, the Kalispell Brewing Company, opened in early summer 2014, growing what was already a dense concentration of excellent (and in some cases, award-winning) breweries. You can read more about those spots in the feature article at this link.
Harvest Your Own Eats
Beyond the area’s fine restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries, there are several opportunities to dig into the local dirt (literally!) and enjoy the bounty of the region.
Purple Frog Gardens is well-known in the Kalispell/Whitefish area as a tasty stop along stunning Blanchard Lake — as well as the opportunity to talk politics with proprietor Mike Jopek, a retired Montana legislator and favorite among locals. Mike and his partner, Pam Gerwe, travel the state when they’re not digging in the dirt, educating folks about the importance of local food. Every Wednesday on the farm is volunteer day and an opportunity to weed the onion rows under the shadow of Glacier National Park. There is even good music to pass the time with the children’s music hour, Morning Melodies, every Wednesday morning during the summer months. Or just stop by to pick up a fresh clove of garlic or basket of summer squash.
Kalispell Kreamery began 35 years ago with the Hedstrom family acquiring its very first milking cow to provide the family with fresh, raw milk. That single cow soon turned to two and now the milking operation is the family’s main business. And business is good. Located in West Valley, Kalispell Kreamery is dedicated to providing the freshest, most natural product to families across Montana. The milk is pasteurized but not homogenized and left in its natural state as much as possible. Now a busy working dairy, these farmers will take “time off” June 18, 2016, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to host their 7th Annual Milk and Cookies Event. There will be tours (bring the kids!) along with plenty of milk and cookies.
If high-quality, organic meat is your thing, make sure to visit the meat experts at Lower Valley Processing, located at 2115 Lower Valley Road in Kalispell (406-752-2846). Family owned and operated by Sue and Wes since 1974, they sell retail to the public but are known for processing the meat you bring in from your wild game hunt or your farm. Lower Valley’s menu runs of gamut of sausage, jerky, smoked meats and fish … to half or quarter beef and half or whole pork.
And whatever you do, don’t miss a visit to the cherry orchards that line the East Shore Highway. Stop at roadside fruit stands for baskets of delicious sweet cherries. Many orchards also allow visitors to grab a bucket and pick their own. Flathead cherries are typically ripe from late July to early August.
Finally, if you happen to be in Kalispell on a Saturday morning, don’t miss the Farmers Market at Flathead Valley Community College — offering locally grown fruit including fresh-picked huckleberries, Dixon melons and crisp produce alongside baked goods, jams and jellies, and beautiful arts and crafts.
And, always, as you’re driving or biking or otherwise wandering around the Flathead Valley, keep your eyes pealed for an impromptu stop at a smaller farmers market or roadside stand of locally grown wonders. Your taste buds will be glad you did.