By BOB ZIMORINO
I am going to take a break this week from my regular blog (the sauté classes will resume in a couple of weeks) to tell you about some of the places that Amy and I ate on our recent road trip to Billings and parts thereabout. I probably wouldn’t have thought too much about it especially after the first night of mediocre Chinese food in Helena but there were three other places that really stood out for various reasons, all deserving of a mention.
As most of you know I am an Italian chef. I am not one of those hyper-critical “take no prisoners” type of chef, that believes if I didn’t do it, it can’t be good. I want to enjoy myself when I go out to eat. Even if it isn’t the best, unless a meal is poorly prepared, or the service is incredibly bad or there is something that really strikes me as wrong, I will rarely say anything to the negative.
That being said, the same is true in reverse. If I find something that I like, I certainly want to let folks know, not only that I liked or disliked it, but why.
First off comes the Café Regis in Red Lodge. Pronounced the way you would pronounce the word register (without the ter).
It started as a grocery store many years ago called the Old Town Grocery and was owned by the Regis family. It was one of three grocers in the neighborhood was located between the two coal mines that used to operate in Red Lodge. In the early 1940s, they moved the old store and built a new one calling it the New Old Town Grocery. Whether, because it might have confused some or for some other reason they renamed it the Regis Grocery.
Owners Martha Young and Gary Ferguson bought the place in part because they were enamored by the old neon sign, which while it still says “Grocery”, and they do offer a variety of organic and natural groceries, it is a café open for breakfast and lunch and for special dinners or meetings in the evening. The word Café was added on the side of the building but the old sign remains unchanged.
Depending on where you park, your first clue to what you are about to experience may be the greenhouses around the side, just past the patio and in back.
We were guests at a Town Hall style meeting that followed a dinner that consisted of a wonderful Lasagna, Tossed Salad, Homemade Ciabatta and Tapioca for dessert prepared by Martha and her ace right hand Nancy. Martha told me with a wry smile that suggests she is half kidding, that had she known I was going to be there she would have done Mexican. Whether serious or not she need not worry. Her food was delicious from beginning to end. When you start with great ingredients, your odds of success increase exponentially. Her flavors were right on the mark.
In addition to being a cool old building with a great sign, the dining room is naturally well lit with a wall of windows. There are two and four top tables along that wall, a series of four tops in the middle that when put together form a nice community table. The outer walls have the original built in shelving, stock with organic and natural goodies from almond milk to gluten free pastas.
We were told to come back and try her breakfast, which we did the next morning. I had the best Huevos Rancheros I have ever eaten, bar none.
Everyone in the restaurant shares tips. I have seen that both work out and not work out. The arguments are usually that lazy servers reap the benefits of those who hustle. At the Regis, the spirit of the owners is totally reflected in the attitudes of her staff and they truly do care and the job that they do reflects that.
Here is how the Café Regis describes itself:
“We’re a small breakfast and lunch cafe featuring fresh, handmade breakfast and lunch entrees, a great variety of ‘blue plate specials,’ and baked goods right out of the oven.
We’re big fans of using local ingredients whenever possible, from Kings Cupboard Chocolate, to Rocky Mountain Organic Meats, to produce from our own on-site organic produce gardens. We cater events big and small, your place or ours. “
In addition to the organic gardens, there are solar panels on the roof supplementing energy consumption, powering the kitchen’s swamp cooler. Their walk-in cooler has a computerized system that brings in cold air from the outside whenever possible, again lowering energy consumption.
As a side note, Martha wore a piece of tape like a nametag, with a number in the 6000’s on it, instead of her name. I asked her what it was for and she told me that it represented the number of war casualties from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I am proud to have made her acquaintance.
Eco Friendly, Art Deco cool, delicious food and fabulous service, who knew that we would find the most progressive restaurant in Montana as well as parts beyond, in a small town in the shadows of the Absarokee Mountains.
How to get to Cafe Regis:
Take Highway 212 from I-90 in Laurel Mt or take the Cook City Highway from Yellowstone Park Red Lodge, but either way, make sure you check out the Café Regis Two blocks west of Broadway, on the corner of 16th and Word. 406-446-1941.
On the Road In Montana Part 2. The Burger Dive in Billings and The Cateye Café in Bozeman
Check out this video about the cafe:
Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a musician with the popular local band Mudfoot and the Dirty Soles, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in his lifetime.