Sunday, July 25, 2021

One man's last best place

Main Street and the Hotel Baxter


Ted as in Ted Turner's Montana Grill in the Baxter Hotel

If the measure of a town’s desirability is the number of breweries, coffee roasters, bakeries, ice creameries and bike shops Bozeman scores a 97. Halfway through our eight days there Bozeman’s status as a boomtown was clear. The place jumps. There’s new construction in every direction. But, it’s not all honey and roses as I described last week. Real locals are in a pinch and it’s not going to get better. Still, it’s a delight to stroll the two blocks from our house and find all manner of restaurants. Thai, Indian, Japanese, Italian, new American, it’s all there.

The fifteen minute queue at the wondrous Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. Did that twice. 

And speaking of breweries and brew pubs, there a dozen of those bad boys. I do crave a fresh brew from time to time. The same with the morning kind of brew; twelve of those, as well. Ice cream at Sweet Peaks caps your afternoon. A fresh baked boule or baguette at Wild Crumb will set you up for the day. Spread that baguette with sweet creamery butter and some Flathead Lake cherry jam and you’re close to heaven. We scarfed two of those beauties between Bozeman and Billings as we began our trip back to Taos. I've made the case in the past that if we move the town will have to have great bread. Durango’s Flour qualifies as does Bozeman’s Wild Crumb. A baguette from Taos’s Wild Leaven is so dry and hard it’s better used as a weapon.

As to bicycles and bike shops, Bozeman abounds with both. And folks use them for transportation. How European of them, qui? It sets my heart aflutter to see clutches of cyclists riding street cruisers through leafy middle-class neighborhoods that stretch from bustling Main Street to the Montana State University campus. Squint your eyes and it’s small town America in the forties when I was a kid.

Blackbird Kitchen

Bread from Blackbird's woodfired oven

So good and so good for you

As often happens Peggy and I adopt a restaurant. In Bozeman it was Blackbird Kitchen at the corner of Bozeman and Main. Blackbird identifies as Italian and to the extent that it has pizza, pasta, and extraordinary bread from a woodfire oven it was. The feeling was more New American. It was a cozy affair, so we found our way to the bar on two occasions and another to the counter where we could watch pizza being tossed by two young men competing for the highest twirl. The wood fired was being used for pasta dishes being baked in cast iron skillets. Pizza to our surprise was being baked in standard issue deck ovens at 900 degrees. The pies arrived pleasantly blistered and chewy. They vied for the best we’ve eaten. Stacks of impressive boules sat between the pizza bench and garde mangier. Peggy declared the bread which was served with olive oil for anointing to be the best she’s eaten. It was right up there.

Fresh baked at Wild Crumb

We tried to buy one but were told by Jonah, our able and engaging bartender, that we could come by at noon Saturday and ask the bread baker he could spare a loaf. However, he told us it was highly was unlikely. We were better off walking to the full boulangerie and patisserie, Wild Crumb, in the Brewery District. Yes, Bozeman has a Brewery District, hipsters. Jonah warned us that, “Get there early. It’s a scene.” It was. But the wait was worth it. We ate two baguettes between Bozeman and Billings Sunday morning.

Did I mention that we were two doors from Ghost Town Coffee where I could grab a cup before or after my morning run? Didn’t think so. I dream of living in a village where you can walk to everything that matters in life; coffee, a fresh baguette, the morning paper, garden fresh produce, fine wines and fresh draft beer. It’s been dream for eons.

The Hamill Building

The Bozeman Public Library

Bozeman’s architecture grabbed me in the late 90s. It feels important almost stately. It has the bones of a real city. It rose near the turn of the 20th century and is seasoned by a touch of Art Deco from the 20s and 30s. Bozeman’s architecturally designed 53,000 square foot library on a manicured 14.3 acre campus would befit Santa Monica or Palo Alto. 

The city has doubled in size since I fell for it in 2000.

And there’s the rub. After all the bouquets I’ve thrown at Bozeman we wouldn’t want to live there. We almost kissed the New Mexico tierra when we got back a week ago. The skies were clearer. We could actually see the mountains. The vistas are wider. We could see forever. The politics are bluer.

An acquaintance who once lived in Bozeman called it “the last best place” back in the 90s. It may well have been. The same might have been said of Sedona in the 80s before it choked with traffic and became Orange County. The list of places that once were last best places is long. But for our money Taos with all its blemishes is the last best place.

As seen from Casa Immel

As we had breakfast on our patio last Tuesday morning we gazed across our pasture to the clouds above the Sangre de Cristos. We were home.

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Your Bozeman food and brew scene is preceding my late afternoon activity of bread making, and your description, both written and photographic, is divine. Your passion for food move right through your photography, and to me, your food photography is almost always some of your best. The three you included here - pizza oven, bread with butter on a plate, and the Wild Crumb bakery window are culinary delights for the mind! Thank you for posting them on your blog.