Four Secrets of a Montana Drive-Up
Visit any small, touristy town in Montana and odds are good that you will find at least one drive-up restaurant that is a "must stop." Locals will rave about these little mom-and-pop restaurants and when you have friends in town you always make them go to these places. "Oh my gosh, we have to take you to ________! Their _______s are the best!" You swear that ramshackle restaurant by the side of the highway has the best burgers in the world. Or their fries are the best you've ever tried or they have some special meat on a stick that you can't find anywhere else.
My wife and I took a drive around Fishtail and Nye this weekend. The weather was perfect and all of that gorgeous scenery had apparently worked up our appetites because by the time we drove back into Absarokee we were starving and had to stop at the legendary Dew Drop Inn on the way home.
Montana is covered with quirky, often seasonal little restaurants by the side of busy highways and recreation areas. Red Lodge has the Red Box Car. At Canyon Ferry, you'll find the oddly themed Flamingo Grill. Absarokee has the Dew Drop Inn and you can't forget the Quick Stop Drive-In in Rockvale. Cruise around Flathead Lake and you'll see dozens of similar establishments. I rarely pass up an opportunity to visit one of these Montana food shacks and I've noticed some common themes:
- Surprisingly large menus. Normally considered a restaurant no-no, most of these roadside drive-ups seem to have abnormally large menus. At the Dew Drop they have the usual hamburgers and fried side options, but they also had dozens of other items that seemed to be added with little rhyme or reason: pizza, pulled pork sandwiches, burritos, fry bread, tacos, ribs and more. I honestly couldn't even read the entire menu board it was so overwhelming. I have no idea how they keep all that inventory.
- Ice Cream. This seems to be a common bond of roadside drive-ups. If there is any way to incorporate huckleberry into their frozen dairy options, even better. I swear you'll find the best milkshakes on the side of a road.
- Good food. Maybe it just tastes better because you've been out hiking, fishing or boating all day, but the roadside food shacks that have managed to remain open for years, haven't done so because they sell crappy food. It's usually hot, fresh and made with love.
- Great views. Ok, so maybe the view isn't breathtaking at every roadside drive-in in Montana, but most of them are. And maybe part of the reason we enjoy them so much is that they're usually located in places that are either fun or beautiful or both.
Got a favorite roadside restaurant in Montana? Let's hear about it in the Comments.