The high plains states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming are studies in extremes. Juxtaposed with the snow-patched peaks of Glacier National Park are the sad, colorless towns of northeast Montana. The bustling and prosperous oil-boom towns of northwest North Dakota, such as Williston, are a stark contrast to the quiet, simple towns of southwest North Dakota, such as Bowman. Within a few short hours of traversing half the state of Wyoming, cool, overcast weather morphs into downpours, then into a snowstorm, and finally into a sunny, comfortable afternoon. The abundance of nature, with choreographed vistas around every bend, seems at odds with the quality of life in surrounding hamlets, where good food, art, and music are curiously lacking.
Yet despite being what one restaurateur in West Yellowstone referred to as the “culinary wasteland” of the high plains states, there are gems to be found, much like the evasive gold deposits and oil reserves that pop up from time to time in this part of the country. For us, during our recent nearly 3,000-mile trek across this land of contrasts, we were fortunate to rediscover the mojo of good food in the university town of Missoula, Montana after almost a week of enduring food that was mediocre at best.
In Missoula, we stayed at the lovely Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast, just a few miles outside of town – a haven nestled high above a lush valley of farmland. It is the perfect place to relax and decompress. It should, therefore, have come as no surprise that Blue Mountain serves (and sells) the teas of the Montana Tea & Spice Trading company, based in Missoula. Since we arrived in the late afternoon, we asked the innkeeper for a recommendation for dinner. He suggested The Silk Road Restaurant, which – not surprisingly – also features Montana Tea & Spice Trading teas. We selected the apropos Evening in Missoula, an herbal tisane that explodes with the sweet scents of rose hips, peppermint, wild cherry bark, star anise, vanilla, lavender, and other exotic flavors. It is a smooth and soothing tisane that both energizes and calms. By the way, the tapas-style dishes at The Silk Road are wonderful, hailing from all the various stops along the fabled path.
Later in the evening, as we were winding down from another day packed with new experiences, I decided to try another of the Montana Tea & Spice teas. This time I selected Mountain Huckleberry, a tisane with a strong burst of berry flavor, but no actual huckleberry. The name, though, reminded me of other delicious huckleberry treats I had along the way, including a very yummy huckleberry smoothie in St. Regis, Montana. We returned to the same stand on our way back – and the second round was as delicious as the first.
The last Montana Tea & Spice tea I sampled was the Earl Grey, which I had with breakfast at the Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast. It was a hearty and flavorful version of the old standard, but certainly not the best I have had. Still, it was nice to sip something other than unsweetened black iced tea, which was my go-to drink during much of our trip.
Photos courtesy of the contributor.