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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Fall Smiles on the Emerson

When we asked for our table outdoors, the hostess’s smile grew rigid around the corners. In the long moment that followed, I wondered whether it was the amiable or the tension that would win out.

“Will that be a problem?” he said. “I called ahead.”

“No—not at all. Feel free to pick a table, and I’ll bring out your place settings.”

As we stepped into the evening air, I looked to the west, out over the vacant recess field, and stopped. The sun was preparing to spar with the horizon under purple streamers of clouds. It was the first true sunset I’d seen in Montana for months that wasn’t marred by smoke and Martian reds. I realized then that fall wasn’t just a rumor.

I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” – Henry David Thoreau

Thanks Hank, I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’d asked my sweetie to bring me here, to make a reservation at the Emerson Grill for dinner outside with the fall trees. We surveyed the seating area under the apron of a great spruce, at tables and chairs spread about like forgotten toys. One wrought-iron table near a pair of flower basins appeared eager, offering a prime spot for the unfolding skyline drama.

Thousands of Bozeman’s children attended the brick two-story school between the Emerson’s opening in 1918 and closure in 1991. Though the building deserves a place in any debate over Bozeman’s most beautiful school, the Emerson narrowly avoiding a wrecking ball in 1992. While economic challenges persist to this day, the Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture fully lives up to its name; it is our cradle for the creatives, including a scroll of artists and writers, as well as one restaurant up in the front, like a shy but preferred student.

The wine arrived first, a glass of pinot for me and chianti for him. Following our initial sips, we two exchanged an entire conversation in a glance. Both wines were astounding, a miracle stave against the season’s chill, and suddenly a vital contributor to the horizon of color. I gushed about how I love red wine.

Soon enough came the soup I had ordered, one bowl with two spoons. My sweetie commented to the waitress about the generosity of the serving; he intrinsically links volume with value.

“I know,” our waitress answered. Her name was Megan, and she would prove quite pleasant despite the 25 yards we’d added to her evening circuit. “And soup is so inexpensive to make.”

My personal feelings aside, I do not agree with his pretense about value; for me it is beholden first and solely to quality. Mosquitoes come free and oftentimes in abundance, and I don’t hear many comments on their “value.” But I nodded along with the chit-chat, meanwhile lifting another spoonful to my mouth from the Moroccan carrot soup with a dollup of honey yogurt. And another spoonful. I regarded the texture of the soup as Megan noted the absence of smoke. Yes, the latter was thankfully departed, but the former was viscous and veritable—this soup was not the kind to run. A few minutes later when Megan took the bowl away, it looked clean enough to be served immediately. It was spotless.

A little more wine, talk of upcoming travels, he went on about the hunts… this fall will require some savoring in between the flashes and color. It’ll rely on good timing and attention, as well, but we each spoke aloud our plans to wipe clean the forthcoming weeks that stand between here and the holidays.

As an entrée, I had ordered one of two available “Gallatin Valley” salads. I should mention that the Emerson supports a broad range of local food growers, a dozen of which are listed name-and-town along the left margin of the menu. Seems like all the establishments worth knowing in the localvore lexicon supply the Emerson.

My salad looked light and lovely. Like a Caprese salad sans basil, it offered heirloom tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and micro-greens glazed in a balsamic vinaigrette. The kitchen had performed well with the salad-and-soup openers, but their finest presentation of the evening landed one seat to my left. He’d ordered the fettuccini fresca, and I couldn’t keep my fork from drifting across the table. My initial concern that the savory characters of goat cheese and roasted tomatoes might prove overpowering was needless. We shared the dish, and the pleasure was unrelenting through the end. It may have been the best plate of pasta I’ve ever had in the valley. Bravo!

By now the sun had given up the fight, and the fall chill was pushing us closer and closer together. We finished our wine slowly. And then it was time to go, to head off into a night with snow in the forecast. October is here in Montana, and while it deserves a place in any schoolhouse debate over our most schizophrenic months, the Emerson Grill’s reputation for the chronic disorder may have tucked in for a long winter. 


The Magpie's long-time food critic, Beverly Ridge has made it a personal mission is “to protect Montana diners from the fleecing imposters, the lazy sourpusses, and the just plain rotten.”  A complete listing of her area restaurant reviews can be found on the Spotlight webpage in the left column.

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