Billings Companies Take a Fresh Approach to Food
Local Kitchen and Bar
Chef and entrepreneur Travis Stimpson always had a very simple idea driving his vision: create a restaurant where he could serve his parents’ beef. Realizing the importance of visible food sources and recognizing the superior quality of local products, his thought sparked a broader culinary vision. Now, just more than a year after enacting his vision of building a restaurant that focuses on quality local products and community, Stimpson’s restaurant, Local Kitchen and Bar, is impacting the local community on a daily basis.
“Montana is a state that can provide massive amounts of things you can’t get anywhere else in the country,” Stimpson says. “You have all of these meats available…they weren’t being utilized.”
With a focus on community, Stimpson’s restaurant taps into the unique advantages of using local products while solving many of the very problems that cause most restaurant owners to shy away from local producers. For instance, he recognized early on Montana’s short growing seasons for certain crops caused restaurateurs to pull away from committing to local suppliers. However, he quickly realized by giving business to a local farmer and perfecting plates that incorporate the area’s best local products, his own business could churn out quality dishes while making growing profitable for local farmers.
“Nobody was putting out effort to make sure they could support a grower,” Stimpson says. “That was a big thing for me. I wanted to make sure somebody could make a living by providing for us.”
According to Stimpson, the community’s response to his locally produced approach has been “overwhelmingly” positive. Especially, he says, when it comes to customers who want to know where their food is coming from—an area where his restaurant has all the answers.
“When a customer asks where a product comes from or is grown, we have an answer for that,” he says. “When asked about beef, most places can tell you what breed it was and maybe what slaughter-plant it came from. When someone asks me about my beef, I know what pasture it wintered in, what pasture it summered in. I know its slaughter date, and the nickname my sister and I gave it. People really appreciate that you know where your stuff came from.”
One well-received dish at Local is the lamb shank. An entrée that has been so popular that it ran two Helena suppliers out of lamb at one point, the lamb shank is braised for 12 hours and seasoned with thyme and rosemary. Once tender, the lamb is served over local mashed potatoes and a vegetable puree. The whole dish is topped with onion rings and covered in a jus created from the cooked down lamb braise.
Another favorite at Local is the bison hash. With bison supplied by a company in Butte, Montana, that pulls from local ranchers, the bison hash includes a bison chorizo seasoned with paprika and cumin. It is pan-seared with onions and potatoes and topped with a rich, hearty cream and cheese sauce. After being cooked, the whole dish is topped with candy roasted red peppers.
Beyond just Local, the advantage of in-state production can be seen at other Billings establishments as well. At Project Meats, a local meat production company, owners Tanya and Shane Flowers say their focus on the community has made lasting positive waves.
“Every chance we get, we try to get local products on the shelf,” Tanya Flowers says. “For us, it’s important on the economy side. People take that money and spend it right back in the community.”
For the Flowers family, many of Project Meats’ most popular products are distinctly local. Buying an estimated $150,000-worth of local product per year, the company has a high demand for local pork, jerk and, of course, beef.
Tanya’s personal favorite is the local prime rib. She likes to assemble a homemade rub of paprika, sage, garlic and salt and pepper. Then she coats the meat, lets the spices soak in for 24 hours and bakes the combination in a pan, marinating it with drippings. When the meat has a warm, pink center, she slices it into steaks and serves with mashed potatoes.
Good Earth Market
Still, anyone trying to build community through food on a fundamental level should look no further than the local co-op, Good Earth, located in downtown Billings. This health food and grocery store stocks the shelves with as many local products as possible, featuring local offerings from across the food and beverage spectrum. Choices include local cheeses, wines, meat, produce and more.
“For local people, it’s about creating relationships,” Sonia Davis, interim general manager and marketing manager of Good Earth, says. “It feels good to know we’re supporting the local economy in this way. It’s great to keep those dollars in Montana.”
Davis likes to use local products from Good Earth to create a family favorite: homemade shepherd’s pie. With access to the local grocer, she can create the whole ensemble exclusively using local products. Beginning with local ground beef, she browns the meat in a cast-iron skillet, charring it with vegetables. She whips locally grown mashed potatoes, covers the meat and vegetable mix with the spuds and tops it all off with locally made cheddar cheese. She likes to cook the dish until it has a crispy exterior, then serves it to the family.
Regardless of whether it’s preparing a meal at home, grilling quality beef or spending a night out, Billings offers great options for anyone looking to go local. Although the motivation for choosing local products may vary from wanting to know where food is coming from, hoping to build the local economy, a desire to lower the environmental impact or simply wanting to tap into homegrown quality, there are plenty of delectable opportunities to get the most out of this special community.