Pigs fly at Babcock and Miles, Merchants of the Delectable in Red Lodge. Here, food and wine demigod Steve Haman preaches all things delicious. Standing in the gourmet store he purchased with his wife Kim in 2016 from Karen and Andrew Porth, he extols his passion for culinary treasures. The small yellow house with white trim just off the main drag recalls visiting a favorite aunt. Figurines of pigs safeguard the bounty of neatly arranged foodstuffs while another flies above the main counter.
On this sunny day after more than a foot of snow had dropped in the Beartooth Mountains and roads were clear, my friend Susan Carlson and I decided to take a road trip. When I first moved to Montana 20 years ago, I was told residents would drive hours for a good meal. Here we were journeying from Billings to secure some unique cheese and wine, among other culinary treats.
The ingredients to fulfill most recipes in cooking magazines can be found here. Specialty items such as duck breasts, caviar and smoked scallops fancify any occasion, while fresh-baked baguettes from the Red Lodge Pizza Company arrive daily at 11:30 a.m. Food snacks, cookies, crackers and nuts can satisfy everyday cravings, with rice, pastas and oils filling the pantry.
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At Babcock and Miles, Steve Haman said, "We have a responsibility to preserve, protect, and promote food and wine products of unique provenance. It's our mission to champion those products with deep ties to the unique places they come from, whether it's a Montana farmstead goat cheese or Belize single origin chocolate, because those special products tell the stories of where they come from with every mouth-watering bite."
Haman is good at telling stories and it is no wonder. Once a minister in California, he easily shares what he is passionate about. These days he relays the backstory and facts behind the delights he sells, educating and enlightening those who come into the store. "We try to meet our customers where they're at," Kim Haman said while her husband added, "Our passion, in a large part, is driven by our desire to serve our customers. We are energized by people and they make our job so rewarding." He prides himself in having curated every product in the store. "You can shop confidently knowing that each and every item has been tried and vetted by our staff."
Steve Haman's first love of food came with a job in an Italian restaurant. "While I started washing dishes and busing tables I eventually worked my way into the kitchen, prepping food with the chef in the afternoon." When the chef did not show up one day, Haman was asked to work on the line and help cook.
Why did the Hamans choose Red Lodge for their store? "Situated at the foot of the Beartooths, the setting is spectacular. Historic downtown Red Lodge has a charm that sucks you in," Steve Haman said, plus it was a good place to raise their two sons.
Scott Mann, who ranches nearby, said that "I live in the country, but come into town on most days." On this day, while fueling equipment he was energizing himself with a specialty coffee. The Hamans own one of the only Nuova Simonelli Aurelia Wave espresso machines in Montana, allowing for the precise temperature control, extraction and dispensing that result in a refined cup of coffee.
I picked up a bag of Italian ginger molasses cookies displayed prominently on the front table, a bottle of Ponzu sauce from the selective Asian section, and several bottles of Chablis placed strategically next to the domestic Chardonnay. Susan grabbed a reasonably priced bottle of Portuguese wine on store employee's Willis Johnson's recommendation, and a goat and cow cheese after reading the descriptive labels identifying type, origin and beverage pairing.
On our way home to Billings, Susan and I smiled at the treasures we were bringing back from the Merchants of the Delectable, where pigs fly.
Stella Fong, author of 'Historic Restaurants of Billings and Billings Food' hosts 'Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region' for Yellowstone Public Radio.
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