I’ve been stopping by Bonner more often lately, exploring the new Milltown State Park that is just 7 miles from downtown Missoula. Wildflowers, birds, solitude, high river waters, great views and plenty of benches are the draw.
So I was happy last month when Missoulian reporter Kim Briggeman wrote a great explanatory piece about the site, “The many entrances to Milltown State Park.” It was such a great review of how the park came to be, the many years of hard work that went into it, and how beautiful the end result is. I see kids, dogs, cyclists and walkers there, enjoying the trails, sights and historical markers.
Briggeman’s story also answered questions about why there are three different sections of the park — with more to come. Made me feel better: I wasn’t the only one who needed a guide to how to enjoy all disparate parts of the park.
All that travel back and forth to Bonner makes a body hungry and thirsty. Thankfully, there are ways to satisfy both cravings.
One is the KettleHouse Brewing Co.’s Bonner taproom, which opened just last November, so is enjoying its first spring in the community. It is nestled right at the company’s headquarters on the old lumberyard property on what is now dubbed Cold Smoke Avenue. Huge windows let in both light and a gorgeous view of the Blackfoot River and nearby canyon. Right now fast-moving water and green vegetation make the spot particularly inviting.
Inside, take a look around: The beer company used upcycled and recycled materials for the taproom, most with some real or symbolic ties to the beer-making craft and the KettleHouse’s location on a former lumber mill in historic Bonner. The lights are sawed-off kegs, and the bar and tables are made with logs recovered from the Blackfoot River. Some of the wood might be 200 years old, according to estimates made at the grand opening last fall.
This month crews are working on improvements that will be enjoyed this summer: an extended patio and outdoor firepit overlooking the river.
And of course, order yourself a Cold Smoke or one of the KettleHouse’s many other craft beers.
For a bite to eat, stop at the River City Grill, at 7985 Highway 200 E. It’s easy to spot: Find the Bonner Town Pump Travel Plaza and look for a nicely landscaped historic brick building, an oasis in the middle of blacktop and big rigs. The grill is favorite for truckers, tourists and locals alike.
The building itself is a treat to see: It was built in the early 1900s and served as the office for the Western Lumber Company, owned by copper magnate Williams Andrews Clark, who financed the construction of the dam at Bonner. Removing that dam — and reclaiming land and water around it — is what created the new Milltown State Park.
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Historic photos and memorabilia cover the walls inside the grill. Take some time to look them over: They’ve been carefully assembled by Bonner and Milltown-area residents who want to preserve the rich past of this area.
Guy and Teresa Trenary are the current owners of the River City Grill. The brick building was saved and remodeled in 1997; the Trenarys took over the restaurant in 2006.
The restaurant tries to make as much as possible from scratch. It opens at 7 a.m. for the breakfast crowd and has a hearty menu of bacon, sausage, egg, French toast and pancake favorites. Ten different omelets are listed, including some usual ones, like one with wild rice and cheese and another with fajita-spiced chicken. There’s a Bonner Burrito too: scrambled eggs, taco beef, tomatoes, peppers, onion, cheddar cheese, hash browns, salsa and sour cream. Breakfasts run $5.25 (biscuits and gravy) to $11-$12 (burritos, scrambles, corned beef hash, omelets).
And made fresh every day: the grill’s signature cinnamon rolls, with cream cheese frosting and whipped butter. They are $7 and huge, sweet treats for fans of all ages.
The River City Grill is open until 9 p.m. every day and draws a steady lunch and dinner crowd too. Homemade cream of tomato soup — a chunky house favorite — is always on the menu. There’s a full complement of burgers, fish, salad, barbecue, steaks, pasta and other choices.
Some menu items are traditional comfort classics, just like grandma used to make. Meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, pot roast, fried chicken and chicken-fried steak are just a few.
The restaurant has a number of Tex-Mex selections too. One favorite, especially for locals, is The Matador, a huge baked burrito made with taco meat, lettuce, sour cream and the “original recipe” Matador sauce. Missoula old-timers will remember the dish from bygone restaurants in town, including the Acapulco. The Matador is $13.75 but is on special every Monday for $2 off.
Which brings up specials: The River City Grill has them every day. Watch the blackboard as you enter.
And enjoy wine, cider or beer with or without a meal, including craft beverages from the KettleHouse and other Montana breweries and cideries.