A quick look at the weather forecast the next week shows the usual mix of winter fare — some snow, a little sun, lots of clouds and warmish temperatures in the 30s. That’s January for you.
A little snow would be nice for cross-country skiers of all abilities, from the ones who like the groomed trails and challenging exercise to those who step into gear and head out their front door for a short trek down neighborhood streets.
In the Miller Creek and Rattlesnake areas, residents have a neighborhood gathering spot that can be a destination for these trips, whether you travel on skis, in cars or with ice-grippers on your winter boots.
One is the Miller Creek Café, located on Lower Miller Creek Road in southwest Missoula. The other is the Rattlesnake Market and Café, located on Rattlesnake Drive in northeast Missoula.
They may be in opposite corners of the city but they have lots in common:
• Both restaurants are family-owned businesses.
• Both are small venues with ambitious and creative menus.
• Both serve beer and wine.
• Both are popular in their own neighborhoods — but attract outside-the-hood diners, too.
• One has just built and opened a new dining area, the other has plans for a major renovation in the future.
And both are worth a stop, either for a meal or a drink and appetizer with friends or family, using whatever transportation you wish. Here’s a taste of what you may find:
The Miller Creek Café
4915 Lower Miller Creek Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Miller Creek Café’s credo is “Though we be but little, we are fierce,” and it vows to serve “great food and drink at a hard-working, honest price.” The café is the restaurant for the Linda Vista Golf Course — a place for a beer and bite after the last hole — but is open year-round.
It opened in April 2016. Before that, “it was just a room with a refrigerator with beer in it for golfers,” said general manager Charlie Miller, who bought the golf course in 2014 with his brother and dad.
The café is a special spot for Miller Creek residents, a go-to place for take-out or dine-in. About a third of the business is people stopping by to pick up lunch or dinner to take home, Miller said.
The menu is impressive for such a small kitchen: hamburgers, fries, wraps, salads, sandwiches, chicken, house-made soups and appetizers. Montana microbrews on tap, wine and mimosas are among the selections. Kids have their own menu.
Burgers, of course, are a favorite. The menu lists nearly 20 different kinds, including some unusual ones, like a burger with goat cheese, bacon, balsamic-glazed onions and greens on a grilled brioche bun ($13.50); the Kamikaze Burger, with Chinese barbecued pork, cheddar cheese, a sweet ginger hot sauce and grilled pineapple ($12.50); or the Angry Angus Burger ($12.25), with pepper jack cheese, bacon, fresh jalapenos, fried onions, a creamy cayenne sauce and an “Angry Sauce” too. All are served with fries or Zesty Tater Wedges, or can be paired with salads, soups, specialty fries or other sides for a small extra cost; $1 for a cup of soup, for example.
The café’s homemade soups include creamy tomato soup every day, and often a special, too. Split pea with ham was on the blackboard on a recent snowy evening.
In winter, the golf course is a destination spot for disc golfers who don’t mind the snow and cold and, sometimes, for cross-country skiers looking for space away from traffic. Pay the small user fee ($5) in the restaurant, exercise your body, then relax afterward with a cold brew and a snack of fried pickle chips ($11) or Sherry-Kissed Steak Bites and garlic bread ($14.50).
Miller said they hoped to start a remodel that will expand the small restaurant but had to postpone because of last year’s summer flooding. Stay tuned.
Rattlesnake Market & Café
2501 Rattlesnake Drive
Hours: Opens 6:30 a.m. Monday-Friday; 7 a.m. Saturday and 7:30 a.m. Sunday. Limited breakfasts on weekdays; full breakfasts on weekends. No dinner service on Sundays and Mondays. New dining area is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for drinks, lunch and dinner, although there’s a limited soup-and-stew menu 2:30-5 p.m. to give the kitchen time to switch service.
Missoula entrepreneur Craig MacDonald opened this market, coffee shop and restaurant in 1997 as Rattlesnake Gardens, and it quickly became a favorite year-round hangout for Rattlesnakers. Because of its good food and location near much-loved-and-used hiking, biking, walking and cross-country ski trails, it’s a destination for out-of-neighborhood diners, too.
Barrett and Karen Byrne bought it in 2016 and are trying to keep its local, traditional charm while changing and growing, too. They’ve updated and reorganized the kitchen at the now-named Rattlesnake Market & Café, and last October opened a brand-new dining room that serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. This new dining room also is a place to grab a snack and a beer or glass of wine too, thanks to the Byrnes’ serendipitous lottery win for a beer and wine license.
Karen Byrne said the new dining room is a dream fulfilled. “We’ve always enjoyed entertaining with food and drinks, and we wanted the dining room to have the warmth and feel of being in someone’s home,” she said. “It’s a place to see friends and neighbors, to gather for a bite to eat or a beer, and to say hello and catch up.”
The original coffee shop and market is still there and is a great place for a latte, pastry, weekend breakfast, weekday breakfast burrito, lunch or dinner.
With the new dining room came new menu offerings as longtime chef Tony Underkoffler and the Byrnes collaborated for new soups, dishes and flavors. Soups and stews change often, so check online for weekly offerings, but a few that have appeared lately include New England clam chowder, Cuban black bean and ham, cream of chicken and wild rice, spiced chickpea and spinach, and Cold Smoke Scotch Ale-potato soups, and stews made from pork and green chiles or Guinness and beef.
Among their recent specials: a burger with freshly ground chuck, Gorgonzola cheese and a house-made bacon-onion jam on a Le Petit Outre Kaiser roll, with soup, salad or fries for $11; or a chicken etouffee dinner of chicken thighs in Cajun gravy with andouille sausage, bell peppers, onion, garlic and celery, served over rice and paired with a dinner salad for $14.
The lunch and dinner menus have some overlap but some dishes are served just at one meal or the other. At lunch you might find a BLT, Reuben, club, halibut fish, a kale grilled cheese (with sharp cheddar and steamed kale on Italian bread, $10) or hot Italian (with Black Forest ham, dry salami and provolone cheese, $11) sandwich; a spinach, Caesar, kale or Cobb salad. At dinner, you may find chicken pad thai ($13), St. Louis barbecue ribs ($16), grilled chicken with wild rice ($10), plus burgers, sandwiches and entrée salads, including a popular hot-kale salad.
Full breakfasts are served on Saturday from 7:30 to 11 a.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
There’s a public skating rink near Rattlesnake Elementary School, which is right down the road from the Rattlesnake Market & Café. That’s a reason to visit the area, too. Or just drive to the restaurant for a bite and a brew — it’s a lovely time of year to visit the ’Snake, no matter how or why you come.