Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Last Stop for Park Cafe in St. Mary, Montana?

For over 30 years, the Park Café in St. Mary, Montana, just outside the east entrance to Glacier National Park, has wowed tourists from all over the U.S. and the world with their wonderful pies—and no-nonsense good food. Kudos from critics such as Sunset magazine for being one of the “top road food spots in the West” and having the best pies in Montana haven’t hurt. But sadly, the beloved restaurant whose young servers wear colorful T-shirts with a slice of pie on the front and the motto, “Pie is Strength,” is closing this week.

My husband and I just happened to stop by for lunch during our recent visit to the park. The shop, which is owned by Kathryn Hiestand and Neal Miller and has been open from May to September during the park’s busy tourist season, is apparently on Native American soil. This year, we were told, the lease wasn’t renewed. The pair also own the next-door convenience store, gift shop and gas station, which have all been shuttered as well.  From the entrance in West Glacier, where we started, the café is not an easy place to get to. It took us about 2 ½ hours on the Going to the Sun Road, excluding stops for short hikes and to take in the spectacular views. At 3 p.m. there were still people waiting on the porch outside to get a table. We opted to sit at the counter and were seated immediately.

On the day we visited, there were 16 pies listed, but several were already gone—including lemon meringue, fresh strawberry and blackberry. But when I asked about the most popular pie flavor, the waitress told me it was razzleberry, a combination of raspberry, blueberry and blackberry. I had it with a scoop of vanilla, as recommended, and my husband had a generous slice of banana cream pie, which he said was “stupendous.”

Grabbing a forkful before he inhaled the entire thing, I couldn’t help but agree. My pie was also delicious, with the jammy purple-red filling mixing perfectly with the vanilla ice cream. I shared some with the couple sitting next to me, who hailed from Lansing, Mich. The male half of the duo told me the pie reminded him of his mother’s and that she had grown up on a farm and made her crust with lard. Our waitress said Park Café crusts were all made with canola oil. Whatever the ingredients, the pies tasted terrific, and we left happy and determined to hike further and higher to work off the extra calories—and to return for more pie another day. But sadly, that may not happen. A waiter told us next year is questionable—the owners haven’t decided whether or not to reopen at a new location. 

So my suggestion is if you can get to the Park Café by Thursday of this week, you ought to come. And if not, take my word for it, those pies are (or were) divine.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently, the restaurant has reopened under new management, but, from recent comments I read on Trip Advisor, it's getting mixed reviews. I can't weigh in as I haven't visited. If you do, please do leave a comment.