Montana Master Grillers: Country Fair BBQ

(Greenough, MT) — It is the final event of Montana Master Grillers at Paws Up resort, an old-fashioned Country Fair BBQ at dinnertime located out back of the main restaurant complex. We have cleaned up from our three-hour ATV excursion, sore but unscathed, and mercifully untouched by cow dung (the pastures through which we rode may as well have been mine fields). By the time we show up to the BBQ, the threat of rain is suddenly made a promise. A light drizzle begins just as we venture out onto the back deck overlooking the Fair...

He Fed:

At first, the rain appears to be that final stroke of disastrous luck I’ve expected since we arrived. The whole “rustic” thing has worn thin for me, despite the mostly great food and the modern conveniences; I’m simply ready to go home.

A countrified folk band yodels at one end of the deck, crammed under a canopy to protect their electric equipment and keep the entertainers dry. One of the hosts hands us umbrellas so we can at least patrol the grounds. To the right, set slightly apart from all the other food stations, is a large smoker and trailer where we know brisket has been cooking slowly since yesterday. At each of the other stations installed in the back yard is either food or drink. To the left, a local artist works her magic, later raffling off a piece she creates live at the event. Nearby, people line up to try their hand at throwing hatchets at hay-stuffed bullseyes. On the bandstand at the back, skeet are flung into the sky and shooters attempt to blow them up. (I don’t like guns, so I steer clear of this attraction.)

First order of business, get some beer. A local microbrewery, Blacksmith Brewing Company, has brought a few selections including their Cutthroat IPA, Brickhouse Blonde, and Montana Amber. All are solid renditions, and I actually like the Amber more than I thought I would. I don’t even bother trying the Pulaski Porter since it’s my least favorite style, next to Scotch Ale. Meanwhile, Juliet cozies up to the distillery next door for a boozy libation.

Before you know it, the rain has all but stopped. We make our way over to the BBQ smoker station for some brisket topped with bacon, on a grilled onion roll. It’s a good sandwich (too big to be a slider, as billed) helped along with plenty of tangy sauce. The thick-cut bacon is spectacular but the brisket has been overcooked, dry and slightly mealy. I do get to try a deep fried Oreo. Even though I get strawberry instead of mint, it’s a fun and decadent dessert.

Back at Frank Ostini’s station, his Filet Mignon Crostini with Caramelized Onions is one of those perfect bites...sweet and salty, with the taste of smoky wood on the meat. Glorious! The Smoked Duck Grilled Corn Quesadilla is incredible too, kissed with heat from spices and filled with southwestern crema. At another food spot, I try the Buffalo Chorizo but find it not spicy enough and too dry. Juliet raves about the Grilled Blue Point Oysters, though I’m still wary of oysters since an “incident” in NYC. Say no more!

Finally, Juliet screws up the courage to create a scorched S’more on a campfire. She does the job right and it looks delicious, but I simply do not have enough room in my gut to accommodate any more food. Instead, I sip my IPA and look forward to some vegetarian meals once we get back home.

She Fed:

Headframe Distillery is pouring cocktails and my sweet tooth gets the better of me as I order up a chocolatey creamy concoction featuring their Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur. I sip on my cocktail as Jeremy enjoys a beer and we stroll over to the Kind Swine barbeque tent. As if we didn’t know this would be our first stop! Yesterday we watched in anticipation as Kind Swine Chef Douglas fired up his smoker and filled it with Snake River Farms briskets. The smell has been torturing us for nearly two days. I opt for a hickory smoked brisket slider on a toasted onion bun. The meat is deeply pink from smoking and has great beef flavor. It’s a bit dry and chewy, but a few daubs of barbeque sauce helps.

My cocktail has evaporated so I head over to the Parducci stand for more of their divine True Grit Cabernet, which stands up to the brisket slider. Frank Ostini and crew are serving up several small plates including grilled artichoke quarters with smoked tomato pesto, quesadillas with smoked duck and grilled corn, and crostini with filet mignon and caramelized onions. I have a thing for grilled artichokes and these are so fabulous I end up eating two servings. They’re earthy and lightly charred from the grill, but still have verdant grassy overtones. The artichokes are divine solo, but the smoky tomato pesto takes them to a whole new level. Some people say you can’t pair wine with artichokes, but I can attest a grilled artichoke with smoked tomato pesto works with a big bold cab!

The duck quesadillas are outstanding, not too gamey and with enough grilled corn to cut the richness of the meat. The filet crostini are perfectly done, the bread still crusty and the beef medium rare. Of the three plates, I keep thinking about those artichokes though.

The Paws Up Crew is serving grilled chicken quarters and 3-bone racks of ribs. We gamely give it a go, but with no knives anywhere in sight, it’s a struggle to actually eat those big cuts of meat. We savor another drink and I try a grilled oyster. I’m not the biggest fan of cooked oysters, preferring them raw on the half shell, so I don’t have high hopes for these. I am pleasantly surprised at how tasty they are with butter, garlic, and zesty spices. I only wish there were some bread around to dunk into the juices left in the shell.

Despite the abundance of old-timey activities like ax throwing, skeet shooting, and fly-fishing “casting” lessons, we partake in our favorite old-timey activity of drinking and people watching. There’s a s’mores station set up by one of the fire pits. I simply cannot resist. I toast up a marshmallow (why didn’t I use two?) just the way I like it, black and crispy, and smoosh it into two graham crackers with a piece of milk chocolate. A perfect end to the evening.

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