Montana’s Trail House
445 Troutman Street, Buwshwick
Never has a restaurant straddled two worlds better than Montana’s Trail House, a self-declared cowboy eatery in the heart of hipster Brooklyn. Seven stops deep on the L train, just off Jefferson Avenue, a barn-like structure stands between the low-slung warehouses of Bushwick. Walk inside, and you may as well be in Montana. Well-worn wooden floors and exposed wood ceiling beams are complimented by a retro-looking bar. Flags, deer heads, and curious-looking tools line the walls. It’s all the work of Montana Masback, who’s worked the bar at both the Second Chance Saloon and the Anchored Inn. He got all that wood from a barn in Kentucky, and the knick-knacks come from his friends’ and family’s homes. With all that, he transformed a former auto repair shop into something pretty special.
I have to admit, I didn’t think the pieces were going to fit. Cowboy food with Appalachian influences served up in a quiet corner of Bushwick? All orchestrated by a former bartender, no less? But Montana is a man with a plan. That was evident as soon as an okra special arrived at our table, lightly fried with creamy, mustardy dressing underneath and fresh parsley on top. The dish went down like a dream, leaving both me and my dining companion suddenly anxious for the next dish.
The food is the work of Nate Courtland, who’s cooked at places like Al Di La and Union Square Cafe. Here, he puts out an unusual mix of Southern, Western, and Appalachian-style food; at first glance the menu doesn’t look quite cohesive. But as cheery female servers, in their brightly patterned shirts and big glasses, stop by to drop off dishes, the meal falls into place. The Tongue and Cheek Reuben was rich and messy, packing in two different meats and house-made sauerkraut. The side salad was plain and simple; a separate side of collard greens proved much more impressive. They were cooked simply and delicately, topped with a squirt of charred lemon, and cut so thinly you could wind them like pasta on your fork. The Root Beer Braised Brisket didn’t much taste like root beer, but it was expertly cooked and came apart easily into a pool of creamy, risotto-like rice. The compliment of mustard green was unexpected but welcome.
As for the side of the Master Fat Fried Potatoes—oh my. The small but heavy dish is cooked in duck fat, and we ate every bite. (It felt sinful to leave anything on that plate, even the fried rosemary sprigs or the creamy ranch dressing.) While the potatoes leave an impression, the drinks do, too. The folks at Montana’s make their own Switchel, a “mountain soda” comprised of apple cider vinegar, ginger syrup, and maple syrup. You can try the concoction plain, but it’s recommended in a cocktail that includes whiskey, lemon, and soda. The Gin and Jam cocktail tastes like summer in a glass, and despite the bubblegum-pink color, it leaves you woozy by the end.
The pace of the dinner was relaxed, to say the least, but it allowed for plenty of time to take in the rustic, kooky vibe. By the meal’s end, you feel far away from Bushwick, at least until a hip-looking waitress brushes past your chair with a tail hanging from her ripped jeans. The check arrived tucked in an obscure paperback book plucked from an impressive shelf lining the dining room wall. And before you leave for the real world, there’s inherent pleasure in this world—part cowboy, part Brooklyn—that’s come to life in an old repair shop.