Fort McMurray Food Scene
As a new parent of a bouncing baby girl, getting out for dinner comes with all sorts of challenges. Where my wife and I used to take our time with dinner, sip a glass of wine, and enjoy a romantic meal together, our new world involves trying to get everything done in the golden period before the baby gets tired or too fussy. Finding family-friendly restaurants in this region is a new goal of ours. And with that goal in mind, my wife and I headed out to Montana’s for dinner.
Readers of this column have probably noticed that I rarely review a chain restaurant, but many of my daddy-friends recommended Montana’s as a staple for a young family. When we arrived we were seated quickly and provided a high-chair. I immediately noticed that the “tablecloths” at Montana’s were huge sheets of brown paper. Quick to change, easy to clean up. They have a good selection of beer on tap, a treat for any busy daddy.
Their menu is extensive with a bit of everything. The theme seems to be Barbecue or Grill with standard safe dishes that are easy to cook and quick to deliver. They clearly promote their ribs on the menu and have a decent variety of sauces to go with them. Appetizers are standard “pub fare” with wings, nachos, etc. Their rotisserie chicken caught my eye. There are not many places to get that in Fort McMurray. They also have some seasonal specials which change from time to time.
The atmosphere in Montana’s is, in a word, busy. The staff is all working hard running about serving drinks and food. The walls are plastered by an eclectic mix of everything “rustic”. It is a bit over-kill, like they went to a flea market and bought up everything pre-1940’s that they saw, and then bolted it to the wall. This probably isn’t the atmosphere for a first date, but for a family night out it isn’t bad, it is just a bit too reminiscent of the cheesy 1980’s trend of busy walls and wait staff with a funny hat for my taste.
After we ordered an appetizer of Kapow Shrimp, a fried breaded shrimp dish with tangy, slightly piquant, sauce, my pint of beer arrived and we settled into a conversation. As we relaxed, our daughter decided to test out her reach. She went to reach across the table for something and managed to forcefully knock over my beer all over, spilling it all over the table and a good bit onto my wife. The mess was impressive.
With the clang of the glass on the table, the staff at Montana’s sprang into action like a well-trained team. Staff scurried with cloths, napkins, a new table cloth, and new cutlery. The entire table was reset with the speed of a pit-crew in an auto race. They even replaced my beer! With the new paper table cloth in place, I grabbed one of the crayons which adorn every table and quickly drew out a zone around our daughter which I labeled “Grabby baby zone” as a warning to all not to put any items in that dangerous territory.
The shrimp arrived and they were as expected. Good, honest, safe, but unlikely to win any Gold Plate medals. For dinner I ordered the regular size “Honkin Beef Rib” with cracked peppercorn sauce. My wife ordered a steak.
The food arrived quickly, and fresh out of the kitchen. The steak was cooked as ordered and was a good quality beef. A nice meal. My “Honkin Beef Rib” lived up to the name. This was a sizeable portion of braised beef rib, fall-off-the-bone tender and moist. The fat content was adequate; neither fatty nor dry. Frankly, the dish was absolutely excellent, something I’d expect from an expensive “Chefy” restaurant rather than a major chain.
We skipped dessert, though I snuck in a second beer and let my wife drive home.
Montana’s easily passes muster as a family-friendly restaurant: solid service which was well tested by my baby daughter’s best effort at making a horrible mess. They have plenty of high-chairs, friendly staff, a quick and efficient kitchen that allowed us to be in and out in about an hour, and reasonable prices for a family. As we left, I looked around and saw a restaurant filled to capacity with most tables occupied by young families enjoying a precious dinner out, and I think that says it all.