The city of Gardiner, Montana sits just outside of the north entrance to the park, a sleepy little tourist town (this late in the season, at least) with more combo bar/restaurants than straight restaurants. After my wonderful day in the park, I really didn’t want bar food. I wanted a really nice (early) dinner in order to fortify me for a long evening of driving, since–by the time I came out of Yellowstone, knowing that it was my last real stop before HOME!–I could already just about see Seattle on the horizon. I wanted to get as many miles out of the way that evening as I could … so that it just left me one easy day home on Friday!
I stopped for gas just outside of the gate–I paid for it, too!–then I spotted a place on the highway leading out of town that looked promising … one called The Yellowstone Mine. They don’t have a website, but you can find it at:
The Yellowstone Mine
Highway 89, PO Box 646
Gardiner, MT 59030
Montana steakhouses have a certain history and mythos behind them–based on the ready availability of lots of different types of interesting grillable meats–so I was anxious to give one a try. As you can tell from the picture of the outside of the place, it fits the bill for kitchy, rough-hewn mountain steak house.
Inside, it was a little too dark for my taste. I always wonder about a place that doesn’t want you to be able to see your food all that clearly … especially when it’s not obviously a romantic date kinda place. I also felt like–since I was alone–I got kinda shoved to one side. Instead of a regular table–and there were plenty available that afternoon … it was only like 4:30pm–the hostess sat me at a table with only one chair, one stuck against a short dividing wall that looked like they mostly used it for staging other people’s dinners. It was also right in the path where everyone walked–so I felt like I was constantly in everyone’s way–and it had a lovely view of the bathroom and the pay phone … when other diners got to view the fire place or more interesting bits of the mining decor. I’ve been dining alone for big parts of my trip, but I’ve never had anyone treat me like I was wasn’t a worthy diner before now. I know a lot of waitstaff view a woman dining alone as a poor opportunity for a tip, but they’re wrong. Women dining alone often tip well … IF you treat them well.
The menu at Yellowstone Mine featured several interesting-sounding entrees, big slabs of beef being the largest percentage of their offerings. It’s a steakhouse, duh! Everything was also fairly expensive, but that wasn’t really a stopper for me. As I said, I went looking for extremely tasty for my dinner. I realize that’s not necessarily cheap, too.
All the steaks sounded great–and, of course, they offered most of the popular big cuts of beef, ranging from $15-25 a plate (which I didn’t consider unreasonable)–but I’ve been eating an awful lot of beef and pork on this trip, and–as I’ve said before–I ust can’t eat that much at one sitting anyway … so I scanned the other portions of the menu, too. They featured a couple of different pasta dishes and dinner salads–and I seriously considered the walleye, which I haven’t had in forever–but ultimately chose the trout almondine instead, advertised as fresh from the Rocky Mountains.
I chose the soup rather than salad, a homemade cream of mushroom served with a loaf of fresh-baked bread.
And my trout almondine came served with a simple baked potato.
As far as the soup goes, the kitchen staff at Yellowstone Mine combined heavy cream, light seasoning, and a couple of different flavorful fungi to make an excellent first course. It was a little on the cold side–and it got colder rapidly–but it was definitely tasty. The bread was excellent as well: soft, hot, and full of chunks of whole grains, served with a lump of whipped butter that could have been a little softer/more spreadable … but that complimented the taste of the bread well.
Yes, I’m nit-picking the details a bit here. If I were eating the all-you-can-eat for $8.99 trout almondine off the buffet at some cheap place like Golden Corral, I wouldn’t expect them to pay that much attention to the details … but my dinner was almost $20.00. Details begin to matter at that point.
My trout almondine was also as tasty as it was beautiful. It could have used just a touch more salt (fish is another dish that doesn’t salt as well once it’s cooked)–and the sides were pedestrian at best: not the least of which, the bland/boring tinfoil-wrapped baked potato with the mundane toppings. However, the almonds in my almondine were crisp, the coating on the outside of my fish was light and nicely-browned, and the flesh inside was tender, flaky, and perfectly-cooked.
Final score: The excellent entree gained The Yellowstone Mine some solid points, as did the taste of the mushroom soup … but the deductions were also strong. Cold food. Boring sides. Expensive menu. Brushing off the single diner. Basically, they rely on the fact that you’re trapped in Gardiner, MT–without much in the way of fine dining choices–and the fact that most people won’t walk out on a restaurant they’ve already walked into … so they don’t put forth the extra effort to win you over once you get there.
Taking all that into consideration, I can’t give them higher than a B- … and they got that high thanks exclusively to the fine prep and flavor of my entree. If it had been a fraction less tasty, that score would have dropped a solid letter grade at least … down into the decidedly average category. But–considering where they are and how they operate–I’m sure they could care less about that. It’s not going to cut into their business model very much since I (and most of the other people who have reviewed them online) don’t live local … and probably won’t be back any time soon. So–as was obvious in my time there–they don’t care.