SQUARE BUTTE — Country clubs don’t get more "country" than the Square Butte Country Club.

Anchored at the northeastern end of the Highwood Mountains at the base of the butte for which it’s named, the unincorporated town has a historic stone jail, two dormant grain elevators, a former schoolhouse “and about twenty residents, give or take a few," says Amy Wentz, owner of the Square Butte Bar & Country Club. "I’m the only business left in town."

Wentz bought the place — built in 1901 with barn wood and a ceiling low enough to scrape the crown of a tall cowboy’s hat — on July 1, 2008, moving to Montana from Pennsylvania. She’s thoroughly enjoying small town life.

"I get a lot of locals and people stopping in from Lewistown, Great Falls, Fort Benton, Stanford," she says of her clientele. "But when the weather’s good, they come from all over."

Wentz’s personality is perfectly suited for this place. Imagine Annie Oakley with a spatula. She’s whip-smart, funny as heck, tough as nails and can hold her own with groups of bikers and roughnecks — yet she’s sweet as pie to little old ladies and gents who stop by after church on a Sunday drive.

Hunters make up a big portion of Wentz’s clientele in the fall. "We have three trees out back with outlets in them, so they can hook campers up right out there if they want."

I stopped in for lunch last October and visited with a group of antelope hunters from North Dakota. "We’ve been staying out back for a week and have eaten every meal here," one of them told me, his mouth watering as he spoke. "Amy’s made us pork roast, stuffed Sicilian steak ... she even gave us Brie with blackberries!"

Wentz definitely took the level of cuisine up several notches right out of the gate, but she’s streamlined her menu of late and currently focuses mostly on burgers and steaks. No wonder; having the occasional sushi night in Coyote Nowhere must have been a bit of a gamble — especially with such unpredictable numbers.

"Yeah, I don’t do sushi or a salad bar with fourteen toppings anymore," Wentz laughs, "But if you know you’re coming in on the weekend and want something special, as long as you call me by Wednesday ... I can probably do it."

She’s not kidding. Custom buffets and parties can be arranged in advance if a group is coming in and calls ahead. "I can do 4-5 salads, ribs or chicken, rib-eyes..." She’s fairly flexible as long as she has advance warning and a commitment.

The Country Club’s current menu features a long list of gourmet burgers. "Ten, to be exact," declares Wentz. Those big and juicy hamburgers are hand-pattied right in the kitchen. There’s a Jalapeño Burger (made with fresh jalapeños, house-made Cajun mayo and bacon topped with onion rings and American cheese), a Portobello & Brie Burger and a Bleu Cheese Burger. "That one’s topped with, literally, a chunk of cave-aged blue cheese, red onion and bacon," explains Wentz.

Perhaps best of all, Square Butte Country Club’s fries are hand-cut, a rarity these days. All burgers come with hand-cut fries, sweet potato chips or carrot fries made from fresh carrots. "And a lot of people will order a side salad," says Wentz, who makes all the dressings in-house and often runs salad specials. Last weekend’s featured spring mix, fresh pears, blue cheese and homemade vinaigrette.

Wentz also serves steaks, including a 16 oz. rib steak, 16 oz. porterhouse, New York strip, and more. "We cover all the different steak options," says Wentz. Each comes with house salad, potato and vegetable. Wentz also whips up all the Country Club’s desserts — like Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake — from scratch. Although a few beer posters and bumper stickers that were inherited from the previous owners hang behind the bar, most of the barn-wood walls showcase the artwork of Phyllis Dickson, who passed away in May 2014 at the age of 85. Dickson grew up nearby on the Four Sisters Ranch, and although she’d been wintering down south for many years, she’d show up each summer with a new painting for Amy’s "gallery."

Painting mainly from photographs, Dickson’s subjects were all locals and regular customers, "Except for Marilyn Monroe and Butch & Sundance," explains Wentz. "Phyllis used to say she wouldn’t take any money for her art, because then it would have been a job."

It’s hard to veer too far from a meat-and-potatoes menu in cattle country; Wentz has figured out a way to do it just enough. Like Dickson, she’s an artist at heart, though she’ll cringe to see herself described as one; fresh food just happens to be her medium of choice. It allows her to be both wildly creative and carve out a living in a tiny, off-the-beaten-path town.

Montana-based photojournalist Lynn Donaldson-Vermillion shoots and writes for Travel + Leisure, FoodNetwork.com, is an official Instagrammer for National Geographic Traveler, and contributes regularly to the New York Times. She is founder and Creative Director of the Montana food + travel blog, TheLastBestPlates.com

Tagline for TLBP (should go with logo):

TheLastBestPlates.com is a digital destination that serves up Montana's tasty food, travel and culture stories … one bite at a time.

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