Three Forks has a significant place in history for being the site (a few miles east of town) of one of the rest stops on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. These hardy explorers traveled up the Missouri River, along with their guide and interpreter, Sacajawea, arriving at the Missouri headwaters on July 25, 1805, and making camp. Fast forward to 1910, when John Q. Adams, a purchasing agent for the Milwaukee Railroad, saw the need for a rest stop for passengers and crew traveling by train from back East. The Sacajawea Hotel he built not only met this need, but serves as an elegant rest stop for today’s travelers.
The hotel had various owners along with some hard times over the years, and would eventually be boarded up. In 2009, the Folkvord family, well known for having started the very successful Wheat Montana, purchased the property with the idea of restoring it to its former glory. Eight months later, in April 2010, the hotel was ready for business after extensive renovations. The family had also signed on Matt Israel, a native Montanan, as head chef in the dining room, appropriately named Pompey’s Grill, after Sacajawea’s son.
Chef Matt started out washing dishes at the Showthyme Restaurant in Bigfork at the age of 14 and worked his way up through the informal mentoring of owner Blu Funk to become a sous chef at 19. He went on to open the Blue Canyon Kitchen and Tavern at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kalispell, but grew weary of the corporate culture.
When Israel got word that the Sacajawea Hotel was looking for a head chef, he got in touch with the owners, Dean and Hope Folkvord. As he tells it, “I met up with the Folkvord family (Dean, Hope, and daughters Haylee and Hillary) who were all in their Sunday besties, and I knew right away this is where I wanted to be.” It was the right call, as 10 years later, he is still going strong not only as head chef at Pompey’s Grill but also at the Folkvords’ newest eatery in Bozeman, The Farmer’s Daughters Café. Israel’s right-hand man at Pompey’s is another native Montanan, Mike Kasauskas, chef de cuisine.
Dean Folkvord initially envisioned a Montana steakhouse, so Israel developed the menu based on those parameters. He approached Folkvord a year later and proposed some changes to the offerings that he felt customers would be excited about beyond great steaks. The Folkvords gave him free rein to work his magic.
The menu still features a variety of hand-cut steaks, including ribeye, beef tenderloin flat iron, and a baseball-cut top sirloin. A delectable selection of homemade sauces can be added to the steaks, such as a smoked blue cheese agave butter and Worcestershire glaze, or my personal favorite, a morel mushroom brandy cream. Beyond steaks, the menu features trout, halibut cheeks, rack of lamb and pork porterhouse. Starters include calamari and fried Brussel sprouts.
Some of the inspiration for Israel's dishes comes from his travels, not just with his family, but also with the entire Folkvord clan. Together they’ve explored Napa Valley, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. The menu speaks to some international flavors with the chicken and falafel dish, consisting of garlic and yogurt marinated chicken thighs, falafel, baba ganoush, roasted beet puree, and smoked labneh. Reaching south of the border, Blue’s Chicken Relleno features a chicken breast stuffed with Anaheim chilies and pepper jack cheese, wrapped in a flour tortilla, and finished in a creamy Spanish lime-shrimp sauce.
Israel puts as much energy as possible into sourcing local products for Pompey’s. Montana Ranch Beef, Montana Wagyu Cattle Company, Amaltheia Dairy, and Montana Highlands Lamb are a few of his local providers. The restaurant has an extensive selection of wine, beer, and spirits. When it comes to draft beers, there is no shortage of Montana microbreweries to feature. From Katabatic Brewing Company in Livingston comes Tippy Truck Honey. Lewis and Clark Golden Ale and Prickly Pear Ale, both crafted at Lewis & Clark Brewing in Helena, are also among the options for those wanting to whet their whistle.
Israel’s wife Jenae is the food and beverage manager at Pompey’s. Her touches in the dining room set the tone for refined dining, with diffuse lighting, candles on the table, and classical music playing softly in the background. During summer, a private deck, accented with seasonal flowers, is available for those who wish to dine outside.
The Folkvord family went from creating amazing wheat products to excelling in the hospitality business with the Sacajawea Inn. Dean and Hope remain behind the scenes handling all business aspects, while Haylee takes care of sales, events, and marketing for the Sac. Hillary manages the Bozeman eatery. Israel makes it very clear that “it isn’t any one of us that makes the property great. We’re a team.”
Pompey’s Grill is the essence of fine Montana dining, with high-quality ingredients, careful plate presentation, and an exceptional level of service from when you enter the dining room until you leave. The fact you can make a night of it by staying in this historical property, then dining at Pompey’s, is frosting on the cake.
Donnie Sexton, who retired in 2016 after a long career with the Montana Office of Tourism, currently freelances as a travel writer and photographer, covering destinations around the world.
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