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LAST BEST PLATES

Last Best Plates: Ninepipes Lodge and Allentown Restaurant

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Located on Highway 93, which connects Missoula with Polson, the Ninepipes Lodge and Allentown Restaurant make for a delightful stopover while exploring the Flathead Indian Reservation and its wealth of wildlife, wetlands and breathtaking scenery. The dining room has sweeping views of the Mission Mountains and across the highway sits the Ninepipes National Wildlife Refuge. The National Bison Range is a 20-minute drive from the lodge, while the southern end of Flathead Lake can be reached within a half hour. Add to that tasty options for breakfast, lunch and dinner and Western-style lodging, and you’ve got the makings for a Montana road trip.

Curious about the name, I learned that Ninepipes was the name of a Bitterroot Salish leader, Chief Joseph Ninepipes (1820-1871). Joseph was a war pipe holder, a prestigious honor; as history tells it, he was part of nine successful war parties or horse-stealing parties. One of his four sons, Louis, was the song and legend keeper for the Salish tribe until he died in 1974 at 83. The family’s history, as well as a remarkable collection of artifacts from the Flathead Indian Reservation and early Montana settlers, is housed next door to the Lodge in the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana.

The Museum was built in 1998 by locals Bud and Laurel Cheff. Bud’s ancestors migrated to the Ninepipes area from Ontario, Canada, in 1907 and became good friends with the neighboring tribal families. That friendship resulted in a sizable collection of treasures over the years, now displayed in the museum. Next door to the museum was a small motel built by the Allen family. The motel passed through a few owners before the Cheffs purchased the property. Bud and Laurel eventually created a foundation to oversee the museum, while the lodge, bar and restaurant were acquired by the Morton family from nearby St. Ignatius in 2011.

After taking ownership, the Mortons set about remodeling the property, with Brian Morton eventually taking on a managerial role. Brian admits it took a few years to get the operation dialed in smoothly, not having previous experience in the service industry. As he says, “Ignorance is bliss, but I loved the challenge of running the business.” He went through a series of chefs but counted his blessings when his head chef Dale Schear relocated from Plains to Polson and joined his team in 2014. Dale got his start at 15 years old, working as a dishwasher at Quinn’s Hot Springs, moved up to prep cook, line cook, and finally kitchen manager. Dale was instrumental in designing a menu appropriate for the lodge’s clientele.

Over the years, additional remodeling has taken place, including a flower-infused deck off the main dining room where customers can drink in the views of the Mission Mountains reflected in a private kettle pond adjacent to the restaurant. Across from the dining room is a sports bar with an impressive display of Montana’s big game. A small patio off the bar lined with flowers adds additional seating. Ten rooms with mountain views now feature a private terrace.

The Allentown menu is extensive, from burgers, wraps, sandwiches, salads, chicken, pasta, seafood and beef. The restaurant uses beef from the Double R Ranch located in eastern Washington. Seafood flown in fresh are the same products delivered to Pike’s Place Market in Seattle.

Appetizers range from house-made shrimp and cream cheese wontons, crispy chicken wings, to a charcuterie board, featuring smoked duck, elk summer sausage, and bison bratwurst, paired with fresh mozzarella, smoked Gouda & French brie cheese.

Allentown specialties include steak and tiger shrimp kabobs, orange-glazed duck breast, baby back ribs, and a bacon-wrapped pork filet with an apple bourbon glaze. Wild Game meatloaf is a blend of bison, beef, elk, venison, and antelope seasoned, baked, and topped with roasted beef gravy. Wild game is also the star ingredient with Allentown’s Indian tacos, starting with crispy fry bread, smothered with elk, beef, and bison chili, then topped with lettuce, pico de gallo, olives and shredded cheese. The buffalo blue brisket wrap starts with diced beef brisket tossed in a buffalo sauce. Added to that are lettuce, tomato, onion, and blue cheese crumbles, then wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Shrimp scampi, halibut, rainbow trout, and tiger prawns are on the menu. In the mood for chicken? Chicken teriyaki or Marsala, lemon garlic chicken, and a Caprese chicken dinner are options. As you would expect from a Montana restaurant, steak is a solid choice, with ribeye, New York strip, filet mignon, and sirloin featured.

The lodge offers a full breakfast buffet seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., which is included in the guest hotel stay. Walk-ins are welcome to enjoy the buffet for $9.99.

Not to be missed is Great Gray Gifts, a repurposed storage shed next door to the lodge, managed by Brian’s wife, Stephanie. It’s not only chock full of high-quality Montana-themed merchandise, but it doubles as a coffee bar and offers baked goods and huckleberry milkshakes. While in the area, don’t forget to check out the Adelle Rogers Cheff Memorial Trail, an easy nature walk behind the museum. Be on the lookout for birds and waterfowl.

A few weeks back, my hubby and I drove to Ninepipes Lodge, stopping first at the Arlee Powwow to enjoy the festivities before heading to the Lodge for dinner and a one-night stay. I opted for the filet mignon, while Ed had the Rancher’s Special, a full pound of American Kobe beef burger charbroiled and topped with sautéed mushrooms, onions, and roasted beef gravy. Sitting on the deck and drinking in the view of the Missions was nothing short of a Montana moment of bliss, paired with a delicious meal.

Donnie Sexton, who retired in 2016 after a long career with the Montana Office of Tourism, freelances as a travel writer and photographer, covering destinations around the world.

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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