Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Rocky Mountain Cafe ...

I have a friend who's helping update one of the major travel guidebooks for Montana ... and so a while back the conversation turned to great restaurants. That's something that Montana's not known for, but every now and then the state has produced a real winner.

Perhaps the most famous Montana restaurant of all was in Meaderville, an old suburb of Butte that was destroyed by the open-pit mine back in the 60s. The place in question was called the Rocky Mountain Cafe, operated by a man named Teddy Traparish, and it was THE place to eat in our part of the world. Being a Montana establishment, the speciality of course was beef -- in giant portions.

The cafe had a national reputation by the 1930s, and was soon getting rave reviews from well-known celebrities. The famous journalist and What's My Line? panelist Dorothy Kilgallen reported, "No one who has never seen a Rocky Mountain steak will believe me ... but to put it as accurately as possible, my steak was the size of a Saturday night roast for a small family ... And it was the greatest steak I have ever tasted."

My favorite description of the Rocky Mountain Cafe is found in the John Gunther book Inside U.S.A., which I've mentioned here before. Gunther wrote,
... two miles from Butte, in the suburb of Meaderville, is one of the best restaurants in the United States. Here, under the very shadow of the gallows frames and with the dollar slot machines making a splendid clink, coatless miners buy Lucullan meals. I don't mean to sound ungracious, however. I will never forget Mr. Teddy Traparish and his Rocky Mountain Cafe. The steaks are seven inches thick, and cover half an acre.
Tragically, the Rocky Mountain Cafe closed forever in 1961, as the Anaconda bulldozers worked to tear apart Meaderville. It's one of those things that makes me believe I was born a generation too late.


  1. You and me both.. (well.. I was born 2-3 generations too late) ;-)

  2. Ow! That hurt! :-p

    Anyhow, for nearly my whole life I've felt that I was either born too late, or born too early ... and most of the time I'm still not entirely sure which.

  3. I was not saying that to make me catch up with you!!!! I was merely wishing I were a diva from the 1920's jazz era... which is more like 3 generations for me.

  4. Oh, you would have made a great flapper! :-D

  5. I worked at KXLF-TV, Butte in 1956-7-8 and fondly recall the gigantic steaks at Teddy's Rocky Mtn. Café. Teddy, Ed Craney and some of we TV employees would enjoy a beer and steaks late at night after TV was off the air. I have never had a steak like that since. I can't tell you how good it was: salty and crusty on the surface and tender and juicy on the inside. Unbelievable. Just a memory from one old timer.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing that memory ... it's a great one, indeed. While I confess that I'm not much of a fan of present-day Butte, I would have loved to have seen The Richest Hill on Earth back in the day!

    2. Every special occasion we went out there. I would use the punch board, then go in for a fabulous meal with family. All visitors went there and if staying longer out to Lydia's too. I miss these meals. Have had very few like it since moving from MT!

      Will Wallace

    3. My parents took me on a four-week car trip (from our home near Los Angeles) in 1952 when I was 10 years old. One of our stops was a meal at the Rocky Mountain Café. I remember the thick steaks.