Yes, less than a million people live in the entire state, but that state is also the fourth largest in the country landwise...so I don't likely know your long lost relative. :)
And as much as I loved growing up in Big Sky Country, I'm definitely a city girl at heart. If you read this blog, you know how much I'm obsessed with the food and culture of San Francisco. But that's not to say I don't enjoy my time back home...especially the time with my family, and even the trips to some of my favorite bars and restaurants.
Ask my sister or me our number-one restaurant we just HAVE to eat at when we're home, and we'll both say "El Comedor" in unison. Recently, Heather was giving her husband Shaun a hard time about this Mongolian restaurant he loves in Tacoma and asked him "What's your deal with that place anyways?" To which he replied: "I dunno...sort of like you and your sister's obsession with that Mexican place with no windows."
Huh. I hadn't really noticed there were no windows. But as you can see, it's an accurate assessment.
Maybe we hadn't noticed because we're always so focused on the delicious food! Now is it super authentic? No. Not at all. But I love it, and as long as my parents live in or near Great Falls, I will continue to frequent it when I'm home. Our standard order when we're there always includes a plate of nachos. Yes, that is processed cheese. And yes, it's awesome. And while I feel no reason to defend processed cheese (it's a weakness I have), this is different than any nacho cheese you've had before. It's spicier with a thicker texture. They douse it over house made tortilla chips and top it with chopped up jalapenos. We always clean the plate.
We also get two of their famous fluffy tacos (Heather gets chicken, I get ground beef). What is a fluffy taco you ask? Well, first of all, it's amazing. But to be more specific, it's a corn tortilla that is light and airy and then lightly fried in oil. We love to top it with this spicy brownish salsa/hot sauce they keep on the tables. It might surpass Tapatio as my favorite hot sauce ever. (Can you tell I like this place?)
Another one of my favorite Great Falls stops is the Sip 'N Dip Lounge, which is located inside the glamorous O'Haire Motor Inn. This place is a gem. If you ever find yourself in Great Falls, please promise me you will go. It's a tiki-themed bar, featuring gigantic fish bowls that mix 10 shots of 5 different types of rums with a few splashes of juice. They require an I.D. as collateral to order one. (Apparently they were so popular, people started walking off with them). Behind the bar is a glass window that peers into the motel swimming pool. A girl dressed as a mermaid swims behind during bar service, waving and smiling at the patrons while taking small breaks for air.
But the true crowning jewel of the place is Piano Pat, who plays her organ and sings hits like "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" or "Burning Ring of Fire." Truth be told, most of her tunes sound exactly the same, but everyone loves her, including me. And it is thanks to Pat, and the mermaid, and the fish bowls at this eclectic Great Falls establishment that the Sip 'N Dip was named #1 bar on EARTH worth flying for by GQ Magazine back in 2003. (Not just Top Ten...it was indeed number one). I find this hilarious and awesome at the same time, and I tell people this fun fact every chance I get.
As for Thanksgiving, my mom and I teamed up to cook a delicious feast that included turkey, mashed potatoes, fresh green bean casserole, sourdough stuffing, Grand Marnier Sweet Potatoes, and homemade cranberry sauce. Because our time home was not very long, I made sure to make the most out of my leftover opportunities, eating a second helping Thursday night, as well as Friday morning, and packed myself a turkey sandwich for the plane ride on Saturday. MMMM....leftovers.
Friday we celebrated my Dad's 60th birthday. He didn't know we were coming, and surprising him was something I'll never forget. I've only seen my Dad cry a handful of times, and this was one of them. It meant the world to him having us there, and we were so glad to take part in such a wonderful celebration. Over 30 guests made the trek out to his farm in Big Sandy, which was a great testament to how much he means to all of those people. I also got to catch up with my awesome step-sister, Krista, who I haven't seen in years. She's an up and coming DJ in Florida and it was so fun to hear how she's tearing it up down there. We all ate, drank, (watched the Cougs beat the Huskies in the Apple Cup!) and enjoyed our short time with the family. Congrats to my Dad on 60 years and thanks to my Step-mom, Jennea, for throwing such an amazing party.
Last, but certainly not least, I managed to squeeze in a quick visit with my best friend from high school, Kerry (as well as my friend Jenny). Kerry's daughter, Jane, is almost a year now...and she looks exactly like Kerry. She's a busy little one, and I'm sure she will keep Kerry on her toes, especially when she starts walking on her own (which is just around the corner).
Overall, it was a quick trip (just three days total), but I was thankful for the chance to get home and see friends and family. My only regret was not making it to Howard's Pizza. That post will have to wait for a future visit. Until next time Great Falls!