A Rose Blooms in Belgrade

Thursday Sep. 1st, 2011

One of Belgrade’s brightest dining gems is the Desert Rose Restaurant. Located on the corner of 213 West Main (on the corner of Main and Hoffman) it is owned and operated by Scott and Cindy Brown. Recently, my husband Tim and I ate dinner there. Greeted warmly at the door, we were invited to sit wherever we wished. We opted for the covered patio with its spacious seating and reclaimed barn wood flooring, taking note of the eclectic collection of birdhouses gracing its perimeter. We unrolled our bandana napkins with anticipation. Our baked potato skins arrived piping hot. “They’re from Manhattan,’ our server smiled. Tim bit into one of the full-sized skins, topped with cheese and bacon. “Oh gawd,” he exclaimed. Several times. The skins surrounded a huge dollop of sour cream for dipping, and were crispy, tender, and chewy. Locally produced vegetables and meats are used as much as possible here.

Our salads came next. They were topped with house-made croutons that shattered deliciously in the mouth. The ginger-apple vinaigrette was mildly sweet-tart, setting off the fresh greens beautifully. I found out the bread used for the croutons was also made in house. Thankfully, no one was brandishing a table leg asking if I wanted freshly ground black pepper on my salad.

“I’d rather take my time and put the ingredients together for each order,” Scott says.  “The only thing done ahead is the mashed potatoes.”

“Schmashed” potatoes, that is. The Desert Rose version of garlic mashers is creamy, fluffy, lightly buttered and the best I’ve ever eaten. They complemented my half order of barbecued ribs admirably. I don’t know what Scott puts in that barbeque sauce, but it’s got a subtle sweet bite and lots of mild ground dried peppers for a flavorfully unique taste and texture. The ribs themselves were tender and delectable without falling off the bone. The accompanying sautéed fresh vegetable medley was hot and lightly seasoned. Tim’s boneless rib eye was purely melt-in-your mouth, done exactly to order on a cast-iron grill which gave it an even crust and juiciness.

All the while, our server noticed when we were getting low on iced tea and simply refilled our glasses, even coming over with additional ice as it disappeared, all without her asking or having to be waved over. We appreciated the no-fuss attentive service.

We finished with house-made carrot cake topped with some Wilcoxin’s vanilla ice cream all dusted with cocoa-laced confectioner’s sugar. Not your usual heavily sweet carrot cake, it was moist, slightly spicy with a springy crumb and rounded off our meal on a perfect note. In all, the natural flavors of the main ingredients are enhanced, not hidden, at Desert Rose.

The dinner menu’s entrees range from prime rib to chicken, pork to seafood to vegetables, salads to pastas. The lunch menu includes burgers, salads and sandwiches. Everything possible is made in-house, including bread, potato chips, soups, sauces, marinades, desserts and beverages.

I caught up with Scott the other day and got to ask him a few questions about the restaurant and their recent expansion. As it turns out, Scott’s culinary training started in high school in his home town of Billings where he signed up for ‘Mealtime 1, 2, 3’ every chance he could. “I like to eat,” he laughs. For years afterwards, Scott honed his culinary skills and his palate in several of the finer establishments that Billings, Red Lodge and Denver have to offer. “The Carbon County Steakhouse still uses a lot of my recipes.”

Desert Rose Catering grew out of the desire to work for himself, and the name Desert Rose was inspired by the Bear Creek area south of Red Lodge. “Technically, most of Montana is high desert,” Scott asserts. Cindy designed the graphic for the company, and runs the business end of their several endeavors. “She watches over everything I do, like the sun above. Our newly remodeled upstairs reflects that feeling with the copper ceiling; the new tablecloths will be deep blue like the sky,” he says, smiling.

When asked about the renovation and expansion, Scott explains “When we took over this place [a former sandwich shop] we walked into it with no money, but we had ideas. We wanted to get the upstairs opened to double our floor space.” Noting the rustic woodwork, Scott told me that he and a few others do all the construction work, with mostly reclaimed materials. They’ve done most of the expansion without borrowing money, doing the work in stages. “There’s some Belgrade history here,” he points to the beams in the expanded patio’s roof. They bear some charring from their origin in the Belgrade True Value’s former location next to Lee & Dad’s Grocery Store, which had burned down January 2007.

In addition to utilizing reclaimed lumber, Scott turns the restaurant’s used cooking oil into biodiesel for both his pickup and the fuel oil used to heat the restaurant in the cold weather. “After catering and woodworking, I didn’t want to pay outrageous fuel prices.” What about the woodworking, I asked. “Montana,” he replied. “It does it to a lot of people.  You have to have two jobs. When we moved to Bozeman, I built birdhouses to get into an art show to promote our catering business. Everything we do is so we can remain self-employed.”

And according to Scott, this is a working man’s restaurant. Every dish is a collaboration between himself, the other chefs and the staff. “The owner doesn’t know everything,” he maintains. “And I don’t want to know everything. I’ve enjoyed success because it’s a team effort.

He is particularly proud of their team. “We’ve got great, attentive service. You won’t be sucking on ice waiting for more water. I want people to feel like they’re home. We’re not pretentious; the food is down to earth. Anyone from any economic background can get a good meal.”

From the wide-ranging delicious menu choices and unpretentious service to the house-made items, repurposed lumber and the bandana napkins, The Desert Rose is an enormously satisfying taste experience. For more about their menus, Desert Rose Restaurant, Desert Rose Catering, or Desert Rose Biodiesel, go to www.desertrosecatering.us. Five spokes out of five.

Stacey Alzheimer is a self-proclaimed foodie who rides her motorcycle to local restaurants when she is not busy working at Theraputika Massage.