Comfort and Community at the Kountry Korner Cafe

Wednesday Feb. 1st, 2012

There is contentment in community. Belonging to a group, joining a club, wearing the same colors on game day, waving the same flag: all breed familiarity and a sense of belonging. In community we matter. Hence the attraction of being a “regular” in a place we can call our own, where everyone knows our name, and where a hearty welcome resonates deeply within us. Lucky are we that we have such a place here in the Bozeman area—that it dishes up some mighty fine food can only be regarded as bonus. The place is the Kountry Korner Cafe, a place as much “community center supreme” as it is eating establishment. It is also an institution that has survived the test of time, filled with comfortable character and flush with local characters, as regulars and newcomers alike shuffle through its doors for breakfast and dinner and everything in-between…and even beforehand: coffee brews early at this place, where a faithful bunch arrives each morning, well before the opening bell chimes for biscuits and gravy.

Betty started it all. Whether toiling long hours behind the flattop or serving at the counter, this mother of four rolled up her sleeves and began to greet and feed the local crowd thirty-six years ago.   And as her children grew, Betty Nason’s business grew, morphing into habit-forming weeknight dinner specials (Do NOT miss Sunday’s incomparable broasted chicken. Yes, broasted…who even does this anymore?); a full menu that ticks the right boxes for taste, comfort, and quality; catering options that include pitchfork barbecue, pig roasts, line camp cooking, weddings and black-tie affairs; and meeting space for everything from Bible studies to pinochle marathons.

Beside their extensive menu and weeknight specials (Thursday night’s chicken-fried steak is legendary, not to mention steak night Friday and prime rib Saturday), a new addition to the Kountry Korner is chef Josh Cantrell. Classically trained, Josh has free range over additional “chef specials.” He might serve boef bourginion, Tuscan style chicken, or an amazing pasta dish on any given night. A recent crème brulee would easily hold its own against any tony restaurant in town. Specifically, and in a few words, the food at the Kountry Korner Cafe never—ever—disappoints, and is astonishingly good for its price point. Inotherwords, how this place manages to offer such generous helpings of good food at affordable cost (at times served as all-you-can-eat buffet) is a bit of a mystery. Part of Betty’s savvy and legacy, to be sure.

Amazingly, it doesn’t stop there: avid in her support of the arts, Betty has wrapped the walls of the Kountry Korner with paintings, carvings and sculptures with both Western and whimsical themes. And no piped music here! Be prepared: music and singing routinely accompanies dinner. This is a place where you might find Kostas in his Greek fisherman’s hat strumming in the korner (couldn’t resist that), someone tickling the ivories, an impromptu jazz session, or a budding young vocal artist. Entertainment is in the house and on the house, simply included for your enjoyment–though one senses the enjoyment is all Betty’s, who can be found most nights sitting at a table large enough for family and friends, all humming   to a tune between mouthfuls of the best ribs this side of Kansas City. And then there is Kurtis…

Son #2, Kurtis works the front of the house with gusto, his enthusiastic welcome absolutely heartfelt: come join in, eat some grub, finish with homemade pie, we are really glad you’re here. No nonsense behind the scenes, Kurtis bursts into the dining area with a certain joy and playfulness that brings the room to life. Whether cajoling a youngster to eat her broccoli because “it’s against the law in Montana to leave veggies on your plate,” or tenderly maneuvering someone’s grandma and her walker to the most coveted seat in the room, Kurtis shines.   Kurtis’ wife Krista (what is with the “k” thing, anyway?) greets and serves customers with efficiency and delight. Would that some other servers take note: If fault can be found with the Kountry Korner it would be a bit of irregularity in service efficiency;   for the most part, however, service is attentive and courteous.

All in all, it is not a stretch to believe the Kountry Korner Cafe has a mission statement that reads like this: Come in, sit with us, eat heartily, and tap along with the beat. We are truly happy that you are here, and in no time at all we will know you by name.

Each visit to the Kountry Korner Cafe feels more familiar and more comforting than the last. It is unimaginable that anyone could walk away from this place without a pleasantly full tummy and without determination to go back—maybe next Tuesday for the chicken and ribs and music.

Kountry Korner Cafe
81820 Gallatin Road
Open daily: 6 AM to 9 PM’ish

Cynthia Yates cut her teeth in the restaurant business, ran a café in the middle of nowhere, hosted a popular wine group, and was active in the Slow Food movement. An author of several lifestyle books, she has been known to eat on a regular basis.