South 9th Bistro
Kathleen Johns | Tuesday Oct. 1st, 2019
In 2012, Hank Fargot bought the big yellow Victorian house near the corner of College and 9th Avenue. Built sometime toward the end of the 19th century, the structure had been a private home for many years and then became a restaurant known as Casa Sanchez. Fargot knew that purchasing an older structure with the intent to renovate it into a charming and upbeat neighborhood bistro was going to come with a certain set of challenges. Of course, there were the run-of-the-mill challenges inherent in a 28-month renovation process, like having to dig out and expand the tiny basement to make room for a wine cellar, dry pantry and a proper back-of-house area, complete with three dumbwaiters, to outfit a well-run eatery efficiently. And, there were larger challenges, such as architecturally integrating the building’s Victorian Era façade with a more contemporary interior by adding big round windows, period details and artwork, a unique color palette, etc. But it wasn’t just the building’s age that presented challenges - there were also rumors circulating around town about the building itself. More than rumors, actually. Stories about the building had made their way into print via news articles, books and magazines, and had become, in a way, legend. There were legends about strange shadows crossing walls, footfall on stair steps and noises in the basement at 1 a.m. Enough folks to make the legend somewhat credible had spoken out about their experiences, so Bozeman Magazine got curious! We had to ask about this rumor turned into GHOST legend. Hank had this to say about our inquiry: “Working late at night during construction on a hundred year old house, around midnight, you think you feel or see something out of the corner of your eye. Of course, you’re exhausted - maybe you see something and maybe you don’t. I can’t say with certainty whether I actually encountered anything other than exhaustion – something paranormal, or a ghost, but, without question, a time or two, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I kind of think that feeling is almost a given when transforming a space such as this. In renovating this building, I went over every square inch of it, from the crawl spaces under the building to the attic. I spent countless hours here demoing and rebuilding. Practically, if there was any space in the building that made people uneasy, I think that space, and any eerie vibe that may have been present, was transformed. The building today is warm and romantic - anything but spooky.” And there you have it. Sorry to disappoint anyone reading this, but there is no ghost legend to tell about the completely remodeled structure that houses South 9th Bistro in 2019. You could even say that the spookiest thing about the place is the black cat featured on the restaurant’s logo. The modern day South 9th Bistro is new and comfortable with warm ambiance that enfolds everything that is part of the experience of dining there.
Kathleen Johns: How was South 9th Bistro conceptualized?
Hank Fargot: Growing up, I was the benefactor of a lot of good cooking, the result of my American mom trying to please my French father. In 2010, when I came to Bozeman, there was very little French-inspired food to be found. When I’d heard that Casa Sanchez was being sold, I thought, why not rebuild it into an eatery with lots of good food - possibly even French-inspired. For some reason, I thought I could do that - after all, I’d eaten in a lot of good restaurants and watched the Food Network at length. My immediate thought was: great food, great service, no excuses, in a comfortable and intimate setting. To execute that, I realized I would need talent. Frankly, I was incredibly fortunate to secure that talent for great food with Chef Ryan Trenton, and great service with Ryan’s wife, Server Captain Lisa Trenton. The bistro-style setting with turn-of-the-century French-inspired elements was a by-product of the building’s past and mine.
KJ: What makes South 9th Bistro unique on the Bozeman food scene? What do you do that other places don’t?
HF: All of our food is scratch-made daily in the Bistro’s kitchens. I shop for our food locally every day. No big food trucks stop here. I personally make all of our desserts.
All in all, we strive to do what we do to the best of our ability. We don’t cut corners. We are very consistent in our preparation and execution. If you choose to order the same plate you had a month ago, a week ago or a year ago - it will certainly be consistent with your memory of the first time you’d enjoyed it.
Our wine and beer lists complement all of our plates. Our serving staff is quite helpful in assisting with pairing our food and drink. Our wine and beers aren’t the most extensive in town, but they are more than adequate to suit most palates.
KJ: What do you want people to experience when they walk through your doors?
HF: I actually think our customers’ experience starts as soon as they approach the property. I hope they find its non-commercial neighborhood setting, as well as its unique architecture and aesthetic, to be charming and intimate, as well as exciting. Once through our front door, customers are warmly greeted by our staff and the aroma of great food from the kitchen immediately to the left. Once seated, we’d like our customers to feel that we will do our absolute best to extend ourselves to accommodate their wishes for an excellent experience. We go out of our way to adapt and adjust for people’s specific food needs, including but not limited to food allergies. Our objective is to provide the warmth and the care along with great food and great service to make for the best possible experience for our evening at the Bistro.
KJ: What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Bozeman community?
HF: Bozeman attracts visitors from all over the country and all parts of the world. The team at South 9th Bistro loves the diversity that our guests bring in at each service. A lot of interesting people come through our doors. Often in Bozeman, we tend to get confined by our small town microcosm. The Bistro provides a place where people can come in from wherever they come from, be themselves, have a great dining experience and take that enjoyment away with them.
KJ: What is your most popular dish or what do your regulars keep coming back for?
HF: Entrée-wise, it’s the Steak au Poivre. A center cut, 9oz tenderloin filet, perfectly prepared. Dauphonoise potatoes are wonderful and unique to Montana. Asparagus perfectly grilled. It’s a fantastic plate. Appetizer-wise, it’s the Prosciutto-wrapped Sea Scallops, drizzled with a lemon-caper beurre blanc. Once again perfectly grilled scallops, perfectly prepared.
We put a great deal of emphasis on preparation and execution – it’s our focus. And while not unique, we have a lot of talent in our kitchen to get the job done well. Preparation and execution of hand-selected, scratch-made food as compared to something else. If you don’t know the difference, I can’t explain it to you, but I would encourage you to see for yourself.
Dessert-wise, it’s a toss-up between the caramel-rich Crack Tart, created and made famous by NYC Chef Christina Tosi, and The Black Beast, an over-indulgent adaptation of a classic French flourless chocolate cake.
KJ.: Do you have anything coming up that you want readers to know about?
HF: We always have something unique and interesting going on, so come in or call and let us know what your needs are. This is the most romantic and intimate space in town. That being said, we aren’t just for special occasions. What we do is considered upscale, but there is no pretense – just great food and great service, no excuses.Approaching the holiday season, we’d like people to know that we are available to host small parties and events. As well, with nicer weather, we have outdoor seating to offer in our garden.
In summary, I will say once again I consider myself very fortunate for the talent that I have stumbled over. It is the backbone of the Bistro that allows us to provide the experience of great food and great service in a warm and intimate setting with friends and family. We are not just here to dish out food. There is a lot more about dining out than the food. It is about the experience.
Reservations are encouraged to dine at the #1 restaurant in Bozeman per travel site Trip Advisor for 3 years running. Visit www.South9thBistro.com for more information, menu, gift cards and reviews.