We strolled two blocks through downtown Billings to go for dinner. Downtown Billings is a little rough around the edges, we think. There is some very low rent housing on the side streets, and there are girls hanging around on some of the street corners.
Our chosen restaurant is called Walkers, and describes itself as an ‘American Grill and Tapas Bar’. Now, to my thinking, these are two rather different things. An American Grill is where you go for a T-bone and fries, and a Tapas Bar is where you go for Bruschetta and Pinot Grigio. Small surprise that it attracted an eclectic crowd. The first thing we noticed as we approached the place was that it has glass walls – the windows are twelve feet high and edge to edge. Sitting at the table in the corner, visible to everyone on two streets was a whole table of young men in cowboy hats. We have driven back and forth across Montana several times, admiring thousands of miles of ranch land, and we have never seen six cowboy hats on the same day, let alone at the same table. Perhaps they were real cowboys, I can hear you saying. Maybe, but certainly not the rodeo kind, because they could all walk without limping. I thought they might be a country music band. After all, they could be the most famous ‘hat act’ since the Oak Ridge Boys, and I wouldn’t know them from Adam. This conjecture was reinforced when a little old lady posed with them for a picture, but no-one else hounded them for autographs, and our waitress couldn’t figure them out either. I give them major politeness points for posing for that picture, and also for taking their hats off to eat. But if they were dressed as cowboys to pick up chicks, they need younger hats. I still don’t think they were ranch hands, they drank wine with dinner. Now, it just so happens that Sunday night is Jazz night at Walkers, and there was a Jazz quartet playing, with a vocalist, even. While I was still marvelling at the juxtaposition of Jazz and cowboy hats, another guy came in in a cowboy hat, but unlike the young men, who favoured black shirts, this guy was wearing a lumpy padded canvas jacket of the sort you might wear to ride a quad or a quadruped. Then another guy came in in a sort-of cowboy hat, but kind of a straw hat. Then we spotted two women in cowboy hats. Just as we decided that some kind of ‘cowboy chic’ rules in Billings, the Chihuahua Girl came in. Wearing a shirt of subdued pink and blue jeans, it was only the huge tiger-striped scarf that tipped off her tiny dog addiction. She took a table by herself, and I was feeling guilty for stereotyping her as the Paris Hilton type when she was joined by two more Chihuahua Girls. I kid you not, all of them were wearing pink tops and tight capris. The youngest had chosen shocking pink for her top and paired it with turquoise pants. This caught the attention of the young cowboys – one even stood up and turned around for a better look. Then came the Presbyterian table, then the Time Warp table. I can understand why he had such short hair, he’s probably in the army. Short back and sides were taken to extremes – an inch above the tops of his ears, and his longer hair was maybe quarter of an inch. That makes sense on a soldier. But his three little boys had army haircuts, too, and there was something about their clothes that just seemed to radiate from the 1950’s. I found myself looking out on the street to see if there was a ’58 Chevy station wagon at one of the meters. So as you can see, the people watching was awesome.
The food was pretty good, too. Caroline debated having the Halibut in Lemon Cream sauce from the main course side of the menu, but decided to stick to the tapas side, starting with (another) beet and goat cheese salad, then having the beef soft tacos. She found those impossibly salty, and ordered a roasted pear and gorgonzola pizza with salad in the center. It was fabulous, apparently. Despite being on the small plates part of the menu, it was the size of a large pizza at our Boston Pizza, and she only ate half. I hit both sides of the menu. Today’s soup was Smoky Bacon and Potato, which was too similar to the Wisconsin Cheese soup with Bacon that I had with lunch. Caesar salad would have went with my Beef Tenderloin and roasted potatoes, but would have been rather conventional as a team. Instead I had the Blue Crab Tots, which are like crab cakes the size of tater tots. Except this is Montana, so they are more like the size of golf balls, and you get seven of them. I ate four, and brought the rest back to our hotel. My eight ounce tenderloin was just that, and came surrounded by a few nice little roasted potato wedges and three or four asparagus stalks. I opted for a side skillet of garlic fried mushrooms.
The wine and liquor selection was quite good. I was able to have a Tanqueray 10 and Tonic (Ten’n’T) while Caroline started with a popular Chardonnay. With our entrees, we selected a L’Ecole 41 Merlot, which went beautifully with my steak, but not so well with Caroline’s dinner after she traded in her tenderloin tacos for the pear pizza. The wine rack at Walker’s is odd. It spanned a whole outside window, and stretched all twelve feet to the ceiling. The waiters use a rolling ladder to get down the ones more than half way up. I finished with a milk chocolate bread pudding, and it was lovely.
On our walk back to the hotel, we nearly collided with a young woman who had been chased away from one of the street corners by another young woman who was apparently feeling territorial. I am slightly reassured that A) our car is right outside our hotel room, and we can keep an eye on it if we take turns sleeping, and B) most of the other cars out there are way nicer than our seven year old Honda.