the kalispell wedge + glacier
I thought I would have more to say about Glacier National Park, a place with some of the most breathtaking scenery that I've experienced in all my 31 years. The “Crown of the Continent” it’s called, and for good reason too with it’s shimmering turquoise lakes and regal mountain crests, carved into sharp spikes by the now-fading glaciers that once dominated the landscape.
But I suppose a lack for words from me isn't such a bad thing, as I admittedly tend to rattle on from time to time (or, um, most of the time, heh). Nor is it unnatural, especially not in this case. The woods are where I go to have thoughts and leave them. Where I go to let all of my messy, tangled up feelings untangle themselves, as admittedly hippie as that sounds (blame Cali). My time in the woods of Glacier National Park was, in a word, transformative.
Twisted as my tongue may be by Mother Nature’s supreme elegance, though, I can always, always talk about food. As I alluded in the first post about our National Park adventures, finding new and exciting food was never a top priority for this trip. However, good food ended up stealing our attention, as it always does, during our last evening in the wild west. After a long day of hiking and kayaking, we made the short drive from West Glacier to Kalispell, MT to stay the night. Assuming (wrongly) that it was still quite early outside, we didn’t make any advance plans for dinner. The joke was on us, though, as we had been deceived by those huge, brilliant Montana skies and slow lingering sunsets. Arriving at the hotel, we plopped our luggage, which at this point was mainly dirty clothes and beer glass souvenirs, down on one bed, and plopped ourselves down onto the other. We took one look at the hotel alarm clock that read 9:30pm and bolted right back out of bed. It was a Tuesday and everything showing up on Yelp closed in exactly a half hour. Dinner emergency!
Within minutes we were downstairs at the hotel restaurant, seated at the bar and pouring over the menu. I was holding my tongue because for the most part, I'm generally wary of hotel restaurants. So many of them serve overly fussy subpar food at Michelin star-rated prices, which is exactly the opposite of what I'm looking for in a dining out experience. This one looked decent, though. They even had a wedge salad on the menu, and I do enjoy a classic wedge. This particular wedge turned out to be anything but classic, but wow was it a gem. It was made with butter lettuce, rather than the usual iceberg, topped with bleu cheese, cherry tomatoes, bacon lardons, a soft boiled egg on the side, all drizzled with a maple balsamic dressing.
The maple balsamic dressing turned out to be the star of the show, cloaking the disc of lettuce studded with the nubby chopped fixings in a delicate shawl of sweetness. I nearly inhaled my entire portion in two giant bites, and then went after all of the extra topping bits that hung around the plate. I had saved half of the soft boiled egg for the end, and as I drug it across the plate to sop up as much of the dressing as possible, it also gathered up a couple of lardons, creating a bite that tasted like breakfast. This single, delectable moment was reason enough for me to make this salad again for us at home. Breakfast is one of, if not the top, highest ranking comfort food in my world. I'm excited to enjoy it in any format, wedge salad not being least of all. If you're a lover of breakfast for dinner, like myself, make this salad as written. If you tend to be sensitive to sweet ingredients or think you won't enjoy a dressing that is one third maple syrup, try it with a traditional balsamic or any other dressing, really. I served it as written below alongside roasted chicken and carrots, and we devoured it happily as we reminisced about a week that we couldn't have scripted any better.
Kalispell Wedge Salad, inspired by the Blue Canyon Kitchen
Servings: 2 large, 4 small
Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette:
½ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup maple syrup
1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 scant cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon oregano
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon butter
Small pinch each of salt and cayenne pepper
*This is more pecans than you will need for this salad but the leftovers might also become your new favorite sundae topping.
½ pint of cherry tomatoes
¼ red onion or 2 green onions
1 6 minute egg per person
1 bunch radishes, chopped
bleu cheese crumbles, to taste
Rinse the head of butter lettuce lightly and let it drain in a colander. Wash the tomatoes and radishes and pat them dry with a towel.
Make the vinaigrette. Combine all ingredients in a jar with a lid. Drizzle in the olive oil and shake until combined. Alternately, use a blender or food processor, first combining all ingredients aside from the oil, then adding the oil in second.
Prepare the pecans. In a skillet or pot, combine the sugar, butter, salt and cayenne, let stand over medium heat to allow all of the granules dissolve into the melted butter. Add the pecans, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until the pecans are coated, about 3 minutes. Immediately scrape the nuts onto a sheet of parchment and separate carefully into pieces to cool.
Cook the bacon either in a skillet or, my favorite way, in the convection oven. A standard oven will work too. Depending on the thickness of the bacon, I roast a single layer at 375 for 5 minutes on each side. Roast or fry until the bacon is crispy and crumbles easily in your hands; or if you prefer your bacon on the less crispy side, roast to your liking and chop. Prepare the 6 minute eggs. Half the tomatoes, slice the green onions on a diagonal, and chop radishes into ¼-inch pieces.
Quarter the head of butter lettuce and place on one each plate (for 4 small servings) or two on each plate (for 2 large servings). Add all of the toppings: tomatoes, radishes, green onions, bacon, candied pecans, crumbled bleu cheese, and an egg, halved. Drizzle with vinaigrette and dig in!