MONTANA JEWEL #1
Over the Moon for Luna’s Huckleberry Pie, East Glacier, Montana
In seeking out Huckleberry Girl’s first feature story, we wanted it to be perfect for our theme and namesake—we do live in Huckleberry Country after all! Huckleberry pie was a sure bet story for our start-up, so my team and I began our research and found our first Montana Jewel: Luna’s Restaurant in East Glacier, Montana.
The Goat Haunt near East Glacier (Photo by ParanorMell)
THE PIE-WAY to EAST GLACIER
I packed and met up with key Team Huckleberry member Em. We headed towards East Glacier the ride is glorious: river, mountains, wildlife—we particularly enjoyed the Goat Haunt—where we saw lots of baby goats—amazingly cute and sure-footed
Glacier Lodge Lobby, Photo from Acroterion
http://www.glacierparkinc.com/glacier_park_lodge.php (Photo courtesy Glacier Park Lodge)
We decided that in order to maximize our pie intake, we should spend the night at the historic Glacier Park Lodge, that way we could gorge on pie morning, noon, and night.
The Glacier Park Lodge was built by railroad baron Louis Hill of the Great Northern Railway in 1913–as part of the plan to lure rail riders to the west.
The three-story lobby is flanked by some 60’ Douglas fir columns up to 40 feet tall and 42 inches thick. In 1928, a nine hole golf course was added to the property—it was Montana’s first golf course.
Noted guests include Teddy Roosevelt and Clark Gable and leading members of the Blackfeet Nation—from which Hill bought the 160 acres that the lodge sits upon.
Glacier Lodge Balcony (Photo from Photo Crawler)
The lodge is majestic and gorgeous and a tiny bit scary too. I couldn’t help but think of Kubrick. Remember those long white halls in the The Shining. Think of that as the wind whips through the eaves and the slight howl carries you off to dreamland. Our quaint rooms overlooked the majestic Mont Henry, Dancing Lady Mountain, and Midvale Creek. A rustic deck with rocking chairs surrounds nearly the whole lodge—a great place to lounge when you aren’t out exploring the amazing landscape.
East Glacier is a cute little town with lots of eateries, galleries, and, perhaps, the world’s only stand-alone, artisan-made spoon shop, u huh, only hand-crafted wooden spoons: The Spiral Spoon (check it out). We also recommend Brown House Pottery (which also offers lodging). True objects of beauty found at both. Watch for more on The Spiral Spoon and its culinary artisan treasures in an upcoming Montana Jewel blog.
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brown-House-Guest-Lodging/104281142963414 (Photo by ParanorMell)
The Spiral Spoon’s Beautiful Spoons–you deserve one! (Photo by ParanorMell)
Once we got into the town proper, we realized it was a virtual Pie-Way. It seemed every business we passed—proclaimed they had “the very best huckleberry pie.”
But our research pointed us to Luna’s—and for this trip at least—that was our soul pie destination. And, I do mean “soul” as in soul mate. The pie is sooooo good I would marry it if I could.
Yum! (Photo by ParanorMell)
LUNA’s HOME to the BEST PIE in the LUNAVERSE
We arrived and started snapping pictures—we are new at this blog stuff and took many. Luna’s is a rustic, log cabin structure built in the early sixties. We sat down, perused the menu, and ordered a table full of food.
Luna’s original fame was for their stellar biscuits and gravy (recipe follows). Here, comfort food abounds—un-notch your belt and relax. For lunch we recommend the Buffalo Burger with sixteen possible toppers or Indian Taco—served on yummy homemade fry bread—or the ever-popular favorite: Grizzly Bait—a luscious salmon burger with avocado, pepper jack cheese and homemade lemon caper aioli.
The dinner menu looks great with local favorites like: Apple Dressed Pork with a Cayenne Rub, Meatloaf with Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and Open-Faced Turkey and Beef Sandwiches with Gravy. We didn’t have time to sample dinner but next time, perhaps, if we aren’t too full of pie.
Em suggested we cut to the chase and order the pie along with the savory stuff. After all let’s face it: WE WERE THERE FOR THE PIE!!!!!! So we opted to taste the pie first. And as my mom would say: “OH MY GOODNESS,” the first bite was simply divine . . . a hint of cream cheese, an inordinate amount of huckleberries, and the cinnamon laced graham cracker crust. OMG! Luna’s truly is the very best huckleberry pie we have ever tasted. You have to get some.
When the food came we began photographing madly. In a few minutes we were approached by a sparkly, cute woman with a white, blonde bob—who inquired politely, if she could ask, “. . .what we were doing”?
The Lovely Luna Branch (Photo by ParanorMell)
We told her we were starting-up a new blog and had heard that Luna’s had the “best huckleberry pie” in Montana or maybe even anywhere. We asked if she might be Luna and learned she was. As we were there in off-peak hours, Luna graciously sat down to talk with us.
Luna was christened Angel-Luna by a co-worker, her given name is Angela but Luna suits her better. She is radiant and sweet. Luna ended up in East Glacier via Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Yellowstone, and Ocean City, Maryland—working in resorts and restaurants along the way. Luna’s Restaurant is her brainchild and dream come true. You might wonder over the Pittsburgh Steelers memorabilia that lines the walls—that’s because that’s where Luna hails from and is a hardcore fan.
Luna met her now-husband Will when they were both working at the East Glacier Park Lodge—where she was working as a waitress and he was the “warehouse guy.” In 2009, after working for nearly every joint in town, they decided to open their own place and bought the former Thimbleberry Restaurant (before that it was the Tee-Pee).
The first year was tough, Luna was pregnant with their first child but—but sooooooo devoted—she was back to work a week after a C-section delivery. Such amazing devotion is reflected in Luna’s food and service. Now one more kid later—the whole family helps out at the restaurant. The girls both named after flowers: Lilli and Aven (a prairie smoke flower) especially love to help with the fry bread and the pie. Luna says the biggest challenge is raising a family and restaurant at the same time.
Will Branch–the Famous Pie Man! (Photo Courtesy of Luna’s Restaurant)
THE PIE MAN
NEXT, we met Luna’s husband, Will—THE PIE MAN.
Will is originally from Alabama. He made a similar circuitous journey to East Glacier—which included a stop in Vegas where he worked at renowned chef Hubert Keller’s legendary Burger Bar http://www.burger-bar.com/lv_main.php (I have eaten there and it is fab). No wonder the buffalo burgers are so good.
Upon opening Luna’s—both Will and wife vowed they “would not be a slave to the berry.” But they admit they are now in fact enslaved—huckleberry juice permanently stains their fingers. They buy some 300 gallons of the precious berries each year.
Last year Will made: a record 1,480 pies. This year his goal is to make 1,600. He savors every pie and commemorates each one with a hash mark on the kitchen wall—reminiscent of Montana cowboys making notches on their belts.
The best pie in the Lunaverse (Photo by ParanorMell)
cool funny book. get one here: http://www.amazon.com/Seasonal-Disorder-Ranger-Glacier-National/dp/1555663745/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405468788&sr=1-2&keywords=ranger+tales
Will told us his pie recipe is based upon one from Glacier Park Ranger Pat Hagen (check out his delightful book Seasonal Disorder Ranger Tales from Glacier Park).
Will starts with a cinnamon infused graham cracker crust and lines it with a whisper of cream cheese (to keep the crust crisp) a practical and elegant touch. The pie itself is laden with the sacred berries. There is nothing worse than a pie with a berry here and a berry there—we know hucks are VERY expensive (ranging from $30 – $75 per gallon)—but scant berries make a lousy pie.
Luna’s pie is the opposite with a bodacious bounty of berries.
If you are from Huckleberry Country—you also know cooking with hucks is tricky. Will explained that the wildly varying water content in the berries is the culprit. Sometimes getting the pie filling to set-up is a project in need of Alton Brown’s science genius. But, probably more than anyone, Will has perfected the huck pie after making an estimated 6,000 pies over the past six years. We believe he must be the World’s Foremost Huckleberry Pie Expert by now. Can anyone claim to have made more? And Will’s pies are berry, berry good.
Huckleberries are Montana’s Caviar. The berries are greatly prized, a bitch to pick, not to mention you sometimes have to fight off grizzly bears or more likely run for your life from one. Huckleberries only grow in the wild and once a patch is found—it is fiercely protected. We have heard lots of stories about gunfights and huckleberry thieves—no kidding. Securing the precious bounty can be truly life-threatening. So unless you are an adrenaline junkie, skip the pick and head to Luna’s.
We learned that most of Luna’s staff travel to East Glacier for seasonal work—some have returned to Luna’s for six years or more. Staff in and around Glacier Park hail from across the country and the world. At Luna’s alone, staff is from: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Slovakia. Luna’s also believes in supporting and hiring from the local community too. In fact, at least half the staff are from the Blackfeet Tribe. Virtually all are nomadic—traveling all fall and winter and returning to East Glacier for May – September. When Will and Luna turn off the lights and lock the doors each September they travel the country in their RV with their darling daughters in tow.
Team Luna: Bob, Zita, Electra, & Luna (Photo by ParanorMell)
Bottle Cap Earrings by Electra Omega Puccini (Photo by ParanorMell)
Reluctantly, we left Luna’s with beer bottle earrings (Luna’s staff has a creative side too) and a trunk full of pie. But, I know we will be back again. Especially because—sadly, but understandably, Luna’s pie recipe is TOP SECRET. But not to worry, my mom’s follows and it damn good too–different than Luna’s with a hint of lemon and salt here and there. Luna also provided us with their recipe for Huckleberry Vinaigrette, Lemon Aioli and their famous Biscuits and Gravy–all follow.
Take the time to journey to Luna’s. It is a true MONTANA JEWEL. You won’t regret it, We are sure you will leave with pie on your face (and in your trunk)!
Hmmm, Luna’s is also worthy of a Throw Down Challenge with Bobby Flay. LOOK OUT BOBBY!! Team Huck will have to look in to that.
Thanks for reading. Let us know what you think.
OPEN: 7 – 9 Daily, May – September
1112 Highway 49/PO Box 461
East Glacier Park, MT 59434
MENU : http://www.lunasrestaurant.com/menu2014.pdf
Check Luna’s out on Facebook / TripAdvisor / Yelp
A perfectly, delicious tart, tangy, & sweet vinaigrette
- 1/4 Cup Apple Cider
- 1/4 Cup Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Huckleberrries
- 1 T Wasabi Powder
- 1 T Onion Powder
- 1 1/8 Cup Olive Oil
- 1 1/8 Cup Canola Oil
- Add all the ingredients BUT the oils into a food processor. Add oils very slowly with food processor running (use the drip hole for great results). Adding the oil very slowly so it will emulsify.
- Great Tip: add the oil through the drip hole in the feeding tube of the processor. By slowing adding the oil--the vinaigrette will emulsify nicely, will not break down later, and you will achieve a rich, creamy texture.
- Photo from www.FatSaltWhiskey.com. Go there for some great huckleberry recipies! Including one for Huckleberry Booze.
huckleberry girl http://www.huckleberrygirl.com/
Luna's Famous Sweet Biscuits (see also Luna's Sausage Gravy)
This recipe put Luna's on the map. Unless you are serving an army--you will have to cut this way down. We are seeking a family friendly version from Will Branch. Watch for updates.
- 8 Cups Buttermilk
- 16 Cups Flour
- 6 Tbs Salt
- 2 Cups Cold Butter (4 sticks), Chop into small squares.
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 2 Tbs Vanilla
- Mix dry ingredients.
- Add chopped butter, Mix well to incorporate.
- Add milk and fold in by hand.
- Spread generous amount of flour onto your work surface (a wooden board works well).
- Knead dough 5 - 7 times until you have light, fluffy dough, adding flour as needed.
- Roll out dough to 3/4 inch thickness.
- Cut biscuits with biscuit cutter or coffee cup (lightly flour rim of cutter or cup).
- Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.
- If you have a convection oven, Will recomends 350 degrees for 12 minutes.
- Ok, fine, so as we said, we are new at this, so we didn't ask for a family friendly size recipe (this one is for a gynormous amount). We are working on sizing this down, so look for future post, where we scale this down to a non-family reuion size or Will provides us with a recipe that is just a bit smaller. Otherwise, our attempts to scale it down may make it into a future "dish-asters" blog post.
huckleberry girl http://www.huckleberrygirl.com/