By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Associate Editor

BIG SKY – The staff at Rainbow Ranch Lodge puts love into all they do.

Known for its exceptional service, fine dining and comfortable accommodations overlooking the Gallatin River, the historic lodge on Highway 191 south of Big Sky opened its doors to the public for breakfast for the first time on Dec. 18.

“We want to provide something unique and special for our guests, but we also want to have another place in the Big Sky area where people can come and enjoy breakfast,” said Summer Knoop, Rainbow’s dining room manager.

Residents and guests have a lot to look forward to. Rainbow Ranch’s menu has a decadent selection, yet the price is still comparable to the other full-service dining locations in Big Sky.

“Nobody that I know of is offering the breakfast to the level that we are,” said Mollie Eckman, Rainbow Ranch’s general manager. “We are definitely known for our level of service here, so it’s nice to offer the same fine dining experience we do for dinner, now at breakfast.”

Reservations are recommended if you don’t want to wait, but waiting isn’t so bad either. Guests can enjoy an espresso by the fire and watch the sunrise over the Gallatin Range.

Using local purveyors and as many local ingredients as possible, Executive Chef Jake Irwin, who came on board as the ranch’s head chef last May, has a passion and excitement for cooking that you can taste.

Huckleberry Buttermilk Flapjacks, Brioche Orange French Toast, Basted Eggs and Kielbasa Hash, Hollandrusk Duck Benedict, and Crème Brûlée Banana Oatmeal. The names alone are enough to make your mouth water.

“They’re traditional dishes with my own creative twist,” Irwin said.

A roasted tomato and fresh melon slice decorate every plate, and most menu items come with the option of a house-made breakfast meat – spicy chorizo, cherry smoked bacon, smoked kielbasa, cured wild steelhead, elk sirloin, or apple maple duck sausage.

When creating the menu, Irwin said he wanted to keep it true to Rainbow Ranch – which means you’ll see Montana-inspired dishes that substitute elk for beef, and feature pheasant instead of chicken, for example.

“I’m in heaven,” Irwin said. “I get to work with the highest quality ingredients that you can possibly get. Working at Rainbow Ranch is a chef’s paradise.”

Having spent the past 10 years cooking at prestigious restaurants in Arizona, Irwin also infuses the cuisine with a Southwestern flair. Spicy chorizo, sweet potato-jalapeno latkes, pico de gallo, and cotija cheese offer a little more spice, and Irwin says they pair well with eggs and Montana meats.

It’s obvious Irwin is having fun, and he looks forward to seeing people’s reaction to the new menu. He foresees the duck Benedict and crème brulee becoming signature items. “You just don’t see that anywhere else,” he said.

The Hollandrusk Duck Benedict is comprised of basted duck egg and smoked cherry bacon and sits atop a fresh buttermilk scone, made by pastry chef Elisabeth Michaelis, who bakes all the breakfast breads and granola from scratch. As for the Crème Brûlée Banana Oatmeal, Irwin recommends sharing it with friends as a breakfast dessert. “The ladies go nuts,” he says.

The well-balanced menu has something for everyone – huevos rancheros, yogurt berry parfait, flapjacks, omelets – and each dish has its own distinctive, memorable touch that your taste buds will appreciate.

So whether it’s enjoying a latte by the fire, seeing a moose cross the Gallatin River, or enjoying an affordable yet opulent meal, you know you’ll be taken care of at Rainbow Ranch.

Breakfast will be available seven days a week for the winter season, from 8-11 a.m.