A la Carte: Pho aka the family noodle
By Rachel Hergett EBS COLUMNIST
I’m a sucker for pho, the Vietnamese staple noodle soup featuring rice noodles in a hearty broth. The dish, pronounced like “fo,” lends itself to a whole lot of punny restaurant names or slogans, such as Big Sky Noodles’ “It’s good pho you!” And though I had drooled over Instagram posts of Big Sky Noodles signature dish and specials—from bahn mi (pork sandwiches) to bo kho (beef stew)—I had gone most of the winter season without tasting any of it.
I finally visited on a Thursday evening toward the end of March and found husband and wife team Brandon and Nancy Tran behind the counter. Brandon arranged noodles and toppings in to-go bowls and poured chicken, beef and veggie broth into containers while Nancy worked the phones and the register, coordinating pick-up orders and adding more toppings, utensils and packets of sauce to the brown paper bags the shuttled to customers out the sliding glass window.
Big Sky Noodles doesn’t have an indoor seating area. The restaurant is located in a small kiosk, and customers waiting for their food gather on benches or lean against posts in the Big Sky Town Center plaza. The wait isn’t long. Broth simmers away on a stove. Even with a steady stream of orders on a chilly Thursday, each was in the hands of a hungry patron within five minutes.
Not being able to serve customers in a dine-in restaurant places the focus almost solely on the food. There’s a bit of a pressure there, Brandon said, so Big Sky Noodles attempts to keep the recipes authentic to his family’s Vietnamese traditions. This tradition also requires a level of freshness, and the noodle shop sources its meats through Wild West Local Foods, Montana Wagyu Cattle Company and, for the chickens, local Hutterite colonies.
The restaurant is a Tran family affair. Brandon and Nancy, who met working at Yellowstone Club also have two young children, are often the staff. To finetune the recipes, Brandon and his sisters Janet and Christianna Tran cook together, often under the oversight of their mother.
“We all get our taste buds from her,” Brandon said.
Janet is also busy behind the scenes, keeping the restaurant running smoothly with ordering and bookkeeping. The siblings all share a house in Big Sky, trying to stay in the area amid an increasingly tough housing market. Brandon’s daughter is about to start school. They’re looking toward the future, with plans to keep building the restaurant.
“We want to stay in Big Sky and grow in Big Sky,” he said.
Even if she has to travel from Kansas to visit, Brandon said his mother is proud that her children are sharing their food with the Big Sky community.
“She’s always had the audacity to cook, but she never wanted to open up her own restaurant,” Brandon said.
Get your pho while you can. It is all going away at the end of April, when the family will take the shoulder season to have a bit of a break before they prep the kiosk for the summer. Signs will be changed over and coolers switched out for ice cream freezers. The Tran family will reopen the kiosk as Scoops Ice Cream on June 7, serving Montana-made Wilcoxson’s ice cream.
“Hopefully we get to run this for a while,” Brandon said. “That’s our goal.”
To order, visit www.bigskynoodles.com, call (406) 404-6529, or stop by the kiosk at 111 Town Center Ave. in the Town Center Plaza. Specials are posted on Instagram, @bigskynoods.
Rachel Hergett is a foodie and cook from Montana. She is arts editor emeritus at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and has written for publications such as Food Network Magazine and Montana Quarterly. Rachel is also the host of the Magic Monday Show on KGLT-FM and teaches at Montana State University.