By Katie Thomas EBS Contributor
BOZEMAN – As a Montanan, it’s always entertaining to hear restaurants in random places boast “the best burger.” I recently had this experience while watching a travel-food show; some restaurant in Florida claimed superior beef and burgers to anywhere else in the United States. Those folks must have never been to Bozeman, and certainly not to Backcountry Burger Bar.
Owner Albert McDonald opened his eatery in June 2017, on Main Street in the heart of downtown. Most people will remember the historic space as the former site of John Bozeman’s Bistro, but some may also recognize it as Wong’s—Bozeman’s original Chinese restaurant, which, incidentally, also served cheeseburgers, to placate picky children in the 1980s.
Backcountry Burger Bar features creative salads, a variety of appetizers, chicken sandwich options, beer and wine, cider and kombucha, and, dare I say, Bozeman’s best burgers.
On a recent weekday evening, a meal at Backcountry began with a pint of the Northwest IPA from Missoula’s KettleHouse Brewing Co., a pleasant and relatively mellow member of the IPA family. The traditional poutine and rosemary root chips were both delicious, and a welcome change of pace as appetizers. Next came the house salad, which was surprisingly substantial, with a perfectly tangy apple cider vinaigrette.
The CFB (country fried beef patty, fried egg, and gravy), was declared the evolution of the local Yo! Burger—look it up, folks—and the Wildfire burger (crispy fried jalapeños, sriracha aioli and pepper jack cheese) delivered just the right kick and complemented the IPA perfectly—but make no mistake about those jalapeños, they’re hot.
The Electric chicken sandwich was similarly spicy, but a bit too far into the world of cayenne for my taste. The Stillwater veggie burger was as tasty and as filling as a beef burger. Backcountry uses beef from Montana Cattle Company, or Yellowstone Grassfed Beef is available for a $2 upgrade.
If this sounds like a lot of cow, don’t fret. The Fishtail seared tuna, mac and cheese, Super Salad, Snowflake grilled cheese, and other delights are available—and for the kids, a grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich called the Unicorn. Backcountry Burger Bar uses tomatoes from Seven Spruce Farm when available, and Earth-friendly Smart Chicken for their sandwiches. It’s clear from the menu, and reaffirmed by the taste of each dish, that food is a priority and passion for the owners of Backcountry.
“Our love of backcountry travel is one of the things that binds the three of us,” explained director of operations and partner Joe Barnett, referring to McDonald, himself, and their third partner Noah Corwin. “That, and a love of the American cheeseburger.” Both Barnett and McDonald spent many years in managerial positions at Montana Ale Works and launching other culinary ventures, including Pizza Compania and The Mint in Belgrade, before deciding to open Backcountry Burger Bar.
The festive names of the menu items were somewhat inspired by local mountain history, and many cleverly assigned by general manager and culinarian Carl Ylinen.
“We also wanted to break the mold as far as our beer selection and have a unique focus on craft beers from places outside Montana,” Barnett said. “We really went out of our way to seek out founders’ breweries and have more than just the same local beers you find everywhere.” The wine selection is also distinctive, with excellent price points.
If you need more reasons to check out Backcountry Burger Bar, note that the service is exceptional, and that they stay open between lunch and dinner, which makes it a nice happy hour option from 3 to 6 p.m., if you’re downtown and looking for something different. But more importantly, it’s this diner’s opinion that Backcountry truly offers the best burger in Bozeman, whether you’re new, old, young—or just hungry.
Backcountry Burger Bar is located at 125 W. Main St. in Bozeman, and is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.