Thursday, June 11, 2009

“…She’s a Nice Italian Girl”

So reads the menu front at Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery.

Stella began in 1978 with one employee running a whole wheat bakery. Today her restaurant on 1st Avenue North in Billings (MT) boasts forty employees and is open Monday through Saturday from 5:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (breakfast, soups, burgers, salads, and sandwiches) and on Sundays from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (breakfast only). It was there that we met Mike and Joanie for breakfast prior to a day of sightseeing.

After some amusing foul-ups on Chuck's part that will haunt him at the next family reunion, we re-arranged our travel plans to meet his cousin Mike and his wife Joanie in Billings. They had suggested we meet at Stella's for breakfast, and when we were greeted by displays of pies and pastries, we knew our day would be off to a good start.

If the one-pound frosted cinnamon roll featured in the case is any indication, we thought Stella would do everything big. As we were shown to our table, I kept looking at the food on the tables we passed and kept remarking “look at that!”

The breakfast menu includes three-egg omelets, monster cakes (giant pancakes), biscuits and gravy, french toast, corned beef hash, and country fried steak. Both Mike (right, eggs over easy) and Chuck (below, scrambled eggs) selected the Stella’s Surprise: a mountain of hash browns mixed with onions, green peppers, and ham topped with cheddar cheese and two eggs with sour cream and salsa on the side. When their orders arrived I made a mental bet with myself that neither would be able to finish. It’s a good thing that I was only required to pay off myself since neither seemed to have a problem. The crisp and fresh tasting peppers and onions and the good quality ham made a hash brown fan out of my home-fry-loving husband.

I decided on a half order of the biscuits and gravy with hash browns. Yes, what you picture here is just the half order. This was a very wise move on my part.

Now I have concluded that no one makes biscuits like cooks in the South, so I have stopped using their biscuits as a national standard. Stella’s biscuits were one of the best I’ve had in recent memory, and the sausage gravy was exceptional. Too often the gravy is a bland white sauce with little flavor, but Stella’s peppery white gravy tasted of the good pork sausage. My hash-brown-loving heart was thrilled with Stella’s which were extremely crisp on the outside without becoming soft and mushy on the inside.

While we were gluttons, Joanie was enjoying the most beautiful fresh fruit plate. Chuck was so wrapped up in his Stella’s Surprise that he forgot to take a photo, but I remember seeing that she had beautiful strawberries and melon.

So needing to be fortified two days later before our Wilcoxson’s tour, walk around Billings, haircuts, and shopping, back to Stella’s we headed. I had seen a diner eating the breakfast burrito on our previous visit, so I knew what I wanted before opening the menu. The fourteen-inch flour tortilla was stuffed with eggs, bacon, onions, and green peppers and was served with sour cream and salsa on the side. A hefty serving of the wonderful hash browns came with the burrito.

First, this was a first rate tortilla. It was light and thin and almost translucent in some places. As with Chuck’s Surprise, the onions and peppers were cooked crisp tender and retained that fresh vegetable taste. And bacon!! Bacon, bacon, bacon! This was overflowing with bacon. There may have been as much bacon as there was egg. Healthy? No. Delicious? Yes. This may have been as good a breakfast burrito as I have had.

Chuck ordered two of the blueberry monster cakes with a side of hash browns. He was tempted but thought better about taking the Stella’s Challenge – eat four of the monster cakes and get a free cinnamon roll. (I can’t believe that anyone could eat anything after four of these pancakes.) The monster cakes came full of blueberries and were topped with a generous dollop of real butter. And, for the calorie conscious, you can get diet syrup or jam instead of regular maple syrup. But there was a small problem. The very center of one of the cakes was not cooked entirely and did have a raw batter flavor. Still, he managed to eat everything with just a little sampling on my part.

On the front of her menu, Stella says: “Being of Italian origin, I grew up knowing that food is love….”

We felt the love and are awarding Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery 4.5 Addies.

No comments: