Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Little Cafe on the Prairie

To describe Molt, MT, is a challenge.

Designa-tions, such as a "town," "village," or "hamlet," overstate the status of this "place."

Being surrounded by miles and miles and miles of prairie makes the collection of five houses, a church, a tiny school, a tire shop, a grain elevator, a fire department, a community hall,

and an old hardware store seem very small.

But on Bluegrass Saturday Breakfast mornings that old 1915 hardware store comes alive. When the 56 seats in what is now known as the Prairie Winds Cafe are filled and another 10-20 people are standing in line, the population of Molt increases fivefold.

Jerry and Fran Urfer opened the cafe in 2001, after spending three years remodeling Kepferle Mercantile, an old general store that featured hardware on one wall and groceries on the other.

The cafe still features the building's original pressed-tin ceiling and fir flooring, but the shelves are now stocked with craft items (note the license plate bird houses in the photo above),

novelty items,

some collections of bottles, and some practical items for home use, such as the storage crocks (top shelf, left).

The music was Larry Larson's (left) idea. He lived just down the road and thought the cafe would be a fine place for his band, The Hogback Five, to get in some practice. Presently, there are about a dozen local bands in the Prairie Winds' rotation, playing old-time country, folk, and gospel--maybe even a little Cajun, Dixieland, or vintage rock 'n' roll.

Music begins at 9:00 a.m., but seats fill up by 8:30. On the day we stopped in, we quickly adjusted to the routine: after entering, walk to the rear of the building (next to the kitchen), note who is ahead of you, and wait for a table to open. No one takes names; but everyone knows their spot in line. Then wait.

That mornng it was The Fiddlin' Ferches who were playing. Larry Larson identified the members as Aaron Strange (bass; left, in the back of the photo above), Willard Ferch (fiddle, center), and Carol Ferch (guitar, right). Larry added, "Willard won so many fiddlin' contests that the organizers decided to make him a judge to give others a chance."

It seems that there has been so much interest in playing here among local musicians that if a group wants to play here it won't be in 2010. They might squeeze you in by 2011."

The first thing you need to understand is that one doesn’t go to the Prairie Winds CafĂ© for the food. Rather, you go for the ageless rural American experience – be it in Iowa, Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, or Montana. It is to join your friends and neighbors for music, conversation, and food. You listen to the band playing "Listen to the Mockingbird," "Mocking Bird Hill," "Five Foot Two Eyes of Blue," "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," or "Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue." You hear yodeling. And when was the last time you heard someone yodel? You buy flour sack dish towels – seven for $25.00. You dance if you’re brave enough and don’t get in the way of the waitresses.

At the table next to you may be a biker dude in his Sturgis ’09 t-shirt (with sleeves removed),

a couple of fast-moving cyclists (you know them by their zero body fat),

a farmer or a rancher, a cowboy or a cowboy wannabe in their hats and leather vests, or a couple of tourists who have fallen in love with Montana.

But if you want to sit and listen to the music, you have to order food. It’s a rule. And don’t think about lingering at your table once you’re finished eating. It’s another rule. And there are signs on the tables to remind you. But you can stand and listen to the music as long as you want. Just don’t get in the way of waitresses. Dressed in their Molt Volunteer Fire Co. t-shirts, these women really move.

I poked my head into the kitchen and noticed that most of the food was being prepared on two good size plug-in electric griddles. But they managed to produce a fairly varied menu that included pancakes, french toast, omelets, eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and biscuits and gravy.

While Joan was eating light (fruit and two scrambled eggs), the rest of us were ready to chow down (or do I say “put on the feed bag”).

For Mike, it was two eggs over easy with bacon and hash browns.

For me, the three egg omelet with sausage, cheese, and mushrooms and hash browns.

And for Chuck, the biscuits and gravy with hash browns.

Molt was a thriving grain-hauling hub until the railroad pulled out 30 years ago. Now the Bluegrass Saturday Breakfast mornings at The Prairie Winds Cafe have put Molt back on the map.

Evidence of its restored "map" status can be found in the Cafe's guestbook--folks from every state in the nation and 42 foreign countries have found their way to the Cafe.

As a side note: the Cafe is on the market for $309,900.

Not bad for this little place on the prairie of southcentral Montana.

[Some of the factual information is from an article by Ed Kemmick in the Billings Gazette.]

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