I’ve written several columns over the past few years about my and my husband’s quests for wild mushrooms—particularly the elusive morel. Four seasons of fruitless foraging finally led to a seven-morel harvest in the spring of 2014. Lots of hours for very little payoff, but we’ll keep at it. After all, it’s another great excuse for getting out in the woods. Besides, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it!
I have also written extensively, over the 14 years I have been a Guide Outdoors/ Sportsman’s Guide columnist, about roadside (and trailside) attractions that catch my fancy—from oddities (e.g., World’s Largest Ball of Barbed Wire, Jackson, Wyoming) to activities (e.g., Slide Rock “natural water slide” near Sedona, Arizona) to unique lodging (e.g., author-themed rooms at Newport, Oregon’s Sylvia Beach Hotel), and dining (e.g., Taylor’s Sausage of Cave Junction, Oregon) experiences.
On a recent drive through western Montana, I had a chance to combine these two pursuits—mushroom-seeking and roadside attractions—when I stopped at Parker’s Family Restaurant.
Drummond, Mont.: “World Famous Bullshippers”
With a population of just more than 300, the little hamlet of Drummond, Mont., is not exactly a destination metropolis. But it’s a little town with a big heart, not to mention a sense of humor. Given its proximity to the railroad and the importance of cattle ranching to the local economy, the town has adopted the motto of “World Famous Bullshippers.” This is celebrated each summer with the Bullshipper’s Car Rally and Tractor Show, sponsored by the Drummond Kiwanis Club.
It’s a pretty place, too, situated in the Flint Creek Valley, about 50 miles east of Missoula and 150 miles northwest of Bozeman. The Garnet Mountains tower over Drummond, and the Clark Fork River runs past. Nearby are the Bitterroot National Forest and the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest. But I knew none of that when I pulled off of Interstate 90 for the very simple reason that I was hungry and Drummond appeared to be an easy on and off.
Parker’s Family Restaurant: 135 Homestyle Burgers!
I like to avoid chain restaurants, so when I saw the cheerful red and white sign with the animated burger, I stopped the car at Parker’s Family Restaurant. It had a homey feel, and the promise of “135 different burgers” was intriguing as well.
Inside, the news kept getting better. Parker’s grinds their own Angus on the premises. Here in the middle of “Bullshipper Country,” we were in for some seriously good beef! They also had a surprisingly upscale selection of wine, but alas, I had several hours’ drive ahead, so I went with iced tea.
The burger menu, as you can well imagine, boggles the mind. You can “go big” with, say, the Monster Burger (double patty plus pepperoni, ham, tots, and two kinds of cheese), or you can go dainty with the bunless Mediterranean Burger (atop a bed of baby greens with fresh basil, diced tomato, and a balsamic/parmesan vinaigrette). You can go South Of The Border (with salsa, jalapeños, and cheddar) or keep it Red White and Blue (with red onion, ranch dressing, and blue cheese). The Popeye Burger has spinach, of course, while the Ninja Burger includes snap peas and crunchy noodles. You can get mini-burgers on a skewer, deep-fried burgers, or open-faced burgers. Noteworthy toppings (and burger names) include Cajun shrimp (Backwater), pickled beets (Beatnik), peanut butter and bananas (Elvis), crab and 1000 island dressing (Crab Louis), and baked beans and little smokies (Appalachia). Several include “Parker’s Slap Yo Mama Mayo.”
There are other items on the menu (primarily salads, sandwiches, and wraps), but with so many burgers, who can resist? In addition to the menu-listed sides of fries (regular hand-cut or curly), tater tots, onion rings, and sweet potato fries, the day I ate there they offered parmesan fries and rosemary fries—the latter turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to my burger.
So what burger did I order? I guess I gave you a clue in the introduction. It just so happened that Parker’s bought a giant batch of fresh morels the day before, so the Harvest Burger (“in season only”) was an easy choice. My fresh-ground Angus patty was seared to a perfect medium-rare, nestled onto a fresh bun with lettuce and tomato and topped with melted Havarti cheese and more succulent, perfectly cooked morels than I personally had harvested all season. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! Sorry I didn’t get a photo for you—I ate it too fast.
What’s your favorite “mom & pop” roadside diner and why?