In early spring of 2007 I decided to quit my job, sell my house along with nearly everything else that I owned, and to live out of my car while traveling the country. These are my stories (and pictures) of life on the road.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Spending Thanksgiving at the Hospital

So the trip is winding down and nearing an end. Just a couple more posts and we'll (hopefully) be back home safe and sound. When we were preparing to leave for the trip I knew we'd be gone over Thanksgiving and I started giving some thought to what we'd do for a Thanksgiving day meal. I put out some feelers for anyone who wanted to let us join their family celebration but unfortunately I don't really know anyone in Montana; or at least not close to where we'd be anyway.

We left Bozeman and headed north on Wednesday not knowing where we'd get our Thanksgiving meal the following day. We knew that if we went all the way to Great Falls we'd probably find something that was open but I didn't really want my Thanksgiving meal to come from a restaurant; and besides, Great Falls was about an hour or more out of the way. We were headed to the Lewis and Clark National forest to do some snowshoeing and White Sulphur Springs was the last town of any size at all that we'd be in for the next couple days. It was right on the edge of the National Forest.

Things were looking grim on the food front but as we were driving through town scoping things out I spotted their small hospital and pulled over. I was hoping that their small town hospital worked like our small town hospital back home in Estherville. Since they have patients over the holidays the cafeteria always cooks a Thanksgiving day meal for everyone; and back home the cafeteria is open to the public and actually serves some pretty good food. As a matter of fact my mother and her parents get together every Thanksgiving to eat at the Hospital cafeteria.

I walked into the hospital/medical clinic not knowing where I was going and after getting directions from a couple different people I found myself in their small cafeteria. It was pretty small and probably couldn't seat over 20 people but it was something. I stood at the counter a few moments before I was noticed by a group of women standing in back of the kitchen. They were busy trying to figure out how the solve the crisis of the moment; their water wasn't working.

One of the ladies broke from the group and walked forward to help me. I explained that Sarah and I would be in the area the next couple days and asked if their Thanksgiving meal was open to the public. She looked a bit confused by the request and turned to the lady that was obviously in charge of the kitchen for help. I asked my question again and was told “We'll have plenty of extra food, come on down. It will be $3.50”.

I left very happy knowing that we had someplace to eat for Thanksgiving and that it would probably be better then anything we could find at some restaurant that happened to be open. With that problem solved we drove up into the mountains to do some snowshoeing. We spent that night in the Ranger Station parking lot before waking up early, driving around to do some site seeing, and getting in some more snowshoeing. We'd intentionally skipped breakfast and by the time we got back into town at 12:30 had worked up quite and appetite.

We changed into the nicest clothes that we had with us (which weren't that nice) and walked into the Hospital cafeteria for our meal not quite knowing what to expect. There were about eight or so elderly people at a long table who looked like they might be permanent residents. One of the nurses was helping them to eat. We stood at the small counter a minute or so before the same woman that I'd talked to the day before came around the corner to serve us. She seemed happy that we'd actually showed up and told us that there was good news, it turns out the meal was actually free! I thought that $3.50 was amazingly cheap, but free was just incredible.

We still didn't know just what we were getting for a meal as she pulled out a couple plates and started filling them with food. Our eyes kept getting bigger and our stomachs started growling louder as she started piling on green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, turkey, gravy, stuffing, deviled eggs and cranberry sauce. After handing us our plates piled high with food she said their was also fruit salad and pie for dessert and that she'd bring them out to us at the table. I thought she meant there was a choice between pie and fruit salad but we were pleasantly surprised when in a couple minutes she walked out with two bowls of fruit salad and two servings of pumpkin pie.

Not only were we served a full on Thanksgiving meal for free but it all tasted fantastic too! I think we ate the whole meal with big grins on our faces, we couldn't believe our good fortune. We savored every bite and by the time we finished we were both stuffed. We sat at the table a few minutes longer before we got up and gave thanks once more to the cook staff who were now seated and eating after serving themselves last. We put our dirty trays of food on the counter along with a $5 bill.

We left completely satisfied and headed north to begin our trek back home. We had the best intentions of getting in another snowshoe outing but by the time we got to the trailhead neither of us had the ambition. Instead we continued driving until we arrived in Winnett, MT later that evening. The first day we left on this trip we were listening to The Splendid Table on NPR and caught a short segment about the Kozy Korner Cafe located in Winnett. We heard stories of nearly 1 inch think pancakes served with excellent ham. We found Winnett on the map and planned right then that sometime on the trip we'd find a way to stop in to try it for ourselves.

After sleeping that evening in a church parking lot we got up and walked into the Kozy Korner Cafe. Winnett was a small town that couldn't have had many over 400 people in it and the Kozy Korner Cafe was exactly the kind of café you expect to see in a town like this. Unfortunately even though it's the type of café you expect in such a town it's rarely the type of café that you actually get.

When we walked in to the café we found about 8 tables on one side of the room and an open kitchen taking up the other side; there was no door or even a wall to separate the kitchen from the dining area. Their was only one other customer sitting at a table and drinking a cup of coffee. It looked like a husband and wife in their 60's who owned the place and a lady that looked like she could have been one of their mothers was in the kitchen making pie crusts from scratch. The husband seated us and took our order. He then took it to the kitchen where his wife cooked it up for us.

As we waited for our food we heard typical small town café conversations as more customers showed up. We saw the typical small café decorations on the walls and heard the husband joking with his wife to hurry up the orders because "the young'uns over there were starving". All of it seemed like any other small town café I'd been in except for the multiple plaques on the wall for “Best Pie in Montana” and the article clipped out of Gourmet Magazine all about the Kozy Korner Cafe. This place was the real deal and the last of a dying breed. I'm often frustrated when I go to small, local cafes and restaurants hoping for some good home cooked food only to find bland, frozen, and prepackaged food. It was refreshing to see someone who still did it the way that it should be done, and that they were also getting some recognition for it.

Our food arrived and the pancakes were just as big as advertised. They took up the whole plate and were close to 3/4 inch thick. I won't say they were the best pancakes I've ever had but they were pretty darn good and the hunk of ham it was served with was great. I really wanted to try some of that pie and thought about getting a slice even though it was 7:30 in the morning, but I mustered up all my self control and held off.

I'll guarantee you though that the next time I'm driving through Montana I'll plan my route to take me past the Kozy Korner Cafe around noon (they close at 3:00) and that at the end of the meal you'll find a big home made slice of pie on my plate. I'll let you know how it tastes.

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You've reached the end of the page but that's not the end of the stories. If you want to read more (and who wouldn't!?) then click on the archive links to the right hand side of the page. They're listed by month; the adventure starts in May.

The February archives aren't actually from this trip but are previous adventures I've had, which are worth reading as well.