The Western Montana Fair commences Aug. 5, and for a great many attendees that means one thing: food. Fair fare is an annual tradition of deep-fried gluttony, dipped in a hearty sauce of once-a-year indulgence. We’re talking about Tater Pigs, Vikings, Taco in a Bag, deep-fried cheese curds, deep-fried cheese in pretzel batter, fry bread, corn on a stick, shaved ice, caramel apples and—need we go on? Nah, we didn’t think so. Our stomachs are already grumbling.
But this year’s fair menu includes the return of a celebrated Missoula mainstay with a history as mysterious as its secret ingredients: Duper Sauce.
The pale pink spread was the stuff of local legend during its decades-long reign at the 93 Stop and Go drive-in. Dian Watkins Schmidt says Duper’s recipe came with the Brooks Street burger joint when her folks purchased it in 1969, and it became something of a signature item. Customers put it on everything from french fries to cheeseburgers to chicken to, well, anything. She recalls that on the restaurant’s final night in March 2001, someone tried to order five gallons of the stuff.
Duper Sauce appeared to go the way of Carnation breakfast bars and Oreo’s cereal after that, dropping off the radar entirely. But Schmidt and her husband, Tom, managed to sneak it onto the menu at Mullan Station, which they also owned. It wasn’t nearly as well-known or publicized, but diehard fans still sought it out.
“We had people coming in asking to buy it in quarts,” Tom says.
When the family sold Mullan Station in 2012 to Town Pump, Duper Sauce did, finally, vanish from any commercial establishment. (Schmidt proudly offers it was readily available at her family gatherings, but, well, we—and probably you—weren’t invited.) Ever since the Mullan Station sale, Schmidt says she’s been plotting its return, and the upcoming Western Montana Fair provided a perfect opportunity for a reboot. For one week only, the secret sauce will be available at the fair’s 4-H Cafe.
Some may scoff at making such a fuss over a silly sauce, but not Schmidt. She considers this comeback a coup for nostalgic locals, and she’s prepared to meet the expected demand. While the cafe cannot accommodate orders by the quart or the gallon, it will offer additional plastic dipping cups for an extra 50 cents. Which leaves us with just one question: How does Duper Sauce go with a Tater Pig?