Taking the Ted out of Montana 

As most Montanans already know, management of Montana’s wild bison has become not just a statewide issue, but a national one as well. But nationally, bison are more than just political flashpoints—they’re yummy treats.

Thanks to Ted Turner’s restaurant chain, Ted’s Montana Grill (the logo features a bison with “Ted’s” emblazoned across the abdomen), folks east of the Great Divide can enjoy what the restaurant’s website calls “an eco-friendly atmosphere that feels like Montana.”

That atmosphere features mahogany wood paneling, unpolished brass and cowboy quotes printed on the walls. Though it’s hardly a roadside diner in Ravalli, Ted’s Montana features 20 varieties of bison burger (the “Montana” version comes with cheddar cheese, grilled ham, onions and barbecue sauce) and blue-plate specials like bison meatloaf and bison tenderloin. A recent Chicago Tribune article reported that 70 to 80 percent of the restaurant’s bison comes from Turner’s own stock (Turner, who owns 15 ranches in seven states, including southwestern Montana’s 113,000-acre Flying D, supplies bison meat to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Meats, Inc., and Rocky Mountain, in turn, supplies Ted’s Montana Grill). All bison and beef dishes are served with little American-flag toothpicks stuck in the middle. “We think it goes with the arts-and-crafty-like atmosphere,” an employee explained over the phone from Atlanta headquarters.

In Naperville, Ill.—a Chicago suburb listed second on Money Magazine’s list of 100 best places to live—there was a 45-minute wait on a Friday evening at the recently opened Ted’s Montana Grill. Since flashing my Montana driver’s license failed to get me and my family a table any more quickly, we got to eavesdrop on other diners while we waited:

“They say the bison meat is really good for you.”

“I think it’s something the Indians used to eat?”

“Can you tell the difference between it and regular hamburger?”  

A cowboy quote, credited to John Wayne, was within my line of sight, and it seemed like fitting advice for a former Montanan at Ted’s Montana Grill in Naperville: “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.”
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