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A wild reason to visit Bonner

Being that I am an American who has lived a life of material privilege, I will always have a preposterously screwed-up relationship with eating. To me, food is not sustenance, it's a drug, and I use it when I'm sad, when I'm bored, when I celebrate or just because I walked through the kitchen on my way to the bathroom. I offer this disclaimer because we live in a world where people walk into theaters and spray bullets into the crowd and where bombs are detonated at funerals, but last night I listened to a food podcast while I made three cheeseburgers for me and my wife (do the math). If you'd like to use your brainpower reading something meaningful, you should leave now. Because I'm about to exercise my constitutional right to make a big deal about something that doesn't matter: breakfast.

The root of my problem with breakfast is that popular wisdom suggests it does matter. It's when we replenish our bodies after a night of fasting (read: sleeping), and science and moms claim it's the most important meal of the day. And yet it's the only meal I don't get excited about. When I was a kid, I approached eating breakfast with the same enthusiasm with which I took out the trash. Scrambled eggs, a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, the breakfast staples never appealed to me. As a grownup, my feelings have softened, but mostly because I like spending time with my wife in the morning. For some reason, she loves breakfast.

Breakfast, more so than lunch or dinner, dictates that we eat certain types of food and not others. Peruse any breakfast menu in Missoula and you will see French toast, pancakes, veggie browns and meat-and-egg options. Many restaurants even advertise that they serve breakfast all day. I've never seen a place advertise "dinner all day" (you can get a burger at the Oxford anytime, but that's another story).

click to enlarge PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • photo by Amy Donovan

Recently, though, I happened across a menu item that eased my purgatorial breakfast pain. Last week, my wife and I decided to go out to breakfast, but we wanted to try something new. We drove to Bonner and sat in a booth at the River City Grill. The restaurant is located in a 101-year-old building that once housed a lumber company, but since the late '90s has been home to a restaurant serving roadside food to travelers on I-90. In 2006, Guy Trenary—who previously owned Trenary's—bought River City Grill and tweaked the menu. One of the few dishes he added was an omelet that sounds a little weird but recently became the only thing I want to eat in the morning.

When it comes to the first meal of the day, an omelet is as prototypical as it gets, and while most of the ingredients in Trenary's omelet are not surprising, one puts it in another class: wild rice. It might seem like whatever modicum of flavor rice could add to an omelet would be mitigated by an unappealing mushy texture, but wild rice is satisfyingly chewy and has a rich flavor that is hard to describe. In Trenary's omelet, the rice mixes with bacon, Swiss cheese and a topping of hollandaise sauce in a way that might make you rethink what to eat for breakfast.

I recently asked Trenary, who started serving wild rice omelets at his previous restaurant more than 25 years ago, how he came up with the recipe. "I was in Minnesota, and my cousin said we had to try this omelet they served in a supermarket," he said. "It had wild rice and we thought it was good, so we just took the idea." I followed by asking why he thinks the rice works, and he laughed. "I'm not a chef," he said. "I'm a [line] cook. We just want to serve good food and give people what they pay for."

I appreciated Trenary's responses because he was clearly surprised I had not only considered his omelet so deeply, but that I wanted to write about it. Which is a reasonable reaction; there are definitely more important things happening in the world than my feeling limited by the standard American breakfast. But you'll think about that stuff whether you want to or not. It doesn't change the fact that the wild rice and cheese omelet at River City Grill is worth an adventure to Bonner. It might even take your mind off of things.

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