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Size Matters

All hail the tradition of monstrous helpings

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There are some people who haven’t yet bought into the idea of small-plate dining. For those eaters, the notion—however irrational—of ordering tapas sometimes leads to mild panic: What if it’s not enough food?

We’re Americans, after all, where bigger often means better. The land of buffets and lavish Thanksgivings and bottomless movie popcorn. As wonderful as the small-plate trend is, there’s something about big plates brimming with sauces and meats and cheeses that gives us comfort—until we eat too much, of course. In the spirit of gluttonous pursuits, here are a few big Missoula meals that offer tasty flavors on a grand scale.


Paul’s Pancake Parlor:

Breakfast combo with sourdough pancakes

Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Breakfast Combo, Paul’s Pancake Parlor

The sourdough pancakes at Paul’s Pancake Parlor make your lips pucker, they’re so powerfully sweet and sour. They are also approximately 110 years old. The sourdough starter was cultivated by restaurant founder Paul Gjording’s grandmother, and he kept it alive and passed it on to current owner Mike Ramos’ mother, Elly, who passed it on to him. During a stretch when the restaurant was closed for eight weeks of renovations, Ramos says they had to remember to constantly feed the starter to keep it from ever perishing. “It was scary,” he says of the responsibility. “But it all worked out.”

Paul’s has been around since the early 1950s, originally located in the old Fox Theatre and since 1963 in Tremper’s Shopping Center. It’s one of the few true-blue diners left in Missoula, and the breakfast combo is a quintessential greasy spoon big-plate. You get two eggs (any style), side of bacon, ham or sausage and a heaping pile of homemade hashbrowns that are crisped on the top and soft in the middle. Plus, a choice of toast or biscuits and gravy or pancakes. The lingonberry Swedish pancakes are delicious, but the sourdough are a time-tested treat.

Find it at Paul’s Pancake Parlor, 2305 Brooks Street.


James Bar:

The Aidenator Burger

Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • The Aidenator Burger, James Bar

The only easy way to make a burger bigger is to build upward. That produces a logistical problem for taking bites—but if you love burgers, you find a way. The Aidenator is an example of that kind of a tasty problem. The burger is the brainchild of James Bar Chef Noel Mills, who named it after his son, Aiden. It’s grilled local beef topped with pancetta, bacon, aged white cheddar, onion rings, roasted tomatoes, worcestershire-black-pepper mayo and, finally, a fried chicken egg. Even if you’re just getting a double—two patties pressed into one—it’s a mouthful. But if you’re in the ravenous category you can get a double-double Aidenator—two patties and double the other ingredients. Oh, you want more? It also comes as a triple and—hold onto your hat—a triple-triple. How do you get your mouth around that? In any case, this burger should do you. Now go hibernate for the winter. Double Aidenator, $14. Double-double, $16. Triple-triple, $21.

Find it at James Bar, 127 W. Alder.


Tamarack Brewing Company:

Keg Nachos

Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Keg Nachos, Tamarack

Nacho plates are notorious for dominating a table—you don’t usually order them as a light snack for one person. The Keg Nachos at Tamarack, however, are of a whole other league. Call them the pro athlete of nachos. Or the monster truck of nachos. Or just call them what they are: a ridiculous, almost obscene amount of deliciousness served in a beer keg top. The mountain of ingredients is made up of tri-colored chips and layers of melted cheese, Baja black beans, jalapeños, black olives and green onion topped with several dollops of sour cream and served with housemade salsa. You can also add shredded pork and/or guacamole. And you probably should because, at that point, why wouldn’t you just go the distance? $16.95. Pork or guacamole, add $3.

Find them at Tamarack Brewing Company, 231 W. Front Street.


Famous Dave’s:

All-American BBQ Feast

Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Dave’s All-American BBQ Feast, Famous Daves

Life was brutish in medieval times, according to scholars as well as films such as Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and Willow. But what about those big castle feasts where everyone eats large chunks of glistening meat with their hands and guzzles beer? That seems like a pretty good time. At Famous Dave’s you can get similar satisfaction with the barbecue joint’s All-American BBQ Feast, which goes well with a cold beer. There are feasts for one and feasts for two (both still relatively gigantic) but the largest feast—which serves four to six—offers a slab of St. Louis spareribs, a roasted chicken and a half pound of brisket or Georgia-chopped pork. On top of that, you can pick from a lineup of sides. The original meal comes with creamy coleslaw, fries, baked beans, several pieces of sweet corn and cornbread muffins, but the spicy macaroni and cheese is worth swapping in. And it’s all served on a standard-size garbage lid. That aspect, and the roll of paper towels on the table, serve as a reminder that it’s okay to pig out—though, since we’re long past the dark ages, you might consider a fork. Full feast, $64.99. Feast for two, $36.99, and feast for one, $18.49.

Find it at Famous Dave’s, 2915 N. Reserve Street.


Cafe Zydeco:

Crawfish and shrimp etouffee

Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Crawfish and shrimp etouffee, Cafe Zydeco

Cafe Zydeco offers the motto “small place, Big Easy” to describe the cozy restaurant that serves New Orleans fare. The dishes are decidedly big, though, especially the etouffee: rice covered in a sauce made from the “holy trinity” of peppers, celery and onions and a light butter-and-garlic roux all mixed with hardy helpings of crawfish and/or shrimp. The current owners of Missoula’s franchise, longtime chef Ray Pelletier and his wife, Lou, have nurtured the authentic Cajun recipe from the cafe’s Louisiana founder, Kevin Carloss. It’s served on a large saucer and bursts with a just-spicy-enough full flavor.

Find it at Cafe Zydeco, 2101 Brooks Street.

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