I’m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Billings, Montana
Greetings from Billings, Montana
N 45° 44.863’ W 108° 34.220’ Elev. 3,208 ft.
I passed Torres Cafe while on the freeway. I thought it looked like an interesting place: odd location, funky building, lots of cars in the parking lot, tortillas advertised on the readerboard beneath their sign. I thought it would probably be an interesting place — it had all the requisite earmarks that I look for — but I’d never be able to park there.
I fueled about 10 miles up the road at one of the Hell Stops (Flying J) and was all set to continue on across Montana when the reefer (this alternately refers to the refrigeration unit on the trailer or the trailer as a whole) puked. I really hate freakin’ reefers! So off I went in search of the fix-it guys.
As luck would have it the local ThermoKing/Carrier shop was just a stone’s throw from Torres Cafe, which meant I was able to drop the box and go eat there. It’s weird how things work out sometimes.
As I was parking the tractor I noticed an odd thing: Torres Cafe has no casino. Everywhere with a door in Montana has a casino, or, more accurately, a few slot machines parked in front of some stools, often located in a foyer or glorified closet.
The reason for this is quite simple, I think. To qualify for a gaming license in Montana you need only fulfill one requirement: Own a dog. That’s why everyone and their dog has a “casino” in Montana.
In Nevada, where there is actual gaming with cards and spinning wheels and bad food, you have to have a lot of money and halfway-believable appearance of not being connected to the mob. It also helps if you have no connections to Donald Trump, who, in addition to his breathtakingly bad hair and blustery, self-obsessed comport, has the rare distinction of being the only man on the planet capable of bankrupting numerous casinos — while owning them!
In every other state but New Jersey you have to be a Bureau of Indian Affairs-recognized Indian tribe to shuffle cards and stack chips and serve bad food (but no liquor). In Montana, however, you only need to own a dog. Go figure.
By the time I got to Torres Cafe the lunch crowd had mostly dissipated. Still, the place was about half full. I went in and found “my table” where there was enough light that I could read (currently Gulp by Mary Roach) while I ate.
As I looked around I couldn’t help but notice a little room off the dining room with a crucifix above the doorway, a little chapel. It had all the earmarks of a Catholic mini-church, right down to the requisite mood lighting bathing the statue of an Anglo Jesus and “kneelers” in front of the alter. Why they call them kneelers is beyond me. Wouldn’t they have more gravitas, be a bit more hallowed if they were called “genuflection rests” or something instead of kneelers? Lord only knows.
I couldn’t help but wonder: Do the cooks go in there before every shift, perhaps say a little prayer? (in Spanish, of course.)
Our father, who art in kitchen
Salmonella be our bane
Thy will be done, e-Coli hath none
From my hearth, lest they be’th in heaven.
Suspicious, I looked over the menu and thought it all seemed grossly overpriced. I thought this in part by looking at what other people had on their plates. But suddenly it just didn’t matter. For there on the menu I saw Posole (Cup $5.95/ Bowl $6.99).
Nobody ever has Posole (alternately spelled “Pozole”). Posole is a pork stew made with hominy in a mild chile broth. It’s very similar to menudo, except menudo is made with tripe. I don’t like menudo because I don’t like the texture of tripe. It’s too spongy. It’s like eating the lining of a cow’s stomach or something. I’m wild about posole though.
The first time I had posole it was made with a whole hog’s head by some relatives of the salsa band I was playing with. They made it with a clear, chicken stock-based broth. It was incredible, even with the gray strands of hog brain floating about and all.
More often than not posole — if you can find it — is made with pork butt, mostly because it’s cheaper and more readily available.
Posole is usually served with chopped cabbage, onion and cilantro, and lime wedges, often complimented with steamed tortillas. Torres Cafe served it with chopped cabbage, sliced radish, and lime. This was kind of disappointing as the cilantro and onion really finish the dish, in my opinion. It was also disappointing that they served it with crispy corn tortillas. I mean, geez, they’ve got a tortilleria on the premises ($1.95/dozen).
I would’ve asked about getting fresh tortillas instead of the fried jobs but I was already kind of put off by the fact that they charge for chips and salsa (full order $3.85 with salsa/$4.25 with salsa fresca). I always think those should be a “gimme” in any Mexican restaurant. Plus I really didn’t want a dozen tortillas.
Nevertheless, the posole was delicious. Lots of nice chunks of pork and … is it possible to go wrong with hominy in anything? No!! And while the broth was indeed mild, it did make my nose run. That’s always a good sign.
As I was leaving I noticed something I’d never seen before: Microwave Pork Rinds. I went to a place that made them once. Before they were deep-fried they were odd-looking, half-inch long tubular pellets. The guy said they explode violently when they hit the oil, implying that they’re quite dangerous to make.
When I commented on them the waitress said, “Don’t knock ‘em ’til you try them. They’re really good.” Uh-huh.
And so we roll.
Torres Cafe, 6200 S. Frontage Rd., Billings, Montana
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.