Sunday, 4 September 2011

Two Sisters Cafe

It’s strange what you can find in the middle of nowhere: an oasis, a ghost town, a gingerbread house occupied by a scary-ass cannibal witch. Or even the Two Sisters Cafe.

Just south of the Alberta/Montana border, there is a very small town called Babb. (Actually, it isn't big enough to qualify as a town. It is officially a CDP, a Census Designated Place. Really. Look it up.) And just south of that, literally surrounded by nothing, is the Two Sisters Cafe. In all the many years we’ve made the trip between Southern Alberta and Echo Lake, Montana, we spent most of them driving right past this garishly painted restaurant, never thinking to stop. If we got hungry, we’d grab a bite at the A&W in Columbia Falls. (By the way, this was one of the last A&Ws in America where you could still order your food from, and have it brought out to, your car. They had those trays that would hook onto your vehicle’s open window and everything. The only thing the waitresses were missing were roller skates. As a kid, I thought I had wandered into the 50’s and expected to see Fonzie pull up at any minute on his motorcycle. What? Who’s Fonzie, you ask? Sigh, I'm so old.)

Anyway, after our trip to New Orleans many years ago, I became a little obsessed with all things Cajun. I sought out the food, I read up on the history (Did you know that the Cajuns were exiled Acadians from Canada? How crazy is that?), and I even started listening to zydeco. If you don’t know what zydeco is, it’s just about the only music in the world that makes an accordion sound cool. I know, even with a talent like that, we still kick them out of Canada. And who did we get out of the Great Accordion Exchange? Bobby Vinton. Remember him? White guy with an afro who dressed like a 70’s porn star and played polka music on his own freaking TV show! Sometimes I despair of my fellow Canucks.

So, one day I stumbled across a review in Bon Appetit. (“Oooh, Darin reads Bon Appetit! Isn’t he hoity-toity!” Now, don’t start picking up your pints of lager with your pinkies sticking out on my account. I was waiting to get my haircut, and it was either Bon Appetit or Field & Stream. And I just wasn’t that interested in reading “Long Legs and a Big Rack: The Joys of Hunting Moose”.) This review just happened to be about an isolated Creole and Cajun restaurant opened by a pair of sisters in Montana. Well, that caught my eye. Even more so when I saw mention of a familiar place called Babb, a town (sorry, CDP) whose only claim to fame up to that point was giving itself a four-letter name using only the first two letters of the alphabet.

The next summer we passed through we made sure to time it so we would be good and ready to have lunch just before we entered Glacier Park and started up the mountain road to Logan Pass. (If you live within driving distance of Glacier Park and have never been there before, you have to make the trip at least once. We live near Banff National Park, and even it pales next to the experience of winding your way up and down the side of a mountain on a narrow road with sheer 1000-ft cliffs where the road's shoulders are supposed to be. Can I tell you a secret? You know that feeling you sometimes get when you stand on the edge of a precipice and have the urge to jump? Intellectually, you know it means certain death, and you – probably – wouldn’t ever do it, but the compulsion still makes itself felt. Well, if my family only knew how strong that feeling is for me frequently when I drive us over that mountain pass, they would be horrified. Huh, I probably shouldn’t let them read this.)

That first stop at Two Sisters was nearly fifteen years ago, and we’ve eaten there every summer since. The outside of the building was painted much like Keith Haring’s graffiti art, but in bright pastels. The restaurant has been repainted a few times over the years, and always in colors and designs that make it look like the Easter Bunny channeling Woodstock. The inside is equally an assault on tasteful interior design, and is best described as frat-house chic. Inflatable cows and aliens (co-existing surprisingly well considering what aliens usually do to cattle), strings of Christmas lights, and skull-headed marionettes hang from the ceiling; and the walls are covered with license plates and bumper stickers. There is even a yellow brick road painted on the floor which leads the patrons to the washrooms located outside. (I know there is a joke in there somewhere. Something about The Wiz? Hm, can’t quite find it. Sorry.) 

And yet, somehow it all works. 

Besides, we saw stranger things on our first visit: particularly an animal that would go from table to table begging for food. I know, not the most sanitary arrangement. But if you try to imagine a traditional New Orleans eatery, I bet somewhere in that dreamt-up scene you picture a hound-dog cleaning up scraps dropped from the patrons’ tables. Kinda works, don’t it?

Except this wasn’t a hound-dog. Or any other kind of dog for that matter.

It was a bird.

The Two Sisters Cafe has no A/C, so they have to keep their windows open on hot days. Occasionally, a bird will fly in, cause a big fuss with owners and customers alike, and then fly right back out. Well, this one bird (a robin, I think) decided to stay. It had resolutely retired from flying and would simply hop away anytime someone tried to shoo it away. Since it stayed earthbound, people eventually stopped worrying about the bird, and it spent the rest of the day feasting on the crumbs of hand-made potato chips that fell to the floor. Now, knowing what high cholesterol can do to a human (e.g. give a guy a fatty liver), I could only imagine what was happening to that little bird. I’m sure if we had stayed a few more hours, we would have seen its cholesterol level reach critical mass and witnessed the robin exploding like a piñata right after the fat kid was given the stick.

So, Darin, you’ve painted such a lovely picture of this place. What keeps you going back?

The food. Hell yes, the food.

They specialize in two things: diner fare with a Cajun twist and pie. 

My perennial favourite (does that mean I order it every year? Yep!) is the Red Burger, a 1/3 pound of beef - or bison, if you prefer - with pepper jack cheese, all of the fixin’s (it’s Montana; the “g” is optional) and drippin’ in the sisters’ secret Creole red sauce. The side is now a plate of home-cut fries instead of the chips they used to serve. (Probably because of what happened to the bird.) Alison usually gets something that involves their chili, such as the chili cheeseburger, a bowl of chili, or her personal favourite: chili with a side of chili. The boys like the quesadillas and the pulled pork sandwich.

I rarely have room for dessert, so I haven’t ordered any in a few years. But even when I did, it was usually their lemon-huckleberry bread pudding or their hand-made ice cream sandwich. The ice cream sandwich was nearly as big as the Red Burger and was made from huckleberry ice cream pressed between two expansive chocolate chip cookoeojerhhf…..oops, got some drool on the keyboard there. Sadly, their ice cream sandwich is now just a memory; and they just don’t make it anymoreroeef…..sorry, those were tears this time.

As for the pie, what can I say? It’s happiness on a plate.

Oh, there has also been another change to the place in the past decade: they installed these magical devices on their windows called “screens”, greatly cutting down on incidents of “poppin’ jays”. (Heh.)


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