I’m 74. It’s been an interesting life so far, and that seems to be continuing. In the course of many decades on this weird planet, I’ve seen interesting sights, and learned more than I want to about some things.
As a confirmed foodie, I’ve eating many delicious things. Up until right now, my favorite, personally baked item was French Silk Pie. Me oh my, that texture! I will also modestly state that my chocolate chip cookies achieved a certain fame in a certain region of the National Park Service, where I served many such goodies to visiting rangers and upper-echelon folks.
But as of this morning, thanks to a gift from Dennis and Sharon Reilly, I finally ate the single best dessert I have ever eaten In. My. Life. The Blarney Stone. Pause here. Sniff. Exhale.
It’s a round hunk of tender cake, buttercream, crushed peanut-coated ecstasy made at Uptown Café in Butte, Montana. The Reillys were passing through Butte yesterday and brought some back for friends. (Note to self: you will owe the Reillys for as long as you live.)
The Blarney Stone has achieved YouTube fame. Look up Blarney Stones Butte Montana and you’ll see last year’s story, courtesy of a local TV station. From March 1 until probably not long enough to satisfy everyone, Uptown Café bakers make 500 of these moist delectables every morning. Call ahead if you want to special-order a batch. If you ate an entire batch you would probably die as every artery in your body snapped shut, but you’d go with a smile on your face.
In fairness to Butte’s cuisine, I have another favorite that’s made all year: The Cornish or Welsh pasty. Best way describe this would be to call it a Celt empanada, a meat and potatoes concoction piled into a fold-over piece of pastry and baked. These were put in the lunchboxes of miners and eaten underground, a hearty handful of portable goodness that remains popular in former and current mining locales.
Both the Blarney Stone and the Pasty are symbolic of Butte, Montana’s wild and wooly past. Butte came red-faced and screaming into the world as a mining town, established in 1864 in the Rocky Mountains. Copper was king. The Anaconda Mining Company was run by hard-eyed businessmen who knew how to wring every last bit of money out of mines. Their control of miners, mines, and legislators was unrivaled, I suspect. Were they honest? Oh, hardly.
Through the years, the town and its environs in Silver Bow County have produced copper, zinc, manganese, lead, molybdenum, silver and gold. Butte itself is honey-combed by abandoned tunnels. And how, you ask, does Butte not sink? Those tunnels are now filled with water – no ordinary water, but the polluted kind. No fears. All of that noisome stuff under and around the city is constantly tested by well-trained scientists. I know one: Hi, Connie Thomson!
During those early days, immigrants poured in to work those mines and later open pits, predominant among them Irish, Chinese, Cornish and Welsh miners. Many nationalities came to Butte, which quickly earned a reputation as a wide-open, evil-infested sewer boasting all kinds of skullduggery and unlimited malfeasance. In other words, a most interesting place. You want a vice, any vice? Go to Butte.
For those of us who love factoids, even in 2022, Butte remains the place in the U.S. with more Irish DNA than any other. Sorry, Boston, but you lose. Here’s another factoid: Ahem, Butte’s last brothel closed in 1984. Yes, you read that right.
And there’s this: Butte itself is the largest National Historic District in the United States, with 5,991 contributing buildings.
It was only fitting that what is now the noted Montana Technological University was plunked down in Butte in 1900 as Montana State School of Mines. Today it specializes in engineering, applied and health sciences and all things STEM, with grad and undergrad degrees.
I suppose it’s easy enough to skip Butte entirely, as you either continue north on I-15, or go east there on I-90 toward Billings. Do this: Take an off-ramp in Butte and drive around. It’s a typical, hilly mining city. Drive up those steep streets and around a bit. You’ll pass Butte’s historic mansions belonging to copper kings, and the Dumas Bordello, and quirky houses. Stop for lunch at the Uptown Café on Broadway Street, home of great food and those amazing Blarney Stones (in March). I like the more modest Town Talk Bakery for its pasties. Check Trip Advisor or Yelp and you’ll find pasties.
If Butte is too far away for you, let me recommend author Ivan Doig’s books, Sweet Thunder and Work Song, written about wild times in Butte. Anything by Doig is a great read, but those two showcase a scrappy, irreverent, pugnacious little city.
And go there in March to eat a Blarney Stone or five or six, depending on your arteries and overall concern about life expectancy. You’ll never regret it.