Dining Out: Barn Dance

Entertaining at the Double T River Ranch does not include a cattle drive or rodeo. It’s not about the cowboy way or roughing it. It’s about being a good neighbor and relaxing in the quiet country along the banks of the Shields River.

For owner Addie Foster that means casual comfort.

“This is the kind of place that you have to take time to experience,” muses Foster. “Sit in the hammock, bring the kids, bring the dogs, walk by the river.”

When Foster hosts a get-together, it centers around good food, good company and the “party barn.”

This is a New West ranch party. The 1880s barn no longer houses dairy cows and hay, but a respectfully renovated modern rendition of a clubhouse with a sizable dining room, commercial kitchen where the stalls once were and a gathering place for games and movies in the old loft. The music isn’t a group of old time fiddlers, but a rockin’ trio that rolls out folksy tunes alternated with throaty blues songs. The guests don’t play horseshoes, but Bacci ball and the only mule on this homestead is the Montana Mule cocktail served on the rocks in Optical crystalware with ginger beer, whiskey, lime and crushed mint.

What is the same, however, is the simplicity of gathering with friends on a fine summer’s evening when the sun hovers high, the grass is long and green, the drinks are cold and dinner is hot.

To pull it off, Addie, husband Mitch Miller and their business partner Deborah Neuman, call on professional chef Sarah Knecht to whip up the grub. Yet the barn dance menu doesn’t include the usual BBQ ribs or burgers and corn of the cob, but adventuresome gourmet fare instead. Themes of ranch, barn and outdoors didn’t hinder the sophistication of Knecht’s food. Reinventing hearty classics, she served a wonderfully varied assortment that ranged from lamb chops to shrimp shooters, handmade ravioli to crab “cigars.”

Although Knecht is a private chef in Montana, her food is influenced by worldly flavors and her grandma’s good old fashioned cooking. That sounds contradictory, but what it translates to is a fearless approach to anything from Asian to Tuscan recipes prepared with heightened attention to quality ingredients and a lot of love.

“I love elaborate cuisine,” says Knecht, who works with small to medium-sized groups for single-day events or weeklong gigs from her home base in Livingston. “Every menu is customized to the tastes of the individual client.”

Knecht’s eclectic style works well in the easy-going setting at the Double T, where guests flow from the barn dining room to the patio overlooking the river to the west.

When Foster and her partners found this 115-acre farmstead on the edge of Clyde Park, they saw an opportunity to restore the barn and salvage the nostalgic mood of this property’s bucolic charm. The idea was to create a getaway that was family friendly, unusually private, yet accessible for fishing, skiing, hiking, hunting and adventuring into Yellowstone.

Building on their investment, Mitch worked as the general contractor to convert the traditional barn into a gathering place for guests who now rent the small farmhouse, studio and cabins for an uncommon experience in Montana. The end result is a unique property that seems like your place. The partners have worked to anticipate every guest’s needs, from concierge service to plush towels to canoes for the pond. When guests come to stay at the Double T River Ranch, they recommend Knecht and other local chefs to help with food preparation and events in this venue.

When the property isn’t rented, however, Foster, Mitchell and Neuman seize the opportunity to share it with friends. Come on over, they say. Drive down the old country lane, across the railroad tracks, past the towering grain elevators until you see the picket fence next to the house. Look for the barn; that’s where the party is happening.

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