10 Dec Dining Out: Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort
There is an ongoing debate at Quinn’s Hot Springs. The question is whether to soak in the natural geothermal pool before or after dinner at the resort’s restaurant, the Harwood House.
Such was the line of conversation amongst guests as I sat (post-meal) upon the steamy bench by the hottest pool. It was idle small talk between strangers as we relaxed under the night sky, sharing the minerally benefits of the water in pools that have been open to guests since 1885. “The answer is that you gotta do both,” announces one man. “I soak before dinner and again afterward.” He said this last part while moving from the 105-degree pool into the 60-degree cold plunge, definitively ending that line of conversation.What’s not up for debate is the fact that both the pools and the cuisine are worth the journey to this remote resort in Paradise, Montana, along the Clark Fork River. Before the swim, I’d shared a sumptuous meal with my daughter and Quinn’s general manager, Denise Moreth. “So many of our guests come to Quinn’s to enjoy the hot springs,” Moreth says, “but it’s the food and wine that keeps them coming back.”
Executive chef Micheal Garrison makes sure Quinn’s Harwood House menu is stacked with comfort food favorites, such as the signature wild game meatloaf or the Montana ribeye. He knows that guests often come just for the Harwood House prime rib, yet he also offers fresh, seasonal fare edged with a touch of culinary complexity, such as the sous vide pork belly with tempura-curried cauliflower and an orange-chile-soy reduction sauce, or the fresh king salmon with lemongrass beurre blanc, whipped celeriac and horseradish mash, and braised endive, topped with a chorizo-Peppadew jam and gruyère tuile.
At only 26, Garrison is a self-trained dynamo who grew up cooking and spends most of his free time obsessing about how to better his craft. “Over the four years that I’ve been at Quinn’s, I’ve refined the menu without changing the staples,” Garrison notes. “I like to play with flavors that may not seem to be a likely match, but on the plate can taste well balanced.”
Garrison carefully selects seasonal ingredients to change the menu at least four times during the year, adding twists that enliven some of the favorites. Each night, he plays with special offerings that showcase his passion for contrast in both flavor and presentation.
Along the cozy log walls of the Harwood House dining room, framed black and white photos mark the history of Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort’s milestones. Named for Martin Quinn, an Irish miner who staked his claim and homesteaded on the site in the 1880s, after he’d observed groups of local Native Americans soaking in the steamy pools that flowed from the mountains above the Clark Fork River, the resort originated when he built a home, bathhouses, rooms to rent, and offered meals to guests. Quinn and his wife Fannie advertised the resort as a “safari-style luxury” destination with the curative elements of the natural hot springs serving as the prominent attraction. Guests used the springs to treat rheumatism, intestinal ailments, and to cleanse their bodies of alcohol, tobacco, and mining poisons. Fannie was a gracious hostess who set the tables in the restaurant with fine linens, china, and crystal. Her efforts established the tradition that still exists at today’s resort.
When Fannie died in 1919, a disheartened Quinn left for work in the Texas oil fields. He returned to the area in 1923, but the inn was never quite the same without Fannie, and after Quinn’s death in 1932, it fell into disrepair. The Quinns’ daughter Minnie eventually revived it with her husband Fred Harwood, and with the help of their two eldest sons, Jack and Dick. In 1948, the two sons built the log lodge that houses the current dining room. For more than 30 years, the Harwood family cultivated an era of quality food and fun at the hot springs destination, but after they sold the property in the late 1970s, the resort gradually declined once again. “Quinn’s had a rollercoaster history and a lot of different owners,” says Moreth.
By 1997, Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort was little more than a roadhouse with a bar and a funky pool. Yet when a man named Andre Melief stumbled upon the property, he was intrigued by the out-of-the-way diamond in the rough. He and his wife, Jessica, bought the property and painstakingly gathered a team to reclaim the hospitality and charm that the original Quinn family offered 100 years before him. “We really had to rebuild the reputation of the resort with Montana residents,” says Moreth, who was one of the earliest employees recruited by Melief.
With a vision to reclaim and restore the lodge, rebuild and add new cabins, expand the restaurant, and create a one-of-a-kind destination, Melief, his family, and his dedicated employees transformed Quinn’s over the course of the past 20 years. Sadly, Melief died in 2017. He left a joyful legacy, Moreth says, bequeathing the Harwood House with his extensive wine collection. The effort garnered Quinn’s recognition from Wine Spectator magazine with an Award of Excellence for the last two years.
Today, Quinn’s is once again a special destination that offers respite from daily life. As the menu states: “We know that soaking, socializing, telling stories, and sitting in silence, attract you to our deep canyon resort. What keeps you returning will be the ‘wow’ factor that defines Quinn’s-style hospitality.”
But it’s still up to you to decide whether to soak before or after dinner.
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
20 small or medium
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 ounces chorizo, diced
4 ounces sherry
¼ cup scallions, diced
½ cup gruyère cheese, shredded 1 cup croutons
4 tablespoons salted butter
In a 10-inch frying pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and allow them to hard sear, stirring every couple of minutes. Once mushrooms are browned, add garlic, shallots, kosher salt, black pepper, and chorizo to the pan and cook for roughly 45 seconds, or until aromatic. Deglaze the pan with sherry and allow it to reduce until wine is barely coating the bottom.
Next, add gruyère, half of the scallions, and half of the croutons to the mushroom mixture and toss to combine. Add butter and continue to toss until cheese and butter are completely incorporated. To serve, place mushroom mixture into a bowl and top with remaining croutons and scallions.
Seabring Davis writes about what she loves: food, art, travel, and interesting people. The former editor in chief of Big Sky Journal and Western Art & Architecture, she has written several cookbooks, including The Western Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Montana’s Chico Hot Springs Resort.
Lynn Donaldson shoots regularly for National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset, and The New York Times. She is founder and editor of the Montana food and travel blog The Last Best Plates. Donaldson lives outside of Livingston, Montana, with her husband and three children.