On this Friday morning when Mother Nature was unwilling to let go of winter, my friend Susan Carlson and I headed out in search of a hearty breakfast. We wanted comfort food, and for me, breakfast represents the most swaddling meal of the day.
Right across the railroad tracks on the stretch of Montana Avenue heading toward Laurel, we stepped into The High Horse Saloon and Eatery, a place where time stopped. The cavernous space anchored by a long bar, booth seating along the back corner, a small stage, and a wood floor area that is transformed into a dance space in the evenings deceived the senses. Coors and Budweiser neon signs along with flat screen televisions flashed light into the room. A glance toward the back and front glassed entrances provided clues to the time of the day.
The restaurant advertised: “Billings Best Prime Rib Served All Day, Everyday.” This meant there was prime rib breakfast with a choice of an 8-ounce, 14-ounce or 20-ounce slice of “House Seasoned & Slow Roasted Daily.”
As we moved toward a high top in the back, we passed owner Reid Pyburn carrying two plates brimming with eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes. With tables socially distanced, about two dozen people in the restaurant sat comfortably apart from each other.
Pyburn stopped by our table after delivering his food. As of April 19, he gained 100% ownership of the restaurant after being in partnership for five years. “Be careful of what you asked for,” he confessed after dreams of once having his own business are now true. He celebrated the accomplishment at Buffalo Block, his old stomping grounds at the restaurant when it was The Rex, when it was owned by Gene Burgad. “I started there as a dishwasher,” he shared, and 21 years later gained the knowledge to start his own business.
From the "Bourbon Apple Jack Pancake," to "Granola French Toast,” to the “Sunshine Tacos” and “Cowboy Steak and Eggs,” the menu was robust and varied. I ordered the chicken fried steak made with an 8-ounce tender beef fritter with choice of house-made beef or sausage gravy. To accompany the sausage gravy, I opted for a biscuit and the “Hot Crush Potato” — a parboiled potato, smashed and grilled with fresh rosemary, salt and ground black pepper. Susan decided on “The Keto Kid” with three eggs scrambled with sauteed peppers and onions.
The clear coffee mugs assured a constant infusion of caffeine as waitresses Tina Raffaell and Karla Ferguson kept watch for any decrease in our level of Joe. To fulfill their offer of a bottomless cup, the carafe of coffee they carried seemed to balance them as they danced amongst the diners.
“I love working here,” Raffaell said, appreciating the customers and her co-workers as well as being able to work days.
Ferguson worked with Pyburn at The Rex and has employee seniority at High Horse. As she refilled my cup of coffee, she noticed the table adjacent leaving, and said, “Enjoy your weekend. Thanks for coming in,” before quickly turning her attention back to our table and whisking away our plates.
Pyburn delivered “The Keto Kid” served in a brilliant blue bowl to Susan with an avocado sliced on top, chunks of carne asada inside and fresh salsa. “The eggs are fluffy and amazing,” she said. My chicken fried steak came with a whole potato smashed and grilled, and a breaded pounded steak smothered with glistening gravy.
“The gravy is made with bacon fat, butter and an olive oil blend,” Pyburn told us.
The scratch-made cuisine is created by Chef Andy Glynn. “I am self-taught,” Glynn confessed, attributing most of his skills learned while cooking for the crew when he was a firefighter.
Pyburn’s juggling of a bar, casino, liquor store and restaurant proved successful during the COVID pandemic. Now, with restrictions loosening, he looks forward to reopening the popular line and Cowboy Cha Cha dance classes, and entertainment such as the Dueling Pianos Rock and Roll Comedy Show, and music by Bucky Beaver.
Though even during these times, comfort continued at The High Horse Saloon and Eatery.
Stella Fong, author of 'Historic Restaurants of Billings and Billings Food' hosts 'Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region' for Yellowstone Public Radio.
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