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HOT SPRINGS — It’s Saturday, and David Jamison — known locally as “Cotton” — has stopped in for lunch at the Camas Organic Market and Bakery. He’s a regular.

“What kind of pie is that today?” he asks, eying the tempting masterpiece sitting under a glass dome nearby.

The answer: peach-apple.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to have some pie,” says Cotton. “I’m in a weakened state and I just can’t fight it.”

Welcome to the heart of hearty vegetarian, organic eating in the small town of Hot Springs, population about 560.

On this day, as on others, there is a steady stream of regulars who come to eat at the Camas, many sitting at the café’s counter at spots they seek daily or weekly. But there are many out-of-towners too, usually visiting Hot Springs for a restorative soak in one of the local geothermal pools but taking a break for the filling, fresh, mostly organic, mostly vegetarian fare at this unique and welcoming spot.

David Ronniger and Linny Gibson opened the Camas Organic Market and Bakery in 2011. Ronniger had the first organic store in Salt Lake City, and in the 1970s started an organic farm in northern Idaho that became one of the best-known seed-potato sources in the country, offering more than 200 varieties.

Ronniger eventually turned the farm over to his son and moved to Montana. “His vision was that every town needed a place to buy fresh food, the more organic the better,” says Gibson. “David thought Hot Springs needed such a store. I agreed, and there you go.”

The Camas Organic Market and Bakery has been serving locals and visitors ever since.

Ronniger passed away in 2017 and now Gibson, an artist and sculptor, is at the helm of the market/bakery/café. On Saturday, she was bustling about, making sure all was going well.

At its location on Main Street, the Camas’ grocery is up front, small but well-stocked with teas, bulk items, herbs and herbal remedies, cleaning and household products, canned goods, colorful and fresh organic produce, local meats and much more — including an entire collection of local honeys whose labels list the beekeeper’s name and town.

The café and bakery — greatly expanded in 2016 — are at the back of the market. On Saturday the daily lunch special was a veggie burger with choice of toppings — caramelized onion, red peppers and balsamic glaze, or house-made kimchi and cheddar. On other days you might find a veggie curry for the special, or order the bean and rice bowl, a large salad, grilled cheese, burrito or quesadillas off the regular menu.

Soups ($4.50 for a large bowl) are a daily and very popular choice, and no wonder. They can be paired with a thick slice of homemade bread and are made from scratch, sometimes as you watch. When the pea-and-carrot soup ran out on Saturday, kitchen manager Amanda Wood and bakery manager Danielle Kocielko quickly double-teamed to make the “Bright and Creamy Potato” soup listed on their chalkboard of specials for the day. It was done in a half-hour.

What makes the soup “bright?” Wood laughs. Citrus, she reveals. Specifically, oranges.

Oranges and potatoes? It’s an example of the out-of-the-ordinary flavors, ingredients and combinations you might find at the café. Dishes might be inspired by India, Morocco, Mexico or beyond.

“Veggies flow in from the store, or our produce guy might bring a box of veggies. Sometimes I put all the veggies in a pile and they speak to me: 'This looks like a Thai curry,'” says Wood, who learned to cook as the oldest of five kids and as a fishing-camp chef in Alaska. “I make up the menu as I go.”

Breakfast is an all-day offering at the cafe. How about a thick slice of the house-made breads smeared with avocado and hummus ($4)? Or sourdough pancakes ($5.50)? Or the Camas Breakfast Special of two eggs, any style, beans, salsa, sour cream and a homemade corn muffin ($7.50)?

Also on the breakfast menu is David’s Omelette ($8.50), a tribute to the late David Ronniger. It’s a three-veggie omelet, served with a salad on the side.

“David used to eat his omelets topped with salad greens and tahini sauce in a wooden bowl, using chop sticks,” Wood said. “He always thought people didn’t eat enough salad.”

Of course, the bakery offers a selection of remarkable bakery goods. too. Staple breads and rolls include:

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• Sourdough

• 12-grain sourdough

• Rustic sourdough

• Sourdough rye

• Gluten-free multi-grain

• Gluten-free sourdough

• Sprouted kamut

The loaves go fast, and the selection is always changing. Same holds true for the other baked goodies: On Saturday, bakery manager Kocielko was not only waiting on tables and taking orders, she was making three-layer mini cakes with crème patisserie — pastry cream — and a cherry reduction sauce that would be ready in the afternoon. Other selections included gluten-free carrot cupcakes, berry muffins, pumpkin and cream-cheese cupcakes, French yogurt cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting, maple-pecan and lemon-ginger scones, and chocolate cupcakes.

And of course, that peach-apple pie, which didn’t look like it would last long.

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Mea Andrews was a Missoulian reporter and editor for 27 years, covering food, art and Missoula County growth and development before leaving the paper. Now retired, she likes occasional road trips to Montana getaways.

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