Saturday, October 1, 2011

my favorite restaurant in the flathead valley: When in Rome

I've mentioned Bigfork's When in Rome (which used to be called Sun Mountain) before but have not yet devoted a full post to my favorite restaurant in the Flathead.  As the restaurant gets more and more popular, perhaps a post becomes less and less relevant because so many people are writing about When in Rome.  Even the Food Network declared their pizza to be the best in Montana.  They are written up in the newspaper all the time.  And their "Best Pizza Ever" pie won second place in the nontraditional western division of the International Pizza Expo competition and fourth place for the traditional western competition.  And, oh yes, it is that good.  More on that later. 

If everybody is writing about When in Rome (and rightly so, because they deserve every bit of honor they are getting), why add my voice to the pack?  Well, because this is partly a food blog and I can't avoid writing about my favorite restaurant in the Flathead: The place that creates pure happiness for me.  The place that makes me feel for an evening like I've been dropped into the heart of Europe.  And...mark it down...I loved it before it was this popular. 

Our first trip to When in Rome occurred when we came to visit the church where my husband now works in Montana.  We were knee-deep in the heart of an unexciting-food micro-town of North Dakota, where eating out meant getting a pizza from the local Cenex, complete with ingredients that barely resembled food and tasted like they had been sitting in engine oil for years.  Gross. 

So, you can understand how enchanted we were when we stepped into When in Rome (then called Sun Mountain) and found that we could get a soda and two huge slices of artisan-quality pizza with fine ingredients for $5 for lunch (now the special is $6, but it's still a great deal).  The idea that we could live in a place where we could get outstanding food like this was astounding, starved as we were for the real thing (There were many great home cooks in North Dakota, but most restaurants were unimpressive and uninspiring at best.)

Now that we have moved to Montana, we have visited lots of area restaurants, but we keep coming back to When in Rome.  You can get a beautiful large pizza for $15-25 for take-out, but we almost always eat in the restaurant.  Yes, it's more expensive, when you consider tip and drinks and the inevitable appetizer that calls our name, but it's worth it for the ambiance and the joy that eating in a place where the owners (Engjell Vrapi and Kaleigh Brook, a married couple) put such passion into everything that they do.  

It's a pleasure to sit and watch them in the kitchen, putting such detail and beauty into their food.  It's a joy to talk to their talented servers who love the food they serve and who present it without pretension.  It's the rare thing when great food people can welcome you in to what they do, instead of making you feel "outside the club."  When in Rome achieves hospitality and artistry at the same time.  A couple on a date, a seasoned retired couple, or a family with small children are equally at home.  The dining room is small and intimate, decorated with many lovely touches that suggest Europe.  Rick Steves always plays on the flat-screen TV, making you feel as if you're looking out the window to the beauties of Europe. Tables are adorned with simple cut flowers.  Vrapi directs his kitchen with joy and fine organization, donning a white chef's coat.  

I find myself relaxing when I go to When in Rome.  The stress melts away.  And the food!  Oh, the food!

When in Rome has a menu of Mediterranean dishes (mostly pasta), always an interesting special, and some inventive salads.  We love it all, but we especially love the pizza.

When we visited last night, we had the spanakopita, a dish that I enjoy but rarely get too excited about.  But this time, from my first bite, I was in bliss.  The delicate layers of phyllo melted in my mouth, buttery and crisp.  There was a delicious tzatziki dipping sauce that only enhanced the cheesy, buttery taste.  I was in heaven.  

Pepperoni/"Best Pizza Ever"
I was primed and ready and the pizza arrived a few moments later.  We had ordered half pepperoni and half "Best Pizza Ever."  Both are beautiful pizzas.  The crust is a thin crust, crusty on the edges and soft and tender in the heart of the pie.  The pepperoni pizza uses the best quality meat I have ever had on a pizza, salty, herb-infused, zesty.  The zesty red sauce makes a perfect match for this pizza.  The "Best Pizza Ever" is a white pizza with more of that great pepperoni, roasted red peppers, red onions, gorgonzola cheese and garlic.  It came to us piping hot and full of buttery and deep, rich flavor.  The sweetness of the peppers and onions and the sharpness of the cheese with the saltiness of the meat make it a melt in your mouth affair.  I had it with a glass of the red wine special (Italian wines are featured in this restaurant) and as I sat there consuming such beautiful food and drink, I was filled with such happiness.  Exciting, approachable food, a beautiful atmosphere, the joy of my husband's company.  What more could I ask for? 

When in Rome, baby.  When in Rome.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful compliments and taking the time to write a post about our restaurant. Reading this really makes me feel like our hard work and dedication to bringing an authentic feel to the restaurant and food has paid off...much more so than reading it in the paper or a magazine. It's nice to know that we are reaching the locals, which is what counts... Thanks again! See you soon.
    Kaleigh Brook
    When In Rome...

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Kaleigh. Your restaurant is amazing! Thank you for all the hard work you put into giving us locals such a wonderful place to come to!


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