With the closure of barbeque haven Dragon Wagon last month, Grinnellians have been missing out on homemade comfort food, especially as winter descends. I ventured one block further up 6th avenue to Montgomery’s, for a similar family-run feel and a little greasy goodness.
Montgomery’s, established in 1933, has a homegrown style on the inside; don’t be fooled by the boxy, boring exterior. Sparkly red stools line the bar—where Montgomery’s signature hamburger meat is cooked—while green booths sit next to each window. Autographed posters hang on the walls, completing the traditional diner look.
The “loose meat burger,” Montgomery’s signature sandwich, is featured prominently in a few of their shockingly cheap dishes. According to their website, the meat is ground fresh daily from select cuts of meat, and contains no filler, sodium or MSG. The scent of hamburger wafts throughout the restaurant, but it wasn’t enticing enough to convince me to try the burger (although at $3.29, I thought about grabbing one for the road).
Instead, I ordered the chicken basket—fried boneless chicken and fries—and a chocolate shake to share. The shake, which came out first, tasted like chocolate and Bailey’s—not what I was expecting. After a few more sips, I realized that malt was the source of the slightly alcoholic taste, which I didn’t mind, but it overpowered the chocolate I’d been looking forward to. The shake was also more liquidy than desirable, resulting in a goopy mixture instead of a thick, spoonable beverage. But, then I drank more, and a little more; when I’d slurped up the last of it, I wanted another. The shake wasn’t what I was expecting, but the taste grew on me to the point that I might just shell out another $3 to try the butterscotch this weekend.
The chicken tenders also got me hooked. At $6.99, they’re not much cheaper than $8 for weekend brunch in the D-hall, but the heavy, crunchy breading on Montgomery’s chicken doubled the value. Alas, the fries were not nearly at D-hall shoestring fry quality; although I didn’t ask, they appeared to be of the frozen variety and hadn’t been fried deeply enough, making them dry and bendable instead of crisp. Also not up to par—especially compared to Dragon Wagon—was the packaged BBQ sauce that I paid 50 cents extra for because I wanted two sauces with my chicken fingers.
My dining partner ordered the Horseshoe Sandwich featured on Montgomery’s website: her first comment upon receiving an enormous pile of hamburger meat, cheese and fries was “how do I eat this?” She managed to finish it off, although not with much satisfaction. Like my chicken basket, the “sandwich” was good at first bite, but disintegrated into low-quality parts after the initial melted-cheese buzz. I would compare the meals to a Cosmic Brownie—something I crave and enjoy, but not if I’m in search of a homemade brownie.
We did get a real brownie to wrap up the meal, though, along with coffees. At that moment, Montgomery’s felt like the kind of diner I miss on the East Coast: families and couples enjoying friendly service and the kind of food I might feel too guilty to cook for myself.
Montgomery’s is great for what it is—fried food covered in cheese and chili. And like the Cosmic Brownie, it’s cheaper and faster than the real deal—and it’s less likely to be populated by students when you’re hungover and want comfort food without fuss. The next time I’m in search of a burger, I might head over to Relish or Prairie Canary, and shell out the extra three dollars for blue cheese on a patty instead of melted American on crumbled meat. But when I’m looking for the kind of plate that might cause someone—like the elderly couple next to us—to declare “oh my god” upon its arrival, I’ll go right up the street to Montgomery’s, for big meals, low prices, and a family feel.