It is impossible to separate the experience of eating at Ted’sMontana Grill from what it looks like to eat at Ted’s. The high ceilings, built-in booths, mirrors, dim lighting and large framed prints of the wide open west certainly create as authe
ntic a “turn-of-the-century saloon” as can be summoned by dark wood and stuffed bison heads.
At its best Ted’s is only skin deep, but design goes a long way to creating decent theme dining, and Ted’s is designed to please.
There is craftsmanship in the broad sweep of the menu as well as in the restaurant’s ability to convey its central theme of modern comfort with a Big Sky attitude. Here everything feels a little larger than life, and Ted’s is most successful when it honors the sheer scale of the Old West it attempts to replicate. Portions are huge, as is the dining room. Located across from AMC Hoffman and next to Cold Stone, Ted’s big sky attitude is a tribute to a populist perception of the west, generally, and Montana specifically. Welcome to what Ted’s Web site describes as “comfort food for the twenty-first century.”
Ted’s comfort food is marked by its quantity and quality as home-style American cooking. Certainly the expansive cuts of meat in the bison pot roast is in itself a reaffirmation of manifest destiny. Served with massive scoops of garlic-mashed potatoes and country-style green beans the pot roast is exactly what one would get at home if your mother cooked bison and was Ted Turner. That is to say, it tastes familiar and is made glamorous by the company it keeps.
Filling and good enough to eat, the bison here is a little chewy and little gamey, just as it should be. The potatoes are not without lumps and the green beans are soft and salty enough to be crock-pot proud. The bread is very good; a little sweet, a little buttery and very fresh, the rolls at our table were gone within seconds. The bison steaks are better than the roast and it is here that Ted’s dedication to freshness shines. Each steak and filet are cut in house and the quality of meat is evident in the cut.
Ted’s Montana Grill is exactly what a restaurant chain with locations in more than 10 states and more opening, it seems, every minute should be. It looks great, it serves a great burger, and although it isn’t fine dining, it is filling and has moments of populist perfection and portions as big as a ranch hand. The wine list is all American, and the beers are better.
The huge vat of lemonade that rests at the end of the gleaming, dark wood bar looks great. It looks authentic. There are real lemons floating behind the thick glass of the beautiful old-fashioned cooler. And it tastes like fairly good lemonade. Similarly, the Big Sky Cosmo ordered from the cocktail list is pretty enough and garnished with a slice of orange the size of a wagon wheel, but is very ordinary. But the beer can chicken, although a little dry to have been so thoroughly marinated in Anchor Steam, has the most exquisite skin I have ever tasted. I can rhapsodize about that skin; this is the stuff that tall-tales are made of. I’d ride five-hundred miles on a horse with no saddle for a taste of that buttery, crisp and salty skin.
So it is with Ted’s that what is best is what is the most une pected.
A little smokey and salty, I was thrilled to be thoroughly satisfied with a quick bar meal of beans and rice.
Unfortunately, there are some pitfalls to be expected at Ted’s. Each visit I have experienced a perplexing shortage of staple foods. Perhaps this is an homage to the desperate realities of the old west, but I expect it is poor planning. On one visit our polite and perky server explained that the kitchen was out of potatoes, sweet potatoes and fresh baked cookies. With big blue-eyes and a slight southern drawl, our server was every inch Ted’s.
From her blue-jeans to her neatly pressed button-down, her sheer technicolor cuteness softened the blow of being denied the right to have my bison served with starches. At the end of our meal my friend John who is young, single, male, familiar with bison and Nebraska and a fan of Bud Light (in short, the perfect Ted’s diner) exclaimed, “The chicken may have been a little dry but the waitress was great.”
Despite its flaws, Ted’s succeeds by being pleasant. This is dining on a commercial scale, and like most big productions, a lot of people will be very pleased by the experience Ted has to offer.
Within a year Virginia will have three more locations including Ballston Point in Arlington and Crystal City. Founded by Ted Turner and restauranteur
George McKerrow, Ted’s is at once fanciful and filling. Order the bison, skip the salads and have a burger and a draft and float on over to the AMC Hoffman to catch a film. A blockbuster would pair well with the meal – something too big and definitely a star vehicle, but exactly the thing you want to see.