The best restaurants serve more than good food. They build a community. They make strangers feel at home. That's what you learn when you order a rib-eye at Montana's Land of Magic
One of the two functioning businesses in Logan, Montana—a half-deserted railroad town located 25 miles west of Bozeman between Interstate 90 and the Gallatin River—is the Land of Magic Steakhouse, an establishment I discovered 20 years ago while taking a solitary winter drive. I'd just moved to Montana from New York City and was still licking my wounds after a breakup. The modest log building with elk horns over its entrance, rusty wagon wheels leaning against a fence, and a parking lot filled with dusty, hardworking pickups struck me as a good spot to grab a bite, wash it down with a cocktail (maybe two), and ease my loneliness for an hour or so. Despite the restaurant's charming, immodest name, I didn't expect much by way of food or atmosphere. All I wanted was company, a little warmth.
I got the last two. I also got a steak—a rib-eye cut on a band saw in the basement and rubbed with a secret blend of spices—that I keep going back for, even now, usually in the company of friends who don't believe my over-the-top enthusiasm when we first sit down in the dining room, whose walls are covered with brands from local ranches and an assortment of lodgelike wildlife paintings. Retro? No. At least not consciously. With its lacquered wooden tables and arugula-free midcentury supper-club menu, the Land of Magic is ageless and relaxed, a perfect place for low-profile self-indulgence.
For proof, just look at the customers: the ranch couples celebrating big anniversaries, the sharp-eyed cattle buyers on business trips. They aren't the type who smile for nothing, these folks, or who like to come off as frivolous. But as they sip their whiskey sours and tuck into their old-school shrimp cocktails, it's clear that they've found a sweet spot between luxury and value. Then their steaks come—not Texas-style monsters that flop out over the edges of the plates, but sensibly generous Montana steaks that stand up thick and proper and don't boast. The twice-baked potatoes, grown just down the road near the town of Manhattan and cooked in 50-pound batches, don't boast either. They're rich, not big, full of parmesan and bacon, and delivered to the table as often as not by Beth McCurry, a longtime waitress here, who bought the place with her husband, Jay (a high school shop teacher), nearly six years ago. They kept the old recipes, which go back decades, and they also kept the name, of course.
The Land of Magic—I chuckled when I first heard it. How could a place live up to such a name?
Land of Magic Steakhouse: $$$; 11060 Front St., Logan; landofmagicsteakhouse.com