After our meal, Executive Chef Alan Sparboe, who continually checked on us throughout the progression of the courses, sat down with us while we contemplated the dessert menu. He suggested that we try the Chocolate Tower – a Granary favorite consisting of white and dark chocolate pate over flourless chocolate cake covered in rich chocolate ganache accompanied by three dipping sauces. Robyn and I were both full and satisfied from our meal but felt that we just had to sample an item from the dessert menu for the culinary experience to be complete. What better way to do so than try a confection titled the Chocolate Tower? Speaking as a lover of chocolate, I can honestly say that this is one tower I wouldn’t mind being locked up in for any extensive period of time. Truly decadent and definitely worthy to be shared!
What struck us about Chef Sparboe is his humble attitude towards his recently being named the Montana Chef’s Association 2005 Chef of the Year. What does he think about such an honor? “It’s cool, I like it.” But, he admits, the attention makes him uncomfortable and he’d much rather hide in the kitchen due to his shy nature. Robyn and I were curious about his inspiration for cuisine, and he replied to our question with a smile, “I like to make food that looks good, tastes good, and makes people happy and full.” As to his own refrigerator at home, “It’s empty” and he’s an old-fashioned “McDonald’s and popcorn kind of guy,” on rare occasions when not supervising the kitchen at the Granary.
Sparboe is in charge of eight people on the kitchen staff and three dishwashers, all of whom are personally trained by him and his sous chef, Summer Dunn. In his past culinary experience, Sparboe graduated from the New England Culinary Institute and worked in the kitchens of the Four Seasons and Hilton Tower Hotels in Chicago, the Inn at Essex in Vermont, and has had numerous jobs at various restaurants throughout Billings. Because of his eclectic interest in different kinds of foods and taste sensations, Sparboe rotates the menu quarterly and does so to reflect the changes in seasons and available foods and also takes into consideration customer feedback when altering the menu selections.
After dinner, Robyn and I went on a guided tour of the entire restaurant. In addition to the dining room and attached bar on the main level, there is a loft area upstairs and a private banquet room downstairs with a private bar; both areas can be rented for banquets, wedding rehearsal dinners, parties, anniversaries, and other special events. The entire atmosphere certainly lends itself towards romance, and it isn’t surprising that the Granary was named the Most Romantic Place to Have Dinner according to the Billings Gazette Readers’ Choice Awards. In fact, shortly before we sat down to dinner, a couple near us became engaged!
The Granary isn’t just an indoors-only type of restaurant with the addition of the patio which stems outside from the bar. The patio is welcoming and cozy, complete with a large round table enabling friendly conversation and camaraderie around the center chiminea. In addition to the fire pit, numerous portable heaters surround the patio, creating warmth as the crispness of winter approaches and the patio nears its closing time of mid-October. You can look forward to the patio’s re-opening in May for the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
The Granary is located at 1500 Poly Drive in Billings. For more information, images, and extensive and printable menus, you can visit the Granary’s website at www.billings-granary.com or call 406-259-3488 to inquire about reservations.
— Mary Biehl is a native Montanan writer and editor, living and loving life under Bozeman’s beautiful big sky.