Public House in Fort Benton has moved to a new location
April 12, 2023
The Public House in Fort Benton has moved to a new location, For the first few years of the Public House’s life, it shared front space with the Wake Cup, but now it has moved to The Courtyard on River Drive in Fort Benton. In an interesting twist, The Courtyard was the original location of the Wake Cup.
Alex Salazar is the BBQ cook and owner of the restaurant. “I just wanted to be my own man. We’ll keep it simple, short, and sweet. I wanted to work for myself. It had been a long time coming, and after Amanda sold the business I found it to be a lot easier to break away. There were no family loyalty ties,” Alex explained as to how the Public House shifted to a new location. The move took place in October 2022.
Though business has started slow, Alex is confident that the busier season will bring with it an increase in traffic. “You have to start any new business, and during the slow months was just a terrible time. But I kind of knew that going in. That was expected, and I had enough saved up to get me through. I am plugging along to the busy time of year. I’ve been able to make do, like I said, and we’re slowly slowly starting to see a little uptick in business which is nice.”
Alex is not a native Montana, but rather moved here from San Antonio, where he is the current generation in a long line of barbecuers. “A family of barbecuers that is non professional. They’re just homebody barbecuers, except for me. I broke the mold, and I am the black sheep because I chose money over feeding neighborhoods. Take that Uncle John! I’m coming after those family traditions.”
Alex explained to me that he didn’t initially set out to run a barbecue establishment. “Opening a restaurant, that didn’t occur for a long time. I wanted to cook when I came back from failing out of college in Wyoming, no shame there. I think that just happened out of good fortune. I came back, and Amanda offered me a job. That kind of kicked off all my cooking career. I went to Portland, got into the bougie cooking of fancy cookery. Opening a restaurant didn’t happen until the Public House became a thing. As far as barbecue, that happened all by accident, because I was barbecuing for the neighborhood and someone said, ‘Oh, you should totally sell this at the restaurant.’ And that’s kind of when the light bulb went off, and I started doing it.”
Alex described the experience of walking into the new location for The Public House as a little like coming home. The kitchen in The Courtyard location was where he first started cooking for The Wake Cup years before. He told me about the experience of walking in, looking up at the high ceiling in the kitchen and remembering the hot summer day when a container of mustard exploded, raining the yellow condiment everywhere, including the ceiling. He said the memory brought a smile to his face as they moved in and started the process of launching the new business location.
Discussing the restaurant’s current fare and offerings, Alex explained that their most popular order is always the special for the night. “Anything I do special-wise, I feel like that’s the hot item for the night. But the brisket is most popular, followed by the ribs, followed by the pork
shoulder, followed by the chicken. I’m also working on a new springtime menu which has cucumber kimchi, it has catfish on Fridays” and other lighter summer fare.
They are also featuring “live music every first Sunday. I have a different musician come in. They play. You eat. You enjoy. It’s all good times. We have various events coming in. I think in June for Father’s Day, we’re doing a crawdad boil. I’ve gotten a lot of excitement for that. We’re just gonna do an old fashioned way where we do it out in the patio area, dump it onto a table and people pay a plate price. They go up and eat themselves until they are sick of crawdads.”
Before writing about The Public House, my wife and I stopped in to try the food. It was St. Patrick’s Day, and the special was pastrami (which is essentially smoke corned beef). I had the brisket sandwich and my wife enjoyed the special. Both were excellent, undoubtedly the best BBQ I’ve had since moving to Montana. The dessert offerings were also unique and delicious. The atmosphere was comfortable and homey. The staff was friendly and the whole experience left us happy and full. My wife and I also really enjoyed talking with Alex, who I have interviewed in the past and have also found to be quick witted, humble, and a fun person to engage with.
You can check out their website or Facebook page for menu specifics and pictures. They are open Wednesday through Saturday from 4 PM to 9 PM and Sundays 9 AM to 2 PM.