It’s rare that a restaurant gets a rave and gets called depraved within 24 hours, but Montana’s Trail House has managed to do just that. Which goes to show just how divisive North Brooklyn’s going trends can be.
Back when the instant hotspot opened in Bushwick, the owners told us they’d be serving up “Appalachian East Coast country food, and some black-magic inspired dishes,” which didn’t sit well with the Observer‘s restaurant critic, former Gawker blogger Joshua David Stein. In a review that may well be the fiercest thrashing of a restaurateur since Pete Wells went after Guy Fieri, Stein writes, “Parceling off generic objections to the ridiculous fantasia Bushwick has become, there is a deeply toxic relationship with history and with America embodied at Montana’s Trail House. One need not be from Appalachia to object to the fetishization of that impoverished region for the blithe consumption of faux Brooklyn frontiersmen and women.”
Ouch. But meanwhile, in a review penned for The L magazine, Emily Nonko has a different take: she thinks “there’s inherent pleasure in this world,” what with its “rustic, kooky vibe” that makes you “feel far away from Bushwick.”
Wait, is Montana’s “something pretty special,” as Nonko says, or is it “a very bad place,” as Stein insists? A place that is “culinarily insipid and morally insidious”?
While Nonko marvels at the decor (“walk inside, and you may as well be in Montana”) Stein scoffs at its “archly rural accouterments” and insists it’s “bad to the last splinter of its Kentucky wood.”
His complaints extend to the “morally hazardous” menu, which offers “generic Southern food” such as a “totally underwhelming fried chicken, leg and thigh both as greasy as a teenage boy’s T-zone.” Maybe he ordered wrong, because Nonko found other dishes “expertly cooked” and “cooked simply and delicately.” While Stein’s rabbit terrine “went nearly untouched,” Nanko thought “it felt sinful to leave anything on that plate” of master-fat fried potatoes (to be fair, Stein grudgingly admitted he “wouldn’t spit out” the potatoes).
Nonko appreciates the “cheery female servers, in their brightly patterned shirts and big glasses.” As they “stop by to drop off dishes, the meal falls into place.” Stein is more jaded about them: “The waitstaff had that new antiquated look adopted by so-many seventh-stoppers—the restaurant is off the Jefferson Street stop on the L train—which combines a youthful complexion with old mountain beards for the gentlemen and Walker Evans frocks with tattooed arms and septum piercings for the waitresses.”
Nonko ends her review by opining that “there’s inherent pleasure in this world—part cowboy, part Brooklyn—that’s come to life in an old repair shop.” To which Stein has this to say: “If you’re enjoying yourself, a not entirely difficult task considering the strength of the cocktails and the pure theatricality of the mountain man Bushwick crowd, you are participating in a crummy project. Simply put, mere presence at Montana’s Trail House means you’re on the wrong path.”
Reactions to Stein’s takedown are as divided as the two reviews. Helen Rosner, an incoming editor at Eater, tweeted, “I want @fakejoshstein’s blistering, brilliant review of Montana’s Trail House to be 10x longer, to never ever end.” While other commenters leveled criticism such as this:
The Guy Fieri piece was hilarious (as was the Dan Brown piece). This one is tone-deaf and just as offensive as the reviewer believes the restaurant to be. I’ve read a lot lately about how Appalachia is sick to death of being used as a synonym of “barefoot poverty”. It may not be a yummy restaurant but I’m confident no one from the region will appreciate this weird rant that appropriates Appalachia for its own purposes. “Poor, miserable Kentucky is mine to Other! All MINE!”
We’ve asked Montana himself if he has anything to say about the slam and will let you know if we hear back. He definitely has no problem with the L’s review.