Another beautiful day on the Hamilton Golf Course with good friends. About the 14th hole, my partners Skeet and Hans start talking about how hungry they’re getting and when Naps Grill is mentioned my stomach starts to growl. Some foods you eat to stay alive, others you eat because not to would be a crime, and Naps fits this bill. So we all agree to stop at this well-known Hamilton restaurant when we finish. The menu then becomes the focal point of our conversation as we play. It is our normal stopping place and we even call it the “19th hole.” Naturally our conversation switches from club selection and how many strokes I am behind, to: why don’t we order something different instead of the same meal that we have been consuming for years. Hans refuses to budge and will stick with his favorite repast, the Naps Deal, which features a very generous and delicious 12 oz. hamburger with incredible cheeses, mushrooms, onion… on and on. Of course, fries and soda go with it, all priced at what it used to be back in the 90′s. I smile and think how quiet things will get when Hans is served this meal. At that time I don’t have to listen to how badly he beat me, or how short my drives are getting, because he goes completely silent while attacking his meal. Skeeter and I dreamily discuss the various other sandwiches, salads and the “hidden platters” (why hidden?) of Top Sirloin and Chicken available. Then it happens. I miss an easy 4-foot putt for par on the 18th hole. Of course I blamed the missed putt on the conversation about Naps and not the bad stroke. “If you buy that, I have some Ocean Front property in Arizona for sale too,” as George Straight says.
So many of us Bitterrooters have fond memories of eating with friends and family at Naps Grill over the years. Naps opened in the early 90′s and current owner Tyler Gilder is the third owner. When you meet him, his big smile says it all. This demeanor permeates throughout his staff and it becomes evident these folks are genuinely interested in all who visit. A relaxing blue collar environment, with Merle Haggard looking down from the wall, is a grand place to enjoy both the food and great conversations with family and friends. Tyler is a 4th generation Bitterrooter, and he and his staff of 12 have been very involved in supporting various activities in our community. Since his wife and dad were both teachers, Naps Grill has been very active in helping all the local schools and educators in the Valley. This restaurant also puts forth a lot of effort and time with fund raisers, donations, and discount programs. Naps assists programs such as the local Boy and Girl Scouts, Make a Wish Foundation, Ducks and Trout Unlimited, and of course, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Tyler passionately states, “We don’t do these things to promote business, it’s just the right thing to do!” Their benevolence and commitment to serving the community through these various programs also literally flows over into the bountiful meals that are available in this amiable environment.
Naps orders all of its meat products from local ranchers. Close to 95% of all beef comes from the Bitterroot while the rest is supplied by other Montana ranchers. Obviously, both the ranchers supplying the meat and the restaurant must be doing things right, since Naps Grill has been voted many years as having the “Bitterroot’s Best Burger, Salad and Takeout.” A new order for the meat is placed every day, and nothing comes in frozen or individually wrapped from Hamilton Packing Company. “Top quality beef and freshness is of the utmost importance,” says Tyler. “I am still looking for a local organization in the valley that can supply all of the vegetable products as well. That would be a huge challenge for the local farmers, but one I would be very interested in supporting,” he says enthusiastically.
As you can imagine, Tyler is a very busy guy. He lives in Florence with his wife and two young children. He also coaches football at Florence High School. Commensurate with owning and managing Naps Grill, I asked if he ever gets stressed out with all these activities and responsibilities. He says, “I have always loved the Bitterroot, and was very motivated to raise my family here. Obviously there are difficulties that come from living in a rural community. One of the biggest challenges we all face is that we are so busy making a living and supporting our families, that sometimes we forget how blessed we are living in this kind of environment. I try to stay focused on the priorities – family, neighbors, the beauty surrounding us, and helping where I can. When I keep these things in mind, it relaxes me and I can enjoy the many wonders of life. It’s not easy, but I work hard not to get weighed down or overwhelmed by the challenges each day will present. I try to keep in mind just to do my best, and then just let the anxiety go. It is so amazing when I’m able to accomplish that, and then see how things work out so good or being amazed at the new options that appear. Again, I do my best to focus on the positive and not the negative. It really helps me to stay centered on the right things. The Bitterroot is so different from the Big City, and I love it!”
Over the years the staff at Naps has gotten to know so many folks in the community, and the objective of trying to get every order perfect continues to be the goal. Customers can recognize this effort when they look at the busy open kitchen from their table and see the effort that goes into the preparation of every meal. “Yes, special orders may take extra time, but we do our best to prepare it exactly as ordered,” says Tyler. That brings me to the question asked earlier in this story. Why are the Platters of Steaks and Chicken considered hidden? If you look at the menu on the wall in front of the kitchen, it is hard to locate the section on Platters. It is at the far right and on the bottom. I had forgotten about the Top Sirloin and Chicken dinners that are offered at Naps, although as I think back, I remember a lot of my friends mentioning to me how good these meals were too. Tyler says this is not unusual, and he has plans of rearranging the writing on the menu so they are easier to locate. After he explained the value, size and preparation of these meals in detail, I know what I will be ordering the next time regardless of the pressure Hans and Skeeter put on me about the incredible Naps Deal. Again, all the steaks are fresh and priced at about half the price of what most restaurants charge. The platters are served both at lunch and dinner.
Tyler brought up an interesting point that I had not thought of for a while. He traveled and worked outside of Montana when he was in his 20′s and 30′s. “One of the most amazing things I witnessed in my travels was when I met someone from Montana, how proud they were to be from this great state,” said Tyler. “It was so different from how most people expressed themselves about their home state. I too feel so proud to be from Montana, and there are so many things I cherish about it. Family environment, your name having some meaning, people willing to talk with you and the kindness and integrity you notice about your neighbors living around you. The only difficult thing my wife and I have experienced living in this small town environment is, when you want to rush into a store and get something quickly and leave. It won’t be a five-minute trip at the grocery store when you run into people you know. But then again, that is what I love about the Bitterroot!”
So if you haven’t done it already, or if it has been a while, stop in at Naps Grill and order whatever pleases you at the moment, and give your taste buds a real treat. As George Bernard Shaw says, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” You can rest assured it will be one of the best meals in the valley in terms of generosity, value, and of course, flavor! Enjoy the friendly and warm atmosphere as well. Take it all in and you’ll recognize it is just another beautiful day in the Bitterroot with friends and neighbors!
Naps Grill is located at 220 N. 2nd St, Hamilton, phone 363-0136. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.