The restaurant formerly known as Montana’s Trail House is no more.
As Bushwick Daily reported late last year, Trail House owner Montana Masback (who also co-owns both Darlings and Twin Suns Deli) was planning on shutting down, refining the menu, rebranding, and reopening the spot at 445 Troutman St.
The deed has been done and Hard Times Christmas Liquors at the Sunset Bar — just Hard Times will do ya — opened for business on Jan. 15. One of the main goals of the Hard Times transition was turning the Trail House dinner service into a more accommodating, all-hours approach.
“I think the neighborhood was ready for something that was more affordable, more all-the-time,” said Masback. “We noticed that people weren’t coming here at night as much, but [were coming] every weekend for brunch. We wanted to make it a place that was more of a bar, more inexpensive food and drink-wise.”
The “we” Masback was referring to are himself, Matt Klein, and Bill McGovern of Strange Flavors, the pop-up burger spot found inside The Johnsons. Masback brought the two on as partners for the new spot.
“We got together and started talking about doing something together that was just a little more fun and more accessible,” said Masback. “Something easy for people’s pockets but [also] really delicious; to have something new but still honor a lot of the [Montana’s Trail House] stuff.”
McGovern added, “Matt and I have developed this experience in serving food at a bar at a price point that matches what people expect out of bar food at the level of quality that we’re trying to keep things, always pushing it to be the best it can be. We’re trying to bring that experience here, trying to keep it affordable and interesting.”
And the food is most definitely interesting.
I sampled the chicken and waffles and buffalo wings, both made-over mainstays from Montana’s Trail House, and a whole new dish, mapo nachos. Each dish was downhome and familiar, but they were also all elevated by the same types of Asian flavors you can find at Strange Flavor which, when you also consider Klein’s experience in the Mission Chinese kitchen, makes sense.
The nachos are built on a base of perfectly house-fried tortilla chips, none of that “corn chip” nonsense here. They’re topped with much of the usual: jalapenos, cilantro, fresh pico de gallo, a crema-like sauce. There are a couple of curve balls as well: In place of the standard guacamole there are tempura fried avocado wedges, and then there’s the mapo.
For those that don’t know (I didn’t prior to my visit), mapo is a chili oil-based sauce or stew, usually with pork, from the Sichuan region of China. It’s most commonly used in the dish mapo tofu, but Klein cleverly repurposes it here.
His version is thicker, more like a ragu-style sauce. It’s rich and earthy with a low-level spiciness, but it also has a bright vinegary tang. It was really delicious, but there wasn’t that much of it in the dish — considering that it’s the namesake ingredient, I had expected more of it. And I needed more of it once I’d gotten a taste.
The chicken and waffles were a dish that Klein, who revamped the entire thing, was extremely excited about.
“Basically nothing stayed the same, everything was reworked from scratch,” said Klein. “We reworked the waffle batter from scratch… the brine and marinade [for] the chicken… the dredge for it. We started fermenting charred long Holland [peppers] for it. We started making a coffee-infused maple syrup and this roasted corn compound butter, and started doing a fermented garlic honey. We make our own chili oil from scratch for it.”
None of the flavors Klein described are star flavors, things that individually define the dish. Rather they all work in sync to support the dish as a whole: the earthiness and spice from the peppers and oil; the sweetness of the corn and honey and syrup; the aroma of the coffee; and the fattiness of the butter.
The old “like an orchestra” analogy is tired and overused, but it is apt; the dish wouldn’t be what it is without each of these elements cooperating. Each of the flavors gets a bite-by-bite solo to show off. The waffles had a great crunch on the outside but were perfectly fluffy on the inside. The chicken was fried perfectly.
I think the chicken could’ve used a tiny pinch more salt but, otherwise, the Hard Times chicken and waffles are close to perfection.
So Hard Times has a mostly-new menu filled with deeply satisfying and comforting food, but it’s kept some of the things that made Montana’s Trail House shine: deals.
Not a single beer, can or draft, domestic or craft, is over $6. On Mondays they offer their $10 burger and beer, which is exactly what it sounds like. On Tuesdays, every time you buy a drink you flip a coin to see if your next is free. There are dollar wings on Wednesday. It goes on.
The spot may have a wacky new 11-syllable name, but Hard Times Christmas Liquors at the Sunset Bar keeps the best of what made Montana’s Trail House special, and changes only what needs to be changed to make itself special.
“Same crew, same owners,” said Masback. “We’re conscious of those people who are here all the time. Those people that want to have Montana’s Trail House brunch can still have that at Hard Times.”
Stop into Hard Times , whether you’ve got $5 or $50 in your pocket. You’re going to be leaving happy.
Hard Times Christmas Liquors at the Sunset Bar
Dinner restaurant turned all-day eatery and bar serving elevated bar food at regular bar prices and drink deals galore.
445 Troutman St, Brooklyn
(off the Jefferson St stop on the L train)
Sun-Fri: 12:00 pm – 4:00 am
Sat: 11:00 am – 4:00 am
+1 917 966-1666
Follow Hard Times Christmas Liquors at the Sunset Bar on Facebook.
Cover photo by Paul Del Gesso
Additional photos by Andrew Tobia