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Flavors: 1028 Steakhouse Beyond the Menu

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Stella Fong
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Yellowstone Public Radio
Chef Jim Arthur alternates working in the 1028 Steakhouse with Garrett Carr. Here he stands in front of tonight’s Prime Rib, readied to serve to order.

In north-central Montana, the 1028 Steakhouse holds flavors beyond what can be found on the menu.

Inside the Winifred International Suites, this supper club preserves and honors the past for the future while the hotel, with its eight rooms, brings the world and its luxuries to a place where family and amber fields of wheat reign.

Norm Asbjornson wanted to build the best hotel in Montana in his childhood town.

“When I was born in Winifred, there was no electricity anywhere in town, and there was no running water and there was no sewer, and the next paved road was 24 miles away in Hilger, Montana,” Asbjornson said.

Now, at 87 years young, Asbjornson is giving back to the place.

"Winifred is really my home," he said. "I grew up in that environment. I had my friendships in it.”

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Stella Fong
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The 1028 Steakhouse, located inside the Winifred International Suites, brings back the supper club steakhouse vibe from yesteryear with modern touches.

“I have empathy for Winifred and the people in it, and the character of the people in it. I would like to make the town stay alive,” he said. Currently he is donating money to update the Winifred School that educates students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The highlights of the project include energy efficiency, a vertical garden and an aviation school.

Asbjornson left Winifred to attend college at MSU Bozeman. He left the university to join the army, but later returned to complete his degree in mechanical engineering. In time he became a large land owner in Iowa, then later founded and lead AAON, a company of engineers that manufactures and markets commercial HVAC equipment.

“Growing up I had charitable parents," Asbjornson said. "They were well respected and I wanted to be as good as my parents, and so when I was growing up, my father used to say I wished I had the money to build a small hotel, because the hotel burnt down in the first fire.”

In the early 1950s, two fires burned down most of the town.

“I was in high school at the time. My father donated, and he would do things for free for people who couldn’t pay, and my mother did the same,” he said of his father, who worked as a contractor and a mechanic, able to fix things.

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Stella Fong
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The Prime Rib with au jus with asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes at the 1028 Steakhouse in the Winifred International Suites.

“My father put the electricity in, and I helped wire the town when he put it in, in the late 1930s, and he used to send me up in the attics and I would stick wire down into the house," Asbjornson said.

After Asbjornson’s success, he says, “I had enough money to create a really nice hotel so I hired the architect and the interior decorator, and I told them we were not putting a financial limit on it. We were putting a size limit on it, and I wanted them to create for me the very best hotel room in the state of Montana.

He hired JLW Architects and Eleven Eleven design studio to create the eight-room motel.

“Each room is themed," Motel manager Dale Adey said of the suites built in 2017. "We have Upper and Lower New Yorks, and we have the Amsterdam suite, which is our double suite, which has a king and queen bed. Then we have the Shanghai suite, which has a nice queen bed. It has a kitchenette, and then we go to the San Francisco suite, which has the Golden Gate Bridge outside your window. We have Paris, which has the Eiffel Tower, and we have our master suite which is the Grecian suite.”

Since Asbjornson owns the sign shop next door with a large wall, photos of the places named by the rooms have been placed right outside the windows while each room is decorated in the style honoring the place of origin.

The Red Roof Bowling alley, a duckpin bowling alley, and the 1028 Steakhouse are also found at the International Suites. The 1028 Steakhouse, named after the locomotive that traveled from Lewistown and Winifred between 1913 to 1954, highlights the flavors of Montana. Dinner is served on Friday and Saturday nights.

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Stella Fong
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Sous Chef Patrick Carrell shows off his ice cream cake creation for this evening’s meal at the 1028 Steakhouse.

“We order in our full USDA prime, and they’re certified Angus beef," said Chef Jim Arthur, who shares the cooking with Garrett Carr. "They’re not heavily smoked, but they get a little of that flavor, and then we finish off in au jus for however the customer would like them prepared.”

The menu featured sirloin, flat iron, tenderloin and ribeye steaks along with chicken fried steak and fried chicken. Walleye and shrimp were also available on the menu. The homemade touches came with fresh baked bread coming to the table along with hand mashed potatoes with garlic and homemade salad dressing by Pagie Carr.

Sous Chef Patrick Carrell joined the kitchen team when the restaurant opened. With the availability of a soft serve ice cream maker in the kitchen, he created an ice cream cake with M&M’s and Hershey’s syrup for this night’s dessert.

On Thursday nights, Carrell makes the pizzas for takeout.

“I can make almost whatever anybody wants," he said. "Our popular specials are the jalapeño popper pizza, and the breakfast pizza, and I also do a bacon cheeseburger pizza, and a taco.”

General Manager Frank Carr spent time greeting guests and get acquainted with them.

“I am a people person. I really like to associate with people and talk to people,” he said.

Carr and his wife Pagie also own the Winifred Tavern and Cafe, as well as the construction company in town. Everyone knows your name in this one-room restaurant anchored by a large bar.

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Stella Fong
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From left to right: Pagie and Frank Carr, and Miriam Shepherd grab a cup of morning coffee. Frank meets up with his wife Pagie and his mother at their Winifred Tavern and Cafe.

“I was born and raised here," Carr said. "I am fifth generation. We’re the oldest family in this town so I have grandkids now, they’re seventh generation here, and I’ve never left Winifred my whole life."

Brenda Hann has worked at the tavern and cafe for six years as the weekend cook.

“I’ve been around a lot of places, but Winifred is definitely my favorite," she said, "people and everything.”

In north-central Montana, family flavors the life of the town of Winifred.

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.