Chef Nate Wendt puts a new twist on an old favorite

Story by Justin Franz | Photography by Greg Lindstrom
In the culinary world, there’s nothing like an old standby; a familiar dish that is exactly what you want when you order it. For some, it’s meatloaf. Others might prefer a warm cup of soup. And for still others, it might be the classic BLT. Those three simple ingredients (bacon, lettuce and tomato) have been married for the ages and are always satisfying (evidence suggests that a variation of the BLT was first published in the Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book in 1903).

Sometimes, however, it’s OK to offer a new twist on an old favorite, and that’s what Chef Nate Wendt is doing at The Desoto Grill, Kalispell’s newest barbecue restaurant.

Willie and Shawnna Steele opened The Desoto Grill at The Forge building on Kalispell’s west side earlier this year. The Steeles are natives of Montana but previously lived in Portland, Oregon. For the last few years they had been looking for a way to return home and, when The Forge building was vacated and a beer and wine license went up for sale in early 2015, they jumped at the opportunity. Since then, the barbecue joint has been earning accolades from locals and visitors alike. Wendt, who has a long history in the restaurant business, recalled an instance over the summer when two women from Texas said Desoto’s brisket was the best they had eaten outside the South. Wendt said the best part of his new job leading the kitchen at Desoto is the freedom he has – he can make just about anything he wants in the realm of barbecue.

“I can do anything I want here,” he said. “We try and do a lot of fusion items, sometimes with an Asian flair.”

A little bit of that Asian flair comes through in Desoto’s new BLT, which isn’t even on the menu yet but Wendt said is already flying out of the kitchen. At the heart of the sandwich is house-made bacon. The bacon is made from pork belly that is cured for a week with the restaurant’s own rub before being thrown into the smoker just outside the kitchen. It’s then cut thick and doused with a caramel glaze that gives it a “sweet and salty” taste. The meat is placed atop a rosemary focaccia roll from Ceres Bakery in Kalispell before being topped with the ever-important lettuce and tomato. Next comes that Asian flair, with a layer of what Desoto calls “grizzly sauce,” a house-made Sriracha mayo. Finishing off the dish is one of the kitchen’s popular sides, including homemade mac and cheese that’s made to order.

Since opening this summer, the entire Desoto crew has been staying busy, but Wendt said it’s a labor of love. He and the owners said they picked the restaurant’s location because they want to lend a hand revitalizing Kalispell’s core.

“We want to help build up this west side and make it something really cool,” Wendt said.