ROUNDUP — If Montana had a barbecue capitol, it makes sense it would be in Roundup – a place known for its historic link to the cattle industry.
For the role that Montana plays in the cattle and ranching industry – its cuisine is often known for steaks and burgers. But Morgan Belveal and his partner, Joey Campanella, believe that Montana should be known for its barbecue as well.
And they’re not the only ones who believe it: The James Beard award committee put Backporch Barbecue on its list of nominees for best new restaurants – an honor that neither Belveal or Campanella had contemplated.
Located at the base of Main Street in Roundup, it’s among the best locations in Musselshell County. Traffic heading to places like Lewistown or Great Falls has to head by it, while travelers to Billings move in the opposite direction, also passing The Backporch.
Belveal’s family has owned and managed Big Sky Motel in Roundup for decades. Belveal believed that he would be coming home from the California Bay Area just during the COVID-19 pandemic to help out.
He thought one day he’d return to the town where he’d grown up — and raised a bit of mischief. Yet the homecoming, the hotel and a small kitchen they opened up in a converted motel room in order to serve hungry guests who couldn’t find many restaurants open during the pandemic, has blossomed into a full-scale restaurant with daily specials, a pastry and dessert baker, and family rib rub recipe.
“Growing up, this was a small town where I could do what I wanted. It was fun, and the allure of this place was kind of magic and where you could do fun things,” Belveal said.
It is the kind of place where his high school math teacher taught his mother, grandmother and she taught him, Belveal said.
The Backporch serves traditional breakfast items in the morning, including biscuits and gravy, while moving to the barbecue fare, including pulled pork and beef brisket, for lunch or dinner. The coleslaw is a twist on the popular barbecue side, relying on a dill and mixed fresh to produce a crunchier, different type of traditional side. Belveal told the Daily Montanan he also wanted to incorporate locally-sourced food, and so created a warm beet salad that he said has taken people off guard in the best possible way.
“At first, we had to give a lot of it away because people heard beets and were like, ‘Beets? Ugh. I hate beets,’” he said. “But it’s maybe our most popular side.”
A small bakery display at front also serves a hungry breakfast crowd, including pastries and rolls. In the morning, customers can get fresh prepared breakfasts that mesh well with the lunch and dinner menu, including a special Liege waffle that has the sugar cooked into it for a sweet, slightly caramel taste.
Beveal and Campanella knew that they wanted to use ingredients that were familiar to most people, and it had to be affordable.
“The origins of barbecue is that you bring people together for a low-cost meal. It’s meant to be enjoyed with others,” Beveal said.
The Backporch features six different sauces, all different styles from around the country from the white garlicky Alabama sauce to the espresso-based northeastern sauce, and the homemade recipes allow customers to try different styles or flock toward a familiar favorite. The rib rub came from his father’s catering business that began when Belveal was in high school.
“Once we ate ribs 15 times in one week just to get the recipe right,” Belveal said.
Now, that rub is incorporated into the restaurant, giving a pedigree that stretches beyond the restaurant’s recent opening.
“This place was a bit of a food desert. I know that if we have fresh produce and food, people will fall in love with it,” he said.
Belveal said that he is looking forward to incorporating more Montana-based foods on the menu, including wild game, chokecherries and juniper.
He said he’s even proud of the coffee they serve, which has become a town breakfast stable. The coffee is selected and imported from Spokane’s Roast House, and it’s a sustainable, organic blend – something that sounds upscale for coal and cattle.
Belveal said he enjoys the challenge of bringing high-quality foods that are accessible and affordable, two things he knows are necessary to survive in a town where the local drive-in has a for-sale sign on it.
Getting nominated as a semifinalist for best new restaurant by the James Beard Foundation was a huge recognition, and wasn’t something Campanella or Belveal had considered. In fact, they heard the news from noted Montana food writer Stella Fong, who they said has been a champion for The Backporch.
“Barbecue is the least pretentious of American cuisine,” Belveal said. “You can come in in a fancy tux and leave with barbecue sauce all over it. It’s familiar. Everyone knows how to eat it and what it’s supposed to taste like. It’s also a social thing where you roast the whole hog, feed it to friends. It’s down to earth. We do things together and we’re here together.”
He said that vibe fits well with Roundup, a town that was built on two things – coal mining and cattle ranching. His family, which stretches back before Roundup was a town, helped build it.
“They built a town that didn’t exist,” Belveal said. “Now, it’s time for another boom.”
Article originally published by the Daily Montanan on April 10, 2023.