Friday, September 11, 2015

Lilac's fresh from the farm produce pairs with inventive chef for delectable fare

LOCAL VEGGIES, MEATS, POULTRY AND HOMEMADE GNOCCHI GIVE UNIQUE APPEAL TO HISTORIC DISTRICT EATERY
From its proud place in the Billings Historic District, Lilac serves fresh, tasty fare kicked up a Lilac notch.
Lilac's blue cheese lamb ribs are a favorite of this writer.
 

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS 
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

THE RESTAURANT'S chief cook, bottle washer and bookkeeper are one in the same person.  That's probably why Lilac is celebrating its third successful year in downtown Billings
Dinner at the Lilac with, from left,
Bruce Keller, Christene Meyers
and at right, Corby Skinner.
The restaurant, named for those fragrant first blooms of spring, bills its repertoire as “modern American cooking” and is doing well in Montana Avenue’s historic strip of shops, eateries and galleries. Lilac owner and chef, Jeremy Engebretson, is hands-on all the way.
Dessert at Lilac is cause for celebration.
We've sampled his ginger flavored octopus fritti, blue cheese cured lamb ribs and fragrant beef tongue tacos recently, in a menu that changes every few days.
ENGEBRETSON prides himself on freshness. "The menu changes depending on what’s available and what we think our clientele will like," he says.
Engebretson was a boy when he knew he wanted to be a chef.
Lilac's unpretentious decor puts the
focus on the tasty, fresh food. 
Growing up in Billings, he graduated from Billings West High School, then University of Montana, working in Missoula restaurants, learning the trade.
“I experimented, observed,” he says.  As sous chef at Missoula’s popular Ranch Club, he prepared “simple, fresh, fairly priced offerings.”
The d├ęcor at Lilac complements the menu.  It is open and unpretentious, focusing on food, not surroundings.
Appetizers, entrees and desserts carry out his wish for freshness and aesthetics -- from roasted cauliflower, to chicken fried sweetbreads and an enticing grilled asparagus dish with shrimp, sesame and poached egg dressing. If you want exotic, order the succulent pigeon. Play it safe with a cheese burger, jazzed up with a tangy sweet and savory garnish of cheddar and bacon jam. 
Beef from area ranches provides the meat at Lilac. 
"I try for the simple, satisfied feeling I had in our kitchen growing up,” Engebretson says. Both parents were “good, basic cooks” and Engebretson’s favorite food was his mom’s green bean dish, “a wonderful, satisfying dish, with garden beans and a simple white sauce.” 
Desserts range from luscious sponge cake with berries to an unusual, rich rosemary and honey ice cream, pistachio crumble and sticky pudding with toffee sauce, raspberries and ice cream -- all cause for a celebration.
Sunday brunch at Lilac is a treat, too, with a filling pork burrito or colorful tacos, turnovers, blintzes and other pretty comfort foods, served with Lilac style enhancements.Everything is prepared in Lilac's small, efficient kitchen -- from fresh daily breads and pastries to Lilac's signature gnocchi, those succulent, savory little dumplings.
Donuts get kicked up a notch at a family reunion -- with bits of bacon and
maple drizzle complementing the deep fried delights. (It's only once a year.)


NEXT UP: While we're in a "food mood," come with us to a family reunion laced with food, fun, music and nostalgia. The menu ranged from roast turkey to homemade bacon-maple donuts. (Don't hold the cholesterol.) Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Wednesdays and weekends at: www.whereiscookie.com




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