Beneath a striped awning, a constant stream of foot traffic files through the front door of Harper & Madison, a charming new bakery and café tucked inside a former grocery store in a residential section of downtown Billings. Unless you’re local, you won’t stumble upon this North 10th Avenue hideaway. You have to seek it out, but it’s well worth the sleuthing. “It feels French, yet urban,” says owner & pastry chef Joanie Swords, who opened the business this past March, modeling it after the little neighborhood cafes found throughout France. She named it after her daughter and son, who can often be spotted taking orders up front.
On the sidewalk, a bevy of dogs and strollers surrounds a large picnic table where moms in yoga pants sip lattes. Beyond the six-top counter inside, Swords can be seen kneading made-from-scratch dough for caramel rolls and scones or beating batter for red velvet cupcakes. “I think people like seeing things being made with our hands,” she says. Next to her, executive Shane Weigel whips up a Cabbage, Apple and Turnip Salad with Apple-Honey Vinaigrette and Montrachet cheese for the deli case.
“We don’t even have a printed menu,” explains Weigel, who strives for freshness and is passionate about working with seasonal items. “It changes daily. It’s sort of like, whatever I’m hungry for that day, I make.”
Though they haven’t set a menu in ink, they do have a chalkboard listing five deli sandwiches and seven grilled Panini. “I try to change the sandwiches every six weeks, but we do maintain our most popular ones,” says Weigel, like the Fun Guy: Portabella marinated in lime-ginger vinaigrette and then roasted and topped with roasted red peppers, arugula and Montrachet.
During the week, breakfast items include quiche—such as fresh asparagus & sundried tomato with smoked Gouda—as well as homemade croissants, caramel rolls and Danishes. On Saturdays til 11 a.m., they offer breakfast specials like French Toast with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote. Pastries vary daily, but Swords always has some sort of cupcake and cake in the glass cooler. “All my cakes are seven layers,” she explains. “One that’s become extremely popular is our Coconut Cake. It’s four layers of cake and three of filling. It’s not just a slice of cake; it’s something really decadent and special.”
That’s an understatement! The experience of sitting at the big, white farmhouse table with latte and Strawberry Shortcake Cupcake next to your laptop is nothing short of rapture. First off, DO NOT order a coffee drink to go; the delicate leaf and heart patterns barista Beau Stumberg swirls into the crème should under no circumstances be hidden under a lid! And the cupcake? It is an Italian Cream Cake hollowed out and filled with Devonshire cream, topped with cream cheese butter cream frosting and fresh strawberries. “Every component is delicious on its own, but together, it’s the best strawberry shortcake you can imagine,” says Swords.
Every weeknight, they offer a take-home entrée. “We don’t do dinners here,” explains Weigel. “We’ll serve sandwiches in-house in the evenings, but dinners are take-home entrees that people can fix in less than five minutes—anything from pasta to rustic meatloaves to lasagnas to a really great Thai-marinated pork loin. You name it; we’ll try it.”
When I ask customers what they like most about Harper & Madison, they invariably list varied menu items…but nearly everyone says something along the lines of, “This place just feels good.” And that’s what Swords was shooting for. “I almost get weepy when I talk about it, but I feel like we are building a community here.” Her goal was to develop a place where people would leave feeling better than when they arrived. Whatever the recipe, it’s working!
NUTS & BOLTS
Harper & Madison
3115 10th Avenue North
Billings, MT 59101
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 7pm Mon through Friday
Saturday 7 a.m. to 3pm
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