Ingredients for Success at Harper and Madison, Billings, Montana

For owner Joanie Swords, love is the first ingredient. Joanie brought Harper and Madison to life in a former neighborhood market dating back to 1925. She also set out to perform an experiment. If the focus was on love – love of staff and patrons –  rather than money, would the restaurant succeed? Seven years later, the answer is a resounding YES!

Location: Harper and Madison is located at 3115 10th Avenue North, Billings, Montana.

Menu: The menu has year-round favorites as well as seasonal specialties. All food is made in-house. Pastries include their most popular, salad plate-sized caramel rolls, scones, a daily danish made with fresh berries, croissants, and cookies. Heartier breakfasts include biscuit sandwiches, pulled port breakfast tacos, hash for meat lovers, and gallo pinto with rice, beans, eggs and chili seasoning for vegetarians.

Weekday lunch offerings include classic meat sandwiches with a twist and hearty vegetable sandwiches paired with cheese for vegetarians. For lighter fare, salads and wraps are on the menu.

The robust Saturday-only brunch menu of eggs Benedict, chilaquiles, omelets, biscuits and gravy, and the “Jethro” – a breakfast fit for a lumberjack, make Saturday morning a popular time to visit.

Thoughts: Harper and Madison is a neighborhood cafe through and through. Children sharing a caramel roll and hot chocolate, downtown professionals seeking a healthy lunch and retirees chatting over locally-roasted coffee frequent the restaurant. By design, Harper and Madison encourages diners to meet old friends and make new acquaintances. Communal tables, designed and constructed by the owner’s son, Madison, invite you to linger over a flaky, melt in your mouth, chocolate croissant and a cup of Montana-made Tumblewood tea.

Alternatively, you can opt for a more intimate table beneath paintings by regional artists. The artwork, on loan from Terakedis Gallery, is rotated every six weeks.

The second ingredient is delectable food. Creating the innovative menu is a collaborative affair involving the entire staff. Joanie likens it to Food Network’s test kitchen. For lunch, my summertime favorite is the zingy black bean and quinoa falafel wrap. It can be made with a gluten-free tortilla. During the fall, the Harvest Moon panini with roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, apple and Stilton cheese laced with cranberries is a tangy, sweet combination with a little crunch that satisfies every taste bud. On a recent visit, a communal table neighbor, who has been a daily visitor since the restaurant opened in 2011, tucked into a biscuit sandwich and had little to say until he finished. “Best biscuits in Billings. Best biscuits ever!”

Harper and Madison’s final ingredient for success is hospitality. With rare staff turnover, you are sure to be welcomed by a familiar face. Their interest in you as a person, not just a patron, is apparent. Joanie shares a quote from New York restaurateur, Danny Meyer, “The first gifts of life are eye contact, a smile, a hug, and some food. These first gifts may be the purest hospitality transaction we’ll ever have.” Every day, Joanie and her staff lovingly prepare fresh, wholesome food that’s always served with a generous helping of hospitality.

Food is ordered at the counter and delivered to your table. Each entree is made to order, so take a seat and make a friend while you wait the few minutes for your food to be prepared.

Price Range: Pastries and desserts are $3-$7. Breakfasts are $4-$11. Sandwiches and salads/wraps are $9-$11. Saturday brunch ranges from $3-$14.

Author BioTeresa Otto is a part-time freelance writer and photographer and a part-time pediatric anesthesiologist. Read her blog about travel tips for active boomer and elder travel, based on travel with her 89-year-old mom at TheNomadsDaughter.com.  Follow her on Instagram at TeresaOtto_thenomadsdaughter.

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