Meat sweats modest mouse

Meat Sweats

A Sandwich Report from Modest Mouse’s Swing Through Missoula


Words and Photos BY:
James Joiner

This story was published in Issue 28 our most recent edition of Bomb Snow. Buy One HERE.

Have you ever eaten a $500 cheesesteak? Can you imagine such a thing? A sandwich of such drool-inducing perfection that the notion of shelling out five Benjamins for one feels like a bargain?

___________

Okay, it sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous. A ridiculous flexing of privilege and vulgar display of temperament, perhaps too specific a look into my own soul. But, at the time…

Let me back up.

Dateline: Missoula. Late November 2022. I was there with Modest Mouse for their kickoff to the Lonesome Crowded West tour. A week before Thanksgiving.

I’d deplaned from California into frigid, snowy darkness—a typical late fall Montana evening. A driver met me at the curb just outside the terminal, but not before I’d wiped out twice, landing with a crunch in a pile of bags and Pelican cases full of camera gear. It was clear my icy sidewalk skills forged over my many years spent living along the coast of New England had faded after just a year in Sonoma’s sunny climate. I was cold, tired, and a little drunk, but also verging on already hungover. Thriving, as the kids say.

All I wanted to do was get to my hotel room and pass out face down on some bleach-stiff sheets. At last, I checked in and shambled for the elevator.

That’s when a text from Isaac, Modest Mouse’s frontman, came through, “Oxford Club. Best cheesesteak I’ve ever had. Now.”

Never one to not hasten heart disease’s inevitable advance, I ditched my luggage and headed back into the cold night, the waffle soles of my woefully inadequate footwear shuffling like tiny telemark skis across the sheer pavement of the sidewalk. Swirling snow dervishes conspired as I made my way toward the Ox’s glowing red sign.

The Oxford Saloon and Café is, in every sense of the word, a Missoula institution. Established in 1883, its website proudly proclaims to have been “open 24 hours a day for so many years that there are no keys for the entrances.”


That’s when a text from Isaac, Modest Mouse’s frontman, came through, “Oxford Club. Best cheesesteak I’ve ever had. Now.”

Modest mouse missoula bomb snow mag


The Ox is, after all, a place whose menu proudly proclaims that they serve bowls of Campbell’s soup.

Located on the busy corner of North Higgins and West Pine streets in the heart of downtown, those unlockable doors open to a wooden saloon with enough archaic rifles on display to take back the Alamo. Past the bar, the place transitions into a diner with a counter and a large open grill. Isaac was the lone customer, straddling a stool and talking to the line cook.

Having lived in Missoula in both 1994 and 2002, I hazily recalled having come through those doors many times before. I think I even have a vague memory of their allegedly legendary chicken fried steak. But I’d never contemplated their cheesesteak or, as the menu called it, the “Philly.” Even though Isaac isn’t prone to hyperbole, I wasn’t holding my breath on some sort of mind-blowing gastronomical experience. The Ox is, after all, a place whose menu proudly proclaims that they serve bowls of Campbell’s soup.

Whelp, fuck me and my coastal elitism. After just one bite I knew the bar by which all other cheese and steak sandwiches in my life would be judged had been raised. Hell, it was blown completely out of the stratosphere.

The presentation was innocuous enough: perfectly grilled bread, oozy cheese, chunks of green peppers, browned sheets of beef emitting theatrical curls of steam. It’s when the car hit the garage that the magic happened. I’ll spare you the erotic undertones of chewing and swallowing and tasting descriptors, just suffice it to say that everything came together in an “Aha” moment that would’ve had Anthony Bourdain creaming his designer denim in delight.

A happy, full, fatty glow floated me back to the hotel above the perilous streets and wrapped me in a blanket of carnally carnivorous satisfaction. I slept like an angel (yes, vegans, an angel of death) and awoke with the strength of, if not ten men, at least three or four moderately fit middle-aged people.

Modest Mouse’s first actual show was still a day away, so, after watching rehearsal for a while in the Wilma Theatre, naturally I made my way back to the Ox. I wasn’t merely hungry. I had to know: was it simply set and setting?

A chance rendezvous of environmental, physical, and emotional happenstance that created the perfect steak and cheese sandwich eating situation? Or was it really that good?

Yeah, well, it was. Did I eat two? No, of course not.


Whelp, fuck me and my coastal elitism. After just one bite I knew the bar by which all other cheese and steak sandwiches in my life would be judged had been raised. Hell, it was blown completely out of the stratosphere.

Modest mouse missoula crowded west

I had three.

In my defense, I ate three sandwiches over the course of a couple hours with many generous cocktails in between. I had to know if they would stay that delicious. It was for science, I explained to my wife when she called in the midst of it, definitely impressing her with my dedication.

I spent the rest of that night and the following day

proclaiming to anyone who’d listen just how epic the Ox’s Philly was. I told the crew, the band, the fans in line.

It was like falling in love for the first time, my need to shout it from the rooftops. Only better because there were no strings attached. No expectations, nobody to let down in the long run. As long as I had money in my pocket, there was a never-ending supply of fulfillment.

Or so I thought.

Modest Mouse’s show that night was exuberant. A packed crowd screamed along to every verse, high on stoke and nostalgia and whatever else. In what was a homecoming of sorts for Issac, the band tore through the set as though playing those notes physically transported them back twenty years. Multi-generational fans danced, crowd-surfed, sang themselves hoarse, and had tears streaking their cheeks.

A win, by all accounts.

Afterwards, I gathered a crew for celebratory sandwiches, the greasy perfect bow atop a banner day. We stopped at a few bars along the way to warm up but finally made it, staggering into the Oxford in a whoosh of cold air, where I proudly declared a round of Philly’s for my compatriots.

To which I was told, flatly, “NO.”

I was confused. Being more than a little intoxicated, I must’ve heard wrong.

I asked again. Again, the line cook, who I recall as having an apron, orange hair, and those tired eyes service industry people don when dealing with idiot customers, denied my request.

__________________________________

Wanna read this story in print? Buy a copy of our most recent edition of Bomb Snow: HERE


Make sure to check out the amazing work of the man behind this story: https://www.jjamesjoiner.com/ Thanks James, you are one hilarious dude, dude.


SHARE THIS STORY

   
MORE FROM BOMB SNOW
Shred slang main bro 1440 643 95
Shred Language
Screen Shot 2021 08 02 at 3 22 12 PM
Remembering Tom Sims
High road banner
Always Take the High Road
Snowsports industry
Can the Snowsports Industry be Saved from Itself?