Montana might be known for its beef, but there’s one spot in the state that’s known for its bread as much as its meat—no bull! The Staggering Ox is home to one of America’s great regional sandwich styles. Founded in Helena in the mid-’80s, as the menu says, it’s now “celebrating 30+ years of sandwiches, art & political irreverence.”
The Staggering Ox’s claim to fame is its Clubfoot sandwich—specifically, the style of bun that encloses each sandwich. Instead of two sliced rectangles, an ovoid hoagie or baguette-style loaf, or a round roll, the Staggering Ox’s sandwich loaves look like they were baked in tin cans.
Choosing which flavor of freshly baked carbohydrate cylinder as your base is difficult enough. Garlic Parmesan or Asiago? Dill or Jalapeño Cheddar? But then you’ve got to figure out how you’d like to fill the hollowed-out bread—and the Staggering Ox can fit a lot into each Clubfoot.
With about 20 listed menu combinations as well as a choose-your-own roster of ingredients, the filling and sauce options are almost paralyzing. You can go with a classic cold cut combo; you can stuff gyro meat or a cheeseburger (along with their attendant toppings) into your Clubfoot. You can go all-vegetarian.
Or you can throw your hands up and choose a seasonal special like the Holy Smokes: smoked turkey, smoked gouda, spicy cream cheese, marinated cucumber and red onion, tomato slices, sprouts, and lettuce, plus a side of Dijon vinaigrette.
You’d think that a sandwich like this would be a dense flavor bomb that would make you unhinge your jaw to get through it and weigh your stomach down for a week afterward. But surprisingly, finishing a Clubfoot isn’t a painful task. (I mean, I’ve had more trouble getting through a Primanti’s sandwich on days when I haven’t pre-starved myself properly.)
When the Clubfoot arrives in its own personal bowl, the least messy way of devouring it is to lift the sandwich up and eat from the top down, burrito-style. It’s remarkably self-contained for everything that’s inside! Pour sauce on the exposed layers as you go to get maximum flavor distribution from your creamy basil, wasabi ranch, or sesame vinaigrette.
And the Clubfoots are only one category of the sprawling menu, which also features flatfoots (panini-style sandwiches), salads, potato and rice bowls, and a host of ways to eat Bread Guts—the hollowed-out innards from each loaf. Cheesy Guts or Ox Fingers, anyone?
The original Staggering Ox location in Helena is as eclectic and vast as the food options, with cozy hippie-style café seating by the front windows and a separate coffee bar, The Red Atlas, in the rear of the cavernous space. Honestly, after experiencing the quirky charm of the Ox, I’d be disappointed if the spot was decorated any other way.
Until I can return to Montana and get another taste of the Ox’s singular sandwiches, I’ll be practicing my tin can bread baking skills here in New Jersey. Taylor ham, egg, and cheese Clubfoot, coming right up!