Market Deli and Catering owned by Chef Daniel Burt serves up freshness in the basement of the Valley Credit Union Building in downtown Billings. Filtered light shines in through the glazed roof above, lighting the many levels of open corridors. Ambient sounds of trickling water come from the fake waterfall and yellow tinged light takes me back in time. On this day, my friend Darla-Jones, and I decided to check out Burt’s lunch offerings after tasting his catered food at an event.
Burt’s cooking philosophy is “to use quality ingredients, and to keep it simple. You can impress by using just a few ingredients, good technique, and proper seasoning.” On his menu of deli sandwiches and salads, he offers traditional sandwiches with modern touches. The BLT comes with avocado while the veggie sandwich receives a spread of pesto. Oil poached tuna goes into his Albacore tuna salad sandwich. His pickles are house-made with a quick brining technique.
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On this day we ordered the special of the ham and brie sandwich on a ciabatta with a date spread and arugula, substituting the turkey for the ham. Then we quickly agreed on the tarragon chicken salad on rye bread, which was recommended by Burt, and a cup of curry sweet potato soup, the featured soup on this day.
“My mother is a great cook, and her cooking influenced me when I was younger,” he said of his mom, Demaris. He shared of the favorite dish she makes every Christmas Eve: bagna cauda, an Italian dish translating to “hot bath,” made up of a mixture of garlic and anchovies for dipping bread and raw vegetables.
After graduating from Skyview in 2001, Burt received his EMT certification and worked in the field for four years. “I was thinking about going into nursing school but I was not a good student,” he admitted. “I loved Gourmet magazine and started to work at a couple of restaurants in town — Walkers and Hilands.” He worked on several events with Tom Nelson, a popular caterer in town, and, “He gave me the confidence to pursue catering as I found a love of catering.”
Burt toured the Northwest Culinary Institute in Portland, but friends working in the industry that had received formal training told him of the debt they had accrued from their schooling. Instead, he bought “the textbooks and studied, saving money.” He gained practical experience from working in Portland at Bread and Ink Cafe, a long-lived cafe serving fresh and locally sourced foods, Le Pigeon, a French-inspired restaurant, and at Nostrana, under the tutelage of chef/owner Kathy Whims to learn to cook Italian cuisine.
“Here, I learned about simple and rustic cooking, using good ingredients. They had a pizza oven. I also learned to butcher and break down animals. We would grill half a pig and process a whole lamb every week,” Burt said.
“I was not planning on a storefront, but this space came up,” Burt said. He had been using the kitchen at the Hilands Golf Club on Mondays for his food prep. When the Back Porch Deli became available in the summer of 2020, he took the space. Now with four part-time employees, he operates the deli during the week along with producing for catering jobs. He gets his help through “word of mouth. They are all in recovery,” he shared with understanding from his personal challenges. He wants to make an even bigger impact by helping more people who want to get back to work.
After taking her first taste of the pumpkin-colored curry sweet potato soup, Darla Jones said, “I love the pow of it. I love the little morsels of ginger. It warms you all the way down to your tummy.”
The tarragon chicken salad sandwich encased thick and generous chunks of house-poached chicken with fresh field greens between two thick slices of soft marbled rye bread. Tarragon and dried cranberries bring another layer of flavor. The special brie sandwich with “rehydrated dried dates, rough cut,” as described by Burt, gave a “healthy serving of meat,” Jones shared. The toasted ciabatta and perky arugula only added to the balance of taste and texture to this sandwich.
Below ground, in downtown Billings, Chef Daniel Burt is creating fresh deliciousness at Market Deli and Catering.
Stella Fong, author of ‘Historic Restaurants of Billings and Billings Food’ hosts ‘Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region’ for Yellowstone Public Radio.
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