Higgins Alley, Missoula
Every step of the way, owner Jeff Readman honors Zimorino’s, the beloved Missoula institution that Higgins Alley replaced.
“Zimorino’s was more than a restaurant to people here; it was a part of the community for more than two decades. Since then, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well we’ve been accepted,” says Freadman, who works four nights a week in the kitchen as the restaurant’s head chef.
Readman moved to Missoula in 1993. In 1998, he left to attend Tante Marie’s Cooking School , a private culinary institute located in San Francisco . Freadman found the school’s small class sizes and intensive nature (students prepare food together under the tutelage of the chef or cooking teacher) beneficial to his needs as a chef.
“That year, I learned the meaning of professionalism and I honed my skills. Most of the new dishes at Higgins Alley are based on my knowledge of food and training, and incorporate professional techniques I acquired from Tante Marie’s,” says Freadman.
Higgins Alley, Missoula Italian Restaurant
In 2004, Freadman signed the paperwork to purchase Zimorino’s. Still, many locals mistakenly refer to his restaurant by its former name, or they innocently call Higgins Alley “that brand new place.” These situations hardly irk or irritate Freadman.
“We still get phone calls asking for Zimorino’s, but that’s fine. For six months after I took over the place, I kept the old name and the exact menu, that’s because I didn’t want to alienate people.”
In March 2004, Freadman closed the restaurant for two months in order to have new carpeting installed, to have the kitchen remodeled, and to remove partition walls, in an attempt to create the impression of greater spaciousness.
Today, Higgins Alley epitomizes the vibrant and enjoyable Missoula dining experience – informal, mellow, buoyant, family friendly, not exclusive to an age group or a particular mode of dress.
“When you come here you can opt to spend $12 or $30 a person. We have a comfortable price range. You can wear a suite and tie or come in jeans. People should feel comfortable here, and are made to enjoy the atmosphere and the ambience. “
Readman’s philosophy as a restaurant owner is simple: quality control and fresh ingredients are key. “We don’t buy prepared foods. Pastas, breads and desserts are all made in-house daily. Nothing here is pre-assembled, or premade, and everything is cooked to order,” says Readman.
Higgins Alley, Missoula, MT
At Higgins Alley, patrons get a robust slice of neighborhood Italian, New York style, transferred, in a sleeker format, to the heart of Missoula ’s laid-back downtown district atmosphere.
“I love being downtown. This is the best spot, the four corners area (of Higgins and Spruce). It keeps us busy, and I love the building we’re in. I can’t picture us being anywhere else in Missoula .”
Offering multiregional Italian dishes served in a casual, dimly lit, old-fashioned setting to the strains of light music and chatty conversation, Higgins Alley radiates warmth and sentimentality. The restaurant’s hardwood oak bar is stocked with an ambitious variety of Italian wines, with enough interesting choices to suggest a favorite local hangout is in the making.
Freadman is glad that he and his restaurant have successfully developed a cordial rapport with the local community. For him, hearing the kind and favorable comments of his customers, makes the effort of providing delectable dishes and pleasing recipes worthwhile.
“I’ll tell you: I’ve heard how hard it is to run a restaurant, and it’s all true. It’s an around the clock job. But, after seeing people have fun here and enjoying themselves, those things really don’t matter.”