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Building the Buffalo Block: Billings' new high-end steakhouse opening soon

Big changes are made to the old Rex Restaurant
Posted at 4:26 PM, Sep 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-04 20:35:08-04

BILLINGS  — A barrier of construction fence has been wrapped around the Buffalo Block Steakhouse at the Rex on Montana Avenue for months. But an opening date is in sight.

Owner Rick Larson, a Billings businessman, is hoping he can open the new restaurant at the end of September for a “soft launch,” while holding the grand opening in the beginning of October.

“Every time you turn around, everybody that we know seems to be asking the question, when are you going to open? I wish I could give them the exact date, but it’s getting really close,” he said.

But before that, more work is left to be done.

On Tuesday, furniture was being assembled and new employees were getting acquainted with the inner workings of the restaurant.

Inside,the bar is made of intricate woodwork, and the booths are chic and stylish.

“It’s just top line. All the wood work is solid wood. It’s all walnut,” he said.

Leading up to the restaurant is the same buffalo block brick that greeted patrons for years. The new light fixtures resemble something of an older era, and Larson said the same wall décor that once adorned the walls of the Rex will be put back in place.

As Larson’s new vision for the old Rex restaurant takes shape, he’s also taking special care in preserving the past. Larson said the old photos have the previous owner, Gene Burgad, in them.

The iconic building shut its doors in February 2017. At that point, something sparked inside Larson.

Fast-forward to now. Nearly 300 people in the Billings area sought jobs at the Buffalo Block Steakhouse, and over 50 were hired, Larson said.

And Tuesday, while work was still being done, those eager new workers were there.

“This is the first day of training,” said Larson. “It’s exciting to see. We’ve got some good people hired. That’s the fun part,” he said.

Among those hired is a new executive chef all the way from Sarasota, Fla.

“We interviewed four chefs as finalists, and he was the only one that didn’t cook us a steak. He cooked a double bone-in pork chop that was... It was just something else. So we have that on the menu now,” said Larson.

Austin Stewart comes to Billings with ties to the community, with his wife attending college in the Magic City, said Larson.

And he shares the same vision Larson does for the Buffalo Block, a high-end dining experience unlike anything in Billings.

“I’m a prime steak house chef. It’s what I’ve done most of my career is work in high end steak houses,” he said.

The Buffalo Block will specialize in grilling only prime steaks, with the highest quality grade of meats, over a wood-fired grill.

Tuesday, that grill was up and running as the kitchen staff learned the ins and outs of the new space.

“It will be an exceptional kind of steakhouse experience,” said Stewart. “It’s something you’d see in really, really high-end steakhouses when you travel to big cities, Vegas things like that.”

And much of the restaurant’s new features come from locally sourced businesses, from the new tables, to that intricate woodwork on the bar.
Larson, also knows the patio is a major attractant as well, so he says that will be up and running soon, complete with umbrellas and even patio-heaters keeping diners comfortable in the unpredictable Montana weather into late October.

It’s just another way Larson is keeping the old Rex alive, while still breathing new life into the old building.

“It’s just renewing it. Just getting it back to where it will last another 100 years,” he said.