The Europeans gave us the seasonal pattern of eating wild game in the fall and winter.
Perrin Wells, General Manager of the Broken Arrow Ranch in Ingram, TX, noted that lack of refrigeration played a large part in this custom. "But today," Wells says, "American chefs have broken that pattern. While France may be glued to the tradition of serving game only in the fall and winter, Americans chefs now order these meats, which are harvested throughout the year, year round."
As Chef Mark Hibbs at Cosmos wryly points out about "wild" meats, "It's gotta be farm-raised. If you hit it with your car, you can't serve it."
Around the US, menus offer bison, elk, rattlesnake, caribou (as in Rudolph) and kangaroo. Where are the places in town to walk on the wild side? Antelope has appeared now and then on some menus. Wells, who sells antelope, states, "Some people refer to antelope as veal-like. I like to think of it as meat that tastes the way beef should."
While antelope isn't here in Charlotte at the moment, wild boar and venison are finding places on the city's menus with greater frequency. And even though we have a restaurant named Cajun Yard Dog which doesn't serve alligator, you can find gator on area menus as well.
¨At Cosmos, Chef Mark Hibbs serves a venison meatloaf. This entree is composed of ground venison with garlic and onions and is wrapped in apple wood smoked bacon and served with a Jack Daniels barbecue sauce ($16.50). Hibbs also creates a Roasted Pheasant and Duck Confit Pie entree with vegetables, port, duck stock reduction and served in a savory pie shell with haricot vert ($15.50).
Cosmos, 300 N. College Street, Suite 101. 704-372-3553.
¨At Zink, where the menu changes frequently, the kitchen offers a roundup of exotic meats. On the menu is the appetizer Grilled Wild Boar Sausage, made in house and served over a warmed potato salad and aged balsamic vinegar with caramelized onions ($8). Entrees include Maple Crusted Venison Loin with a blackberry pistachio and sweet potato gratin with a blackberry demi glace ($25) and Manchester Pheasant, spit roasted in the oven then chilled, pan seared and served with vegetables ($22).
Zink, 201 North Tryon Street. 704-444-9001.
¨At Bayou Kitchen Restaurant and Bar, you would expect alligator — and you'll find it. Their popular Alligator Boulettes are fritters served with both cocktail and tartar sauces ($6.95).
Bayou Kitchen Restaurant and Bar, 1958 East Seventh Street. 704-332-2256.
¨Brazas Brazilian Grill serves both alligator and rabbit during their parade of 12 to 14 varieties of meat offered at dinner. The gator tail is battered and fried while the rabbit is floured and then fried. Both are served with chimichurri sauce. Dinner is all-you-can-eat ($25).
Brazas Brazilian Grill, 4508 East Independence Boulevard. 704-566-1009.
¨Zebra may not offer its namesake (thankfully), but Chef Jim Alexander prepares a Canadian Ring Neck Pheasant, griddled with artichoke barigoule, pancetta, thyme and bay leaf and served with ravioli ($26). Alexander noted the only truly "wild" items cooked up in his kitchen are the fish.
Zebra, 4521 Sharon Road. 704-442-9525.
¨But to truly walk on the wild side, try a renowned Chinese delicacy: the Sea Cucumber. This marine animal, which looks like a caterpillar on steroids, is stir fried at the Dragon Court in an entree with mushrooms, vegetables, and served on rice ($23).
Dragon Court Chinese Restaurant, 4520-40 North Tryon Street. 704-596-0228.