Some meats are on every menu: chicken, pork, beef.
Because fewer restaurants offer unusual meats, and customers may be less comfortable with them, the average diner may not be familiar with the options. But in the hands of a skilled chef, anything from quail and rabbit to yak and alligator can be a tasty treat.
What have central Ohio restaurateurs added to their menus in a moment of creative inspiration? How about …
Uniqueness is the name of the game at De-Novo Bistro & Bar in downtown Columbus, and when a unique meat was needed for the menu, executive chef Magellan Moore happened to find a vendor that carried kangaroo.
“We wanted to give people another reason, on top of the wonderful décor and ambience we have, to drive into Downtown and experience this restaurant,” Moore says.
Moore describes kangaroo meat as gamey and delicious, with a deep red flesh. The restaurant serves it au poivre style – it’s rolled in crushed black peppercorns, seared medium rare and served with a brandy gastrique.
Though it sometimes gives customers pause, the restaurant’s kangaroo dish has proved popular among the adventurous set.
“It’s that item that people like to roll the dice on,” says Moore.
The turtle soup at the Old Mohawk is an institution in Columbus. After all, it’s been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1933.
“We have people who come in just for that,” says Todd Weaver, the restaurant’s assistant general manager.
The Old Mohawk gets its turtle from Michael’s Finer Meats & Seafoods in the Hilliard area and boils it, saving all the water, before draining off the turtle once it’s cooked. The water is then mixed with the restaurant’s seasoning – which includes pickling spice, sherry, salt and pepper – and with mixed vegetables and tomato juice before the turtle meat is added back in.
Weaver compares the taste to that of Manhattan clam chowder, albeit more gamey and less fishy, but he specifies that the taste and consistency of turtle can vary; a single turtle has five to seven different kinds of meat in it.
“Depending on which muscle region you get, it tastes anywhere from white meat, like chicken or pork, to dark meat such as duck, and everything in between,” Weaver says.
When The Coop food truck took over kitchen duties at Hey Hey Bar and Grill in
Schumacher Place, Coop owner Angela Theado found herself with access to an entirely new culinary option thanks to Sean Gall, son of Hey Hey owner Sue Gall.
“He raises yaks out in Colorado,” Theado says.
Yak is the most healthful red meat available, Theado says – more so than bison, and much more so than beef. It’s 98.9 percent lean, and Gall’s yaks are grass-fed, so they have Omega-3 fatty acids. Theado compares the taste to beef; it’s not gamey at all, she says.
She’s used the access to yak to make yak biscuits, yak demi-glace, yak sirloin steak and yak short rib hash, but the most popular such item on the menu is the yak burger, which comes loaded with bacon, arugula, mayonnaise and a fried egg. Its similarity to beef is striking to customers who’ve never had yak before.
“Some people, I think, don’t even know that it’s actually yak,” Theado says. “(They’ve) thought ‘The Yak Burger’ is just the name of the burger.”
The menu at northwest Columbus’ The Refectory changes with the seasons, but one item that tends to stay is the Alpaca and Boudin Noir Terrine.
“When we put that alpaca on the table, people really respond to it,” says chef Richard Blondin.
The terrine is served with pistachios, black olives, cranberries, apple cider vinaigrette and griottine cherries.
Other interesting meats on the Refectory’s award-winning menu include quail, rabbit, frog legs and escargot, as well as a fish not often seen on restaurant menus: sturgeon. Blondin jumped at the chance to add sturgeon, wanting to offer something beyond the typical fish choices of walleye, salmon and so on.
“It’s going to be marinated and grilled, and I’m going to serve it with a veal ravioli and a little broccoli crème brulee,” says Blondin.
The most eyebrow-raising items on the menu of Worthington-area Wurst und Bier have been its two types of exotic sausage.
One of these is alligator, which server Stephen Boaz says has a very specific taste of its own, though it’s somewhat similar to chicken. Those who’ve been brave enough to try it are usually pleased.
“When you bite into an alligator, you know you did,” Boaz says.
The other exotic sausage on the Wurst und Bier menu is a combination of rabbit and rattlesnake. Like all the restaurant’s other sausages, it is grilled on an open fire and served with a choice of traditional German toppings such as sauerkraut and sweet peppers.
“With the rattlesnake, people are often really surprised at how mild and smooth the taste and texture are,” says Boaz.
Garth Bishop is editor of CityScene Magazine. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.