DUNEDIN — I've sampled snails in France, pig's ear in Brazil and stuffed lamb intestines in Lebanon. But I experienced my most exotic culinary adventure last week in …
At Spoto's Steak Joint.
A reader had called, pointing out that the restaurant's marquee advertised African lion, rattlesnake, bison, elk and boar.
Along with summer intern Jackie Alexander, I was sent to try it out. And, as it happens, I was a good choice for the assignment. As a Lebanese-American I know what it's like to eat "different'' foods. I was the kid eating a brie and pita bread sandwich or stuffed grape leaves for lunch.
I learned not to judge foods until I had tasted them. Having done just that at Spoto's, here's my verdict:
The elk was fabulous.
The kangaroo sweet.
The lion tasted a bit like ribs.
(We'll get to the rattlesnake later.)
We started with the Game Sampler for $25.95, which comes with generous helpings of kangaroo, boar and rattlesnake. But we substituted elk for the snake. The meal was served with steamed asparagus and roasted garlic mashed potatoes.
We also ordered the South African Lion Chop dish, a 14-ounce lion rib chop, char grilled for $48.
Spoto's owner and chef Jim Stewart said all his game is farm raised and USDA approved. The kangaroo is from Australia and the lion is farm raised in South Africa and processed in Colorado. The snake and boar come from Texas and the elk comes from Alaska, Canada or New Zealand.
Stewart has built a niche out of serving unusual meats. Previous menus have included ostrich, bear and python. He sends e-mails to 1,000 patrons when he serves a new type of game.
"Gosh, where else can you go and get barbecue prime ribs, steak … duck and lion or bear or whatever at any given time?" he said. "We've kind of built ourselves a little name for that, and it's caught on."
After munching on chicken liver pate, warm baguettes and salad, our dinners arrived. We were both surprised.
"It looks like regular food," Jackie said.
First, I tried the kangaroo. It was sweet and easy to chew, unlike any other meat I've tried. Then the elk, my favorite, which was so tender, Jackie commented it was better than filet mignon. The boar tasted a little heavier than roasted pork.
Finally, it was time to try the lion. The meat was less tender than the others and came with part of the bone, making it difficult to cut. The taste is difficult to describe, sort of a cross between pork chops and ribs.
Pleased with our delicious meal, Jackie and I were ready to wrap things up when photographer Joseph Garnett noted that we had not tried the rattlesnake.
No, I said.
Snakes scare me. I didn't want one near my mouth. Then Joseph used the "w" word — wimp. So I ordered a small side of snake. I asked that it please not look like snake.
"Snake, snake!" a child chanted in the background.
I made small talk to hide my nervousness, and when the dish arrived, my heart was pounding. It looked like snake. Bones poked out through the meat. Before I could panic, Stewart handed me a fork. I closed my eyes and dug in.
The meat was chewy and had a bland taste, kind of like turkey. It was dressed in a light barbecue sauce that had a little kick to it. If I hadn't psyched myself out, I might have taken another bite.