Dining Out: Growing number of local restaurants are in the 'game'

Tonic server Ashley Schwarzenbach holds up a bison burger topped with an organic sunny side up egg and Swiss cheese.

Misconceptions: Game meats "taste gamey"when cooked; they are expensive and hard to find.

Bison meatisn't as hard to find as it used to be. Local grocers commonly carry ground bison meat.

Many profess that bison is a healthier choicethan beef. Bison/buffalo meat can be substituted for beef in a variety of recipes. The taste difference is often indistinguishable, though bison is sometimes perceived as having a fuller, richer flavor.It is not "gamey" or wild tasting. Bison is low in fat and cholesterol and is high in protein, vitamins and minerals.

As more and more people are beginning to discover the benefits of eating bison, one would think it would appear on restaurant menus.

Tonicput a bison-based breakfast hashon its daily menu about a year ago and has a bison burger, too.


The addition of the breakfast hash followed customer demandafter the dish was a weekend and occasional special, and it soon became Tonic's best-selling breakfast, said owner Nicci Sylvester. However, being loaded with potatoes, peppers, onions and more, it is certainly wholesome enough to serve as a full meal anytime of the day.

In addition, the dish is served topped with two eggs. Sylvester recommends "over easy" so the yolk can drip down through the dish adding a texture contrast, and fat, to the crumbled brown meat — almost like the yolk serves as an "au jus."

Since bison meat lacks a lot of marbled fat, the meat has a tendency to cook more rapidly. Caution must be taken to ensure you do not overcook bison. 

Bison is one of the leanest meats and still has a lot of protein. But it is the amount of protein you get in bison meat without the saturated fat that makes this a great alternative to regular beef.

Both the fat content and type of fat makes bison a favorable choice over beef. In addition, bison meat contains fewer calories than beef and higher levels of desirable nutrients.

Bison are entirely grass fed and allowed to roam, whereas beef varies widely in these issues. Bison are not graded by the USDA as is beef, however it still must undergo inspection when being sold for consumption by producers.

Gail Griffin, director of the Minnesota Bison Association in Winona, notes that all but two counties in Minnesota have bison producers, though not all do direct sales for consumption. Some raise animals for breeding purposes and others sell to secondary farms, which then send the animals out for slaughter and eventual meat consumption.

"About 40 percent of Minnesota producers are direct marketers," adds Griffin.

The "code of ethics" of the National Bison Associationis to prohibit the use of both artificial growth hormones and sub-therapeutic antibiotics(antibiotics used to increase the growth rate of the animal) in raising bison. Such a stance was adopted by the Minnesota Association in the 1990s.


Tonic's bison burger is a delicious twist on the classic "Shepherd's Pie,"traditionally prepared with lamb or mutton. In Tonic's burger, ground or chopped meat is smothered in a rich gravy then topped with mashed potatoes. Half Barrel takes this to new heights in their "pie," which is full of elk, venison and bison. The dish is baked until heated through and the "potato crust" browns.

Wildwood Bar and Grillhas offered an elk burgersince its inception. New non-beef menu items appearing this month on their menu include Duck Meatballsand an Asian Duck Flatbread.

To find out more about bison and availability from local producers, visit .

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