When the West gets wild~
“I’d like a wild boar brat.” I said to the guy behind the street corner vendor cart.
“Great choice, man. We just got them in today. We have been out of them for the past two weeks.”
“Lucky me! I like boar.”
“Yeah? Where have you had it before?”
“In Italy. Well, not a wild boar brat, but I have had wild boar ragù with pasta several times in Italy, especially in Tuscany.”
“Cool, we get our wild boar brats from a company in Texas that locally produces them. They had been running a little low on finding wild boar, but they recently had some good days out hunting. ”
Under Denver’s famous clock tower at the corner of Arapahoe and 16th is a hot dog/brat stand that stands out from the rest – Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs. Their corner on street vendor food is exotic meats. Wild boar, elk, Alaskan reindeer, buffalo, pheasant, and veal round out the exotic selection. Their “Mac n Cheese” dog is a crazy twist on what most of us ate as kids growing up – a plate of macaroni and cheese with a hot dog. I think that is must be high on the list of classic American kids’ meals.
The first time I encountered wild boar on a menu was in the small Italian hilltop town of Proceno. In fact, my mother was with me on that trip and, before leaving the US, she had prepared herself for her Italian vacation by reading the popular Under the Tuscan Sun. Upon her completion of the book and before we left the country, she made a declaration – “I will NOT be eating chicken livers or wild boar. Period!” I guess the book was peppered with descriptions of dishes containing those two ingredients.
Our very first night in Italy, after being up for more than 32 hours – between the flight, time change and drive into southern Tuscany from Rome, we decided to eat dinner in the tiny little restaurant in the basement of the 12th-century castle we were staying in. It does sound fantastic and, don’t get me wrong, it was, but a 12th-century castle in a small Italian hilltop town is like finding a Starbucks in America – there is one on every corner or, as it is in this case, a castle on every hilltop.
The ristorante was family run so the furnishings were cozy and the food was rustic. My mom ordered a baked pasta dish with ragù (in Italian, that means “a sauce with meat”). When the waiter served us our entrees, my mom could not stop bragging about how incredibly fantastic her baked dish was. She raved on and on about it. I wanted to break the news to her that she was eating a “meat” dish in Tuscany (hint, hint, hint), but as I started to tell her about it, she lifted her hand and said, “I DON’T want to know what is in this. It is incredible and that is all I need to know!”
While we were vacationing there, we would often hear gunshots in the distance coming from the heavily wooded hillsides that surrounded Proceno. With every distant “bang” I would joke that “Well, there is tonight’s dinner!” My mom would smirk as if she would never be able to bring herself to eat anything killed in the woods. And yet, years later now, we joke about how much she enjoyed her wild boar ragù – she says that she only loved it so much because she was so tired. Though if you ask her how the food was in Italy – the baked pasta with wild boar ragù is the first dish she raves about.
I told Chandler, the guy working Biker Jim’s, that I’d also like to order a pheasant brat. I really do enjoy trying different foods. Growing up that was not the case. My grandfather and uncles all hunted and I would eat venison and frog legs, but I could never bring myself to try turtle or rabbit. Of course, now, I always order the rabbit if I see it on a menu in Italy. I think I would still refrain from turtle, but I have never seen it on a menu either in America or Italy. I count myself lucky in that regard.
Biker Jim’s wild boar brat is studded with apricots and cranberries, while their pheasant brat is spiced with cayenne and had spinach in it. They serve their brats with cream cheese and sautéed onions. I passed on the cream cheese but decided to go with the onions. I was a little nervous that the cream cheese would mask the subtle flavors in the brats, but I figured the sweetness of the caramelized onions would be a nice addition.
I really enjoyed both and would highly recommend them. I’m not sure that I would be able to get my mother to try a wild boar brat, even though my parents live in Chicago – where a brat is considered fine dining in the summer, especially when boiled in beer and then grilled. Of course, that fact that she ate and really enjoyed wild boar in Italy wouldn’t make a different to a Texas-raised wild boar brat in Denver.
I draw my line at turtle and she draws hers at the wild boar – though, without a doubt, she would be face deep in that baked pasta dish from Proceno if we were to ever go back there!