|Loon River Cafe.|
In the tradition of important Opening Days in Michigan, November 15 was opening day for gun season (bow season started October 1, and I for one think anyone who is badass enough to use a bow and arrow instead of a graceless, brutish gun which lacks a certain finesse when compared to bows, deserve that extra month and a half lead time). It seems like such a great time to run a wild game hot list, but ay, here's the rub: it is illegal to sell or commercially serve Michigan white tail deer meat unless the meat itself has been inspected by the FDA at USDA-approved slaughterhouses, of which there are only five in the state of Michigan and not one processes deer meat. Other slaughterhouses can process deer meat but only for individual or charitable nonprofit organization consumption. When you do find venison on a menu somewhere, it is from red deer imported from outside of the United States and is very costly (which is why you very rarely see it).
That being said, despite trying to tie this in with opening day, there simply isn't a whole lot of venison to be had on most menus, and despite our abundant deer population, the venison you'll find in restaurants isn't from Michigan*. It isn't even from America. Sound ludicrous? Start a petition, call your state rep, do something about it. Here are some places that make the most of what we do have. (Rabbit and duck can go a long way to make up for what we lack in deer.)
#1 Grange Kitchen + Bar (Ann Arbor)
You guys, this place is just really fantastic. It's the best. For realsies. Crazy game meat isn't always a staple on the regular menu (which is really quite fine, since their Scotch eggs and duck poutine still are, and have you ever had fried pig's head? You should totally try it), but there are often specials and events where Chef Brandon Johns serves items like smoked goose, quail egg and rabbit. Oh, and he sources everything locally, even the shrimp. Yes, there is a shrimp farm in Michigan (the Root and COLORS also use it).
#2 The Wurst Bar (Ypsilanti)
No, I do not work for them. And while realistically I cannot be there as often as I'd like to be, what they're doing is still pretty special. Now, here's where my definition of "game" meat might get a little loose: is rattlesnake meat wild game? What about alligator? And if they are considered game meats, they certainly aren't local. But where else in metro Detroit will you find rattlesnake and alligator on a menu? Therefore, Wurst Bar wins. They also make sausages from rabbit and bison, so there you go.
#3 Loon River Cafe (Sterling Heights)
Not only do they have probably one of the largest selections of wild game on their regular menu, but they also regularly host special wild game dinners. In fact, there is one coming up on November 26 and another on December 17. Guinea fowl, elk, quail, goat, buffalo, boar ... in the words of Kirsten Dunst as Claudia, the child vampire in the 1994 borderline-camp classic Interview with the Vampire: I want some more. Chef Ray Hollingsworth doesn't get a lot of love being over there in a Best Western on the dreaded east side, but he's kind of a bad ass.
All four are tied because, despite some slight variations, they have effectively the same menus (and the same owners). Get a buffalo burger; buffalo meatloaf; venison brochette; their signature "Road Kill Grill" with roast venison, semi-boneless broiled quail and wild boar sausage with Michigan game gravy; or opt for the "Wild Thang" appetizer with samples of their spicy venison sausage, rabbit ravioli, duck tenders, whitefish pate and BBQ buffalo balls.
#5 Toasted Oak Grill + Market (Novi)
Now serving roast leg of Michigan white tail deer! It's better if you don't ask questions and just go. Duck and Great Lakes trout are also menu mainstays.
Bubbing under Roast (Detroit), Cuisine (Detroit), Big Rock Chop House (Birmingham), Due Venti (Clawson), Green Dot Stables (Corktown), the Root (White Lake), Cafe Muse (Royal Oak), Forrest Grill (Birmingham), Coach Insignia (Detroit), Atlas Global Bistro (Detroit), Cork Wine Pub (Pleasant Ridge), Bacco Ristorante (Southfield), Cafe Cortina (Farmington Hills), the Rattlesnake (Detroit)
*with a few "better not to ask" exceptions