April 14, 2011
Last week a man in an apron and a pot-leaf T-shirt handed me something I never could’ve guessed I would be seeing in a liquor-convenience store in East Salinas: kangaroo meat.
“You’ll never eat tri-tip again,” cook Gary Nana said, smiling as wide as Australia.
Tri-tip, it bears mentioning, goes for a less than $49.99 a pound, the asking price at Quality Market Liquor & BBQ Grill (424-1045) for the goods from Aussie Game Meats in Wulkuraka.
A wider look at the exotic meats list is nothing less than arresting, with more rates that beg Price-is-Right contests: There’s ostrich ($12.99/pound) and antelope ($19.99), deer ($19.99) and duck ($16), elk and alligator (both $19.99), llama ($12.99) and buffalo ($19.99), shark ($19.99) and turtle ($38.99). Topping the price chart is iguana, at a cool $150 per.
The stash is kept in a small cooler front and center at the shop, next to the check-out stand where he uses the computer monitor to show me the sources for his meats and their legality.
“People tend to react strongly, but they don’t realize these aren’t wild animals,” Nana says. “They’re all farm-raised. That’s why it’s legal to sell.”
The exotic end point began from a plain place: The Filice family, which just entered its fourth generation (manager Rob Filice is pictured above) of running the place and the neighboring liquor store, started grilling meats in a little Weber for employees on weekends, often tossing on the deer they hunted. When customers started asking for plates, Nana says, the family acquired a pit and really started smoking (while I was there I tried some tasty tri-tip and sausage, along with some beautiful barbecue sauce).
When customers eyeing the deer heads on the walls started seeking a cut of venison, Nana went in search of game sources.
“Everyone kept asking if we could get deer,” he says. “The thing you have to do is make sure you get a source that’s USDA-backed because you are so scrutinized. It took me six months to find sources that would work with me.”
While I wasn’t into the idea of eating the farm-raised lion he’s promising (“don’t you have a cat?” I asked), I couldn’t leave without a pound of kangaroo, a big bag of breaded alligator nuggets ($39.99) and a pack of Cajun gator-pork sausages ($12.99).
Now, a word for those picturing me gnawing on Winnie the Pooh’s homie Roo: While the food mileage isn’t remotely ideal (especially because they require frozen transport), their harvest is supported by local ecologists who favor it over more land-damaging livestock like sheep and cows.
It’s also super lean and dark brown. I marinated the marsupial steaks in a little red wine, jalapeño and elephant garlic and gave it a medium-rare grilling.
“I love that meat,” Nana says. “I just ordered 10 more pounds of it.”
The resulting taste was both rich and gamey, the hallmark of an active animal, but a little tough for my taste and definitely not worth half a Ben Franklin, though other rustic ’cue-goers did dig its density.
The smoked alligator out of Louisiana—grilled with a little Blanco Basura beer (above) was zesty Cajun sensation, as long as I dodged the tough cubes of cartiledge.
It was the nuggets, though, that were the fascinating and tasty favorite, with an almost chicken-halibut hybrid taste and a surprisingly substantive weight.
Next on Nana’s menu: Eastern rattlesnake.