A couple of Saturdays ago, my friend Kay and I pulled up to a squat brick structure off of a bumpy dirt road, still unsure that we’d managed to find the Neshobe Sportsman Club.
As soon as we climbed out of the car, though, I knew we’d come to the right place: the dusty parking area smelled all kinds of delicious, like slow-cooked meat and buttery mashed potatoes.
Inside, the Brandon wild game dinner was in full swing. Taxidermied animal heads lined the walls, looking down over the people eating at the long tables that lined the room. I made a beeline for the first dish on the table: moose meatballs. Excellent.
I’d been worried that our late arrival would prevent from trying the most delicious offerings — what if the bear stew was gone? And what if the moose jerky had all been eaten?
But the worries were all for naught: there was still plenty to go around. Fried moose, fried bear, fried venison, a choice of moose, bear and venison meatballs (or all three), moose stew. All cooked to the point of delicious tenderness.
Once I was through the line, I looked down at my loaded plate with a thought to the 15-year-old me, who would have been appalled at the decidedly carnivorous offerings at this dinner. That me probably would have launched into a rant about the unsustainable nature of meat. 22-year-old me? I added a roll, green bean salad and cheese curds to my plate and dug in.
I’d had venison before, mostly in chili, and it was always delicious. Its texture was serious, and I could tell as I bit down on each piece of meat that this was one muscled deer. It tasted almost meatier than meat, like something that had darted through the Vermont forests at high speed. Or across Vermont highways. In any case, it tasted markedly different than, say, an animal that had spent its life meandering its way through fields chomping down grass, or spent its time confined to a narrow stall with corn and goodness knows what else for its feed.
Not that there’s anything wrong with cows. I love a good beef stew, and though I hate to admit it, I won’t say no to a hearty factory-farmed meal.
So yes, the venison was good, but it was nothing new to check off of my “Meats to eat” lifetime list (giraffe being the most exotic thing I’ve managed to check off).
Then there was the bear. I wouldn’t say no to eating it again, but it tasted a bit too much like the bear had been chewing on an iron bar right before it was killed. Maybe that does it for some people, but it wasn’t really my thing.
Oh, except for the bear sausage in milk gravy, served over a heaping mound of mashed potatoes. But maybe it was the butter and salt that made it so unbearably good (couldn’t resist).
The moose, though, was surprisingly tender. Like beef, but richer. I found myself wondering how hard it is to get a hunting license, and, beyond that, whether I would have the guts to shoot a gun.
Sitting there with the moose meat in my mouth, though, the answer was a resounding yes.
Or perhaps, Kay and I agreed, we should find a friend who would shoot moose for us, and we would feast on moose stew all winter.
I topped the meal off with pumpkin pie, which was a nice (if a bit rich) counterpoint to the savory flavors I’d just crammed myself so full of. Then I had to try the moose jerky in a bowl by the door, which very nearly put my stomach up to the unbearably full level. Fortunately moose jerky is imminently portable, so I slipped it into my bag for later. Which is what I wish I could have done for some of the other dishes.
Short of that, though, you can be sure I’ll be at the next wild game dinner, ready to chow down on some moose.