But for an animal that seems to represent the wide-open plains of Oklahoma to so many, buffalo is far from ubiquitous on most restaurants’ menus.
If anything, diners are much more likely to find buffalo wings coming out of a kitchen than bison. Partially, that’s due to costs, said Kaiser’s American Bistro, 1039 N. Walker, owner Shaun Fiaccone. Buffalo meat — especially the fresh cuts that Kaiser’s uses — is more expensive than beef, which is a meat most diners are already comfortable ordering.
But that hasn’t kept the restaurant from offering Kaiser’s Big Bison burger to customers. The dish is actually a holdover from when the building’s previous eatery, the Grateful Bean. Fiaccone said the only change they made was to switch from frozen patties, so it could be seasoned for better flavor.
Kaiser’s burgers, especially when ordered medium or rarer, stay tender and juicy. With salt and white pepper mixed into the meat and topped with melting Cheddar cheese, the burger requires no additional condiments or toppings, although they’re available if you absolutely can’t live without them.
For an even juicier taste, Kaiser’s also offers buffalo meatloaf, both as a sandwich and an entrée. The flavor of the meat isn’t as intense, but the rich tomato sauce makes it extremely tender.
VZD’s Restaurant & Club, 4200 N. Western, has been serving buffalo burgers (pictured above) for almost four years, said owner Chad Bleakley. To add some spice and to compensate for dryness, they mix in a little Blue & Gold sausage and red and green peppers.
I found the burger a little tough, but VZD’s Buffaloaf with chipotle ketchup had great flavor and texture. Paired with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy, it’s a filling meal. (A tall glass of wheat beer doesn’t hurt, either.)
While the Steak & Catfish Barn mainly brings in catfish, the buffalo burgers have been a popular staple at the restaurant locations in Edmond and Oklahoma City. In addition to the ground bison, the Edmond location recently added a buffalo rib-eye to the menu.
Down in Bethany, the Big Buffalo Grill serves up mostly diner-style fare, but they honor their namesake with a buffalo burger, as well. Some customers still give it a wary eye, though.
It’s a problem borne of misconceptions, said Laurie Dineen, who works with the Oklahoma Bison Association.
“There are still a few that believe bison are endangered, when, in all actuality, they were never on the endangered list,” she said. By the time the Endangered Species Act went into effect, buffalo populations had grown considerably.
But environmental worries are only half the battle, Dineen said. Some customers balk at the idea of eating buffalo because they’re afraid the meat will taste “wild and gamy.”
The best way to get through to trepidatious eaters: the burger. Not only is it in a form diners already enjoy, she said, but “the burger has such a pure and fresh flavor that the initial impression is always positive.”
Out in Clinton, the Cherokee Trading Post and Restaurant has been serving buffalo steaks and burgers to travelers for decades. The shopping complex includes one feature that restaurants in the city can’t match: live buffalo on the grounds. There you can see the creature in-person.
Mighty. Majestic. Proud. And then you can order up some of his cousin.
Photo by Shannon Cornman