Which wine goes with kangaroo?
That's the question at Hell's Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis, where kangaroo steaks — a first in the Twin Cities — are a top seller on the menu.
In fact, you might say that kangaroo sales are hopping. (Sorry.)
Co-owner Cynthia Gerdes was surprised — and concerned — when executive chef Joe Wuestenhagen suggested serving the meat. "I thought he was joking," she said.
But the meat is considered both healthful and to have a relatively low environmental impact. Oh, and Australian farmers aren't too happy with the animal, which apparently interferes with livestock grazing.
A few other upsides: Kangaroos produce very little methane gas (unlike cattle). They don't damage soil, because they don't have hooves. The meat is organic and it's lean (probably from all that hopping). Kangaroo on the global dinner plate is harvested from the Australian wild by licensed shooters, in an effort to control populations.
The downside: People think of kangaroos as cuddly creatures.
"Some people might give us a little backlash, or a lot. That's why I had to think this through. We don't put an item on the menu to gain some ink," said Gerdes. "In a perfect world, no one would eat meat. But they do eat it. And it's a huge part of restaurants' menus."
She noted that when bison was first introduced to the Hell's Kitchen menu 11 years ago, many restaurant owners raised their eyebrows about that. Bison? Who would eat that? Now it's de rigueur on many menus.
The true test
So how does kangaroo steak taste? Definitely not like chicken. There's more of a mild red-meat flavor with no game-like tones. And it's a bit chewy (this is a lean meat, after all).
Initially the restaurant is preparing the kangaroo only in steak form — no 'roo burgers in the immediate future. "Our purpose is to get people to try it," said Gerdes.
And they have, often with a sense of humor.
"I think I've now heard just about every kangaroo line possible, but my favorite came last night," said Pat Forciea, vice president of sales and marketing for Hell's Kitchen. "I asked a customer how he enjoyed his kangaroo and his face lit up with a big smile and said it made him 'jumpy.' I told him, 'Oh, yeah? Show me what you've got.' " The guest got up and hopped around the table.
Oh, and for the wine? Try a pinot noir that won't overpower the mild-tasting meat.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste