Yes, there’s a burger in there somewhere.
The elk is a mighty animal. Also known as wapiti, it’s really a very large species of deer, native to North America and East Asia. Males of the species have magnificent horns, which are shed every year, and these horns are often used in traditional medicines. Male elks make their presence known by issuing loud screams, known as bugling. Female elks gestate around 260 days, and produce calves averaging 32 pounds, usually only one at a time. Why is FiTR telling you this? Because now you can eat elk at restaurants.
Smokey Burger Organic’s elk burger in cross section
In general, serving wild game in New York restaurants is still illegal. But elk is farm-raised in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas. Sometimes the herds are grazed on the prairie grasses, sometimes – in the case of Pennsylvania – fed a diet of oats. Nomad Acres (sounds like a good sitcom subject, right?) feeds its herd grains, and describes the resultant flesh as “healthy, sweet meat.” Elk flesh is also exceedingly lean. Are you fat-o-phobes listening?
Smokey Burger Organic recently debuted in the Theater District, a burger joint that specializes in patties made from game. The deep narrow space has rustic lumber walls, and you can almost feel like you’re eating in a hunting lodge. The menu offers the usual beef, turkey, and lamb burgers, but for novelty junkies, there are ostrich, buffalo, duck, and elk choices, too. Since the elk seemed the most extreme, that’s the one we went for.
While you can get the more exotic patties in simple burger presentations, the bill of fare is intent on offering them in elaborate settings. There may be a reason for this. The elk burger, called the Big Boss Armando ($18.95), comes on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, turkey bacon, a runny fried egg, two types of cheese, and fried onion rings, right in the sandwich. With all that glop, who can even taste the elk?
We asked them to hold the cheese, and made a point of nipping off small pieces of the elk patty for taste purposes. The patty was rubbery, but boldly flavored, not exactly like beef, but not unlike it either. If we’d expected a slightly gamy flavor, that could be detected, too. The patty seemed to contain almost no fat. It also tasted as if it had been frozen, and the time it took for the burger to arrive at the table seemed to confirm that.
Really, not a bad burger, though you probably could have put a urinal cake in that setting and it wouldn’t have made much difference.
Smokey Burger Organic
339 West 41st Street
The outside is somewhat camouflaged.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 5, 2013