There was a time when wild game was a large part of the American diet — a time when hunting was necessary as a means of sustenance and survival. But as our country ushered in the age of industrialism and federal food regulations, game meat — animals truly born in the wild that foraged for survival before dying by natural cause or the hunter’s rifle — became almost entirely illegal to sell.
Today, the term “wild game” is a misnomer, as most meats labeled and marketed as such in American restaurants and markets are neither wild nor game. Wild game meat, and our idea of what now generally constitutes it — American buffalo, quail, deer, antelope, elk, wild boar, etc. — is nearly all farmed, ranched, and raised under the same strict USDA regulations as common supermarket beef, pork, and fowl.
As an exception, Broken Arrow Ranch, located in Ingram, Texas, still harvests true wild game meat. Their antelope, wild boar, and venison run free and forage on thousands of acres of land before being killed in the field, not in a factory. Broken Arrow supplies many of the country's wild game restaurants (who will always boast this distinction), and is arguably one of the only purveyors of wild game in the U.S.
Our country also imports wild game from foreign countries — New Zealand’s elk is a common sight on many American menus — but consumers should be aware that imported meat is frozen, never fresh. And high-end domestic purveyors of specialty foods, notably Newark-based D'Artagnan, may acquire fresh domestic wild game a few times a year, but it’s invariably reserved for the highest of high-end restaurants in the country.
Today, American restaurant menus are scattered with offerings of wild game, which are more or less a marketing gimmick. But it’s likely consumers don’t mind the inaccuracy. And maybe diners who seek it out on menus are tapping into some idyllic notion of living off the land, or the thrill of savoring a creature considered both elusive and wild. And for all of that, there’s no shortage of game restaurants to help them in their pursuits. Here are America’s top 10 spots.