Most pet owners are also animal lovers. The furry ones in our homes are part of the family, and we also delight in a cow’s liquid brown eyes, a pig’s pink snout or a chicken’s goofy walk. This poses a conundrum for those of us who like to eat: How can we reconcile our carnivorous instincts with our critter-lovin’ souls?
One way is to be a conscious animal product consumer. It’s easier than ever to eat meat that has been humanely raised in a sustainable fashion (preferably local and organic too). New awareness of big factory farming has improved standards of hygiene, production and care. A surge in small organic farms and the desire to eat locally has served the animal-loving community well—it’s now possible to get a burger that came from the farm down the road, and maybe even visit that farm. Restaurants are getting smart about serving humanely raised meat, so you really can have your bacon and enjoy it, too. Here are some of our favorite cruelty-free dishes.
Grass-Fed Lamb Burger
Bacio rolls out its seasonal menu with pride, and rightly so. We applaud the array of local and sustainable ingredients at this eatery; all the meat from this kitchen is hormone-, steroid- and chemical-free. In addition to Amish chicken and Creekstone Farms beef, Bacio offers grass-fed lamb, a rare find on local menus, which should be scarfed down with great pleasure. The idea of biting into a sweet little lamb can feel icky, but a little lamb gamboling through the fields munching on green grass is a lovely picture. Grass-fed lamb, like grass-fed beef, is full of authentic, hearty flavor. This beauty of a ground lamb burger is loosely packed, juicy and gussied up with harissa (a Middle Eastern spice mix of hot peppers, garlic and coriander), feta cheese, cucumber-yogurt sauce and plenty of fresh mint and arugula, almost as if we were in the fields of greens with the lamb. $16.
1571 Plymouth Road, Minnetonka
Ferndale Market Turkey
If you want to cook some kind meat at home, check out the butcher’s counter at Lakewinds Market. Kudos to Lakewinds for cultivating relationships with local producers that espouse humane animal treatment; each meat producer’s profile is online if you really want to investigate. Ferndale Market founders Fern and Dale Peterson began to grow turkeys in 1939 in Cannon Falls, Minn., and it remains the go-to place for all-natural, pasture-raised turkeys. This turkey is available year-round and is worth eating on a regular basis, not just holidays. The farm is also worth a personal visit; turkeys are hilarious entertainers, gobbling and hopping, wattles flying. $2.49/pound.
7501 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka
Niman Ranch Natural Pork Chop
Gianni’s is known as a steakhouse, and an excellent one at that. Don’t let that limit you—it’s well worth trying other menu items, in particular the uncommonly juicy pork chop from Niman Ranch. One of the first small, naturally raised meat farms to become a brand name, Niman Ranch was known by name on the menu at Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse, in the 1970s. Niman Ranch pigs are humanely raised, hormone and antibiotic-free and given vegetarian feed. One especially sweet detail is that the animals are raised within their social groups (happy animals make healthy meat). The 12 oz. fan rib chop is dry-aged and bursting with flavor. Despite what you may have been told, pork doesn’t need to be overcooked, especially the good stuff. Medium rare is recommended, as a touch of pink in the center allows the meat to shine. The sides at Gianni’s are always as good as the centerpiece. We recommend the sweet creamed corn and chunky, spiced apple chutney as perfect accoutrements. $28.
635 E. Lake St., Wayzata
Seared Jumbo Scallops
The chefs at this new place call themselves craftsmen and take pride in their selection of heritage goods sourced from those who share their ideals of “sustainability, integrity and quality.” The seafood on the menu is all day-boat-caught by responsible fishermen—the boat goes out for one day only, limiting the volume of its catch and ensuring that the fish don’t sit around for a few days before heading to market. The jumbo scallops here are a marvel: Cast-iron-seared for a caramelized crust and silky interior, they’re paired with fantastic flavors like bright tomato, cloud-like potato gnocchi and balsamic vinegar dribbles. $33.
294 Grove Lane East, Wayzata
Imagine a bunch of happy cows languidly munching away in verdant local pastures when you bite into one of Coalition’s superior hamburgers. The secret is Peterson Farms’ Limousin beef; it’s a French heritage breed with a leaner fat content and richer taste. It’s also free from antibiotics and growth hormones. The patty is moist, full of earthy beef flavor and cooked to order. It’s served with local cheddar cheese, tomato, pickle, lettuce and a garlicky house aioli. $12.
227 Water St., Excelsior
BLVD's free-range half-chicken bursts with flavor and texture
Free-Range Half Chicken
BLVD Kitchen and Bar
Free-range chickens get to run around a yard, cavort with their chicken friends and peck at Mother Nature’s nutritious goodies, like worms. The difference in flavor is remarkable: A free-range bird actually tastes like chicken, not the bland, rubbery stuff that passes in so many places. It’s a bit denser to the bite—these chickens are well-exercised and they have muscle. BLVD serves a half-bird, roasted in the heavenly, fragrant, wood-fired oven, with thick and tangy house-made barbecue sauce. It also comes with chive-studded mashed potatoes and a sweet apple compote. Down home comfort food, with a conscience. $24.
11544 W. Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka
McCormick’s Pub and Restaurant
If you’re going to eat raw meat, it better be top-notch. A well-made steak tartare is a treat on any day and McCormick’s uses richly flavored grass-fed beef, served with roasted mushrooms, egg-yolk mayo, truffles and crispy shallots. The idea is to mix and match the ingredients according to personal taste. We dove right in and tasted each thing separately before experimenting with various combinations. The meat is remarkably fresh and clean, and playing mad scientist at the dinner table is a marvelously engaging pursuit. $13.
331 Broadway Ave. S. Wayzata
BBQ Niman Ranch Spare Ribs
Provenance is important these days; we want to know where our meat came from. Restaurants are starting to include farm sources on their menus. Niman Ranch is the popular producer we mentioned earlier, gained its following in 1971 and has only expanded since. Niman grew to supply scads of restaurants with flavorful, humanely raised pork, including more than 800 Chipotle Mexican restaurants, an encouraging sign of widespread demand for quality meat. Big Bowl also serves Niman Ranch pork; its quality is showcased in their BBQ spare ribs. A traditional Chinese restaurant appetizer, these ribs are as tender as can be, not greasy in the least, and lovingly bathed in a teriyaki barbecue sauce. The agreeable balance of sweet and tang is underscored with an unmistakable porkiness. $7.99.
12649 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka