Fair stand takes walk on the wild side

BLUE EARTH – People walk by the Wild Side Cafe on Restaurant Row at the Faribault County Fair, stop and glance uncertainly at the menu. That’s because what they’re reading includes bison, elk, venison, rabbit, wild boar and reindeer.

Not your usual fair food.

That’s kind of the point, said Mary Sullivan, who runs the Wild Side Cafe with her husband, Scott, and her parents Pam and Arnie Hofstedt.

The family is from the Twin Cities and have been on the road with their culinary creations for the past two years, hitting a lot of county fairs during the summer in Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northern Iowa.

Sullivan came up with the idea after being laid off from work. She originally wanted to do mini-donuts but nobody liked it.

“I went to my friends [on Facebook] and said, ‘If you could start a food truck, what would you do?'” she said. “The biggest complaint is lack of quality meats.

“I originally was gonna start out with bison, because it’s lean and healthier. Just expanded on it and went wild. My personality is such, wild fit,” she said with a big grin.

The first problem was these cuts of meat aren’t available at the corner grocery store. Sullivan’s bison comes from North American Bison in North Dakota; the venison and wild boar from Texas.

Cooking it takes a little concentration, however, because the meat requires a lower temperature so it doesn’t overcook.

Sullivan said 155 degrees gives you a “juicy, perfect burger.”

A thermometer is a must-have tool for constantly checking the meat.

“If you overcook it, it turns leathery,” she said. “It dries out and just doesn’t taste good at all. That’s why we make everything as it’s ordered. If we try to make anything ahead of time, it just doesn’t turn out very good.”

The first year was a learning experience, Sullivan said, for them and their customers.

“Last year, we made a lot of mistakes; this year is smooth sailing,” she said. “We’re returning to a lot of places and we’re getting popular.

“This year, we tripled what we did last year at Waseca,” Sullivan said. “People know us and they love us.”

Giving out free samples like they did Tuesday helps. Sullivan coaxed folks to try the bison burger by telling them it tastes like beef (which it does), and getting them to try the elk sausage. Usually once folks taste the fare, they come back.

“Once you eat it, you don’t want to go back to beef again, so there’s a high addiction rate,” Sullivan said, laughing.

“Elk is our top seller,” she said. “Wild boar is heavenly. More lean than regular pork.”

Sullivan didn’t want to waste any leftover meat, so Pam Hofstedt, a former school cook, came up with the chili recipe. Hofstedt also developed the biscuits and gravy dish.

“The first time we did it last year, we sold 377 in a two-day span,” Sullivan said. “The chili is getting more famous too.”

And that suits her just fine, because Sullivan plans to keep rolling down the road with her wild meat.

“I love it,” she said.