Winter’s the time to indulge the primal urge for game meat – or at least as close as we get to “primal” with our fancy kamado grills, bouquets garnis and port-and-juniper reductions. California regulations make it hard for the regular shopper to get their hands on hunted wild game.
But there are good options, often in the freezer case, if you know where to go. Here are a few local shops that carry game meat. Be sure to call ahead to check availability.
Los Gatos Meats and Smokehouse
This institution, which dates back to 1891, carries tons of specialty meats, sometimes even more than what’s listed on their website. They frequently have venison and elk medallion steaks, ostrich patties and fan filets (which has been called the filet mignon of giant birds), ground bison, wild-boar bacon and even frog legs. Plus, there are hearty deli sandwiches, such as smoked tri-tip ,and something immense called the Triple Bypass Gut Buster. 575 University Ave., Los Gatos; losgatosmeats.com
Saba Live Poultry
This spot is like a farm with scads of live ducks and rabbits, until you realize these creatures aren’t going to die peacefully of old age. But let their sacrifice honor your table with a super-fresh hen, sometimes goose, and rotating selections of pigeon, quail, chukar, pheasant, guinea hen and old red roosters perfect for stewing. A bonus is that a lot of the meats are halal. 845 Kennedy St., Oakland; 510-535-1111
The Local Butcher Shop
This small but wonderfully stocked operation in Berkeley sometimes carries game like quail and rabbit. They also have duck and heritage turkeys whose family trees go back hundreds of years. Peer into the freezer for more esoteric offerings, which can include haggis and chocolate cookies made with leaf lard. 1600 Shattuck Ave. Ste. 120, Berkeley; thelocalbutchershop.com
Willowside has served Sonoma farmers and ranchers for almost six decades out of a charming shop that looks preserved in amber. Aside from more traditional meats, they stock frozen wild boar, ostrich steaks, bison tri-tip and rib eye, rack of elk and venison in ground, loin-chop and tenderloin forms. The head butcher is always experimenting with new sausages and marinades. If it’s available, grab some of his homemade jerky. 3421 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa; willowsidemeatsllc.com
Dittmer’s Gourmet Meats & Wurst-Haus
Founded by a German immigrant, Dittmer’s excels at sausages and smoked meats including delights like Bremer Pinkelwurst and French Blood Rings. But there are also often specialty items in the freezer like quail, buffalo and venison. Walk around and you might be tempted by impulse buys, including imported mustards and pretzel-baking mix. 4540 El Camino Real, Los Altos; dittmers.com