Buffalo Tastes Good! – Wild Game Feast at the Hemlock Lodge


After our New Year’s Day hike at Natural Bridge, my partner and I stopped by the Hemlock Lodge to grab a bite to eat. On our way out, we saw this poster:

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So, OF COURSE we decided to go, and put this awesome date night on the calendar in ink. I’m not the buffet eating type, but this was one buffet I couldn’t pass up, and it seemed well worth the 45-minute drive each way to get our fill of Kentucky bison.

We had a few inches of snow fall on January 23, which is a lot for these parts. Of course, snow always melts quickly here, and leaves a lot of ice behind. We thought the weather might deter some of the would-be buffalo eaters, but not so. Apparently, this is one of the most popular events they have at Natural Bridge.

We got there about 5 p.m., and then had to make our way up the slippery path to the lodge because there was no parking in the main lot. Once there, we waited about two hours to get in the dining room. I was glad that I had actually eaten a snack instead of fasting the full day as I’d planned to. But passing the time was easy. Everyone seemed in a good mood and the band playing was terrific. We even had a good long chat with a park ranger.

And when the wait was over, I found myself standing with a plate, salivating over the piles of bison laid out before me. I’d been thinking all about that bison round, a cut I’d never had before, and hoping it’d be close to rare. Oh, and it was!

Now, I’m the kind of person who eats a lot of veggies, pretty much at every meal. I even sneak them into breakfast a lot of days. But for this event, I pretty much ate only meat. I’ve never eaten more meat than this in any day of my life, maybe even two days, let alone at one meal.

I skipped by all the breads and corn and potatoes and went straight for the meat. Because I ended up behind someone taking a while to figure out the barbecue sauce for the ribs, I put a few green beans (which were cooked with bacon) on my plate, but mostly that was for show.You can see them tucked up under that burger on the left.

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The bison round didn’t disappoint. It was delicious, and the bison au jus they made to go with it was also amazing. I tried a little horseradish with it, but I found I like it best just plain. And all the juices added a little extra something to everything else on the plate, too.

I’m a meatloaf-lover, if it’s done well, and this one was pretty good. I tried not to eat too much because I haven’t been eating grains, and I wasn’t sure how much flour would be in it. Thank goodness, the topping wasn’t ketchupy, because that’s what I’ve experienced a lot in Kentucky restaurants.

Surprisingly, my favorite was the ribs. I’ve always said, “I don’t like ribs,” and I can never understand why people go bonkers over them. They’re just gross. But then again, as with my experience with steak, I’d only ever had beef. And, as usual, bison is sooooo much better. I’ll be picking up some ribs when I take my trip to Woodland Farm very soon.

The only disappointment was the bison burger. They were just dry. I could barely choke down one bite. I would have had to douse one in condiments to eat it, but I didn’t bother because there was so much other good bison to be eaten. I do feel bad that some got wasted, though.

I can’t, in good faith, talk about this event without talking about the other game I had.

The first thing was the burgoo. I’m not an expert on the subject, since I’m a transplant here, but it seems to me that burgoo is a native Kentucky stew that gets made up with whatever leftover meats and vegetables are on hand. It does often have venison and okra in it, though, and so that’s enough to make me dig in.

But this burgoo had rabbit in with the venison. I’d never had rabbit before, and I was looking forward to it. Because it was in the burgoo along with venison, it was hard for me to get enough of it isolated to get a good taste description. But the bits I got were delicious, and I will definitely be eating rabbit again. Actually, I have a friend who raises them for meat, so I’ll be trekking over there to get a whole one now. Maybe you’ll see a rabbit recipe up here soon.

The one that made me cringe a little at the thought was snapping turtle soup. I have a very vivid memory of eating snapping turtle soup once as a kid, and it was the nastiest thing I’d ever eaten–before that point, it had been a toss-up between liver and onions and my granny’s squirrel and dumplings (which the thought of still makes me shudder). That turtle soup tasted straight up like pond water mixed with mud and tomato juice.

But this snapping turtle soup? Wow. It was a buttery velvety cream soup with tiny dices of turtle and potatoes. THIS snapping turtle tasted like bluegills, if they were land animals. It was definitely something I’d have eaten more of if I hadn’t just devoured a few pounds of buffalo.

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After all that meat, I couldn’t really muster up any energy for any of the desserts. Though the sheer size of the Baked Alaska was impressive, the snapping turtle soup ended up being my dessert.

Thankfully, we did have a good walk back to the car before we had to drive home. It was slippery on the way down, but we got to enjoy these expressive little snowmen that someone left along the path.

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And we got to see some lovely steam rolling off of Lake Hoedown. Notice my partner’s Kick Ass Kentuckian shirt glowing behind one of the clouds.

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Overall, the Wild Game Feast was an amazing experience. The $19 per person price tag was very reasonable, considering how much top-quality bison we ate. We are so lucky the Kentucky State Parks provide these kinds of events, and we will continue to support them…especially when it means we get to eat good game.

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