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Dining for the Wild at Heart

Eating wild game is an emerging national trend that can be enjoyed locally at Serbian Crown in Great Falls. The Russian-French menu features entrees such as lion, kangaroo, antelope and boar.

Lion scaloppini, a house specialty that can be ordered only in the winter, is not for the faint of heart. The farm-raised lion is imported from Africa and has a taste similar to veal. "We don’t get it from the zoo," laughs Serbian Crown owner Rene Bertagna.

Lion and kangaroo entrees are especially popular at the restaurant. "We have people that come back year after year for the lion. This is the only place you can get it," Bertagna boosts. The kangaroo is a specialty item carried by the restaurant only during Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

"Anybody can go out and get a steak. We have something very different here with the wild game," said Bertagna.

Serbian Crown has been at its Walker Road location for 20 years and has been serving a variety of game meats for the past eight years.

A few diners are skeptical about eating exotic animals, even when it’s legal to do so. "It’s just not for me," said Rose Robinson of Great Falls, who eats at Serbian Crown every week. Bertagna says that reaction is typical of people who have not eaten the meat. "The reaction, the first-time reaction, is people talking among themselves about whether they should try it. They will talk about it forever before ordering. But they never regret it when they do, never," asserts Bertagna.

MEN APPEAR more likely to try the wild game entrees. "I wanted to try it just to see what it is. You never know until you try it," said adventurous eater Rohan Raesan.

The price tags for the culinary novelties served at Serbian Crown are as exclusive as their availability. For under $30, entrees such as emu with green peppercorn sauce and antelope with wild mushrooms and port wine sauce can be sampled. If game for big game, scaloppini of lion with wild mushrooms or kangaroo marinated in white wine can be had for around $40.

Some question the link between wild game and Russian cuisine. "Because it is very cold over there, the people like heavy food," Bertagna said. "You don’t eat these in summer. It’s kind of heavy." Although unlikely to find lion on the menu in St. Petersburg, one might find bear.

Serbian Crown sold marinated bear up until recently, when the state of Virginia abolished it. Although the restaurant's bear was not from Virginia, Bertagna is still unable to serve the entree. "They can sell it to me, but I can’t sell it anymore. They are very strict on this. They would shut me down," Bertagna said.

As for the recent surge in popularity of exotic meats, Bertagna attributes this to fears about mad cow disease. "It’s probably because of the diseases," he said.

"I can’t even imagine what lion tastes like," said Bruce Frank from Great Falls.

According to Bertagna, the wild game he serves has a range of flavors. Kangaroo tastes similar to pork. Lion is a tough meat, but when marinated properly, it tastes like veal. Emu is a dark meat that resembles beef, and antelope, said Bertagna, "has a lamb taste. It is very moist and very delicious."

Despite the popularity of Serbian Crown’s game menu, there are no plans to expand selections or to replace the now prohibited bear. Vendors have offered lists of other exotic meats, but Bertagna said, "This is about all I can take now."

For those not ready to eat a la safari, Serbian Crown offers a variety of traditional entrees. Bertagna said culinary apprehensions can also be overcome with a shot or two of the exclusive Ukrainian vodka Ultimat, which is a half grain and half potato blend. "We bought eight cases, and now there is no more (to be found)," said Bertagna.