Scott Stroud knew he was living dangerously a few weeks ago by putting goat meat on the menu as a weekend special.
"I was genuinely worried," he said. "I personally have never seen it on a menu in Des Moines."
Stroud, 23, the executive chef at Dos Rios Cantina and Tequila Lounge, 316 Court Ave., by his own admission "likes to go big" with Friday and Saturday specials.
As it turned out, the young chef's special came off better than expected.
The restaurant sold more than 30 goat meat tamales as part of its first Saturday special. Stroud bought more goat last week, using it to make whipped goat confit, served over purple potato and goat cheese hash, with a corn sauce and a soft poached egg on top.
Meanwhile, two other local chefs, Centro founder George Formaro and Sage's Andrew Meek, said they recently purchased goat meat - from a celebrated pork producer, of all people. Both chefs said they could be serving goat meat as part of special dinners by fall.
It remains to be seen whether Des Moines will join San Francisco and New York as some of the first cities in the nation where goat meat meanders onto menus in mainstream restaurants. But the settings are being prepared, and central Iowa might be well-positioned to embrace what some call "the other red meat," local market watchers agree.
"I think, absolutely, if it's done right, you could see goat meat in any number of restaurants around Des Moines before it makes it big in other cities," said Formaro, who is also corporate executive chef for Orchestrate Management, which operates eateries at four locations.
Meek, who recently opened his second restaurant, Torocco Italian Grill, 4810 N.W. 86th St., in Urbandale, said he believes well-prepared goat meat would go over well at Sage, his Windsor Heights restaurant at 6587 University Ave.
Goat does not taste like chicken, chefs agree. Stroud and Formaro, in separate interviews, compared the flavor to a combination of lamb and beef.
One attraction for some customers is that goat meat is leaner and more healthful than beef and pork, said Larry Cleverly, a Mingo produce farmer who sold the goat to the three metro-area restaurants.
Three ounces of goat meat has 122 calories and 2.6 grams of fat, compared with 245 calories and 16 grams of fat for an equivalent amount of beef, and 310 calories and 24 grams of fat for pork, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The main reason for the simultaneous purchase of goat locally had less to do with health concerns and more to do with the pedigree of the person raising the goats, Cleverly and the chefs said.
The goat sold to the chefs in Des Moines came from Bill Niman, founder of Niman Ranch Pork, one of the most highly regarded upscale brand names in the pork industry.
No longer involved in the daily pork operation, Niman is raising meat goats on his farm in northern California. On June 12, his business distributed goat meat to restaurants in San Francisco, New York City and Des Moines, Niman said last week.
One reason Des Moines was chosen is that Niman is a friend of Cleverly, who sells much of his organic produce to local restaurants.
Niman, a regular visitor to Des Moines, is also a fan of the city's culinary landscape.
"Des Moines has a very advanced food scene," he said, characterizing the chefs at trend-setting restaurants here as some of the best anywhere.
Widely consumed all over the planet, except in the United States, goat meat is a staple of the cuisine of North Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Latin America. Rich in protein, it is typically prepared similarly to beef and pork.
Served in tacos
Locally, goat meat is regularly served in birria (stew) tacos and burritos at La Pena, a small, home-style Mexican restaurant at 2010 Indianola Ave., on the south side of Des Moines.
"We sell a lot on Fridays and Saturdays," Faviola Mendoza said last week as she waited on tables. About half the customers who ask for goat have ties to ethnic cuisines, she estimated.
Formaro said he has been to La Pena several times for the goat.
"One of the reasons I think goat has a future here is because I know when I've been to La Pena, I am not the only white person in their eating goat," he said.
While the goat served the past two weekends at Dos Rios and purchased by other Des Moines chefs was raised more than 2,000 miles away in California, news of the development delighted an officer of the Iowa Meat Goat Association, a group of 150 or so niche farmers established in 2003.
"Niman is a big name," said LeAnn Ely of Terre d'Esprit Farm in Earlham. "Who knows what could happen with someone like him involved."