Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with a buffalo burger from Wyoming, which joined the union on July 10, 1890.
The state: Wyoming is where the Great Plains hit the wall: namely, the Rocky Mountains. The Equality State grants equal time to mountains and plains, and equal time to Democrats and Republicans: Of its last 10 governors, 5 were red and 5 were blue, making its recent political history a lot like a candy cane. Its nickname stems, however, from its status is as the first territory and the first state to grant women the right to vote, as well as the first to swear in a female governor: Nellie Tayloe Ross in 1925. Wyoming also birthed the nation's first national park, Yellowstone. Jim Bridger, who was also the first European American to discover the Great Salt Lake, came back home with descriptions of not merely salty but boiling lakes that issued great geysers shooting into the air. He was, predictably, called a "spinner of yarns."
The food: The bison burger. When they talk about places where the buffalo roam, Wyoming is one of the few places where that's still true. But mostly, lately, the American bison is a ranch animal, eaten as steaks, tacos and especially many variations of burger. The meat is prized in part for being hearty but leaner than beef— 90 percent lean right off the bone. The low fat, however, also means you either need to cook it less or add ingredients such as onions to the burger patties so it doesn't end up dry.
Other foods considered and rejected: Bison jerky, bison steak, bison taco.
Get it from: South Portland's Buffalo Gap (6835 SW Macadam Ave., 244-7111), where every burger has the option to swap over from beef to bison for $1.25 extra. The Buffalo Gap was, of course, founded by a native of Buffalo Gap, South Dakota, just about 50 miles from the Wyoming border—a part of the world where bison's just another meat. The cowboy bison burger ($10.94) is a heaping monster of fluffy bun, sweet barbecue sauce, dehydrated onions and a half-pound of juicy, medium-cooked bison meat. (Compare this to the $10, quarter-pound ungarnished bison hockey puck at Burnside Brewing.) It is juicy and huge and, frankly, tastes a lot like lean beef. But unlike the imported cows of the Southwest, the bison's all American.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.