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Food & Drink

Thunder Heart Bison Offers a Cleaner Kind of Meat

Photo: Photos by Ana Aguirre, License: N/A

Photos by Ana Aguirre

The Original Bison Burger

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photos by Ana Aguirre

A bison tostada

“San Antonio needs more clean food,” said Cat New, chef of the Thunder Heart Bison food trailer. A tribute to all things bison, the trailer recently moved from Austin to San Antonio and is now located on the corner of Lexington and Main in front of the old Mr. Pencil building. A burgeoning culinary community and the demand for “cleaner,” organic food in San Antonio inspired the move. “You’re kind of preaching to the choir in Austin,” explained New. “The food market is saturated there.”

New’s devotion (an obsession, really) to using fresh ingredients sourced locally was obvious. She told me how she fries with rice bran oil, sautés in clarified butter, buys tomatoes from a hot house in Pedernales, and serves GMO (genetically modified organism)-free bread. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” declared New. According to the “clean” food aficionada, “The dirtiest ingredient I have is ketchup.”

The menu features American, Mexican, and Southern spins on bison, offering dishes such as The Original Bison Burger, a bison tostada, and the popular Thunder Heart Chili. Made with a mix of 12-15 different chiles (depending on market availability), and a proprietary spice blend, the bean-less chili is more ranch style than Tex-Mex, but plenty hot. The TKO Burger topped with blue cheese, grilled onions, and spring mix greens, wedged between Sweetish Hill’s sweet buns (from Austin), was succulent; I don’t think I laid the burger down once. Paired with fries tossed in salt and fresh cracked pepper, it thoroughly satisfied. Like all good burgers, it was messy and required the licking of fingers, and not enough time for napkins. If that’s not sloppy enough, check out the Tat-chos, a medley of bison, beans, cheese and other fixin’s topping tater tots instead of tortilla chips. I’m going for the Bison Hash next time, beer-braised hump roast shredded and mixed with potatoes and caramelized onions to form a cake in the traditional Southern style.

Shape Ranch, producer of all of the aforementioned Thunder Heart Bison goodness, is owned and run by Hugh and Sarah Fitzsimons. Outside of Carrizo Springs, this 13,000-acre ranch prides itself on traditional and humane farming practices. The bison roam free in “family groupings,” aren’t vaccinated, and fatten themselves with grass and mesquite beans as opposed to being grain fed.

“I wanted to honor the animal and the land by reintroducing the bison,” Hugh Fitzsimons said during a phone interview last week. The ranch has been in Fitzsimons’ family since 1933. He’s a field harvester and says he shoots the bison himself, from about a football field away straight through the medulla oblongata.

Thunder Heart Bison and Shape Ranch want to attract meat-eaters who still care about their burger’s origin, the type portrayed in Portlandia’s well-known “Ordering the Chicken” sketch, in which a couple earnestly asks the waitress if the daily special chicken had any friends, among a slew of other ridiculous fowl lifestyle questions. Alright, maybe they’re not that extreme, but they’re the type of conscientious diners who would be impressed that Thunder Heart Bison became the first bison ranch in the U.S. to meet the stringent standards of the Animal Welfare Institute, receiving the AWA (Animal Welfare Approved) stamp of endorsement. To them, Fitzsimons offers what he claims is a source of “both physical and spiritual nutrition.”

Thunder Heart Bison: Ranch to Trailer

1000 North Main
Best Bets The Original Bison Burger, Thunder Heart Chili
Hours 11am-6pm, Mon-Sat
Prices $$
The Skinny A food trailer devoted to bison, sustainability, and fresh, local ingredients offering Southern favorites such as hash, to burgers, and tacos.

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