Bison: A Beginner’s Guide

bison filet

My super smeller picked up the scent a block before arriving at Ted’s Montana Grill in downtown Naperville on a crisp Saturday night.

The aroma is unmistakable and almost every bachelor cherishes it. For me, few things trump the smell of searing beef on a grill.

We had a reservation for half past six and we were greeted promptly before being led to our booth. There was a decent crowd waiting for tables, so make sure to plan ahead for your visit. Ted’s Montana Grill is a hybrid between a steakhouse and casual restaurant. The décor is warm with all the things you’d expect from a steakhouse: wood, leather, a robust list of scotches. It differs in the attitude of the staff and it isn’t dimly lit (ideal for food photos). I have been to a few steakhouses and some exhibit a stuffy exclusivity. There’s none of that at Ted’s.

You won’t get lost in their cocktail/wine list, but there are plenty of options for the indecisive to need a few minutes. Thankfully, instead of bread and butter, they start you with some half-pickled cucumbers. They are pickled with garlic and spices just long enough to pick up those flavors, but not long enough to be briny or sour like regular pickles. As my girlfriend and I snacked on the crunchy slices, we settled on cocktails. Leann opted for the Signature Margarita (Jose Cuervo Especial tequila, Cointreau, freshly squeezed sour mix) and I picked the Buffalo 41 (Buffalo Trace bourbon, Grand Marnier, freshly squeezed lemonade infused with wildberries). Both were tasty and well-balanced. Mine had just enough of the bourbon to pack a punch, but mellowed out by the fruity citrus of the liquor and lemonade.

Leann and I don’t like making decisions, so dining out presents a whole mess of choices: where to go, what to drink, do we get a drink, what should we order, do we have room for dessert? While we try to avoid decisions other than which country to visit next, we both love Mexican food, so selecting the bison nachos seemed an obvious choice. Bison isn’t a meat you see on most menus. The only other time I have seen it was my first time at Ted’s Montana Grill with a friend from college. He raved about the bison burger and told me I had to try it. My memory is hazy, so I needed a refresher.

So, what’s the beef about bison at Ted’s Montana Grill?

Our waitress said bison is leaner and has a bit of a sweeter taste than beef. After poking around online, I learned there’s another NBA, the National Bison Association.

If you’re looking at the nutritional info on bison, here it is straight from the bison’s mouth:

  • Bison: 2.42 grams of fat, 143 calories, and 82 milligrams of cholesterol per 100 grams of cooked lean meat.
  • Beef: 9.28 grams of fat, 211 calories, and 86 milligrams of cholesterol
  • Pork: 9.66 grams of fat, 212 calories, 86 milligrams of cholesterol
  • Chicken (skinless): 7.41 grams of fat, 190 calories, 89 milligrams of cholesterol.

If you’re still curious about bison, their fur is coarse guard hairs and a soft wool undercoat, they all have horns and you can’t really have one as a pet.

The biggest selling point for the health-conscious is that bison are predominantly grass-fed, hormone-free and antibiotic free. There are different regulations and treatment of bison than with cattle.

The nachos were solid, but aren’t a stellar showcase for the bison since it’s a chili with fresh chips. The flavors were robust and the portion was ample to tide you and your friends over before your next decision: the entrée.

Nearly repeating the feast we had to celebrate #Leanniversary, Leann ordered bison meatloaf (~$17) and I chose the bison filet (~$30). No better way to taste bison than in a steak. Each entrée has the choice of two sides and a biscuit. We are both suckers for mashed potatoes and Ted’s has a rustic garlic mashed offering. Leann swapped the squash for garlic broccoli and I picked my new favorite, roasted asparagus. My filet came with a flag, so I think that means I win. ‘Merica!

We switched to their house cab and Merlot for dinner. Both were your standard house red wines. I ordered my filet medium rare and that’s exactly how it came out. There are few things worse than getting meat that’s overcooked. Since bison is very lean, you don’t want to order it beyond medium. Otherwise, you’ll resemble the bison chewing grass. The filet was delicious and perfectly seasoned. Salt, pepper and a hot skillet if I had to guess. And that’s all it should take for a quality steak. I cut a few pieces for Leann and we swapped bison. Leann’s meatloaf was moist and flavorful, with sautéed onions, green pepper and a thick, brown gravy.

We grazed on our bison and watched as food came out to other tables. Ogling the other offerings, one thing became clear. There is no way you leave Ted’s hungry. Their portions are huge. The burgers have to be at least half a pound. There was an older couple across the aisle from us who were waving and making faces at the young child of another couple.

Maybe it was the nachos, but I was nearing my point of no return if I continued eating. I wanted to save a bit of space for dessert, but had two bites of steak left. Soooo, I didn’t end up needing a box for the filet. Our waitress pitched us on their seasonal offerings before going to get us boxes for the leftovers. I’m not huge on sweets and desserts, but they all sounded good. We debated between their Kahlua fudge brownie and strawberry shortcake with Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Hoping I’d be able to sleep after this epic feast, I opted for the strawberry and a cup of decaf.

Walking proved difficult as I waddled back to my car. Ted’s has a few locations around Chicago and some spots in several other states. We will be back to try their burgers and shakes.

Overall, it’s a restaurant that goes beyond the novelty of serving bison. Bison is definitely worth a taste if you’ve never had it, but try one of the dishes that showcases it. Start to finish, Ted’s is a warm and comfortable option for when you have the primal craving for meat, but don’t want to clog all your arteries in the process.