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AZ Eatery Offers Lion Burgers

By • Jun 23rd, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

To celebrate World Cup in S. Africa we’re serving Lion Burgers this weekend!  Don’t miss your opportunity to taste real African Lion, while supplies last!”

With those words, posted on Facebook on June 14, the owners of il Vinaio in Mesa, AZ sparked a roaring firestorm of controversy.

Cameron and Cindy Selogie ordered up a batch of lion meat from a USDA-regulated, free-range farm in Illinois, which the owners say they researched to make sure it was humane.  “Because it is from a farm, it in no way affects the scarcity of lions in Africa,” Cameron explained.  “In Africa, they do eat lions.  So I assume if it’s OK for Africans to eat lions, then it should be OK for us.  We thought that since the World Cup was in Africa that the lion burger might be interesting for some of our more adventurous customers.

The lion meat is then mixed with regular ground beef and sold for $21 with sides of spiced kettle chips and roasted corn on the cob. Only about 15 of the burgs are being made each night, according to reports.  Il Vinaio even offers up a wine pairing, suggesting a Glen Carlou Grand Classique Bordeaux from South Africa to go along with the King of the Jungle burger (probably NOT its real name on the menu and not to be confused with il Vinaio’s regular burger, shown below).

But then animal rights activists went all Wild Kingdom. Il Vinaio has received over 150 outraged emails and even a bomb threat over the promotion.  According to USDA spokesperson Jim Brownlee, lion meat is an uncommon dish, but it’s not illegal.  (The animals are on the “protected” list, but are not considered “endangered.”)

Cameron responded to the big cat backlash in a June 21 Facebook post:

Illegal immigration is ok?  But eating legal food is bad?  Does anyone see a problem or pattern here?thanks to all our fans who support us.  To our protesters, thank you for standing up for what you believe in.”

Funny thing is, the Selogies don’t seem to have set out to make a big splash in the first place.  Cameron told the Arizona Republic that he was reluctant to even offer the burger at first and wanted to order as little meat as possible.  He initially ordered just 5 pounds, getting another 5 only after the announcement was made via an e-mail list and reservations flooded in.

If you poke around on their website and Facebook page, you’ll see that il Vinaio has a fiercely loyal customer following, and they do a lot of off-the-wall things to create a sense of fun and family at their restaurant.  They’re open for 3 meals every day, they regularly bring in live music, they host an annual Oktoberfest and a MeatFest celebrating medieval roasted carved meats, they hold gourmet donut-and-wine tastings… so this stunt doesn’t really seem like a shock-and-awe attention grab to me.  More like an outgoing restaurateur having some fun by mixing up the menu.

Even now that the Simba-shit has hit the fan, Cameron is taking it in stride.  He doesn’t expect the protests to get too nasty, and says he’ll hand out bottled water to picketers. He even plans to attempt reconciliation once the promotion is over.  “We have been interacting with several of the animal activists and we committed to making a donation to the ASPCA after this, because we are animal lovers,” he told the Republic.

Would I try a lion burger?  You bet your ass, and I’m not lyin’. Any readers in the Phoenix area?  We’d love a mouthwitness report…

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