The last five days for me have been filled with programmers, Mickey Mouse, gators, and guns in where else but the sunny, now blue state of Florida. Matt’s RubyConf in Orlando gave me the opportunity to revisit as an adult the place where dreams are made. After three days of theme parks and visits backstage at Disney, I’d had my fill of screaming children, long lines, and well, sugar. On our last day we headed out of Orlando to find some of the more backwater Florida entertainment. Simply put: guns and gators.
Shooting a gun for the first time is one of those experiences you can’t do justice in writing. [Mom, don't worry, I was safe the whole time.] In Disney speak it would go something like: HOLY FAIRY DUST. DREAMS DO COME TRUE. While shaking from the adrenaline rush we headed out of the gun range for an airboat ride.
Lake Jessup’s Black Hammock Adventures houses a biker bar, 12 foot long alligator named Hammy, a couple of airboats, and a restaurant serving among other local water creatures: gator. Perfect. The place is run by a blond, blue-eyed, and rough-skinned 50ish Frenchman who presumably came over from the bayou. After sipping a beer by the bikers, we climbed aboard an otherwise empty boat for a personal tour of the lake with the largest gator population. Turns out we were the only ones to show up for the 5pm ride because it was too late in the day to see gators. We did, however, see tons of cormorants and palm trees under the setting sun.
Although we didn’t get the opportunity to see gators in the wild, we did head back to Black Hammock’s restaurant to taste some. In addition to fresh cod, catfish, and shrimp, they served gator nuggets in various flavors. We ordered some Cajun nuggets, fish ‘n chips, and a cheddar and bacon gator sandwich.
I thought the restaurant would be the owner’s last concern, but I forgot how much people like to eat gator. And if you’re going to go scope gators as a tourist, you most definitely should make sure that the establishment is run by a Frenchman who used to run a restaurant. My first tastes were succulent, a little smokey, and with a bit of bite.
While on the boat the owner mentioned that each hunting permit can haul back 5 gators. He mentioned bonfires and if I had turned around I probably would have found his mouth watering.
Gator, like every other unusual animal meat we come by, tastes like chicken, but with a little more flavor. Gator bites, while a fairly tamer preparation of a seriously mangy animal, were nonetheless super tasty. We were, of course, in the hands of a man who understands how to fry. Our breading was light and crunchy, and our fries were creamy and slightly hollow on the inside and perfectly fried on the outside. My fish ‘n chips were floating on a cloud.
Alligator meat is considered an exotic meat, about as commonly found as ostrich. Commercially found, most gator cuts are from the tail, which is said to be as tender as veal but similar in flavor to chicken or frog. My tastes also found it similar to pork. The darker tougher midsection can also be found commercially, and was on the menu at Black Hammock. Some people also enjoy the feet or “wings” of the alligator, which are said to taste like frog’s legs. While actual frog’s legs were on the menu, these were not. From a nutritional standpoint, alligator meat is lean (about 17% calories from fat), high in protein, and relatively low in carbs.
We left for the airport happily full of gator and pleasantly surprised by the mishmash of cultures we had experienced once we’d driven away from International Blvd.