Here’s something different to try the next time you want a farm-to-table experience in Florida: Visit a restaurant that sells bison meat or wild hog from Punta Gorda’s Three Suns Ranch.
The thought of bison meat may conjure images of the Wild West, where the buffalo do indeed roam. That image may be accurate -- but you’d be surprised to learn that Three Suns provides a similar life for the bison on its 6,000-acre ranch, which also includes high-end cattle for beef and wild boar processing.
The idea behind Three Suns Ranch began in 2012, when owner Keith Mann wanted to solidify his family’s commitment to healthy eating with grass-fed, holistically raised meat, said Jaime Dowdell, sales manager for the ranch. Mann’s wife had eaten bison meat for many years, and the idea of raising bison seemed to click.
Fast forward to today, and Three Suns’ bison meat as well as other meat products are sold online, at the ranch, and at more than a half dozen regional restaurants.
Guests interact with bison during the Three Suns Ranch tour.
The idea of bison meat made in Florida may sound offbeat -- and it is -- but bison meat is experiencing a surge in popularity because it’s a lean, healthier cut, said Jim Matheson, assistant director of the National Bison Council in Denver.
“The meat has taken off in the last 10 years,” he said. “It’s also because the bison are treated more humanely, and there are no growth hormones used. It’s in high demand.”
Bison are actually raised in all states except Rhode Island, Matheson said.
Florida is naturally famous for its seafood -- but locally raised meat like bison from Three Suns can easily fit into the mix, said Todd Volpe, executive chef at The Captain’s Table on Charlotte Harbor, in Punta Gorda.
“We’re 30 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico and 30 minutes from the country, where Three Suns is,” said Volpe, who came away impressed after visiting the ranch.
The Captain’s Table serves up bison burgers with leeks, bacon, and crumbled blue cheese on its bar menu a few times a week. “They usually sell out,” Volpe said. “It’s our number-three selling sandwich, behind lobster grilled cheese and the grouper sandwich.”
Bison burgers are also a hit at Geckos grills, with various locations in the Sarasota area.
Yet another kind of meat produced at Three Suns is wild hog -- sometimes called wild boar. With wild hogs a nuisance in many rural areas, harvesting them for their meat is a way to manage the problem.
“It’s the ultimate sustainable food,” said Ed Chiles, owner of The BeachHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach as well as The Sandbar in Anna Maria and Mar Vista on Longboat Key.
The BeachHouse has wild boar as a dinner feature, prepared sous vide (slow cooking the meat in a vacuum-sealed bag at a low temperature) with a red wine demi glace. The sides include sautéed kale and spinach and potato cakes. The taste of wild hog is similar to roast beef.
“I ate bison at the ranch and have had the wild hog many times. They both are great,” said Matt Humphrey of Bradenton.
The appetizer menu also features “hog thai’s,” or wild hog wrapped in Bibb lettuce and served with pineapple, cherry tomato, red onion, and peanut sauce.
Offering wild boar fits in with Chiles’ commitment to locally sourced cuisine. His menus include produce from Gamble Creek Farm in Ellenton, locally caught seafood, and even Beagle Bay sauerkraut, made right in Bradenton.
The Captain’s Table also features wild hog, marinated Jamaican jerk style along with a dark rum barbecue sauce, Volpe said. He makes sure that any of the meat he buys and prepares from Three Suns still fits into the Asian/Caribbean fusion served at the restaurant.
Three Suns continues to add to the farm-to-table experience at regional restaurants with its high-end grass-fed cattle meat. Grass-fed meat is praised nutritionally for its higher omega 3 fatty acid content; the ranch does not use any antibiotics or growth hormones.
A Florida cracker cow steals hay from the the tour vehicle during a Three Suns Ranch tour.
The ranch raises Florida cracker cattle and mixed breeds of Angus and Brahma and Herford and Brahman. The meat makes its appearance on The Captain’s Table menu as grass-fed beef short ribs.
Some other places where you can try meats from Three Suns Ranch are:
- Wyvern Hotel in Punta Gorda
- S’macks Burgers and Shakes in Sarasota
- The Lodge in Fort Myers
- Online on the ranch’s website—If you prepare the bison meat at home, the key is to cook it low and slow, said Three Sun’s Dowdell.
If you go…
Three Suns Ranch
Punta Gorda, Fla. 33982
Photos by Scott Audette for VISIT FLORIDA