Stepping Out: Buffalo restaurant finds home on range

LOVELAND – Four miles east of Windsor on Colorado Highway 392 sits a small reminder of what once existed on the Great Plains. In an idyllic pasture surrounded by high-powered electrical fencing grazes a herd of American bison.

They are being raised by Boyd Meyer and Philo Grommon for their new restaurant, Front Range Buffalo Grill, at the Rocky Mountain Factory Stores Food Court in Loveland. I stopped by the Meyer’s ranch one evening and chatted with Boyd about the new restaurant, raising buffalo and the future plans of the Front Range Buffalo Co.

Incidentally, all you smarties who paid attention in school know that “buffalo” is a slang term for the bison and is technically an improper name for the animals.

However, buffalo is so firmly entrenched in our contemporary lexicon that trying to ignore its dominance over bison would be naïve at best.

Suffice it to say that Meyer and Grommon are aware of the conflict and decided on name recognition rather than biological propriety when it came to issues of marketing their new company. You quibblers can just go find something else to quibble about.

Meyer has experience raising and feeding domesticated and docile cattle but told me that raising buffalo is quite a different story.

Buffalo are a lot closer to their wild brethren than cattle and act accordingly. Meyer said you don’t turn your back on buffalo: “They’re smart and aggressive.”

He said that they are nearly impossible to “cut from the herd;” their instincts to stay in groups are tremendously powerful. A mature bull weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds, and both males and females sport the distinctive horns.

Obviously, not the sort of animal one would want to end up on the wrong side of.

Meyer has approximately 90 head of buffalo at his ranch, with 80 calves on their way up from Southern Colorado.

His buffalo are being fed a diet composed almost exclusively of sunflower sees to improve their flavor. (I thought he should give them a little beer and a baseball game – it would definitely improve their disposition.) The buffalo eat 17 pounds of seeds a day per head. Meyer is adamant about ensuring that all the buffalo he sells have a natural diet. If he has to buy buffalo on the market to sell, he will rely on Rocky Mountain Natural Meats in Denver to supply the extra meat he needs. Meyer feels that the natural diet will complement the healthy reputation of buffalo meat.

Comparable cuts of buffalo have less fat and cholesterol than beef and are higher in protein. These superior nutritional aspects are what drove Meyer and Grommon to bank on buffalo as a growing market.

Meyer told me that cooking methods are critical with buffalo, as the lower fat content makes for some rubbery eating if not handled properly. He said slow cooking is superior to the sear-and-serve method we typically use with beef.

At the restaurant in Loveland, Meyer intends to sell myriad buffalo food products. Sandwiches such as buffalo Reubens and Philly cheese steaks, sausages such as bratwursts and hog dogs, barbecued ribs and of course buffalo burgers. Front Range Buffalo Grill will also sell cryovac frozen buffalo meat to go. This should set up some good competition, because Denver Buffalo Co. has a covered-wagon kiosk not 30 steps from Meyer and Grommon’s new restaurant.

Denver Buffalo Co. also sells frozen meat, along with various gifts, spices and bottled products.

The food court at the Factory Stores is, well, like any other mall food court. The usual fast-food suspects, several quasi-ethnic establishments and the common area with its plastic tables and chairs at which patrons can dine. The food court also sports The Fox Tavern, so you can have a microbrew to enjoy with your buffalo brat. The Factory Stores are at the junction of Interstate 25 and U.S. Highway 34. The food court is located on the west side of the southern mall building.

Meyer and Grommon also have plans to open the Front Range Buffalo Trading Post in the spring. The location is still up in the air, but chances are good that it will be either at the Meyer’s ranch on Highway 392 or in west Greeley on U.S. Highway 34 Business near 59th Avenue.

At the Trading Post, they will sell buffalo meat, hides, head mounts and painted skulls. If you have a room badly in need of some Western decorating, the Trading Post may be the place to go.

Until then, if you are near Windsor or Severance, it’s a nice diversion to drive to Meyer’s place on 392 and take a peek at those beautiful creatures. He may have to create a “Scenic Lookout” turnoff one of these days. The bison have the potential to pose a rubber-necking traffic hazard.