Supper Club

Game Over

By Adam Erace
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 44 | Posted Aug. 6, 2008

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Omnivore's dilemma: Philadelphians are experimental, but drew the line at lion. (photo by michael persico)

Anybody who's been to the South Philadelphia Tap Room since April knows the new kitchen's got game. Literally. The SPTR menu reads like roll call at the zoo: ostrich, boar, bear. All present and accounted for, in the form of kabobs, burgers and of course bacon.

Chef Michael Zulli, a former vegetarian, is the Capt. Noah of this scrappy ark. "I'm not doing game as a gimmick," he says. "I like exposing people to ingredients and flavors that are interesting and unique."

The Tap Room faithful picked up what Zulli was putting down, with barely a peep from gastropub's herbivore contingent. The bison balls sat next to the seitan sloppy joe, and all was well. Till Zulli set his sights on the king of the jungle.

Simba for dinner? You lion.

"When I heard the Tap Room was serving lion, I actually laughed out loud because my first thought was Lionshead beer," says Christine Stover, a Seattle transplant living in South Philly for the past five years. "When I called and found out it was actual lion, I could barely speak." So the 37-year-old vegetarian hospital accountant wrote to the restaurant, requesting that SPTR remove lion from the menu.

Stover is a vegetarian--and a former fan of SPTR. "When I eat out, I have to pick certain places that accommodate vegetarians, and the Tap Room had always been a favorite." During the summer she and her friends would meet up for a few pints before catching the subway to the Phillies game. No more.

"Why do we need to eat lion?" she wonders. "It seems like such a ridiculous indulgence."

Stover's letter was the first of many. "If people disagree with what I'm doing, I completely respect that," says Zulli. "Tell me you're upset. Let's have a conversation."

The conversation would entail Zulli explaining how he's not "some weirdo with a spear." The lions on the SPTR menu are African cats raised for human consumption on Fallows Farm in Illinois. The farm is federally inspected, and entirely legal. Zulli's purveyor Lerae Derr didn't return phone calls for this story.

"It's illegal to sell hunted game," says Sonny D'Angelo, the Italian Market's resident butcher and exotic meat expert, "so the lion would have to be farm-raised, slaughtered and inspected." D'Angelo used to sell lion meat eight years ago, but the considerable expense and poor quality of his lot--"like inferior veal with a strong cat-house-at-the-zoo flavor"--made carrying the meat no longer worth his while. Still, from an ethical standpoint, he sees no foul. "If the animal is raised for human consumption, I have no problem with it."

For the dish, Zulli spices ground lion meat with cumin and scallion before sauteing the mixture in duck fat. The dark scraps of meat tangle atop a golden puff pastry raft filled with coconut rice. Some bites are tough and leathery. Others are buttery and tender.

The lion meat doesn't have the aggressive flavor you might expect. Instead it takes on the taste of its sauce, a heady blend of yellow curry, saffron, cream and peppadew, a South African pepper.

The how-do-you-sleep-at-night phone calls to the restaurant became so overwhelming, Zulli eventually posted his cell number for SPTR employees to forward to dissenters with questions. "Only one person ever called," he says.

"I know what [Fallows Farm and the South Philadelphia Tap Room] are doing is not illegal, but these lions are coming from somewhere and it's not the United States," says Stover, who spent last winter on safari and mountain climbing expeditions in Kenya and Tanzania. During her time in Africa she encountered only three lions, one male lion and two females, in the Ngorongoro Crater in the Tanzanian Highlands. "In the countries lions come from, people can't find them," she says.

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, it's estimated there are fewer than 50,000 lions remaining in Africa from more than 100,000 two decades ago. Though hunting, habitat degradation and disease all contribute to the population decline, the most serious threat is retaliatory killing by local livestock farmers. In Tanzania 136 lions were killed by pastoralists in retaliation for livestock predation from 2004 to 2008.

However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies African lions only as "vulnerable," and the World Wildlife Fund doesn't recognize them as an endangered species. (The African lion's transcontinental cousin, the Asiatic lion, is in greater jeopardy.) "If the African lion was endangered, I would never, ever serve it," says Zulli, "or support anyone who did."

After the lion's six-week-long stay on the SPTR menu, Stover's wish has come true.

"I'm taking it off the menu," says Zulli, but not because he feels he's in the ethical wrong. "When my food stops becoming about the flavor, it's just not worth it. It's become a circus. No pun intended."

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Comments 1 - 44 of 44
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1. silverbullet said... on Aug 5, 2008 at 02:24PM

“so what if he serves lion? how is serving a certain animal any more or less ethical?? they're all alive, they all have feelings. just because chickens don't look like much at the store and lion makes you think of cute disney crap and your pet cat.. doesnt mean it's any more or less cruel or immoral. either become 100% vegan or shut the hell up.”

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2. John said... on Aug 6, 2008 at 10:02AM

“I couldn't find any "Fallows Farm" anywhere in Illinois. A friend of mine called the Tap Room to ask about the supposed "lion meat" when she first heard about it and they said it came from a farm in Alabama. Couldn't find one there either. I'm thinking it's nothing more than spiced up hamburger. I think they were going for a little free publicity that comes with controversy. I'm calling BS on the lion meat. It's a clever way to get free advertising, that's all.”

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3. Bones said... on Aug 6, 2008 at 11:30AM

“This woman, typical of vegetarians, vegans and various other varieties of way-out there wackos, needs to mind her own damn business and stop worrying about what everyone else is eating. Look, if you want to deplete your body's natural iron and muscle and look like a white number 10 envelope by eating nothing but vegetables, that's fine if it works for you. I, a meat loving fan of the lion at SPTR, have no right to tell you what to eat and won't begin to tell you that I think you are bonkers. Why is it always the other way around with these types? (Oh yes, the $20lb "free range" chicken from whole foods really had a wonderful life before they lopped his head off) Zulli - I'll pay for the next round of lion you put on the menu just to piss this nosey wackadoodle off. And by the way, I licked every last bit off my plate! YUUUMMMM-O!”

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4. bloodthirsty said... on Aug 6, 2008 at 12:30PM

“This woman, typical of vegetarians, vegans and various other varieties of way-out there wackos, needs to mind her own damn business and stop worrying about what everyone else is eating. Look, if you want to deplete your body's natural iron and muscle and look like a white number 10 envelope by eating nothing but vegetables, that's fine if it works for you. I, a meat loving fan of the lion at SPTR, have no right to tell you what to eat and won't begin to tell you that I think you are bonkers. Why is it always the other way around with these types? (Oh yes, the $20lb "free range" chicken from whole foods really had a wonderful life before they lopped his head off) Zulli - I'll pay for the next round of lion you put on the menu just to piss this nosey wackadoodle off. And by the way, I licked every last bit off my plate! YUUUMMMM-O!”

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5. SpinalTap89 said... on Aug 6, 2008 at 10:15PM

“Christine Stover should go back to Seattle and take Starbucks with her. What a total "Shit Sandwhich"!”

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6. Sliver said... on Aug 7, 2008 at 07:47AM

“Christine Stover should go pound sand. Whats the difference between Lion or Veal (baby lamb), or any other meat humans consume? This lady is just looking to get her name in the paper. Go back to Seattle you tree hugging, Star Bucks loving freak !”

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7. Mike said... on Aug 7, 2008 at 11:50AM

“I think this big game menu is really gimmicky. I'd much rather have a good burger, good fries or great wings with my beer than this stuff. ”

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8. rikbar123 said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 03:51AM

“Fuck her, put the lion back on the table. Same old shit, somebody crys and somebody has to jump. Look, the Lion came from a farm just like Cows and Lambs. What is the problem with this Chick. That Fucking Lion would eat Her. YA BABY YOU BE HIS DINNER IN A NEW YORK SEC.”

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9. taarmao said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 03:58AM

“there is no fallows farms in illinois. i searched the web and called information. they don't exist. nevertheless, this is wrong and anyone with a conscience knows it. lions should not be farm raised for food or any other reason. mankind has no right to capture, kill or sell any part of lions, tigers, bears, leopards, .....these animals belong in their natural habitat. they are rapidly disappearing from loss of habitat caused by humans, starvation caused by loss of prey animals because humans are stealing their land, poachers who will kill anything for a dollar, and now idiots who put them on a menu for dinner. ”

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10. Susan said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 04:09AM

“What have we become ? Would suggest the WWF put the Lion and others on the endangered species list to keep the human population from destroying them. I would boycott this resturant (?) and make sure everyone I know is made aware and ask they do the same. Note: I do not know anyone that would even consider eating this. (whats next dog?)”

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11. Deena said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 05:59AM

“Ae you F....g kidding me ...Lions Lions to eat ...people wake up!! what's next our cats &'s the same to me, please lets all do someting about this”

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12. redheadedstepchild said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 06:13AM

“carnivores eating other carnivores are cannibals.”

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13. DLS said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 06:26AM

“As if it isn't bad enough already that we kill animals to feed on. I see no need to kill others as in Lion, bear, or boar. Why can't we stick to what is being raised to feed us instead of killing other animals.”

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14. Randall "The Axe" Slick said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 07:58AM

“Call me crazy, but I am very, very interested in trying human. Maybe we can sneak that in on a menu somewhere, I'll bring the meat.”

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15. brdldy2 said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 08:56AM

“Disgusting . . . and a gimmick pure and simple even if he says not.”

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16. lechatgirl said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 09:19AM

“What is wrong with people? You sick freaks think it is ok to eat LION? Anyone seen the Christian video? Anyone who has 1 ounce of moral being would never eat or kill a lion for food. It is one arrogant MAN that thinks this is cool. While we are at it, lets serve up these BIG GAME hunters for dinner, I am sure they taste just as good.”

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17. HauntedAngel6 said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 10:58AM

“You wack jobs are so full of yourself. Why is it that people think just because something is outside the norm, it's all of a sudden a moral or ethical sin ? Do you think natives in other countries think twice about spearing, roasting and consuming a lion (or a dog , cat, or any other animal for that matter ? ) An animal is only as "normal" as the surrounding enviornment makes it. People keep pet cows in india but nobody in america thinks twice about a are we moraly bankrupt ? Get off your high horses and realize you're not the high and mighty know it alls of the Earth. If YOU don't like something, skip it and move on....don't ruin life's experiences for everyone else with your protest and silly psychological hang ups.”

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18. Maggie said... on Aug 8, 2008 at 06:33PM

“Eating meat is violent, and promoting violence as in the slaughter of exotics for food should be condemned by eveyone. I'm a vegetarian - not to be morally superior but because i don't want to perpetuate violence against any living thing. It is a horrible thing to so flippantly approach the slaughter of animals or birds - when the world is full of plenty of foods that provide all that's needed. Just stop eating meat and we would feed everyone in the world: 80% of grain grown in the US goes to feed factory farm animals. Eating meat is horribly polluting, non-sustainable, and probably the single worst thing for the environment that involves our lifestyles. Just stop eating meat, please! ”

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19. ast said... on Aug 10, 2008 at 09:23AM

“SPTR could be so much a better bar if they just didn't try to cater to some non-existent gormet bar crowd. Give me a good burger and fries and some good beers that aren't all served in 10oz glasses if they are above 4.5% ABV and i would be there at least once a week.”

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20. Jeff said... on Aug 10, 2008 at 07:29PM

“If we start eating dogs, can we start with Dr. Dog?”

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21. silverbullet said... on Aug 11, 2008 at 07:02AM

“umm.. there are about 4000 bars in philly that already serve half-decent burgers & fries. and there's no reason you can't serve burgers & fries AND lion meat. somebody said "what's next, dog?" well, guess what -people in asia have been eating dog for thousands of years, it's part of their culture and totally normal to them. which goes to show that most vegetarians are really just ignorant and immature crybabys raised on burgers and hot dogs who stopped eating meat to make their republican parents mad when they were 16. Grow up. you think eating dog is wrong and disgusting? you want to go across the globe and start bothering half starving people in other countries about their "strange" food choices while you sit behind a computer in the richest. most wasteful country in the world?? By the way, if the SPTR makes you mad, you should really check out celebrity chef KAZ YAMAMOTO who prepares thing like Giraffe Tongue and Mexican Human Liver: "'There many Mexican immigrant need money,' confides Yamamoto during [Lemon's] inspection of his Anthem residence.'Sometime they sell me kidney, arm or leg, or just slice of liver. Very, very expenseeve. These Mexican never have to work for year, I tell you. And Mexican liver with onion? Is sooo deleeshus. You must try.' ”

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22. John said... on Aug 12, 2008 at 07:59AM

“It's BS. There's no lion in that (mediocre, at best) food from the Tap Room. Congratulations to "silverbullet", who probably owns the place, for coming up with a good way to get people actually interested in the place by generating controversy. The food there is crap, the beer is overpriced, how are we going to get people to come in? Hey, lets say the poor quality meat is made out of LIONS! A great idea, that actually seems to have fooled some people. Congratulations.”

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23. Scorpio465 said... on Aug 12, 2008 at 02:02PM

“No doubt that we are meat eaters and live on a planet with other meat eaters. The biggest difference here is that certain animals are raised for our consumption and have been for years. Certain ones have not . If you want to go outside the normal "American" foods, have at it. I just hope you can run faster than they can!”

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24. GEORGE said... on Aug 19, 2008 at 08:07AM


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25. etcneeds said... on Aug 19, 2008 at 03:26PM

“Unfortunately Haunted Angel, lion is Not something that is typically ate in other countries and never has been. There used to be a time when the food we consumed was because it was the food that was around. What happened to only taking what you need? The point here is not so much that it is a lion, but that it is an unncessary killing of a creature because some people want to consider themselves as exotic. This is why the earth is collapsing, because mankind is so greedy and feels ike they are entitiled to whatever they want. Not, it is not good to eat meat from an animal that eats meat. People need to gain a concienceness and realize they are only hurting themselves. Greed is one of the greatest sins. And no, I am not a fact I am agnostic, but the fact still remains.”

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26. Lynn said... on Aug 23, 2008 at 03:40AM

“You mean the Chef is Lyin' about is Lion? How utterly hideous but at least the King of the Jungle is safe. Looks like this man has no morals of any kind. I would not eat there ever - who knows what he is serving as what ? Apparently you will not get the truth out of him - he must be just about the $$$”

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27. Paul said... on Aug 27, 2008 at 04:31PM

“80% of grain grown in the US is not fit for human consumption. Animals are killed in the process of harvesting the grain, so, by your logic, eating grains supports violence. It's pretty funny how you claim that you're a vegetarian not to be morally superior, but all this message is suggesting is that that's exactly what you think. Stop taking baths because other countries don't have drinking water readily available and you're inadvertently causing them to fight other countries over the little resources they have. There's absolutely nothing wrong with eating meat, sorry. There is something wrong, however, with pushing your morals/beliefs onto other people.”

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28. Gary Adams said... on Aug 28, 2008 at 09:35PM

“One of the most ignorant things I've heard lately. ”

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29. Buzz said... on Aug 30, 2008 at 04:34PM

“Have you heard that PETA wants to put a .10 tax on meat??????????????? Do they have whale, porpose, baby seal or elephant steaks? I have not been able to try these yet : )”

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30. kyzersose said... on Sep 1, 2008 at 01:32AM

“If they are farm raised for consumption, then they are not really lions anyways. Well not at least in a philosophical sense, they are only lions in the meat sense. Hell, keep serving them. If people don't like it, don't buy it. I'd try it for sure, I just wouldn't support killing the wild ones.”

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31. STAN said... on Sep 2, 2008 at 02:47AM

“Let's EAT !!!!!!!!!!!!!”

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32. Bones said... on Sep 5, 2008 at 05:16AM

“PETA has no power to tax anyone, so I don't know what you're worried about.”

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33. Bones said... on Sep 5, 2008 at 05:18AM

“It's low grade hamburger. Same crap you eat at McDonalds. Enjoy paying 17 bucks for it.”

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34. youknowwho said... on Dec 16, 2008 at 09:43PM

“Um, hello, more importantly the dude is total mafiosa and he's probably getting his game from some crime chain link from the Ivory Coast. You think I'm kidding...”

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35. Heavenstomurg said... on May 12, 2009 at 11:00PM

“Hauntedangel is zulli”

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36. Dollface said... on May 12, 2009 at 11:04PM

“And Real needs to know the real truth about her man”

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37. unknown said... on Jul 8, 2009 at 12:09AM

“lions are endangered species and lamb is not if you ask me i think eating lion meat is sick”

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38. Anonymous said... on Dec 13, 2009 at 04:49PM

“Lion meat? What is the excuse for eating it? Those of you who want to eat lion meat should have your dix cut off and stuck in your mouth and tell us how it tastes!”

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39. said... on Jan 12, 2010 at 04:27PM

“what the fuk is wrong with the human species! It's either us or them! on this planet eating other animals that don't look like you is part of survival! I bet if you asked a lion how he feels about digesting you, we yould never get the report back, because your dumb ass got eaten! Who is the top of the food chain? them or us? last time I checked the were the king of the jungle, meaning that they could eat anything that bowed down to them in the jungle. So if their speices is the king of the jungle, what does that make us in the jungle? You can be what ever the fuk that you wanna be! how I see it If you bow down to a lion then you're a pussy! I'm a God if a lion is king. Because all that a lion is, is a big overgrown pussy! I eat pussy! I'm a man! Everybodyelse who's trying to be something that they are not, hey, you are what you eat. I'd rather be a big pussy over a chicken or a cow or a pig any way of the week. I mean, lol, I'm a leo anyway.”

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40. tim browne said... on Jun 23, 2010 at 06:35PM

“it's all so very odd. growing up in a 'border state', people from the south would eat racoons, possum, and even squirrels. those of us who were more Yankee were completely repulsed. and still are. i don't see the line between coon and lion. ick.”

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41. Anonymous said... on Jun 24, 2010 at 01:22PM

“this is weird:”

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42. BigCatRescue said... on Jun 26, 2010 at 12:03PM

“According to USDA's web search there is no Fallows Farm nor a L. Derr. This spreadsheet is current as of 2009 and lists all of the USDA facilities in IL who have big cats and how many they had in 2004, which was the last time USDA counted.”

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43. TX meat eater said... on Aug 14, 2010 at 12:15AM

“I eat meat and I support hunting. There is nothing wrong w/ HUMANELY raising and consuming DOMESTICATED species, which have been selectively bred for centuries to graze in a pasture. There is nothing wrong w/ ETHICALLY hunting an animal, in a setting where it has a fair chance. (NO FEEDERS, NO GAME FARMS!) Farming a wild species of animal is wrong, period. Do you really thing these lions are wondering around a pretty, green pasture? No, they are withering away in tiny cages and being overbred. There's also the very real concern that one might escape and harm/kill people, pets or livestock. Wild animals who have been raised in captivity are very dangerous b/c they lose their innate aversion to man. USDA licensing is a joke!”

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44. manchu scout said... on May 13, 2013 at 08:28PM

“I was raised in a culture that eats meat, the same culture we share with humans who struggled to survive during the last ice age. Without meat, they would most likely failed to survive. Because of that heritage, and my culture, I eat animals. I wish I didn't, but I can't break the life-long habit. Still, there are boundaries I can't cross. I find the notion of eating cats, big or small, revolting, malignant and beneath the dignity of the humankind. Yes, my position is emotional. Emotions are what distinguish human beings from adding machines. Emotions are what we share with elephants standing guard in sorrow over a dead calf, with otters reveling in the joy of play along a river bank, with water buffalo struggling in fear to escape the jaws of a river crocodile, and with lions fighting in rage in a hopelessly unfair fight against a heavily armed human who would kill him with a grin and rip his body to pieces to sell a taco.”


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