Debunking the fear factor for foods on Fox Cities menus.

Former astronaut Neil Armstrong once said, “Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.”

While chow isn’t rocket science, we let the obscurity of certain foods hold us back. Whether it’s a misunderstanding that unfolds after reading about unknown, mysterious menu items or the fact that we eat with our eyes, there’s a prevailing fear factor for fare in the Fox Cities.

We scoured menus for the most unusual deep-fried starters and curious courses to come up with a list of new foods you should try in 2011.

Fry Fear

Leap over to Pollywogs Bar & Grill in Kimberly for the deep-fried frog legs. As a kid, owner Steve Vetter recalls he could get frog legs at any place that served fish.

Nowadays, they are AWOL from most bar menus.

Contrary to popular belief, frog legs don’t taste like chicken. Instead, the meat is mild and delicate.

Put the legs to the test during a Friday Fish Fry where they can be ordered as a meal or (for those apprehensive of amphibian) one frog leg comes on the side of a perch, walleye or haddock order.

Eggs, pork-sausage and deep-fried batter are mouth-pleasers on their own, but bundle them together and you get a Scotch egg—a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried.

The Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton serves the appetizer warm with a side of Düsseldorf mustard, although the traditional British version is soft-boiled and served cold with salad and pickles.

Using free-range organic eggs and local sausage, head chef Brady Ahrens reports a “regular egg following,” selling three to four dozen a week to prove it.

“When people don’t know how something is made, they’re turned off,” Ahrens says. “Many people think [the egg] is great!”

While Wisconsinites love a good brat, the Germans do sauerkraut best. Typically reserving the deep fryer for fritters and powdered sweets, Mark’s East Side deep-fries sauerkraut balls.

Owner Mark Doughtery calls them “a labor of love,” adding that the appetizer is intense to prepare. A mixture of onion, sauerkraut (green cabbage) and secret seasonings are hand-rolled and breaded before begin dunked in the fryer.

Where in the World

The tacos on the menu at Appleton’s Antojitos Mexicanos aren’t something you can order in the fast food drive-thru.

In addition to the traditional steak, chicken and Mexican sausage options, Antojitos also offers pork cheek, cow tongue and beef tripe (cow intestines) tacos.

“In Mexico, it’s normal for a taco stand to sell brain, tripe and tongue,” says Fernando Almanza, part owner of the family restaurant. He likens the look of cow tongue to shredded beef since it is often cut up. “I’ve seen kids order the cow tongue tacos,” says Almanza. “It’s the texture that scares people. But once it’s cooked, it’s a little crispy.”

Pork cheek, on the other hand, is a little more fatty. All three meats are first boiled, then seasoned and grilled to order.

“If they don’t like the ‘fear factor’ taco, we won’t charge!” Almanza adds.

Known for its innovative Mediterranean cuisine, downtown Appleton’s Apollon serves grilled octopus. Owner Stavros Kodis explains that the dark purple color is usually what daunts diners, yet it is the second most popular item on the menu.

“The look and texture is different,” Kodis says. “It’s a tender meat, but not chewy at all.” He adds that the fear for food comes from hearsay or a person’s previous experience with cuisine.

Are You Game?

He says he’s no Anthony Bourdain, but then again, Pat Purtell has no reservations about the wild chuck he recruits for his bar’s menu.

His Oshkosh establishment, Terry’s Bar and Grill, celebrates 34 years this month and he’s still raising eyebrows and sending stomachs somersaulting with his rare burger choices.

He currently serves Kalahari antelope, Himalayan yak, llama, Kobe beef, red deer, ostrich, wild boar, elk and a half alligator-half crocodile burger. His prices—all under $7—make it tempting to taste.

He currently has an order in for hippopotamus, while black bear, rattle snack, kangaroo, kudu (a type of antelope), camel and porcupine have turned up on the menu in the past.

“I grew up in a family that hunted,” Purtell explains. “It wasn’t strange to smoke squirrel if we shot it.” He adds that nothing ever “tastes like chicken” and each type of meat has its own flavor. Kobe beef (which comes from the black Tajima-ushi breed of the Japanese wagyu cattle) is a tender, delicate cut and almost melts in your mouth. Llama and buffalo are sweeter meats, while ostrich is a red meat and if loaded up with “the works,” you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was ostrich or a regular burger.

Purtell recommends eating the burgers plain in order to make your own judgements.

In Appleton, Fuddruckers serves buffalo, elk and wild boar burgers. Part of the Fudds Exotic line, the meat is free-range, all natural and antibiotic- and hormone-free.

Owner Trevor Reader puts the wild game burgers into perspective by comparing the tastes and textures to familiar favorites. “If you like venison, you’ll like elk,” he affirms. “It’s a lean, healthy alternative to a regular burger.”

He goes on to say that boar tastes like your hamburger was cooked in bacon grease while buffalo is low in fat.

Be it fried legs, tongue tacos or crazy chuck, let the grains and tang take you to a place you’ve never been. What are you afraid of?

—By Alison Fiebig

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