WEST TOWN — Diners at Frontier tend to go whole hog — or goat, or alligator — when ordering their meal.
The West Town tavern at 1072 N. Milwaukee Ave. has become known for its whole animal dinner service. Each week, it books 15 to 20 such dinners for intrepid customers with Andrew Zimmern-like appetites.
But pig and wild boar, the two most popular choices, apparently aren't enough. Chef Brian Jupiter said he is looking to add whole llama to the menu in the next month.
"I'm always looking at being able to expand," said Jupiter, a New Orleans native weaned on alligator and other exotic meat. "It's just a matter of time before someone else does it."
Restaurants from coast to coast have embraced the nose-to-tail philosophy, but Frontier appears to be that rare restaurant with a permanent whole animal menu.
"Everybody says they're farm-to-table. I like to say we're wild-to-table," Jupiter said.
Frontier has been game meat-focused since opening in 2011. The space, with its exposed timber, has a lodge-like feel, which dictated the menu, Jupiter said.
"We had some game to be unique, and then customers wanted more. Now, purveyors will call me in the morning and say, 'Hey, I've got iguana,' " he said.
There are six whole animals from which to choose: alligator, goat, lamb, pig, wild boar and suckling pig. Side dishes (mac 'n' cheese, Caesar salad, succotash, Johnny cakes) round out the meal.
The dinners, which cost between $550 and $600 and serve 12 to 15 people, must be booked at least five days in advance. The suckling pig serves six to eight and costs $300.
Patrons who book a whole animal dinner are overwhelmingly male. Alligator, which went on the menu about 10 months ago, is a bachelor party magnet.
"It's fun and it's educational," Jupiter said. "People in American have been eating game meat for years and years. Talk about sustainable — these are wild animals."
On Saturday, Jupiter had 10 animals in the smoker or ready to go — six pigs, two boars, a lamb and an alligator.
The alligator and one pig were for Frontier regular Stephen Lee, who was celebrating his 36th birthday that evening with 30 friends. He stopped by in the afternoon to watch Jupiter skin the gator.
"I wanted to do something exciting and crazy and fun and different, and only 'Jup' can do this," Lee said, snapping photos on his iPhone. More than a few times, he touched the gator's skin.
"It's sick, man. So amazing," Lee said as he watched Jupiter work his blade under the skin. "Is it fatty?"
"No," Jupiter said. "Gator's leaner than chicken."
The gators come from Louisiana. After skinning, Jupiter rubs them with spices, stuffs them with chicken, roasts and smokes them.
In early July, Jupiter added a whole Skuna Bay salmon to the menu as a "lighter option," with female customers in mind. He bakes the 12-pound fish under a thick blanket of salt and cracks it open tableside.
He is working with Bensenville-based distributor Fortune Fish and Gourmet to source baby llama, which he is confident his customers will appreciate. He's done a few llama dishes here and there, to rave reviews.
"There's some llama coming out of Wisconsin, and it's something I feel would go over well," Jupiter said. "We don't have true red meat options, so I would like to have something there to satisfy meat eaters."
Because llama is so lean, he figures he'll wrap the whole animal in beef caul fat before smoking it.
And no, llama does not taste like chicken.
It's more like antelope or deer but "a little less of a game flavor," Jupiter said.