UPDATE: Apparently Nashvillians really cotton to the idea of deer steak on a bun. The Arby's on Rosa Parks Blvd. sold out of venison sandwiches on the first day, effectively ending the promotion that was scheduled to continue through Nov. 3. The Nashville store was the first in the country to offer this special.
"We stuck a nerve, in a good way, with hunters," said Luke DeRouen of Arby's, confirming that the Nashville location went through more than 250 sandwiches in 5 hours. "Some people drove from an hour away to try it," he said.
The promotion now moves to Atlanta later in the week and then on to Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Arby's meat parade just added another performer. Meet the limited-edition venison sandwich, on sale today through Nov. 3 at only 17 of Arby's more than 3,300 locations.
Nashville drew one of the lucky spots (2044 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.) because of the state's hunting tradition. There was no mention if our "road kill bill" was a deciding factor.
First off, let's be clear. This is not Uncle Buck's weekend bag limit from the Cumberland Plateau. The USDA won't let you sell wild-harvested animals.
This venison comes from Down Under, more specifically free-range, farm-raised red deer from New Zealand, which is exotic, to be sure, but disappointing that Arby's couldn't find a domestic purveyor. Price and volume likely had a lot to do with it.
"Everyone thought we we were going to serve shaved venison," said Luke DeRouen, Arby's senior director of brand communications, who was in town for the sandwich launch. Instead, the company chose 5.5-ounce cuts of top and bottom round steak.
Now for something I never thought I would write about a fast-food restaurant. According to DeRouen, the steaks are cooked sous vide (vacuum-sealed and slow-cooked in hot water baths) at 135 F for 3.5 hours, shipped to the restaurants for reheating and served with a Cabernet sauce seasoned with crushed juniper berries and crispy fried onions on top.
This is part of a promotion to meld Arby's "We have the meats" slogan with "It's meat season" to attract hunters as a unique demographic group. The store is even wrapped in a camouflage motif.
Arby's is limiting the sale to two sandwiches per customer, and after only an hour and 15 minutes this morning the MetroCenter store had already sold 100. At that rate, they likely won't make it though the promotion's end on Thursday.
Corey Smith, a local lunch customer, thought he would plunk down five bucks for a sandwich and give it a try. "It has good flavor, but it's a little tough," said Smith, who's no stranger to venison with a family of hunters.
The Verdict: To be fair, most steak sandwiches are a bit toothsome, and I was pleasantly surprised to find this one more tender than expected. The flavor was good, and the tangy sauce worked to balance the meat, which had just a hint of gaminess. My biggest complaint was with the texture, which was too mealy for my taste.
Rating: 5 antler points (out of 8).