Bud Wood isn’t one to bury his head in the sand and let a longlegged idea pass him by.
Call him batty, but Bud says once you sink your teeth into one of his $5 ostrich burgers, a Big Mac will never taste the same.
Bud, 65, is the suspenderwearing, salty owner of the Pastime Tavern - about the only business left in this tiny southeastern Spokane County wheat town (pop. 100).
It is from this unlikely wide spot in a country road that Bud, who once searched for gold in Alaska, is trying to give the ungainly ostrich its place to roost in the nation’s food chain.
“Someone has to get it started,” says Bud, who claims to have the Northwest’s first grill offering USDA-inspected ostrich meat to the eating public.
“I’ve sold 10 since Saturday, when they went on the menu.”
Bud, also a city councilman, challenged me to take the 30-mile drive to Waverly on Wednesday morning and become lucky No. 11. I accepted the offer with queasy skepticism.
Being a highly trained professional journalist often requires me to put bizarre things into my mouth. You may recall that last fall I went to Montana and fearlessly covered the Clinton Testicle Festival (no connection to the president’s extramarital problems), where I successfully managed to hold down a platter of steaming bull ‘nads.
But I take my burgers seriously.
That’s because the traditional all-beef hamburger is one of our most cherished national icons, a sizzling symbol of America’s rich carnivorous heritage.
It pains me to imagine a day when hungry teenagers will pull up to a drive-in window and say:
“Duh, gimme the biggie fries, a medium Mountain Dew and a double ostrich with cheese.”
So when Bud’s wife, Donna, served me a quarter-pound “Bud’s Big Bird Burger,” I hoped for the best but feared the worst.
“Great ostrich!” I yelled at Bud between enthusiastic chews.
“I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear you say that,” answered Bud, who sat nervously smoking a cigarette while I ate.
Let me set the record straight: Ostrich doesn’t taste like chicken. Or any fowl, for that matter.
These are red-meated critters. The taste is surprisingly like delicious lean beef. The difference - you health nuts take notes - is that ostrich meat has virtually no fat or cholesterol to clog your arteries.
“There have been a lot of jokes about getting the feathers out of our mouths, but that’s not true,” says Duane Scheele, a farmer and Pastime regular. The burgers “really are very good.”
The Pastime is as good a place as any to kick back, sip a brewski and scarf some ostrich.
It’s a cozy saloon with dart games, tables and signs hanging everywhere. (Bud apparently is very grateful someone named a beer after him.)
Bud is a budding ostrich wrangler and therefore has selfish reasons for seeing the public acquire a taste for these 400-pound, flightless birds.
Actually, Bud raises rheas, which are economy-sized cousins to the ostrich. Rheas aren’t licensed for commercial use, but Bud believes it is only a matter of time. For now, though, Bud buys his ground ostrich from Vern’s Moses Lake Meat Co.
More and more capitalists are joining the ostrich boom, paying up to $60,000 for a breeding pair. The rubber-necked birds are hardy, and they mature quickly and reproduce often. You can raise hundreds of ostriches on a couple of acres of land.
Bud says he became interested in the strange creatures during the fifth grade, when he won a state award for his book report on ostriches.
Little did he know that one day he would be in Waverly, on the cutting edge of a culinary trend.
“I’m kinda proud of it,” says the father of the Bud’s Big Bird Burger. “Wherever I’m at, something unusual is bound to happen.”