Manchester Farms quail leads local charge of small game

SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) chef Russ Moore.

This Valentine’s Day may be for lovers, but it’s also the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, and lovers of wildlife are on the hunt for meals that feature something a bit more exotic than surf and turf.

While it doesn’t provide large game, Manchester Farms, just outside of Columbia, quietly answers that appetite with its tiny heirloom quail.

At the Fish and Fowl Craft Beer Dinner on Friday, to be held at the William Aiken House, Cru Cafe chef John Zucker will serve their quail with a tamarind Muddy Imperial Stout glaze as the “fowl.”

Fish chef Nico Romo will feature Manchester Farm quail and waffles even after SEWE on his winter menu.

At Slightly North of Broad (SNOB), chef Russ Moore says he’ll stuff the quail with cornbread and tasso. He likes that the quail is tasty and local, and he likes Manchester Farms because they’ve provided his staff with quail for dinner, so his whole staff knows how good the little birds are.

Moore says the quail will appeal to the more sophisticated SEWE diner he’s seen evolve.

“It used to be, 10 years ago ... a lot of camouflage,” Moore says. “But in the past couple of years, you see people who are definitely interested in game meats, but who are more sophisticated overall.”

Part of what these sophisticated diners value is the fact that the quail are local. Also appealing is that they are not caged, nor are they fed antibiotics.

“If you give the birds the best respect, environment and feed, you will raise out happy, healthy birds without any use of hormone, antibiotics or stimulants,” says Brittney Miller, who recently bought out her brother to become the family farm’s sole owner.

Manchester Farmshas been providing quail for more than 40 years when Miller’s father left the corporate world to turn his quail-processing hobby into a business.

Miller says her quail is actually different from the Bobwhite quail hunters are used to hunting. Manchester Farms quail are Court Nix, or Pharoah, quail.

“Our quail descends from Egypt,” Miller says. “It was mentioned in the Bible.”

In addition to SNOB, Cru and Fish, Manchester Farms provides local restaurants with the bird that Miller describes as having “a flavor profile not like a white meat chicken, but not as dark or heavy as duck.” Local restaurants include Husk, McCrady’s, Macintosh, FIG, Hominy Grill, Charleston Grill and Glass Onion. For the restaurants, she debones all but the wings and the first leg joint so that the chefs can easily stuff the birds.

Home chefs can find the quail split and brined, or cut in pieces and wrapped in bacon as appetizers in Publix, Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter.

“It’s usually next to the frozen turkey,” she says.

“For the first three decades, people would come up and be nostalgic about, ‘I remember when grandfather went hunting and we would have (the quail) fried with grits.’ With foodies coming on board, their palates are more curious and they’re more willing to try things they’ve never tried before,” Miller says. “We’ve changed from a nostalgic memory to an exciting adventure. Hipsters of the world are loving what we produce.”

Miller says even those nostalgic about hunted quail might find hers better.

“No birdshot,” she says with a laugh.