Wagyu—a Japanese cattle breed, derived from native Asian cattle (‘Wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’ means cow), is some of the finest beef available (other than Kobe beef). Considered a “national treasure” in Japan, their export was eventually banned, but not before four bulls were brought to the United States in 1976.
These bulls were then bred with many of the finest beef cattle in the country, enhancing the American Wagyu program slowly over nearly two decades. Once introduced to the marketplace, chefs and other culinarians were immediately taken by the superior quality and taste of this tender, marbled beef and an industry was born.
“The breed that we seek out most is the Wagyu bull, bred with Black Angus cows,” says Chef Keith Lynch, who, along with his business partner, Joe Guthrie, opened Vernales in the early summer of 2014. “This beef comes in with unbelievable marbling, tender texture and succulent flavor like no other.”
For Imperial Wagyu, quality starts in the field. The producers are dedicated to the highest consistency and quality care for their livestock. As part of a holistic approach, all calves are vaccinated on the farm to protect against and prevent disease, thus reducing the need for antibiotics. These calves are also raised on lush green vistas before entering the long, slow feeding phase over 400 days. Cattle are grain-fed to exact standards a nutritionist-recommended 100% vegetarian diet. They are closely monitored every step of the way and are handled with strict care protocols throughout the entire production system.
Last year, Keith and Joe visited the Imperial Wagyu farm operations in Iowa with Emmet Baratta, one of the third-generation owners of Fairway Packing in Detroit. What they experienced there validated their decision to overhaul the menu to serve the very best beef available.
“We saw farmers who are as committed to the care of their cattle as we are to delivering a first-class meal and overall dining experience to our guests,” says Joe. “We know that every step along the way, this beef is being handled in the best possible way, by business owners who share the same philosophies that we do here at Vernales.”
Not only flavorful and visually appealing, Wagyu is notably low in cholesterol—making it a healthier beef option.
“The mono-unsaturated to saturated fat ratio is higher in Wagyu than in other beef and, the saturated fat contained in Wagyu is different” according to the American Wagyu Association, which was incorporated in Texas in 1990 to register Wagyu cattle in the US, Canada and other countries. “The profile of marbled Wagyu beef is more beneficial and healthier to human health. Wagyu is also higher in a type of fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Wagyu beef contain the highest amount of CLA per gram of any foodstuff – about 30% more than other beef breeds – due to higher linoleic acid levels. Foods that are naturally high in CLA have fewer negative health effects.”
As if that weren’t enough, both the 16-ounce Kansas City and 30-ounce Bone-In Tamahawk Ribeye served at Vernales get an added VIP treatment at Fairway Packing, the only distributor for Imperial Wagyu in Michigan. Here, various cuts (up to 10,000 pounds at a time) are racked inside a one-of-a-kind 1,200-square-foot aging room lined with over 1,000 Himalayan salt bricks and equipped with 14 fans to create circular air flow to aid in the 28-day dry-aging process.
In ancient times, the translucent pink salt—hand-mined from the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in Pakistan—has been used to preserve meet and fish. Technically a marine fossil salt, 100 percent natural and unrefined, it is regarded as the highest grade of natural salt available. Touted for its health and therapeutic benefits, Himalayan salt is said to lower blood pressure, strengthen bones and improve circulation, among other advantages. Thanks to its mineral make-up (iron, copper, potassium, magnesium and calcium), it is also ideal for tenderizing meat and bringing out its richest natural flavors.
Given the time and effort put into each steak, Fairway is selective on who they work with. Just like each cut of meat, they hand-pick which restaurants they work with around the state in terms of not only reputation, but also geographic location, to create their exclusive portfolio.
“When we get an order, we hand-select the beef and cut it down to the exact specifications from the restaurant,” says Emmet. “In less than 12 hours, those cuts are in the kitchen. Our customers count on us to deliver the freshest meat so they can turn around and prepare the finest dishes for their guests.”
Among the Waygu beef custom cuts available at Vernales are a 7-ounce Flat Iron, 7-ounce Flank Steak, 10-ounce hand-cut New York Strip, 6-ounce center-cut Filet Mignon, 18-ounce Chateaubriand, Tenderloin Medallions and Beef Brisket. While the flavor of the steak is more than enough as a stand-alone, a variety of enhancements such as sautéed mushrooms, béarnaise, lump crab, bleu cheese crumbles or caramelized onions are also available. Even the burgers, sliders and beef chili will be made with Wagyu beef.
“When we opened, we wanted to be the place where locals and visitors feel like our special guests,” Keith says. “We pride ourselves on providing a comfortable environment, top notch service and superior yet affordable menu. We’re excited to roll out our all American Wagyu steak menu and invite guests to find their favorite cut, even if they have to try them all to figure that out.”
Founded in 2005, Imperial Wagyu set out to be recognized and sought after by chefs and beef connoisseurs for its unique flavor, tenderness and health benefits—all of the features Wagyu beef naturally provides. Within a year of operation, Imperial Wagyu was recognized by the USDA as the first Certified Wagyu Beef brand in the United States. Of all the beef raised in the U.S., only .008% meet Imperial Wagyu designated standards.
Located in the heart of Detroit’s Eastern Market, the family-owned and operated Fairway Packing has been providing prime and dry aged beef for over 65 years. They are the only Michigan restaurant meat distributor to be voted to the National Top 200 Purveyors by Meat Processing Magazine.
Open seven days a week, year-round (excluding select holidays), Vernales is located on the historic and scenic M-119 between Petoskey and Harbor Springs. A truly one-of-a-kind destination, this chop house–sports bar–wine cellar offers a vast selection of seafood, pasta, pizza, sandwiches, burgers, upscale pub fare and its extensive list of American Wagyu steaks. With 250 seats, as well as an outdoor patio in season, there is plenty of room for individuals, couples and groups for private parties such as rehearsal dinners, bridal showers, wedding receptions, graduation parties, cocktail receptions and other functions. Guests can also enjoy take-out and a variety of catering options.