The Surprising Dish Served By This Restaurant: Impossible Restaurant

The whole point and purpose of "Restaurant: Impossible" is to try to fix floundering restaurants, but in so doing, they often kill the thing that made that restaurant special. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the restaurants don't survive the drastic makeovers. According to Food Network Gossip, the latest stats show that 108 out of 181 restaurants featured have closed, and scrolling through the list indicates that many of these restaurants closed within a year or so after they were featured on the show.

One of these restaurants was the Wagon Wheel, a restaurant featured on Season 6 back in 2013. In 2014, the restaurant, described by Delaware Online as a 40-year-old landmark in the city of Smyrna, closed its doors for good. When they closed, that deprived locals and visitors alike of one of the few chances they'd get to taste a dish you can't get at too many restaurants anywhere else on the planet.

Eating muskrat grosses people out

The Wagon Wheel was one of the last restaurants anywhere serving "marsh rabbit," also known as muskrat. Delaware Online describes it as "a strong-flavored, chewy meat," but they admit it's not to everyone's taste. "Restaurant: Impossible" star Robert Irvine was not a fan, tweeting, "Wasn't for me. Yuk!! ... Some people love it and I'm not one of them." Food Network also considers the Wagon Wheel episode to be among the show's most memorable for all the wrong reasons, citing the restaurant's "particularly peculiar" signature dish. While the Wagon Wheel didn't stop serving muskrat after their "Restaurant: Impossible" intervention, they did attempt more of an upscale look that didn't sit too well with long-time customers. Nor, it seems, did their appearance on TV win them many new patrons.

Many of those commenting on the Food Network Gossip announcement about the Wagon Wheel's closure seemed to share Irvine's feelings about the restaurant's specialty. One said, "Still can't get over ANYONE thinking muskrat is an appropriate dish to serve, calling the Delaware eatery's episode "one of the most disgusting ... I ever watched." Another agreed that it was "the most messed up episode of the series," while a third compared eating muskrat to "possum or skunk." Others on social media were equally emphatic in their distaste, with one Twitter user declaring "Wagon Wheel...I Will Never Eat Muskrat" and another tweeting "Muskrat at the Wagon Wheel? Omg. I can't even eat my dinner while watching this episode. Gross!!!!"

There are good reasons for eating muskrat

One person in the Food Network Gossip comment thread pointed out that muskrat is "actually a pretty well known Lenten dish in Michigan," at least in certain French Catholic communities, due to its supposedly having been granted the status of non-meat and thus permissible for consumption on Lenten Fridays. The user said, "When done right it's quite tasty," but added that "unfortunately ... wagon wheel's wasn't all that appealing looking."

Muskrat is evidently not unknown on Canadian tables, either, as any fan of "The Wild Chef" may already know.  According to an information sheet put out by the Government of Northwestern Territories, muskrat meat not only has low levels of contaminants and is quite safe to eat, but they also characterize it as "one of the healthiest foods available." Who knew? It seems muskrat is high in both iron and protein, and is also a great source of B vitamins. The government site also adds that their chief public health officer has never issued any warnings regarding the need to limit consumption of muskrat, so you can go ahead and chow down with no worries.

Muskrat remains a popular regional delicacy

If you're looking to check muskrat off your adventurous eating list, you may well mourn the loss of the Wagon Wheel. As a former employee told Delaware Online, "A lot of people like [muskrat]," adding that their signature dish was what "keeps the business going" — at least, until it didn't. If you want muskrat done right, though, there's still one place you can go: Maryland's Eastern Shore.

During Season 2 of "Bizarre Foods," Andrew Zimmern went "downy ocean" (Maryland-ese for heading down to the shore) to try barbecued muskrat, and he actually liked it, too. While Zimmern ate his marsh rabbit in a private kitchen, your best chance to try it might be at the National Outdoor Show held each winter in Dorchester County, Maryland. The show features a muskrat cooking contest, and the cafeteria also serves muskrat dinners that sell out year after year. The Dorchester County Office of Tourism also touts an annual Crawfish Boil & Muskrat Stew Fest, which features a muskrat leg eating contest, as well as a variety of yummy muskrat delights including muskrat stew, muskrat tacos, and muskrat gravy fries. No muskrat cookies or muskrat-muskmelon sorbet, at least not yet, but maybe they'll keep those in mind for future festivals.