Rocky Mountain Oysters - The Old Mill. Cedar City, Utah.
The Old Mill. Cedar City, Utah.
I have this gauzy memory about the first time I heard of Rocky Mountain oysters. I remember thinking they were oysters in the literal sense. I can recall learning of them from one of those lifestyle shows on TV which pre-dated the Travel Channel. I can't name the show, but I can describe the people in the show as being burly, Harley riding types. The people on the show loved to mumble clichés like "it dunn't git any bedder din dis!" before chompin' down on their plate of Rocky Mountain oysters. These same people would then chuckle and sputter some kind of apology to the bull that sacrificed his bullhood for their lunch platter.
About two and a half decades after I saw that show, I found myself on a road trip with my wife Diane and our newborn Chloe. We've been driving a while and were some miles deep into the Mountain Time Zone. I don't know if it was all those scruffy bikers roughriding towards Sturgis or because I could actually see the Rocky Mountains slowly shifting in the distant horizon, but I was seriously hankerin' for a hunk of bull balls. I've never ever had them but I was really craving them. Weird.
Cedar City, Utah was coming fast 'round the bend. I figured this was as good a town as any to find some Mountain Time testicles. And an estabishment called The Old Mill Restaurant seemed as good a spot as any for this regional delicacy. The Old Mill's facade was an unflinching homage to Alpine Villages everywhere. And if my hunch was right, this place would be forever christened Kugel Haus in my heart.
Eureka! Rocky Mountain oysters or RMOs were indeed on the menu. Our perky waitress came to the table with ice water. She cooed to the baby, asked about our trip so far and generally made us feel at home. I then ordered the "oysters" and suddenly the relationship between me and my waitress changed forever. Not once in my entire experience of ordering bizarre or adventurous food, everything from pig uterus to a bowl of live squirming shrimp, have I gotten the kind of reaction that I received from my waitress at The Old Mill. To my question, "So how're the Rocky Mountain oysters?", she answered by showing a painful grimace and letting out an involuntary gag. Talking slowly, she went on to summon a memory - as if supine on an analyst's Upper East Side couch - an incident she endured as a young girl. It was the night her mother made her eat Rocky Mountain oysters for the first time. That hellish meal haunts her to this very day which explains her traumatic response to my inquiry.
Part of me really felt sorry for her. I had a similar experience with my mom but instead of being force fed bull sack it was its brain, whole and in your face. I cried through that entire dinner which must've taken two hours to finish. Yeah, that was my Hanoi Hilton. But then, the other part of me thought, "Hey, I turned out okay. She can too. Get over it, you wimp! Go into the kitchen and get some balls already!"
After a series of unfortunate appetizers, I got my RMOs. They arrived fried in batter on a bed of iceberg lettuce and looked remarkably plain. "Bon appetit," my waitress sarcastically wished me. I studied the "oysters" before eating them. Secretly I was looking for similarities to my own "boys". Mine definitely weren't battered and fried. I also noticed how flat and deflated the RMOs appeared. I wasn't expecting that and was, frankly, a little disappointed. At last I sliced a bit off and dipped it into the accompanying seafood cocktail sauce. A surprisingly mellow flavor was my immediate verdict. It was like a very light flavored liver but not as spongy in texture. In fact the RMO meat was quite firm. I ate most of it but that's just because I hate to waste anything.
Overall it was a letdown. The interesting thing is that in my imagination RMOs were nothing like they were in reality. It was almost the exact opposite. I was pining for round and juicy with funky flavors. Instead I got flat and dry with hints of mild liver. Funny, I guess that's life in a nutshell.