A Ball of a Time

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This is the reason why I have yet to post about lasagna adventures. At least, part of it. The work cycle is getting crazy again. One deadline just melted into another and I'm scrambling to get things in order. But before I could check another thing off of my list, I had to come face-to-face with these greasy fried nubbins. The time was set for 7:30. A few intrepid friends and I would sit down to a piping plateful. By 5, I was getting nervous. My stomach churned a bit. My friend Jared's text gave me something else to think about. "I'm scared," he wrote. "You think you're scared?" I replied. "You just have to eat them. I've gotta do that and tell the world that I ate bull's balls."

Behold: Rocky Mountain Oysters. Bulls (sometimes sheep!) balls. And they were going into my mouth. Yeah, the shit I do for work.

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It's really on the menu!

I'm not really complaining. In actuality, I volunteered for this assignment, this consuming of the deep-fried bovine "testi-clays" and sharing the experience with a limited readership. But only after coming to a few dead ends for story ledes. With a looming deadline, I bit the big one, so to speak. I knew I could do it. I, who claim to try anything once, could not turn away from this challenge. Piece of cake. Anthony Bourdain, eat your heart out. (No, really. Don't.)

But, have you ever tried tracking down deep-fried bulls balls on a restaurant menu? Not easy. Other than a few rural outposts that required a lengthy commute, there aren't a multitude of establishments that keep these glandular delights on the menu. I resorted to calling a meat & game wholesaler in town, trying to crack this nut. "Who do you sell Rocky Mountain Oysters to?" I was met with complete silence on the other end. Uh, okay. An apparent dead end. Luckily, a friend of mine reminded me of a place we once went to in high school for a school dance. The Cowboy Grub. Little did I know they even bestowed a place of honor for it on the menu.

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Pre-gaming without a liquor license

I did a little research before heading to the restaurant. Google image "Rocky Mountain Oysters" and you'll get about three pages worth of pallid ovals that are slightly shiny and kinda gross. Without any captions or taglines, they resembled sweetbreads. But the shot of the lady in the cowboy hat smiling as she's reaching for some of the oysters (pre-detachment) was just wrong. Needless, to say, I felt compelled to share my findings with my friends Jared and Amber, her husband Rob, and son Nick.

"I just don't want them to be gelatinous," Jared declared. "I'm fearing the worst." I totally understood. Jared and I operate similiarly—we fear or think out the worst. That way, anything else that happens honestly can't be as bad as we were expecting, therefore the situation is A-OK. "I don't think they're gelatinous," I assured him. "I read that one guy thought they tasted like foie, but not as rich." He took a moment to mull that one over.

I was worried when we were seated next to the salad bar. A high traffic area sure to include hordes of children with virgin ears. Mothers would send their offspring to get nutritious iceberg smothered in corn-syrup laced ranch only to have them return with potty mouths and questions of "Mommy, what does 'balls to the wall' mean?"

But the place was half empty and we had free-reign of a huge booth. I needed a shot of something. Anything. Vodka, whiskey, hell even tequila to pysch myself up. I had to settle for Dr. Pepper when we discovered there was no liquor license for the restaurant. I ordered up some greasy food stuffs to get our stomachs going. If we were to do this, there should be something else in our bellies. And if the oysters were to re-surface at any other point in the evening, something else should come up with it, too. I imagined that it couldn't be anymore appetizing coming back up than on the way down.

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The plate finally arrived, garnished with greenleaf lettuce, slices of onion and freakishly ripe-looking tomatoes. The happy side of the plate. Then there was a mound of shriveled nubbins. Kinda greasy. Much smaller than you'd expect bull's balls to be. "They're cut down," Rob declared. I don't think I could've handled a whole one. Thank god for Rob. Whenever he's around, there's a guaranteed wellspring of sarcastic fun. He's crass. He's full of shit. And his teasing made for a much lighter mood. After revealing the semantic irony of serving "cocktail" sauce with the oysters, he went for one. The smile in the photo above is entirely authentic. 100% Rob.

"They taste like...meatballs." Amber said. "Like swedish meatballs." Jared and I stared at the plate.

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He took a deep breath and dove in with the fork. This look of laid-back pride you see here gave way to a very pensive sort of chewing. Then he made a face and said, "yeah, totally, meatballs!" By this time, I couldn't avoid the deed. Couldn't take another photo of someone else digging in. Even Amber's son Nick sampled the "delicacy" and was kinda stoked at the fact he could tell his skater friends that he ate deep-fried testicles.

So I took the fork and pierced a nubbin. I got some dense resistance to the tines and little shiver ran down my back. "What does it look like inside?" Nick asked. Striking upon this momentary delay, I took a knife and slice my piece in half. Ingenious—reduced my portion size. But I had to then deal with the image of a compact network of swirly things I can only guess the proper anatomical names of. I plunged my exposed oyster into the dipping sauce and took a breath. "Balls to the wall, guys." And down the hatch it went.

I chewed and chewed. And chewed and chewed. And chewed. It tasted like nothing. I couldn't decipher if that slightly industrial flavor (try latex gloves?) was from the actual testicle or the grease it was fried in. Nothing like I expected. Not as luxurious as a sweetbread. Nowhere near a piece of foie (what the hell was that guy thinking?!?). Just chewy.

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In hindsight, it was a bit disappointing. Nothing dramatic. Nothing revelatory. Just blah. Blah testicles. Blah rocky mountain oysters. All that anticipation and worry for something so anti-climactic like going to the dentist. The plate wasn't worth finishing. So, we took our leave, still hungry. Luckily, there was an Indian place next door—the relocated Bombay House that took over the old Outback Steakhouse. I figured we shouldn't proclaim to loudly what we had just consumed. But Rob did have one last bit of speculation as we walked over to a much better meal. "I wonder if they would've been better if they were fresh. You know that shit that we got was frozen."

Interesting thought, Rob. But for the time being, I was much more focused on eating enough korma to give me heartburn and erase that funkdafied nastiness of an aftertaste.

I'll leave the freshness taste up to him.