In response to the challenge I posed to Joey back in Amarillo, he presented me with an eating endeavor of my own, with advice from our friend Chris – I had to consume three orders of Rocky Mountain Oysters at the Buckhorn Exchange in Denver, Colo., which of course are not oysters at all, but deep-fried bull testicles. We’d driven by here yesterday to take on the challenge at lunch, only to find they weren’t open for lunch on Sundays. No matter, though, because we made the drive back down on this early Monday afternoon to try again, at a time when we knew they’d be open.
This place is famous for a menu that boasts meats from many strange and exotic animals, with the mounted heads on the walls to prove it. It was really an unusual spectacle, to have all these long-defeated animals staring down at you as you eat them or someone close to them on the wall. It added plenty of character but it just made me more uncomfortable at the thought of what I was about to do. Note the zebra in the back.
Our server took our drink order and sent it to the bartender. While our drinks were being poured, she came back and informed us that they were OUT of the “oysters” today. Oh man, was Joey mad. Just the other day, we’d seen a restaurant called Black Eyed Pea, and I commented on how they’d better have a steady supply of black eyed peas in the kitchen with a name like that. Joey felt that this was a similar situation – the Buckhorn is known for their exotic meats, but the “oysters” are their signature item.
But with drinks on their way to us already, we weren’t going to get up and leave (even though it looked like Joey wanted to). We stayed and ordered off their bizarre menu, trying a few things I haven’t seen elsewhere. I got an elk steak, which was juicy and far more tender than I expected it to be. Sarah got a sort of meat medley, with elk, beef and bison, and Joey got a dip made with cheese and rattlesnake. My steak was fantastic, but they totally skimped on the meat in Joey’s dish. None of this was cheap, either – possibly our most expensive lunch yet.
Soon, we were in the car driving toward Cheyenne, Wyo., and I was on the phone locating a restaurant that served Rocky Mountains Oysters, which took a shockingly small amount of time to do. And pretty soon, we happened by a fun center along the highway, where Joey pulled in and we all enjoyed a good round of mini golf – the great American pastime. I’d really been pushing for mini golf back in Roswell, N.M., but there was nowhere offering such a service. I found this to be an egregious oversight on Roswell’s part. They could totally have the coolest mini golf course in the world. Think about it.
We finished the drive to Cheyenne and went straight to the restaurant that would be serving up my discomfort and disgust for the evening, a place called the Albany Restaurant. The place was a normal restaurant, no wildlife hanging on the walls, no cultish vibe in the air. And their menu was very straightforward, as if someone might be confused by a name like Rocky Mountain Oysters. No such confusion here. After getting a giant mug of dark beer in front of me, I groaned my order at the waitress – three orders of bull nuts. She chimed it back to me and jotted it down without batting an eye, as if three orders of bull nuts are a popular choice.
Soon they were finished and presented to me thusly. The waitress needed help running all the food, giving me another person to feel humiliated in front of. They weren’t quite what I expected – I was anticipating whole, intact testicles that had been breaded and tossed into the fryer. Apparently, it makes more sense to slice them up and prepare those slices individually. They came with cocktail sauce, which I quickly replaced with ketchup, and tried to drown out the flavor by chasing every bite with a sip of beer.
I was absolutely miserable. I’ve had food in the past that tasted much worse than this, but usually that food was made with normal, non-testicular ingredients. I just couldn’t get past the knowledge that I was eating the balls of an animal. I can throw down a half dozen hot dogs without batting an eye, knowing full well that I’m eating the least desirable parts of the animal, all the way down to its anus. But there seems, at least for me, to be comfort in ambiguity. I would have given anything in the world to be eating hot dogs right now instead of bull nuts.
After a refill on my beer, several fresh-air breaks and a few small temper tantrums, I was running out of drive. I bit down on one of the larger pieces and was met by a warm burst of juice inside my mouth. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so close to vomiting in a restaurant before. In a summer that’s been blessed with gorgeous parks, iconic museums, and great times of all kinds, this was by far my least favorite experience of the entire trip.
I did not finish my challenge. I successfully consumed two out of the three orders of bull nuts that were my original task. Joey acted surprised when I threw in the towel, even though he spent the entire meal taunting me and reminding me of the disgusting activity I was engaged in. But I finished everything I could, kept it all down, and suffered through an experience that will no doubt haunt me for the rest of my days.
I’d heard good things about Cheyenne, all of which had fled from my mind during our visit to the Albany Restaurant. We climbed into the car and drove clear across Wyoming, knowing we were on a time limit the next morning on our way to Billings. The sunset lit the sky aflame, and the fields stretched endlessly in every direction. I hope that someday, I can come back to this beautiful land under more amicable circumstances.