Smile Politely

Pleading For Oysters on the Shell in C-U

I have a particular image in my head. It’s of an overweight mobster-type, sitting at a bar with his jacket off and suspenders displayed. His gut hangs over his belt line and as he puffs on a Monte Cristo, every so often he reaches over and grabs up half an oyster shell, squeezes a touch of lemon and splashes a douse of sauce on it.

Down it goes. Over and over and over.

I’d be lying if some part of me didn’t want this image to actually be me.

That sound you hear is my wife filing divorce papers.

Okay. That was a stretch. But the truth is that there is almost nothing as satisfying to me as downing a dozen fresh oysters on the halfshell while munching peanuts and drinking a cold pilsner beer. It’s a true pleasure of mine, and one that is, unfortunately, fairly uncommon for me to partake in here in the ol’ C-U.

Ever since The City of New Orleans closed its doors in 2001, our towns have lacked a restaurant that regularly serves up this known aphrodisiac, save for when Jim Gould was doing it as recently as last winter.

Back when the train station restaurant seemed to be thriving, I can remember spending $8–$10 on a dozen pretty large oysters, served up just like you see them on the picture above. Oh sure, they weren’t always available, and there is no doubt that they weren’t totally fresh either. But nevertheless, they did the trick.

“Oysters?” you say. “In the middle of cornfields with nary a drop of saltwater in sight?”

Ah — but you are forgetting one of our most prized commodities living here in C-U. We sit right on the train line from which the restaurant mentioned above took its name: The City of New Orleans.

Every other day, this train carries hundreds of pounds of oysters up from New Orleans through Jackson and Memphis on its way to Chicago, stopping you know where on the way. And naturally, there is no hobo selling these shells off the tracks by the bag, but this mere realization is enough to make me ponder the notion of a return to this after work delight.

Costly as they may be, if I know restaurants, I know that there could be value in peddling these mollusks. Restaurants make money in places you might not suspect. One of the most common is at the bar. Those three martinis that you bought your girlfriend last Friday at that downtown joint might have netted the restaurant bar a cool 250% profit, while the actual meal was served up at a small loss. And as such, its in their best interest to get you in the bar, drinking and keep you there.

I can buy them at the store for just under $.65 a piece, which means kitchens can buy them commercially even cheaper. Hell, mark ‘em up a notch and sell them at $10 a dozen or $17 for two dozen. The idea is to get me in the bar. Treat it like a half-priced appetizer and only make it available when sitting in the bar area, even. I don’t really care.

I’ll bite. Literally. And I’ll buy a drink or three while I am there.

So, who’s got it in them, old friends? Who in these fair towns will bring to us a full plate of these slippery yet saliva-inducing treats from the gulf? Won’t someone do me the favor?

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