Let’s face it, eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s something you can keep doing long after certain other of life’s greatest pleasures have somewhat…diminished, if not in quality then in quantity.
Everybody has peculiarities either in the way they eat or in their likes and dislikes, and I find these fascinating. For instance, in my previous blog on quintessential Southern dining, I mentioned my lunch companion Mrs. H., who included a grilled pork chop on her platter of food. Upon finding the restuarant had forgotten to order steak knives, and finding that her dinner knife was inadequate, she proceeded to tear the meat off with her fingers. She said she hoped I didn’t think she was being rude, but she was from the country. (Translation: I really don’t care if you think it’s rude or not.) I was charmed! I was right there with her! Go for it!
One of my quirks is that I’ve always, at least since I left home and could get away with it, eaten only when I’m hungry. I have never adhered to any schedule. I believe that eating when it’s “time” is a contributing factor to obesity, since it encourages people to eat when they aren’t hungry. Of course, the case can be made that by adhering to a schedule, you’ve trained your body to be “hungry” when it’s “time”. In any case, my method surely saved me from becoming a complete blimp as opposed to a mini-blimp (a subject covered in my blog “How Much Do You Weigh?”)
However, in the last three years, my method turned out to have a downside. My appetite went to hell in a handbasket, which forced me to eat because I had to, and that, my friends, is no fun whatsoever. I used to wander forlornly through the aisles of the grocery store, hoping to spy something that would spark my interest. I’m not quite that bad any more, but I am to some degree. Therefore, when I have a food craving of some sort out of the blue, I satisfy it immediately. After satisfying my craving for fried green tomatoes earlier in the week, I found that I had a craving for oysters, which brings me to lunch at Barnacle Bill’s.
Barnacle Bill’s is an institution in Tallahassee–it’s been around 30 or 40 years. It lies on the main drag (Monroe Street), sandwiched between a Wendy’s (ugh!) and an “international” food grocery (translation: Hispanic). BB’s manages to replicate quite nicely the kind of seafood houses you might find on the coast, say in Appalachicola. It has a huge raw bar in the center of the room, surrounded by booths. The restroom doors read “Maine” and “Womaine”. There are grains of rice in the salt shaker, to counteract the humidity. There is a basket of crackers on the table, and they are all saltines. No variations allowed. If a sissy thing like some multi-grain cracker were to invade the basket, it would be stomped to death by its saltine neighbors.
I started with a dozen on the half-shell. (Note re: oyster etiquette. One does not order a dozen oysters on the half-shell. One orders “a dozen on the half-shell” or “a dozen raw”. The word “oyster” is redundant.) While you wait for them to be fresh-shucked, your server brings you the de rigeur condiments: ketchup, cocktail sauce, and hot sauce (in this case, Crystal hot sauce, which I totally reject in favor of Tabasco).
The oysters themselves come with an oyster fork, a slice of lemon, and a tiny cup of horseradish, along with a slightly larger cup so that you can mix the horseradish with the house cocktail sauce in case theirs isn’t horseradishy enough for you.
After that, I had the two item combo and chose catfish and oysters (again). Those come with French fries, corn fritters (actually little hushpuppy sized balls of creamed corn, dipped in batter and fried) and your choice of cole slaw or cheese grits. Against my better judgement, I picked the cole slaw. Which brings me to my rant about cole slaw.
I am in despair that I will ever find cole slaw in the South which doesn’t have sugar in it. A proper cole slaw has only five ingredients: cabbage, mayonnaise, vinegar, and salt and pepper. However, if they have to put sugar in it, it’s at least better than putting mustard in it. I consider this to be the unforgiveable sin, right up there with putting ketchup on eggs.
In this case, they used a combination of green and red cabbage. I have nothing against red cabbage, but in cole slaw, it turns the mayonnaise pink, which completely spoils the aesthetics. It took us 50 years to understand that tea can be served without sugar in it, so perhaps in another 50 we will get cole slaw without sugar.
Despite these minor flaws, the attraction of Barnacle Bill’s is this: You can trust them. I don’t know who their suppliers are, but they have some sort of direct pipeline to the coast, 25 miles away. They know how to handle seafood and freshwater fish as well. (It isn’t a real big secret, the answer is…lots of ice. But where other restaurants are casual about it, there is real quality control at BB’s.) Year-round, they have the best and largest oysters. You can eat them and know that you will not get sick. That takes some genius, and it explains why they’ve been in business 30 or 40 years. My only advice is, if you go–and you should–order the cheese grits.