Hopscotch, Fullerton (photos by Kevin Sullivan and Brad A Johnson)
“What are they?” he asks, studying the menu for a clue as to what Rocky Mountain oysters might be. The menu at Hopscotch plays it vague, describing them only as “veal fries.”
“They’re really good,” I say, deflecting the question. “Let’s get some.”
The guy with whom I’m dining has never eaten a Rocky Mountain oyster, and I’ve found that it’s best not to enlighten someone – especially a guy – as to where calf fries come from until after he’s eaten one or two. The only people who don’t like Rocky Mountain oysters are the ones who are afraid of them.
If you grow up on a working cattle ranch, like I did, you don’t think twice about eating calf testicles. It’s just part of the culture. It’s a rite of passage for kids on the ranch, like getting your first pair of spurs or shooting your first rifle. But even as a kid on the ranch, it’s generally not until you’ve been eating them for several years that you finally discover what they are. By then, you’re hooked.
For the uninitiated urban dweller, the idea of eating “calf fries” doesn’t always sit well. Fortunately, this guy doesn’t push the subject further. He’s an adventurous eater who will try just about anything.
And when the “oysters” arrive, they are beautiful. They look like beignets, or oversized hush puppies. They’re battered in cornmeal and fried to a deep golden crisp. The batter is heavily spiced with chili powder and probably black pepper. Break one apart and the inside looks sort of like sweetbreads, and it has a similar texture and flavor – although I’ve always thought the closest comparison is probably that little nub of chicken fat where a chicken thigh meets the tail. They’re served with a schmear of citrusy crème fraîche, which gives them an air of sophistication.
“They’re what?” he says, shaking his head, not knowing whether to laugh or cringe. “Well, you’re right,” he says. “They’re good.”
If calf testicles aren’t your thing, start instead with the fried pig’s ears. They’re sliced into matchstick-size slivers and dusted with cornmeal and served with a sinus-clearing Fresno chili coulis…
The service is still bar-like, although there are some waiters who take a keener interest in food and hospitality than others… One day at brunch, when I try to order the chicken-fried duck with buttermilk biscuit and grits, the waitress looks at me with no sympathy whatsoever and says, “We ran out of that hours ago.” It had never occurred to her to tell us this when she gave us the menus…
This is obviously just a synopsis. Want more? You can read my full review and see the star rating along an extensive slide show by photographer Kevin Sullivan in this week’s OC Register. Subscriptions are required. We don’t give away our work for free at the newsstand, and we don’t give it away for free online, either. If you don’t want to subscribe, you can simply buy a Day Pass — cheaper than a cup of coffee — for 24-hour access to the entire OC Register archive. I invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
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