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April 2, 2014

Taste Bud: Return of the oyster

The first time I ever had an oyster shooter was in early 1990, at a going-away party when I left a job as a reporter at a local daily newspaper. My co-workers and I descended upon Hooters, wherein my former boss talked me into having an oyster for the first time.

This “Hooter Shooter,” as it was called, was an intriguingly disgusting-looking thing — one raw oyster, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, straight horseradish and a shot of beer. Yeah, that’s not a good-looking or sweet-smelling concoction. But you know what? I loved it.

And so, on those occasions when I stumble into Hooters these days (it isn’t often), I always take a step back in time with a Hooter Shooter. You can get these things at a lot of places; Rumors in Middletown has the Rumor Boomer. Many restaurants and bars will make oyster shots for you with vodka, but those I steer clear of.

Recently I met my friend Chuck at Hooters for a couple of beers and to catch up. And, as per usual, I ordered my customary Hooter Shooter. But on this day, something was amiss; you see, traditionally, a Hooter Shooter came in a shot glass, and you got to keep the souvenir glass (I have dozens of those damn things from years gone by).

But this thing was different. It was served to me in what appeared to be a small wine glass. And the freaking thing was about three-fourths of the way full. OK, I’m no mixologist, but that’s a lot of hot sauce and horseradish to ingest in one drink.

And the worst part was, the mix was almost all horseradish. It was thick to the point that it hardly seemed there was any beer at all. Of course, the tasty oyster was stuck in the white and red muck at the bottom of the glass.

“That’s a gagger,” a guy at the next table said.

We laughed, but I remained undeterred. I’ve been drinking/eating these things for years, I thought. Time to nut up or shut up.

So I drank it. When I thought back moments later on what I had just done, I realized I had not thrown up since January of 2008. That’s a long time, but the fact is, I rarely get sick. And I don’t drink myself to the point of vomiting, either, and one reason for that is that I simply hate throwing up — it’s an awful feeling.

But that feeling was coming on strong as I sat in Hooters.

You see, I downed that shooter all at one time, taking four or five big gulps of it and in the process sucking it down my throat and into my unsuspecting stomach. The only thing left in my mouth afterward was the oyster, which simply wouldn’t go down; I had to then wash it down with a swallow of beer. The 10-second experience was a fiery endorphin rush that I am pretty sure made my beard grow by about a half inch on the spot. (Seriously, I felt it.)

The burn in my throat and belly were intense, but I love all the flavors involved, so I enjoyed it in a perverse way. The aforementioned endorphin rush literally was a small buzz that lasted a good 30 seconds. The heat in my chest from the “finish” was like that of a not-so-fine tequila.

But a few minutes later, as Chuck continued telling me a story about his buddy or his co-worker or his dog or whatever it was he was talking about, the trembling began. And then the mild light-headedness. And then I began to feel a little clammy and hot. Soon, I began to feel like I was outside myself looking down, and Chuck’s words were lost to my ears. Finally, my mouth began to water with the approach of a rising lump in my throat.

“I seriously think I need to throw this thing up,” I told him, even as he was in mid-story.

He stopped immediately and said, “Go. Get it out of there!” So I made my way, hastily, to the bathroom at the other end of the restaurant.

I will spare you the details of what went on in that Hooters bathroom stall that day, but I am proud to say that my Jerry Seinfeld-esque streak of non-vomiting is intact.

Afterward, our server, when I told her what happened, looked at me with an expression that said, “What did you expect to happen, moron?”

Chuck’s theory was that someone was filming me, figuring I would throw up on the spot, and they would then have a great YouTube video for their trouble. Most likely, whoever was working the bar that day simply didn’t realize they had created a fiery gut assault. Of course, that still didn’t mean I had to drink the damn thing. That’s on me.

All I will say is that I have never been more thankful for Alka Seltzer in my life. I may just eat my oysters rolled for a while.