A Denver Institution Has Been Serving Rocky Mountain Oysters For 125 Years | Legendary Eats

A Denver Institution Has Been Serving Rocky Mountain Oysters For 125 Years | Legendary Eats

January 1, 2020 100 By Kody Olson


Joe Avella: This is the
Buckhorn Exchange, the oldest restaurant
in Denver, Colorado. And unfortunately for me,
their most popular dish? Rocky Mountain oysters,
aka fried bull testicles. To the best of my knowledge,
I’ve never eaten testicles. I mean, you know, not
that I’m aware of. I came here to eat testicles,
and testicles I shall eat. A historic landmark
in the city of Denver, the Buckhorn Exchange
has been selling Rocky Mountain oysters
since 1893. That’s a lot of balls. Customer: Oh, they’re good,
they’re good. You gotta try it. If you’re
here, you gotta try them. I’ve seen it on TV for so
long, and it’s just like, oh, it’s been here for 100 years, I’m in Colorado,
might as well just go and see it and taste it. Joe: How bad could it
be? They’ve been doing it for, like, 140 years. [exhales] Let’s do this. The Buckhorn Exchange is
Denver’s oldest restaurant, opened in 1893 by this
man, Henry H. Zietz, also known as Shorty. Shorty was a skilled marksman and toured as a sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West
show along with Sitting Bull. Years later, the Buckhorn
Exchange would be frequently visited by both
Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull. The Buckhorn Exchange
is directly across the street from
the railroad. Shorty would allow railroaders to exchange their
paychecks for US currency and give each man a token for
a free sandwich and a beer. While that sounds generous, Shorty knew no railroader
would stop after one beer and would end up spending
most of the money they had just exchanged. In 1905, while campaigning
for president, Teddy Roosevelt
parked his train across the street from
the Buckhorn Exchange, stopped in for dinner, and
became friendly with Shorty. Fred Slick: And Teddy
convinced him to take him on hunts up in the Rockies,
and they became friends. And so over the years, Teddy
would contact the owner. When Teddy went on his
famous African safari, he contacted the
owner to go along as one of his guides in Africa. So we have many mounts that
are here in the building that are from that hunt. Joe: Rocky Mountain
oysters are bull testicles. They were the meat
cowboys would eat at the end of a cattle drive. Only a certain amount of bulls
were used as breeding stock, and the others were kept alive
and fattened up for food, so they took off the testicles
to control the population, and they also figured,
hey, fresh meat. Fred: And that was
kinda the delicacy at the end of the cattle drive. Edgar Garcia: Well, you
know, amazingly enough, we sell about 500 pounds
a week of this stuff. Joe: You sell 500 pounds
of testicles a week. Edgar: Don’t quote me,
but it’s between 300 and 500 pounds. [Joe laughs]
I should know, I do the ordering. Joe: So almost a quarter
a ton of testicles. Edgar: Mm-hmm.
Joe: OK. There’s a demand for
testicles in Colorado. Edgar: Testicles festivals. Joe: You’ve yet to cut into
one that was, how can I say? Edgar: Full?
Joe: Juicy, yeah. Edgar: No. Joe: First, the membrane
that covers the testicle is peeled off. Ooh, why do I feel that? Then the testicle is
cut into thin slices. Edgar: All right, so next step is, we’ll go in the kitchen. Joe: So these are the
freshest testicles you can get in Colorado.
Edgar: In town, that’s right. Joe: There you go. The slices are tossed in
the flour and deep-fried. Once they’re nice and crispy, they’re plated with cocktail
and horseradish sauce and ready to serve. Edgar: There you go,
plate full of balls. Fred: I think the fact
that we haven’t changed when everything around
us has changed is very much why we’ve
stayed around. And we try very hard
to keep the menu as old-world as possible, so the meals you eat here
are very similar to what you would’ve eaten,
you know, back in the day or at the end of a long trail ride. Customer: You aren’t gonna
find old West too often, even in Denver. It’s, you were talking about it early tonight.
Customer: It’s disappearing. Customer: It’s disappearing,
but they have kept it alive. Fred: The majority of our
mounts are pre-World War I. They were all taken
during a period of time when they were
taken for food, they weren’t taken
for trophies. That golden eagle was given to the original owner
by Sitting Bull. We have a cape buffalo
that was shot on a hunt with Teddy Roosevelt. Joe: [inhaling] Oh, man,
I can just smell the testicles coming. Thank you very much.
Server: There’s your oysters. Cocktail sauce, and a
horseradish peppercorn sauce. Joe: OK, and what
do we got here? Server: I have a Kölsch
beer that pairs well with Rocky Mountain oysters. Joe: I mean, these are so
popular they invented a beer that pairs with them,
so that’s a good sign. These are very good,
these are very good. Server: You like them? Joe: Oh, I love them.
Server: Good! Joe: I’m pleasantly
surprised by this. The texture is the hardest
thing to get past, I think. It doesn’t taste, like, tangy or, let’s be honest, it
doesn’t taste salty. There’s a bit of a… mm, mm, mm. It surprisingly is firm, firmer than I thought
testicles would be. [laughs] I guess if I thought about it. That was a juicy one. Customer: It’s iconic, I
mean, it definitely has a sort of own brand for itself, and it’s something that folks
talk about from states away, so definitely wanna make the
trip out here and see it. Fred: It is a bit of a novelty. We get a lot of folks
that chuckle and come in and think of it as novelty, but I would say the majority
of the people leave and go, “They’re actually
pretty darn tasty.” Joe: They have other
non-testicle meats on the menu, like, she had mentioned
elk, alligator, I think, you got quail, probably chicken. That’d be weird if they
didn’t have chicken. It’s interesting that this
is a staple on the menu, that it has been for so long.
I think that’s really cool. You feel like almost
you’re eating, like, a part of, like, frontier
history when you’re having this. To eat testicles is to eat
history, American history.