Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Lord Have Mercy

They have the FSU football team (which, as I learned recently, is quite the team to have). They have hot weather. They have southern food. And they have ox tails. During my short visit to Tallahassee, Fla., at the end of the summer, I learned what a delicacy (or, in my view, what a monstrosity) ox tails truly are.

I was staying with family friends for a few days when my lessons in Tallahassee eating culture began. On the second day, the father -- let's call him Mr. Ox-Tail-Loving-Tallahassian -- announced that I should expect a treat for lunch. A special dessert? A new restaurant? A home-cooked, southern meal? No, no, not at all.

"Ox tails!" he exclaimed. "When I told two friends we had a northern belle staying with us for a few days, they had to meet for an ox tail lunch."

Now understand this: I'm not an adventurous eater. When I was younger, I hated salad. I refused to eat vegetables and anything that lived in the sea. I lived on Kraft macaroni and cheese (shapes especially), chicken and dessert. Now, I have diversified the foods I eat, but the tail of an ox is one food that does not belong in my mouth.

But off I went, following Mr. Ox-Tail-Loving-Tallahassian from the house to his car, from his car to the restaurant's parking lot and from the parking lot to a building roughly the size of the Collis eating area. Before going inside, we met his two friends outside of the restaurant.

"So you're the newcomer," one of them said to me. "Ready for your first round of ox tails?"

I managed a smile. Yes, of course I was excited to eat what I imagined to be the bushy, furry, skinny tail of an ox.

"Don't get put off by the smell of the place," he continued. "That's just the chitterlings. Don't try those -- not yet, at least. But I bet you don't even know what they are!" He smiled, opened the door and waited for me to pass through.

Wishing I had a stuffed-up nose and not wanting to know what a chitterling was, I stepped into this one-room restaurant. Immediately, I realized how much I stuck out. I was the only girl. I was the only one dressed up, ready to go out to eat. I was one of four white people. And clearly, I was the only one who had never had a bite of ox tail.

The smell was terrible -- worse than the football team walking by you after practice, worse than the second-floor bathroom in Alpha Delta. Whatever chitterlings were, I did not want to know, and further, I didn't want to know why they smelled so bad. So scrunching my nose, I followed Mr. Ox-Tail-Loving-Tallahassian and his two ox tail-loving friends to the line at the right of the room. The menu, taped to the wall near the front of the line, read as follows:

"Monday -- Friday Menu

Fried Chicken, Special Chicken, Chitterlings, Ox Tails, Side Dishes"

Quite the selection -- I felt like I was stuck in the scene from "My Cousin Vinny," when Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei are deciding between breakfast, lunch and dinner for their meal at the town's diner. At least there I would have known what grits and eggs were.

When I got to the front of the line, I found myself in the ox tail restauranteur's version of Food Court. The four main courses sat in square tubs beneath neon lights, shielded from the customer by a small plastic screen. My eyes ran back and forth between the options: chitterlings or ox tails slopped into their own separate tubs, each with clumps of meat weighing beneath an upper layer of congealed fat; shapeless chunks of chicken bobbing in a brownish sauce; or, my ultimate choice, masses of fried, re-fried and re-re-fried pieces of chicken.

"What would ya like?" the man behind the counter asked me.

Nothing, I thought. After watching Mr. Ox-Tail-Loving-Tallahassian and his two friends walk away with overflowing plates of ox tails, I realized that this just isn't the food for me. So instead, I was handed a plate piled with fried chicken. I then picked my two side dishes -- "cheesy broccoli surprise" and sweet potato sugar mash -- and watched the grease and oil from each collide together into one large, bulbous circle of fat in the middle of my plate.

Taking my seat, I fell into a cloud of unnecessary smells. Vomit? Chitterlings? Trash? All three? The men munched away at whichever body part they chose and I quietly poked at my potatoes, tasted the broccoli and peered beneath the crisped layer of fried chicken.

"You smell that now, Abigail? The chitterlings?" one of the friends asked me. "They usually smell this bad, but you get used to it once you come here enough."

"I'm sure."

He then proceeded to give me my first lesson in Tallahassee foods. Here is what I learned: Ox tails (literally, the tail of an ox cut up into small pieces when cooked) are apparently not the only bizarre food at such lovely eating establishments as this one. There are also chitterlings (the intestines of a pig), hog maws (the stomach of a pig) and a whole assortment of edible animal parts to savor. This scintillating lesson left me in quite a state. Sick to my stomach, I was then faced with actually tasting a bit of Mr. Ox-Tail-Loving-Tallahassian's meal.

"Here it is Abigail!" he said, shoving a juicy bite of ox tail into my mouth with his fork. Before I had time to protest, the fleshy morsel was between my teeth, and before another second went by I had gulped it down my throat with a long, steady drink of water. Granted, I probably could not tell you what ox tails actually taste like simply because I had no desire to taste them. But I did try. And not only that -- I ate some of the "cheesy broccoli surprise" and the sweet potatoes, in addition to the grease-infused piece of corn bread that saturated three napkins in a row. I fully took in the smell of the chitterlings, and eventually, I made my plate look relatively empty (it's amazing what rearranging food can do). We all finished our meals -- except me -- and my adventure in southern cuisine ended. Lord have mercy!