Southern Agenda

Fried and True

Little known outside of Louisville, the rolled oyster holds a special place in the pantheon of Southern fried food. Traditionally made from three oysters deep-fried in a batter of egg, milk, and cracker meal, the softball-sized snack seems unremarkable—until you take your first bite. Kentucky native and writer Ronni Lundy once described the taste as “steamy and sexy, ocean-tanged, barroom-sullied, low rent, and high art.” As with many masterpieces, there’s controversy about the rolled oyster’s origin story, says Louisville food critic and editor Marty Rosen. One version attributes the delicacy to Phillip Mazzoni, an Italian immigrant and saloon owner who first offered it as a giveaway to drinkers in the 1880s. Others trace it to Al Kolb’s bar, which opened in 1865. Both taverns have long since closed, and a few years ago, some feared that rising oyster prices would do in the dish completely. But you can still find rolled oysters on the menu at Louisville-area taverns including Check’s Café, KingFish, Hungry Pelican, and Mike Linnig’s. “It’s about as good as bar food gets,” Rosen says. “When you bite through the hard shell, you get a sudden explosion from the perfume of the oyster.”