This ‘romantic’ food smells awfully fishy

by Amy Kingsley

The oyster I’m looking at is ugly. Its shell is crusted with barnacles and the steaming process has split it into a salacious grin. Oyster shucker Chris Shelton is holding it up, pointing to the hallmarks he uses to judge a medium-well cooked oyster.

Waitress Tanya Tart has just cleared the first plate cluttered with shells recently sucked clean of raw oyster flesh. Six of them had arrived at our table, nuggets of quivering flesh sliding around mother of pearl. A ramekin of cocktail sauce, lemon quarters and a dab of horseradish shouldered the shellfish for plate space.

My dining companion, a newcomer to the world of raw seafood, looks at the oysters skeptically. He waits for me to slide one back before sucking down the ice-cold delicacy.

‘“They’re not much to look at,’” Tart says.

But they taste delicious. The ones we’re nibbling traveled from the Chesapeake Bay to this U-shaped counter at Green’s Supper Club on the outskirts of Greensboro.

I’m here doing a little research on foods regarded as aphrodisiacs ‘— oysters being the most well-known among them. After striking out a few times at fly-by-night oyster operations that couldn’t cut it this far inland, I settled on the local granddaddy of such establishments.

If you’re having steamed oysters at Green’s, you have a take a seat at the bar and wait for the shucker, who lugs a pail of crustaceans, condiments of melted butter and cocktail sauce, and small bowls. Tonight Shelton is doing the work for us. He grabs the shells and efficiently pries out the tender meat with a quick flick of the wrist.

One by one the oysters slide into the bowls. The steamed variety have a bit more tooth than their raw cousins, but they have the advantage of safety. Green’s cooks the oysters to medium-well, which kills off bacteria dangerous to those with liver disease or weakened immune systems.

In addition to their recent rap as carriers of dangerous bacteria, oysters have another more ancient claim to health lore. That would be their reputation as an aphrodisiac.

No one really knows why oysters earned their legendary status, but Romans first mentioned the effect of the seafood on women around the second century AD. Many chalk the reputation of the oyster up to folklore, but hard science offers some support for the claim.

Oysters have more zinc per ounce than any other food, and a deficiency of the mineral sometimes causes impotence in men. But nutritional value hardly translates into immediate sex drive.

Green’s is also not the best place to set a romantic mood. The couple sitting across the bar is a pair of middle-aged guys quietly enjoying beers and oysters after a day’s work. The flashing beer signs, beach mural and foldout tables resemble set dressing for a buddy picture, not the ideal place for a romantic interlude.

Green’s has been around since 1953, although it has moved a couple of times before settling in its current location on Highway 29 North. Tart has worked here 10 years; Shelton started in 1998 as a dishwasher and the manager, Nancy Roberts, is going on a quarter century of employment at the restaurant.

‘“The people who come in, they know us and we know them,’” Roberts says. ‘“We’re one of those place that once you come in, we know you’re going to come back.’”

Green’s, peddling a more platonic love than their featured menu item promises, sells it. Besides the oysters, we try some Old Bay treated shrimp and a serving of perfect hushpuppies ‘— crisp outside with a light interior. Tart recommended the steaks and ribs as well.

But because oysters aren’t the only food reputed to bring on an amorous mood, we move on to the next stop ‘— dessert. Chocolate ranks high on the list of aphrodisiac foods, as does wine, an obvious inhibition killer.

For that we drive back into town, to Ganache for some dessert. With its low lighting and stylish ambience, Ganache might seem a more obvious choice than Green’s for St. Valentine’s celebrations. But I surmise that the martyred Roman never enjoyed this degree of luxury.

I order a slice of Kentucky Derby pie with a tectonic layer of fudge atop bourbon-soaked pecans. The rich dessert threatens to send me closer to insulin shock than amorous swoon.

In their prominent dessert case, Ganache displays cakes, pies and heart-shaped cookies decorated for Valentine’s with ribbons and pink frosting.

True, the confections might present a classier statement of love than raw oysters and a box of wine. But Green’s longevity offers powerful proof that the most lasting unions are often those built on friendship.

The restaurant wears its imperfections on its sleeve, from humble furniture to worn carpet. But at least you know what you’ll find when the owners flip the lights at closing time. Ganache, on the other hand, is a sexy establishment with a mysterious smile. The dim lamps and tea candles allow little inspection of their remote nooks and hidden crannies.

Couples will no doubt pack Ganache come Feb. 14. Tuesday night at Green’s will likely be a little slower. But for the couples that have come there for years, and for the people without a significant other, the storied oyster bar might indeed prove more seductive than the most orchestrated sultry ambience.

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