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The great mouse hunt

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
May 28, 2003
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. If you have any
questions or comments, he can be reached at robert@nsrg.com or at (601) 264-0672.
Someone needs to build a better mousetrap.
I was in a chain-operated pizza parlor (whose name shall remain anonymous for reasons you will soon find out) and witnessed one of the oddest occurrences in my 41 years of eating in restaurants. It was quite possibly one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen anywhere.
I was with my wife and daughter. We ordered a pizza, prepared our salads and found a table. As we were sitting down, a customer shouted across the room, "Be careful there's a mouse on the loose." My wife panicked. My daughter and I remained calm.
Two bites into our pizza we heard a scream across the dining room. A few seconds later, we heard a loud shout from another section of the restaurant. Then we heard another and another. Finally we saw the culprit as he scurried across the floor on his way to another table.
For the next 15 minutes we ate lunch among sporadic shrieks scattered throughout the restaurant. One minute someone near the salad bar would scream, the next minute a table of customers behind us would shout.
Amazingly enough no one got up and left. To a person, everyone kept eating. Some ate with their feet in their chair the entire meal, some would raise their feet only when the mouse raced by.
This was one busy mouse.
Finally, after 20 minutes of intermittent screaming, the exterminator arrived. Mind you, this was not a professional in coveralls with his name stitched onto his shirt. This rodent slayer wasn't armed with glue tape or spring-loaded traps baited with chunks of cheese. No, this was the dishwasher. He emerged from the kitchen with broom held high proclaiming, "I'll get him!"
It was as if the dishwasher was a modern-day gladiator and the pizza parlor was his coliseum. All hail Mouseus Maximus. I looked at my wife and said, "This is going to be great!" She wanted to leave but I assured her that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event that she would never get the chance to witness again. Plus, I would be able to get a column out of it.
Growing up in South Mississippi I had always heard of rat killings, but I assumed they took place in barns and behind old tool sheds, not in restaurants. With determination not seen since Hemingway traveled to Africa, the dishwasher began running frantically through the restaurant in search of the mouse.
We watched in awe as the aspiring mouse slayer darted through the dining room with his broom raised high. Occasionally, when a mouse-swatting opportunity presented itself, he brought the weapon smashing to the ground with monumental force. Before long, grown men were standing in booths.
This was obviously the rodent slayer's first mouse hunt. He was all over the place with the broom. Even an amateur could notice he needed some brushing up on his broom-swinging technique. Sometimes he would bring the weapon straight down from high above his head; sometimes he would shove it far out in front of him while probing under a booth. Other times he would swing it like a baseball bat two feet above the ground, each time to no avail.
Each swat incited more screams from customers and more confidence in the mouse.
By now, the customers were screaming more at the dishwasher than they had been at the mouse. It was around this time that my family began rooting for the mouse.
For the next 10 minutes we ate pizza and listened to screams while watching the mouse dodge the dishwasher's broom.
Finally, the great rat hunter trapped his prey under a booth where two women were seated. The two ladies tried to raise their legs, but had little room and even less time. The dishwasher was swatting their shins and poking their ankles with the broom. He ignored their scream he was on a mission.
Without giving the restaurant a thumbs-up, thumbs-down vote on the mouse's fate, the dishwasher finished the job. The end came swift and painless for our little rodent friend. He had given a Herculean effort but for some strange reason could never find his way to the exit door. My wife and daughter cried.
To cap the end of the spectacle, the gladiator stood in the middle of the dining room, picked his trophy up by the tail, held it high in the air and proudly proclaimed, "Got him! Everyone back to lunch."
Bread and circus, South Mississippi style.
Creole Cheese Fritters
3⁄4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 eggs
1⁄4 cup parsley, chopped fine
1⁄4 cup green onions, medium dice
1⁄4 cup horseradish
1⁄4 cup sour cream
11⁄2 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper, crushed
1 cup flour
1⁄2 tablespoon hot sauce
10 ounces pepper jack cheese, grated
6 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated
6 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
Place Parmesan cheese, eggs, parsley, onions, horseradish, sour cream, garlic, Creole seasoning, red pepper, flour and hot sauce in an electric mixer and combine at medium speed.
Add the three cheeses and continue mixing until well blended. Do not over mix.
Heat oil to 350 in a cast iron skillet. Drop golf ball-size spoonfuls of cheese fritter mixture into hot oil, making sure not to cook too many at once.
Serve with comeback sauce for dipping. Yield: 24n30.

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