VIRGINIA CITY - A gustatory experience that sounded like a naughty joke had adventurous diners lined up dozens deep Saturday afternoon in the heart of the Comstock lode.
When a brave band of judges had completed its rounds, the best overall taste award for prepared lamb testicles went to the Great Balls of Fire booth of Brandi Lee, Susan Craig and Candy Young.
T.J. Watson, 13, of Carson City, stepped up to sample the "oysters" wrapped in bacon and fried. He said he had no hesitation about giving the treat a taste.
"They were pretty good," Watson said.
Assorted puns and other bad jokes were the order of the day, as well as the orders on the plates, as a dozen groups competed for the attention of the public as well as the judges.
Among those recruited to rate the entries for the Ninth Annual Mountain Oyster Cookoff were Dr. Ed Pierczynski, of Carson City, who has made his name as winner of chili cookoffs nationwide, and the head chefs for Washoe Medical Center and Gov. Kenny Guinn.
Bernie Jassman and his crew at the B&W's Blazing Balls Chili booth were dressed as red hot peppers as they ladled out their concoction. Jassman's operation garnered the best booth award.
Sharon Giesy and the McCastrate Sisters were busy dishing out Granny McCastrates Mountain Morsels at their Screaming Scrotum Ranch booth. They collected both the most creative and best presentation awards.
In prior years, Heather Beaupre, of Virginia City, had applied all her ingenuity to her recipes for the cookoff, because she was competing against a master, long-time Comstock fixture, Louie Beaupre.
Louie's smiling and bearded visage was missing from the contest this year - he died a short time ago. But his trademark feathered top hat and bright red trader's coat were prominently displayed at Heather's booth.
Bonnie "Maaa" Phillips was hard at work in her sheep suit dishing out "gonads of the gods," a Greek salad with goat cheese and sheep testicles.
Maxim's Cafe maintained its continental touch by offering sauteed "testicules du mouton" in a delicate dijon sauce.
Presenting their entry on rolls with marinara sauce, the cooks from the Palace Restaurant offered "genuine meatball sandwiches."
The Mark Twain Saloon crew started off with an initial run of 500 pieces of "nut'n wong" wontons, but the first batch was sold out in an hour and a resupply mission was mounted.
The traditional western branding snack earned the nickname mountain oysters to reassure tenderfeet to give the dish a try. Mel Carpenter's team from Eikenberger Awning rounded up a couple dozen genuine ocean oyster shells to string from the booth. They tinkled merrily in the breeze as the mountain oysters were served.
In a break with Comstock pricing tradition, each booth was selling its wares for just 50 cents.
The event is organized by the Virginia City Chamber of Commerce.
"Some places aren't willing to try an event like this," said Julie Lee of the chamber. "We aren't afraid to try something different here in Virginia City," Lee said.
On a more conventional note, the community will mount its annual St. Patrick's Day parade on Friday.