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Brain drain
Les Joyal, morning breakfast cook and the one who serves most of the brains at the Oxford, checks on a pile boiling in a pot in the basement kitchen of the bar and grill Monday afternoon. The brains are first boiled for an hour so they can be kept longer before they are grilled. "I've been having five or six guys a day asking for them," he says.
Photo by KURT WILSON/Missoulian

After several weeks without its oddest menu item, Oxford restocks

The phone rang Monday at the Oxford, the Missoula bar and grill whose doors never close and whose most famous - though probably not most popular - menu item has long been a plateful of cow brains and eggs.

Ralph Baker, one of the Ox's managers, answered.

"How long have you been without brains?" he was asked.

"They tell me my whole life," he replied.

The jokes about the oddest item on the Oxford's menu just don't quit, even though the brains temporarily had. Once famed for the words waitresses would holler at the cook when customers ordered brains - "He needs 'em!" was all they had to say for brains to hit the grill - the last gray matter from a cow in the joint was cooked several weeks ago.

But Monday they found 40 pounds' worth at a local grocery store and had them boiling in the basement - that lets them keep longer before they're grilled. And come next Monday at about noon, a new vendor will deliver his first shipment of brains.

"This was becoming something that was rivaling the Iraqi crisis," Baker said.

He declined to say what, exactly, happened to the old supplier - "It was the result of some kind of bureaucratic screw-up" Baker said - or who the new one was.

"Trade secret," Baker said.

But there hadn't been any brains in the Ox for a couple of months (no offense intended to any customers who have been in the Ox in the last couple of months).

Baker said he's been searching for a new supplier since. Several Oxford regulars, plus the occasional adventurous tourist, go through about 50 pounds of brains a month when they're in stock, according to cook Les Joyal.

It was a former Missoulian now living in Virginia who got things cooking in the brains debate, Baker said. The fellow stopped in the Ox on a visit home and, when he ordered brains and eggs, was told there weren't any. He was so incensed at the thought of an Oxford without brains, he started an e-mail campaign to get them back, pronto.

"It kind of trumped up the emergency level," Baker said. "All I know is I had to fix it in a hurry."

He did, and once again, there was no lack of brains in the Oxford.

Just ask anyone in there.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 523-5260 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com

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