Milltown Bar/Restaurant(View Google Map)

There’s this little place in Carrboro on the other side of Chapel Hill called Milltown, which is a great place to go for their extensive collection of beers and their Belgian-inspired food stuffs.  The nacho appetizer is one of the best plates of nachos that can be found, as the cheese is plentiful and has the perfect smokey flavor to complement the salty nacho chips.  Black beans, jalapenos, diced tomatoes and sour cream top it all off to make the experience a delightful one indeed.  They are one of many places in the region that offer a selection of beer that is much greater than their selection of food.  I digress however; as this is not meant to be a review of the bar/restaurant, but rather a retelling of a story of pain and suffering.  Sadness and disappointment.  War and peace.  Okay well not really, it’s just about a case of food-born illness.

Did you know there’s actually something called Shellfish Poisoning, and that it’s quite different from food poisoning?  Well neither did I, and I’m no stranger to food poisoning, as my recent travels to Mexico will clearly show.  So this shellfish poisoning, (as diagnosed by Allie) was actually  “Ciguatera (from the Spanish word for a poisonous snail) [which] is a food-related illness that causes abdominal and neurological symptoms.” [Source]  Ho-ho-hold on there, did that just say neurological symptoms?  Yup.  It’s like being on drugs.  Drugs that make you throw up violently.

We went to Milltown around 5 o’clock after a day full of shopping and errands (hey we did our first registry!  More on this later).  It wasn’t exactly clear as to whether or not it was open as we drove past due to the obnoxiously dim-lit interior; however after a second drive-by, the shadowy figure of a bartender was clearly visible against the light of the kitchen in the back.  We parked in the lot across the street, behind the Spanish bodega, and hurried into the poorly heated/lit bar.  We were the only customers and thus quickly seated.  As the lone waitress handed us our menus and beer selection book she was quick to notify us of the fact that the “kitchen hadn’t shown up yet”, which was a very bad sign indeed.  I was wanting to leave at this point but she assured us that the ‘guys’ would show up at any moment, so we stuck it out and ordered our beers:  a Hoegaarden for the beautiful lady and a Rogue Dead Guy Ale for myself.

After only about half an hour of waiting for the ol’ kitchen to show up, we finally received our delicious nacho appetizer.  It was lop-sided and hastily made (yet another bad sign), but remained appetizing nonetheless.  At some point whilst waiting for our food to come out, the already too dim interior was infused with an even greater lack of light as the table lights were dimmed.  The atmosphere of the bar was now officially cold and depressing.  Perfect for our entrees that had just arrived: Grilled Cheese with tomato, avocado and aioli on focaccia for my bride-to-be and the Mussels with Chorizo for myself.

As I tried my first mussel, Allie reported that she couldn’t bite through her grilled cheese as it was too hard.  I tried to take a bite and was barred by the roof-of-your-mouth-shattering stale bread.  It felt like bread that was left in the freezer for a year and then microwaved and toasted, a.k.a. a friggin’ rock covered in glass shards.  While we tried to get the waitress to come back and pretend that she cared about how we enjoyed our meals I was trying desperately to disguise my disappointment with the disgustingly bland mussels.  Even combining a bite with chorizo and onion couldn’t disguise the fact that the preparation was hurried and the flavor was completely AWOL.

After announcing to our waitress that Al’s sandwich was too difficult to bite through, the waitress was happy to get us another one, but only after mustering up her snootiest tone and justifying that the sandwich was, “made from focaccia?  Like, REAL focaccia…”  Oh how stupid of us; as uneducated and uncultured hippies we completely overlooked the fact that “real” focaccia (wtf is fake focaccia?) tastes like cardboard and feels like jagged concrete in your mouth.  What a snob.

The second version of the REAL focaccia grilled cheese was much better.  Perhaps the waitress told the cook to use the fake focaccia this time, because our girly mouths couldn’t handle the real stuff.  I’m still pissed about her tone.  Grr, sorry.

So we finished up our sub-par meals and made our leave.  As we got into the car I kept feeling a strange sensation in my stomach.  The kind of sensation that tells you something is about to happen inside your body, and you don’t know whether to be excited or afraid.  In my case, I was slightly afraid because of the fact that I had just eaten mussels and not much else.  I had an inkling that I was going to be sick, but hoping that it would just be a hurried digestion rather than a rejected one.  After arriving home and plopping down on the couch to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, I started feeling ‘floaty’.  There was some tingling within my body and the sensation that my organs were swirling around in some kind of ooze that left them suspended and disconnected from the rest of my body.

I was feeling slightly nauseous, and my core temperature felt like it was dropping rapidly.  Suddenly I was shivering and under my fleecy Penn State blanket as Allie and Boca looked on in concern.  After repeatedly assuring her that I was alright I decided I might want to hang out in the bathroom for a few moments, just to see what would happen.  I knelt on the ground to try and stop my head from spinning, at the same time pulling the blanket in tighter.  My shivering now made me feel like I had a jackhammer strapped to my back on full-throttle.  It was uncontrollable full-body tremors, followed by violent, painful puking.  Fantastic.  Copious fluids and solids were expelled in a shockingly short amount of time with tremendous force.  It was terrifying and yet so fantastically relieving.

I was renewed and felt awesome, except for the extreme heat that I was now feeling.  I was burning up inside, and my body knew not what to do.  After thoroughly brushing my teethers and washing my face I still couldn’t taste anything but crappy mussels.  I tried drinking some rum and eating some baby food but nothing seemed to help.  As I sat back on the couch to revel in the power of the human gag reflex, Allie looked up the symptoms of Shellfish Poisoning (I think to assure herself that it wasn’t somehow contagious due to her Emetophobia).  After asking about what I was experiencing (numbness in my gums and teeth, floaty feeling organs, a slight headache, aftershocks of nausea and a mercury taste in my mouth) she was able to confirm that I indeed had ciguatera.

I’d say that overall the night was a good learning experience, and an interesting personal adventure into the lands of shellfish poisoning.  I can’t say with absolute certainty that I won’t be visiting this land of magic and mysticism again soon; however the sushi from Kanki last night is sitting in the fridge calling my name.  Have I learned to fear and respect the mussel?  Yes.  I will never eat mussels again.  Unless they are a part of paella.  The scary thing about it is, that even a single bad mussel can give you shellfish poisoning.  But I’m pretty sure that paella is worth the risk.  If you ever get the chance to try it, don’t pass up on the Hispanic delicacy.

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